Childhood friend of Harry S. Truman
and Bess (Wallace) Truman.
Oral History Interview with
June 11, 1976
James R. Fuchs
MR. FUCHS: Mrs. Keeley, to start, I'd like to have you sketch briefly your background, if you will, for the benefit of researchers.
MRS. KEELEY: I was born in a little house on Pendleton Avenue. My father was John Gallatin Paxton; my mother was Mary Neal Gentry. My mother came from Boone County from an old pioneer family. My father was the son of General E. F. Paxton, who was commanding the Stonewall Brigade when he was killed. Why my father stopped in Independence I never knew. He decided to come West. Everything was dead in Virginia after the war.
FUCHS: What year were you born?
KEELEY: I was born June 2, 1886.
FUCHS: On Pendleton Avenue, in Independence, Missouri?
KEELEY: Yes, I thought I'd better tell you that. I think the house still has a stone wall in front of it.
FUCHS: Fine. You can go ahead with your account.
KEELEY: I was the first born, and when I was five we moved. My father built the house on 614 Delaware Street. It was a brown, shingled house--it's since been painted white and made into apartments, I think. I lived there until--we used to visit in Virginia--but I lived there until I went away to work.
FUCHS: You started to school while you were living in that house?
FUCHS: What year did you start to school?
KEELEY: I had a brother, Frank, who was a year younger,
and my father kept me out a year so that I could start school with Frank; I was seven. We went to kindergarten on the grounds, in this old brick house--used to be called the Presbyterian Ladies College--and that's where my mother taught, and taught elocution, they called it then. My father met her. Her sisters came up to Kansas City to teach, and she came up and taught in this private school. My aunt, Sarah Gentry Elston, taught at Manual in Kansas City. It was an experiment in education then, so I went to high school in Kansas City.
FUCHS: But you went to a private school in grade school?
KEELEY: Oh, no, it was kindergarten. The public schools were very poor, but my father's great friend was a woman who ran this Presbyterian Ladies College. We didn't know anybody who went to public school. But my father surprised us by saying he was going to send Frank and me to public school because unless people like them (my mother and father)
sent their children to public schools, the public schools would never be any better. Well, unlike most times, he paid no attention to what we wanted to do and so we went to the Ott School. I don't know how long Mrs. Truman went there. Then, there was another private school, the Woodland College, which was Campbellite, we called it in those days; called the Christian Church today. She went to the Ott School when I did, how long I'm not sure. She had a brother, Frank, who was my age. Then my brother, Frank, was a year younger than I was. I remember going to school with them, so I'm sure that we all went to the Ott School together.
FUCHS: Then after you got out of Ott, you went to Manual?
KEELEY: I went to Manual Training High School in Kansas City, where I graduated in 1904.
FUCHS: Was that a four-year school?
KEELEY: Yes. It's a trade school now, but it was a new experiment in education then and my aunt
taught there. I think that had something to do with my being sent there. The high school in Independence was about two rooms in the Ott School, and my father always wanted the best for us. In fact, once he sent me to a Latin tutor when I was about ten. He was a product of the old Latin grammar school in Virginia. Then, my mother sent me one summer to a German woman for lessons. They believed in education.
FUCHS: This was a summer while you were in high school?
KEELEY: No, before.
FUCHS: Before. While you were in Ott, then?
KEELEY: My mother was sick and we were in Colorado three years. Everybody had to go away then; she had tuberculosis. Then my mother and father decided they just couldn't be separated any longer. I never saw two people who loved each other more than they did.
FUCHS: What did you do when you got out of high school?
KEELEY: When I got out of high school, my father said I knew enough and I would get married anyway. I don't know why, but I was there a year--I just kept house, that was after my mother died. She died in 1903. In my way I kept house. The cook did some of it, my father did some, and I did some of it.
FUCHS: Were you still living on Delaware?
