Mothers of the White River Valley
with Dale Hanks
By Freda Cruse Phillips
I was flattered when historian Dale Hanks called me. I had read a great deal of his work about the early days of the White River Valley, including “The Falling Out”, which relates the story of why Jane Mason Jeffery was buried separately from her family. Dale had heard about the recent cleanup of Jane’s gravesite. He drove from his home in Richmond, VA for a visit to her grave, honoring this incredible woman who was his grandmother. Born and raised in Batesville, Arkansas, Dale graduated Batesville High School in 1946. He has lived in Richmond, VA since 1965. We drove over to the “old Perrin place” now owned by the Ken Coon family, mid afternoon Thursday in what turned out to be a hot spring day. Our visit included a drive up to the slave barn followed by sweet tea on the deck at JoJo’s Catfish Wharf.
In order to understand who we are as people of the Ozarks, we must first understand from whom we are descended. Some remarkable women lived here in this valley between 1810 and 1850. These women walked here, rode a mule, carried a pack or if they were lucky toiled with a push cart. These unyielding first women personified the embracing nurturing spirit that is the foundation of our present day women.
The first known white woman to settle in Stone County was Sarah Lindsey Lafferty, arriving in 1810, 200 years ago. Her oldest daughter Elizabeth, a new bride, died during the journey at the mouth of the White River. Mourning her daughter, Sarah settled into Indian Territory where undoubtedly she was consoled by and made friends with the native women. Elizabeth’s husband, Charles Kelly completed the trip with the Lafferty’s and later became the first Sheriff of Independence Co. Sarah’s husband John had established trade with the Indians in 1801. Now alongside him Sarah operated Lafferty’s Landing, near present day Younger Access. After the death of her husband in 1816 she continued to live in the reservation maintaining the outpost. In 1819 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote of stopping at “the Widow Lafferty’s in the Indian reservation”.
In 1774 Chief Pucksinwah, father of Tecumseh was killed. His death lead to his wife Methotaske, Tecumseh’s mother, a Creek losing her standing in the Shawnee tribe. By 1779 she was forced out and moved with her Creek family from the Ohio River valley to the Missouri Territories. Methotaske brought her two youngest children with her leaving her oldest daughter to raise the children she had to leave behind, including Tecumseh and the Prophet. In 1780 after the attack on Ruddell’s Mill, KY that also included captives and adopted siblings George Lail, Stephen and Abe Ruddell. White Wing, the daughter of Chief Peter Cornstalk and Catherine See (Seay), became the third wife of Tecumseh. After Tecumseh’s death in 1813, the last of the Northern Shawnee moved from the Ohio River valley to present day Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Although white traders preceded him, George Lail arriving with the Shawnee became the first white settler. Many of the Franks and Burns of Stone County are descendants of his sister Elizabeth Lail. Also taken captive at Ruddell’s Mill she was sold to the British for a key of whiskey. She married British solider John Franks.
White Wing’s half brother, Chief Peter Cornstalk Jr along with Abe Ruddell brought a large contingent of the Shawnee further south and west into the White River Valley. In 1817 Stephen Ruddell brought an aging Methotaske from near Gainesville, MO, to live closer to Abe who had settled west of Batesville. In 1826 Chief Peter Cornstalk Jr, Tecumseh’s brother in law, married Mary Adams at Wolf House. Mary was a cousin of the first white settler of Searcy County, Robert Adams.
Abe Ruddell married Mary Culp, sister of Thomas Culp, whose wife Lavina was the daughter of Jane Mason Jeffery. Thomas and Mary Culp’s nephew, Daniel D. Culp, by their brother Josiah Culp, became the private secretary to Gen. Sam Houston. When Sam Houston heard of Daniel’s death, he had Daniel’s remains moved back to Texas and proclaimed him a “Son of Texas”. He is buried in Galveston.
Sam’s older brother John Paxton Houston was the first clerk of Izard County. Their cousin Margaret Houston married James Grigsby. The Grigsby’s ran the ferry between Marcella and O’Neal. Their daughter Martha Houston Grigsby married Elias Elijah Fulks. Another relative Ann Houston married John Walker III. Her son John became “Chief” Walker of the Cherokee when he married Elizabeth Kittegusta, daughter of Tame Doe Moytoy and Chief Fivekiller. Sam, Abe and Chief Walker were actively involved in the treaty and voluntary settlement of the 1817 Indian reservation. Elizabeth arrived here with her grand daughter Caty Walker and husband David Fulks.
Jane Mason Jeffery was known as “the old medicine woman”. Subsequently Jane had a “falling out” with the Jeffery family over her willingness to treat white, blacks and Indians alike. As a result she lived the last years of her life with her son Daniel and his Indian wife, Mary Bowcock Jeffery. Upon her death in 1853, Jane was buried on their farm, separate from the Jeffery family at Mt. Olive.
There are now a total of 9 nine graves there; 6 unidentified, possibly four adult slaves and two native or black children. Two Hanks children are also buried near her; William died in 1886 at the age of 9 years, Willie Hanks only a few days old died in 1902. These were the grand children of Jane Mason Jeffery and descendants of the Nancy Hanks family, mother of President Abraham Lincoln.
Jane is buried on a grassy knoll, with the sound of a gurgling creek, rolling hills and the White River in the distance. Around 1970 the rock walls that surrounded the farm along with the foundation and chimney rocks of the family home were sold and hauled away. The mock orange, lavender and prim rose bushes are tell tale signs of where the house once stood, where lives were lived, and where friends and family, mothers, Mary Bowcock Jeffery, Mary Adams Cornstalk, Lavina Jeffery Culp, Martha Houston Grigsby, Caty Walker Fulks, Mary Culp Ruddell, Methotaske, Sarah Lindsey Lafferty and Jane Mason Jeffery may have dressed a deer or doctored a child. It’s a beautiful spot and a beautiful resting place in the shadow of ancient trees.