(Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the bicentennial celebration, the newspaper plans to publish a series of historical articles about Wayne County. Individuals are encouraged to write and submit articles. If you have an article you would like to submit for publication, email it to [email protected] or drop it off at the newspaper office in Piedmont.)
By Margaret King
The migration of the Bone and Owens families to Wayne County, Missouri, in 1889 was not a likely event. Both families were well-established in the Humphreys and Perry County area of Middle Tennessee. Leander Bone (1828-1891) was born in Tennessee, as had been his parents. He married Tyratia Owens (1832-1905), whose family also were Tennessee natives. Both Leander and Tyratia had grandfathers who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Leander and Tyratia were married in 1851. Over the next 30 years, he was able to amass nearly 3,000 acres in the fertile Buffalo River valley. The Bones made their home near the Perry/Humphreys County line and had 13 children. Leander was a successful peanut farmer and provided many jobs for his family and for his neighbors.
In the mid-1880’s, something happened that altered the planned course for the Bone and Owens families. Two years in a row, the peanut crop failed. Leander became disillusioned and wanted a change. At first, he went to Texas to look at land…but after looking it over, he decided against that move. He was used to beautiful hills and streams in Tennessee, and Texas was nothing like it. He was aquainted with some people named Leeper, and he had heard that the area of Leeper and Mill Spring was especially beautiful. When he left Texas, he went to Missouri on his way back to Tennessee and was convinced that this was where he wanted to start over again. He made arrangements to buy land and move.
His decision didn’t affect just him and his wife. Many members of the family had been involved in the farming operation in Tennessee, and so they decided—or were forced by circumstances—to move, too. The Bone/Owens families began their trek to Missouri in 1889. By this time, there were only five of the thirteen children still alive, and all five made the move with their parents. Three of the sons were unmarried: Leander Munroe, James Pinkney, and Robert Lee. Another son, Peter, came with his wife Mary Greer and four children. Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) had married Richard Jefferson Owens, also of Buffalo, Tennessee, and had a family of her own. Also moving with the family was Bone’s son-in-law Seyborn Blackwell and his two sons. Blackwell’s wife, Sarah Caroline Bone, had died as a teen-age mother in Tennessee. All told, there were 20 family members who resettled in Wayne County.
A contract between Leander Bone and the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway is dated March 4 of 1889. It lists the contents of one rail car as HH Goods and Stock and one man in charge…free. The goods were to be loaded on at Waverly, Tennessee, and moved to the freight station at Union City with the destination of Mill Spring, MO. The charge for transporting everything they had was $78.90.
According to family tradition, Tyratia cried all the way to the train station in Waverly…some 20 miles…in a wagon loaded with belongings. She was approaching sixty years old and did not want to leave her home and her extended family. Additionally, eight of her children were buried in the Bone Springs Cemetery near their home. She was quoted as saying many times, “Grief won’t kill a person, but…” She had known her share.
In Missouri, Leander had chosen a beautiful farm south of Mill Spring where the Brushy Creek flows into Black River. In the 1880’s, Black River was still a sparkling, pristine stream. He thought this was the perfect place to grow crops and raise livestock…to start again. There was plenty of family to help with the labor needed. The future looked bright for the whole family, but the future is always uncertain.
The family settled in to become part of their community. They built fences, cleared land, planted crops, and bought livestock. They built a home and a stone silo that still sits on the far end of the property. They were charter members of the Carson Hill Church and helped to construct the building. At that time, there was a road running from Ijames Hill through the woods to Carson Hill, so the distance was not that long.
In the spring of 1891, something happened that could have been easily predicted by the locals; but it was not predicted by Leander. Torrential rains came, and with them came massive flooding. There was no dam on Black River then, and the flooding waters covered the low lands for miles. Brushy Creek was not able to empty into the river, so the problem was compounded. The Bone family watched Black River and Brushy Creek rise until water covered their farm. Their fences, their crops, and their livestock washed away. The land that they had worked so hard to till sat under water for weeks. This tragedy was too much for Leander and may have hastened his death. On May 22, 1891, he died at the age of 63. He was buried in the Carson Hill Cemetery.
