File appears on HERITAGE PAGES of LINCOLN COUNTY, MISSOURI by permission, Copyright Doris Martin Jablonski, , 1998.  All rights reserved.   Link change or update: 23 May 2000

Autobiography of Robert Lee Martin (1874-1972)
Copyright Doris Martin Jablonski, 1998.  All rights reserved.

Introduction:  Robert Lee MARTIN (1874-1972) was born in Lincoln County, Missouri, and lived there for most of his life.   In 1895, he married Mattie DAVIS, the collector of the clippings that appear on the Lincoln County Heritage pages as the "MATTIE DAVIS MARTIN COLLECTION." 

On Veteran's Day 1967, at age 95, he wrote the autobiography of his near-100 years. In addition to relating the story of his parents, family and friends, his early and later years, he tells of his adventures in California and of his marriage to Mattie Davis. Several Lincoln County towns and residents are also mentioned. In the last paragraph, he states:  "During this time I had made several trips to California and New Mexico and to Texas. If I live 'til February 23rd, I will be 96 years old" (he lived 3 more years and always remained 100% mentally alert.   

Robert Lee MARTIN had little formal education but read continually, and was extremely well-educated. His children remember how he would sit at night and read all of their school books by lamplight. His oldest daughter, Beulah became a school teacher and taught her youngest brother and sister. 

ph-martin-1968.jpg [1968 photograph of Robert Lee Martin,
courtesy of Bruno Torres.]

I, Robert Lee MARTIN, was born in Lincoln County, Mo., on February 23, 1874. My father, William Henry MARTIN was born in Fauquier County, Virginia and on my mother’s side...the HARVEYS, I think were from Tennessee. My mother died when I was four years old and I can just remember her. My father died in 1890 when I was sixteen years old. There were ten children in my family...I being the seventh.

After my mother’s death, I became very near to my father. He would take me with him almost everywhere he would go. I would ride behind him on Old Bill. Finally we got a top automobiles in those days, just old clay roads. What wonderful changes in these ninety six years. I would take the whole day then to go to Troy and back home by night.

I went to school at Schroer School. My teacher, old Miss Jane McCLENNY, was an old maid who never married. This school is out near old Linn’s Mill, on the right.

Well, on the twelfth of July 1890, my father died which broke up our family. So we had a sale. I stayed that winter with Aunt Sissy. That was what we called her but her real name was Charlotte. I sure loved poor old Aunt Sissy HARVEY. Her and her brother (Uncle George) lived together. Lots of the time she was there by herself. Uncle George nor Aunt Sissy never married. They are all buried up there in Harvey Cemetery. Well, when spring came I went down north of Troy to work for brother Charley, a half brother of mine. He paid me ten dollars a month. During this time I had a half brother in California who wrote me, wanting me to come to California to live. He said I could make a dollar a day and board out there. So I wrote him and told him I would come as soon as I made enough money to pay my fare. In three weeks I got a letter from him and in it was a money order for fifty dollars.

While I was at Charley’s, I had been going about every two weeks to see Mattie DAVIS. We had been sweethearts at school. I told her I was going to California. Then I told Charlie I was going to California. He said, "You stay here a week or so. We want to go fishing." You know, I always did like to fish...still I don’t like them much after they’re cooked. Well, one evening we got the bait and he said, "There is a fine place I know of. There have been some big ones caught there." So we fished all night and ‘til almost daybreak. We hadn’t got a bite so I said to Charley that I didn’t think there were any fish in that hole and I thought we just as well go home. He agreed so we were ready to quit. Then I pulled my line in and I thought I was hung up on something. Well, I guess that old cat had that bait in his mouth just sucking on it. I pulled him in top water...still thought it was a piece of wood. He floated in and didn’t seem to make any effort to get loose. Well, it was a yellow-bellied cat. He weighted eleven pounds. We fished a couple more hours and caught a little blue cat. Well, so much for the fishing.