KEELEY: Yes, that was where my father and mother lived and died and my brother Edward died. We were five children, Frank, Elizabeth (Lib, we called her), Matthew, and Edward. Frank and Edward are dead; but my sister, Elizabeth, is quite a fine artist. She lives in Wyoming and my brother, Matthew, is retired to San Francisco.
Then I went to Hollins College in Virginia for a year. Then my father married again, married an old sweetheart. She had two children when she married him.
Then he said that I could go to the University of Chicago that summer with my cousin, so I
went up there. By that time I wanted to study journalism and they said, "Well, we don't teach it, but they're going to start a school in a year at the University of Missouri."
So, in the middle of the school year, in 1908, I was sitting on the doorstep waiting for this school of journalism to start.
FUCHS: You only went to Chicago?
KEELEY: A summer term. But I was taking some work while I was sitting on the doorstep, waiting for the Jay School (as it is called now) to open.
Then, I had known Charlie in Independence very little, because Independence was divided by churches.
FUCHS: That's Charlie Ross?
KEELEY: Yes, and I'd had one date with him. Then when I got into the School of Journalism, to my surprise, he was teaching in it. So, I dated him and at the end of that year we were engaged. Then when I graduated--they made us say "was
graduated"--so when I was graduated from the School of Journalism, we had Journalism Week and Winifred Black, who was one of Hearst's great writers, came down to speak, and she said to me, "What are you going to do?"
"Be a reporter where I can get a job."
She said, "I'll have Charlie (Charlie Bonfils) give you a job."
Charlie was the brother of Fred Bonfils, and so I worked on the Post. I was the first woman reporter in Kansas City and was a curiosity. The Star wouldn't take a woman. They had a contempt for journalism schools. You know, schools of journalism didn't have any standing at all at first and newspapermen laughed at them, and to think now they can't fill the demand for their students. Times have changed.
So, then I worked on the Post a year...
FUCHS: This would be about what year?
KEELEY: I graduated in 1910. I graduated on Tuesday
and went to work on Monday. Well, I worked for A. B. McDonald--Charlie Bonfils gave me the job--but A. B. McDonald was the city editor, and as I went in the door this fellow I knew from the University was working there in the summer and he said, "Well, if there's anything McDonald hates worse than a cub reporter, it's a woman reporter. You'll get fired."
But it happened that he got fired before the summer was over for bringing a libel suit on the paper.
I worked there until one day, fifteen months later, on the streetcar I got an acute appendicitis attack and had to get back to Independence. One of my friends who had just graduated from medical school, Elmer Twyman, who became a fine surgeon, asked me, "When I get to be a doctor are you going to have me?"
I said, "Certainly not."
Well, he was the person who was right there and he did it. I wasn't well enough to go back
to work, so I went down--this is about the time I broke up with Charlie Ross--so I got skinnier and skinnier and went to Battle Creek and then spent two winters in Mississippi.
KEELEY: In the Mississippi Delta, out near Greenville, on a plantation with my cousin. And that was kind of a revelation, that kind of a civilization. Well, anyhow, then I came back and by that time I was ready to go to work again; so I consulted Walter Williams, who was the Dean who started the school, said, "You have to be a specialist. Nobody that knows anything about home economics can write; nobody that can write knows anything about home economics, so you go get a degree in home economics."
So, I went to Chicago University and was there nearly a year, and these jobs kept coming up begging for people to go into home demonstration work, into extension work. And it sounded kind of adventurous to me, so I went--well, there were two
things when I was on the Post that I did: One, as you remember in the story, I went up in a kite. I guess I'm the only woman in the world fool enough to go up in a kite. [This is in reference to a feature article in the Kansas City Times, June 1, 1966, about Mary Paxton Keeley in connection with her 80th birthday.] And then, old Joe Ward sent me, he was one of Hearst's men, then one of Bonfils' men in Denver and they wanted to blow up the State Reform School at Chillicothe, so I spent several months on that story--I don't mean to give you too much of this stuff. The only man in Chillicothe not afraid of the woman I was trying to expose said, "This woman (head of the school) knows that you're here and you are in physical danger; you'd better get out."
