Tracing Families

Yes, "Tracing Families" is another button; click on it. Which reminds me of one of Dad's favorite poems: "Beauty is a clinging vine; love is like a blossom. If you want your finger bit, poke it at a possum!" –MsDeG

Cherished Tales about Early Days in the Missouri Ozarks

As related by Tess Eric "Eric" DeGraffenreid [1917-1999] to his Kansas-born daughters


My grandparents, Phillip Piper "Piper" [1857 – 1944] and Lucinda (Jeffries) DeGraffenried, lived in the hills of south-central Missouri on a farm. My father, Tess Charner DeGraffenreid, was about 9 or 10 years old. Accompanied by his brother, Stanley (James Stanley, 1889–1974), they were doing things that farm boys did on primitive farms in 1893 or thereabouts — they were playing.

Granddad was working in a field near their cabin when Stanley stepped on a copperhead [a pit viper, somewhat less dangerous than a rattlesnake of comparable size] and was bitten on the ankle. The boys rushed towards the cabin screaming for Lucinda, their mother — "Ma." Grandma rushed out, saw what had happened, and told Tess to run and fetch "Pa" (Piper).

Tess ran to the field and alerted his dad, who dashed to the cabin. As Granddad ran through the yard he grabbed a chicken, and as he reached Stanley, held by my grandma, he whipped out his pocket knife, always kept razor sharp, ripped the hen in half, lengthwise, and clapped it, still partially alive, around Stanley's ankle and held it there tightly, telling Grandma to run get a dish towel. Granddad then tied the towel around the chicken, which was thus held tightly over the puncture wounds. The hen was left there
for some time, until completely cool. When it

was removed in order to check the situation, the half of the hen next to the bite was green, apparently discolored by the poison.

Uncle Stanley's ankle was bone white and drawn. Grandma washed it, put some salve on it, and wrapped it in a clean cloth. Stanley was kept inactive until the next morning when the anxious parents assessed the wound. As there was no swelling or complaint of soreness, Stanley was declared to be "cured" and was released to try, again, to keep up with his older brother.
Phillip Piper & Lucinda (Jeffries) DeGraffenried, 1924


From the information I gathered as a child, my father, Tess C. DeGraffen- reid, was somewhat wild as a young man (he wasn't married until 35 years of age). At the time of this tale he was either rafting railroad ties or working as a tie-buyer. He was staying in a small town and got word of a country dance not far away, so he rented a buckboard and team of horses (which were about half broken). Off he went to the dance, where he got into an altercation with a local yokel over a young lady. The fight was smoothed over and Tess, my dad, stayed until the dance broke up in the wee hours. Then he went out to where his livery rig was tied up and started back to town.

The narrow road soon became steep in a hilly area, and as Dad – Tess C. – pulled on the lines to slow the team, which was more than eager to run, both the lines broke. He was left with two loose, suspiciously unfrayed ends and no control whatsoever.

About that time the horses careened around a bend in the road. The buckboard turned over, throwing Tess out and breaking his leg below the knee. It was a compound fracture, with the protruding bone stuck into the blue clay in the bank along side of the road. After pulling his leg bone out of the clay and cleaning it as well as possible with his thumb nail, Tess braced his other foot against the broken leg and, using his hands, reduced the fracture and got his leg straightened out. He spent the rest of the night holding it in position with his hands. Some time the next morning a farmer came by with a team and wagon and a load of ties. With help from the farmer, Dad was able to get on the wagon and was taken to a doctor's office in town. As it was a compound fracture, the leg couldn't be put in a cast, so the doctor had a canvas grain bag split lengthwise, sewed up the sides, and filled with sand. Tess was put in bed in the hotel (no hospital, of course). The leg was put in traction and the long sand bags held it straight. He had to lie flat on his back in this position for about a month until the bone knit and the open wound healed. The leg was in pretty good shape until he broke it again later (in a different place) in a farm accident.


My father, Tess C. DeGraffenreid, was involved in the railroad tie business from age 12 to about age 36, first as a tie cutter, then rafting ties, and then as a tie-buyer for the Hobart Lee Tie Co., St. Louis, Missouri. When Tess was about 12 years old my Granddad Piper DeGraffenried was through farming in the fall and had started hewing trees — winter work. Piper had felled a number of trees when he took sick with a cold and flu and didn't feel like hewing ties so he stayed in the cabin. Tess took his dad's broad ax (a left-handed ax) and went to the woods where he hewed out 12 ties (about a man's daily output), but with difficulty, as he was right-handed and had to hew over the log. The next day when Piper saw what Dad had accomplished, he took his son to town and bought him a new right-handed ax. My Dad, Tess, continued in the tie business for the next 24 years.

Tess DeGraffenreid Teaches Son Eric to Ride, 1918
Edith (Ericson) DeGraffenreid Admires Her Firstborn, Son Eric
Ties, hey? I surely do hope they ain't no snakes here 'bouts!


Missouri tie-rafters started work in the fall when the farmers began cutting ties. The farmers would haul or drag the ties to the bank of a creek or river that was wide enough to float a string of ties (at least 8 ft wide) and deep enough to float a green-wood tie. The tie-buyers would check the ties, and if they were okay, brand them with a branding hammer and pay the going price (about two bits each). Then when the rains started in the fall, the rafters would roll the ties into the water and spike them into a string about 50 to 60 ft long — perhaps only one tie wide on small streams. They would then float the string downstream to a wider stream where the ties could be placed side by side for a width of 16 to 24 ft. Long, slim poles were used to hold the single strings together, and then put on crosswise to hold the individual strings into a wider raft. The pole stringers were attached with long spike-like nails driven with a pole ax. At temperatures below freezing, the nails would congeal into a mass of solid ice, so they were kept in a keg under water to keep them separated.


