Luther Routh and Lessie Rains and their son Ray Routh
This is the story, as Clarence Castlebury told it, of the day that Luther and Lessie’s first son was born.
It was a nice spring morning on April 8, 1920. Luther was plowing one of his fields, getting it ready to plant corn. He looked up and saw his cousin, Clarence Castlebury, running up waving his arms. When he was within shouting distance Clarence said, “Jessie wants you to go for Dr. Dill right away.”
Luther was slow making up his mind. He scratched his head awhile and said, “Dad gummit, I don’t know whether to tie my team up or take them to the house and unharness them.”
Clarence said, “You go on to the house, and I will take care of your team for you. Lessie wants you to hurry.”
In those days the telephone lines didn’t go out into the country, so Luther had to saddle his horse and ride to Humansville, seven miles away, to get the doctor to come to the house. Women always had their babies at home then. They named the baby Ray Edward. Then his other grandpa, Frank Swindler, heard that he was named after Ed, his feelings were hurt. Lessie added the name Francis, in front of Ray, just to keep peace in the family. It wasn’t until forty years later when he received his birth certificate that Ray learned that Francis wasn’t his first name after all. His parents had called him Ray from the first day after he was born. He liked that name better anyway. Ray was a fat, chubby baby with blue eyes and light brown hair that curled when he was older. When he was a baby, all the mothers dressed their babies, boys and girls, in long dresses. Ed always told this story about Ray and his long dress.
“Well,” Ed. said, “Ray was just a little feller and he was a crawling around out in the yard, and he catched his dress on a little stick, a sticking up out of the ground. He just kept on pullin’ and tuggin’ until he tore that dress clear offin’ hisself. Lessie didn’t like that one bit, but we was all laughin’ so hard, she started to laugh too.” All of his life, Ray couldn’t stand to be caught in a tight place.
Ray was taken to his great-grandparents house when he was a little boy. Scott Castlebury would let him play with the hitch reins, because he knew Ray would put them back where they belonged when he was through playing. Scott and Lary lived on a little farm just east of Ed and Rhoda’s at that time. Scott died on April 15, 1922 and after he died, Lary went to live with her daughter, Rhoda.
Luther and Lessie moved to a farm near the small community of Hickory Grove, about seven miles from his parents. This place had a nice frame house on it ,and Lessie hoped they would stay there because it was a nice farm, and she thought they could do well there. On March 23, 1924, when Ray was four years old, he was told that the doctor had brought a new sister out to the house in his little black bag. The new baby was named Lois Nadine, and Ray soon found out he had to share his mother’s time with this new baby.
Soon after Lois was born, Luther got sick and wanted to go home to his mother. He thought she could help him get well. Lessie and a neighbor lady were trying to harness the team. When Ray saw that they were doing it all wrong he said, “You women don’t know shit from tar about harnessing a team.” When Lessie got through giving him a good scolding about using such bad words, he showed them how to do it right. Luther wasn’t happy being so far away from his parents, so they moved into the house where Scott Castlebury had lived.
One night Ray was shaken awake and told to run over to his Grandma Routh’s house and tell her Lessie was sick, and to hurry to their house. He had to run about a half mile through the woods. It was dark, and he was so scared, and he ran so fast that he lost one of his shoes. This was on February 22, 1926. It must have been cold, but Ray didn’t stop to get his shoe then. They picked it up when Ed took him home the next day. Ray was sure surprised to find another baby in bed with his mother. He couldn’t figure out why his mother was so sick if the new baby sister was brought in the doctor’ bag as he was told. This sister was named Ruby Marie. She had dark hair and sky blue eyes like her mother.
After Ruby was born, the family moved even closer to Grandpa and Grandma Routh. This time back to the same log house where Ray was born several years before. It was about this time that Great-Grandma Castlebury died, on November 7, 1928. She was dressed and made ready for burial in the house. Ray remembered her as a little gray haired skinny woman. He was in the house when she died. The next day she was taken down the steep Turkey Creek hill on a wagon to the old Simerell graveyard, where she was laid to rest beside her husband, Scott. She left no money to pay for the funeral expenses, so Ed borrowed money to pay for it. He was a proud man and didn’t want the county to bury any of his kinfolks. Ed never had much money in his life, but he always liked to take care of his own.
