Activist · Alice Curtice Moyer Wing · Ozarks · Suffrage · Voting Rights

When Tillyannie Licked the Goos-ites 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. is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. 

The following was Moyer Wing’s twenty sixth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 9, 1918:

Another narrative of the Ozarks Gobbler Hunter

Tillyannie was the champion speller of her school, and “you jist orter saw her at the reg’lar spellin’ matches we used to have. Her name was hollered out by the choosin’ up captains the very first one, and she didn’t never miss, hardly.”

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

Among the many quaint characters who “drap in” at our shack in the Ozark woods is the “Gobbler Hunter.” The Gobbler Hunter’s title was earned because of his prowess in bagging the wild turkey, and his stories of actual incidents are peculiarly and characteristically interesting. Here is one of them:

“Ever sense I was knee high to a duck, as the sayin’ is, I have felt it in my bones that I could write fer the magazines if I could jist git to the pint where I could turn myself loose.

“Why, when I was a kid there jist wasn’t nobody in our school that could come noways nigh to me in writin’ compersitions. In fact, I writ all the essies they was fer the boys, Also, fer a right smart of the girls. Law-zee! I can jist see them kids now a -settin’ around and a-chawin’ their pencils on a Thursday, tryin’ to git a idee fer their Friday compersitions, while mine was done wrote and fergot.

“’Old Hoss,’ Billy Bubb would say, ‘here’s a agate that wins ever game of marbles I play with her. She’s a shore dead shot. What’ll you take to write me a essie?’

“‘The agate,’ I says. Which I did.

“But when I growed up and got married, and the fambly come happenin’ along and I was a-diggin’ fer a livin’, I jist didn’t have no time to git down to real business in the writin’ line. Oh, of course, I scribbled along and paid postage both ways on a mess of stuff once in a while, jist to sorter keep my hand in. But nothin’ serious.

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“Then, bime-by, all the fambly was married and gone. Things had went purty well with us on the farm, and me and Tillyannie would set by the old farplace on chilly evenin’s and plan what we would likely do with the money I was goin’ to earn when I got to writin’.

“‘We’ll take a trip to Californy,’ says Tillyannie. Tillyannie always did have her heart set on a trip to Californy.

“‘You never was any great shakes on spellin’,’ she says, after thinkin’ a while.

“‘No, I says, ‘and I don’t know sich a blamed sight about kotation marks and postrofees, but I always did use purty good language,’ I says.

“And then I told her about that newcomer from some place down in Texas who says ‘you-all’ for ‘you’n’s.’ Some people’s grammar is shore enough to make a person laugh.

“‘Remember how I used to turn you down in the spellin’ classes,’ says Tillyannie, a-laughin’ kinder shy, as she comes back to the subject.

“‘ I remember how you didn’t do no sich thing,’ I says, pinchin’ her arm. It was a big joke when we was kids and didn’t have no idee that we’d ever be a-settin’ up with each other, how Tillyannie would whisper on the sly and tell me how to spell the word, even when she was workin’ fer the headmarks, which she ginerally got. She jist couldn’t bear, somehow, to spell me down.

“You jist orter a-saw her at the reg’lar spellin’ matches we used to have at night, with people a-comin’ to ‘em frum fur and near. Her name was hollered out by the choosin’ up captains the very first one and she didn’t never miss, hardly. The thing ginerally busted up with her still a-spellin’. She shore carried off the blue ribbon ever time, so to speak.

“‘But,’ says Tillyannie, t’other evenin’, a-pokin’ up the far kinder vigorous, ‘you must git started.’

“‘Yes,’ I says, ‘I must git started. I reckon it will take a right smart of readin’,’ I says, ‘and bustin’ around. Think I’ll run up to Sent Louis fer a few days and butt in amont ‘em, as it were.’ Which I did.

