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History Early Settlers in Douglas County Early Sports and Recreation

Early Sports and Recreation

4-day dances, popular tunes, and other kinds of rough and ready fun - horse racing, fights, & shooting matches.

All life was not grim and stern, however. Horse races, shooting matches, and dances all helped to relieve the strain of their arduous lives. The dances were the big events. They were held two or three times a year and people sometimes traveled three or four days to come to them. At one of these dances several cattle would be barbecued during the course of the dance which usually lasted two or three days. The dances were of the barn dance type. They were the same type of dances they had danced in their former mountain homes and the same type of dances that are danced today in the hills. The music consisted of a fiddle, a banjo, a guitar and a set of steel knitting needles which were used to beat the fiddle string with while the fiddler played. The most popular tunes were "Money Musk", Sugar in the Gourd", "Sally Ann", Soldiers Joy", and "Sourwood Mountain". A good caller to call the different phases of the dance was much in demand. A good caller was one who could sing his calls with catch phrases added so that he was talking almost continually. Every catch phrase was supposed to rime with the call. For instance, "Circle eight, circle eight, hurry up boys and don't be late, leave that gal don't hang on the gate". They would balance, swing and stomp in time with the music. Then as now liquid corn helped to enliven the occasion. The young people of that day were fast workers and many young people who were strangers or only casually acquainted when a dance began were married before it ended. Almost all marriages turned out happily. The dancing was only done at night and the days were spent in shooting matches, wrestling matches, horse racing and feasting. The target used in the shooting matches was a nail driven part way into a split log. The marksman was supposed to finish driving the nail by shooting and hitting it squarely on the head. These names were quite descriptive of rifles and men. Some of these names were Nail Driver, Deer Killer, Meat in the Pot, and Indian Slayer.

A man's rifle and horse were his prize possessions and were kept in good condition because many times a man's life depended on the speed of his horse and the accuracy of his rifle. The horse races were what drew the more sporting element to these dances; many of the settlers had blooded race horses. Interview: Aug. 2, 1938, Pree Ferguson at her home one mile south of Bertha, Mo. on the Mountain Grove-Rockbridge road. Now deceased.

These were raced against each other at the dances. Some of the settlers would bet as much as a thousand dollars in gold on their horses. These races were enlivened by passing the jug, fist fights, knife fights, gun fights, and handkerchief duels. A handkerchief duel was a knife fight in which both parties grasped corners of a large handkerchief with their left hands and held on while fighting. The loser sometimes lived.

Courtesy of the Douglas County Genealogical and Historical Society Journal, December 1984 and December 1986. The text is from “First White Settlers” in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, U.S. Work Projects Administration, 1935-42, Missouri Historical Records Survey-Douglas County.