I visited my folks for a few days and was ready to leave. So, on the eighteenth of September, 1892, I left Warrenton, Missouri...about ten o’clock at night and arrived in Kansas City the next day. The train I was to go out on was the Santa Fe. Right after noon, immigrants got aboard. That was the nineteenth of September. I arrived in Tipton, California about two o’clock in the morning. The waiting room was open. I had a couple of blankets and I spread them out on long seats and laid down. It was dark and lonely. All at once, there was barking and howling right across the railroad tracks. It really scared me. Finally I went to sleep and when I got up the next morning the sun was shining out on the plains. I looked across where a little town was and saw a brick building with a sign that said "HOTEL’. I went over there and got breakfast. I asked the man how far it was to Poplar where I was going. He said it was nine miles. I asked him if he knew Jay MARTIN and he said he did. I told him I was his brother. I said to him that he must be on the other side of that mountain. He said to me that those mountains in Cooling are seventy-five miles from here. It was quite warm. I looked and saw a big dust raising and he said, "That’s your brother coming after you." Sure was him in a cart.

He took me out to his place and showed me around...all irrigated, nice alfalfa, big vineyard, and sixteen head of horses. I asked him what use he would have for all those horses and he said when plowing and harvest came they would all be used. He farmed dry farming on the plains. They used eight horses to a gang plow, - 10 in plows. I got up many a morning and curried and harnessed eight horses. He said to me, "You want to rest for a week and we will visit around and get acquainted with the neighbors and the country." That happened to be a good crop year so I was ready to go to work. He said he would give me a dollar a day and board and washing. He said, "If they don’t have work, you make this your home." He took me out in his vineyard and gave me a pair or pruning shears and showed me how to prune a grape vine. I pruned a forty-acre vineyard. Those raisin grapes grow right on the ground about nine feet apart...when they’re pruned they looked like little stumps all over the vineyards. You cut off the vine and leave two inches on each vine. Well, I got the vineyard pruned.

They were cutting out a new road from Porterville to Woodville. The boss told me he would give me two dollars a day but I would have to board myself. Jay said to me, "I’ve plenty of work but it can wait. Take that and you can stay here and your board won’t cost you anything." Well, we finished the road work.

Christmas was coming up and I was invited to a turkey dinner at Virge STEWARD’s. I had got my check, so that morning I said to Jay that I wanted to pay him what I owed him. He said to me, "I don’t know if you owe me anything." I said, "That fifty dollars you sent me to come out here." He said, "I sent that to you; you didn’t ask for it." I said "No, but I want to pay." So I paid him and I had a few dollars before and on New Year’s day, a hundred dollars left. All this time I was writing to Mattie DAVIS and getting letters every two weeks.

I worked for Jay that winter putting in a what crop. You see, back then you sowed wheat all the way from October clear up to March. That early fall and winter I saw millions of these Canadian geese. Sometimes it looked like the whole earth was covered with white geese...not very many dark geese. They light on the wheat field and just devour everything. That spring I was at Poplar, I saw the cottonwood trees black with the wild pigeons that came down out of the mountains. That was a dry year. Everything burned up. Times were hard.

I stayed there at brother Jay’s until late in the fall. I had two brothers older than me, up north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, working in lumber. They said I could get all the work I wanted if I could work out in the rain so I told Jay I was going up there for awhile. Well, I got to San Francisco and the boat I was to go out on had sailed that morning. I was tied up there for one whole week. I got a room at the old Golden Eagle Hotel and got acquainted with their hack driver who met the boats and trains. He would let me ride with him. When he had a trip to make, he would come up to my room and call me. I did know his name but have forgotten it. Well, when I left, he took me to the boat. This boat went to Fort Bragg. I was seasick. Hadn’t eaten anything, so in a couple of hours, I felt like I could eat anything. I found out where the brothers were located about fifteen miles farther up the coast.

I started out to walk it and got up to a little post office called Keeny at almost dark. The finally agreed to keep me. I had supper and breakfast next morning. I was dead tired when I went to bed. I guess I did go to sleep but I hadn’t been in bed ten minutes when I got woke up. I struck a match and lit the lamp. I had put my pocket book under and pillow and when I raised the pillow, bed bugs were running every which way. I guess they had a good feast that night.

