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The Princeton Anthology of Writing:
Favorite Pieces by the Ferris/McGraw Writers at Princeton University
Edited by John McPhee & Carol Rigolot
With a Preface by John McPhee

Book Description | Reviews | Table of Contents

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Princeton University Press and copyrighted, © 2001, by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Follow links for Class Use and other Permissions. For more information, send e-mail to

"People and Character" by Irving Dilliard

The spare Ozark hillman, with his rabbit gun and dog, is a Missourian. So is the weathered open-country farmer; the prosperous cotton planter; the subsistence sharecropper with his stairsteps family; the drawling sawmill hand; the scientific orchardist reading his bulletins from the fruit experiment stations; the lead miner; the hustling small-town merchant; the Kansas City business man; the St. Louis industrialist with one eye on Jefferson City and the other on Washington; the smiling filling station attendant who talks to everyone crossing the continent; the silent riverman who lives in a shanty boat and sees almost nobody -- all are Missourians. Most of them say "neether," some say "nuther," and a few in the fashionable residential sections affect the Atlantic seaboard's "nyther."

* * * * *

The countryside of Missouri is as varied as its people. It is the half-wild, rugged, valley-cut Ozark plateau, worn down from ancient mountain heights, where darkness drops quickly on cabin dooryards. It is the rich delta of the "boot heel," where great cypress trees are still coming down to make cotton acreage on the State's last agricultural frontier. It is blue-grass pasture and rolling orchard and the checkerboard of wheat and corn prairie. It is eroded bluff country which follows the waterways and the alluvial bottom land that fringes them. It is farspreading areas marked by towering remains of mining operations, vast mountains by day and ghostly shapes in the moonlight. It is mile on mile of municipal asphalt and two-family flats and apartment houses, of stores, and office buildings and warehouses.

* * * * *

Missouri's eating is as good as it comes. Boone County ham steaks and red ham gravy, ham baked in milk, barbecued ribs and backbone, authentic country sausage and genuine fried chicken and baked chicken and chicken pie and dumplings and chicken soup, eggs from the henhouse and bacon from the smokehouse; sauerkraut with squabs, and turnips with spareribs, spring greens from the yard and roadside, and green beans with fat pork -- bush beans as long as they last and then long pole beans until frost. Missouri tables are loaded with dish on dish of berries -- strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, floating in cream; with Jonathans, Grimes Goldens, Winesaps, Black Twigs, Delicious; apple pie, apple cobbler, apple strudel, baked apples and fried apples; homegrown tomatoes and watermelons and horseradish grown in the country's horseradish center; an endless number of pickles, always including pickled peaches and "end-of-the-garden"; vast varieties of jellies and preserves; persimmons sweetened and whitened by frost; popovers, wheatcakes and honey, piping hot biscuits and melting butter and molasses; fruit shortcake always with biscuit dough; cornbread from yellow meal without so much as one grain of sugar.

* * * * *

The people of Missouri keep their heritage in play-party games, candy pullings, pie socials and box suppers and wiener roasts. They have barn dances with fiddlers sawing away by lamplight; auctions, carnivals, medicine shows, home-comings, old settler gatherings, and family reunions with cousins and uncles and aunts from far and near. They bring the products of their skill to county fairs, specimens from field and orchard and barnlot and housewife's kitchen. They fill cathedrals and fashionable churches and village meeting houses; they go to revivals and Sunday School picnics and prayer meetings. Now neon-lighted movies are everywhere, but showboats are still playing Over the Hill to the Poorhouse. Fourth of July at Edgar Springs finds a speaker extolling the virtues of democracy, and the crowd participating in the hog-calling contest, the horseshoe-pitching tournament, and the races. Scott County's annual Neighbor Day has a baby show, contests, and exhibitions. At the yearly singing convention at Cedar Gap folks come down from the hills with baskets of food to chant the hymns of their fathers through the whole of a June day. Masked revelers celebrate La Guignolée at Ste. Genevieve; German families at Washington eat herring salad on Christmas Eve so they "will never be in want."

Missouri's places remember people of many kinds of importance. In Franklin a youth named Kit Carson tired of work in a saddlery shop and ran away across the Santa Fe Trail. In Columbia thirty-one-year old Abraham Lincoln wooed Mary Todd in 1840. Arrow Rock and its old tavern come down from covered wagon and ox-team days. Ed Howe drew the portrait of Bethany in his Story of a Country Town. In Springfield, where the streets are aisles of gold in autumn, Wild Bill Hickok served as a Union scout, and, in the Battle of Wilson Creek, General Nathaniel Lyon was killed. Boonville has Thespian Hall, oldest theater building west of the Alleghenies; and Washington its zither and corncob pipe factories. Independence had hardly recovered from the Mormon warfare when it was in the midst of the guerrilla raids of the Civil War. In Lexington, inscriptions on cemetery stones record migrations from the Atlantic seaboard and across the Atlantic. The grave of "Peg Leg" Shannon of the Lewis and Clark expedition is in Palmyra. St. Joseph saw William H. Russell start his colorful, if unsuccessful, Pony Express.

Mark Twain was born in a cabin in the hamlet of Florida; "Black Jack" Pershing on a farm near Laclede; George Washington Carver, Tuskegee's great research scientist, of slave parents near Diamond Grove; William Pope McArthur, hydrographer, first surveyor of the Pacific coast, in Ste. Genevieve; Tex Rickard and Courtney Ryley Cooper in Kansas City. Bishop Quayle was born of Manx parents in Parkville; Thomas Hart Benton, the artist, in Neosho; the Niebuhr brothers in Wright City. The list of native sons and daughters expands and became more varied, including Victor Clarence Vaughan, distinguished medical educator, conductor of the first American bacteriological laboratory, born at Mount Airy; Ginger Rogers, and the turfman, Samuel Clay Hildreth, born in Independence; Marion Talley, born in Nevada, Rupert Hughes, born in Lancaster; Glenn Frank, born in Queen City; James Cash Penney, chain-store magnate, born near Hamilton; F. W. Taussig, who ferried the Mississippi on the way to his chair in economics at Harvard; Bernarr Macfadden, born near Mill Springs; and Cole Younger and Robert Dalton and Jesse Woodson James.

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