I said, "Well, I'm not going to get out." So, a man I know was building the courthouse got me to go to a hardware store one night and I bought a pistol, which I didn't even know how to shoot. Then I did shoot it off in my sleep in a Pullman car once, but that doesn't belong in this story.
I was going down to Mississippi.
When I did all I could on this story--this woman was so powerful politically, that we simply couldn't get her out--but we did get a good education system reorganized at the school. I woke up one night in a cold sweat when I was down there and thought, "Here's what this woman was doing." She was training prostitutes. She would tell them "You're bad or you wouldn't be here and you never will be anything but bad girls." And the State of Missouri was paying $60,000, and she'd have somebody from one of these bawdy houses in Kansas City, when they'd graduate from the school, meet the girl and she'd turn them loose in the city with one dollar. And the girl from the house would tell her, "Come on to our house."
And she'd say, "Well, I'll try something else first." But you couldn't try something else very long on one dollar.
Well, I thought there was just no good in the world if we couldn't get that woman out. So. I did everything I could. I had a signed
story on the front page of the Post every day, but my father said, "Well, you may not think you've done much, but it will never be as bad again." Actually I was in physical danger.
So, then I went and stayed with my cousins in Mississippi; my father had been down there as a young man as a tutor. It was a patriarchal kind of a society, great plantations, and all the bad Negroes were sold down the river, to the cotton fields. They'd shoot each other over five cents. Well, it was a new kind of a thing to me--a new civilization. But they were very charming people. But it was a little hard for me to get used to.
Then I went to Walter Williams and asked him how to proceed. I was going to New York before I got the appendicitis but I've always been sorry that I didn't have a little while there (though I hate New York) in big city journalism.
Then I went first to Alabama and then to Virginia in extension work with the 4H Clubs. It was really interesting. You drove around the
county all the time. I had twenty agents under me. When I left Virginia, I made up my mind to go to war. My family had always gone to wars. Two of my brothers couldn't go, they were married and had children, but one did. But they had a rule that you couldn't go too, if you had a father or a brother in the war. So, I said, "Well, I know I'm going." So, I went down to see a man I knew who was in charge of recruiting YMCA women canteen workers. He said, "You get ready to go and I think something will happen to change the rule."
So, they called me to Richmond, Virginia--and this probably doesn't belong in this at all--but the elegant Virginia ladies said, "Miss Paxton has been recommended by Miss Ella Agnew, and her grandfather was General Paxton, killed at Chancellorsville; her maternal ancestors are from Virginia," and then nobody said anything so, I said to these ladies, "Would you like to know why I think I ought to go to France?" And they said, "Yes," and I told them. They paused and I said, "Well,
do you think I ought to know why I'm capable of going?"
"Yes." So I told them. And then they said they didn't need to talk to me anymore.
Right then the rule was changed about going. But I had looked down and the only four-leaf clover I ever saw in my life I found about that time. So I went over. In the meantime, I'd be come engaged to Edmund Burke Keeley. He was in extension work too. He was very deaf and he couldn't go to war. He came to New York and he brought me a portable phonograph, first one I ever saw, to take with me, and records, all proved useful. And he said, "Suppose we get married and have a son, and what will you tell him when his mother went to war and his father didn't?"
I said, "Tell him the truth that you couldn't go." He was the first man to volunteer in Halifax County.
So, the sequel to that was, when my son was about eight, somebody came to me and said, "Pax said his father didn't go to war because he had
a sprained ankle." So I knew then I ought to tell him, so I did.
So, then he said with great relief, "Oh, then, he wasn't a coward."
Before I went, we looked at the Little Church Around the Corner and he said, "When you come back we'll be married there," (we were). I came back and I was in uniform but I wanted a bouquet anyway that looked like it had come out of my father's garden. So, he went and got me a big bouquet; and we got in the train, but I was so skinny and so tired that nobody thought I was a bride. My war diary I have put in a closed file in the Missouri historical society. They'll keep it closed until the girl who is going to handle what I have, will tell them to open it.
