Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
See also John K. Hulston Papers.
Opened October, 1988
Oral History Interview with
January 11, 1988
by Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: I'm going to start out the way I usually do, by asking you to give us your full name and the date and place of your birth and the names of your parents.
HULSTON: My full name is John Kenton Hulston, and I was born March 29, 1915 in Dade County, Missouri. My father was John Fred Hulston and my mother was Myrtle King Hulston.
JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
HULSTON: No brothers, no sisters, no deceased brothers or sisters; I'm an only child.
JOHNSON: Do you want to summarize your education for the record?
HULSTON: I went to a country school, Limestone School No. 39, in Dade County. We moved to Ash Grove, Missouri in 1924,
and I finished grade school and high school at Ash Grove, Missouri. Then I went to Drury College for four years, graduating in 1936. Then I taught school for two years at Ash Grove, taught history and coached the basketball team. In 1938 I entered the University of Missouri at Columbia Law School, where I graduated in 1941.
JOHNSON: I know that some of this basic information is in the books, the two autobiographies that you have written. Let's mention the titles of those right now.
HULSTON: I wrote An Ozark Boy's Story, which covered my life from 1915 to 1945, and that was published by the School of the Ozarks Press at Point Lookout, Missouri, in 1971. The next book was An Ozark Lawyer's Story, which covered the years 1946 to 1976, and that was published by the Western Printing Company of Republic, Missouri in 1976.
JOHNSON: If we're fortunate we'll probably get some confessions from you that are not in the two books. There is one question before we leave the subject of education;
in your elementary and high school years, was there any particular teacher that you think influenced you in your later career?
HULSTON: In the high school?
HULSTON: And in elementary school. There was an eighth grade teacher named Miss Lena Runyan. She was a maiden lady and she influenced me greatly because of the imposition of study habits. I became interested in using the school library that was used primarily then by the high school students. I think that she was responsible for my introduction to the use of books and a reasonable amount of sustained effort, and not deviation from study.
In high school, I had some good teachers, but the one that influenced me most was a vocational agriculture teacher named Joe C. Moore. I wasn't an agriculture major in high school, but he, with his conversations and at the drug store meetings for a Coke, and that sort of thing, sort of sowed the seed for me to go on to school.
Then there was my high school coach, Forrest Abbott.
I played basketball at high school, and of course, you are always greatly influenced by your coach, especially if you make the team. He had very good habits and he instilled good living habits in all of the students and I think that was a great help.
JOHNSON: What subjects did he teach?
HULSTON: He taught business subjects. He taught business subjects and I learned to type under him, and I learned to keep books and know the difference between a debit and a credit under him, which has been very helpful.
JOHNSON: You had a high school history teacher?
HULSTON: Yes, we had a high school history teacher; his name was Russell P. Robberson. He is now a lawyer in Austin, Texas, and he was...
JOHNSON: He's still lawyering?
HULSTON: He's still lawyering. He may be retired, but his name still appears in Martindale Hubbell. Of course, we used Muzzey's history of America. The interesting thing, Niel, was that in our class we had a relative of
[David] Muzzey, who wrote the history book. She was a descendant from John Chandler, who with his father was one of the few father-son combinations (six, I believe) according to an authority on Lexington and Concord -- that fought in both the skirmish at Lexington and the Battle of Concord. So we were very fortunate to have classmate Mary Chandler Galbraith there to tell us about the Muzzey-Chandler relationship in Colonial days.
JOHNSON: Your father's occupation when you were growing up was what?
HULSTON: First he was a farmer. Then he was a small town general merchant in a store at South Greenfield, Missouri, three miles from our farm, which handled food and dry goods, farm implements, furniture and the whole thing. In 1924, a man named Orville L. Howser persuaded him to join Howser in the Ford agency for Model-Ts at Ash Grove, Missouri. That's when we moved to Ash Grove, Missouri. My father and Mr. Howser were the Model-T agents, and it proved to be a great boon because people at that time in that area of the country were converting from
old "Dobbin" and mules to the Model-T. Most of them could afford one, because the popular Ford Touring car sold for in the neighborhood of $390.
JOHNSON: How long did he have a Ford agency?
HULSTON: He had the Ford agency until 1933 when he decided that Chevrolet was making a better car. Ford had put out a V-8 car, and it used a quart of oil with every fill-up of gasoline. The competition was killing my father because they would say to the prospective buyer, "Will eight hogs eat more than six?" My father couldn't answer that question, so he decided he would join his competition rather than to meet it, and he became the Chevrolet dealer in Ash Grove.
In the meantime, he had purchased Mr. Howser's interest, and Mr. Howser had moved on to Mount Vernon, Missouri.
JOHNSON: So you grew up essentially in Ash Grove.
HULSTON: In Ash Grove. The business was on the Main Street, in the Ford agency first and then the Chevrolet agency next.
JOHNSON: How big a town was it?
HULSTON: Ash Grove at that time was about 1200 people, and had the Ash Grove Portland Lime & Cement Company. It was headquartered in Kansas City but this was their home plant. They are now very large and remain head-quartered in Kansas City.
JOHNSON: You mentioned the library. Did they have a public library, or was the library in the high school?
HUSTON: No, just the high school. It was a pretty good one; they had lots of encyclopedias. The ones with the statues of naked men in Rome -- you could open the book, and it would just fall open to those.
JOHNSON: Your father got into politics apparently around 1934. Was that his first involvement?
