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By Linda Emley
A few days ago, I was looking at a scrapbook from the Morton community and there were lots of interesting newspaper clippings, but there was one story that I enjoyed more than the others because it was about one of my favorite farm animals.
Many of us remember the English nursery rhyme, “Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full. One for the master, and one for the dame, and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.”
I’ve always loved this rhyme because there are few things more peaceful that watching sheep grazing in an open field.
The Morton scrapbook story has a hand-written date of March 28, 1932 and goes as follows: “She spent $5 Gold Piece Wisely. Coin Brought From Virginia by Mrs. Madison Brown Was Basis for Herd of Sheep. By J.H. Shirkey. In the year 1854, when Madison Brown, one of the earliest settlers of the Morton Community of Ray County came to Ray County Missouri from Rockingham County, Virginia. Mrs. Brown brought with her a five dollar gold piece. They located about one mile north of Morton on what is known as the late T.J. Brown home and the present home of Miss Hontas Brown.
“With the gold piece, Mrs. Brown bought two ewe sheep from Major Oliphant of north of Richmond. The first year they raised four lambs. This particular family of sheep has been continued on the Brown farm for seventy-seven years and has always been the source of a moderate and sure income. By selection and the purchase of a good male every few years, these sheep have become some of the finest and largest in the country.
“At a public sale of the Brown and Keller estate, about 1918, forty head of these sheep sold for $1,280. The coming yearling ewes sold up to $28 and the mature ewes, up to $46 per head. Never before nor possibly never again, will unregistered sheep sell so high. Miss Hontas Brown still has a flock of eighteen of the same line on the home place.
Good sheep are always a safe investment if cared for. Should you buy them a little high, there are three ways to get out: sell the wool, sell the lamb or lambs and if you are still in the hole, sell the ewe.”
After reading this story, I had to know more about Mrs. Madison Brown and her sheep. The first thing I wanted to know was her name because this story never called her anything but Mrs. Brown. It’s easy for women to get lost in history and only be someone’s wife or mother, but it was obvious this lady needed a first name.
While checking the cemetery records and the federal census, I found Martha, the wife of Madison Brown. She was born in Virginia in 1820 and died in Ray County on Feb. 6, 1896. Martha is buried in the Thomas A. Brown Cemetery that is around six miles west of Richmond off highway EE.
When I’m researching a person from the past, I always try to find where “they were laid to rest,” and then I can go visit their gravesite after I get to know the rest of their story. Sometimes we find lots of details to fill in the blanks between their birth and death and then sadly sometimes we never really get to know that person’s life story.
Martha Sewall Hopkins Brown left behind an incredible story, thanks to her daughter, Mary Virginia Brown Osburn, who wrote a 30-page story about the Brown family. The 1973 Ray County History book had a story about this family that mentioned the Brown family history. Then my good friend, Jenne Sue Layman, found a file in the museum library that contained the rest of the Brown history. This history belonged to Bill McCrae and has a note on it that says it was presented to him by the Wall Sisters, Clemmie and Geradine, in 1970. I’m very thankful this book found it’s way to the Ray County Museum and is now forever part of our history.
Madison and Martha Brown had five children, Mary Virginia Brown Osburn, Thomas Jefferson Brown, Julian Catherine Brown Irvin, Frances Elizabeth Brown and Tyree Brown. The first four children were born in Virginia and Tyree was born after the Brown family arrived in Ray County. The Browns built a log cabin upon their arrival and named it “Lone Star”.
The introduction to the Brown goes like this: “The history of the family is a remarkable one. It contains much sorrow, so many pathetic things and yet so many wonderful things. Mistakes were made, sins were committed, yet few families excelled ours in kindness and unselfishness.”
There is a small herd of sheep on a farm near my house and I enjoy looking at them as I drive by each day on my way to town. When I drove by them this morning, I found myself wondering if any of these sheep are from Martha’s flock. I’m sure somewhere in this world there are sheep grazing on a hilside because Martha Brown invested her $5 wisely.
I’ll share more of the Brown’s family tales later, but for now we can all marvel at Martha Brown and how a wise lady turned a $5 gold piece into a herd of sheep that lasted for many generations.
Have a story for Linda? You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.