On the Ozarks ‘Fairmont,’ or Telling Reminiscences Under Difficulties 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 twenty first article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 20, 1918:

There were the suffrage crusader, the St. Louis commercial traveler, the itinerant dentist and the huntsman from Billtown – Said the dentist: “I’d rather take care of a half dozen women patients than just one man. A woman makes up her mind what she wants and then grins and bears it till it’s done”

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

It was an odd occasion for reminiscences and they were given under difficulties, but that’s the way it happened, as the commercial traveler from St. Louis, the Ozark settler, the itinerant dentist and the huntsman from Billtown can testify.

It came about like this:

“Why don’t you go up on the Fairmont?” I was asked for the third time that morning. “It will leave some time this evenin’. Maybe about 3 o’clock. We’ve got as good a blacksmith as they is in the country right here at Billtown and he can have La Belle all shod up by the time you git back. She can git a rest in the barn, too, and a good bait of hay to boot, and you won’t lose no time at all, hardly.”

As I have just remarked, that was the third time I had been told about the Fairmont that morning. “Some sort of a palace coach, perhaps,” was my thought. “Maybe a special car of the road’s manager or president. Well, I’ll try it, anyhow, and come back to Billtown and La Belle tomorrow.”

“Did you say you were going up on the Fairmont?” asked the landlady, “Well, you better leave everything you can spare with me. You won’t need any superfluous baggage,” and she laughed good humoredly.

“The darned thing is about to pull out, now,” said the porter, turning from the window.

“But I understood it wasn’t to go till”—

“The conductor says they better be a-tearin’ out. It’s been rainin’ some and the blamed thing mules up ever little while, anyhow, even when the roads is the very best.”

“Does what?” I asked.

“Mules up,” he repeated. “Balks, you know, Sulks like a possum. It’s the blamedest thing I ever seen fer to ride on.

“Oh, come on,” as I hesitated. “Lots of people rides it, women, same as men. It ain’t to say dangerous — that is, not so awful dangerous.”

“But it sounds like”—

“Shore does,” grinned the porter. “Like a private yacht, er somethin’. But names, sometimes, is awful deceivin’, as the sayin’ is. Shore air.”

“Perhaps I better wait till”—

“Oh, it’s safe, all right,” assured the landlady, “My niece goes up on it ever little while. Her people live up that way.”

I followed the porter, still doubtfully. Then I beheld the Fairmont!

Alas for any fond hopes I had ever had about palace coaches and private cars! There was a greasy looking bench on either side of a slippery little platform, with some sort of machinery sticking up from the middle of it.

It was a rude awakening and I was still wading around in the pool of doubt when the conductor, in his uniform of overalls and jumper, shouted his “All aboard!”

21 1

I climbed on from force of habit. Experience had taught me that to wait for something better means, usually, that you will get nothing at all. Invariably, whenever I wait for the fast train, it is so far behind time that the despised local beats it to their common destination and meets it on its way back. And so, just from force of habit, I boarded the Fairmont – and besides, in this case, I was assured that there wasn’t anything to wait for.

The aforementioned benches have no regard for your back. Remember that, if you are ever recommended to board the Fairmont. There won’t be anything to lean on. And you’ll have to sit so as to ride sidewise. And there isn’t a thing to keep your feet from slipping over the edge if you put them under you, and there is danger of their getting tangled up in the machinery that runs it if you put them in front of you.

“Keep your feet square,” cautioned the conductor, who was also the engineer, “and hold tight when we turn the curves. Don’t give me your tickets till we see whether we ever get to where we’re started for.”

I grasped the seat firmly with a hand on either side of me and looked at the other passengers. There was a clean-cut, good-looking commercial traveler from St. Louis; there was a settler who was going a few miles up the road and preferred this method of travel to walking all the time; a hunter from Billtown who had set some traps up close to Grayburg, and an itinerant dentist, whose two days per week at Grayburg began the next day.

The machinery in the middle made conversation impossible, but there were times when it was strangely silent; these times were the intervals when we walked; and these intervals were the upgrades when the passengers pushed the Fairmont up the hills.

“This is shore one place in the world where the women as well as the men has got to work fer what they git,” said the facetious huntsman. “They shore earn equal with the men when it comes to a ride on the Fairmont. That ort to satisfy any womern that wants to do men’s work, Huh?”

“Reminds me of a customer I had once,” said the traveling man. “Jonas Riggs. He lived at Little Rock. Had a little business on a side street. Never bought much, but I always called on him, and when he couldn’t pay promptly I somehow got the house to wait on him. A sort of a likable cuss, Jonas was, and a good fellow in many ways, but he just couldn’t make things go. His wife knew more business in a minute than Jonas could ever have known in a lifetime, but as the head of the house, he never would listen to her; never would fall in with any suggestions she might venture to make. She was a woman and he didn’t want any woman’s advice. ‘My dear,’ he would say, kindly but firmly, ‘women don’t know business. I ran this place before I married you and I can run it still.’ And there was the end of it.

