Lon Hogan

I’ve written about the multiple-family wagon train that arrived in northern Howell County shortly after the Civil War, following a long journey from Midland, Tennessee, via horseback and oxcart. Though an inauspicious arrival, these people would become future Howell County leaders, and their family names were prominent in the coming years as bankers, doctors, and legislators. Lesser known locally, though in his lifetime he garnered regional notoriety as a sage, songwriter, and musician, Alonzo “Lon” Hogan lived ninety-eight years in the Ozarks. 
 
Born in Willow Springs, January 11, 1883, the eldest son of John S. and Martha Lovan Hogan’s seven children, Alonzo “Lon” Hogan almost died as a child. He did not attend high school nor travel more than a couple hundred miles from home, but late in life, college professors and newspaper reporters traveled great distances to interview him. 
 
Lon recounted his early years to his granddaughter in a family history gathered the year before he died, “I was stricken with polio when I was just learning to walk at one year of age, and for years, and my leg didn’t grow at all. It lay there, and Mother said when she’d first pick me up, she’d have to put her arm in under that leg. It flopped down like a rag doll. The doctors didn’t know a thing about treating it. They called it infantile paralysis.” Consequently, Lon was unable to walk more than a hundred feet in the first eight years of his life. His mother pulled him around in a small wagon, and when he went to school, he was taken in a wheelbarrow with another handicapped boy or on horseback behind an adult. He was fortunate to live in a community of relatives and long-time friends who cared for each other.
 
When Lon was eight, he and his father were in a blacksmith’s shop in Willow Springs. He looked at Lon’s leg and offered to make him a brace. After several modifications, Lon was able to get around better but recalled, “I remember the years I went through I couldn’t play with the other children. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t do anything like that, and all I could do was sit on the sidelines. I wanted to play so bad. I’ve always wondered if that was why, after I became a man, I was always wanting to do something and do it a little better than anybody else.” Lon attended the Davis School, where today’s Highway 60/63 is located near the old Hillbilly Junction south of Willow Springs. 
 
The Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad was being built following the ancient north-south pathway through this country. Lon’s parents bought a farm at the south end of Willow Springs along what would become Highway 60/63. Hogan recalled, “At that time, it was just a rough country road. It was through from Kansas City to Memphis. There was an awful lot of travel on it because it hadn’t been very long since the railroad was built. I remember when we moved up there how much travel there was – gypsies, mules, horse teams, people walking, and people on horseback. Of course, in those days, there were lots of oxen and ox teams and those big heavy wagons with canvas tops. And there was lots of people walking that was just begging from farmhouse to farmhouse for something to eat.”
 
Lon’s early life was spent in the vicinity of Willow Springs, though his father often moved the family—first to the south end, then west of town. Their longest stay in Howell County was on Pine Creek, on a one-hundred-sixty-acre piece of land about four miles west of Willow Springs. Pine Creek is a tributary of the Jacks Fork. Its headwaters arise northwest of Willow Springs and join the Jacks Fork at Missouri Route Y.
 
His grandfather Hogan grew wheat. Lon remembered, “For me, that was always a picnic when one of those old horse-powered threshing machines came. I remember watching them harvest-cut the wheat. Six men had cradles, and wheat cradles had five or six long fingers, and they would swing them around. The cutter was on one side, and the fingers were on the other. Those six fellows that would line up, one behind the other, but they was back far enough they could make their swing without any danger of hitting the man in front. It was a great sight to me to watch those six men. Each man would cut about a six-foot swathe. You see, that’s about thirty-six feet, and it didn’t take very long to cut a big field of wheat. When they’d make their stroke, they’d bring the cradle back towards them and reach down and get their wheat and drop it on the ground.” 
 
“Then there was a fellow following each cradler that would bundle it. Then there was another crew that came along behind that shocked it. After it was dry they would haul those shocks and stack them close to where the threshing machine would stand, stacking them in big stacks. Those old threshing machines – you could hear one of them howling for a mile. They sure made a lot of noise.”
 
The rough-and-tumble farm life was good for Lon, who said, “I know I was nine years old when we moved out there. By that time, I could work in the fields—pretty well do most anything. I could drive the oxen as well as anybody.” However, laboring on the farm was too limiting for Lon, and he was always looking for ways to make a better living. He put himself through photography school in Illinois, a rare skill in the Ozarks at the time. He started a very early photographic studio in Willow Springs and later one in Winona. Using glass plates spread with emulsion to record an image, he had to develop it immediately.  Many of the earliest photos of Howell and Shannon County bear his mark. In December 1906, he married Alta Verna Kohfal of Willow Springs, and they enjoyed a union lasting over sixty years. They raised three boys and a girl.
 
In his early manhood, Lon Hogan achieved local notoriety as a fiddler, also mastering the bass fiddle, mandolin, cello, piano, and even the mouth harp, all with no formal training. He was in demand as a performer on live radio and formed a family band with his wife and sons known as “The Musical Hogans.” He wrote songs that were recorded by himself and other artists. 
 
In the rail yards of Willow Springs, Lon learned the lumber business, eventually working for the Missouri Lumber & Mining Company at their lumber mill in West Eminence until it closed in 1927.  Always the entrepreneur, he owned and operated stores in Mountain View and Van Buren, as well as restaurants and cafes. In his spare time he built and sold johnboats on the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. He tried his hand at running a gristmill, a bakery, and a painting contracting business with his son Harry in Springfield. Lon and his family moved to Springfield in 1934 and remained in various businesses like Hogan’s Café on Booneville Avenue (1938) and, in the early 1960s, Hogan’s Grocery on South New Street in Springfield, which was robbed at gunpoint on more than one occasion. Alta passed away in 1968, the couple were together for sixty-three years. In 1972 the Springfield News-Leader and Press sent a reporter to his store and interviewed Lon in a multi-page spread featuring photos of his store and his relationship to his customers and community.
 
In 1974 Lon’s next home was Van Buren with his daughter-in-law Maxine Hogan. In 1978 the Missouri State University sent a team to see Lon and recorded a nine part interview that is on YouTube. Lon died in the hospital at Poplar Bluff on September 10, 1981, and his body was returned to lie beside his wife in East Lawn Cemetery in Springfield. He was ninety-eight years old, had outlived everyone in his generation, and witnessed so many changes from those early years in Howell County. Like so many of the Scotch-Irish who settled Howell County in its early years, Lon Hogan was a fighter who refused to give up.
 
 
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