Oral History Interview with
First cousin of Harry S. Truman
Mary Ethel Noland
September 9, 1965
James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Noland Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript 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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Mary Ethel Noland
September 9, 1965
James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Miss Noland, I believe when we finished our discussion the last time, we were down to the point of Mr. Truman's graduation from high school in 1901. There are, however, a couple of things I want to ask you about which precede that in chronology. I noticed Mr. Truman mentioned in his Memoirs, "A pigtail baseball game." Does that mean anything to you? What is a pigtail baseball game?
NOLAND: I don't know.
FUCHS: Also, he mentions a family named the McCarrolls? Who were they?
NOLAND: Well, just neighbors with a houseful of boys, four or five boys. They were no relation.
There was quite a group of boys that lived out there around Waldo where they lived, and, oh, they played there at Truman's a great deal. I remember the names of a lot of them.
FUCHS: Who were some of them that you recall?
NOLAND: Well, one of them was Bernard Pittman. That was the Pittman house, where the Trumans lived but the Pittmans had moved a block or so away to another place after they sold the house to the Trumans. And then there was Paul Bryant, another one, and, of course, Vivian and Harry, and the two Houchens boys that lived south of them a block. Their lots cornered each other. There was an alley between them. Everybody had a horse then and the Houchens family had one, the Trumans had one, everybody had a horse. So, there was a lot of room to play--lots were big then--you didn't have just a
fifty foot lot ordinarily, and if you did, then it ran way back so that you had room for the children to play. And these boys used to play a great deal. Harry never did enter into the baseball because he wore glasses and he couldn't see the ball without the glasses, and of course, he couldn't run the risk of breaking those glasses by being struck with the ball. So he was umpire and would just do things of that type, but never played baseball with them. Harry never seemed to get into the mischief that the other boys did and I think there was a good deal of mischief going around. Oh, harmless enough, but mischief. One day, one of the neighbors on the street back of them was very much incensed because these boys had thrown at her chickens and had been a nuisance, generally. So she hurried over to the Truman home and said, "Your older boy was
in on it this time, Now, don't say he wasn't, because this time he was."
So, Harry's mother said, "Well, just wait and we'll see, we'll find out. If he was, why, we're not going to excuse him, but we won't blame him unless he's guilty."
So she called all the boys in and asked each one if Harry had any hand at throwing at the neighbors' chickens. Well, they all said, "no." They all admitted they did, Vivian and all the rest, but they all said that Harry had nothing to do with it. So that exonerated Harry. The neighbor went home a little crestfallen, and, I hope, convinced that he didn't. But he was more of a peacemaker. He was full of fun, but he never seemed to get into the scrapes that the other boys did, but with all of that they loved him. You know, sometimes a boy like that is none
FUCHS: What about the Truman lot. What do you recall of that, the story about various stock that he kept there?
NOLAND: Yes. Down at the other place, the Blitz house that we talked about before, he had a good deal more ground down there, enough to have some livestock--oh, not herds or anything of that kind, but just a few. And he had room for this fine garden. He was a great gardener. I remember one thing that he raised that was very rare and that was the yellow tomato, a tomato that was yellow after it was ripe. And he called it the peach tomato. Oh, beautiful and fine flavored and he liked to do those things, but that lot went way down the street there on Crysler. I've forgotten how far. But out here he had just a few head of cattle
that he might be trading on the side or something like that; but no great number of cattle.
FUCHS: In other words, he might just have had a cow or some piece of livestock that he was temporarily keeping there, in transit almost.
NOLAND: That's the idea exactly.
FUCHS: He did keep a horse there all the time?
NOLAND: Yes, he had a horse. It was a white horse, and sometimes when Harry was going to a party, he would take some of the cousins, or one of the cousins, whoever was invited, or several of them if they were invited, and drive the white horse to the party.
FUCHS: This horse was always driven attached to a buggy rather than ridden?
NOLAND: That's right. And sometimes the boys rode
FUCHS: Oh, they did ride it. Was that just for pleasure or would they ride it to go someplace in particular?
NOLAND: Oh, just for pleasure. That was past the day of going to parties horseback. Now, I noticed that this recent book about the women of the White House--have you seen that?
FUCHS: No, I haven't; I know of it.
NOLAND: Well, there's just about a dozen that this lady has written about and Mrs. Truman is one of them and it was rather hard to see why she picked the ones that she did pick. It said that he used to ride horseback from Grandview to see Bess. Nothing could have been farther from the facts than that because it was past the day when people rode horses
to get anywhere. That would be a good long ride--fifteen miles. So, usually before he had a car he came on the Frisco, which came to Sheffield and then he could get on the streetcar and come on in to Independence. It was a very easy way to get here. It went through Grandview. So that was the main way to get back and forth out there at that time.
FUCHS: This is a little bit ahead of the story, but when would he have started coming from Grandview to Independence to see Bess?
NOLAND: That depends on when he returned the cakeplate. I don't know that year. I can't determine when it was. It was before 1915.
FUCHS: Of course, he didn't return to the farm until 1906 from Kansas City, and he was at the farm at that time, when he returned the cakeplate.
NOLAND: Yes, he was.
FUCHS: So, it's definitely between 1906 and 1915.
NOLAND: Yes, or 14 even. And I would say that it was even earlier than 1914, because when Uncle John died Bess went with us to the funeral. The funeral service was conducted at the home in Grandview and then he was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery. And she went on the train as I was telling you, on the streetcar to Sheffield and then we took the Frisco and went on that to Grandview.
FUCHS: I believe he died November 3, 1914.
NOLAND: 1914. So you see it would have been somewhat earlier than that.