Exactly what the remaining members of the family chose to do is unknown. There were still plenty of men to do the work of farming, and there weren’t many other options open. The 1900 census shows Tyratia still living on the farm with her youngest son, Bob, and a granddaughter, Minnie Bone. Minnie’s father, Peter, had died the came year as his father, in the fall of 1991. Peter’s widow married married Seyborn Blackwell, her former brother-in-law, Sarah Bone’s widower. There is some evidence that Tyratia took her daughter Sarah’s two boys and Peter’s four children to raise.
Mary and Seyborn had two children, but she died in 1896. Seyborn was married for a third time to Alice Williams. They were the parents of eight children, including Andrew Jackson “Jack” Blackwell, who made his home in Mill Spring. He had dairy cattle and delivered milk to the neighboring communities for several years. He and his wife, Mabel “Peete” Warmack, were the parents of Marjorie Blackwell Bowles.
By the 1920’s only three of the Bone children were still alive: Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Owens, Bob, and Jim. Bob Bone left the area and went to St. Louis. Jim Bone, who was 20 when the family moved from Tennessee, made his home in Mill Spring. He married Mary “Molly” Daniel, whose family founded Danielsville, later Piedmont. “Pop Bone” and “Mom Bone” as they were called by most who knew them, had one son, James Guy. Guy was the station master at the Mill Spring Depot for many years. He and his wife, Marie Duncan, had three children who lived to adulthood: Wilma Jean, who moved to St. Louis; Jamie, who settled in Texas; and Reg Bone who stayed in Piedmont and married Mary Garren. He was the basketball coach at Clearwater High School for several years in the 1970’s. Pop Bone died in 1962 and Mom Bone died in 1974. They are both buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Piedmont.
Dr. Richard and Mary
Elizabeth Bone Owens
Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Bone Owens and four daughters made the move to Mill Spring with her parents. Her husband, Richard “Dick” Jefferson Owens, stayed behind in Tennessee to finish his medical schooling. Before he had decided to become a doctor, Dick had been a teacher and a merchant in the area of Lobelville, Tennessee.
The Owens family bought a lot with a small home on Second Street in Mill Spring. They lived there while construction was begun on a large, two-story home at the front of the lot. Over the next hundred years, while the house was still owned by an Owens descendant, seven generations called this house home. It was demolished in 2017.
Dr. Owens finished his schooling in 1890 and was certified as physician and surgeon. He received degrees from the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences in Memphis and the Tennessee College of Medicine. He joined his family in Mill Spring and set up his practice there.
The family joined the Mill Spring Christian Church, which had been established 5 years earlier. The church, also on Second Street, was built on land donated by the Leeper family. Preaching services were not held regularly, but there was an active Sunday school. Each Sunday, people met to worship by singing hymns, studying the Scriptures, and taking Communion. They did have preaching services fairly regularly, with messages delivered by circuit riding preachers. The church was built on pillars, and since pigs were free to roam, they often congregated under the church. Many services were disrupted by the squeals of the pigs.
The church is still active today. Throughout the years and still today, Owens descendants have been active in the church, serving in the capacity of Sunday school superintendent, teacher, deacon, elder, treasurer, song leader, and pianist. They worked to help keep the building repaired and clean, and in years past, they canned the grape juice and baked the bread for Communion.
Early in the 1890’s, Dr. Owens built an office and drug store on the corner of Second and Main (now called Birch). He also had an undertaking service housed in a room at the back. This building still stands; it has been used as a corn crib, a teen town/pool hall, and a church. He helped establish the Bank of Mill Spring. In recent years, the building housed the Mill Spring Post Office. He also helped establish the Bank of Piedmont, now called First Midwest Bank of the Ozarks, and was a principal stock holder.
