Oral History Interview with
Neighbor and longtime friend of Harry S. Truman
February 12, 1964
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]
These are transcripts of tape-recorded interviews conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of each transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that these are essentially transcripts of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Babcock oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened December, 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
February 12, 1964
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Well, Mr. Babcock, we might start out with asking you to give us a brief sketch of your career, your life, where you were born, who your parents were, and your background in Missouri, and your subsequent activities up to date, just briefly.
BABCOCK: I was born near the little town of Waldron, Missouri in Platte County, just a few miles out of the city limits of Kansas City on August 7, 1887. I was born on this farm near Waldron in a log house. I had three sisters. My father was farming on shares the farm where I was born and working for the owner of the farm cutting wood and logs.
Several years after I was born, my father and mother were able to buy this farm; after purchasing my sisters' shares it is now owned by me. In 1904,
Mr. Whitely, from whom we bought this farm, prevailed upon my father and mother to move to a farm that he owned, located in Jackson County, Missouri, now a part of Kansas City, Missouri. We went to that farm after Mr. Whitely had made my father a trustee for the part of his estate which controlled this property. My father had been prevailed upon by Mr. Whitely to take over this farm some two years before he actually did. However, my father refused to do this, because at that time, Mr. Whitely had a living son that my father thought perhaps Mr. Whitely should put on this farm rather than having my father do it.
FUCHS: Can you locate this farm by present-day landmarks, approximately?
BABCOCK: Yes, it is known as the Ruskin Heights area located one-half mile east of Hickman Mills, Missouri in Jackson County.
FUCHS: You moved to that farm, then, and resided there for a considerable time?
BABCOCK: Yes, as I say, we moved there on March 2, 1904. My father lived in the main house -- there were two other houses on this farm. The principal house, which was a rather large house, was occupied by our family
until 1911 when I was married; I moved to a smaller house on this farm and my father and mother and sisters continued to live in the main house. My father was killed in an automobile accident in Tennessee in December, 1925; my mother continued to live in that house for another year and I continued to live in the smaller house.
FUCHS: Was that considered a lease at that time in 1904?
BABCOCK: Well, actually it is a rather hard thing to describe. Mr. Whitely had made and delivered, a warranty deed to this farm of 640 acres. This deed was made to my father and Mr. Whitely's four grandchildren and my father was to act as trustee. The division or partition was not to be made until the youngest child of these grandchildren became of age. But, suit was brought to set this aside; it was not settled entirely at the time of my father's death.
FUCHS: The point I was trying to bring out there -- Mr. Truman has told me that your father, at one time, leased a farm which was close to his farm, and I was wondering if that was this farm or another farm that he had in mind.
BABCOCK: No, it was this farm. Let me correct one thing. When this warranty deed was written, in the description it was set out that my father was either to use it himself and pay the ordinary running rental of the neighborhood or to lease it out. You see, he had that privilege.
Now, that is probably where you got this lease arrangement. He had that privilege, and he chose to use it all and he rented other farms around. He was a fairly big operator for that time.
FUCHS: Actually, then, it was a slight misconception that your father was actually leasing this farm.
BABCOCK: Simply as a lease, that's right. He had the privilege of going either way, you see. And yet, that wouldn't have changed the intent here of the future ownership of it -- whether he leased it; he was to get a reasonable amount for handling it, see. He never made a charge in cash for serving as a trustee for the others, because he said in farming, "Oh, there are always things that you can't accept money for and you can't charge for." It's a going custom on farms that maybe things that have not a cash value do have a value to the person on the farm,
don't you see! And, all those things entered into it.
Now, while I know that my father had done many things to justify his getting the fourth interest in this place and I know we did many things after that that an ordinary tenant would not do, my sisters and I were very comfortably fixed for a living, so that we chose not to go ahead and try and appeal these cases and try to hold our fourth interest that was set out for us.
FUCHS: In other words, the other heirs were contesting your right to a fourth interest and you decided to give that up. I want to come back, of course, to your life on the farm and your relationship to Mr. Truman, but, to go ahead, then, what did you do after you...
BABCOCK: Between the years of 1904 and 1925, there were various suits brought by different heirs in the Whitely estate because he had quite a big estate. The heirs were scrapping among themselves for certain things; they were trying to claim some of the things that one branch of heirs had inherited, don't you see, and break the will, and break, in this case,
case the deed.
So, my father actually entered into some of these suits. I mean, he was named in the deed, and he joined the heirs that held this property jointly with himself and actually spent some of his own money on this. Some of these suits pertained to dislodging my father from this property, and changing the rental agreement and many things. And, it was in these suits, that we had, as witnesses, a number of our neighbors who were familiar with how the farm was handled by my father and the rent that was paid by other farm renters in the area. And Mr. Truman and Vivian Truman, along with other neighbors, were always willing to work with us and help to see that we got justice in these suits.
FUCHS: What was the year of these suits, approximately?
BABCOCK: Mr. Abner Whitely, who owned this, died in 1908; the first suit was brought within a year and then there were numerous other suits at different times until the estate was settled.
FUCHS: Do you know if Harry Truman appeared as a witness?
BABCOCK: I do not recall if Harry ever appeared as a
witness. I think he was never, probably, as far as I know, asked to appear. I think that Vivian and his father, J. A., especially Vivian, were more familiar with the farm operation than was Harry.
