Camping on the White River

View from above the White River

The series “From the Archives” features articles from the archives of our quarterly journal. The following article by Douglas Mahnkey appeared in the Fall1976 issue of the White River Valley Historical Society Quarterly.

Our family’s favorite camping place was Hickey Spring on White River below Moore’s Ferry. The great spring of ice cold water gushed from a rock bluff on the north side of a small hollow that emptied into the river about 100 yards below the spring. Before the Civil War, Joe McGill dammed the spring branch and used the water power to run a grist mill. Old timers called the spring the McGill Spring. Later, Mr. Hickey ran the mill and it became known to our generation as Hickey Spring. I first saw the spring when I was about twelve years old.

We lived at Mincy in 1914 and crowds of us would walk to the spring for picnics. During the terrible dry years, people would come for miles around for water, hauling it in barrels.

After I married and our first two children were small, we spent at least a week each summer camping at old Hickey Spring. Money was scarce and that was the only vacation we could afford. The home made trailer was packed with bedding, some old split-bottom chairs, food for a week, cooking pots, a big skillet, and a tent borrowed from Wilbur Hicks. Special attention was given to trot lines, fishing tackle, minnow traps and seines, shot gun and shells. The trip was made in late July or early August. The dog and two cats always made the trip with us.

The final mile of the trip was along the narrow bluff road below Moore’s Ferry, then across rough Trigger Creek, then down the long, narrow, deserted bottom field. Great elms, oaks, and walnuts shaded the spring. Many times we were the only persons within miles. We set up our tent, strung the clothes line among the trees, made a table of rough boards, laid stones for the cooking grill, gathered wood for our fire, and we were ready for a glorious week.

The river was low at that time of year The trot line was stretched from bank to bank on the shoal above the spring branch. During the day we dug for mussels, trapped minnows, waded the river for sweet corn and melons, hunted for Indian arrowheads, and about sundown baited the trot line.

We always had more fish than we could eat and gave fish away. One morning at daybreak, I caught six black bass on the shoal in only eight casts with an Al Foss Spinner. Squirrels were plentiful, so we had plenty of fresh meat. The spring provided a perfect refrigerator for our food.

The end of the long summer day found us all ready for bed. We were lulled to sleep by the soft murmur of the spring branch and the song of the katydid. Now and then the hoot of an owl came from the high bluff above our camp. The stillness and solitude of those nights can never be found again.

One summer Garland Sim’s and Merle’s sister, Genevieve, came to visit us at our camp. Garland had at one time run afoul of the conservation agents during the sucker grabbing season and from that day on was well-read on the game law. He pointed out to me all the ways I was breaking the law. He noted that the trot line was from bank to bank, no name on the minnow pail, no name on the trot line, minnow seine 20 feet long, and that I was giving fish away–all being contrary to the code. This amused me so that I composed this little song and sang it loud and clear as I went about my fishing and hunting.

Conservation Blues

I went to the courthouse, the judge was a crank.
Had my trot line stretched from bank to bank.
Got me in jail for breakin’ the law,
Caught a little sunfish and gave him to my paw.
Got me in jail, doin’ some time,
Had fifty-one hooks on my old trot line.
Warden got me, tossed me in jail,
No name or number on the old minner pail.
Put me in jail for a year and a day,
Caught a big catfish and gave him away.
Down in the jail house singin’ this song,
Had a minner seine twenty feet long.
So I got the conservation blues,
Down to the soles of my water-soaked shoes.

The children have seen many wonderful vacations since those so-called “hard times.” But Pat insists the days at old Hickey Spring on White River in the thirties were the best of all.

This article by Douglas Mahnkey, originally appeared in the White River Valley Historical Society Quarterly Volume 6, Number 1—Fall1976. Click here to browse or search the archives of the Quarterly.

About White River Valley Historical Society

The WRVHS exists to preserve, protect, and promote the cultural history of Taney County, Missouri, and the upper White River Valley region through public programs and educational events.

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