Mill Spring and Leeper had many out-of-town visitors during the early 1900’s. People could ride the train down from the St. Louis area, stay in the popular Ozark Hotel, and take advantage of the beautiful Black River valley. Local people acted as guides for fishing and hunting trips. Dr. Owens often took part in these hunting excursions.
One of the most famous people to ever come to the area was George Sisler, also known as Gorgeous George, a baseball player for the St. Louis Browns. Sisler held the MLB record for most single hits in a season from 1920–2004.
One year Sisler came to Leeper to visit his friend Herman Radke and do some quail hunting. It was common for Radke to load the hunters up in his Ford truck and drive down the railroad tracks to Mill Spring to meet with others and form their hunting party.
One evening, while waiting for the train to pass, Radke, Dr. Owens, Sisler, and Paul Simmons all waited in the station. Dr. Owens found a deck of playing cards, and the men began to gamble on a game of poker. A short time into their game, three men barged into the station wearing masks. Two of the men were armed. The three masked men began to rob the poker players of money, jewelry, anything of value. Paul Simmons pleaded with the masked men to let him keep his wedding ring, and they obliged. Sisler, on the other hand, turned his around and hid it. Leeper and Mill Spring were small towns, and Dr. Owens recognized one of the coats on the masked men. After they left, Dr. Owens alerted authorities, and the three men were apprehended. There was a trial, and Sisler had to travel back twice to testify. But the judge determined that due to the men’s gambling, no matter how small, the robbers were innocent and set free. (Information from Wikepedia)
In 1916, Dr. Owens purchased not one but two Model T’s several months apart. There is no record showing what happened to the first, but it is easy to imagine. He also owned one of the first “radio sets.” This was so important at the time that the 1930 United States Census has a column listing whether or not the family owned a ‘radio set.’ Dr. Owens was a loving man, often holding his grandchildren and giving them “busses,” as he called kisses. He was a quiet man and spent a lot of time contemplating how best to treat his patients.
Dr. Richard Jefferson Owens died unexpectedly in February of 1929, leaving his wife of 54 years, Betty, and six children. His obituary states that he had been sick for several days but was feeling better just before his death. He even felt well enough to tune his radio…also mentioned in his obituary. He is buried in the Mill Spring Cemetery. Among the letters of condolence written to the family was a letter from former governor of Missouri, Sam A. Baker, a family friend of many years.
Mary Elizabeth Bone Owens lived out her remaining years with her daughter, Ada Yates. She died in January of 1940 and was buried in the Mill Spring Cemetery.
Dr. and Mrs. Owens had moved to Missouri with four daughters: Nora Lee, Florence Loretta, Ada Elizabeth, and Hattie Dixie. In the years to follow, they lost one daughter, 5-year-old Hattie, and added three sons: Roy Jefferson, William Penn, and Richard Norman. All of the children were well-educated, upstanding members of the community.
Dr. Richard and Betty Owens’ oldest child living to adulthood was Nora Lee, born in 1879. Nora was a petite, black-eyed beauty who was said to look like her grandmother Tyratia. She attended public school at Mill Spring School. Her 8th grade teacher was Sam. A. Baker, who also grew up in Mill Spring. Several years later, Sam “courted” Nora for a while.
Nora became a teacher in the Mill Spring School. A former student, Ralph Eads, wrote of her in an article published many years ago:
“There is another very kind lady that I will always remember, and how she smoothed the fears of a small, frightened boy. She was a very beautiful and lively person. She was my first school teacher; I can remember her as young and beautiful, never as an elderly person. She was Nora Owens. We often wonder why God takes some of our good people away from us at such an early age. Well it could be that that is the way He can make Heaven more beautiful. I always go to the cemetery when I can come to Mill Spring, as my loved ones sleep there too, and I wish that Nora could know that I try to have a white rose for her. I know that the Good Lord will always remember her for the fine person she was. ‘Sleep, Nora…you will never be forgotten.’”