FUCHS: Was their appearance primarily in the role of character witnesses or to give testimony as to actual operation of the farm -- things that might interest the court in other ways.
BABCOCK: I think it was probably both; as a character witness and as a farm operator. I think it was how the farm was operated, whether the rentals were at the going rate of the area, and the type farmer my father was.
FUCHS: This evidenced, then, rather a close relationship, would you say, between your father and John Anderson Truman and Vivian Truman?
BABCOCK: Yes, that's right. And, of course, other neighbors of my father's, many other neighbors. Of course, we exchanged work at thrashing time, each and every year, with a circle of neighbors there, of which the Trumans were one. We were the best of friends and everything was agreeable; we never had a cross word with the Trumans. They were fine to
work with. I know my father was with Harry in a business way more than I was, because I was some four years younger than Harry.
I know my father lent Harry money, different times. I handled my father's estate and I recall I saw some old checks that he'd given Harry for money that he'd lent him; and I found no place in closing this estate where Harry had not paid what he had borrowed -- that's where he had borrowed directly. I did find and did know about one unpaid note that Mr. Truman had endorsed in 1914 and guaranteed paid for another endorser. I personally went to Harry, after my father was killed, and talked to Harry about this, and Harry said he would see Mary Jane and Vivian and would take care of it right away.
FUCHS: Who was the other endorser on this note and what was the purpose...
BABCOCK: The name was Brauner. He worked for the Kansas City Auto Club.
FUCHS: Kansas City Auto Club, now that was in...
BABCOCK: That was located just west of Hickman Mills, a short distance.
FUCHS: That was their headquarters for their main activity?
BABCOCK: No. I think they had it in Kansas City. This was over where they had the golf club. I've done a lot of business with the golf club. I owned two places of business in Hickman Mills.
FUCHS: How did John Anderson Truman and Mr. Brauner happen to be associated together in such a note?
BABCOCK: My father and J. A. Truman, Harry's father, were the best of friends. They were men who worked hard and they were the type men who enjoyed fellowship. Frankly they liked a good meeting where they could have a good nip of old Kentucky whiskey once in a while; both of them did. And at the Auto Club, this man, Brauner, as I recall, did have charge of the bar there and I would imagine that they were spending a little time there. Now, neither one of the men was a heavy drinker. They did not drink to excess, but they did enjoy a little fellowship of that type.
Now, while I was not there when the note was made, I know it was made. I have it now. I had talked to my father some about his papers. He was not a rich man but he did have quite a number of small loans out. In fact, he was a sort of banker
for the neighborhood. In that neighborhood if a man needed a small loan, my father would lend it to him as my father liked his interest; and I have found many small loans that were not paid at all, or not paid in full. He trusted many people -- just about everybody. And, getting back to this one note...
FUCHS: What was the approximate date of this note, the year?
BABCOCK: It was not too long before his death. It was in May, '14. And, I think Mr. Truman died not too long after that; that probably was the reason it wasn't settled directly between the two men, because Mr. Truman was a man who paid what he owed.
FUCHS: He was really the co-signer on this?
BABCOCK: Yes, he was the co-signer and the other man either died or refused to pay. The reason that my father evidently asked Mr. Truman to sign it was that he didn't fully trust the other man. Co-signing is a common thing; this I do all the time now in my bank.
There is quite a long story on this particular note. My father could have bought some property at the time that Mr. Truman's personal property was sold at a farm sale, but my recollection is that he and Harry sort of had an understanding that Harry
would take care of it later. For some reason it wasn't taken care of and it may have been because my father didn't demand the money, because my father was a man who refrained from dunning a man, who he thought was honest and would pay. That too, was a common practice, especially at that day and age.
But when it fell in my hands as administrator of my father's estate, it became necessary to see the signers of all these papers and the people who handled them and try to collect. And, it was in that way that I went to Harry's office in Kansas City and had a talk with him, after I had tried to collect from him earlier.
FUCHS: This would have been about what year?
BABCOCK: It was in January, 1927. That's when Harry told me that he would see his brother and sister and they would take care of it. A few days later, I got a very short, curt letter from Harry setting out that that was between my father and his father and he wasn't going to do anything about it. Now, I didn't like that at all, but, if he was going to say that to me, I felt he should have said it to me when I was in his office, rather than tell
me that he would take care of it as soon as he saw Vivian and Mary Jane. Now, unto this day, I do not have the good feeling toward Harry that I'd like to have. I feel that once anything is owed, it is owed till it's paid.
FUCHS: Why do you think he changed his mind?
BABCOCK: I have no idea. I have dealt with people who would be nice to your face and get you away from them and then have the courage to say things they didn't have the courage to say. That is to me, the lowest type person. Now, whether it's that, I don't know, or whether he talked with his brother and sister and they refused to do anything, but I can tell you, I knew the Trumans for many years. I just do not believe that the brother and sister would take that attitude if they thought that their father had agreed to do something and it wasn't carried out. I knew it wouldn't be their wishes. I just can't believe it, especially true of Mary. Mary's my favorite.
FUCHS: Then you think that perhaps he didn't even bring this to their attention?
BABCOCK: Yes, if I had one guess, my first guess was that he actually never took it up with his brother
and sister because there had been many years of ill feeling along money matters between Vivian and Harry. I knew Vivian well. I've talked many times with Vivian about the money matters in their own family. Vivian had a deep hatred t