THE 100-YEAR JOURNEY OF MYRTLE ELMORE COX
Myrtle Elmore Cox achieved 100 years of life on March 16, 2006. She has been a lifelong resident of Elk City and has participated in many church, civic, and educational activities all of her 100 years. A reception to honor her was cancelled due to her health at the time. However, all of her family, except for one great grandson, gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion. On March 18, several nieces, nephews, and their families joined with Myrtle’s family at Big Cheese Pizza to celebrate and honor Myrtle.
So just where did the 100-year journey for Myrtle Elmore Cox begin and what transpired during these 100 years?
Sometime between 1898 and 1900, Myrtle’s parents, Alan Monroe and Martha Livingston Elmore moved from Douglas County MO to Centennial District south of Cherryvale. In 1903, they moved to their home on Salt Creek, near Colfax community. When the family moved, there were six living children: Elsie, 15 years; Lizzie, 13 years; Harvey, 11 years; Loron, 5 years; Hattie, 3 years; and George, 1 year. Later were born Ruby, 1904; Myrtle, 1906; and Bessie, 1911. Myrtle was born at the Elmore home on Salt Creek on March 16, 1906. Two children, Claud and Maude, had died before the move to the Salt Creek home.
The Elmore family attended Sunday school and church at Mt. Tabor. Also, they participated in country literary. These events consisted of improvised programs, no extensive preparation, just lots of fun. The older students would think up a question for debate such as: Resolved that a farmer’s wife is more necessary to a family’s stability than the farmer. Then they’d choose sides—affirmative and negative. The debates created lots of fun. There was always some sort of program—nonsensical perhaps but fun. Just as important as the debating was the getting together of the families who lived in that area.
Alan, Myrtle’s father, died from typhoid fever, August 15, 1916, when she was ten. His funeral service, preached by an itinerant minister who was a long-time friend from Sedan, Rev. Smallwood, was held in the yard under the big maple tree at the Elmore home. The funeral procession, of course, was horse drawn to the Oak Hill Cemetery—a long seven miles to ride in an uncovered spring wagon. After the burial, Louise Blank, druggist in Elk City, asked the family to stop in for a cold drink of iced water—a treat at that time.
The family farmed 120 acres and took products to Elk City to sell and trade. Those long seven-mile trips by wagon to town to sell produce and buy the necessary supplies (that were not ordered from Montgomery Ward or Sears,) on a particularly cold or a particularly hot day were memorable. One could suffer for a drink or the need for the out house.
Myrtle attended elementary school at West Liberty and her sister Lizzie was her first grade teacher. She attended high school in Elk City and obtained room and board with the Reeds in town some of the time. Myrtle’s sister, Ruby, was one year ahead of Myrtle in school. One year when they were attending high school together, they lived in their sister’s Lizzie house in Elk City. Lizzie and her daughters, Virginia and Betty Lou, would live at the Elmore home during the week. Lizzie and girls and Ruby and Myrtle traveled back and forth on the same pony! Ruby and Myrtle would ride the pony to town on Sunday and Lizzie and the girls would ride the pony to the Elmore home for the week. On Fridays, they reversed the ride: Lizzie and girls came to town and Ruby and Myrtle would spend the weekends at home and help their Mother, George, and Bessie on the farm, cleaning, baking, and doing their laundry. Laundry was no little problem, for there was water to draw from the well, carry it in and heat it in a boiler over a wood-fed cook stove, draw rinse water; a job for sure.
Everyone had their assigned chores. One of Myrtle’s chores as a 10-year old farm girl was to take the cows to pasture—a mile or more from their home—of mornings and to bring them in of the evenings. Sometimes, she would have to hunt over that huge pasture, which was rented, and maybe be almost dark by the time she would get home.
The Elmores had a 120-acre farm with most being a tree-lined rocky pasture, on which milk cows could not do good. Therefore, we rented the abovementioned pasture. We did raise vegetables—the work done with a hoe—there was no tiller; no nothing after the ground was plowed by horse power except for a rake and hoe. The family canned green beans in ½ gallon jars, beets, peaches, plums, blackberries (so many that they weren’t a treat), apples, and anything else we could grow or find and that would keep without using a pressure cooker. They dried corn—a very time-consuming and hot job, as well as dry apples and peaches. This was another chore for Myrtle: to get out on the slanting south roof to spread the items for drying and then to bring it in and get it stored. Also, Myrtle “got” to use the hand-cranked corn Sheller to shell the harvested corn. Then the corn was ground with a horse-drawn corn grinder. When the family grew cane, Myrtle got to help strip the cane to get it ready to take to the sorghum mill.
One of the worst chores Myrtle tells about is having to kill potato bugs. There was no sprayer or any pesticide to use. She would have to use a bucket or can with coal oil in it and attempt to knock the bugs in it so they would die. According to Myrtle, the potato rows were so long, and in the heat it was a back-breaking and sickening job. When the potatoes were ready for harvesting, they had to be dug and hauled to the cave; another chore which Myrtle relished!
Sweet potatoes—now that was a busy chore for all of the family as they raised their own plants in a hot bed. This was accomplished by having a sizeable trench (a hole in the ground) dug, filled with cow and/or horse manure, covered with the excavated dirt, whole sweet potatoes put on top of that, and then a layer of soil over them, and then covered with cast off quilts and/or blankets. When the new plants were ready, neighbors would come and obtain any extra plants. The Elmore family would use a team of horses to throw up dirt for the sweet potato row, make hills with their hoes, set the plants about a foot apart in the hills, carry water from the well to water each plant, and then put the soil around the plant. Then when the weeds came, there was hoeing to be done to get rid of the weeds. When it came time for harvesting the sweet potatoes, Myrtle’s brother, George, would plow down one side of the row, then on the other side. Myrtle and the others would dig them out and pile them along the rows. George would bring the wagon by the rows, and the potatoes were loaded into the wagon. They were taken to the house and then put in buckets to be carried upstairs and put in barrels where they were kept warm from the stove chimney that went through the room. To this day, fried sweet potatoes with gravy is a favorite meal for Myrtle.