“I shore got a heap of information up in Sent Louis. One feller, he told me that you had to know how to use big words and a heap of ‘em to write successful. Another told me, confidential, that you must write about high life to make a go of it. He said a “g” on sich words as doin’ and put on a heap of dawg. But he was shore discouragin’. I never did go in much fer society and I ‘lowed I’d make a plumb gawm at that kind of writin’, so he said, then, that he couldn’t help me none, as that was his line.

“One feller said that all you need is a plot. Said once a person got a plot that the story would jist natcherly write itself. He said that Sent Louis was plumb full of plots, when you once got the inside track – and there I was again.

“Well, I lammed around in the city fer a week er two, and come back to Tillyannie plumb discouraged.

“‘’Tain’t no use, honey,’ I says. ‘It’s all about the things I ain’t had no experience with. That’s what the magazines all want – jist the things that I don’t know a blamed thing about.’

“‘Go out and git a turkey or two,’ says Tillyannie, ‘You ain’t put a new notch on your old gun fer some time. I’m plumb hongry fer turkey. Maybe you’ll find a plot while you’re gone.’

“‘They don’t grow on trees,’ I says to her. ‘I shore wish they did grow on trees,’ I says to myself, as I set on a log, listenin’ fer a gobble. ‘I’d walk up to a plot tree, feel of this one and t’other, testin’ ‘em like they was apples, er somethin’, and when I found one that jist suited me, a nice, meller one, maybe I’d shore pack it home in my britches pocket and set it to work.’

“I ‘lowed to myself that maybe I’d take one with a few villains in it – the kind you wouldn’t shed no tears over if you was to kill ’em off when they got to rippin’ around.

“And, of course, I’d have a girl in it, a girl with blue eyes, I reckon, and yaller hair in long braids a-hangin’ down her back, and her cheecks a-blazin’ like two roses. Say, if you had a-saw Tillyannie along about the time she rid old Jigger to the spellin’ match! Haw! Haw haw! I’ll never fergit that the longest day I live. Our school was a-goin’ to spell agin Goose Creek. We didn’t have no more than 15 scholars and the whole caboodle of us was in all our spellin’ matches. Most of us ginerally went together in one big wagon, driv by the pa of some of us, but Tillyannie always rid on hossback with her brother, them a-livin’ off kinder to theirselves, count of their daddy’s land a-takin’ up so much room.

“Well, the time fer us to wallop Goose Creek was a-comin’ along, and the nigher it got, the wuss we was excited. We heerd that Sam Slinker and his brother Joe was jist a-eatin’ their old spellin’ books alive, gittin’ ready fer it, Sam and Joe bein’ the main spellers of the Goose Creek School. But just to show us that they wasn’t thinkin’ so awful much about it, they come out to stay all night with Tillyannie’s bother, Bob, the night afore it wasa to come off, both a-ridin’ the same hoss, though old man Slinker had plenty of hosses.

“‘Say! They’s a whole passel of bee trees on the creek jist down below our house about a mile,’ says Sam the next mornin’. ‘Let’s git ‘em today.’

“‘Shore,’ says Bob. ‘We’re gitting plumb out of honey. Pa was jist a-sayin’ yisterday that he must look up another bee tree somewheres.’

“‘If we could all ride a hoss apiece,’ says Joe, ‘we could go round by the old Jamison place and make a heap better time. ‘Course, we don’t want to miss the spellin’ tonight.’

“‘Shore,’ says Bob. Bob was the obligin’est feller I ever knowed. ‘Shore,’ he says. ‘You jist ride Trixie, and I’ll lead her back so’s Tillyannie can have her fer tonight. Reckon we won’t be gone no longer than noon.’

“‘Reckon not,’ says Sam.

“But when noon come, they wasn’t no Bob. Four o’clock and still no Bob. At half past five Tillyannie was gittin’ oneasy. ‘I ort to be started, pa,’ she says. ‘It’s a right smart piece to Goose Creek.’

“She looked at her pa and he looked at her. Both of ‘em was a-thinkin’ the same thing.