Nora didn’t teach many years. In 1906, she married Henry Harper McClure, and began her new role as housewife. Henry, called Mack, had accepted a position as accountant for the Clarkson Lumber Company and moved to Leeper from Pawnee, Illinois. He had received a degree from Gem City Business College in Quincy, Illinois, and a certificate declaring that he was a “competent and trustworthy accountant.”
Mack was a smart, upstanding citizen like his ancestors before him. His great-great-grandfaher, Alexander Harper, had fought in the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. He was captured by Indians and escaped after successfully running the gauntlet. Later, he was captured by the British and was sent to Quebec, spending two and one-half years in captivity. Alexander’s wife, Elizabeth, took her family to Fort Schoharie while her husband was in captivity, and she worked to bake bread for the troups and make cartridges for their ammunition. One of Mack’s great-great grandfathers took part in the Lexington Alarm, listed as a Minuteman from Massachusetts; another was a Minuteman from Connecticut. His father, John McClure, fought in the Civil War. Mack possessed many of the qualities of his ancestors.
Shortly after their marriage, the McClures moved to Skiatook, Indian Territory (Oklahoma). They lived there only a short while and then returned to Missouri. Nora brought with her a young pecan tree, which she planted in the back yard of her childhood home. The tree flourished, and in the 1950’s it was producing more than 3 bushels of pecans in a season. The tornado that hit Van Buren/Freemont in 1957 took the tree down, but it was topped, pulled back up with tractors, and staked out. Remarkably, the tree took root again and lived. It never again produced as many pecans as before, but squirrels planted many other pecan trees which sprouted within a 2 block area.
Once back in Mill Spring, Mack took on the job of keeping books and working in Owens Drug Store. He also worked for his father-in-law in a farming venture. Dr. Owens had purchased several parcels of land, including the land between the railroad tracks and Black River, which included Mill Spring Branch.
The land was worked with mules. Quoting from Ralph Eads’ article again: “When Henry McClure came to our town, he was a great help to the entire community. I do not know the year he came, but I do remember the first time I saw him. Of all places, it was in the alley behind the Doctor Owens home, putting a new set of harness on about the finest team of mules I ever saw in my life. There was a lot of comment from the men of Mill Spring of what a fine team they were. Those mules looked like a gold mine to me. If I told you what I heard those mules cost, you might think I was batty. I wonder if Mack remembers. Mack started using those mules, and I heard by good authority that he did a good job. He was very strong and liked by everyone….”
Sometime after 1910, Mack opened his own store. It was a general merchandise store, stocking all kinds of groceries, clothing, shoes, material, food for livestock, horse collars, bridles, nails, kerosene, gasoline, candy, soda, and about anything else you can think of. Dried beans and sugar were not packaged but were kept in big bins and scooped out into paper ‘pokes’ and weighed. Flour came in 25 pound cloth bags, which were normally recycled into dresses or dish towels. Mack ran a successful business for about 50 years before “super markets” in Piedmont and the effects of his advancing age convinced him to close the doors.
There is probably no business today which is run the way Mack ran his. He allowed his neighbors to charge their groceries, and he didn’t hound anyone to pay up. He provided food for numerous families who may not have eaten without his help, particularly during the years of the Great Depression. Still today, some comment that they may have starved as children had it not been for him.
Life was not all about business for Mack. He was, by all reports, an almost unbeatable checker player. People came from towns all around to play him. Often there would be more than one checker game going at once in a sitting area at the back of the store where men would gather around a pot-bellied stove and tell tall tales. Supposedly, a customer came in once right in the middle of an intense checker game. Someone said, “Mack…there’s a customer up front.” To which Mack replied, “Just ignore him, and maybe he’ll go away.” First things first.
In the alleyway across the street, Mack installed a wagon scale. People would come to town with full wagons, and Mack would go across the street to weigh them. Later they returned with empty wagons and reweighed to determine the weight of their load. It was fascinating to watch him add big, round iron weights until the scales balanced perfectly.
