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Report on a visit made to Howell County, Missouri, August 19, 2005, in search of the place where Victor Anderson and family lived March to September 1901.

Here is Victor’s account of their time in Howell County, Missouri, taken from his autobiography -
Lake View [a community in Chicago, strongly Swedish in character - ed] was becoming very closely settled, so we traded this place for a home in the beautiful suburb of Rodgers Park, three blocks from the lake on Estes Ave., and remodeled this place somewhat.  This property was on the beautiful corner of Estes and Perry Aves.  This was shortly after the World’s Fair, which was followed by a never forgotten depression, and it was then impossible at that time to get work of any kind.  I had been suffering for several years with catarrh and dyspepsia and decided it would be best to try a change of climate, so we traded this property for a farm in the southern part of Missouri, near a town called Olden.  Pomona was the name of our R.R. Station and Village.  Our farm was a large fruit farm of 140 acres [160 acres according to the deed - Ed], containing 3,000 peach trees about seven years old and 2,400 apples at a good bearing age.  This was a very pretty place and a beautiful country with a good climate.  We arrived in March.  The plum trees were in full bloom, but that summer turned out to be an unusual dry summer, and every one down there were entirely dependent on rain water for their water supply both for their own personal use and for the stock.  We would then have to take a barrel and drive two or three miles for water.  All the farmers had were cisterns as wells were very scarce around there.  In spite of the draught, we had a very good peach crop, as the ground was a heavy clay soil and held moisture.  The potato crop was a failure.  I planted four bushels and when I tried to dig them in the fall, I had to use a pick axe to chop the ground because it was so hard, and we only managed to get up a small basket of very small potatoes.  The apple crop was also very good.  There were no good schools and no Swedish Church.  Our children were just at the school age, and these things had to be taken into consideration.  We also found out that they did not look for a fruit crop more than about every seven years.  We did not know how the fruit should be taken care of, packed and shipped, as there were no fruit growers association down there.

That summer a man from Des Moines came around there to buy up fruit for shipping and inquired about our fruit, but we could not agree on the price, so then he asked us if we wanted to sell the farm with the fruit.  Taking all things into consideration we said we would for $3,500.  This man had seven lots in Des Moines he valued at $300 apiece.  He offered us these lots and $1,500. in cash.  I wrote to Rev. Paul Hallin in Des Moines asking him to look up these lots and inquire as to their value, which he did and wrote me that they were worth $250 or $300.
I went to the Howell County Courthouse in West Plains, Missouri, explained my mission, and was directed to the archives.  I did not find a record of Victor’s purchase of the farm, but I did find a record of the sale of the farm.
In the Abstracts of Deed, #3764, Book 75, P. 383, I found that, on Sept 10, 1901, Victor Anderson sold to Milton Davis a 160 acre parcel described as SE ¼, Sec 9, Twp 35, R 9.  Unidentified personal property (perhaps farm equipment) was also included in the sale.  

Knowing that I was interested in the circumstances of my grandfather’s time in southern Missouri, the man in charge of the archives sent me to Dorothy Reaves (pronounced REH vis), a woman of about sixty, who presides over an office in the Circuit Court, and who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Howell County.  She gave me some background history of the area.

She told me there were a lot of Swedish people in Howell County (however, I saw almost no Scandinavian names in the Abstracts of Deeds).  A man named Michael Brand, who owned a brewery in Chicago, sold his brewery and used the proceeds to buy thousands of acres of land in southern Missouri.  He invited people to buy land from him and settle in southern Missouri, and he especially encouraged immigrants to come.  The town of Brandsville, about ten miles southeast of West Plains is named for him.  A Col. Tory also bought large tracts of land to sell to settlers.  

Howell County became a premier place for growing peaches, regularly wining honors at the State Fair.  Peach growing is a risky business, particularly dependant on the weather.  Occasional late frosts in spring, or dry summers, would destroy a crop.  One year a strike by railroad workers caused the loss of a large part of the crop en route to market.