When Ray was about eight, he wanted to help his daddy cut corn. Luther told him to go play and leave him alone, because he was too busy to fool with him. Ray went to his grandpa Ed, and asked him if he could use a little help. Ed gave him an old corn knife just to humor him, and showed him how to use it. Ray couldn’t lift the heavy knife with one hand, so he used both hands, and cut the corn like he was chopping wood. Ed thought Ray would get tired working and go play but, he was surprised when Ray worked all day with him. He said, “Ray cut a lot more corn than I thought he would.” Ray later said, “I wish I hadn’t learned so well, because when Dad saw how much corn I could cut, he made me help him every day after that. I liked to help Grandpa best, because he never got mad at me if 1 did something wrong. I told my boys I had to go to work in the fields when I was so young, that I had to go back to the house so my mother could change my diaper. That was an exaggeration of course. It seemed like I was born working, though.”
It was while they lived north of Ed’s that Luther traded for a pair of burros, named Jack and Jenny. He brought them home and shut Jenny up in a shed. Rav and Luther were planning to ride Jack over to Ed’s house. Jack did not want to leave Jenny, so Luther whipped him. He reared up and threw Luther into a pile of ashes near the house. Luther was very mad. He got up and started beating Jack with a board, forgetting Ray was still on his back. The burro started running, and Ray couldn’t hold him back. He was holding on for dear life, hoping Jack would stop running when they got to his grandpas house. But, instead, he stopped dead still and reared up in the air. Then he turned around and ran back to the shed where Jenny was and stopped there. It had been a wild ride, but Ray was still on Jack’s back when he stopped running. Luther and Ray tried to work the team of burros, but they did not work out very well, and Luther traded them off the first chance he got. He was glad to get rid of them.
Children did not have many toys then. The only ones Ray could remember that he didn’t make, were a couple of cast iron horses. One of them was black. The other one was light colored and was pulling a little cart. Ray thought Luther bought them in a box of other things at a farm sale. One Christmas, Ray got a shotgun that shot a cork on a string. All of his other toys he made for himself. He made a stable full of horses out of sticks. he used little pieces of leather to make bridles for them. He put a rail out behind the barn so he could tie his stick horses up at night so they would not run away.
Ray made a sling shot that he made from a forked limb, and strips of rubber from old inner tubes. He called it a “nigger shooter”. He picked up some ball bearings at town, and he got so good shooting this sling shot that he could kill squirrels with it to eat. One day he saw a little mother wren sitting on the corner of the house, so he drew back his sling and shot at it. He never thought he could hit such a tiny target. He almost cried when the wren fell dead at his feet. After that, he found out she had babies still in the nest. He dug worms and put them where the daddy bird could find them easily and feed the little ones. Ray never shot at another bird after that. He had learned his lesson.
Lessie’s third daughter was born in the same log house that Ray was, on May 31, 1928. She was named Jewell Mae. She was light haired, but her eyes were sort of amber color. When she was crawling one day, she fell out of the door. She hit her head on the rock that served as a door-step, and was knocked unconscious. She had a tiny dent in her forehead to remember the incident for the rest of her life.
After Jewell was born, Luther had a chance to buy thirty acres at a good price. This place was just west of Ed and Rhoda’s small farm. It did not have a house on it. That was the reason it was so cheap. They decided they could build a log house, because logs were plentiful. Luther and Ed, with Ray’s help, could cut and square up enough to build the house. After the logs were ready, the relatives and neighbors came for the house raising. The women brought lots of country cooked food for dinner, and the men brought their teams and chains to drag the hewed logs out of the timber, to the site selected for the house.
A man sat at each corner of the house to notch the ends of each log as it was lifted in place. This was so it would fit on the log below without leaving a big crack. Ray was only ten years old, but he could already swing an ax pretty well, and he was told to sit at one corner and keep that side notched out. He was proud to be chosen to do this job, and tried extra hard to do it right. After the logs were in place, the floor and roof were nailed on. These were made of boards sawed out of native oak logs at a local sawmill. The neighbors were all thanked for their help, and they went home. The house was almost done. All that was left was to make shingles for the roof. This was done with a tool called a frow, which was like a long knife with a handle on each end. A large block of white oak was set on end and squared off, then each shingle was split by placing the frow on the block and giving it a little tap with a hammer. If this was done right, a nice shingle could be split off with a twist of the handles. Those shingles were then nailed to the roof. Then, Luther hitched up his team and drove to a clay bank to get clay to chink up the cracks in the logs. All of the children helped with this chore.