The next morning I started out to a little place called Bar Harbor where the boys were located. I walked through the rain and got to this harbor. I walked up through this big redwood timber with all kinds of wild animals. Lots of bears and mountain lions. I got out to their camp and they had a little shack they slept in. They got their meals down at where they paid board to brothers and their wives. It was said there were only two white women in Mendocino County.

Well, it rained almost every day. Those Russians worked right out in the rain and the Chinamen and the Japs was the rainy season. We barely made out board. There was an old fellow in our camp by the name of Mackey who stayed in our shack. He would take his rifle and go out and would always come back with a deer.

I would go down on the beach and pick up sea shells. Some of them were beautiful. I had about a half-bushel of them but had to leave them. Lots of big rocks on the beach. When the tide came in, abalones would hang on those rocks. If you touched them, they would close up. We would take a file and flip them off the rocks. Me and my brother John were down there one day and we heard something hollering. Finally we located a young seal. He had come in on a breaker and it left him. I guess he weighed forty or fifty pounds. I sure would like to see that country now. They have highways all up the coast now.

Well, my brother and me got a coast job peeling tan bark. We worked at it a couple of weeks until my hands got so sore I just couldn’t do it anymore. So there was a boat coming in loading ties, so we came on down to San Francisco. We went from there up to Stockton. We didn’t strike anything up there so harvest was coming down in the valley and we got work from brother Jay.

During this time, John DAVIS (Mattie’s brother) came out there and saw Jay. Jay told me and John he would furnish everything...seed, feed, furnish eight horses and machinery to put in wheat in his lower ranch. So we thought that looked good...240 acres in wheat. There was a cabin on the ranch that we lived in. One of us was to put in the wheat and the other work out, if we could get work. On the sideline we were going to raise turkeys. We had about twelve turkey hens and some chickens so we got wheat in. Neither of us could find work and it didn’t rain. Hardly enough moisture to bring up the wheat. The hot winds cooked the wheat so we got discouraged. Had lots of young turkeys and chickens. It was an awful dry year.

During this time, John had some kinfolks down in Texas that he had been writing to. Said they had a big cotton crop and we could get all the work in the cotton we wanted at one dollar a hundredweight, and our board. We sold all the turkeys and chickens on the market for just about half what we paid for them. So we were Texas bound. When we got to Sacramento, California, Cox’s army was camped on the capitol grounds. We got in Texas (Blum) one night about ten o’clock. This was the nearest town. We stayed there the night and went out to his aunt’s place the next morning. We got there about ten o’clock and they were having a funeral for one of her boys who had died with congestive chills. So John went to the funeral and I stayed with one of the close neighbors.

I got work with an old fellow by the name of Snell. He was a man about sixty-five and the young woman about thirty. They had two little girls. They were sure fine folks. I stayed at this place during the time I was in Texas. This was late in the fall of 1894. Instead of getting a dollar a hundredweight in the cotton, we got fifty cents per hundredweight and board.

Me and Mr. SNELL did lots of hunting, especially at night. I expect we caught fifty possums. He had an old hound named Spot. I was hunting down on the Nolen river. I had Mr. Snell’s shotgun and I saw what looked like the biggest bird I every saw. I fired and he fell in the edge of the water...had broken his wings. He came at me like he wanted to fight. I had to kill him with a stick. I took him to to Mr. Snell’s house and he said to me, "Lee, that’s the biggest bald eagle I every saw...big enough to carry off a pig." I really think he would weigh forty pounds.

Well, we got all the work done so didn’t have anything to do. He said, "You stay here with me and your board won’t cost you anything." So I go out in cross timbers. A fellow said he would give me a job cutting cord wood. So I went out in cross timbers. That was the first of February in 1895.