But that was an experience. (And you know they're very short on First World War material.) So then, we were married--he was manager at Curles Neck Farm--which is a great historical river plantation. My son was born in Richmond, Virginia. I was married in July and he was born in October
two years after. Then my husband bought a place down on the river. Then he got sick. He went to Battle Creek Sanitarium and I had to get a job. I'd been in extension work two years. That was the job that was open, but I was going to get a job on one of these railroad magazines, and the man said, "You're just what I've been looking for. You wait around here." So I waited around until they appropriated the money and then the president of the railroad said, "I have just the woman to put in there." And then my youngest brother said, "You come on out here." I came back to Missouri and took a job in Holt County. Then I went on a country newspaper for a year with John Stapel on the Atchison County Mail and drove around the mud roads all the time. My husband was in sanitariums and he died in Virginia. We knew right from the beginning that he couldn't get well. But these little towns that I had to live in had very poor places to rent.
Then I resigned and my father met me at the
train in Kansas City. I had a deep chest cough, so he took me to his doctor who sent me to a hospital with pneumonia. I drove over those roads in all kinds of weather, and my father said, "You cannot stand it physically anymore. The thing for you to do is to teach. Your hours will be the same as Pax's, and you can look after him better." I found I had to have a master's, so I came down here and got a master's in journalism. And it was during the depression, and I worked for $1200 a year. At Christian College, they wanted somebody to start a school newspaper. If you've ever been in newspaper work everywhere you are, you start some kind of a paper. On the boat I started one called the "Deck Swabber" and one at Battle Creek, called the "Fumigator."
FUCHS: When did you get your master's?
KEELEY: I got my master's in August of 28 and went right to work at Christian. I started the paper in February. It was very pleasant work. So I
taught journalism there twenty-four years. I had a chance to go other places, but money's not everything, you know. But Christian--they always had nice girls. And I think they have them today. I worked until I was 66 to get on Social Security, I would have had to retire at 65, and then I worked on the Missouri Alumnus, I edited it one year and was associate editor another three years, but reached 70 and it was time to retire there. I had a fine new job worked out but I fell down and broke my back and so after that I never could even have a half-time job. But I've done a lot of different things since. We started the Columbia Art League, and we started again the Boone County Historical Society, and I've had a very good life since I retired. This was what the broadcast was on the other day. I took up photography and painting instead of writing.
FUCHS: Then you retired the second time in about 1956?
KEELEY: Yes, when I was seventy, I retired. I had a
lot of fun painting and in photography--the reason I took photography up, I had a granddaughter by that time. My son went to war and when he came back he married. He met the girl and I just don't know how we were as lucky, because he's got a wife, the finest wife; nobody could suit anybody better. Shes a fine mother, everything. She's wonderful about it. So, I have a granddaughter, Linda, who's in the University now, and a grandson who is thirteen, Nicholas.
But I've done three pictures series that have been historical documents in a way--well, the one on the Library wasn't but I took a series of library pictures which we'd made into posters for the bond issue, and it helped carry it. Then I did a series of pictures of my church on its centennial about forty-eight pictures in there, showing the hundredth anniversary of this church. So that's a historical document.
I learned to process them; I made up my mind to do it right. When I did write a story, I had to
pay a photographer to do it, and half the time he didn't do it to suit me, and sometimes I couldn't get a photographer; but the main reason was my granddaughter. My family wouldn't take any pictures of her, so I said, "If you won't, I will."
I took two years doing a series of the new medical center. And that was done about six years ago. It had seventy pictures; it was a full, complete story of the Missouri Medical Center in the beginning and they have it over there. I took a lot of operations. One of the best ones I have is of the delivery of a baby. Then, I was taking a picture and fell off a chair; I think I got dizzy.
FUCHS: That brings us down to the present time. We might start now by asking when you first met Bess Wallace?