This house was made in the same fashion as most of the other houses in the Ozarks. It had one large room, with a stairway enclosed along one wall, leading to a room upstairs where all the children slept, two and three in a bed. A smaller room was built on the north side, to serve as the kitchen. These houses did not have any plumbing or electricity. The electric lines did not run that far out into the country. Water was carried from the well Luther and Ray dug a short way from the house. A pail of water and a wash basin was set on a bench along one side of the kitchen wall. This is where everyone in the family washed up. Baths were taken in a wash tub in the kitchen, in water heated in the big iron kitchen range. The rest of the bath room was out in the yard. This the way most of their neighbors lived, except that some of the other houses were made entirely of native lumber. Lessie was so proud of her new home, all new and clean. She worked hard so it would stay that way. Luther’s cousin, Billy Woods, said “Lessie was such a good housekeeper that you could eat off of her bare floors, they were so clean.” She must have taught all of her girls to clean, too, because when they grew up and married, they were just as particular about their homes as Lessie was.
Ray finally got a baby brother on December 1, 1931. By then Ray knew the doctor did not bring babies in a black bag! The baby was named Billy Joe. He had dark hair and blue-grey eyes.
Luther considered himself quite a trader. Ray said, “Just as soon as Dad had a team broke so it would work good, he would trade it off and get one that wasn’t broke at all, just so he could draw a little boot. He would trade for anything.” A few years after Billy was born, Luther traded around and brought home an organ, the very thing Lessie dreamed of having. One day, Mom saw him coming home and she couldn’t quite make out what he had in the wagon. At first, she thought it might be a kitchen safe, but it wasn’t. When Dad got closer she saw what it was. It was an organ! It was a dream come true. After that, when Mom came home from church, she would sit down at her organ and play the songs they sang that day. She could pick out the tune by ear, if she heard it once. She planned to teach all the girls to play when they were old enough.”
Times were hard in the great depression of the thirties, and the folks in the Ozarks had a tough time making ends meet, just as the people in other parts of the country. They raised a. large garden, and Lessie and the girls canned all that they didn’t eat in the summer, so they would have vegetables to eat in the winter. Luther and Lessie cut wood to sell in Humansville in winter, too. As soon as Ray got big enough, he quit school to help Luther, so Lessie could stay in the house, as she had enough to do there, taking care of all the family chores.
All of the children picked black-berries to sell in Humansville. They bought school clothes with most of the money. They kept some of it to spend at the Humansville Reunion, held every year in July. The whole family went in the wagon. They took a big basket of lunch with them, to eat at noon. It would be late when they got home. Everyone from miles around came, and it was the only time all year that they would see some of their friends and kinfolks. It was like a carnival and picnic all rolled into one. Maybe that is why a carnival is still called a picnic in the Ozarks.
The girls made a play beauty shop out under a big tree. Wild grape vines hung down all around to close it in. They cut one of the vines and caught the sap and used this to wave each others hair with. When they could talk Ray and Billy into coming to their shop, they waved their hair too. Maybe that is the reason both of the boys had wavy hair.
It was just as well the family did not know what the future held in store for them. They were happy as they worked and played. They all went to church on Sunday. The children walked two miles to the little one room school house on weekdays. This school was called Liberty, one teacher taught all the grades, first through eighth. One of their teachers, Miss Georgia, rode a saddle horse to school. Ray liked her, because she let him out of school early so he could ride her horse up and down the road. Then it wouldn’t be too frisky when she rode him home.
The best time of the school year was the pie suppers. This event was held every fall at the school house. The children practiced for weeks on the play that they performed, before the bidding started on the pies. All the girls baked a pie to take, and it was sold to the highest bidder. The money raised was used to buy something for the school. The girls wrapped their pies in pretty boxes. The boys were not supposed to know whose box was whose. Of course, the girls always let their best beau know the color of their boxes, so they would know which one to bid on. The boys and girls sat together and ate the pie. Sometimes, if they were old enough, the boys asked the girl if he could walk her home. That is the way many couples met and later married. If several boys bid on the same girls pie, that meant she was real popular. A girl was happy if her pie brought a high price. One year, Lois remembered there was a big fight, and one of the young men used his knife to win. He cut the other boy up real bad. He bought her pie, and when he came in to sit beside her and eat, he started to cut the pie with his bloody knife. That made Lois so sick, she refused to eat with him.
