Barry County family raises 12 children in small cabin
Museum home to 1800s cabin still holds memories for local resident
The Barry County Museum is charged with collecting, preserving and exhibit items that represent the past, present and future of the life and times of Barry Countians, and one example of its work is a log cabin more than 120 years old in which a local family of 12 children were raised — the Edens family log cabin.
"Pa Jim" Edens built the home, about 20-by-25 feet, in the late 1800s for his family on what is now Greasy Creek Road in Washburn. Despite its humble size, the cabin consists of one main room and a loft, and he and his wife Mattie Walker Edens managed to raise a large family there.
"The Edens' cabin was donated to the museum by family members in 2007," said Kathy White, Barry County Museum director. "Upon acquisition, the cabin was dismantled, and the logs were numbered and moved to the museum site. When reconstruction began in March of 2009, it was discovered several of the original logs were not unusable. Charles Weathers, son of Josie, one of the Edens children, was able to obtain replacement logs from land owned by a family member, keeping this entire cabin in the family."
Pa Jim's granddaughter, Cassville resident Mona (Watson) Bower, 78, still recalls memories as if it were yesterday of her six uncles and six aunts raised in the cabin, the youngest of whom was her mother, Pearl Edens Watson.
"Our grandpa Jim was a character and a little ole country guy," she said. "I can hear his laugh yet. He had a deep, deep laugh. When we lived on a farm near Washburn, as little girl, I remember him saying, 'Hurry, hurry Mona, there's a northern coming,' referring to a weather change.
"He had a pet goat named Nan. I would go up to his little cabin behind our house and Nan would be out there. He was a short, stocky man. He raised a couple of his kids on goat's milk and I assumed that was why he lived to be almost 90. He said it was very healthy."
Pa Jim was a blacksmith by trade and had a country store between Washburn and Seligman.
"That's where he had his blacksmith shop," Bower said. "He worked very, very hard. At one point, he was janitor at the courthouse to make extra money. It was very hard for them to raise a family that large, but they never went hungry. He always said 'If a man provided not for his family, he was worse than an infidel.' He would fatten one or two hogs and that was their meat supply, and they raised big gardens."
Bower recalls her grandfather talking about bushwhackers a lot.
"They had to be on guard for bushwhackers then, who would loot and burn homes," she said.
Mattie, her grandmother, worked at home.
"I don't know how women did it all those years ago," she said. "They had babies about every two years, and they didn't have disposable diapers, they bleached and washed them, so all that washing, and fixing three meals a day and two kids in diapers? And they still managed to take kids to church and were always 'spic and span.' You weren't going to go dirty anywhere. You were scrubbed clean. So, they struggled to feed 12 kids, but I look at their pictures and their dresses were snow white."
Bower said there was a lot to be done, but times weren't as stressful compared to today.
"If you didn't get something done, they didn't fret about it, but on a job today, you have to beat the clock, so to speak," she said. "But I have heard the family talk about 'how grandma did it.'"
Bower remembers her 12 aunts and uncles as a lively bunch.
"They were so fun to be around," she said. "Lots of eats, stories, laughter and music, and, unfortunately, it's lost now. Most of my mother's siblings played a musical instrument, and she just loved that time. And the girls baked goods and everyone came from near and far and they had a wonderful time."
Her Aunt Jocie, mother of cousins Charles Weathers, James Lamoin and Billie Joe, died before she was born.
"Charles was only 10, and Lamoin, 12, so there were people at our house all the time," Bower said. "Charles said got to go with grandpa to feed the ducks and chickens as a little boy."
Her Aunt, Nona Edens, died at age 22 in 1927 as she was preparing to marry Jack Weathers. She was buried in her wedding dress.
"My Aunt Mamie, the oldest, took care of everyone," Bower said. "She had remedies for everything, and Charles and I talked about how if you were at her house and if she asked, 'Have you had a BM today?' We learned to say, 'Yes,' in a hurry, as she had a concoction of castor oil."
To raise such a large family, resources had to be managed wisely.
"They always gathered fruit and veggies," she said. "My mother raised and canned her own food. That's the way we ate. There were sweet potatoes, squash, onions, pickles and things that people don't eat these days. And lots of fresh greens, brown and butter beans. Their hot bread was to die for.
"Even when I was in high school, mother made food every day. I would stand on a stool and wash jars, then my mother boiled them before she put fresh vegetables in them. People are starting to go back to all that — living off the land so to speak."
Each year in October, the family still gathers for a reunion at the museum near the family cabin.
"I have identical twin cousins who come each year, and they are in their 90s," Bower said.
"The family members gathers each year to fellowship, share a potluck dinner and those that are physically able go out to the cabin and take pictures," White said.