“Well, one winter, Jonas took sick and died; went off suddenly with pneumonia, leaving the business to his wife and their three small children to support. People pitied her, wondering what she would do with a business that even her husband had never made a paying one. I was sorry for her myself, but called at the place the next trip, same as I had always done. And do you suppose I found that little woman sitting in a corner, holding her hands and waiting for the ravens to bring food to her children? No, sir! Not much I didn’t. Why, I scarcely knew the old place. It had an air about it, some way. Something different, though she hadn’t been going it alone more than three months. But already it was attracting a better and a bigger class of buyers than it had ever done before. The staple salables were displayed in a way to make the best impression, while the old, shop-worn, out-of-date things that Jonas had carried from year to year, Mrs. Jonas had piled on a bargain counter at prices less than cost, figuring that even that was better than to carry them as dead weight.

“‘If you will jist give me a little time,’ she said, ‘I’ll get the old account paid up smooth and clean.’ I promised the time and sold her a new bill.

“Well, that was 10 years ago, and, would you believe it, that woman today has one of the best-paying little businesses in her city, considering the amount of capital invested. She has a good home, all paid for, and is educating her children. The youngest is a junior in high school and the other two are in college. And she built up the whole thing single-handed.

“Oh, I don’t know about woman suffrage,” he said after a pause, in which I had asked him the inevitable question. “Haven’t given it much thought. The conductor says we may ride again here; downgrade ahead of us. But,” he added, “I will admit this: Us men don’t amount to so very much alone. We are just half persons by ourselves, say what we will. This is an odd time for reminiscences, but – well, when my wife and I were just 17 we decided to travel double harness. Here’s our pictures taken at the time – just two green country kids, we were, but we’ve never been sorry we hooked up young. And as it works so well in private affairs, perhaps in public – but, see here! I’m not going to make a suffrage speech for you, nor commit myself one way or the other. But I’ll admit further that I read your stories in the Post-Dispatch and like them.”

His last words were half lost in the rumble of the machinery that we had to watch our feet away from – but you can’t blame me for straining to catch them when they were what they were.

“My woman and me lived down here in this very country when we was children,” said the settler, when we were again toiling up an incline, pushing the Fairmont ahead of us. “Borned and raised here, both of us. Our fathers had jinin’ homesteads and me and Susie went to school together when they was any school to go to. I can jist see us, now, as we strung along, with me in the lead and Susie and her brothers follerin’. One day I happened to notice how purty and round Susie’s face was a-gettin’ and how purty and brown her hair was. I reckon I was about 14 at the time, and I says one mornin’: ‘Susie,’ I says, ‘it’s time you stopped walkin’ behind me.’

“‘Shore, Billy,’ she says, ‘but fer why?’

“‘Your place,’ I says, ‘is up alongside of me.’ And that’s the way it got started with Susie and I. I’ve always noticed that the double team can go a heap furder than the single driver. They kiver a heap more ground and do a better job of the kiverin’. And if that is what you mean by women a-votin’ – but shucks.’ I ain’t a-talkin’ fer it. I’m jist a-ruminatin’, as the gentleman here says. Here’s whar I drap off. Sorry I cain’t help you up the next hill, but Susie’ll be a-lookin’ fer me.”

We were pushing up what the conductor promised us was the last climb. The shadows in the gulch through which we toiled were growing longer from the slanting rays of the late autumn sun; there was a chill in the air that made one think of chillier winds and sifting snows – and winter.

“I suppose it’s up to me to do my share of this ruminatin’,” said the dentist, presently, laughing. “And that I might as well do it now. Like the other two contributors, I’m not going to make any suffrage speech for you. But I’ll say this: I’d rather take care of a half dozen women patients than just one man. A woman makes up her mind what she wants and then grins and bears it till it’s done, while a big baby of a man will howl like all outdoors over a little thing like an extracted nerve. When I hear men argue that women have no stamina, no strength, no endurance, no anything-at-all, and then make their deductions, since this is true, that, or course, they cannot be expected to endure the strain of citizenship, I don’t even look wise-for, as I said in the beginning, I’m not making speeches for woman suffrage.”

“Gentulmen!” exclaimed the huntsman from Billtown. “If this ain’t a pull fer your money! Looks to me as if this thing is run on the wrong principle and I’m a-goin’ to make a kick to headquarters. I shore will. Instead of payin’ fer a ticket on this blamed thing, with its highfalutin’ name, a feller ort to put in a bill fer hard labor. I’ve more than earned my way. They’s a balance comin’ to me, shore as shootin’.

“And I hain’t any ruminatin’ to do, nuther,” turning to me, “because I’m not so plumb on the other side of the question. But you don’t need nothin’ from me this trip. If your pizen old doctrine means what you workers for it says it means, then you’ve already had three big speeches fer it today.

“We’re comin’ to the river purty soon,” he continued, “and if I hadn’t a-saw Bill Jacobs fall into it t’other day and drown because he was a-cranin’ his neck to see where a feller and his girl was a-sparkin’ in a boat, I’d be plumb sartin that your curiosity, bein’ a womern, wouldn’t never let you git past a thing without lookin’ it all over. As it is, you’ll like as not stare off at the tree tops or somethin’, jist like a man, ‘stead of lookin’ down through the ties, as any womern brung up proper would do, and a-faintin’ at jist the wrong time.

“Blame me if it ain’t exactly like a womern to never do what we’ve been brung up to think that they don’t do nothin’ else but do.”

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