Voices of the Ozarks – Margaret Miller

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My name is Margaret Miller. I was a Warnicker. I was born in Iron Mountain Missouri in 1931. My dad was a miner. In 1931, of course, the depression was starting. Iron Mountain was a mining town and there was a strip of company houses across from the mines. We lived in a big house. Then the mines shut down and my dad lost his job. At that point he began taking city people on hunting trips as a guide which provided a good income. He also hunted and fished for food. We also had a garden.

I was the only girl. I had an older brother, Charles, who was eight years older than I was. I was the only girl in the extended family. I was probably a little spoiled. When I was six my younger was born.

I went to school in Iron mountain but often also stayed with my grandmother in Mine LaMotte and would sometimes go to school there. There was no high school in Iron Mountain so my older brother went to high school in Mine LaMotte and would stay with my grandmother.


In the fall the family would come to grandmothers house and they would butcher hogs. We lived in Iron Mountain until I was about 11 or 12 and then we moved to here and my dad went to work at the mines here.

My dad’s family came from Germany around 1865. I’m not sure where my grandmother’s family came. Part of them were Moores out of St. Francis County and they’ve been here forever. My grandfather Priest came from Tennessee. So, we’ve been here all that time.

Margaret is asked the location of Iron Mountain and explains that it is on the other side of Ironton in St. Francis County. She explains a bit about the company houses that were there and moved. She also mentions that the mine shafts and such are still there. She says that the company stores and a hotel were down near the depot and train station. She mentions that people would come from St. Louis and stay at the hotel and her dad would meet them there. Her parents were good friends with the hotel owners so they’d help make the arrangements. Margaret says that her dad’s bird dog, Dr. Pepper was kind of famous and that people would especially want to go hunting with him. She notes that when she was there she’d go to school there but that they would stay in Mine LaMotte with her grandmother and would go to school there too.


Regarding the Mine LaMotte schools, she says that when she attended there it was not the brick building that would later burn down but the schools that were there before the brick school. She says that when the brick building was built that the grade school and high school were combined into one building. The three school districts of Madison county are briefly discussed: Marquand, Fredericktown, and Mine LaMotte. She says that most of the kids that lived in the country didn’t want to come into Fredericktown for school. They would either go to Mine LaMotte for school.

She describes where she lived between Fredericktown and Mill Creek when they came here from Iron Mountain. Dr. Harry Barron had a house by Village Creek. Her family moved there around the time that she graduated from the 8th grade where she attended the Village Creek School.


We recap the transition from Iron Mountain to Fredericktown and that her extended family was important and that her grandmother’s seemed to be an important thing for all of them.

She says she really liked school though it was intimidating when she left the 2 room school in Mine LaMotte and attended the Fredericktown High School. But she had a couple of good friends there and she seems to have fond memories of it.

She notes that she thinks the high school in Mine La Motte closed in the 1950s. She graduated from Fredericktown High School in 1948.


She’s asked about the 1940s and talks about her older brother Charles going off to World War 2. He was was reluctant to be a pilot but was a gunner instead. He came back at one point after being wounded but then was sent back again. He served most of his time over England, Germany and Italy. A lot of here cousins served in the South Pacific. She says that her brother was able to come back to celebrate her graduation from the 8th grade.


After high school she went to Cape for college but after a year decided it wasn’t really for her. She came back and got a job teaching at one of the country schools. She had ten or so students and stayed with one of the families. She enjoyed it and the following year she taught at another school near Ironton.

After that second year of teaching she took a job at the Division of Family Services in Fredericktown. She worked there for 5 or 6 years. Initially the offices were on the 2nd floor of 120 West Main. Following that it moved to the brick building on South Main that is now the Civil War Museum.


She married during this time and left work when she had her first child, Jim, in 1954. Her husband was from Fredericktown and they’d gone to school together. She had three children. Her husband worked in Fredericktown for the National Guard. Eventually he decided to do something else and went to work for an insurance agency which resulted in them moving to Oklahoma and then Illinois.


She points out that he was a supervisor and was often gone from home. Her in-laws thought it was bad that he traveled so much and that she was left alone. Margaret had no problem with it though. She points out that she loved living in Tulsa. After working in Illinois for a while her husband decided he’d like to have his own agency so they moved back to Fredericktown in the 1980s.

She’s asked about her perception of Fredericktown having moved away for a few years and then returning after the local economy had shifted away from the mines. She says that the town felt pretty much the same to her. The schools were growing and things seemed to be bustling.


Margaret describes the businesses in the downtown area. She says there were lots of grocery stores such as the IGA and Thal’s which was a grocery store at one point. One Thal brother built what would become Town and Country and now is Country Mart. She discusses Ivy’s which sold men’s clothing. It was old by Sterling Ivy and the Ivy family. She mentions Figglers and Schwanners which was located in one of the corner spots currently occupied by Seabaughs. They sold groceries and dry goods such as fabric.

Margaret mentions the Blanton farm which was quite large and was down on Southwood. She describes how large the farm was and what it encompassed. She also describes how the town expanded out to and past the hospital.

She also mentions the Cook farm and the Perringer’s which also had a lot of land and a beautiful house.


Margaret is asked if she went back to work upon returning to Fredericktown. She says that her previous employer, Head Start at Social Services had an opening and she was hired on there as a teacher. She stayed there until her retirement. Their classrooms were in the basement of what is now the New Era Bank. After teaching for the program she went on to work as a supervisor in the central office.

