Crawford County Missouri



The Crawford Mirror
Steelville, Missouri
March 1, 1973
Page 11

Prescott, AZ
February 7, 1973

Just over a year ago we were visiting in your area and it was a 
pleasure meeting you and talking of early Steelville and Crawford 
County. Except for one visit when I was married and brought my wife 
home in 1919, I had not been back since I left in 1909. Most of my 
immediate family moved to Oklahoma and elsewhere and I never got 
back there until this time a year ago.
All through one’s life, I suppose, a person keeps remembering and 
wanting to return to the place where he grew up—and I often thought 
of Steelville and Crawford County. So at last my eldest son, Paul, 
my wife and I made the trip and are very happy we did.
So much has changed—the whole area is built up with homes, the roads 
approach old landmarks from different directions, the use of the land 
is not as it was, and almost all of the old country homes have been 
lost. But all the same the people are as I had hoped, still an 
independent and generous people. The welcome we received made us very 
glad we came. It was this quality in this place that brought back so 
many new memories that I had not thought of for more than half a 
My people came to Missouri long before it became a state and settled 
in what became St. Francois County. My Grandfather was born there but 
came with his brothers and sisters and their parents to Crawford 
County when the latter took land near the site that today is the 
present Keysville. My great grandfather had come first (and we think 
with some of the Keys to whom we are related) looking for a home in 
this area which then had no white people living in it at all. They 
rode the country and having decided upon it and picked their places, 
the men came back another year and then raised corn for at least one 
summer alone there. Not knowing the Indians as yet, they didn’t 
winter in the new home but carried the crop back to their homes south 
of DeSoto in the fall. It was probably the next year that the women 
and children came. 
The big log house with the great fireplaces at each end, sleeping loft 
above and full-length porches front and back was built not long after 
that. Most people now living in Crawford County will remember it. 
It was a couple miles above Keysville across the ford of Crooked Creek 
and up on a rise. Just under it were the barns and the old stone 
spring-house (all still standing in 1972) and the meadows of the creek.
The oldest barns (also still standing) and the fence join the rock 
face that lifts from the left bank (looking downstream) of Crooked 
Creek Valley. It stood there from the very beginning but burned only 
a year ago last August—a great loss, we feel, to the history of 
Crawford County.
My parents were Robert Stewart Stafford and Narcissa Altina Collins 
and I was born near Cherryville but moved with them and my sisters 
and brothers in 1889 to the place where I was raised, just out of 
Steelville. The property now belongs to the city which received it 
from my sister, Mirta, and Claude Dickson’s son, James Dickson, just 
a few years ago. The Vinabind building is on it and it seems right 
to me that the land should help in the publishing of books. Our home 
was just across the road on the hill where only the foundation of 
the house my parents built is left, together with the barn and built 
in 1905 or 06, a few years after mey father died. 
Our farm partly surrounded the Sankey Station and it was then a 
thriving little place. The railroad company had the round-house there 
and machine shops and altogether it supported a number of families. 
The yards for shipping livestock to the market at St. Louis were here 
too. It was also the location of an old stone grist mill powered by 
a water wheel in a mill race from the Yadkin and Whittenberg Creeks. 
I recall that especially from a time when my brother, Jewell, then 