FUCHS: When did he get his car? It seems to me that--it sticks in my mind that it was a 1912 Stafford, but I don't know if he got it new.
NOLAND: He didn't, I don't think. He got a used car but if it was 1912--if you say it was--I would say that was about right.
FUCHS: If it was a 1912 Stafford, it seems like he might have gotten it in late 12 or 13. Would that have been correct? Did he have the car at the time of the cakeplate incident, do you recall?
NOLAND: I just couldn't be definite. But before he got the car he was going there, because he would stay here all night if he had a date over there, because it was a long trip to go out there, and there probably wasn't a night train at that time. And he could stay here very easily, which he did, sometimes two or three times a week. That was before he got the Stafford, so he was going there before 1912 or
13, whenever he got the car. So the cakeplate incident must have been, maybe as early as 1910.
FUCHS: Yes, because he wouldn't have been coming up here regularly before that incident, would he?
NOLAND: No, he wouldn't have been going over there at all. And while he was in and out of here a good deal, and just, oh, whenever he wanted to be, still he wouldn't be coming regularly as you say.
FUCHS: Well, then when he was here on that occasion, upon which he took the cakeplate back, it was just a visit, a social visit, it wasn't for studying. Some writers have telescoped the years.
NOLAND: They do, they don't know what to make of
that long gap in there. They can't understand it. But life was more or less full and he wasn't ready. Well, his life had been late blooming all along, hasn't it? And he was deliberate about it. He didn't marry until he was 35. He didn't get into politics early, he didn't do anything early.
FUCHS: Well, I can't think of any good reason why he should have been in a hurry, right now.
NOLAND: He couldn't then. It was a more deliberate time than it is now.
FUCHS: Everyone has to go at his own pace, I think.
NOLAND: I think so, I think so. That is why it is pitiable to see a child prodigy. They're pushed into something. They're remarkable,
like little Shirley Temple. Oh, how interesting they are, but when they're grown up they're no more remarkable than a million others, and they've lived their lives. It's rather pathetic.
FUCHS: Yes. Well, when Mr. Truman--Harry--graduated, do you recall what he did that summer of 1901?
NOLAND: Now, whether it was 1901 or later I'm not sure, but he was timekeeper for the Smith Construction Company down on the river somewhere. Now whether that was immediately after his graduation I'm not sure.
FUCHS: Well, that was a point that I was trying to clear up because his biographer, Daniels, says that he didn't work that first summer, but he did take a trip to Murphysboro, but it was the following year he worked for the construction
company; whereas Mr. Truman recalls it a little bit differently in his Memoirs, which is understandable, of course.
NOLAND: Well, you may be right. His Aunt Ada, Mrs. Van Clooster, lived in Murphysboro and I know he did take a trip. In fact he kept up with all the relatives and it was amazing how he liked to do that on both sides, his mother's side and his father's side. He went to Texas once or twice and visited all the relatives down there, numerous cousins, whom I had never seen and barely know their names; but he knew them all very well and they all thought the world of Harry. He was sort of a liaison member of the family that kept up the connection that kept us all interested in each other, and more or less friendly.
FUCHS: Do you remember him going to Texas at an
earlier day when he was quite young?
NOLAND: Yes, they went down there, the whole family did, though I don't know at what age, but they visited my Uncle William and his family. Uncle Will had married a second time. I never saw either wife, but they knew them and they were on the friendliest terms. That would be Ralph Truman' s father and stepmother.
FUCHS: You would say that he went to Texas prior to his graduation from high school?
NOLAND: Yes, I would say so.
FUCHS: Are there any incidents in connection with his service as a timekeeper with this construction company that stand out in your memory?
NOLAND: Well, he used to entertain us with stories of the people he dealt with down there, a little strange to him maybe, because he had been very
carefully brought up and rather shielded, as you can see. But he was at home with the roughnecks that worked down there and he used to tell and laugh about how they would come back to work on Monday after a big spree. And they would drink anything. And he said he couldn't keep red ink because they'd drink up all of his red ink when they were sobering up.
FUCHS: Then, I believe, he had another job at the Kansas City Star. Do you recall that? It was for a very brief period.
NOLAND: No, I can't recall that.
FUCHS: Do you recall their living on Liberty Street just before they moved to Kansas City, which was about 1903.
NOLAND: Yes, the house is still there.
FUCHS: The house is still there?
NOLAND: Yes, it is. On Liberty Street. I remember being there. I could point out the house now.
FUCHS: Then about 1903 he moved to Kansas City and took a job in a bank--his family moved there--and that was on Park Avenue.
NOLAND: Yes, it was, a very nice neighborhood then. I remember some of the neighbors around there and one of them was the Broadus family, and a family by the name of Coomber across the street. There was a daughter in that family named Mabel Coomber and she and Mary Jane were great friends as long as she lived. She died fairly young. But it was a very comfortable home, as I remember it. Of course it has long since gotten to be the less desirable part of the city.
FUCHS: Then, I believe, Mr. Truman went to live with the Colgan family?
NOLAND: That was his father's sister, Emily Truman Colgan, and there were four children in the family--all grown by that time and some of them the age of Harry, in fact, all of them were near his age. And in addition to those four young people in the family (my uncle, Rochester Campbell Colgan, had died by that time). They had built a new house on East 29th Street, a very roomy house, so they had more room than they needed even for that large family--so they had these two young fellows living there, one by the name of Condon, and the other was named Green, Edwin Green, and Harry, besides, lived there. And they had the most hilarious time--those young people, and of course, sometimes we would be there too, my sister and I,
and we would have a big time. They loved to give parties and they loved practical jokes, and they would play the most outlandish jokes on each other.