She is asked about her perceptions of the town from her perspective as a long term resident and also having had the job she had. What did she notice about the social and economic dynamics?

She says that a lot of people had to leave and due to economics they had a lot of people in the Head Start program. She mentions that over time the downtown did become less active and stores closed. As far as the schools were concerned though they kept growing and new buildings were built to accommodate. Her family’s income remained stable but she noticed a difference in town, in particular within the Headstart Program.


She discusses the schools from a long-term perspective. She says again that the number of students in the schools continues to grow even now and she’s puzzled about what the families are doing to get by. She emphasizes this point that everything seems to be going really well but yet she’s not sure of the economic foundation is for the population.


Margaret shares about the restaurants and other things to do in town at the time. She mentions Huff’s Cafe which is where the Olympic Steak House is today. The Mercer Theater was owned by the Huffs’ daughter and her husband. She says you could see a movie on Saturday for a dime or a quarter depending on your age. That was for two movies and the theater was already packed.

She’s asked about the other things that they did for fun and about community-wide celebrations. She says the 4th of July was a big one and it took place down in the park on North Main St. She comments that some of the prominent men of the time got in trouble with the law because they were running a gambling game at the 4th of July picnic, something like bingo. There was also a big picnic celebration on Labor Day.

She says there were games and stands for the kids. The Merry-Go-Round ran on steam. Early in the morning, if you were close enough, you could here the steam and music starting and you knew it was time to head over to the event.

In the summer there were lots of sports for the men and also youth leagues. The pool was also put in and was very popular.

She’s asked about when kids started to “cruise” around town and she says she thinks it was in the 50s. They would drive through town and then out to The Pig and back and forth.


Margaret talks about learning how to drive with her older brother. She practiced in her driveway and would drive her brother to see his girlfriend in St. Louis.

Margaret is asked about the second floors of the downtown buildings some of which had been hotels. Does she remember them being open? She says that yes, she does. There were three hotels at one point and all were busy. We discuss how busy the town must have been to support three hotels. Further discussed are other businesses such as Rose’s Drug Store (there were two to three drug stores.

She says she worked at Huff’s Cafe at one point and we discuss the soda fountain and a few other aspects of the restaurant and building. Huff’s Cafe was in a national restaurant guide put out by Duncan Hines at one point and people came from all over.

Some of the stores mentioned include a jewelry store, dime store, Ivy’s, the B-Store which had clothing. She says it was run by O’Brien’s daughter. It was later sold and was turned into the Fair store. Also, the Ben Franklin, Western Auto, Madison Auto each on opposite sides of the street.


Mine LaMotte is discussed as the first and larger of the two towns. Margaret says that the buildings of the town were up on OO, just north of the remains of the burned brick school building. In discussing the mines and original town she mentions that the local historical society is working on a project with Missouri that connects Mine LaMotte with the Three Notch Road.


Margaret is asked about North Town and Pea Ridge. She doesn’t remember much about Pea Ridge but she does remember a bit about North Town which was the original business district. She says there had been a hotel there and also a grocery store which was owned by the Mills family. She tells a story about a bar called the Black Bear. She laughs as she says that when the kids would pass the bar they would look the other way. She says there were trains through there all the time.

Regarding the original town at Mine LaMotte, that was the 1800’s and it was on the decline by the early 1900’s as Fredericktown took over.


The Off-Sets is discussed. It was considered a dangerous area that is no one went to. Of course now it is a destination. She says that they did fish, hunt and swim in the pond up behind her granny’s house. She says the Slime Pond was also off limits and considered to be too polluted to use. It is also a destination.

Her brother would often go to the pond for duck hunting and fishing though she didn’t really fish. She rowed the boat. She says that the hunting attire off the time was more plain that what is popular today. She complains that she wouldn’t go fishing much with her dad as he wouldn’t let her talk or throw rocks or anything fun.

Margaret describes the plucking of the hunted birds. The skin was left on so the meat would be moist after cooking. She discusses the process of plucking and burning off the down feathers that were left. She also mentions that just in general, game was a part of their diet and she learned to clean and process everything from squirrels to fish to birds.


She describes Iron Mountain and the mines and “the cut” which had been a part of the mines and became a lake. When they lived there they would fish in that.

She describes harvesting and processing pigs every fall which was an extended family gathering. Much of that work was done in one day but of course curing the meat could take days in the smokehouse. She says they always had very good food from meat to vegetables. She says that her granny had a brother nearby and anytime there was a big family gathering it was at granny’s where big meals would be served on a properly set table. The men would eat first and the women after with the kids.

She’s asked about the location of her granny’s house. She says it’s long gone but was on Country Road 217 just across the bridge. They discuss the other few, big company houses that were back there and the pond is discussed again and is determined to have been Lake LaMotte or the LaMotte Reservoir.

She mentions the names of the family’s that lived in the houses near her granny’s as the Reckiv family and the Weston family, both had big families.


She’s asked about electricity and other modern amenities. She says that when the mines were running they had electricity in Iron Mountain but when they shut the electricity was gone. In Mine LaMotte there was no electricity or indoor plumbing. For lighting she says they had lamps that were cleaned everyday. The would get batteries for the radio which was good.

She says they always had newspapers, magazines and books for reading. She says they were always encouraged to read and discuss the news of the day, often at the dinner table. She’s not sure why but her parents knew a lot of the people at the Farmington Courthouse. Her dad also knew the sheriff’ s deputy in Bismarck where was appointed as a Justice of the Peace. The kids weren’t really sheltered and were a part of the conversations (except the occasional adult jokes!).