Gaylon Babcock Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Gaylon Babcock

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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
Gaylon Babcock

Longmont, Colorado
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 toward Harry about Harry's having had his mother put a mortgage on her farm and he used the money and apparently didn't pay it. Vivian had talked to me a number of times about it and had said some very mean things about Harry in connection with this very act that Harry had done.

FUCHS: Can you remember any of those things that might point up the matter a little bit more precisely?

BABCOCK: I think, perhaps, Vivian had talked to me more about this because, first, he wanted to get it off his chest; he was mad at his brother for having had his mother mortgage her farm and maybe, for all I know, loaned him other money that came from other sources, from her personally. But, as I say, I think maybe that he realized that Harry had been borrowing some money from my father in connection with his operation of the haberdashery in Kansas City, and some other



deals and as I recall some oil venture; the one check that I could find that I have now in the amount of $1500, that my father had loaned Harry, on the corner in my father's handwriting, it was marked for loan (spelled "lond"). Now, I do not know the background of that...where those funds went or for what purpose.

FUCHS: What was the date of that check?

BABCOCK: That date was January 14, 1914. Now, I think the one time that we were talking about this money matter between Harry and Vivian, the most venomous remark Vivian ever made in my presence about this matter was when Harry returned from the First World War. Vivian and I were together and the morning paper, as I recall, set out that Harry and some other boys from our area were to return to Kansas City by train. I remarked to Vivian, "I see by the morning paper. that Harry's coming back this morning," and Vivian's remark was...he stomped his foot down and said, "Well, hell, you couldn't kill some people."

Well, that, of course, shocked me no end.

FUCHS: He said it in all seriousness?

BABCOCK: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Vivian and I were the best



of friends and very close neighbors because at the time this happened, the farm that he was renting was only -- well, it joined the farm that I was living on. We lived less than a half mile apart, you see.

FUCHS: Was your farm contiguous to the Truman family farm? In other words, were there common fence lines?

BABCOCK: No. The Slaughter farm was between the farm that we were living on and the farm the Trumans were living on, owned by the Young estate.

FUCHS: This was what direction from the Truman farm?

BABCOCK: Our farm was northeast from the Truman farm. Well, part of the Truman farm was directly south of the farm we had.

Well, Harry Truman, now, and I never had a cross word, not one. Harry gave me some of my lodge work. I still belong to No. 618 at Grandview, Missouri, where he'd served as Worshipful Master; Harry was a very good lodge man. In fact, I have quite a number of times told people, in talking about Harry, that I think one of the things that helped develop him as a speaker and made it possible for him to get acquainted and become President was his Masonic work.



FUCHS: Well, Mr. Babcock, you were telling, before I interrupted, a little bit about your close relationship with Vivian Truman. Would you elaborate a bit on that?

BABCOCK: Vivian and I, well, there was just two years' difference in our ages; we mingled with a young group before we were married. In fact, we went with sisters for a time. Of course, I was with Vivian more than with Harry and I think I knew Vivian's disposition as well as I knew the dispositions of my own folk; and I was with Harry and around him in working at his home, enough to know his disposition. I think Harry's disposition was more like that of his mother; well, Harry's and Vivian's dispositions both, were more like that of their mother than their father.

Mr. J. A. Truman was a very likeable man. Now, as against that, I think Harry's mother's disposition was rather short and caustic; and I can see in his remarks his mother's influence, bloodline, or something coming out all the time. I think it's showing more all the time in Harry's disposition.

When I refer to this sarcastic trait, that seems to run with the Youngs -- Mrs. Truman, Harry's mother,



had been a Young. I knew Harry's uncle, Harrison Young, from having exchanged work. While Mr. Young did not work with us in our harvesting and thrashing, he was on the premises and we were spending some time, especially around mealtimes with him, and I got acquainted with him and his disposition in that way.

FUCHS: How did he spend his time?

BABCOCK: Well, he seemed not to work. Now, he was getting up into years, you understand, Harrison was. I knew him by being with him there; I knew him better, maybe, from hearsay, because he'd been around in the country and so many of my neighbors had known him. He was known for being rather sarcastic and, well, I don't know whether the word's quarrelsome or not. But the most extreme case that I heard of -- now, I do not know this is true -- was that he and some of the neighbors got into an argument -- as I understand, each was on horseback.

FUCHS: Do you recall who the other neighbor was?

BABCOCK: No, I do not, because that was before we went down there. And, as I recall, either Harrison Young or the other neighbor attempted to shoot the other one. And, the one who was being shot at jerked the



reins of the horse and the horse raised his head in the line of fire, and the horse was killed.

Now, I think that both Harry and Vivian had this kind of disposition more than did Mary. I think Mary was and is an admirable person.

