David Kelley and Missouri’s Bootheel

David Kelley 06-11-2016

I met David Kelley in Altenburg at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum about the time he was helping found the Starzinger Family Research Library  in memory of his long-time friend, Margaret Starzinger Wills, whose family was from the area.

I became better acquainted with him when we kept running into each other at  Jackson’s Cape Girardeau County History Center, where he was creating memorials to the Talley side of his family.

How would you like to document The Bootheel?

It might have been Director Carla Jordan’s nudging that got him to broach the idea of having me document The Bootheel. I was intrigued, but not sure it was the right project for me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kelley died of COVID, so he’ll never see the project through (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I will, either, for a number of reasons).

David E. Kelly, Sr.  1930 – 2020

David Kelley at his home in Steele 11-01-2014
David E. Kelley, Sr. was born on September 13, 1930 in Steele, MO to Pleasant Lafette (Jack) Kelley and Winnie Talley Kelley. He passed away on November 12, 2020 in Mt. Home, AR at the age of 90.
 
He lived in Steele until 2016, when he retired and moved to Mt. Home, AR.
 
David was a lifelong member of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Steele. He was a veteran who served his country as a member of the U.S. Air Force. He had been employed as a teacher, farmer, and insurance agent. He was also a 32nd Degree Mason and a Shriner.
 
He was united in marriage to Barbara Lennox Kelley on November 23, 1955. She and his parents preceded him in death.
 
He is survived by two sons: David E. Kelley, Jr., and his wife, Donna, of Mt. Home, AR; Mark L. Kelley, and his wife, Lynn, of Van Buren, AR; five grandsons: Jared, Josh, Jonathan, Sean, and Dalton; four great grandchildren: Kayra, Kendall, Beau, and Noah.

What’s The Bootheel?

I guess it’s as much a state of mind as it is a geographical entity.

A Wikipedia entry defines it this way:

The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri, extending south of 36°30′ north latitude, so called because its shape in relation to the rest of the state resembles the heel of a boot.

Strictly speaking, it is composed of Dunklin, New Madrid, and Pemiscot counties.

However, the term is locally used to refer to the entire southeastern lowlands of Missouri located within the Mississippi Embayment, which includes parts of Butler, Mississippi, Ripley, Scott, Stoddard and extreme southern portions of Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.

It starts at the Benton Hills for me

I consider The Bootheel to begin at about MM 82.8 southbound on I-55 just north of Benton. That’s where you leave rolling hills, and gravity takes you down to the flatlands that will carry you all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, more or less.

Mr. Kelley and I drove about 1,200 miles just surveying most of the counties listed above. During that overview, I learned much from his monologues, but shot less than two dozen photos.

I had trouble wrapping my head around the region. It was the very definition of FLAT, with few places to  gain any perspective. On top of that, many of the towns and villages had either disappeared or were in major disrepair.

I’m fond of shooting dying places like coal towns in SE Ohio or Cairo, Ill., but there was a dearth of places where I could feel the vibes of those who had passed through.

Pemiscot County

I can’t figure out how to show what I shot, so I’m going to post a series of random galleries, followed by links to blog posts I’ve done that might or might not put some of the images in context.

Here’s a selection of photos from Pemiscot county. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around. Escape will take you out.

Pemiscot county was where Mr. Kelley and his family raised cotton for many years, and it was the place we talked about the most.

He said that when mechanical cotton harvesters came into common use in the 1960s, the county lost about 85% of its population. When the more skilled workers fled to places like St. Louis, Chicago and Memphis, and the lesser-skilled migrated to the smaller regional towns, the stores dried up for lack of customers. When the stores folded, so did the banks and other businesses.

I felt like I had let Mr. Kelley down because I couldn’t paint a portrait of the area like we both had hoped. It wasn’t until I started looking through all the blog posts I’ve done about the region that I realized that I had been working on this for a long time, even before I met him.

Pemiscot County links

Mississippi County

Dad built roads in Mississippi County, and I’m pretty sure we had our trailer parked in Caruthersville or Portageville at some point.

When I was about 10 years old, he took me to where they were getting gravel delivered by railroad hopper cars. He let me crawl under the cars with a hammer to cause the gravel to fall out onto a conveyor belt that loaded it on trucks.

He told me to stay under the rail car while a bulldozer pushed the next one up into position. “Just keep low and keep your arms and legs between the rails.” Can you imagine what OSHA would say about that today?

