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Evan Masters 1856-1941

A child’s early life is such as those who rule over him make it. But they can only modify what he is, yet, as all know, after their influence has ceased. The man himself has to deal with the effects of blood and bread, and too with the consequences of the mistakes of his elders in the way of education. For these reasons I am pleased to say something of my self in the season of my green youth. The story of my childhood, of the event is often of value, no matter from whom they are ascended. I have often wished we could have the recorded truth as it seemed to him day by day but this can never be. The man it is who writes the life of the boy and his recollections of it is perplexed by the sifting of memory which lets so much of thought and feelings escape becking. Little more than bare facts or the remembrances of period of trouble or emotion. Sometimes quite valueless while more important and moral events are altogether lost, as these papers will show. I have often found it agreeable and at times useful to try to understand as far as in me lay. I have often been puzzled by the well-worn phase as to the wisdom of knowing thy self for with what manner of knowledge you know yourself is a grave question. And it is sometimes more valuable to know what is truly thought of you by your nearest friends. Them to be forever teasing yourself to determine whither what you have done in the course of your life were just what it should have been. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes have filled many times as I have lingered over these records of my past life.

I was born near Mt. Vernon, Missouri February 3, 1856. The old town now stands and it is one of the oldest towns in Missouri. The old courthouse stands in the center of the square and it carries its bullets present today of the war in 1861. I was but five years old when the war was sounded to our country and I am sure that the war did more for me than I for it. I remember my father made me a bow and arrow and to me I was as great as General Lee until one day I shot one of my brothers for a Yankee and that night when my mother was through with me I had decided I was neither a Rebel or Yankee.

The first year of the war was almost ended; my father not to take side, trying to stay with his family while his sympathy was with the South. He being the only Rebel in the neighborhood he keeps quiet, but every day the war comes closer to our door. One day my father was out in the field helping my brother when Harlin Davis came to him to go to war, as he had been a General. Finding my father was with the South he made his visit short. My father went well armed in case of trouble and it was but the next day, I was at play in the yard and about 50 soldiers was upon me before I saw them. It was my first soldiers to see. I stood looking at them their swords shinning in the sun, not at least frightened. One of the men rode up to me and said “but where is your dad?” I dropped my head and said I don’t know. I was honest with the man. I did not watch them as they rode up to the house to ask my mother. After they left I went to the house to ask my mother if they were Rebel or Yankee. Finding my mother crying but she soon informed me they were Yankees and after my father. At this I did not answer and stepped to the door to see if they were gone. My mind went back to the day in the field when Harlin Davis requested my father to go to war and I remembered that he was the same man that just asked me for my father. I did not say anything so not to worry my mother anymore. I soon went back to play but what thoughts were in my mind would be hard to explain.

That night when my father came to the house, mother told him what had happened. I could see the blood rush to his face; father was like most Irish folks, very high tempered. But he did not say much with my mother present, but turned to me and said, “son, come with me”. When I found my coat and hat he was waiting for me outdoors. At my surprise he handed me a note and said “take this note to Harlin Davis himself if at home and if not leave it with his wife”. I took the note, placed it in my pocket and left. It was good dark and there was no moon but I soon found a path that led me to the big road it being only a mile from the road to where I was to find my man. I was surprised that my father did not send one of my elder brothers, which I found out later why. I took the note from my pocket and thought I would read the contents but found it impossible unless I tore it open which I thought best for me not to do. But it was haunting me very much to find out what was in it.

I found General Davis at the supper table in the company of about a dozen men. I handed him the note and stepped aside hoping that he would read it out loud which he did. “March 10, 1862. General Davis; I was informed that you and your men was at my place in search of me. Davis, I told you in the field the other day that I did not care to go to war. I will shoot you at first sight if this happens anymore. Jim.” They all laughed out loud. One man turned to me and said “are you a Rebel?” I very quickly in front of him said I was. “If you were a little bigger you would not be long”, he said as he turned to get his cigar. At his time I was going. I did not tell father about this but I could see that it was better for me to make the trip instead of my brother. For the next day or so it was quite, not hearing more about the war.

Father stayed close to the house. Well I remember one Saturday our doors were open. Spring was in its glory. We had just set down to dinner all except my mother. At the sound of someone’s voice my mother was at the door. Father, hearing the voice went the back way and it was left to my mother. I heard them ask for Jim and my mother told them he was in town. It was the first time I ever heard my mother lie. By this time I was standing in the door and I think I must have counted fifty men. But thinking my mother was telling the truth they did not search the house. I could hear them talking but it was impossible to understand. As they turned to ride off, taking two horsed that was in the front, one a colt that my father had given me. At this I was very angry and started for my colt. Mother had not more than told me to come back until I heard my father. His Irish blood had got away with him when he saw his horses going. He hollered and told them to come back that he was there. But they did not, took our horses and left. At this I had nuff war. But I soon learned that I had not begun.