FUCHS: Do you remember Harrison Young as being, would you say, quick-tempered?

BABCOCK: Yes, and a little on the bullish side. I say that, as I recall, he had a very good opinion of himself and of the entire family, and I think he carried it on his shoulders. I think he felt that maybe they were justified in a little more respect than the average person was justified to.

FUCHS: Would you say that Martha Ellen Young Truman, Harry's mother, was -- you say caustic, would you say she was dogmatic, rather opinionated, is that what you mean or am I putting words in your mouth?

BABCOCK: No, not necessarily. They were given to that a lot, you know, just sort of belittling you, you know, I hope you know what I mean. And, John Truman was just the reverse; instead of trying to embarrass you, he would try to make you feel comfortable and compliment you.



I remember the last year that I worked with Mr. Truman, very well; and I think it was the last day on their farm, he had a little wager, probably in a joking way that I would be the first one in the field to go to work that morning; that is, the first one other than their own people that were on the farm. And, sure enough, I, just fortunately, was the first one. We all had regular jobs then. I was a bundle hauler.

FUCHS: You're speaking now of the last harvest.

BABCOCK: Last thrashing on the Truman farm and Mr. Truman bet -- I don't know whether there was any money or not -- that I would be the first one.

FUCHS: Would this have been the fall of the year he died?

BABCOCK: It was in the summer, probably in July or August prior to the time he died, yes.

FUCHS: 1914?

BABCOCK: Yes, and, if you did a good job, he would compliment you. In a crowd, he tried to make it easy for everyone. Instead of not noticing maybe a water hauler or a child, he would notice them. And if you did a good job, he would compliment them. He made you want to do a good job. That's Mr. Truman.



FUCHS: Now, on this thrashing crew, you say you were a bundle hauler. Now, what were some of the other jobs and did Harry have a job on this.

BABCOCK: The last time I worked with Harry, he was driving a bundle wagon. It was on our old home farm, the last time I worked with him. Harry looked after many things around when they were farming for themselves at their farm, you see. Harry's mother did not help in the dining room or kitchen when I was there being served at dinner. Harry and Mary, invariably, waited on the table for us when we were there as harvest help.

FUCHS: Would that be about the only time of the year that you would be on their farm?

BABCOCK: In their home, yes. That's right. At the harvest time.

FUCHS: Did you visit there sociably at other times?

BABCOCK: No, sir, I did not, not sociably. Vivian and I were, as I told you, in the same young crowd, but for some reason, we were never in their home in a young crowd. I do not know why. Now, they were at our house many times. I had three sisters and we had many parties and a lot of activity in our home; and



frankly, Mary, if she ever had a boy friend, I never knew of it, never. And, she's single to this day.

FUCHS: Why do you think that's so?

BABCOCK: I think it wasn't because she was not attractive enough. You know, some girls are just so doggone fine, that for some reason or other, boys stand aloof, you know. I don't know. If Harry ever had any sweethearts other than the woman he married, I never knew it. Because, you see, his wife lived in Independence; at that time it was quite a distance from where we lived and where Harry lived, and I expect most of his courtship, no doubt, was over in that area.

He seemed to be more interested in National Guard work and in reading, and in music. When we were exchanging work at his home, if he had a little time prior to the serving of the meal, instead of coming out and associating with us men, who were waiting for a short time before we ate, he played the piano. It was very noticeable. Mr. Truman and Vivian, who were just the opposite disposition from Harry, seemed to have different interests.

FUCHS: Did you ever discuss this with other men there or...



BABCOCK: Yes, we did. It could not help being noticeable.

Yes, I have been around the Trumans in many ways and I do recall one rather unusual occasion. There were eight of us men from around Hickman Mills and Grandview that went to Havre, Montana, on an Indian land drawing in the fall of 1913. The eight were the following men: Harry Truman, Vivian Truman, J. A. Truman, Leslie Hall, William Hall, Stanley Hall, Dr. Young, and myself. Eight men, four Democrats, four Republicans.

FUCHS: Who's Dr. Young?

BABCOCK: He was a veterinarian.

FUCHS: No relationship to the Youngs?

BABCOCK: No relationship to them. He was a man that had grown up in the area and had gone to school to be a veterinarian, and I had been in school with him in the Ruskin High School.

FUCHS: Do you recall his first name?

BABCOCK: Yes, Edward.

FUCHS: How did you go to Montana?

BABCOCK: We went on the train. I recall I was not together with these men after we returned home, but I do know that one of the Halls drew a claim. It's



my recollection that my father lent Leslie Hall some money; and the son, William, accompanied an immigrant car with some livestock, machinery, and equipment from Grandview to Havre, Montana, to prove up on his claim. I think it was about two years later, he returned from there. It did not work out. It was a financial loss to him. That was not unusual in the case of these pioneers. As I recall, my father lent Mr. Hall some money to finance this project. Mr. Hall and my father, and Mr. Truman, were the best of friends. I am sure the Halls paid any money back to my father he may have gotten from him, because Mr. Hall was that type man and I find no record in my father's estate showing otherwise.