KEELEY: Bess and Frank. There's a story that I went up to Frank in the infant class of the Presbyterian
Sunday School, and put my arms around him and said "Oh, what a pretty little boy." He was a pretty little boy. George wasn't born then. But the first time I remember--we were building this house next door to the Wallaces' and we went over there and walked around the foundation, so Frank and Bess came over to inspect us. I guess we passed inspection because we've been friends ever since. Frank has since died.
That block had about twenty-seven children in it. Summer nights we had a curfew at nine and we played all these games. I remember my father had two cows and a horse--but he rented a barn down the street. But the Wallace house was burned after they left it. It was a Victorian house with a cupola in the front and it was quite an establishment. There was a carriage house, a stable, with a hayloft then it had a washhouse. It didn't have a basement, evidently. I don't suppose they had a smokehouse, but they had a wood house because they had fireplaces. Then they
had a privy with a trellis in front.
FUCHS: This was all next door to your place?
KEELEY: Yes. We had a garden; my father bought the lot back of us and made it into a flower garden--the most beautiful flower garden in town. Of course, we had to have vegetables at first and we had all kinds of fruit trees. I don't remember, but we played under this great burr oak tree in front of their house and the last time I saw it was still there. That was one of our favorite places.
FUCHS: Do you recall Harry Truman being around then?
KEELEY: No, no, Harry was a Baptist. Now, I have to explain this to you. Everything was divided socially by churches, and the Presbyterians, I would say were top on the pole, then the Campbellites, (the Christian Church); and then I guess, the North Methodists, and the Southern Methodists; the Baptists came about next; the Lutherans were
the German part of the population; and there was a big Catholic Church, but most of its congregation was from out in the country. When we were young, there was a Mormon Church, as we called it, three branches. Only the two branches were there then. Of course, it's changed now. They had a Temple Lot, which they had a lawsuit over, but the smallest branch owned it and still owns it. My father had something to do with that lawsuit, but I don't know what.
I remember the outside of the Wallace House there was a bay window in the parlor of this house and it was topped by a cupola. Madge, Mrs. Wallace, ran off and married. And her father was mad at her for a while. I don't know the circumstances.
FUCHS: This was Madge Gates?
KEELEY: Yes. Her father was one of the rich men in the town. And he had these three daughters, Madge, Myra and Maude and two or three sons. If you've never tried any "Queen of the Pantry" flour, you
do it. It's the best biscuit flour in the world. That's why everybody in Independence had good biscuits. It's soft wheat flour. Mr. Gates lived up the street in the house that Harry lives in now. I don't recall their house next to ours on the inside being very different. My sister said that the children ran in and out of the kitchen and the cook would give them cookies...but I don't recall doing that.
FUCHS: This is the Wallace house?
KEELEY: Yes, and people on the block all had children, but I don't remember going in anybody's kitchen mooching cookies, but maybe I did. Summertime was the main time. We must have had children's parties but I don't remember, except the birthday parties we always had. George came along then, and Fred was just a baby when they left that house, after the father died. We had a really very happy and gay childhood, and even though I went into Manual, I never was deserted, my Independence friends never held it against me. So
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we had a group of people. We played hearts--and a card game named up Jenkins.
FUCHS: This was while you were in high school?
FUCHS: Did Bess play with you?
KEELEY: Oh, yes, Bess was one of us. Bess was a leader. A lot of people think that because she chose to stay in the background in the White House she wouldn't be, but Harry called her the Boss, and Frank, her brother, said, "Bess was always the boss of us." We'd have lawn parties sometimes, with Japanese lanterns strung around but it wasn't only after we'd gotten up to boy-meets-girl stage, though we didn't have so much of that, going around together. We had parties with the same boys and girls we grew up with, mostly Presbyterians, but some Campbellites and a couple of Catholics. It was not a religious discrimination, but a social one, as I have explained. We did not know Baptists or Methodists or Lutherans. As I look back, it
was a snobbish little town. I recall one or two Catholics who were accepted by us. (The status of the Mormons was just a cut above the Negro.) People went to hear them sing in the Stone Church, but that was all. In business they did well, and my father had Mormon clients that he highly respected, (in fact he had no prejudices). But that was ten years after I remember seeing those bearded wild-eyed fanatics who stood around the courthouse lawn; they had just come back to Jackson County or perhaps had managed to stay, but had not settled down to a business.
