Having Some Fun with Uncle Hoss Stivers of the Ozarks by Alice Curtice Moyer Wing

Alice Curtice Moyer Wing wanted equal voting rights for women. She traveled the Missouri Ozarks with her horse La Belle in the 1910s, talking to people about voting rights. Her experiences were chronicled in a series of articles published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1916-1919. Missouriwomen.org is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s twentieth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 13, 1918:

“Uncle Hoss,” explains Topsy, “is a cranky, cross old bachelor, who hates women wuss than pizen, and like heaps of people who talk too much he don’t always stick right smack dab to the truth, and he ain’t a good enough memory to make a fust class liar” – His views on suffrage and other things

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

You would never in the world associate the name, “Topsy,” with a pink-and-white skin and an abundance of straight brown hair – so straight, in fact, that its owner must put it up in curl papers to make it wave, and so abundant that there seem to be miles and miles of it wound round a shapely head. And you wouldn’t think of blue-grey eyes and long, curling lashes and white, well-kept hands. No you wouldn’t. The name would immediately suggest the Uncle-Tom’s-Cabin heroine of the kinky hair and ebony skin, all of which goes to prove just how little there is, after all, in a name.

Also you would have decided, just as I did after a visit with the Ozark maiden possessing all the aforementioned charms of pink-and-white complexion, and blue-grey eyes, that “Topsy,” henceforth, must be a synonym for everything that is lovely and that there really is such a thing as finding it all bunched up together in one girl.

“Once last summer when me and Miss Tilly went to Cape Girardeau,” said Topsy, “we got our pitchers tuck together. We had aimed to all along, but had expected to look sort of sad and lonesome in ’em, like people generally does. But the photograffer, he didn’t like them kind of pitchers, he said, so when we didn’t know it, he ketched us jist as Miss Tilly was a-pertendin’ to be scoldin’ me fer somethin’ er nuther. He said they was plumb cute. He had natcherly wavy brown hair and big brown eyes, the photograffer did, and I reckon he knowed. I’ve had two postcards frum him sense and now he wants to write reg-lar. I’m thinkin’ of lettin’ him, wouldn’t you? Shore, you can have one of the pitchers he tuck fer us.”

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“Me and Topsy has a heap of good times together,” said Miss Tilly. “She was jist 10 years old when I married her father and she’s got a purty good stepmother, if I do say it myself.”

“I shore have,” agreed Topsy affectionately.

“But I’m just as lucky in havin’ so good a stepchild. Maybe,” said Miss Tilly thoughtfully, “one of ’em bein’ good, helps tother one to be the same way. I jist commenced the thing by treatin’ her like I thought I’d want to be treated if I was little and had lost my own mother – and Topsy, she tuck to it like a duck to water, pore little lonesome thing. So we’ve jist growed up together and things has come out allright.

“Ain’t it cosy a-settin’ by the fire on a chilly night,” she continued, presently. “I’m shore sorry Tad ain’t here; that’s Topsy’s pa. He’d like to talk with you, but with that fox-hunt a-goin’ on, he jist natcherly had to git into it, so he left his respects fer you, and said to tell you he was fer you, anyhow, and that if you knowed how it felt to hear the hounds a-bawlin’ and the men a-whoopin’, you wouldn’t blame him fer a-lightin’ out with ’em hisself, and maybe us women would have a better time without him, anyhow he ‘lowed. Topsy, honey, tell Mrs. Wing about Uncle Stivers.”

“Shore,” said Topsy laughing, “Uncle Hoss Stivers is one of our neighbors, a cranky, crabid, old bachelor. Ain’t never been married and lives by hisself. He hates women wuss than pizen, Uncle Hoss does, and like a heap of people that talks too much, he don’t always stick right smack dab to the truth and he ain’t a good enough memory to make a fust-class liar, which shore gits him up against it sometimes.

“He knows that Pa and Miss Tilly and me believes in woman suffrage, so ever chance he gits, he lets in about it. Tother night he come over to set till bed time and he hadn’t more than got his cheer drawed up to the fireplace when he says: It’s my opinion,’ he says, ‘that when women gits to votin’ they’ll be drunk most of the time if they can git the licker. Won’t be no time,’ he says, ’till all the good women will be a-hidin’ their faces in shame,’ he says, ‘at the way their sect is a-carryin’ on. That is,’ he says, thoughtful, ‘if they is any good ones left. Any in case,’ he says, ‘pervidin’ they was any good ones to commence with.’