I thought about going back to St. Louis so I packed my suitcase and told Mr. and Mrs. SNELL I was going to St. Louis, Missouri. All this time I had been corresponding with Mattie and had told her shortly after my birthday I was coming for her. So I visited with my two sisters. I made arrangements for a house and job anyhow. It was the first of March and Mattie was still living with her father and step-mother. I came up to Troy. Brother Charley was living on the old home place, I believe. He came in Troy after me so I went the next day to see Mattie and told her I had come for her. I told her to set the date. I think that was the fourth of fifth of March. She said March the fourteenth.

ph-martin-davis-mar1895.jpgWe didn’t have no swell wedding...just a few of my folks and old Aunt Catherine, the old colored lady that helped to raise me. Many a meal I have eaten cooked by Catherine. Old Uncle Billy CONLEY used to call Mattie, Catherine. Well, in the afternoon they drove us to Troy. That evening we took a train for St. Louis. Sister Georgie had a nice supper for us on the fifteenth of March 1895. There was a big snow on the ground.

I had something over three hundred dollars to start out with. What would you think about that nowadays? Sister Georgie went with Mattie downtown to buy our furniture...I think it was May STERN...not sure...but anyhow, she didn’t spend quite two hundred dollars and she got carpets, table, chairs and mattress and all the things to go to housekeeping. We paid ten dollars a month for three rooms and other things included. I drawed about sixteen dollars a week. A loaf of bread cost five cents. We could go to the butcher shop and get enough round steak for fifteen cents for two meals. We could get on the streetcar out on Natural Bridge Road and go downtown and get a transfer on any other line for five cents. I worked at Union Brick Yard. Finally I got a little better job on Easton and Newstead Avenue at the Glenco Line Co.

I had been getting letters from Jay, wanting us to come back to California. This was in late fall of 1896. Jay had built a new house so told me if I would come he would furnish all equipment, stock, feed, and there would be no house rent. Also twelve brood sows, water and twenty acres of alfalfa.

So late in September 1896; we sold all our furniture and came back to California. Beulah was three months old. Dan MARTIN (Jay’s adopted son was there to meet us. We got out there in about a week. Jay had 160 acres he wanted to put in wheat. He told Mattie she could stay with his wife and he would go along to do the cooking. But Mattie said to him that she could go and do the cooking. He said, "Way out on the plains, you’d get lonesome." She said, no she wouldn’t.

There was only a small shack and a dugout and plains as far as you could see. Beulah was only about four months old and had been sick. So we got wheat in. They had already moved into their new house when we got there and we lived in his old home place. He asked Mattie what he owed her and she told him she didn’t expect any pay and he said, "You’ll never get rich under those terms." He gave her a twenty dollars gold piece and a five dollar gold piece. There was a lot of gold in circulation back then. We had a nice place to live...didn’t take much to live. We had our own meat and chickens and cow’s milk. I worked out part of the time and made some extra money. We did very well.

That year...I believe it was 1897...I rented 160 acres out on the plains and hired it put in. Made pretty good that year. I also rented twenty acres of raisin vineyard from the Pioneer Co. at Porterville. I hired all grapes picked and dried. Made very good. Besides I had rented a ten acre peach orchard. Did very well. Had about a ton of sulfured dried peaches. Made some money but the expense was big so we got everything rounded up and got a neighbor to look after the place and we went up in the mountains for a couple of the big redwood...Camp Nelson. There were several hundred people up there. Dancing and preaching at night and lots of good fishing. That is about fifty miles from where we lived at home. The store and church was only about half a mile and the post office. Daily stage from Tulare brought the mail and passengers. We had sold all our hogs and I had got acquainted with a fellow that was running a big ranch out near Terra Bella. It was in two thousand acres of wheat and he wanted a man and his wife to go on the ranch. Wife to do the cooking for the four of us for seventy five dollars a months. We thought that looked pretty good. We hadn’t drawed any pay so when it came to a showdown, we had to take out pay out at Jay GILMAN’s Store in Tulare. I think he went bankrupt so we quit that place and came back home in the late fall. We left when times were hard.

