The Starkey Family - Howell County Pioneers
Thu, 05/19/2022 - 10:09am admin
He arrived in Howell County in October 1859, at the age of six. Howell County itself was only two years old. In the last of his seventy-plus years in the county, James Nelson Starkey remembered and described the fledgling town of West Plains. Those accounts give us a glimpse of what life was like here over one hundred fifty years ago.
James accompanied his parents, Lycurgus and Hannah Louise Starkey, as part of a caravan of wagons and a two-wheeled ox cart traveling from Carroll County, Tennessee, to the South Fork Community in Howell County. Lycurgus, born in Tennessee in 1826, and Hannah, born in Howell County in 1833, are buried in the Mt. Zion Cemetery at South Fork. By the way, I looked up the pronunciation of Lycurgus, and it turns out there are dozens of opinions on how to say the name of the 9th Century B.C. Spartan Lawgiver. I'm going with Lai-kur-gus
James Starkey was spotlighted in the West Plains Gazette in April 1925, on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary, "He came here in a two-wheel cart drawn by a yoke of oxen. In the party were Mr.(Lycurgus) and Mrs.(Hannah) Starkey and children, Peter Collins and wife and children, and Mrs. Bettie Collins, the mother of the Collins brothers. There were three wagons, three men, four women, thirteen children, and nine dogs in the party."
"The party traveled what is known now (1925) as the Pocahontas road and reached Thomasville, the oldest settlement and at that time the leading town in the Ozark region. There were no roads through the country, only trails that wound their way round the mountains and through the valleys and along the streams. At that time, there was only one store, a blacksmith and gun shop, and a few log cabins in West Plains. The party did not come to West Plains as they followed the Yellville road south of this place."
"When he came here, deer were as plentiful as rabbits are now, and he has often seen as many as fifty in a herd. He has seen the log cabin torn down and nice frame cottages take their place all over the country. He has seen the forest disappear like the snow before the sun, and large farms appear instead. Cattle, hogs, and sheep have taken the place of the deer."
"With great interest has Mr. Starkey watched the development of West Plains. From a small hamlet of log houses and shacks, he has seen it grow into a city of brick and mortar, and the streets from cobblestones, gulleys, dog fennel, and smart weeds to brick and asphalt paving, and while as a city and people he believes some things could be made better, as good people as can be found in the world are here."
Just over a year after the Starkey family's arrival, the Civil War started. James was too young for service and his father too old. That put them at more risk than picking a side. The Gazette reported from their interview with James Starkey, "When the Civil War broke out, both large and small bodies of Federal, as well as Confederate troops, passed through the country leaving sorrow and desolation in their path. In the fall of 1861, when it became no longer safe to remain in the country, Lycurgus Starkey took his family to Salem, Arkansas, where he came in contact with Van and Ferd Shaver and Powell Cochrane. Both Mr. Shaver and Mr. Cochrane were southern men and went into the Confederate Army, putting all their possessions in the care of the elder Starkey. In order to avoid trouble, Mr. Starkey and family moved around from place to place. When the war came to a close, the family was found near Batesville, In Independence County, Arkansas. There they remained on a farm until 1874."
In 1875 James Starkey married local girl Martha F. Anthony.
James Starkey recalled, "Up until 1874, the settlers in his (South Fork) neighborhood got their mail at West Plains. It came by horseback from Salem to West Plains and thence to Thomasville. There was no post office between West Plains and Bakersfield (Ozark County), then known as Waterville. Settlers in the South Fork country sent someone to West Plains every Saturday to get the mail for all the neighbors and was expected to return about three o'clock when the whole neighborhood would be there to receive their mail which consisted of a letter now and then. There were no newspapers taken in the country then, except where three or four persons would contribute and subscribe for a paper, which was a monthly periodical, and everybody knew when paper day came and would be at the appointed place to receive it and hear the paper read."
"These were the good old days of long ago. One might say, 'Oh, I don't see anything good in such a life.' Now, let's see. In those days, there were no bank robberies, hold-ups, and no enemies. When you met a man, he was invariably your friend. Sometimes some fellows would steal a side of bacon or a bushel of corn, but this fellow would not stay very long in one place. The people made it too hot for him, and he had to move on. When Sunday came, everybody would take their families and their dinners, go to church and stay all day. Some would go in an ox wagon and arriving at the Mt. Zion Church, which Mr. Starkey attended, they would drop the pole, leave the yoke on the oxen, put a bell on one of them, and let them graze. Late in the afternoon, when the services were over, the oxen would be found five or six miles away, while others were not so far. All would return home feeling happy for having spent a day in the service of God and fellowship of his friends."
"Mr. Starkey says there were no banks in the early days of this country; neither were there bank robbers or hold-ups as are so numerous today. In the early days of this country, everybody was your friend. Today one does not know his friends or whom to trust. In the early days, there were strict rules in all the churches, and if any member went to a dance or desecrated the Sabbath day by doing any work or cursing or swearing or anything of a disorderly nature, he was turned out of the church, after he or she was first given an opportunity to make good and refused."
Mr. Starkey says that times are now different from the good old days of long ago. Now we can fiddle and dance all we please, curse, and swear, work all day Sunday, and join the church in the morning and go to a baseball game in the afternoon and holler and scream like a pack of Comanche Indians and yet be a good church member. It was not so in the good old days of long ago."
Though he was not formally trained in the law, Starkey served four years as Probate Judge of Howell County, an elected position. Self-study made him proficient in his duties and in future offices, as explained in the Gazette article:
"For twelve years, Mr. Starkey (served) as Justice of the Peace of Benton Township." The Justice of the Peace served as a local judge where minor infractions or disagreements between citizens were resolved locally. Some felonies were also adjudicated, and in most cases, serious crimes were first heard by the Justice of the Peace and then bound over to Circuit Court in West Plains. In 1908 Starkey and his wife moved to West Plains, and according to the Gazette, "he was appointed probation officer or officer of the juvenile court. He takes an interest in wayward boys and girls placed in his charge and keeps strict watch upon all of them. Many boys and girls have forsaken their wayward habits to walk the straight and narrow path of honesty and virtue through his efforts. Mr. Starkey also served four years as county attendance officer."
James Starkey was a life-long Democrat. That he was elected Probate Judge soon after moving to West Plains is testimony to his character and his ongoing popularity in the community, composed of a large majority of Republican voters.
Starkey was a lifelong member of the Methodist Church in South Fork and West Plains. Two of his sons grew up to become Methodist ministers of some prominence. James and Martha Starkey had eight children, though two died in infancy.
In February 1933, the West Plains Daily Quill ran the headline, "J.N. Starkey Locates Family of Uncle Lost in Gold Rush of '49."
Through letters exchanged during the last few weeks, Judge J.N. Starkey of West Plains, and J.J. Starkey, editor of the Kerrville Times at Kerrville, Texas, have established the fact that they are first cousins, being sons of two brothers who became separated and lost to each other during the California Gold Rush of '49.
"Through their letters, the two men have bridged the gulf of mystery and uncertainty which has separated the two families for more than three-quarters of a century, and today Judge Starkey held in his hands letters from his own keepsakes and also from the keepsakes for his cousin in Texas, both of which bear the handwriting of James Starkey father of the Kerrville editor and uncle of Judge Starkey.
The reunion was brief. James Nelson Starkey died at home in West Plains eight months later at the age of eighty in October 1933. His wife had died the year before, and both are buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in West Plains.