Mack never got in a hurry…never got upset. There was a huge barn on the property across the railroad tracks (owned originally by Dr. Owens, then by Nora McClure.) One night, the barn caught on fire, and someone went to wake Mack up to tell him. According to sources, Mack got up, got dressed, and walked to his store. He opened the store and got a couple of cigars to chew on while he went on down the street to watch the barn burn.
Mack and Nora’s first child was Grace Elizabeth, born in 1910. Grace was handicapped and unable to care for herself. Their second child, Richard, died at the age of eighteen months. Their third child was Mary Helen, (1914-1985).
Nora died following cancer surgery in 1931. Mack died in 1970.
McClure’s daughter Helen, sometimes called Helen Mack, was an extremely intelligent, energetic young girl. She attended Mill Spring School and was ‘”double-promoted” enough times to finish elementary school when she was only 10…a practice which is no longer allowed. She then went to high school in Piedmont and boarded there during the week. She graduated from high school at 14 and completed work at William Woods at 16. After she earned some credit at Southeast Missouri State Teachers’ College, she began teaching at Mill Spring School where she earned $40 a month teaching 40 students, grades 1-4. Here she met her future husband, Isaac Willis Henson (1910-1996). He taught 40 students grades 5 through 8 and also served as principal.
I.W. “Nig” had earned a reputation area wide as a baseball pitcher and switch-hitter. He played semi-pro ball for several years and set the semi-pro record for strikeouts, striking out 128 batters in 8 games. That record stood for many years. The St. Louis Cardinals offered him a contract for the princely sum of $100 a month.
Willis and Helen married in 1936, and they set up housekeeping in the house her Owens grandparents had built. He quit teaching and drove an oil truck for a while. He and his father-in-law, Mack McClure, formed a partnership for a farming operation, and raised cattle as well as corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, and hay crops. He wanted to enlist during World War II, but he was told that it served the country better for him to farm. He once said that if his country wanted him to farm, he would be the best farmer he could be.
I. W. was a good musician though he never receieved any lessons. He had a booming bass voice and sang with quartets for many years. He also played the ‘fiddle’ by ear and entertained the family with whatever song they asked for. His favorites were “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” In the late 60’s, a run-in with a hay baled cost him two fingers on his left hand. He still somehow managed to play the fiddle some but didn’t play as often as before.
Helen was a stay-at-home mother except for the part-time help she gave her father in his grocery store. She was very active in the Mill Spring Christian Church and taught the adult class for many years. She was a charter member of the Mill Spring Civic Club and was successful in leading an effort to have Mill Spring chosen as a member of the Missouri Community Betterment Network and the recepient of grants to be used for various projects for the community. At the center of the civic club’s work was a park located on Black River. The Civic Club held a 99-year lease, but the land was relinquished when interest in keeping the park up waned. Helen also served as city clerk and collector for the village.
Helen was an eloquent speaker. While she was at William Woods, the speech department at the college sponsored her in her own recital, where she presented various memorized works of poetry and prose. After her marriage, she was regularly asked to give book reviews. The organization making the request would choose a book, usually a new release. She would read the book and then present a condensed version to her audiences, various book clubs throughout Wayne, Carter, and Butler Counties.
She also wrote a column for the Daily American Republic for many years. She wrote about nature in the Ozarks, a subject which was dear to her heart. Her column was published under the penname “Mary Mack,” and her identy was not made known until she decided to retire the column.
One of her great loves was Black River. Almost every day, she and her daughters would walk the quarter of a mile or so to spend the afternoon swimming in the nearly-always-cold river. A dozen or so children from the town would also go, and Helen was the unofficial lifeguard for the group. She taught dozens of children to swim over the years—many of them were as young as 3.
