Bob Mitchell: Littleberry's cattle valued in will

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

Things were quite a bit different back in the days of pioneer settler in Cassville, my grandfather three times removed. He took care of his widow in fine fashion for those days in his will, leaving her the home, 250 acres of land, and sufficient cattle to make a living.

Significant in the will listing were six "Negros" by the name of Washington, Henry, Siras, Hannah, Wampum and Susannah. They apparently were to remain on the property, as there was no further mention of them in the will other than listing of their names. He might have been the last slaveowner in the area.

Extensive listing of his property, including tools and equipment to run a farm in those days, were included in the primary listing of his last will and testament.

Cheaper cattle then

Compared with today's prices, cattle were dirt cheap in those days, according to the price of animals sold after Littleberry's death. His wife, Nancy, was granted sufficient animals to continue running the farm, which apparently spread southwest from Cassville.

The property apparently began somewhere in the vicinity of today's location of Arvest Bank. As was usual in those days, this would put a portion of Flat Creek in the farm area, a necessity for farm operation and household use.

Disposed of through the will were 50 head of cattle, selling from $3-$10. The highest animals sold were the oxen at $35 each. The cows were described as "grade" cattle -- nothing purebred in those days.

Litttleberry was apparently proud of his horseflesh, as there were 43 head of horses or mules, 13 of the latter, which were obviously used in working the farm.

Also on the farm were 26 head of sheep and 12 head of "stock" hogs.

Today's standard

By today's standard, 500-weight steers on the market are $2.26 a pound. Steers weighing 550 are listed on the market at $2.26 a pound. Cows, which one might assume were like those that grazed on the Littleberry farm, sell for 84 cents a pound today.

Crops off the farm, sold as directed by his will, included 46 barrels of corn and 16 stacks of corn. Total value on this product from the farm was listed at $17.10. It's doubtful if many row croppers of today would let their crop go for this price.

A substantial amount of hay was included in the listing of his property.


Littleberry must have considered himself to be a preview of today's banker, as he had extensive loans out to individuals, which he could have made from his home or from the store that he acquired later in life.

There were 66 listings of notes issued and interest payments received. Total amount in this category was approximately $10,000, which could have been a significant sum of money in those days.

In addition to cash loans, there were also debts, including farm produce and some cotton, which was cropped in those days because of the market prices.

At the time of his death, he was obviously interested in education, as he directed that his sons be accorded a two-year education, in a substantial institution in the state, with financing though the will. Having been both a representative and senator (the first of this district) his knowledge of Missouri's educational system was apparently substantial.

There was no amount provided for this part of the will's designations, but the costs then were undoubtedly less than today's costs at any institution of higher learning.

Providing for Nancy

Nancy Mason got all the household items and farming equipment, all these items listed extensively in the will.

Some of these items included five coffee pots, indicating the family was well supplied in caffeine in their everyday life. Plenty of barrels were listed, including six sandboxes. Their use was not explained.

Guns were popular in those days, two shotguns with a pair of rifle guns and pouch, plus nine pairs of guns (apparently worn on the hip) were left to the family.

There were a bunch of peacock feathers, their use not explained, but apparently having a value to be listed in the will. The deceased even provided for the household by listing six window curtains.

Many listings in the will might be considered of little value today in the running of a household, but if they were in a flea market, their value from the middle 1800s would be significant, to say the least. Nancy, grandmother of my late grandmother, Jenny Mason Ray, acknowledged receipt of the will items in June of 1853.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.