Ray saved his money for weeks. When the bidding started, he forgot what color his girl had said her pie was wrapped in. He bought the wrong pie. When Ray discovered the pie he bought belonged to a little girl, too young to even go to school, he tried to trade it off to some of the other boys. He could not fool them though, so he was a good sport and ate with the little girl. His friends sure teased him about that. He did not mind the teasing so much. He felt he had wasted his hard earned money. Then, to make matters worse, his girl got mad at him, just because he had forgotten her hint about her pie. She would not even let him walk her home that night.
Ray was twelve years old when he started working for their neighbors, the Kellers. They gave him fifty cents a day for his days work. Best of all, he ate lunch and supper with them, too. The women were good cooks, and it seemed like he was always hungry. He was tall for his age, and a little on the skinny side. He was six feet tall when he stopped growing. Mrs. Keller always put his money in an envelope, and she pinned it to his overall bib so he wouldn’t lose it as he walked home. Ray didn’t think that was necessary, but he never told her, because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Unless he needed something, Ray gave his money to his mother to buy food for the family.
Sometimes the girls worked too. Lois earned a quarter once, the first time she had ever had that much money. When she got home, her mother asked her what she was going to buy with all of that money. Lois didn’t have any idea what a quarter would buy and she asked, “Do you think daddy could find me a cow I could buy?” She was often teased about her quarter cow.
Ray and his sisters often found Indian arrow heads around Turkey Creek. These relics were lost by the Sac and Osage tribes, many years before the children were born. Laswells General Store in Arnica gave them penny candy for all they could find. The children didn’t know that in a few years the relics would become scarce, and be worth a lot more money. When they had a few arrow heads saved up, they walked the three miles to Arnica. On the way they had to walk across a foot log placed over Turkey Creek. The girls were always afraid they would fall in the creek. They never did, though. Ray once worked three days for Mr. Laswell in exchange for a pair of work shoes. He received the shoes in advance, and after walking through the wet woods to earn them, they fell apart before he had them worked out.
The family often went to visit Grandpa and Grandma Swindler. Luther didn’t own a car then, so they went in the wagon. One day Grandma’s fried chicken tasted a little funny. As it turned out, the chickens had been eating garlic in the garden. They were naturally flavored with it. Ray liked the garlic taste. Some of the others in the family didn’t like the chicken at all though.
Frank Swindler suffered from dropsy and heart failure, and he died on September 5, 1930. Liza visited with her many children for some time. After she was crippled with arthritis and was bedfast, she lived the rest of her life with her two divorced daughters, Delpha and Alice. She died on November 5, 1934. Liza and Frank are buried in Alder Cemetery, several miles north east of Stockton, Missouri.
The summer Ray was seventeen, tragedy struck the Routh family. The crops were all planted, and the garden was providing some early vegetables to eat. Lessie picked the first cucumbers and sliced them in vinegar for dinner. She liked them best that way. After they were through eating, Lessie began having stomach pains. Everyone thought she had eaten too many raw cucumbers. She was still very sick the next day. Luther sent some of the children to see if a neighbor, Edith Burbridge, would come over and see what she could do to help Lessie. Edith had been a nurse before she moved to the farm nearby. After she saw how sick Lessie was, she said, “I am afraid she has appendicitis, and I think she should go to the hospital right away.” Lessie did not want to go to the hospital, because she knew it would cost a lot of money, money the family needed for many other things. As the pain increased, however, Lessie told Edith she would go, if Edith would take her to town in her car.
Lessie asked Lois to help her wash up and put on a clean dress. As sick as she was, Lessie wanted to look her best when she got to the hospital. She gathered her children around her and said, “Lois is in charge of the house, while I am gone. All of you be good until I get back. Lois, you be sure and watch little Billy, and keep him away from the open well.” Lessie had always been afraid Billy would fall in the well ever since Luther and Ray had dug it. She wanted them to put a cover on it, they just never had gotten around to it.
