John Henry Paul

The life of John Henry Paul reminds me of a song they used to sing on the TV show Hee-Haw: “If it weren’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. . “

John Henry was born October 23, 1868 in Madison County, Illinois. His father died when he was only four years old, and he lost his mother shortly after his ninth birthday. He and his three young sisters were orphans. The girls were taken in by an uncle and aunt and raised as part of their family. But John Henry, at the age of nine, was given to a farmer, where he began immediately to work to earn his keep.

cattledrive1John Henry worked hard and grew up to own his own small farm in Madison County, Illinois. He was ambitious and dreamed of having a big cattle ranch someday. In 1899 he bought a tract of land near Lexington, Missouri, and drove his cattle herd 208 miles to start a new life there. He brought along his wife, four children under the age of six, plus all his household goods and tools. John Henry put every penny he had into that big move.

At first, everything seemed to be going well. His wife gave birth to four more daughters and the size of his cattle herd increased every year. He was on good terms with his neighbors and thought he was settled for life. Then one of his neighbors brought home some new cattle from a sale. Those new cattle were infected with Brucellosis, and the devastating disease spread to John Henry’s herd. There was no cure. No vaccine. John Henry had to shoot each one of his prized cows and burn or bury the bodies.

He lost everything, but did not give up.  In 1912 John Henry borrowed money and bought a smaller farm about 100 miles east of Lexington in Callaway County, in the Toledo neighborhood.  It was hard to build back up from nothing, especially since he was getting a little older and slower, but he did it.  All of his nine children were grown when the depression hit Missouri in 1930 and took another farm away from John Henry Paul.

He couldn’t to buy another farm, but he rented the Horner place near Mokane, Missouri and took all his stock and tools to begin once again.  His wife died in 1931 and he continued on alone, taking care of his few animals, planting a little corn, raising a garden.  One morning in the late fall of 1935 he found that he was unable to get up out of his chair.  He sat all day, listening to his cows bawling to be milked. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t get up out of that chair.

When his son came by to check on him, John Henry’s first concern was for his animals. But his son, Jimmy,  was more worried about his father. Once Jimmy helped him to his feet, the 68 year-old could get around, although he staggered and grabbed on to furniture to keep from falling.  John Henry said he just needed help for a couple of days and then he would be fine.

His children ignored his pleas, called an auctioneer and sold everything John Henry owned: animals, furniture, even his precious  tools brought all the way from Illinois. The auctioneer gave John Henry the proceeds of the the sale in cash and he stuffed the money into the pockets of his old barn coat.  His children had decided he would go to live with Jimmy’s family in Mokane.  On the way there, John Henry asked to stop at a Mokane store. It was a busy Saturday and lots of people were on the streets doing their Saturday shopping. John Henry staggered up and down the street, greeting people he knew and some he didn’t.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out dollars by the handful and gave it away to every man, woman, and child he met that afternoon.

John Henry Paul died a few months later on February 11, 1936.

He was my grandfather.

J is for John Henry Paul – working my way through the April A-Z Blogging Challenge.


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2 Responses to John Henry Paul

  1. Linda Curry says:

    What tough lives our ancestors had. Your story brought tears to my eyes. It makes me think how lucky most of us are compared to previous generations.

  2. Thanks, Linda! You are right, we should all thank God every day for the good fortune of being born here and now. Even today, there are places in the world where every day life is so difficult, we cannot imagine.

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