Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened November, 1982
Oral History Interview with
July 23, 1982
by Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: Would you tell me where you were born and when you were born, and what your parents' names were?
SANDERS: I was born in Worth County, Missouri on September 10, 1893.
JOHNSON: What were your parents' names?
SANDERS: My father's name was Volley H. Sanders; he was raised in Worth County. My mother's name was Rose Jones; she was born in Worth County.
JOHNSON: And you grew up there. Was it on a farm?
My mother died when I was 16 months old and my Grandfather Jones and grandmother raised my brother and me.
JOHNSON: Did you go to a country school or a town school?
SANDERS: I went to a country school and later to a town school.
JOHNSON: Was there a high school?
SANDERS: Yes, that's right.
JOHNSON: You went through high school?
SANDERS: I went through the high school, and I went from there to Maryville College one year.
My grandfather died when I was about twelve years old. He had been ill awhile. From the time he died, my brother and I lived with my grandmother for a number of years, and operated the farm that we were on.
JOHNSON: Now this is the grandmother...
JOHNSON: And that was still in Worth County?
SANDERS: Worth County; the same spot, yes.
JOHNSON: I see. And you went one year to Maryville.
SANDERS: Yes. And I was on the farm until I got married to Bessie Stoner, who was teaching school in Parnell, Missouri at the time. We would have been married 65 years this spring. She died in February of this year.
JOHNSON: What was her maiden name?
SANDERS: Bessie Stoner. She was raised here at Cameron, Clinton County.
JOHNSON: After you finished the year at Maryville, then what did you do?
SANDERS: Oh I was farming.
JOHNSON: You went back to farming.
SANDERS: Yes, I was in charge of the farm, great big farm. Then I got married. I've been on this farm out here 65 years.
JOHNSON: Right outside of Cameron?
SANDERS: South and east.
JOHNSON: South and east of Cameron a few miles.
SANDERS: We've had three or four different farms. In fact, I've owned over 2,000 acres.
JOHNSON: Somewhere along the line you got into politics.
SANDERS: Yes, in 1934. My father had been active in politics a number of years, and he lived in St. Joe. Of course, I lived near Cameron, and I went to St. Joe and I said, "I think I'd like to take part in this primary, in this election." Truman and two other men, I forget their names, were on the Democratic ticket in the primary, and my father said, "Well, who do you think you ought to
I said, "Well, I think this man Truman has got the best answers."
He said, "Well, let's just be for him." He said, "I think they have a headquarters up here on Felix Street." That time was the Depression, and you had empty buildings. You had plenty of empty buildings in St. Joe then. We went up to an empty building and there was a man there who was Fred Canfil, a very close friend of Truman's. He had some political literature, and we told him we were interested in Truman. He was very appreciative and insisted that, "Now if you need any help over there, any speakers or anything, we'll send them to you." He was very gracious.
I came back and went to the man who owned the paper in Cameron, and I said, "Say, I kind of spoke for us today."
"I was saying your paper just might be for Truman."
He said, "All right, let's be for him." So he immediately wrote some article appreciative of it.
I was pretty active in it. I was young and active. At that time everybody was hard-up, and they had band concerts in Cameron once a week, about this time of year, August time. Farm people would come and gather on Thursday evenings. Of course, the stores stayed open as long as people were in town. So I said to the man that owned the paper -- and at that time he also was Mayor -- "Let's form a Truman committee."
He said, "All right." He put it in the paper that we'd have a meeting, a Truman meeting at City Hall on a certain night. We went up to City Hall, and the jeweler here in town, Sherman Sloan, who was a good Democrat, was there, and one other man, who was a good speaker. That was about all, just the four of us there. I said, "Why, everything is all right; let's form our committee."
So we made the newspaperman the president of the organization, and Sherman Sloan the treasurer.
I was the vice president. Then we named a number of vice presidents. So we named a number of prominent Democrats in the community down here as vice presidents of the committee.
Well, in a few days they saw their names were on the list. They were interested, and before long we had a nice meeting. From then on we had a nice organization. I said to the newspaperman, who was also Mayor, "Let's have a speaking following the band concert."
So I called Canfil and said, "We're going to have a meeting tonight." That was Thursday night. "Send a speaker." Lots of people come to the band concert, they sit on the ground.
Fortunately, just before the last band selection, the newspaperman said, "Tell your MC to leave the loud-speaker there, and announce that there will be a speaking following the band concert."
At that point two men and their wives came into the park. One was the speaker, a man by the name of [Roger] Slaughter, a young lawyer, prominent
at that time in Kansas City. Of course, he saw that gathering on the ground and he didn't know but what they had all come to hear him speak. They didn't know what kind of a meeting it was; they were ready for a speaking. He got on the bandstand and he gave them a nice talk, not particularly factional at all. They thought they heard a good speech, and he went back and told the Truman office it was the best meeting they had had.
It went from there on, and fortunately, and accidentally I reckon, Truman got more votes in Clinton County than the other two men got in Clinton County. That is, he was our choice, which was unusual, because the cross faction was the elderly faction in the community. They had been handling the politics year after year, and it just broke that way. From then on Truman was elected, and that November I got acquainted with him some. Of course, we were country people, and I was raising turkeys just to give away. I took two
live turkeys -- they happened to be brown turkeys -- to Kansas City. We parked in the lot behind the new City Hall and went in. Canfil then was the superintendent of the City Hall. He was Truman's friend; Truman was the County Judge, and they were in the Army together, very close friends. That was Canfil's position.
Truman, of course, at that time was Senator and he was in the office in this building. I told them I had brought the turkeys, and Canfil went down and brought the turkeys up alive on the elevator to the room. He showed them to Truman and they were very happy to get them. Anything to eat then was appreciated. Canfil turned them over to the janitor and told him to clean them. From then on, for 47 years, they've had a turkey. Every turkey, I've either dressed or my family dressed. We didn't buy turkey out of a store.
Truman was very gracious when he was Senator. Even in bad times then, it wasn't long until meat
was rationed. I was a farmer and had a man here in the ice cream business who had a freezer. I killed a beef regularly. I said to Senator Truman, "I was working to send you some meat." Later I sent him an ice box of frozen beef. The ice cream man had dry ice in the cooler. I had a letter from Truman that said, "I guess you saved my life and another man's life." He said, "My barber was sick; I gave him a roast beef, a roast, and he got well." He was appreciative. From then on if I would ever want to ask for a job for somebody, in most every case he got it. I never asked for one for myself. That leads on up to the Vice Presidency.
JOHNSON: May I take you back to 1934 again? What was it that attracted you to Harry Truman? What caused you to decide to support him in '34?
SANDERS: I just read the paper. I just made a guess.
JOHNSON: Had you heard about his reputation as County Judge?
SANDERS: That was in the paper; I just picked him out.
JOHNSON: Did Harry Truman get up he