The children followed Edith’s car to the back side of the field, where the lane entered the main road. Then, they sat huddled together, waiting for someone to come tell them about their mother. Ray went to town with his parents. While Lessie was getting settled in the hospital, he sat in the little park nearby, and hoped the doctor could do something to stop his mother’s pain. It was too late, however. Lessie died that day, June 30, 1937. She was thirty-four years old, and left five motherless children behind. She was buried close to her parents in the Alder Cemetery. The children learned the hard way that the old saying, “Mother is the heart of the home.”, was so true. Ray said, “I never felt like I had a home after Mom died, until I married and had a home of my own.”
Luther and the older children struggled along, trying to keep everything running smoothly. They were thankful they lived so close to Grandpa and Grandma Routh, so they could get help and advice when they needed it. The month of July went by in a daze. Then August came, and fate dealt the family another blow. Grandma was sick. She had tried so hard to fill Lessie’s place, and she was too tired to fight her own illness. When it became clear how sick she was, everyone prayed she would get well. Surely God would not let her die, too. The Routh family were all of the Baptist faith and they believed in the power of prayer. It seemed like God had turned his back on them, because Rhoda died on August 3, 1937, just a little over a month after Lessie’s death. The family was in a state of shock, as they followed their grandma to the Simerall graveyard. They tried to believe the preacher when he told them, “God must need your grandma and mother in heaven, and if you are good, you will see them there someday.” The children couldn’t understand how God could possibly need their grandma and mammy more than they did. They felt as if they just could not go on. Somehow, as the days passed, they found the courage to go about their daily lives.
Luther must have felt as lost as the children, maybe more so. He had always depended on his mother and his wife for so many things. He thought a woman was needed in the house to help. On October 22 of the same year, Luther married Alice Smith. He brought her and her three children, Audra, Gladys and Johnny to live with them. Alice was Lessie’s youngest sister, and Luther hoped the children would accept her presence in the home rather than a stranger. He was mistaken though. It wasn’t because they didn’t like their Aunt Alice, they just resented her. Maybe, it was too soon after their mother’s death. Maybe, they thought it was too crowded in the small log house for all of them. Whatever the reasons, the oldest ones began leaving home. Lois and Jewell took turns keeping house for their grandpa, Ed. Ruby stayed home and took care of Billy until she graduated from the eighth grade. Then she left to make her own way in the world. Ray worked anywhere he could find work. He knew he could always stay at his grandpas house between jobs.
Ray traded a calf for his first car. It was a Model T, it didn’t even have a battery, so he pushed it down hill to get it started. He always saw to it that when he stopped, he parked on a hill. Then he could get the car started again. If he went out at night, he hung a lantern in front, so he could see to drive. Ray went to visit his Uncle Jim Swindler, near Lathrop, Missouri. He worked for a farmer nearby, and hoped to save enough money to buy a better car. He sent some money home to his dad to buy seed potatoes, and spent all the rest for other things. He returned home almost as broke as he was when he left.
It was after he was home for awhile that Ray met a new boy, Clifford Goodman, in Humansville one day. Clifford’s family had moved to the Ozarks a few months before. Ray went home with him that night. Ray noticed Clifford’s sister standing around, her name was Josephine. She was a short girl about thirteen, with gray eyes and brown hair, cut short like a boy. She was barefoot, and dressed in an old pair of Clifford’s overalls. She looked like a tomboy to Ray. The thing about her that puzzled him the most, was the way she kept turning around to keep facing him all the time. What he did not know until much later, was that she had a big hole in the seat of the overalls and she was afraid he would see her underpants! Josephine’s mother thought Ray was just about the shyest boy she had ever seen. She had to urge him to take a helping of everything she had for supper. He would have done without if she hadn’t.
Ray Routh and Clifford Goodman were to become fast friends, for life. They shared many adventures, and their stories about hunting, fishing, and the tricks they played, (and the stories told about them by their siblings and parents), were the highlight of many later family reunion.
The next chapters will tell the story of the Goodman family and how they came to live in the Ozarks. It will also tell how this little tomboy, Josephine Goodman came into Ray Routh’s life.