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Ghosts of These Ozarks Hills

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 discovers stories about Grandpa Henry.

Sisco: Hello! This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. It's fall in the Ozarks. The days are getting shorter, the nights colder. Frost is creeping into the valleys and owls want to know who kooks for you? We go out to see the colors and instead we sometimes see ghosts. For these hills are old. Some say the oldest in America. Thinking about that sent me out in search of someone who remembered someone who remembered somebody still older, someone who got here a long time before us: Carol Silvey's Grandpa Henry.

Silvey: My great-great-great grandfather came on the Trail of Tears, the infamous Cherokee march. After having crossed the Mississippi, they came across to Rolla. Grandpa Henry and 11 other young people decide they were not going to follow their elders to the Indian territory and so they came south and they came down and they spent the winter in Rainbow the cave, just above it. The other 11 chose to go on in the spring. Grandpa Henry stayed in Ozark County all his life.

Sisco: Just how old was he, anyhow?

Silvey: He lived to be, according to his records, 105. We have not found records that prove that to be the fact. They don't prove that he was quite that elderly when he died but we like the thought that we're from long-lived people so we kind of like that story as well.

Sisco: So, he lived long enough that your father knew him, is that right?

Silvey: He took my dad fishing. My dad was his favorite of his heirs, it seems. And dad said you didn't know what hunting and fishing was until you went with Grandpa Henry. He was stealthy. He was accurate. He was committed. I recall dad telling stories about Grandpa Henry taking him fishing and he made a sound one day and he said he just did really did get upset at me and didn't take me for a long time. He said all I did was say, 'Grandpa, do you think...' And he said, 'That's all I got out.' So, he took his fishing very seriously. Not his work however. Just kind of wandered around and lived off the people and off of the land. He did a little bit of blacksmithing, just enough and he lived in a hut that I saw as an adult and he had hollowed out a piece of ground, probably not any more than 10 by 10. He had put kind of a lean-to of saplings and boards over it and that's where he spent his later years. Really quite interesting. He was not a hard worker by any means. He hunted and fished and floated. He'd be gone for long periods of time and he would come back to the family and indicate to them that he had been visiting relatives who obviously were in the Indian territory at that point.

Sisco: That's an amazing story. Carol Silvey is a professor of history, the retired director of development for Missouri State University and now, the head of the West Plains office for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, and the great-great-great granddaughter of Grandpa Henry. It is ghosts such as his that walk These Ozarks Hills. He was just who I was looking for, one of those ghosts. Thank you for listening.

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