My older brothers were beginning to see that it was not safe at home so they left for the army, which I thought my mother could never stand. But she thinks perhaps they would let father stay at home. But it was not more than two or three days later that they were after him again having a very close escape shooting him in the hand. At this our troubles began.

Father making his words true. As soon as news reached the army that my father killed Davis, the yard was full of men. They did not listen to my mother this time, giving us five minutes to get what we could out of the house. My brothers and I got the team to the wagon as soon as possible and left going to another county where there were not all Yankees. It was not long that we learned one of my brothers got killed. I did not see my father for a long time, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. I tried to support my mother and sisters the best I could. One day my father came home, which was a welcome to me and my mother so dear.

But he had not been there long until the yard was full of men and they killed him. But he did as he said, died a fighting. The next day we buried him as best we could. I have begun to realize what war meant or what it had meant to us. But we managed to get something to eat.

Mother got dissatisfied her folk all being in Tennessee except one sister living near our old home. Her husband, James Glasscock, a Yankee that you will learn more about later. Mother decided to go to her folks. My brother had come home from the army. Two months later we left for Tennessee.

For two long years I worked with the slaves. Grandpaws slaves all did not leave. Ellick, Calab and George were the boy’s name. Ellick and Calab were nearly grown and George was my size. My brothers did not stay with grandpaw. I begin life in a day of stern rule and animosity. A people who did not concern themselves greatly as to a child’s having that inheritance of happiness that which we like to credit childhood. Grandpaw did not work leaving his business to his son Golden Davis. The first year did not seem so hard, George and I was together most every day.

Well I remember one Sunday. The reason it happened on Sunday it was our free day. One bright Sunday morning George and I left, not telling anyone where we were going. The morning was spent unsuccessfully still we did not give up. That afternoon we were successful. George found nests with 24 eggs. We had decided to take them to one of the Negro’s cabins to eat knowing the people were gone. It was not long until we had a fire in the fireplace and our eggs a cooking. We waited for our eggs. We heard someone at the back door and we did not move thinking it was George’s mother and we knew she would not tell on us. We waited until he was in our presents and by our surprise it was Uncle Golden. I looked at George and he looked at me and his eyes turned white. He was the worst scared Negro I think I ever saw, not saying anything about myself. Uncle Golden steps up and looks in the kittle, “what the devil you boys doing, are those our eggs George?” “No sir”, he said, holding his hand on his empty stomach. Then he turns to me “are these your eggs? “ and of course my answer was known. “By garb I will eat them” he said, taking a stick and began rolling them out. I stared until he had eaten 10 of them and I saw the slobbers begin to fall from George’s mouth and I was almost in the same condition. So I left to find something to eat. George swore the next morning that he ate all 24 eggs.

The summer following I had to work very hard and also seven days a week. I had begun to hate the name Davis. Harlin Davis had causes my father so much trouble and my uncle was so mean to me. Every day I grew to hate the name more. I did not tell my mother how I was treated for she had so much trouble and she thought this was the only place she could go and I could not see any way only to stay. But a few months later she got a letter about our land where father was killed. At first she thought it would never do to go back but my brother persuaded her and the last of September we left for Missouri.

I was glad to get out from my uncles cruel ruling but sure hated to leave George and he hated to see my go worst than I hated leaving. We were a month on the road but the time did not seem long for it was pretty weather. One Saturday afternoon we reached our destination of my uncle, a short distance from our old home. Mother took his advice, thinking him a man instead of the devil. Mother listened to our uncle and when he and his lawyer was through they had 500 acres and we had 100. But we did not comprehend the fact that there was nothing to do but move home until it was too late finding that Jim Glasscock our uncle had beat us out of it. We took our part and went to work finding it very hard, as we were the only Rebels in the neighborhood. And my father had killed General Davis in time of war. Davis left three boys, which were all older than me, which of course, was a great deal of trouble and destroyed our property. Mother wanted us to be careful.

