125-year-old Scrapbook Enlightens Understanding of Historical Figures

Librarian Mabel Phillips looks
over the historic scrapbook.
Letters to Santa Claus, notes to a sweetheart, a wedding announcement, newspaper obituaries and tributes; these and other historical insights from the family of a 19th century druggist in Ozark, Missouri are in a scrapbook more than 125 years old in the Christian County Library, Ozark. Items in the scrapbook are brown and tattered. Edges of the scrapbook pages are torn and fragile, with small pieces breaking off when they are touched. Library director Mabel G. Phillips keeps the scrapbook on a shelf above her desk.

“I wish we could afford to properly preserve it, but we don’t have the budget for it,” she says. “We have other papers and scrapbooks locked up that are in worse condition than this one.” She has attended workshops on preservation techniques that usually focus on a single piece of paper.

Robert and Nora Gray
This scrapbook was given to the library when it opened in 1956 by the family of druggist Robert N. Gray (1858-before 1920)) and his wife Nora Collier Gray (1866-after 1920). Contents represent the Grays’ interests in poetry, politics, and family. Items date from 1885 to the early 1900s, although most are not dated and most newspapers are not identified. Newspapers identified include Springfield Daily News, Springfield Republican, and Christian County Republican.

Robert wrote notes to Nora on drugstore stationary, R. N. Gray & Co., Druggists. This cryptic one was dated May 14, 1885: “Darling: Surely my strength will be ‘Sampsonion.’ But you will, as your words assure, at least think of me? Am glad you are ever in the same town – and not in Sp. Your Rob. P.S. I use envelope color of your dress. ‘Catch on?’” The stationary listed the drugstore as being on the southeast corner of the square in Ozark. Robert and Nora were married in Ozark on January 5, 1887.

Several letters to Santa Claus are in the scrapbook, including this undated one: “Dear Santa claus. I want a pair of skates and a pair of boots and a nu suit. Thomas. Good by. my nubrr is 42166.” Thomas was a grandson of Robert and Nora.

“The value of scrapbooks like this is they give character to individuals rather than just seeing dry names on a page,” says Mabel. “You have a little understanding of their humanness.”

More on Robert and Nora. 

Robert Gray’s father: pioneer settler
Robert Gray’s father was Daniel Gray (1806-1895), “one of the oldest settlers of Greene County and a man who was among the original 13 pioneers who started the village of Springfield in 1831” and who “helped drive the Indians from Greene County,” according to his obituaries in the scrapbook.

One item in the scrapbook is an article about Daniel from an undated and unnamed newspaper. The article, “The Story of a Pioneer, Daniel Gray’s First Christmas in Missouri,” tells of his arrival in Greene County when the county “embraced most of the country between the Osage River and Arkansas and west of the Big Piney and to territory of Kansas.” The article reproduces portions of a long letter Daniel wrote to Robert regarding that first Christmas. Here is an excerpt:

“In the fall of 1831, I moved to Missouri [from Kentucky] with Ragland Langston, the father of Joe Langston. We had a four-horse wagon made for the trip and both families put all our worldly possessions in this big moving conveyance and started for the west. We reached the end of our journey in December and stopped right where the Greene County Court House now stands. John P. Campbell, a wealthy gentleman from Tennessee, had settled that place and built a log house for his residence.”

Claiming his land
On claiming his land on the James River with his wife, Elizabeth, and their baby (unnamed): “I moved down on the James, one mile above where the Old Ozark bridge was afterwards built. Some one had cut down the largest walnut tree I ever saw. It had been a bee tree, cut for the honey. We got to this place late on Christmas Eve, 1831. The walnut log was high as my head. I cut poles and put one end on it and the other on forks and made a camp for the night. After covering over the poles, I made a very good shelter. It was cloudy, but not cold. After eating our supper, we made our bed on the ground and slept as sound as if we had been in the finest mansion. I had never had a better night’s sleep in my life. I was a little tired, you know.

“When we awoke in the morning to welcome Christmas and Sunday, for they came together that year, do you think you can imagine my feelings when I opened my eyes and beheld an eight inch snow on the ground?

“The next day, I cut a set of house logs and on the following day hauled them up. I meant to raise the house as soon as the snow melted.”

Read the complete article.

Nora Gray’s father: soldier and elected official
Nora Gray’s father was John P. Collier (1842-?), a native of Kentucky. He was a Union soldier in the Civil War, enlisting in Company A, Eleventh Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, and was at the battle of Shiloh. He and his wife, Louanna, moved their family to Moniteau County, Missouri in October 1871 and then to Ozark in October 1872. In Ozark he was elected to numerous public offices including deputy sheriff, county collector, deputy circuit and county clerk, county treasurer, school commissioner, justice of the peace, and probate judge.

More on John and Louanna.

My special thanks to Mabel Phillips for her additional research and confirmation of facts.

What old records have you found that shed light on family stories?

Photo: Wayne E. Groner

1 comment:

  1. I can only imagine how excited that family's current day members must feel over that treasure and the ways the scrapbook introduces them to ancestors they never met, ancestors who nevertheless played important roles in who they are today.

    I couldn't help but wonder, while I read, if people two or three generations from now will consider our memoirs a family treasure. I hope so.