I had rented 160 acres and hired it put in and that happened to be a very good season...did very good that year. 1900 was a bad year. There were neighbors that had a vineyard that had growed up in sunflowers. It hadn’t been cultivated. I looked over it and there was a big crop of grapes on it. I asked him what he was going to do with it and he said, "If you want it you can have the whole business. I went in there and cut the weeds.. I had about a thousand trays I had a couple of kids to help pick them...muskat grapes. I had about a thousand trays. I had some of the nicest raisins you ever saw. I sure made good on them. That was the year Robert was born., 1900.

Well, I had bargained with a neighbor for a farm back here in Missouri that he owned in Warren County. Mattie told me she wanted to come back to Missouri in five years, so I promised. This was 1901. We sold our stuff thinking we had a place to go to but was disappointed. One of the heirs wouldn’t sign, then died. So we rented a farm up in Warren County. Was there only one year and came down in our old neighborhood in Lincoln County and rented for two years.

Gilbert was born on the old Shelton place in 1903. Jay was born on the Smith place in 1905. Then I bought a farm, part in cultivation and part timberland. On this farm in 1913, Archie was born. We sold this farm and bought one down in Foley, I believe in the fall of 1917. Mildred was born on this farm in 1919. This was the GLADNEY farm we purchased, 240 acres. Less than a year later I found out I was forty acres short. He told me 240 but this 40 acres belonged to Mr. Lonny CANNON. In the deed, Porter JONES had purchased from GLADNEY so went on to JONES for settlement and JONES went to GLADNEY. So I sued JONES and JONES sued GLADNEY. The trial came up and GLADNEY claimed he couldn’t get justice in Lincoln County so the judge changed it to Audrain, County. In about a year the trial came up. Will DUDLEY and Derwood WILLIAMS were my lawyers. This was WILLLIAM’ first case. The decision was rendered in my favor so his lawyer advised him to take it to the Supreme Court. There we were tied up for almost five years. The court decision was in our favor but Jones wasn’t out any money. GLADNEY had to pay all expenses. He didn’t have any ground to fight on so that is the only lawsuit I every had.

I had five or six milk cows and they were buying milk at Winfield. A couple of the boys were big enough to drive a team so I rented and farmed some extra land in the bottom up on what was called the LUCAS Ranch, when Mike HALLEY lived up there. I saw all of that ground under two feet of water. I’ve caught fish by the hand just above Foley.

So, as it goes, my wife got in bad health and had to go in the hospital several times. We sold the farm and had sold all the livestock, machinery and I had bought a house and two acres in Hawk Point and forty acres, mostly all in cultivation, two miles out north or town. So we moved to Hawk Point and lived there about a year and had to take Mattie to St. Louis to the hospital. We lived with my daughter, Beulah and her husband in Winfield, Missouri until they had to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico for Ferman’s health. Mattie had to go into the hospital in St. Charles so I was going back and forth to the hospital and was all broke up. She was getting worse all the time. She was then brought to my son, Archie’s house in St. Louis where she died two weeks later on October 2, 1943.

When my dear wife who raised all these children died, I felt that I was all alone. But I still had four of my children left. Mattie and I lived together over forty-eight years and had a very happy life. We had six children, four boys and two girls and I love them all. I know what it is to see one die. One little boy, Robert, six years old in 1906, had just started to school when he was kicked on his ankle by a big boy and blood poison set in. He begged us and the doctor to help him. There was no help. He died and it about killed us to lose him. My next oldest boy, Gilbert, twenty six, had a wife and two little girls. He died in agony and also the youngest girl, Iva, within ten days of each other from spinal meningitis in 1929.

I lived on in Hawk Point for about six months and finally sold out there and bought a place in Troy. I lived there about a year. Finally sold it and bought a place, fifteen acres, out of Winfield on the Cap-A-Gris Road. I batched there and raised chickens and garden so was back in the old neighborhood. I lived there about three years and sold it to a St. Louis man.

