Smelterville 1967: Where Are They?

I need some help tracking down some kids I shot back in the spring of 1967.

Like most folks in Cape, I knew where Smelterville was and would drive past it on South Sprigg, but never ventured into it much.

Periodic cleanup

In the spring of 1967, though, I had an assignment to shoot one of the periodic cleanups. I took that as an opportunity to walk around documenting some of the buildings and people who lived there. One of the cleanup photos ran in The Missourian, I think, but everything else got filed away.

Photos have historical value

When I talked with Lisa Speer, Associate Professor and Special Collections Librarian at SEMO, about picking up my stuff when I move into that eternal darkroom, she was fascinated by the Smelterville pix and some I took of a New Madrid Mississippi River baptism. She said there’s a dearth of photography of the black communities in that era.

What happened to the people?

That made me wonder what had happened to the people in my photographs.

I’ve hit a lot of dead ends (literally) in New Madrid, but finding the Smelterville subjects seems more promising. When I was chasing down the minor league ballpark rumors, I talked with a couple of guys standing in a front yard near Fort D. When one of them mentioned that he had lived in Smelterville, I said, “Have I ever got some photos to show you.”

Got some good leads

One of them knew just about every kid, the names of their dogs and who owned the cars in the background. He even said that most of them still lived in the area. The old folks, have long passed on, but the kids should be in their mid to late 50s.

He put the word out on the street and I met with three members of one family. Interestingly enough, one was sure he could identify his siblings and the house they lived in, but couldn’t be positive if one of the photos was of him as a child.

Hard to identify children

I thought that odd, but then I looked back at photos of me as a toddler all the way up to my teens. If I hadn’t been TOLD that was me or if I didn’t recognize the backgrounds to put things in context, I don’t know that I would recognize myself.

Here’s your assignment

Anyway, here’s your assignment: if you can identify any of the people in these photos, let me know. If you know where they live or how to get in touch with them, that’s even better.

I’m going to be doing a quick swing to Cape to deal with my transportation problems toward the end of this week, but I’ll be back for a longer stay in October when we celebrate Mother’s Birthday Season. It would be great to have some interviews lined up for that trip.

I’ll keep you up to date on how the project is going. I have more photos and lots of stories for later.

Smelterville photo gallery

Here’s a selection of the people I’d like to find. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

96 Replies to “Smelterville 1967: Where Are They?”

  1. Hello Im Teresa and Gary Wren’s cousin. My grandmother Im wondering if you have any pictures of Catron and New Madrid

  2. Ken, I visited Smelterville often. I had friends there. Ratliff’s Grocery gave my mother credit, so we always went there for our groceries, Carlos, I think was the owner, a good man. Always paid on time. There were white people also, the Kitchens, Doug, Jack, the Wrens, their families. I knew a few blacks, or colored, back then, good friends. I wasn’t apprehensive about ever going there, everybody was friendly. My older brother had a mechanics garage there, and I think he made a fair living, was fair to everyone. It always seemed relaxed when I was in the area. Most seemed happy. I used to bat rocks with Jack Kitchen, I don’t think he lived there, but, like me, was there a lot of activity, by the way, he was older, but I beat him constantly. Tore up some bats!
    Anyway, I have fond memories of Smelterville and it made me a better person to have made friends there. Wonderful memories.
    Thanks Ken,

    P.S. We may need to get together and write a LOT of chapters in my life.

    1. Jim,
      My grandmother, Juanita Ratliff, owned Ratliff’s Grocery. She lived and worked on South Sprigg. I remember the penny candy, whole dill pickles on the checkout counter, the old metal soda cooler we sat on every time we were there, and the smell. I still smell that same smell every now and then and it takes me back.My father is Dale. Ratliff’s Grocery and South Sprigg hold very special places in my heart. ♡♡♡

      1. I spen my first 6 years on s sprigg. Brother Kenny got hit by hit n run near Ratliff store going for loaf of bread for mom. Uncle Gene bought a house up the street. John Mayfield live neat same block. What was the named of the ReXall drug store
        near Ratliff store ?

  3. Don’t recognize the younger kids but know the woman in the striped dress. Her last name is Beal. Our families know each other .

  4. Oh yes, know several. CW- I see you and your brothers, Aunt Jemimia, Rose Depree and her brother TY and the last pic looks very much like the Dorris brothers Jimmy and Carl

    1. You are correct Jerry, that is Jimmie and Carl Dorris. I’ve never seen this pic before, what a pleasant surprise.

  5. I think we all need to say thanks to the Ratliffs. They provided credit to a lot of families. I do not recognize the pictures, but I do remember some of the names such as; Wrens, Dupree and Kitchen. I’ve been back in Cape perhaps four or five times since leaving in 1979. I do remember Ms. Ratliffs and the store across the street, Womacks. Best wishes to all.

    1. She was the most kind, loving and genuine woman and grandmother I’ve ever known. I miss her every day of my life. Thank you for your kind words!

  6. at one time yhere was 6 groc stores in smelterville..there was lanes , dieterkers ,funny farrels ,kellys over by the pump, ratliffs. and one across the road from dieterkers that i cant recall the name of but they had a big tree growing right up in the middle of the store …i wish you had pictures back in the 40s and 50s the community was a nice little place ..looked a lot different then, with gardens and flower beds and people took care of their homes..

  7. I would really like to talk with you . I lived there as a child. I am Terry Steele, my cell # is 573-803-9426.

  8. Do you have any pitures of my grandparents house they lived on the river bank behind the sewage plant and packing house

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