about six walked out into it after his brand new straw hat and I ran 
down and told the miller who jumped in and saved him from drowning. 
Later this mill was improved to a steam operated grinder and the 
boiler was heated with cord wood. The owner of the mill, Mr. Riggs, 
had a home on the hill near our farm. There were five homes on 
Sankey until about 1900.
Besides this there was the Midland Iron Furnace in operations just 
over a mile downstream from the Sankey Station. It worked a large 
number of men – not only the furnace but woodcutters, men handling 
cord wood, burning and charring it in the pits; haulers, many teams 
both company 4 and 6 mule hitches hauling charcoal, in big wagons 
in tandem but private teams as well. My father supplied some of 
these teams and I remember I would try to catch one of the drivers 
after school because sometimes he (generally Jesse Oxendine) would 
put me up on the riding mule and I would take them home. I was 
about 8 or 10 then and always felt it necessary to get some black 
charcoal smudge on my face somewhere before I could handle the 
job right. The lead pair was controlled by a jerk line. 
The iron ore was brought in by railroad from Cherry Valley and 
was sold-out as pig iron. The Company built a number of houses for 
their workers and operated a store. There were two school houses – 
one with two rooms and two teachers at Midland and the other on our 
farm but operated as a Midland school. I went to the big one until 
the furnace closed down after the Spanish-American War and then 
attended the one on our farm. I date this by the memory of a veteran 
of that war who drove one of our teams and wore his army pants with 
the stripe down the leg. 
The presence of the railroad that brought the ore in was a great 
temptation to the young people of the school. If we found an 
un-manned hand-car on the track we pushed it up the slope and rode 
it down at a pretty good clip. One noon we pushed it up very high 
beyond the hog-back ridge and almost everyone in school got aboard. 
Unfortunately we hadn’t noticed a cow standing at the rest on the 
track. When we hit her the student body departed in all directions. 
It took us the rest of the noon hour to get ourselves collected and 
we presented ourselves for classes after dinner in pretty bedraggled 
shape. Our parents found out about it next day. I’m sure anyone who 
made that ride has no difficulty recalling it. 
Steelville in the 1890s was a very busy place. Mr. Slack was the 
editor of the Steelville Mirror. The Bass Mercantile outfitted 
everyone as did the Haley Store. (My cousin Pearl Stafford married 
Claude Bass). A Mr. Ives ran a livery barn; Mr. Cooper a lumber yard; 
the big hotel was on Main Street. The Houston Hotel was near the 
depot. There was a flour mill owned by Devol and Scott. Mr. Key had 
a blacksmith shop. There were at least three churches and two 
restaurants. Professor Hayes was at the College on the top of the 
hill. The Seminary where my father had gone was across the foot-
bridge over the creek behind the Bass Store.
My sister, Mirta, attended Steelville Normal and Business Institute 
and was one of eight in the graduation class of (I think) 1892 – 
the first one of the first graduations at SN & BI. My brother, 
Collins, and I also went there as did our sisters, Eula and Okel, and 
younger brother, Jewell. IT was an unusually good school, I believe, 
and I regret that it no longer serves the area.
We have laughed at your story, Mr. Kehr, about Professor Hayes who 
revised his decision to expel a certain student for drinking when 
a young instructor came to the student’s defense. The old professor 
also made it clear what his future terms were – that if the student 
drank again while a student at the Normal, not only HE would be 
expelled but ASLO the young instructor who defended him as well. I 
remember Professor Hayes very well and this story illustrates his 
firm expectations of every scholar.