Mississippi County links.

Missouri – Arkansas State Line

I was curious to see if the arch was still there. We not only saw the arch, but we had a great lunch at the Dixie Pig in Blytheville. I’m pretty sure that the last time I was in Blytheville before that was in the mid-70s, when I wanted to rent a truck to carry a load of Dutchtown lumber to Florida to build a shed in the back yard.

Renting it one-way from Cape was going to cost a mint, but I found out that Arkansas had a surplus of trucks, and they wouldn’t hit me with a surcharge. The only thing was that I had to be careful of the mileage allowed, and renting in Arkansas, loading in Missouri, and driving to Florida meant I had to find the most direct route possible.

I ended up going on some backroads not normally travelled by tourists. When I gassed up at one tiny station, the kid who serviced me asked, “How much do they pay you to drive that-there truck?”

It was obvious that he had never seen a rental truck or understood the concept of one.

Here is an interesting historical nugget about the Arch area: The area around the arch became known as “Little Chicago” because of the type of activity that went on there. A long-time resident of nearby Yarbo, Arkansas, once said of the arch, “It was a good place to go while the wife and kids were in church.”

Curator Jessica meets the Hwy 61 Arch

Dunklin County

Once I established that I wasn’t some kind of pervert taking pictures of kids (apparently that had happened not long before), I got a friendly welcome from the folks at the Malden High School’s football game. The mosquitoes gave me a great welcome, too.

I also shot a reunion of people who had been stationed at the Malden Airport during World War II, but I never got around writing about it.

Malden’s Green Wave – High School Football at its best

Scott County

I never considered Scott City to be the Bootheel, but the southern parts of it, which include the north edge of Sikeston, qualify.

Scott County links

New Madrid County

I spent a lot of time in the New Madrid area trying to track down people I photographed being baptized in the Mississippi River in 1967. Unfortunately, the exodus from the area after mechanical harvesters arrived caused a lot of them to leave.

I’m going to put the Baptism gallery at the end of the post because it contains so many images.

Lights in the night

Cotton fields look like Christmas decorations.

East Side Cemetery

A day in New Madrid with Jennifer Schwent

1965 Sikeston rodeo with Jim Nabors

More 1965 Sikeston rodeo and Jim Nabors

Old men playing checkers in Matthews

Hornersville in Dunklin County

This was one of the few small towns I was able to find much to document. I was amused to find that my parked car’s dashcam captured me wandering around the street like I was a loose ball in a pinball game.

That drove Mr. Kelley crazy. He couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t just get out of the car, snap a picture, then head out to the next destination.

That impatience eventually brought an end to our collaboration. I left him in the car while I went to chat with an old man at a mostly-abandoned cotton gin. He was a little reluctant to be photographed, but just about the time I had won him over, Mr. Kelley started honking the horn to tell me I was wasting too much time.

After that, I became a solo explorer.

Stoddard County

Most of my time in Stoddard County was spent in Advance, but because we had extended family and friends in the area, I grew up sitting on a lot of front porches hearing and overhearing tall tales about the taming of ‘Swampeast’ Missouri.

Stoddard County links

 

City of Advance in Stoddard County

My mother and grandparents came from Advance. Dad’s construction company once had an office in the Prather Building, along with Welch’s Liquor Store. For awhile, we lived in our trailer parked in my grandparents’ driveway.

Because of that, I have lots of random stories and photos of the town, including some of its mysteries that are still unsolved to this day.

Advance links

New Madrid Mississippi River Baptism

This was one of the last things I shot before transferring to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as a junior in 1967.

Most of the photos I had taken, up until I shot the Smelterville photos and the Baptism, were fairly pedestrian traditional newspaper photos. These two projects were the first time that my “style” started to show up.

I’ve always considered them to be my Missouri “final exam.”

I had hoped to do a Smelterville-type project where I tracked down the people in the photos, but the out-migration brought about by the change in farming methods and markets scattered most of the subjects out of the area.

I WAS able to find Bishop Benjamin Armour, one of the preachers in the river, in 2013.

Images for Easter

Bald Knob Cross near Alto Pass, Ill. taken in the late 1960sSeeing all of the religious pictures on Facebook this week go me to thinking of how many photos of crosses I have taken in the area over the years. Here are just a few, with links to the original stories. You may click on any photo to make it larger.  This is an aerial of the Bald Knob Cross taken not long after it was built.