“You don’t hardly reckon that he’d do sich a think, do you pappy – Sam Slinker – managin’ somehow to keep Bob so I cain’t have Trixie to ride?’

“‘His father would a-done it,’ says my future father-in-law, sorter ruminatin’. ‘Him and me was boys together.’

“‘Pappy,’ says Tillyannie, ‘I don’t aim to let no sich doin’s cheat me out of goin’ to that spellin’. I’ll ride John er Kit. They ain’t broke very well, but I ain’t afeerd of ‘em.

“‘Shore, honey, if I could only git ‘em fer you in time. If I’d only knowed. I jist tuck ‘em to the lower farm day before yisterday. And say! Sam knowed it! Shore’s you live, he knowed it! I met him and his pa on their way to town that mornin’.’

“‘Pappy,’ and her eyes got big and detarmined. ‘Pappy, when old Jigger was a calf, me and Bob rid him any place we wanted to. And he’s growed up gentle. You know he’s awful gentle fer a full-blooded Durham.’

“‘Yes,’ says Tillyannie’s pap, kinder stutterin’.

“‘Well, pappy, they cain’t no Sam Slinker come no sich trick over me. Jist put a halter on old Jigger fer me, will you, while I slip into my cloes.’

“‘But, honey’–

“‘Pappy, they cain’t no Sam Slinker play no sich a trick on me as that, I tell you. Why, it’s to the whole school he’s a-playin’ it. Goose Creek has jist natcherly got to be licked. Ketch old Jigger fer me, pappy. Right now!’

“Well, say! I never seen sich a sight in all my borned days. The spellin’ hadn’t commenced yet when Tillyannie comes up a-ridin’ that old, bull and a-guidin’ him with a short stick she held in her hand, looking like a young goddess – er somethin’.

“A passel of us fellers was a-standin’ around a-talkin’. We all looked up and seen her, and Sam Slinker, he commenced a snigger, a snigger that never growed up. The swipe I let him have with the back of my hand sort of stunted it. It was aplumb runt the balance of its life.

“‘Well, her brother ain’t here, nohow,’ he roared, soon as he could speak fer the blood in his mouth. ‘And he won’t find his way out of the swamp in time to git here, nuther. Couldn’t nobody git out of it in the night, frum the place where I left him a-watchin’ a bee tree while I went to borry a ax.’

“‘She can clean up the whole bunch of you without him,’ I says. ‘And she don’t need him for pertection, nuther, so long as I’m around,’ I says.

‘And, as i was a-sayin’, I never seen sich a time. It got noised around about the trick the Slinker boys had played and about Tillyannie ridin’ old Jigger. The whole crowd seemed to git sorter still and white. And the Gooseites – well, they was skeered. Jist plain, ordinary skeered.

“And if you could a-saw Tillyannie! Lawzee! She looked like she always did when the spellin’ got excitable, only more so. I was purty nigh afeerd, myself – afeerd for her. Deep down under all that bloomin’ and excitement I could see a awful ca’m that could mean a heap of things. Ever’ word was measured, and they wasn’t a move made by the other side that them flashin’ eyes of hern didn’t see.

“Well, the spellin’ went on till they wasn’t but one of our side left standin’ and that was Tillyannie. All the rest of us had gone down to defeat, as the feller says.

“They was three of the Gooseites left, but they was a-shakin’ in their Sunday shoes till you would hear their teeth rattle as the words passed back and forth, with Tillyannie a-spellin’ three while they spelt one apiece.

“Purty soon Jim Akers, he missed and went down, leavin’ Sam and Joe Slinker and Tillyannie.

“Law-zee! If you could jist a-saw Tillyannie!

“Well, it shore looked as if they was a-goin’ to plumb swaller the old spellin’ book and a piece of the dictionary, when, all of a sudden, Sam, he come up agin one of the words with six syllables to it. He spelt the fust syllable and fell back in the traces. He tried again and fell back a little harder. He had shore struck a snag and had jist one more trial at it. I could see that he was a-getherin’ hisself fer a hard, steady pull that would take it plumb out by the roots or that he was aimin’ to scoot over the top without nobody seein’ how he done it.