In adolescence we had parties in the winter in which we played card games like hearts and slapjack. Others I don't recall now. There was always a first prize and a booby prize. These were played at card tables. I don't recall any girl parties, because we had reached the boy-meets-girl stage, except that we had grown up with most of those boys, and there was little of what is known today as going steady. We all went to
dancing school, and learned the polka and schottische and Virginia Reel, but the waltz was the basis, and we mostly danced the waltz and two step. I only recall one real dance a year, and that was at Christmas week in the top floor of the Swope house, the only house in town with a ball room. The girls older than we were, the Roberts girls and others, made their debut in Kansas City, but none of us did. For refreshments in summer we had ice cream and cake and mints; in the winter, chicken salad with beaten biscuits, and salted almonds and olives, and very fancy charlotte russe. These parties happened often, always on the weekend, as all the girls took turns having them. I don't recall any club, just a group. I suppose other groups had parties, but we did not know about them. One odd thing was that only two of these people married each other. Afterwards, I tried to explain it, and indeed once asked Elmer Twyman, who often came to my house to see me and read me Herbert Spencer, "Elmer, why do you suppose we did not fall in love with
And he said, "I think it was because we liked each other too well."
We all had much the same kind of party dresses, mull with silk sashes, colored or striped, and Bess wore what the rest of us did; the difference was that she always looked more stylish than anyone else we knew. She, like the rest of us, pestered her mother to lengthen her skirts, which were let down gradually; not till we were eighteen were we considered grownup young ladies and then we could wear them full length to the floor like our mothers. We wanted to grow up faster than our mothers thought we should, just as the young do today. It must have been a great event when we were allowed our first suits, as the photograph shows Bess and I were photographed in them. Bess always had more stylish hats than the rest of us did, or she wore them with more style.
Being so near the City, we met young fellows from there (I went to high school there), and
that is why I did not know Harry in high school. Elmer Twyman brought Charlie Ross to take me to Fairmount Park to ride the "shoot-the-chutes" and that was the first time I ever remember seeing Charlie, though his Uncle Charlie, for whom he was named, lived two doors from us. Bess met other boys from the City, and they called on her, though I only recall Julian Harvey.
In the winter we all went skating on moonlight nights on one of the farm ponds; a bonfire was built to warm our hands, and skating was the most fun of all. In summer there were hayrides, and real hay racks drawn by farm horses. A girl was expected to behave like a lady; one girl I recall spooned with a visiting boy and was never invited to any party we gave again. This consisted of the boy's arm around her and perhaps in one of the darker, shaded places along the road, a stolen kiss or two. I tell this to show that girls were brought up strictly and there were only black and white, no gray; a girl was either a nice girl or a fast one; our mothers,
not chaperoning us on hay rides or skating parties, got full reports and controlled invitations.
I went away to school, and was never there much after that; but Bess I always saw when back in Independence, and we have kept track of each other ever since. Our friendship has covered seventy-five years.
FUCHS: Did Harry Truman participate in all of this?
KEELEY: No. Harry was working. He was sweeping out Clinton's Drugstore, and I suppose other chores. He was doing everything he could to help his family. I remember seeing Harry when he was young. The other boys had two things against him; or at least made fun of him because he wore glasses, they called him "four eyes." Every little boy that wore glasses was ridiculed for it, and Harry had poor eyes. That meant he couldn't play baseball and other games like "shinny" and hockey--they were so afraid he'd break his glasses--I think
this helped make him a reader. His mother and father were strict, and I think the reason that Harry swore later--I don't know what his mother would have done to him if she'd heard him cuss. So. I think he never got in his share when he was young and that's the reason he breaks out now sometimes.