The great flood that occurred suddenly in the 1890s was a terrible 
tragedy to Steelville. Thirteen people were drowned and much 
property was destroyed in Steelville and around it. I found the body 
of a young girl (I think her name was Harmond) which had been carried 
down along the creek. My father heard a man (Mr. Stough) calling for 
help from a tree at daylight and got out to him and brought him back. 
Probably that flash flood had most to do with the drainage system 
of Steelville being arranged as it is today. 

Transportation to St. Louis about 1900 centered on the railroad, of 
course. Later two trains ran to St. Louis each day and the excursion 
fare was about $1.50 round trip. The ride from Sankey to Steelville 
was 5 cents and the train would pick up and stop and let off a person 
for that price. 
My Uncle Joe Stafford and Hartford Collins had livery barns in Ironton 
and in Pilot Knob, and they would come through the sixty miles to 
Steelville in one day with a good team and buggy. Most people would 
take a wagon and then it was a two day trip. In spite of difficulties 
families were always making trips and camping together on holidays. 

Without television or movies or radio or cars then, people had to 
make their own entertainment. Sports of many kinds were practiced. 
Almost every boy did some boxing in those days – just for the fun 
of it. About 1906 two men were generally considered the best in the 
area: Martin (I do not presently recall his first name) and Huitt 
(whose last name may be properly spelled otherwise). These two in 
all good nature fought three formal bare-knuckle fights on their 
own challenges just to see who was the better. Those were great 
events to me, particularly because we are related to both parties. 
Charley Rogers was another well known bare-knuckle boxer in those 
days. He later became a lawyer. It was he who schooled me in the 
art when I was a student at Steelville Normal. He had been a 
professional and sparring-mate in the training camps of Jack 
Sharkey who once fought for the world championship as I recall. 
We played football too, then (without headgear or much padding) 
but THE great game was baseball. I liked it most, too, and started 
playing with the men’s team when I was sixteen. The whole country 
was ball-crazy then with lots of good players. 
When I left Steelville it was to play pro ball and I followed 
it to Texas and New Mexico, and north to Dakota where the Cleveland 
Indians’ scout Bill Thompson offered me a tryout in July of 1910. 
But I had just drawn land north of the Black Hills then when that 
country was opening with lots of excitement to go there – so I 
took the fork to the West instead.

When I went into northern plains of western South Dakota, the 
lonely settlements were just beginning – a few tent towns. I built 
up a cow outfit and had a Livery and Feed Barn and later ran sheep 
as well. Here I met my wife, Klara, Norway-born but now a school 
teacher, who with her father and brothers and sister had been among 
the first of the homesteaders. Our first son, Paul Locken, was born 
in our long ranch house after I made a twenty-five mile ride by 
horseback one night for the doctor where our only neighbors were 
the Sioux who had been on the Little Big Horn against Custer. He was 
the first white child to be born in that area on Thunder Butte 
Creek and got his Sioux name along with the one we gave him.
In 1926 I went into the U.S. Government Service, the Indian Bureau, 
on the Cheyenne River Reserve there where we lived. Later I 
transferred to the Fort Belknap Reserve on the Milk River in 
northern Montana among the Assinaboine and Gros Ventre. It is here 
our second son, Richard, was born.
When the old U.S. Alaska Reindeer Service was created in 1931, I 
received the first appointment to that organization. In September, 
just before freeze-up we arrived in the little Eskimo village north 
off Nome where we were to live for several years. It was the last 
village but one from Siberia where there was only a trading post – 
no doctor or any service that we did not ourselves provide. The 
first-class mail came once a month by dog-team. And it was by 
dog-team I traveled the reindeer ranges in the dark time of the year 
until the spring break-up. In those winters I have seen the dogs 
blow down on trail and whine and the coal-oil for the Primus stove 
turn to slush INSIDE our snow shelter on the Arctic slope.
If we were lucky the old Coast Guard Cutter NORTHLAND would break 
through the ice to our village by the Fourth of July and fire her 
guns in celebration. Then with the first boat we received our 
Christmas mail, newspapers, and our order of food from the Outside – 
the states. 
Springtime in the Arctic is like an explosion. Flowers come up 
through the snow before it is entirely melted and bloom strongly. 
Geese and ducks and crane and a hundred other kinds of birds fill 
the tundra with their nesting. I have seen Eskimo load a skin-boat, 
their big oomiak, with new-laid duck eggs from a single small island.  
These they put in sewed-up seal hides with seal oil and have a 
perfect winter preservation. Salmon choke the streams so that when 
they die after spawning, the smell of their dead carcasses makes 
approach to some streams almost impossible. The whale are regularly 
in sight off-shore and if a village takes a whale or two a season 
they can live well. Walrus and seal, foxes of several species, 
wolves following the reindeer, the Polar and Big Brown Bear and 
Grizzly and the tough Wolverine were all common animals. Two wolves 
killed on this range were weighed in at 185 and 186 pounds each. 
On one occasion a big Brown Bear (close kin to the famous Kodiak 
Bear) even came right into the edge of our village and we got him 
after a long chase on the sea ice.
In summer I traveled along the coasts and up the river with the 
Eskimo by walrus-hide skin-boats to the reindeer herds. Then 
ashore it was afoot with pack-deer, living mostly off the tundra 
as we went. I had corrals built in that treeless land of driftwood 
that we hauled from the coast up the rivers by oomiak. And is the 
midnight sun of summer we marked and steered and counted deer by 
the tens of thousands. On one such summer our daughter, Patricia, 
was born in Nome where my wife had gone south by chartered float 
plane to the only hospital. M eldest son and I learned of the 
arrival of the newest member of our family by word of mouth shouted 
from a landing boat at Cape Prince of Wales, in sight of Siberia, 
when she was already eleven days old.
I was later transferred to Nome and in 1935 and 1936 was advanced 
to head the Alaska Reindeer Service as General Reindeer Superintendent. 
In those years the reindeer in Alaska reached their peak numbers of 
about 640,000 head. They then ranged from Aleutian Islands north around 
the coast past Bering Strait to Pt. Borrow and on east to the McKenzie 
River and Canadian Arctic. I protested then that the numbers were 
exploding beyond the carrying capacity of the reindeer-moss feed but 
the distances to those who legislation could have helped were too great. 
No one was convinced in time and the numbers have fallen far from those 
vast numbers.  Today there are probably no more than 50,000 head in 
Alaska. The call of that country is still strong and my oldest son 
is returning there this summer to prospect on the Arctic Slope.