The next fall when school started I thought our trouble would begin. But my two sisters and I started at Berry, my first school. But well I remember my first day. My eyes was not off my book, but once I heard some of the students calling the name Rebel and I thought they were speaking to me but I found they were only discussing a question in history. The day went by without trouble at school. But as we were going home we were pointed at by the Davis’s and they called us Rebels. I did not care so much for myself but I could not stand to see my sisters ran over. The next day I left for school with a discouraged heart. In the afternoon, our teacher, told a young lady that she must set with me to get the morning lesson. I did not hear him call the name but as she rose to come I saw it was Miss Davis. She had not more than seated herself until the Davis rose from the back of the house and said” I will see that my sister does not sit with that Rebel”. “Mr. Davis, I am running this school and she will do as I tell her”, said the teacher. “The Rebel and Yankee have been through four years of hard fighting and there is as good as blood that flows from the Rebel vein as Yankee”. “ I never want to hear of you mistreating one of those Rebels as you call them. You will take my advice or quit school”. He turned to me and said, “If he ever mistreats you while at school, just let me know”. At this Mr. Davis sits down, my heart fast from the excitement. I thought our trouble had begun until the teacher took our part. I turned and looked at my seatmate letting her share part of my book which was very hard for me to do as I have said before, the name Davis, I could not stand. Her eyes seemed to dance as she looked over my book and a pencil moved very slowly in her white hand. And when the teacher turns his back I saw her write something on my book and push it to my side of the desk and I read,” you Rebel, you spy”. As the teacher walks back by our seat she turns it over. I look down at my book, then her. I could not be angry with her. I thought she pretty and fair but the You Rebel, you spy. I keep my eyes on my book the best I could, but my mind was far away.

The weeks passed and we had no more trouble with the name Davis. Our teacher seemed to take special attention to every student that wanted to learn. One morning I came to my seat and as I opened my book I found a note. I opened it and these were the words I found, “I am sorry I wrote what I did in your book the other day for since I have known you better, I found it unlike you to be a Rebel”. Your friend, Davis. I read it a second time before I could believe it. Then I tore it up for I knew it was against the rules and it would not do to let her brother see it. I did not care to cause her trouble. The next week passed and I did not answer the note or tell anyone, not even my brother. I talked to her when it was convenient for me in a friendly way. The note was never spoken of again. I really did love the girl and why I could not say. Often as I thought of her the name Davis would come in my mind and it would almost blind me.

I would not let anything come between my study and me for I knew it would be my last school. The weeks passed and the months until school were out. The feeling between the north and south was growing better. We had made several friends and it begin to seen like home. The summer following I worked very hard but it was a blessing for me to know that I was free to do as I pleased. But when I thought of how we had been beat out of our land my Irish blood would rise. But it was too late; it would only make matters worse. I did not see Miss Davis anymore that summer as she was off in school. I received a letter from her soon after she left which I did not answer. I love the girl and why was more than I could say. After some months had passed, I wish I had answered the letter and took my pen in hand to answer. As I wrote the name David my hand seemed to cramp and the lines I could not fill and I burned it up and swore that I would not be guilty again.

The summer passed and I heard no more. I tried to forget her, which I thought I had. The time of year had come when the leaves begin to fall. One Sunday evening the sun was behind the trees and I took my gun and went to see if I could find a squirrel. I had wandered farther than I thought and saw that the night would overtake me before I got home. The air was beginning to cool and it was a still October evening. It was not long before the moon was shinning bright through the swaying bramble and I could hear some wild beast off to the side or in the hollow below. This did not frighten me as I was a good shot and was not afraid. I followed an old road, as it was nearer home. I had forgotten the road would lead me to where my father’s enemy slept. I stopped and thought I would go around. But Berry is the nearest house and I forgot the grave until I was within fifty feet of it. I looked up I saw something in white move and I stopped. The blood in my vein seemed to stop flowing. I thought I would go around but it seemed as if I was a statue. I had heard people talk of ghost but this was my first and I hoped it would be my last. I stood there seems to me for ten minutes. Again I tried to turn which I did and as I turned I felt my gun ready to fire. My senses seemed to come back to me. I stopped, cocked my gun and thought I would see what it was. I had my gun ready to fire and veered to the right after I had taken a few steps. I saw it was a woman and as she rose to her feet and caught my presence screamed with fear. As the moon shone brightly on her face, I remembered the face, dropped the gun to the ground and said, “Miss Davis, I thought you was a ghost”. “Oh, Evan, it is you” she said as she stepped toward me and I felt her soft hands. “I am not a ghost. I had come home and had come to see my father’s grave”. And the next moment I had her in my arms. I forgot the name and all other thoughts as I kissed her tender lips.

(Melvin Masters wrote this story from several pages of notes of his father Evan Masters).


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