Mary R. Luster - First Woman Typesetter in Missouri
Wed, 05/17/2023 - 3:27pm admin
Howell County 1895 - What it Was and What it Is.
The "Howell County News" published its first edition in July 1895, and this incarnation of the paper (I suspect you are aware of a later paper with the same name) lasted until 1907. The editor looked at the county's past and present in its first issue, volume one-number one, dated July 4, 1895. I enjoyed reading it and thought I'd share it with you.
The editor/writer Charles Reizen Luster tells the story of our county's destruction and depopulation in the Civil War. He neglects to mention the violent ten-year period following the war and paints a rather idyllic picture of us. Other editors weren't so kind. Eleven years after the war, the Rolla "Phelps County New Era" wrote, "They have mad dogs in Howell County. A few years ago, they had mad men." I've lightly edited the text. Mr. Luster must have had a huge bucket of commas and semi-colons and sprinkled them liberally throughout his article. I've thrown them away but left the rest of the text alone. Charles wrote:
"Missouri was admitted into the Union in 1821. Thirty-six years later, the now famous and unrivaled county of Howell was created by an act of the General Assembly. It had at that time but a handful of resolute and determined men and women to constitute its population, and these sturdy pioneers, with the traditional energy and courage of their class, carved the way and laid the foundation for the happy homes and fruitful farms that now abound within the limits of the country.
Not only had they to contend with the natural wild conditions of a country un-subdued and uncultivated, but in the background, behind the veil, lurked greater dangers and hardships-a foe that was destined to devastate almost every home in Howell County and lay waste the places that the hand of toil had taught to blossom and produce. That enemy was the Civil War which ravaged this fair land and, in many instances, robbed the settlers of every earthly possession. Wrecked homes, broken ties, scattered families, and unmarked graves were some of the sorrowful results of that terrible strife, and this was one of the sections that suffered to the greatest and most distressing extent. But time's hand passed on around the dial and, at last, marked the close of this unfortunate period."
"True to the characteristics of their race, the survivors of that war gave not way to useless repinings nor abandoned themselves to moody wrath or dire purposes of revenge. Returning to the scenes of their early struggles, they once more began to make for themselves homes and to place the soil under tribute for their subsistence. When, in 1866, the refugees began to straggle back to Howell County, they found it again almost a wilderness. In the entire county, but few houses remained standing, and the square at West Plains was covered with blackjack, brush, sumac, and hazel. What five years before was a thriving frontier county was transformed into a trackless waste. But these brave pioneers, many of them bearing the scars of that fratricidal conflict, set themselves again to the pursuits of peace and labors of love; and the present splendid showing of Howell County is due in great part to the foundations laid by the energy and heroism of these hardy frontiersmen. They labored under all the disadvantages incident to a new country. All their provisions, clothing, farm, and household implement, etc., had to be hauled in wagons, usually with ox teams from Rolla or Salem-distant 90 and 100 miles-requiring 15 to 25 days to make the round trip. Under such conditions, there are certainly no apologies due for the seemingly slow development of this country up to 1883-at which time the shrill whistle of the iron horse proclaimed the beginning of a new and more progressive era for this section. We can now introduce our readers to the peerless county of Howell under fairer skies and amid more pleasant surroundings."
"Blood stains are washed away; the burned houses and fences were long since replaced, added to, improved, and many new ones built; no ill feeling lingers in any brave bosom; there is perfect liberty of expression, and together all people commingle on that annual occasion revered of all soldiers and strew flowers alike on the graves of the blue and the gray. There is no sectional or political ostracism, no animosity on account of the past, all good people are welcomed and fraternized with, and 'no questions asked' as to antecedents or opinions. In short, 'the war is over.'"
"In 1882, Howell County had a population of only 6,000 souls. Her taxable valuation, including personal property, was $1,233,589. In 1884 the valuation had reached $3,150,100, and that of this year will show a most marvelous increase of wealth. There is now a population of 25,000 intelligent and prosperous people."
"There is no country on earth that will produce a finer quality of fruit than South Missouri and Northern Arkansas-which fact was amply attested by the World's Fair awards to this section as against all comers. This part of Uncle Sam's domain versus the World was the case as presented to the Committee, and the verdict shows how well we represented our cause."
"While in the item of King Corn, our neighbors of the north may seem to have the advantage of us, we maintain that in the general summing up, we have the best and cheapest and healthiest country in which to live. Let us have a comparison of the facts: In Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois, for instance, fuel costs at a low estimate, at least $30 per family. Here farmers can have it for the cutting and town people for about the same. For overshoes, furs, and heavy clothing rendered necessary by the cold winters, the inhabitants of the North must expend at least $35 per family. In this climate, those articles can be totally dispensed with. The northern people must spend a great deal more in building than is required here-the material there is higher, and the dwellings must be made tighter and heavier. In many other ways, they are at more expense in living than are our people. As to the item of corn, the North, with their 60 bushels per acre, say it is not necessary to feed at the most more than three and a half months. The labor and exposure in taking care of stock is much greater than here. In grasses, they have no advantage of us. Hay yields here are one and a half to two and a half tons per acre, and it is always worth in winter at least ten dollars per ton. Alfalfa grows abundantly."
"In cereals, the yield is about as in the North. All kinds of potatoes grow abundantly. There is hardly a limit to the yield of field peas. Stock raising is especially profitable. Hogs live, mature, and are fattened on the mast (acorns). Cattle have abundant grass and pure water, their only expense being for wintering-a brief period. Every live thing does well here if it is adapted to this latitude and climate." Some of those "live things" are ticks, chiggers, and mosquitos, which he fails to mention. But this is his travelog, not mine.
"Come here, and we will share these blessings with you. Get away from the long dreary winters and other discomforts of a cold climate. Save yourselves the expense of fuel and extra clothing, and air-proof houses. You will find here as good schools, as strong church membership, and as moral and intelligent a people as you are accustomed to in the best communities of the North.
There are 104 school districts in Howell County, most of which are out of debt and with modern, comfortable buildings. The 'old log schoolhouse' is a thing of the past in Howell County."
"Our county doesn't owe a dollar. West Plains is out of debt. Taxes are not a burden to the people. In fact, there is collected only about $40,000 of taxes on a valuation of about $4,000,000-a lower rate than any other county in the state. One-half of what you pay out for fuel in the wintery north would pay your taxes on a 160-acre farm in Howell County."
"West Plains is by no means the only town in the county. Willow Springs, our neighbor on the north, is a beautiful, thriving, and enterprising city of about 2,000 inhabitants. Siloam Springs is a bustling community, and there are many smaller towns and busy marts throughout the county."
"We have enterprising businessmen and real estate men with terms ready to show intending purchasers and settlers over the entire county. When you stay for dinner with one of the farmers, you will get a royal welcome and plenty to eat. If you lack those prerequisites, you will find it difficult to get along anywhere."
Charles Luster, just months before, had run a newspaper in Brunswick, Missouri, aided by his wife Mary, who claimed to be the first woman typesetter in Missouri. They read about the Ozarks in newspapers like this and decided to come here. He was immediately descended upon by competing newspapers who tried to force him out of business. Charles eventually landed lucrative government printing contracts, which kept his paper afloat. Charles suffered a "mental breakdown" in 1911, forcing the family to move to Springfield. Before leaving, they sold the "Howell County News" to Arch T. Hollenbeck. Charles died in 1914, and Mary remained in Springfield and died in 1937. At eighty-two, she wrote an autobiography detailing their lives in Howell County and other places, which we will share in our next article.