In 1936 we came back to the states with my transfer to the new 
federal agency, the Grazing Service, now known as the Bureau of Land 
Management. The public domain range lands to be administered then 
totaled more than 150 million acres and were still virtually unfenced. 
Cattle and sheep on vast numbers ran on those ranges. In the lands 
going into the Cascades and Steens Mountains of Oregon alone I 
counted sheep bands numbering in the hundreds of thousands of head. 
It was our duty to apportion the use of these public domain lands 
in a fair manner for the use of individual live-stockmen.
We fought plagues if mice and rabbits in those years and locusts that 
ate everything in their path – even the bark off the juniper fence 
posts, it seemed.  We built water-holes, dams, roads, and drift 
fences; one ran more than a hundred miles straight as an arrow west 
from Glass Buttes in Central Oregon to the forest boundary. The 
labor was almost entirely under the old C.C.C. and I had eleven 
Civilian Conservation Camps in my districts.
Many of the old cow-men then still alive had come by wagon train 
over the Oregon Trail from Missouri as boys. They were a real breed 
of men, all of them determined in their rights but almost to a man 
generous and honesty willing to find fair settlement of all the 
range problems we then had. And this was at a time when range and 
especially water rights were being strongly fought for. There was 
one killing in my Districts over water and another unexplained, 
though. But these years were full ones in my life and from it came 
friends and experience I would not trade away.
In World War II I was detached to serve as Liaison Officer on 
General Alexander Patch’s staff to work between the U.S. Army and 
the lands used. After my retirement from the U.S. Department of 
the Interior not long following the war, I have owned and operated 
a cattle ranch with our oldest son in Eastern Oregon. Since 1966 
we have been traveling – spending two of those years in Central 

But my return to Steelville a year ago was a very special occasion 
in all this long time. It was then I came to realize that Steelville 
had always gone with me on the plains of Dakota and Montana and the 
deserts of the West. And I remembered, too, blizzard camps on the 
trail in the Arctic night when its streets and people of Crawford 
County came clearly to me there just as they once had when I was a 
boy. I am very grateful for what I received from Steelville when 
I was growing up and in a very special way it has always been and 
will always remain “home” to me.
I would be pleased to hear from and of my relatives and friends 
if they would care to write. My daughter forwards my mail while I 
am traveling.

Paul Stafford







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