FUCHS: Making up for it?
FUCHS: What do you remember of John Anderson Truman, his father?
KEELEY: I remember my brother told me this. I don't remember seeing Mr. Truman. But I said, "Frank, what did Mr. Truman do?"
He said, "Besides farming he went around in a spring wagon,"(which has a seat in it and it would be the horse version of a pickup truck)," and he would buy lambs and calves and take them into the stockyard and sell them."
He had a hard time. They didn't have much money, but not having money wasn't held against Harry. He went to Columbian School at first when they moved to town and that's where some of his mother's people lived.
FUCHS: He moved to Waldo in 1896, after living on Crysler for six years.
KEELEY: Well, then, by that time he was in high school, I think.
FUCHS: He would have been twelve years old by then.
KEELEY: Yes. When in high school I remember riding around; we had a surrey and an old gray horse named Nellie and we would drive around the Square singing--we were young and very gay--and seeing Harry sweeping out Clinton's drugstore. And it seems to me that Bess said she wished Harry didn't have to work so hard. But that's just a dim recollection in my mind.
But all this talk about Harry carrying Bess'
books, he might have walked home with her, he came home that same way, I don't doubt it; but socially, the Baptists stuck to the Baptists.
And the other thing the boys held against Harry was that he took music lessons. A few other boys' mothers made them take lessons; all little girls had to. Well, they wouldn't have minded that except that he enjoyed them; and he did well in it and the teacher gave him the pieces to play that she liked to play. He played better than her other pupils and I don't doubt that when she had a recital, Harry was starred. But I didn't go to recitals. My music teacher told my father, went to my father's office, and said that I might learn a piece, but it was a waste of money. I'm sure Bess had music lessons, and she may have been a little more talented than I was, but music was not her specialty. The only thing I really ever envied her was, she had a great grandmother and two grandmothers. She rode what we called a tricycle. It's the kind of thing that has a seat
and three wheels. It wasn't electrically motorized, of course. But what they call a tricycle now was called a "velocipede." Well, Bess would get in that and go over to her Nanny's east of us. They called Mrs. Gates, "Mama." Now, Mrs. Gates was the cutest, sweetest, little old lady, and she used to have parties for Bess, children's parties; and I remember the best cake--ladies all had cooks, but they usually made their cakes; nobody bought them because each lady had her specialty and bakers cakes were inferior. But the other grandmother made her silk dresses, and I did envy her that, because I wanted a silk dress. So I said, "My father can't afford to buy me a silk dress," and my mother heard it and she said, "It's just that we believe in dressing little girls more simply," but she did add, "Her grandmother Wallace makes her these dresses, so of course she wears them." I do not recall that any of us when little wore very different clothes: in grade school in winter, plaid wool dresses with dimity
or lawn pinafores trimmed with eyelet embroidery over the shoulders; in summer we wore gingham dresses, often plaid or checked or striped, to play in, and in the evenings dotted swisses, or embroidered piques. It was the custom to bathe and dress for the evening.
We had party dresses, for many birthday parties were given and to which presents were always taken. Boys hung off to one side but curiosity perhaps permitted them to take part in the kissing games, the only one I recall being post office. Some of the little boys would have nothing to do with anything so silly.
Mrs. Gates was English. Mr. Gates came to Missouri from Vermont, I think, and built the mill in Independence with Mr. Waggoner. He was elder in the Presbyterian Church--Dr. Madera the minister was a little long-winded. We were very fond of him. Dr. Madera did something that just horrified the congregation, he married a divorced woman and practically never lived it down; but they kept him
on. We'd go to Sunday school, but one time my brother, Matthew (about eight), and, I think, George Wallace, decided to stay for church and they went up into the front gallery, in view of the whole congregation, and my brother, Matthew, started imitating the preacher, every gesture he made and George laughing and finally--the ladies laughing behind their fans, and finally it disturbed the preacher and he said, "Will the Elder go up and see about the little boys." I don't know what George got, but my father didn't believe in spanking, so he made Matthew go and apologize to Dr. Madera and then Mrs. Madera came in with some cookies.
