By Linda Emley
I’m always working on several Ray County stories at the same time and some days I have a hard time trying to decide which story is ready to be told and which one needs a few more details. I was in one of those ruts when I found a file that simply said, “Indians.” It only had one newspaper article from 1915, but sometimes that is all it takes to get a story started.
From the Richmond Missourian, Aug. 19, 1915: “The Buzzard Roost Cave by Jewell Mayes. A family of Cherokees traveled north and settled, two long days walk from the Muddy River on a branch that flowed clear all the time. These were peaceable arrowmakers. Inheriting the facile skill of their Georgian ancestors, they enjoyed their camp on the small flat that corresponds to a bit of land on Fire Creek east of Knoxville in Ray County at the mouth of the Wiley Mayes spring branch.
“Below the camp was a hidden cave furnishing protection from stormy weather. This is duplicated in ‘Buzzard Roost’ in the west bluff near Goshen field in Knoxville Township!
“The Cherokee women were the admiration of the Sioux. The young braves came and bought arrows long and often at the tallest maiden’s wigwam in the center of the camp. One low and heavy Indian came very often – and the old heads wondered if they were about to lose their fairest flower!
“ ‘Kiellim’ was the word that was passed round the camp on the night that the favorite confided to her mother the secret. Instead of abusing the helpless girl like most of our ‘civilized’ folk do in ‘refusing to speak,’ they sadly and silently tomahawked her and then …”
As I was reading this story from my copy of this newspaper article, I realized the next line was cut off. I went to the back room and pulled out the original newspaper from 1915 and was disappointed to find that the next line was really missing and we will never know what happened next. I was sad but I did find some other really interesting stories in this 1915 newspaper that I will share after I finish the story about the fair Cherokee maiden.
The next column starts out, “The sunset wall cave below and buried it in the inner chamber at daybreak! Not another word was said about him who committed the crime. They waited for his return for he knew not the secret was out. Next day the Sioux came into camp and all hands grabbed him, gagged and tied him with scaly hickory bark. They then toted him down to the Goshen land and up into the vaulted cave and laid him on the new grave.
“Not a word was spoken. Indian justice makes no speeches! They followed the father’s lead, carried rocks and a soft sticky dirt with which they filled and sealed up the neck of that farthest room of that Fire Creek cave. The next sunrise found ashen coals and arrow dressings where was a busy camp.
“For over 80 years and today the old pieces of arrows and flint scraps from this spot have been picked up by boys going fishing for sun perch, chubs, suckers and mud-kittens. That hole in the west bluff of Fire Creek near the old Mayes plantation has ever been a source of speculation and wonder to youth and elders – and today it is know as ‘The Buzzard Roost Cave.’ ”
I enjoyed this local “Indian Princess” story but there is no way to know if it is folklore or if this really happened.
The other stories I found in this 1915 newspaper are all pieces to a puzzle I needed for some of the stories I’m still working on.
“They Waded Missouri River. The Missourian was informed by postmaster Bert Johnson of Camden that on Saturday a party of five men composed of Robert Walker, Walter Perks, George Thomson, Rena Walker and George Thompson went boating on the Camden lake, which was once the old Missouri River. They took with them a measuring pole and ‘sounded’ the river which was found to be only two feet and two inches deep at the deepest point where three of these men waded from Lafayette County to the Ray County side. Uncle George Thomas, who has resided in Camden over 58 years, witnessed this circumstance and it was a peculiar sight to see as the river has been in this bed for over a century, and as the river falls it is gradually leaving the old bed in front of Camden. The river will certainly be missed by Camden folks as it has been an old landmark at the place for all the years gone by.”
The Missouri River changed its course on June 30, 1915 and Camden was no longer on the bank of the river. This old river bed would later form a lake that we now call Sunshine Lake.
“Old Chip” was a correspondent for the Missourian who lived in Rayville. He shared a story about the new Ray County courthouse. “We had not been in Richmond for eight long months. The new courthouse had almost been built in our absence. We made a thorough inspection of the building from the uppermost room to the bottom. It is all modern and up to date. It is a magnificent structure and reflects much credit to the county court which kept an eye on the structure as it went up. It is a credit to Ray County and our people. It is far beyond my expectation as a building. I do not want to criticize the court or anyone but I find one fault only to the whole structure – the circuit court room is too small and all who live a few years will see that I am right.”
I love this story because it’s hard for me to understand how someone from Rayville would only visit Richmond once in eight months. Times were different in 1915 because Rayville had its own stores and you could likely buy everything you needed in the stores there. Yup, “Old Chip” was right about the size of that courtroom.
The next article is one of those stories that is going to cost me some research time. “Judge Lorenzo S. Magill from the Western District left this morning for Laclede County to look after the 80 acres of land that Ray County owns in that county. The tract was obtained from the government under the indemnity act years ago. Prosecuting Attorney Albert M. Clark made a trip there some time ago to look at the land. It will probably be sold.”
Now I’m on a mission to find this 80 acres in Laclede County and see what happened in this chapter of our Ray County history.
If you would like to contact Linda, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.