Recently, I found some handwritten notes by my late Grandma Libby. One of them was a letter she wrote to her older sister and it included a transcript of a note she found from their mother about herself and her life growing up in Harris, MO.

Reading about my late ancestors and their lives fascinates me, especially when I come across things I’ve never heard of, including “thundermug” and “elocution.” You learn something new every day! Also, I’d love to know what my great-grandmother mean by “too much rabbit in me.”

Enjoy this little flashback to the past — I did.

Aunt Bubba



Found the following “notes” of Mothers’ a day or 2 ago:

Amber E. Harris (pictured)  – Born 4/2/1885 @ 4 a.m. – no phones. Dr. Brown from Newton was summoned to A.W. Harris farm.

I was 7 or 8 when farmstead burned. Arthur and Gertie Reger and May Law all boarded there and went to Harris College. All Eastern professors – from kindergarten through to college courses – football, etc. – they had public speaking, elocution and Delsarte classes.

We children all had specific chores to do – mine was to bring in big hickory basket full if chips from the yard to start the morning fires and to take Grandfather’s “thundermug” out, empty and scald it, and put on west porch to air. This porch was not used to enter or leave the house – mostly for airing at night. I placed it under Gpas bed after he was asleep.

A thundermug.


I came back in to tell Mama it was all smokey or or foggy outside. She was bathing and getting Gussie (born 1890) ready for bed – he was 1 yr. old – smelled the smoke, carefully laid Gussie on the bed and ran outside – a small blaze was showing all around the chimney – Grandfather was “in his cups” – Papa in other bed in the room – Mama slipped in and whispered to Papa, who noiselessly crept out – He and the hired girl each took 2 buckets of water – when they opened the attic door they had to run to beat the flames.

Cliff was in his 1st year in Kirksville college – Estelle was in the bathtub! Mama sent Clara (11 + years), Wood (6 yrs) and me (10 yrs) to closest neighbors – we had to pass a long barn, 200 feet long – we children were scared to pass it in daylight; we got about halfway of the length when Clara set Gussie down and ran like a deer! 

(The Harris sisters and family friends. Amber, my great grandmother is on the far left.)

Wood and I struggled but we landed Gussie safely in Mrs. Willard’s arms. Estelle dressed carefully and came out carrying her canary – and cage- and the new shoes she had just gotten for Christmas and had not mastered the art of using them. Papa dressed Gfather and brought him out in the yard and had 2 men hold him and also had a man each side of Mama to keep her from going in! She was disgusted with him – she knew where everything was – all the children’s clothing was upstairs, which could not be reached – but many things could have been safely gotten from the 1st floors. It was long before the days of ready-to-wears so the relatives and friends brought clothes to cover us – as I think back we must have looked like Halloweeners.

I remember a pair of high heeled shoes a cousin donated – they nearest fit me – I was delighted – but not for long, they were too uncomfortable. I had never had anything but spring heels and never had any other kind until Shoe Co., no longer made in my size.

(Overton Harris – Amber’s father)

We had a smoke-house with big fireplace – 2 rooms down and 2 up – Mother brought 2 set springs – looked like they had woven wire in the middle, but sturdy from all around. She had a carpenter put hinges on one side and by day the bed was hooked up against the wall.

No other heat but fireplace, over which all cooking was done. Thanks to Dutch ovens and boiling kettles we are 3 squares daily.

We had sewing women by the year when not otherwise busy – she pieced up the scraps into quilt tops and quilted them on machine. I can assure you we were neither cold nor hungry. Mama was equal to any emergency. She had tracked by wagon-train, with her family, to California when she was only 12 yrs old. They had 2 wagons – mama drove one team, took care of her team, and did the cooking for the 2 wagons. Grandmother Jones was expecting a child – imagine such a trip for a pregnant women – Platte River – no bridges – friendly Indians. Mama was pushed in river. Uncle Charley saved her. Landed at Visalia, Calif – Aunt Fannies from there. Have letters written from there to her mother and sisters at Scottsville, Mo.

Grandmother very homesick because of heat and drought no crops for 2 years. Grandfather sent Gmother and family all home by boat around Cape Hope (no Panama Canal) and they landed in NY. Then by train to end of line in Ohio then home by stage coach! Gfather remained to sell his livestock then followed family route home. En route on boat Gfather become very ill, lost consciousness. He had no idea how lone. When he aroused he immediately felt for his money belt. A voice said, “Brother – no worries – everything is intact.” The Capt. saw his masonic pin and had him moved to his cabin where Capt. tenderly cared for him. Then masonry means something. It meant brotherhood.

This was about 1865 and in Macks’ town – Mack landed at same location. Visalia, CA – left his family near her sister and family while he served his stint in Vietnam – the children could swim in river at foot of hill and they were near enough to call back and forth without taking time to call on the telephone.

Later the Jones family settled between the towns of Harris and Newton where they remained. The W.H. Haley family joined Harris land on north. Mrs. Haley was sister of Mr. Jones. The Haley farm when all way to Newtown.

The proximity of the families brought much happiness and peace – I remember when Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad came through, bringing great excitement. The next great wonder was the telephone, which hung on the wall and a chair was kept under it for comfort and convenience of the “visitors”. I still really over # – 4 longs and 4 shorts!

Farm House
The original Harris farm house before it burnt in a fire.


A big 2-way fireplace warmed both living and dining rooms – a baseburner in Gfathers room – and a real cook stone in kitchen. Somewhere in the big hearth was a loose brick under which was the “money safe” – only Gold was used – no banks nearer than big cities – Gabrilla was the “banker”. Aunt Nancy was “banker” on Calif trek. She made a chamois vest – with slots and pockets for different denominations of gold coins. I’ve seen it. Laster was given to Missouri Historical Society at Jeff City.

As a young man, Grandfather lived at Boonville. Was a cooper. No trains. Everything shipped in barrels on the river. He finally took in a partner who ran away with $2000.00 – which destroyed his faith his fellow man. He came to Sullivan County with wife and son, Jim, 1 black woman, wagon and oxen team. Land was bought for $125 per acre, but all commodities were cheap in proportion. They cleared and planted orchards and vineyards. Always built near a good spring of water, for household, and creek for livestock. I’m glad I didn’t live as a pioneer – too much rabbit in me – and I prefer creative comforts.

Written by Libby Cowgill to her Sister Marge Clymer