The other story: After Mr. Gates retired (after Mr. Wallace died, Mrs. Wallace went to Colorado to live. I was very fond of her; she was a wonderful woman. She watched over her sons. As long as they lived at home she never went to bed until the last one was in)--Mrs. Gates was the kind of little old lady that wore lace caps, you
know. She was just as sweet. And he was a stately man with a beard.
He told us a story. There was a "bad man" named Jim Crow Chiles who lived a block down the street from the elder. He was of a good family, but everybody was afraid of him but they couldn't get anything on him. He was suspected of everything mean that was done. And he was mean. He had a lot of hound dogs who bayed all night and kept people awake and they were afraid to mention it. Mr. Gates said they were coming from a wedding one night, rather late out in the country, and he heard a horse's hoofbeats and the flap of the buggy went up and he felt cold steel on his neck--not a word spoken. They were about three miles out of town. He thought of course he was going to be shot, but he just kept on driving, it was all he could do, because he didn't carry any gun. It was about thirty years after the Civil War. (The man was universally hated.) He let the elder drive into his drive--he had a carriage house, too--
and then Chiles laughed this fiendish laugh and he heard his hounds welcome him. Mr. Gates said it was the most petrifying thing. Jesse James was liked; he was kin to some very good people. This man was, too, but he was just mean. I remember that story, but I can't tell it as well as Mr. Gates did.
FUCHS: What do you remember about Mr. Wallace's death?
KEELEY: I can tell you when that was. My mother died the 15th of May, 1903. The funeral was at our house and I remember Mr. Wallace being over there placing the chairs and helping in every way. He was a very handsome man. Bess had hair coloring like him. She had beautiful curly, golden hair, which we all wished we had, and she had beautiful blue eyes like her father. He had a blond mustache. I don't know whether there's a picture of him.
FUCHS: I think I've seen a picture of him.
KEELEY: I know he worked at the courthouse. Two weeks
after my mother's funeral, my father awakened me at five o'clock in the morning, said, "Go over to see Bess, Mr. Wallace has killed himself." You've already got this?
FUCHS: No, I don't.
KEELEY: That he'd killed himself?
FUCHS: I know he killed himself, but I don't have any of the details.
KEELEY: He said, "Go over and see Bess." And Bess was walking up and down back of the house with clenched hands, I remember. She wasn't crying. There wasn't anything I could say, but I just walked up and down with her. I don't remember his funeral. Then Mrs. Wallace told me later that she felt so humiliated. I don't know what else there was, really, whether it was debts, or whether it was--I don't know what it was.
FUCHS: You don't know why he did it?
KEELEY: No, I imagine my father knew, but my father did not gossip. He was brought up in a household of very spiteful women and he made a rule never to have gossip in our house. So we weren't told anything.
They only stayed a year in Colorado Springs so Mrs. Wallace told me much later. Then they came back and Bess went into Barstow's to school.
FUCHS: She went to Colorado Springs for a year?
KEELEY: Yes, I think it was a year. Mrs. Wallace felt humiliated by whatever it was. I used to go up to see Mrs. Wallace on every birthday when Harry was in the White House. And when I was there I always went to see them Christmas.
Now this is the story of Harry's first date with Bess. Harry's aunt, Mrs. Noland, lived across the street and his cousin, Ethel Noland, lives there now. Have you ever interviewed her?
KEELEY: Isn't she a nice person?
FUCHS: Yes, very nice.
KEELEY: Harry was visiting his aunt and cousins--there were two cousins--and Mrs. Wallace had sent some cake over to Mrs. Noland...
FUCHS: Do you know what year this was?
KEELEY: Well, it must have been while he was in the haberdashery, I don't know.
FUCHS: No, he went to the haberdashery w