HULSTON: No, that wasn't his first involvement. His first involvement was voting for Woodrow Wilson in 1912. When he was in Washington Township in Dade County, he was the Committeeman of Washington Township. That's Democratic, but Dade County is about four-to-one Republican over the Democrats, so he was in the minority. He became
well acquainted with a lawyer named Benjamin M. Neale, who was the county chairman, and he was a good worker for Mr. Neale. Mr. Neale, in the meantime, had moved on to Springfield, Missouri, because he became a very prominent lawyer, together with his partner Charles F. Newman. They moved from Greenfield, Missouri, 40 miles east, to Springfield, Missouri the county seat of Greene County, because they had become well-known over the whole area. I think it was Ben Neale who got my father interested in politics and caused him to run for the committeeman of Washington Township. Then, when he moved to Ash Grove, he found that Ash Grove was still about the same proportion, about four to one, or at least three to one, Republicans to Democrats. But he maintained his interest, and he had only been there I think two or three years until he was committeeman from Boone Township, named for Nathan Boone, the youngest son of Daniel Boone. So he was interested in Democrat politics, I'd say, from about 1928 as a committeeman.
JOHNSON: That's when he became committeeman, you say?
HULSTON: In Greene County.
JOHNSON: I see, and he had already been committeeman in Dade County.
HULSTON: In Dade County, in Washington Township.
JOHNSON: So presumably he was supporting Roosevelt and Cox in the twenties.
HULSTON: Yes, he always supported the Democrats' Presidential nominee.
JOHNSON: But those two counties are Republican, Greene and Dade?
HULSTON: Yes, they are. They are now in the gerrymandered Seventh (former Sixth) Congressional District that sent Dewey Short to Congress term after term after term, because they had decided to put all of the Republican counties in Southwest Missouri in that district and just gave up on it. Dewey Short for many, many terms was the lone Republican Congressman from Missouri.
JOHNSON: Just briefly, what accounted for them being Republican? What were the historical factors?
HULSTON: That's very interesting. I have gone into it.
You see, most of the people in Missouri, in part of Missouri, the Ozarks, came from Tennessee, or Kentucky, or North Carolina. Those, you see, are all southern states, for the most part. Tennessee was split a little during the Civil War, and so was Kentucky, but generally speaking, those are southern states. The question would be, if all those people came to Southwest Missouri from three predominantly southern states, why would they be Republican?
I think the answer was that the people that came were poor people. They came to buy land for $1.25 per acre, or whatever, and they didn't have any slaves. They weren't prejudiced in favor of slavery and against the Union at the time of the Civil War. Most of the people came in the 1840s and '50s, ten and twenty years before the war. I think the reason was economic; I think they were free thinkers. They weren't beholden to slavery, there weren't any slaves to speak of, and when they came they didn't bring any slaves with them to speak of, and they didn't have slaves when they were there.
Then I think another thing was that during the Civil War in Missouri, Missouri was a divided state,
very much so, and the Confederate Armies who had control of the Ozarks during a majority of the war comandeered their feed and their horses and their teams, their mules, and the hams and the bacon in the smokehouses. I think that the people just turned against the Confederates during the Civil War because of the fact that it was total war as far as they were concerned and it was a severe war and they suffered economically. They didn't receive any benefits from the concessions that they took from them. I think that was the final blow and I think that that was the reason why Southwest Missouri is still predominantly Republican.
JOHNSON: Would you say that they were probably more anti-slaveholder, or anti-big planter, than they were anti-slavery?
HUZSTON: The slaveholders and the planters homesteaded from the southern states, primarily from Virginia, along the Missouri River. They had the good sense to take on the fertile bottoms, because they had slaves, and they cultivated them [the fertile bottom soils]. The ragtail "Bob Muffin" people that came to Missouri didn't have
any slaves; they wanted wood and water. They wanted wood to build their cabins and keep their fires going, and they wanted a spring to furnish good water to drink for animals and for themselves, and do their washing. The people in Southwest Missouri looked for timber and a spring, and they didn't have any slaves and didn't have any fertile ground for most of them to till.
JOHNSON: Are they the ones that are called, fairly or not, "hillbilly" types?
HULSTON: Well, "hillbilly," you know -- they resent that very much down there. I think that a better term, and a term that I think we all accept down there in the Ozarks, in the old days was that we were Applachian-type people. But you know, Table Rock Dam was built down there in Taney County, and Norfolk Dam was built to the south of that, and the tourists have come in there and it is hard to find a hillbilly now. A lot of them have come from Chicago and just stayed. Now they're coming from Nashville, for country music, and staying.
JOHNSON: Is Branson, for instance, in one of those counties?
HULSTON: Branson is in Taney County. The county seat is Forsyth, but Branson is the leading city. I suppose Taney County is the archetype Ozark county in the eyes of Vance Randolph and the people who have become authorities on the Ozarks.
JOHNSON: Such as the book, Shepherd of the Hills.
HULSTON: Shepherd of the Hills is laid at Compton Ridge just outside of Branson.
JOHNSON: So some of your interest in politics came from your father. Did your party loyalties come also from your father's influence?
HULSTON: Yes, in my day if your father was a Democrat, you were a Democrat. That's changed now I understand. If your father's Democrat, you're liable to go to school and come out a Republican. But in my day, you took your father's politics and your mother's religion, usually.
JOHNSON: In 1934, your father was still a committeeman?
HULSTON: Yes, he was committeeman in Greene County. He was the committeeman for the western half of the county.
In addition to being a committeeman for Boone Township, he was chairman for the west half of the county, underneath the county chairman.
JOHNSON: Why, he was one of the leading Democrat activists so to speak.
HULSTON: He was the leading Democrat activist and he took it very seriously. But the people that traded with him, most of them were Republican; yet they respected him be