“He tried scootin’.

“‘Mr. Blymm,” says Tillyannie to the Goose Creek teacher who was takin’ his turn at givin’ out the words, ‘would you keer to have that word spelt agin?’

“‘I reckon it was spelt correct,’ says Blymm.

“‘Would you please have it spelt agin?’ says Tillyannie.

“‘I reckon it was spelt’-

“With that our crowd riz like one person. Even little Timmie Tidwell, who was jist 6 years old, goin’ on 7.

“‘Set down,’ says Tillyannie, without lookin’ at us.

“We set down.

“‘I’m waitin’, Mr. Blymm,’ says Tillyannie.

“He give her jist one good, searchin’ look, and gen-tull-men! If he didn’t order Sam to spell it agin, loud and slow and distinct.

“‘There,’ says Tillyannie. ‘I knowed it was wrong.’

“‘You’d like to know where that brother of yours is, I reckon,’ Sam throwed as he set down.

“‘He’ll let you know that hisself, tomorrer,’ says Tillyannie.

“Then the spellin’ went on agin. Sam, he set there, mad plumb through. Joe, he stood up with his eyes a-buggin’ out till you could a-knocked ‘em off with a stick. He expected ever’ minute to git his finish, as the feller says. We didn’t none of us have no fear about our side We had jist the same as licked Goose Creek already. But it was interestin’ to see how easy Tillyannie could rattle off them words, a-spellin’ ‘em one after t’other, quicker than a wink. She jist caught ‘em on the fly as they come frum Mr. Blymm’s mouth and tossed ‘em over her shoulder, done to a turn.

“But Joe, he was holdin’ out purty well, too. The Gooseites commenced to perk up a little and Jim Akers, he ‘lowed that old Goose Creek wasn’t licked yet. Not by a jug full.

“And then, jist at that minute, Joe, he struck a snag somethin’ like Sam’s. He stopped and stuttered, give it a whack, backed up and tried agin, missin’ both times.

“‘Now, don’t be in a hurry,’ says Blymm. Blymm wasn’t expected to take sides, but he wasn’t jist plumb crazy about seein’ his school walloped, so he says agin: ‘Take your time fer it, Joseph,’ he says. ‘You can spell that word if you jist think a minute.’

Joe, he wiggled and twisted and got redder and redder in the face, when all of a sudden, out of the stillness, there come a whisper. Jist a faint kind of a whisper it was, but it was located right behind Joe, where Sam had slipped in after his own lickin’.

“‘No fair! No fair!’ yells our crowd.

“‘Set down!” says Tillyannie, without lookin’ at us.

“We set down.

“‘Mr. Blymm,’ says Tillyannie, ‘it has always been the rules that if a person tried to cheat, they would have to git out of the house while the rest of the spellin’ was a-goin’ on.’

“‘It has,’ says Blymm. ‘But I don’t reckon’-

“‘Then you better reckon,’ Tillyannie was plumb disrespectful, but Blymm was jist a upstart that needed takin’ down a peg er two, and we shore was tickled that she had the nerve to do it.

“‘Mr. Blymm,’ says Tillyannie, ‘will you please have Sam Slinker leave the room?’

“‘Why,’ says Blymm, ‘now’-

“‘Will you please have him leave?’ she axes again, slow and quiet.

“And blame me, if he didn’t order Sam out of the house.

“‘Now,’ says Tillyannie, ‘will you please skip that word that Joe got helped with and go on to the next one?’

“But Joe, he couldn’t spell the next one, nuther, and had to set down on the third trial.

