John M. Kelso

From the 1884 History of Callaway County, Missouri, page 922-924.
Transcribed by Kris Breid, 17 December 2005.

John M. Kelso, farmer, mechanic, etc., etc. Mr. Kelso is one of the “characters” of Callaway county and a worthy one, –too, a man with a history to “point a moral and adorn a tale,” a man whose life-record shows that he has not been asleep for the last fifty-four years and more, while the earth has been spinning around the sun, or the sun around the earth as brother Baxter (color’d) of Richmond will have it.

In the first place Mr. Kelso comes of two old families well known in the folk history and pioneer annals of this and several other States—the Kelsos and the Snedicors. The records of the latter are given at length in the pioneer families of Missouri, and the records of the former ought to have been given there. But here we have no space, we regret to say, for escharal battalogy, and must therefore content ourselves with only a word or two about his parents on each side. Both are remotely descended from the “Land of the Nibelungen Lieb,” the characteristics of the people of which are so truthfully described by Taine in his history of “English Literature.” Mr. Kelso’s grandfather was a native of Pennsylvania, but his father, John G. Kelso, was of Greenbrier county, Virginia, as also was his mother, nee Mary W. Snedicor. They were married there and came to this county in the pioneer days of the county.

The father died here in about 1832. The mother survived him until January, 1881, dying at the advanced age of ninety, in fine vigor of mind and body up to within a very short time of her death. She was in many ways a remarkable woman. She had the stirring energy, the business snap, the fortitude and resolution, the mental, and almost the physical strength of a thorough-going man. Withal, she was gentle, motherly and kind, and much valued by her friends and acquaintances. She was three times married after the death of her first husband. She bore her first husband ten children: Joseph G. died in Iowa; Elizabeth died the wife of James Wilfey, of Monroe county; Harrison lives in Fort Scott, Kansas; Hester died the wife of James A. Terrell, near Fulton; William died in Louisiana (State) in 1862, from a wound received at the battle of Lone Jack, Missouri; Isaac, murdered for his money, on his return form California in 1856 (his son James lives at McCredie); Maria died the wife of Newman H. Clanton on the plains en route to California, from Texas, in 1866; John M., the subject of this sketch; Samuel died in youth; and Clark died in Texas. There were no children by her subsequent marriages.

Now for John M; he was born on the farm in this county, March 22, 1829. He remained with his mother until he was seventeen years of age, when the Mexican war broke out. He then went to Leavenworth, Kansas, and enlisted in Captain Charles Rogers’ company of Colonel Doniphan’s regiment for the war. He followed the standard of that gallant old Missouri soldier until the American flag had been planted in triumph on the capital of the Mexican Republic. During the war, he participated in the battles of Bratzito [sic] and Sacramento, and was out fourteen months, being honorably discharged at the close of the war at New Orleans, Louisiana.

Returning home after the war, he was married the following year in 1849, to Miss Mary F. Thomas, of this county. About two years after his marriage, having lived on the old homestead during the meantime, he entered some prairie land adjoining Colonel Jones’ place, where he improved a farm and lived until 1866. Colonel Jones, by whom he lived some seventeen years, was a cousin of his, their mothers having been sisters.

In the meantime, in May, 1861, Mr. Kelso joined Captain Dan McIntyre’s company of the State service (Southern), and served the full term of six months, participating in the battles of Carthage and Wilson’s Creek, during this time. Still true to the South and brave enough to fight for his convictions, he re-enlisted in the Confederate army in Colonel Burbridge’s regiment, under that old pater patria of Missouri, General Price. He was with Burbridge at the battle of Corinth and other engagements. In 1864, during General Price’s last campaign in this State, he assisted in enlisting a company of volunteers in Callaway, and was made second lieutenant of the company. Mr. Kelso was in no less than seventeen engagements during the war, and was wounded but once, that was at the battle of Pea Ridge. He surrendered at Shreveport, Louisiana, in May, 1865, having spent just four years fighting the way he still votes, for State’s sovereignty and honest government.

Returning after the war, the following year he came to his present place, lying on the Callaway and Audrain county line. Here he bought 106 acres of land in the woods, and having been broken up by the war, he had to begin life again, “from the stump up” in reality as well as in name. When he came to this place, he had just seventeen dollars by the watch, a sort of Irish pic-nic [sic] team and wagon, a sickly wife and two children. But the man who had made the gallant soldier he had in two great wars, was not afraid of starving as long as his muscle and brain held out. He waded into the forest and made the woods resonant with the ring of his ax, form early morn till dewy eve. He soon had the nucleus of a farm opened. Year by year he continued to clear more land, which he put in cultivation, clearing five acres each year, until now he has nearly the whole original tract in cultivation.

He has not only made a farm during this time in the heart of the forest and cultivated his place, raising grain and provisions for his family and stock, as other farmers do, but has also worked at the carpenter’s trade and plasterer’s trade, and painting building foundation t houses and so forth ad infinitum. Showing that this is not all talk, he can point to thirty-five houses and barns in the county he has built, making also the foundations and plastering, and painting a good many of them. That is over two houses to every battle he was in during the war, and he had just the same number of dollars when he came to this place, that he was in battles. He now has a good farm and home, and can take matters a little easier than was possible fourteen years ago, when he came to this place.

Mr. Kelso had the great misfortune to lose his wife in March, 1872. Four children are living of this marriage: Thomas, Nancy, wife of Thomas Renfro; Mary at home, and Franklin P. at home. Four died in tender years: William P., Francis W., Alice and Hattie. On the 19th of March, 1873, he was married to Mrs. Lucy E., widow of the late William P. Greer. There are four children of this union: Etna A., Harrison M., Sophronia B., and an infant. Two of them, Etna A. and Sophronia B., are living. Harrison M. was drowned in the well in his third year. Mrs. Kelso was a native of the Old Dominion, came to this county with her father, N. B. Barker in 1854, was married in 1856 to G. N. Jones, and was left a widow four years after her marriage. In the winter of 1865, she was married to William P. Greer, and was again left a widow in four years. She had two children by her first marriage, which she lost by death; had one child by her second marriage, Clarence P. Greer, which she lost at the age of ten years.

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