Lighting in the house was done with coal oil lamps and lanterns. These were the only lighting facilities the family had. By today’s standards, it would be impossible to read by them; but in the early part of the 20th Century, that is all that was available and the family got by with it. A lamp would be set in the middle of the table, and the children would do their lessons; any reading that was done was done there. Myrtle said that it seems as if she was the only one who would have to clean the lamp chimneys. If the lamp wick wasn’t trimmed closely, it would smoke and that soot was easy to rid, especially with homemade lye soap that we had to use. The chimney in the lantern fitted into a wire basket of a sort, and it could be a “booger” to clean. The lamps had to be filled, which was not a difficult job, but it had to be done on the outdoor porch or in the smokehouse door. The boys used the lantern to chore with on winter days when it darkened early-that was the main use of it; but anytime that it was needed at night, it was supposed to be ready for use. The main reading material was sparse. The family always took CAPPER’S WEEKLY (now CAPPER’S), THE FARMERS MAIL AND BREEZE, and a St. Louis paper. There were a few Horatio Alger books but very few others. Schools of that day had no libraries, but the family had a set of encyclopedia which had lots of fairy tales that we would eat up!
In 1924, Myrtle graduated from Elk City High School and attended Kansas Normal School, Pittsburg, that summer. That fall, she started her teaching career at Pleasant Hill—about 4 miles north of the Elmore home (she continued attending school at Pittsburg during the summers until 1932).
Schools where Myrtle taught:
1927-1928—Star District (north of Oak Valley)
1928-1929—Oak Valley (upper grades)
1957-1958—Belle School (north of LaFontaine0
1958-1971—Elk City and Longton
Martha, Myrtle’s mother, died in 1938. She had previously moved from the farm on Salt Creek to Elk City. However, due to failing health, she was staying with Bessie and Byron Hare, her daughter and son-in-law, for a while. She passed away suddenly. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
On February 1, 1930, Myrtle and James R. Cox married in Fredonia. She continued to teach for a few years at Advance School. Myrtle and Jim had three sons: Jim, born in 1934 (currently living in Manassas VA and married to Pat Amos); Joe, born in 1938 (resides in Elk City and was married to Carolyn Hull who died in 1996); and Jerry, born in 1941 (currently residing in Flagstaff AZ and married to Joan Mitchell). Myrtle has 7 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Jim and Myrtle farmed at Oak Valley, Elk City, and Crane (currently under water in the middle of Elk City Lake). Myrtle was a homemaker in addition to the farming and teaching tasks she had through the years. It was through the homemaker and farming roles for which her family remembers her the most even though she was the first teacher that her boys had before starting their formal education. Her family fondly remembers the cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, raising chickens, gathering eggs, canning vegetables, feeding the cattle, and many more tasks that she completed through the years. Of special memory to the boys was the home-baked cookies and cakes waiting for them when they would get home from a day at school or helping with the chores.
During the next 76 years, Myrtle was a staunch pillar and supporter of Elk City and Kansas. She was a Charter Member of the Coterie Club (see the Elk City website for a written history) and continues to hold membership in the Club; an astonishing 63 years! She is a member of the First Christian Church where she served as the Sunday School Superintendent for several years and held other lay positions. Also, she was a member of the In As Much Class. She was a member of the Wednesday Study Club. Myrtle and Jim were charter members of the Elk City Grange and participated in the Montgomery County Grange. In 1950, Myrtle was the census taker in the Louisburg Township. Other memberships are in the Commercial Club, Elk City PRIDE, and the SEK-CAP Seniors.
In 1962, Myrtle graduated from what is now Pittsburg State University. She had received her teaching certificate in 1924 and taught until 1933 in rural schools listed above. In 1954, she took correspondence courses and started attending summer courses at Pittsburg. She resumed teaching in 1957 and continued until she retired in 1971. During her years teaching at Elk City, she directed the high school plays and was the yearbook sponsor. Following retirement, she continued to tutor students in her home for many years despite that she had oral surgery for the removal of cancer. She is a 19-year cancer survivor!
Jim, the light of Myrtle’s life, died suddenly on May 20, 1978. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. They had enjoyed 48+ years of marriage before his death. They had the opportunity to visit their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in Kansas, Virginia, and Arizona several times prior to Jim’s passing. They visited the nation’s capitol in the East to the Grand Canyon and California in the West and many points in between. Myrtle took tours with her sister, Ruby, to Hawaii, New Orleans, and other locales.
Jim and Myrtle purchased their house at 120 East Walnut in 1941 (the same house in which Myrtle obtained room and board while in high school). She lived in the house until September 1, 2005, when she fell and broke her leg. Since then, she has been a resident at Regal Estates and Eagle Estates in Independence. She still maintains her permanent address in Elk City.
The family planned a reception for her birthday; but due to Myrtle’s health, it was cancelled. However, 31 of her 32 direct descendants gathered to honor her (one great grandson was not present). Several nieces and nephews and their families joined Myrtle’s family for an impromptu birthday unparty for Myrtle. Most of those who joined in the unparty visited Myrtle at the Eagle Estates.
Should you decide to visit Myrtle, be prepared for her humor, memory, and wit! As she begins her second century of life, you will be astounded at her remarkable memory, correction of your word usage, and quips about life. She will enjoy it more than you will!