In 1952, I. W. ran for state representative from Wayne County and served for 12 years until 1964 when Missouri went through redistricting and Wayne County no longer had its own representative. While representing Wayne County, he served as chairman of the powerful Roads and Highways Committee and was able to bring many improvements to Wayne County Roads.
The Hensons had three daughters: Marilyn Beth, who died at birth, Nancy Elizabeth, and Mary Margaret. Nancy married Terry Melton and had one daughter, Susan Melton Hampton VanNoy (Buddy). Nancy died at 20 years old in 1959 after undergoing open-heart surgery when the procedure was still in its infancy. Susan has two sons, Jason (Kristina) and Darin (Sara) Hampton. She is an administrative assistant in the Superintendent’s office at Clearwater R-I School and makes her home with her husband in Piedmont.
Margaret married Joe King, and both taught in the Clearwater R-I School system for over 50 combined years. They have two daughters. Kathy King Hill is the mother of Trey, Maggie, Joey, and Josh; Cindy King Briley (Terry) is the mother of McClure and Helena. Kathy taught 21 years at Clearwater Elementary before her retirement in 2016. Cindy and Terry Briley also teach at Clearwater.
Mary Helen McClure Henson died in 1985; her husband, Isaac Willis Henson, died in 1996. They are both buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Piedmont.
The Owens’s second daughter was Florence, (1881-1968). She married Frank Chilton, and they made their home in Mill Spring.
Before her marriage, Florence was a teacher at Brushy Creek School. She rode sidesaddle on a horse to travel the 5 miles from her home. She was a musician and played the piano for Mill Spring Christian Church for many years. She also was a regular contributor to the Wayne County Journal Banner.
Frank (1880-1951) was a Wayne County native and grew up on Greenwood Valley. He and Florence were married in 1907. He worked with his father-in-law, Dr. Richard Owens, in the Owens Drug Store before becoming a merchant. Frank owned and operated a general store in Mill Spring for many years and also served as postmaster.
Florence and Frank had two daugthers who lived to adulthood. Mabel married Kipp Johnson and moved to Poplar Bluff. She was a teacher in the Poplar Bluff schools for many years. They had one daughter, Loretta.
Their other daughter, Hazel, married Wayne Ward. They made their home in Piedmont, where she taught for many years. Wayne was a Wayne County native. His father, G. L. Ward, had a general mercandise store in Silva in the late 1940’s and ‘50’s.
Hazel and Wayne had two sons, Frank and George. Frank owns and operates Village Motors in Silva, housed in the building that was his grandfather’s general store.
Owens’ third daughter was Ada, born in 1883. She married Joe Yates of Williamsville in 1906. They built a brick home across the street from Mill Spring Christian Church, and the home still stands today. Ada is remembered as a great cook and loving, Christian lady. She had no children of her own and went out of her way to make the children of the town feel special. She died in 1951 and is buried in the Mill Spring Cemetery.
Two of the Owens sons left the area. William served in WWI and made his home in St. Louis. Richard earned his PhD and moved to the Washington D.C. area where he taught at George Washington University for many years.
The oldest Owens son was Roy Jefferson. Roy was born in 1889, shortly after the family moved to Missouri. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a physician and surgeon. Dr. Roy met and married Inez Ponder, a registered nurse, when he was attending medical school. The couple set up practice in Mill Spring and served the community for several years.
Roy died suddenly in 1931 at 42 years old. Inez remained in the community and continued to help the people. After the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, Miss Inez, as she was called, provided the only medical assistance available. She delivered dozens of babies in the following years. In 1942, Inez married Mack McClure, widower of Nora Owens. Inez died in 1986.
Roy and Inez had two daughters: Betty Jane married John Nicks and had one son, Tad. Barbara Lee married Ed Lewis and had two daughters, Dana and Jan. Betty lived in Piedmont until recently when she moved to Arizona to be close to family.
While the Bone and Owens families left Tennessee nearly 130 years ago, some of their descendants still visit the places their ancestors called home and keep in touch with descendants of the families who stayed behind.