Since Victor bought an operating farm with mature peach trees, he could not have been among the immigrants who first came to the area (Howell County began to be settled before the Civil War.  Michael Brand moved to the area in the 1890s), but there may well have been knowledge of the area from immigrants who had moved there earlier and Victor may have learned of the farm from Swedes he was in touch with there.

Victor mentions two towns: Olden, which is the town nearest his farmland, and Pomona, which was his railroad station.  Olden is about ten miles north of West Plains.  Mrs. Reavis told me there was once a fruit cannery in Olden, which would have processed fruit from the farms around.  I visited Olden.  It now consists of about a dozen houses along the main, and only, street.  I found the railroad track which served the cannery, but there was no longer any sign of a cannery.

Main street of Oden from the east.
The main street of Olden, from the east.  Hiway 63 is at the far end.  Though not visible here, there are about a dozen houses on this road.

I found Victor’s farm, drove down a long lane and knocked on the door of a house, obviously recently built.  I was kindly welcomed by Lon Vetter, current owner of the property, who received me and my mission most graciously and gave me about two hours of his time.  He owns the southern half of Victor’s property, the northern half now being a part of Mark Twain National Forest.  He built his house in 2002.  There was an old house on the property when he bought it (perhaps the house Victor and Hannah lived in).  He tore the house down and used wood from it for support posts and roof framing in a shed he built (see photo).  The house was near the road, just off Lon’s lane.  It had been added onto many times.  It had a large cistern, which he had filled in (note Victor’s comment on the importance of cisterns to local farmers).  There are very few signs of a house there now.  There was a slight depression where the cistern was.  A woman who lived in the house for a year in her teens had told Lon stories about her life there.  Lon has notes from his talk with her but he could not locate them while I was there.

Tractor shed built with wood from old house

Some of the wood in this tractor shed came from the old house in which Victor and Hannah may have lived.

He has walked all of his land.  There are numerous small peach trees around the property, easily spotted in the spring when they are in bloom but hard to pick out in August when I was there.  They are probably descended from the peach trees in the orchard Victor bought, but they have deteriorated in quality as they went wild.  The trees do not get very big and do not live very long.  There are also many pear trees, also probably descended from earlier orchards.  They grow quite large (see photo) and produce round pears that are very hard until after a frost, when they turn grainy.  They have many small seeds, and the squirrels like them for the seeds.

Wild pear tree on Viictor's farm

Wild pear tree on Victor and Hannah's Missouri farm, probably descended from a pear orchard.

The ground is hard and whitish from chert in the soil.  It can be cultivated only after a rain.  When it is dry, agricultural implements will not penetrate it, they just skip along on top of it (see Victor’s comments on the soil).

Lon showed me little ridges in a woods near to his house, parallel and about 15 feet apart.  He thinks there were was probably an orchard there, that the trees were between the ridges, and that the ridges would have gathered and channeled rain water.  They seem to be on contours and some of them terminate in a small low area where there is sometimes a pond.

Lon had found about ten old horse and mule shoes.  He also had some pieces of iron implements, one clearly from a shovel cultivator, another may have been part of a plow.  I would like to think a few of them are from Victor’s time there.  

On the northwest corner of his property there appears to have been a house or other building.  There is a depression there which might have been a cistern and some evidence of foundations and walls.  He has aerial photos from the 70s, 80s and 90s which show that a lot of Scotch pine was planted at some time.

The terrain around the area is rolling, and there are not many roads.  The county roads I saw, including the road past Victor’s farm, are gravel.  The road past Victor’s land was on a section line, but some roads are not on section lines and many section lines have no road.  There are open fields and wooded areas.  I saw cattle but no field crops near Victor’s farm.  

Road past Victor's farm
Road past Victor and Hannah's Missouri farm

Local tradition says that Pomona, the town nearest Victor’s land, was named for Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and fruit trees.  The Latin word for fruit tree is pomum or pomus

Dwight Ericsson, Investigator and Scribe for the Andersons

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