“We had been a-threatenin’ to have some fun with Uncle Hoss by gittin’ him to string out all his argyments at one settin’ and then laugh at him, so Pa commenced to ax him about the ties he was a-makin’ and what he was gittin’ fer ’em and kept up sich a lively conversation fer a spell that Uncle Hoss had his mind on somethin’ else, when Pa, he up and axed him about prohibition. The prohibition question is like pizen to Uncle Hoss. He purty nigh caterpillared at the very thought of it and says, plumb excited: “That’s the reason,’ he says, ‘ that I don’t want women to vote. They’ve always been down on men a-gittin’ tight. Jist like the dog in the manger; they wouldn’t never drink it theirselves and didn’t want nobody else to drink it. They’ll always be that-a-way, I reckon.’

“Pa he winked at me and Miss Tilly and axed Uncle Hoss how his hawgs was a-gittin’ along out on the mast. He had lost a few, as Pa knowed, so he told us all about it – how many had died, how many was stold and how many was ketched by wolves – till he plumb cooled down, when Miss Tilly, she axes him, kinder sweet like, jist what he does think about women votin’ anyhow, layin’ all jokin’ aside.’ she says.

“‘Well, jist atween me and you,’ says Uncle Hoss, confidential, ‘I’m skeered it will make trouble in the fambly. The men and the womern will vote different, he says, ‘and they won’t never be nothin’ in the world no more but divorces. And it’ll shore send this old world to the dawgs,’ says Uncle Hoss, kinder wipin’ his eyes, ‘fer everybody to be a-gittin’ divorces,’ he says.

“‘But,’ says Miss Tilly, ‘in some cases they might vote a right smart alike. Take me and Tad here. We believe the same on a heap of things and like as not we’ll vote a heap the same way.’

“‘That’s jist the trouble,’ snorted Uncle Hoss. ‘The women will vote exactly like their men does and it will jist double the vote without makin’ a blamed bit of difference in the end,’ he says.

“Miss Tilly, she purty nigh giggled out loud, but Pa he shuck his head at her behind Uncle Hoss’ back, and axed Uncle Hoss how his goats was a-gittin’ along and whuther er not he thought that Jess Goober would git elected to the next Legislature if he run. ‘I reckon,’ says Pa, ‘that his women will be a heap of help to him. Mrs. Goober bein’ a powerful smart womern and a good talker,’ he says.

“But Jess Goober and Uncle Hoss don’t agree on politics and Uncle Hoss snorts again: ‘Hain’t it awful,’ he says, when women gits to dabblin’ in things like that? Fust thing we know they’ll be wantin’ to hold office theirselves,’ he says, ‘and that’s one of my main reasons fer not wantin’ ’em to vote; they’ll all be wantin’ offices,’ he says.

“Pa, he ‘lowed that he believed they was a cold spell a-comin’ on and axed Uncle Hoss if he had his pertaters covered up good and they got to talkin’ about the crops they aimed to raise next summer and then pa, he says, ‘I reckon you heerd that Mrs. Ryter refused to fill out the remainin’ part of the County Clerk’s term which her man left vacant when he died last week. She’d a-been a good hand, too,’ pa says, ‘her a-actin’ as her husband’s assistant, like she had been doin’, but she don’t exactly need it, I reckon, and she had her fambly to look after, of course.’

“‘But hain’t that jist like a woman,’ says Uncle Hoss, ‘jist to shirk when the pinch comes? She could git her fambly looked after allright, if she was a-mind to. And right there is a-nuther whalin’ argyment again women votin’. Holdin’ office is a public dooty, but you’ll jist see that women will git out of it ever time. You jist watch and see.’

“Well, we jist couldn’t hold in no longer and all three of us busted out a-laughin’. ‘Uncle Hoss,’ Miss Tilly says, ‘I’ve heard them there argyments oftener than I’ve got fingers and toes, but you’re the only person I ever knowed who could git ’em all off at one settin,’ she says. ‘I shore would give a purty,’ she says, ‘to have you perform at the meetin’ next Sunday when the suffrage lady speaks at the church,’ she says.

“Uncle Hoss was shore got. He was plumb cheestered. He turned sorter red and spotted and snorted out that ‘a womern’s place is in the home, anyhow.’ And Miss Tilly, she says, ‘Uncle Hoss, I’ve always noticed that sometimes the man that hollers that the loudest, is the one that don’t pervide a home fer no womern,’ she says.