“Well, there was some doin’s, I can tell you, and fer a minute er two they was a reglar rough and tumble fight right there in the schoolhouse. A lively one, too, fer jist a passel of kids. The gooseites was as mad as hornets and was a-stingin’ any place they could light. But I reckon we was too quick fer ‘em some way. Anyhow, we had purty nigh the whole mess of ‘em a-layin’ in a pile when Mr. Blymm and a few others got things restored to order, as the sayin’ is.

“I didn’t ride home that night in the wagon with the other kids. I walked along beside old Jigger all them seven miles. But they shore didn’t seem more than three. Blame me if they did. I had my hand on his neck a part of the time, a-guidin’ him – though Tillyannie didn’t need no help,and I knowed it. And she knowed it. But they is times when a feller likes to feel pertectin’ and when a girl likes fer him to feel that-a-way. That was one of the times.

“‘Tillyannie,’ I says, ‘jist how old air you?’

“‘Fifteen, goin’ on 16’ she says. There was a ketch er somethin’ in her voice.

“‘You ain’t a-cryin’, air you, Tillyannie?’ I says.

“‘No-no,’ she says. ‘Sh-shore not.’

“‘You air, too,’ I says. ‘But don’t you cry. You shore licked ‘em, all right.’

“‘Yes,’ she says, a-perkin’ up. “D-didn’t we lick ‘em, though?’

“‘Nobody done it but you,’ I says.

“We went on fer a mile er two. ‘Reckon the moon is a-goin’ to shine?’ asked Tillyannie.

“‘Reckon it might,’ I says, ‘if they was any to shine. They ain’t no moon right now,’ I says.

“‘O!’ says Tillyannie.

“And we didn’t say another word till we was purty nigh to her gate. And then I tuck my life in my hands, as it were, and says: ‘Tillyannie,’ I says, ‘I’m 17, goin’ on 18, myself. How long afore you’re old enough fer me to commence settin’ up with you?’ I says.

“‘How long afore you’re old enough yourself?’ she axes.

“‘I reckon I ain’t fur frum it right now,’ I says to her.

“‘I reckon the same about myself,’ she says. ‘Of course,’ she says, ‘settin’ up don’t mean nothin’ but settin’ up.’

“‘Course not,’ I says. ‘But I reckon I can take my chances with the other fellers.’ I knowed they was all a-gittin’ plumb hawg wild about her. ‘With a even start,’ I says, ‘I reckon I’ll bring up somewheres in the race.’

“And that’s how it started.

“Well, sir, I jist set there out in the woods that day, a-thinkin’ over old times, and plumb fergot that I was a-listenin’ till all of a sudden a heerd a gobble so clost it mighty near skeered me. I remembered then, what I was out there fer and commenced to call on my fingers. Cain’t nobody beat me a-callin’ wild turkeys. Purty soon I heerd it again, a-answerin’, and the biggest gobbler I’d saw fer a coon’s age come a-bustin’ up. He lasted me and Tillyannie purty nigh three days, with dressin’.

“When I went a-draggin’ him home, Tillyannie she met me at the door.

“‘Honey,’ I says, ‘they ain’t no plots in the woods, nuther. But I ain’t a-goin’ to let you git beat out of your trip to Californy, nohow.’

“‘But we cain’t,’ Tillyannie commenced, ‘with the new land we’ve been a-buyin’ and all the work a’-

“‘Yes, we can,’ I says. ‘Dog gone the work.’ I says, pinchin’ her arm and gittin’ funny. ‘Let the gold twist duns do your work,’ I says, kotin’ a sign er somethin’ I had saw up in the city.”

“Why, Gobbler Hunter,” I said, “all this is a story itself. Write it up,” I encouraged.

“Shucks!” he said. “Write it up yourself, if you want to git fooled. What they want, I tell you, is things that I don’t know a darned thing about. Me and Tillyannie is a-goin’ fer a trip to Californy and I don’t aim to ax no blamed editor fer the money to pay fer it nuther. If they don’t watch out, they won’t git to play football with me no more – that is, not fer a while. ‘Course, I’m still purty sartin that I can write. Sorter feel it in my bones, as the feller says.”

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