I sold what I had and went to Albuquerque, New Mexico to visit Beulah and Ferman and then out to Los Angeles to visit my son Jay and Marguerite and their daughter, Brookie. Also visited my brother, John, who lived in Porterville, California. Then I came back to Winfield, Missouri. I came up here where I lived in a little house Archie and Brewis built for me just across from the Angelica Factory. This is where I expect to spend what time is left for me and I guess where I will die.

I had a lot to be thankful for. I have almost lost my hearing but thank the Lord for my eyesight. I can read without glasses. If I live to February 23rd, I will be ninety six years old. Sometimes I feel I am just in the way but I guess I am ready when my time comes. I am getting kind of tottery. If I’ve got any enemies, I don’t know it. There may be some that don’t like me but I don’t think they are enemies.

Maybe Millie can make this writing out and she can type it if you want a record of my life. I certainly appreciate all that my children had done for me, also my friends and relatives. Hope you all will look after our graves out at Bethany when I’m gone. One son, my father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, sisters, and brother are all buried in the old HARVEY Graveyard. Also, sisters and brothers in Porterville, California cemetery.

This is a copy of one I had written in pencil on Veteran’s Day, 1969. Millie, figure this out the best you can. Bad spelling and writing. If you can make any improvements, do so. So good bye, hoping that God will bless each one of you.

During this time I had made several trips to California and New Mexico and to Texas.

Robert Lee Martin

Below I give the names of some old timers:

Old Man Joe HART, Jim JACKSON, Dick NORTON, Nat DRYDEN, Doctor WARD, Doctor AVERY and his father, Peachy SHELTON, Sandy MARTIN.


Robert Lee MARTIN, son of William Henry and America HARVEY MARTIN, was born February 23, 1874 and passed away on November 8, 1972. He was the last to die of the 21 children of William Henry MARTIN.

He married Mattie Bourland DAVIS on March 14, 1895. To this union were born six children: Mrs. Ferman (Beulah) CANNON of Winfield, Robert Louis MARTIN (deceased), Gilbert Eugene MARTIN (deceased) William Jay MARTIN of Big Bear City, California, Archie Lee MARTIN, of Overland, and Mrs. Brewis (Mildred) STONE of St. John. Mr. MARTIN’s wife passed away in 1943.

Other survivors are nine grandchildren, twenty great grandchildren, and seven great-great grandchildren, besides a number of nephews and nieces.

Mr. MARTIN spent most of his life on the farm. After the death of his wife, he lived in or near Winfield. For a number of years he lived alone in his little house across from the factory where he enjoyed his garden and the friends who came to see him. These included the late Ira DAWKINS, Raymond BROYLES and Mr. SMITH who worked at the factory.

He thought his grass was greener, his flowers more colorful and surely his maple trees cast the coolest shade in the world, but on January 10, 1969, he ‘phoned Beulah to come and get him and he lived with her the rest of his life, but he was never as happy as he was in his own little house.

His children cared for him as best they could and cooperated wonderfully well. His son, Jay of California, visited him about a month ago and he enjoyed the time with him so much.

His niece, Pearl MUCK, who was very special to him, passed away October 16. 1972. This grieved him a great deal and may have contributed to the onset of his last illness, which October 18. He spend a few days at Troy Memorial Hospital and a few days at YATES’ Nursing Home where he was tenderly cared for until his death November 8, 1972. Mr. MARTIN belonged to the Christian Church for most of his life but later transferred his membership to the Winfield Methodist Church.

He had a long, upright life and will be missed greatly by his family.

Notes:  Robert Lee MARTIN’s mother, America HARVEY was the third wife of William Henry MARTIN.  William was previously married to (1) Eliza DAVIS and after she died, he married her sister, (2) Emily DAVIS, who died about 1860. Then he married (3) America HARVEY.  From these three families, William sired 21 children.  He married one more time to (4) Minnie COURATHERS, with whom he had no children.

File appears on HERITAGE PAGES of LINCOLN COUNTY, MISSOURI by permission, Copyright Doris Martin Jablonski, , 1998.  All rights reserved.   Link change or update: 23 May 2000

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