FUCHS: Did you say your father went with you?


FUCHS: Just you. Well, now, Harry Truman's name would have been in the drawing, and would his father's name have been in the drawing, too?


FUCHS: All eight would have been in. What was the intent, if you remember, say, if Harry Truman had drawn an allotment?



BABCOCK: Well, now we discussed that. Of course, we had not seen this land. We had not driven out over it. We did get a car; we did go out, not all of us in the same car, of course, but I think, as I recall, Dr. Young and one of the Halls and I got in one car and drove out over some of this area to see what it was like. As I recall now, we decided that the land was unquestionably good soil, but we were dubious about the rainfall and about the winters and about the crops that were adapted for this, because much of the corn that we saw growing, not too far from this area, was very short corn and very different from the type crop that we were used to. And, had I drawn a claim, I'm not sure that I would have tried to have proven up on it. And William Hall did prove out to be a failure; I do not know whether it was altogether because of the possibilities there or it may have been because of the lacking of judgment, stability, stick-to-itiveness on the part of William Hall. That I will not know.

FUCHS: Five years was required?

BABCOCK: I think so, as I recall. Five years, yes; it was an Indian reservation. I'm not sure whether it was Rosebud Indian Reservation...I'm not sure which



tribe of Indians it was.

FUCHS: I believe in the preliminary conversation, you said Fort Peck.

BABCOCK: Fort Peck Indian Reservation, I believe that's right.

FUCHS: You think that was correct?

BABCOCK: I believe it was. Of course, you know, that's a long time ago.

Now, there's another thing I remember about this trip. I think it was in the law that a former serviceman could have someone register his name in the drawing; as I recall, Harry was registering the name of a Spanish-American serviceman into this drawing. The name I do not know; but as I recall, one of the men there said that this serviceman could not go for some reason, sent his name for Harry to register, and Harry was getting half his trip paid for, for doing this for the serviceman.

FUCHS: I see, but he was also registering his own name?

BABCOCK: Oh, yes, and registering his own name.

FUCHS: And, his father was registered?

BABCOCK: Oh, yes we were all registered.

FUCHS: You don't know if this would have been a neighbor



there or close relative?

BABCOCK : No. I do not know. He was a resident there, but I do not know.

FUCHS: Perhaps someone just asked him to do this. Do you know, if the intent -- say if J. A. Truman's name had drawn or Harry Truman had had his name drawn, was one or the other or both going to prove the thing out?

BABCOCK: That was never discussed. You know, in a drawing, it just almost couldn't have happened to have two or three in the same family -- there were, as I recall, some restrictions on this. Of course, that was something that would probably have to be worked out later, as Halls worked their case out. Now, I do not know what Harry, Vivian, and his father would have done, or what they planned to do. I doubt that they'd known until the drawing had taken place.

It's inconceivable to me, though, knowing Harry's disposition and his likes and dislikes, to have gone up and proven up on a claim. While maybe my judgment in the matter wouldn't have been good, I could hardly conceive of that. Now his father, and Vivian, I would judge to be more the rough, tough pioneering type,



because, as I told you, Harry liked his music, he liked his lodge work. Frankly, I would say he was a little less rugged in his likes and dislikes. Now, you would not compliment me to say that of me, because I'm a rough and tough. A11 my life, a cowboy has been my greatest hero in the country. He still has to be a man, has to think on his feet for himself, has to fight his own battles, and that's what I like.

FUCHS: That's very interesting. Now, one more point. If, for instance, John Anderson Truman had had his name drawn, could that be transferred to another person?

BABCOCK: No. No, you cannot sell that. You cannot. You've got to prove up on it.

FUCHS: What about within the family? In other words, if Harry's name had been drawn, would he have had to prove it up?

BABCOCK: As I recall, it would have to have been kept in his name. Now, his father or his brother, probably, could have actually lived on it and kept it in his name and complied with the requirements such as maybe a building or some fencing or a well dug. Now that was my understanding.



FUCHS: That's what I was wondering. If the name in which the allotment was made, if that individual had to actually reside there or if someone else could reside there and then the deed be issued in his name.

BABCOCK: Well, let me tell you this. Prior to our leaving Platte County there was a land run to Oklahoma Indian territory. My father and three other men drove from Waldron, Missouri, down to that area. I remember it very well, they had a spring wagon. And, as I recall, one of the men drew a claim, a man named Branum. He was a man with little or no means. And, as I recall, he was the man who owned the thrashing machine that thrashed our wheat in Pla