Egypt Mills Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church in Egypt Mills 04-20-2011Egypt Mills Trinity Lutheran Church steeple.

Joseph Putz Grave

Joseph Putz grave St Johns Lutheran Church Pocahontas 04-19-2011Joseph Putz’s metal grave marker in the St. John’s Lutheran Church cemetery in Pocahontas.

High Hill Church

High Hill Church and Cemetery on CR 535 north of Neely's Landing 10-30-2011This simple church sits high on a ridge north of Neely’s Landing.

“Judas got a raw deal”

Kenneth Saunders of the Church of Judas walks through Cape 07-16-1965Kenneth Saunders walked more than 4,000 miles to deliver the message that “Judas got a raw deal.”

Trinity Lutheran Church at dusk

Trinity Lutheran Church steeple at sunset 11-16-2011I was walking back to my car after shooting another photo when I spotted Trinity Lutheran Church at dusk.

Cape LaCroix Creek marker

Cape La Croix Creek Cross 04-21-2011This concrete cross has a plaque: “In 1699, Fathers Montigny, Davion and St. Cosme, French missionaries, erected a cross where this stream entered the Mississippi and prayed that this might be the beginning of Christianity among the Indians. The stream has ever since been known as Cape La Croix Creek.” The cross, which had been at the intersection of Kingshighway and Kingsway from 1947 to 2009, when it was moved so a commercial building could be built on the site. Ironically, the marker has never been located close to where the Mississippi River and Cape LaCroix Creek intersect.

Dutchtown cemetery

Cemetery on top hill in Dutchtown 10-27-2011This cross is in a tiny cemetery located on a high ridge overlooking the ever-diminishing Dutchtown.

Nelsonville cross on a hill

Nelsonville 02-24-2013I spotted this cross in Nelsonville, Ohio, on my recent trip back to Ohio University.

Modern-art cross

Old Notre Dame High School 11-25-2011At first glance, I thought the front of the old Notre Dame High School had been covered with graffiti.

Tower of Memories

Cape County Memorial Park Cemetery Tower of Memories 11-05-2010Newspaper accounts said the 57-foot tall, 16′ x 16′ Tower of Memories at the Cape County Memorial Park Cemetery would have three stories: the bottom floor would contain an office and the second and third floors would house the Celesta-Vox, touted as “The Voice from the Heavens.”

St. Vincent’s at sunset

St. Vincent's Church at sunset 07-03-2012I was hoping to shoot the full moon and fireworks when St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church caught my eye.

St. Eisleben Lutheran Church

Eisleben Lutheran Church Scott City 10-16-2011The St. Eisleben Lutheran Church in Scott City has one of the most unusual steeples I’ve seen.

Altenburg Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church Altenburg MoAn “inland hurricane” took the steeple off the Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, but you could never tell it today when you look at the 1867 structure..

 

Scott City’s Eisleben Lutheran Church

Who knows how these conversations start? At one point during Mother’s Birthday Season celebration, Brother Mark insisted that Friend Robin Hirsch had been to the Eisleben Lutheran Church in Scott City. I have no idea, nor did Robin, why this would have occurred, but we were soon loaded in the van and headed to Scott City. Mother heard the jingling of the car keys, so she, of course, was on board.

Robin wasn’t ready to concede that she had ever been there before, but she unfolded the extra joint in her arm to document that she and Mark had been there this time. I thought only teenage girls had that extra joint, but it must be a universal female characteristic. Click on any photo to make it larger.

Church has interesting steeple

The church had an unusual steeple and bell tower. I couldn’t tell from the ground if it was steel or some other material.

Church built in 1913

Above the front door is a stone that reads

Ev. Luth. Eisleben

Kirche

Gebaut – 1913

That translates to Evangelical Lutheran Church Built 1913.

There’s not much information on the web about the church. Wikipedia says that the church dates back to 1851.

Past Buried May 1, 2011

There is a curious marker at the foot of a newly-planted tree alongside the main sidewalk. The Past Buried May 1, 2011,” it reads. It would be interesting to know what that means.

Other Scott City stories

Scott City was never my stomping grounds. Here are some stories I’ve done.

Scott City I-55 intersection under construction

A Santa Claus who must have been in a witness protection program

While we were stumbling around, we headed out a road that took us to the SEMO Port where we shot what looked like monster Pick-Up Sticks.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.