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The Tale of Polly Langston

KSMU's monthly series "These Ozarks Hills" features stories about people and places in the Ozarks collected and presented by long-time journalist Marideth Sisco. In this installment, Marideth introduces us to Polly Langston.

Sisco: This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Today I'd like to tell you about Polly Langston. Polly was a poor little orphan girl who was befriended by a doctor from Marshfield, Missouri while he was on a trip to New Orleans. She only spoke a few words of Spanish and it was believed she came from Cuba. He took her home to his wife and son and she became just like a member of the family. But then came that great tornado, the Marshfield cyclone of 1880 that killed more than a 100 people and the doctor's family was not spared. Let's let West Plains historian, Dorotha Reavis pick up the tale from that morning when they went to search for survivors.

Reavis: They heard what they thought was a baby cry "mama oh mama" and it was Polly and she was near Dr. Bradford and they found that he was dead and they finally located Mrs. Bradford, she had been blown out in the field and she was so badly bruised that she was almost beyond recognition but Polly knew her and she was comforted. But after that she just kept saying "hey Ma! Where's Pa?" and this really disturbed Mrs. Bradford and finally she decided to send Polly to West Plains to her daughter who was married to Thomas Jefferson Langston and after that Polly was so afraid of storms that every time she heard thunder she would begin to cry out and just have a fit. And they'd have to get a heavy quilt and cover Polly so that she couldn't hear the thunder so much and she was comforted that way. Polly, when she was a teenager had been taught to sing and she had a favorite hymn that was called, How Firm the Foundation and she would sing quite frequently and when she sang she insisted that someone in the family go to the piano and play for her. Mrs. Langston was host to the ladies' aid society and they met at her house regularly. Polly was always there and she would hear the ladies talking and after they would leave, Polly would have a conversation with herself and she would say "Well goodbye Mrs. Smith. It was awfully nice having you. Oh the cream was delicious." Polly was just so loved by the family but not only was she really liked by the family but everyone in West Plains loved her because the Langston family lived on what is now Langston Street across from Roberson Drago Funeral home and she spent a lot of time out on the front porch and would take time to talk to people as they would pass by. So she became really popular all over Howell County and was much respected and loved by the citizens of our area. She was born in 1867 and in 1920 almost 53 years later she died and the family loved her so much they couldn't think of anything but to take her to Oak Lawn Cemetery and bury her in the Langston burial plot and Polly has her own tombstone that says Polly, 1867- 1920.

Sisco: It's an interesting tale with an interesting twist that made Polly's death noteworthy in newspapers nationwide. You see Polly was a parrot, one of the more exotic birds to pass through These Ozarks Hills.