My father, Tess C. DeGraffenreid, spent his youth and early adulthood in Missouri cutting, hewing, and rafting railroad ties. One of the amusing stories he used to tell about the tie-rafting operations in the early 20th century was about preparing meals along the way. The rafting crews camped out most of the time, except in rainy or extremely cold weather. Then they would tie up the rafts near a farm house where they knew they could get food and covered lodging of some sort (the barn or otherwise). This was expensive for that day and age (50 cents for supper, a place to sleep, and breakfast), so mostly the rafters roughed it along the creek and river banks.

When a crew started off on a tie run, they selected someone from among themselves to do the cooking. The cook had to prepare meals until a fellow tie-rafter complained; then, whoever griped would automatically become the cook. On one particular trip, the chosen cook wasn't too happy with his lot, so after a few days he hit upon an idea to "lose" his job. He prepared a nice meal — a Dutch oven full of ham and beans with corn pone on the side — but, by the addition of a pound or so of salt, he concocted a mixture that would almost skin a man's throat. The scheme didn't work though. When the beans were ready, the first man to ladle down a spoonful gagged a few times, and croaked out hoarsely, "My God them beans're salty!" Then, thinking fast, he added, "But that's just the way I like 'em."
Missouri Tie-Rafters; Tess C. DeGraffenreid is 4th from Left
Family* Excursion on a Missouri Tie-Raft, 1912
*Left to right: Cousins Clark Vaught (the Vaughts are related to the Longs), Kate Long (mother of Velma Long, pictured at right), Velma Long DeGraffenreid (Mrs. Stanley DeGraffenreid), Ada Jeffries Lucke, Hazel Vaught, Lucinda Jeffries DeGraffenried (Mrs. Phillip Piper DeGraffenried), Myrtle Vaught, Zebedee Jeffries, Alma Henson, Tess Charner DeGraffenreid (Tess Eric's father, son of Lucinda and "Piper" DeGraffenried), and Piper Jeffries. The site was most likely covered by the Lake of the Ozarks upon completion of Bagnell Dam in 1931.
That smarts! Let's don't never ever do that ag'in!


Dad always called my Granddad Piper (Phillip Piper DeGraffenried) "Pa."
Pa had a unique way with animals. Once back in the mid-1880s when it was "farming time," rather than "tie-cutting time," Pa set out to break a team of young mules by plowing a small field of new ground. He was having trouble with the stumps, as well as the mules, when something excited the animals — worse than they already were. Pa tried to keep the plow in the ground to slow them, but was unable to do so. The whole outfit was approaching the end of the field at a dead run and, as he had some control with the reins, Pa steered the animals toward a clump of thorny locust bushes. To avoid the bushes, the mules pulled — in opposite directions — thus running up on each side of the clump, where they got hung up by the harness, reins, and so forth. This stopped the mules, but it just got Pa started. He cut a hefty stick and beat the bejabbers out of the clear side of one mule, driving it deeper into the locust thorns. The other mule got the same treatment. Pa then took the team apart and got clear of the bushes. He hooked the mules up to the plow and started plowing again. The animals were well behaved. He kept the team for several years and said they never offered to try another runaway.

The following tale recently came to me unsolicited via an oft-forwarded e-mail communication. It's so "Ozark"! If the author would like to be identified, I'll be more than happy to attribute this fine example of the hillbilly literary genre. –MsDeG

An old farmer had a wife who nagged him unmercifully. From morning 'til night (and sometimes later), she was always complaining about something. The only time he got any relief was when he was out plowing with his old mule. He tried to plow a lot. One day, when he was out plowing, his wife brought him lunch to the field. He drove the old mule into the shade, sat down on a stump, and began to eat his lunch. Immediately, his wife began haranguing him again.

Complain, complain, nag, nag; it just went on and on. All of a sudden, the old mule lashed out with both hind feet, caught her smack in the back of the head, and killed her dead on the spot.

At the funeral several days later the minister noticed something rather odd. When a woman mourner would approach the old farmer, he would listen for a minute, then nod his head in agreement; but when a man mourner approached him, he would listen for a minute, then shake his head in disagreement. This was so consistent, the minister decided to ask the old farmer about it.

After the funeral, as the minister spoke with the old farmer, he asked him why he nodded his head and agreed with the women, but always shook his head and disagreed with all the men.

The old farmer said, "Well, the women would come up and say something about how nice my wife looked, or how nice her dress was, so I'd nod my head in agreement."

"And what about the men?" the minister asked.

"They wanted to know if the mule was for sale."
"Stubby" the Manx Grandma Helen's Favorite


My father, Tess C. DeGraffenreid, was always a "cat-hater," and when I was a lil' shaver I couldn't understand why. As I got older, Dad liked to tell stories of the "olden-days" when he was growing up during frontier times in the Ozark Mountains. I understood better then. There were very few persons with medical training in Missouri during this period, and unless you lived near a town, you "made do" without a doctor.

When Dad was a good-sized boy, a bit before the turn of the century, he cut the calf of his leg with a broad ax while hewing railroad ties. He got infection in the wound and Grandma put a fat-meat poultice on it.
Cabins didn't have screen-doors or screened windows then, of course, so cats and dogs, chickens, coons, etc., could just wander inside. My dad, Tess, woke up in the night with a terrible pain in his injured leg; he went to feel for it and discovered a cat in his bed. Tess grabbed the cat and threw it out the window. The noise he made woke up my grandma, so she lit a candle to see what was going on. The cat had eaten the fat-meat poultice and started in on Dad's leg. He became a cat-hater from that point on. To prove his story, he showed me a scar and a depression in the calf of his leg where the cat had commenced to chew on it.
Our "Mr. Sam." How could you not love such a creature!?

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