“And we ain’t saw him since. He’s plumb mad at us, I reckon, but he’ll be at the meetin’ tomorrer, settin up by Buck Lively. I reckon, jist to show us that he ain’t afeered.

“Our church,” said Miss Tilly, “is still one of them kind that has a man’s side and a womern’s side to ’em.”

“Chub Humphrey,” put in Topsy, “he was up in Sent Louis awhile once’t, a-workin’, and when he come back he jist pinned back his ye’rs and gritted his teeth and tried to start the style of the fellers a-settin’ by the girls they bring with ’em to church. He brung Dory Vaughan and set right down by her, over on the women’s side of the house, when Buck Lively, he riz up right in meetin’ and pinted out that a man ain’t think religious with a womern a-settin’ by him in the mettin’ house, and made sich a fuss that they ain’t none of ’em tried it sence. And even at recess the boys stays on their side of the house, outdoors, and the girls on theirs.”

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Topsy threw on another resinous pine knot. “Don’t it make a purty light?” she said. “We shore don’t need a lamp when we burn pine knots in the fire place.”

“Miss Tilly and me,” she continued presently, “has got our own flock of geese and turkeys and a lot of chickens. And we raise vegetables and have our own money and spend it like we want to. Pa, he jist likes fer us to; he ain’t like a heap of men that-a-way, Pa ain’t. So we go up to Sent Louis fer a little trip purty nigh ever year and over to the Cape jist whenever we please. But,” she sighed, “they’s too many Uncle Hosses and Buck Livelys in this settlement to git much style started up.”

“It’s shore nice to have company,” remarked Miss Tilly. “Me and Topsy would a-been plumb lonesome. We don’t often stay by ourselves all night, but when we do, we’re skeered to even look fer the man under the bed. I mean to look at him,” she corrected. “We don’t need to look fer him jist fer the simple reason that he is already there, and all a person would have to do to see him is jist to git up the courage to peek under the bed. Ain’t it funny,” she laughed, “about the man under the bed that all women knows is there? Men don’t seem to believe in him so awful much, but us women knows better. Why, me and Topsy has even got him pictured out, jist how he is goin’ to look if we ever do take a peep at him. I kinder think he has a big, black mustache and mad black eyes, like the villain we seen in a movin’ pitcher show last summer when we was at the Cape, but Topsy, she thinks he’s got yaller straggly hair and pale, hongry eyes, jist a boy, maybe, who don’t exactly mean any harm, but didn’t know of no other way to git into the house fer somethin’ to eat. Ain’t it plumb funny?”

“Ain’t you jist natcherly felt him a-grabbin’ hold of your bare feet and a-clutchin’ you by the ankles, many a time, when you was jist a-breakin’ your neck a-gittin’ into bed quick?” laughed Topsy, with a little shiver.

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“But men is funny, too,” said Miss Tilly. “As sensible as my Tad is, he won’t begin a piece of work on Friday that is too big to finish before Sunday: and if he cain’t git to plant his turnips on the tenth day of August, he won’t plant any that year – says they ain’t no use. And he shore believes that the first twelve days of Jinniwary governs the weather fer the year, and if the sixth day is mild and kinder dry, and the seventh and eighth is wet, he always believes we’re a-goin’ to have a good corn crop – a dry June fer tendin’ it and enough rain in July and August fer it to grow in. And he believes, Tad does, that if you keep a thing seven year you’ll shore find a use fer it. His tool house is a plumb sight all cluttered up with pieces of old farm machinery and railroad irons and purty nigh everythin’, and it’s funny, but every little while he finds among his odds and ends jist the thing he needs to fix somethin’ with. And you jist couldn’t git him, no way at all, to bring a hoe into the house; says it’s the wust kind of luck. So they don’t need to laugh at us women; they’re ever bit and grain as bad as us, if not wuss.”

“I reckon,” said Topsy, “that the truth of the thing is jist this: We’re all tintchered a leetle grain with superstition. They ain’t nobody that don’e believe in somethin’ er nuther, like hants er signs er somethin’, but they is some that thinks theirselves above ownin’ up to it.”

“Well,” said Miss Tilly, “I reckon we ort to let you git to bed. You’ll have a interestin’ day tomorrer, with Uncle Hoss and Buck and the rest of ’em and you’ll need a good sleep to git ready fer ’em. You can go with us in the wagon and give La Belle a hollerday. She’d be plumb tickled, I reckon, to have a whole day with nothin’ to do but to eat hay. Ain’t none of us that don’t like a change once in a while.

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