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The Story of the Gooch Family Cemetery, Linn County, MO


POLITICS CARRIED TO GRAVE

The Kansas City Times, Monday September 30, 1985

By James J. Fisher
(KCT Editors Note - James J. Fisher is a columnist for the Kansas City Times and the following appeared in his column a couple of weeks ago. Following publication of the column, Robert Shanks brought some information he called "the rest of the story", and asked that we publish it along with the column.)

Browning, Mo. - "Whatīs this?" Isabelle Gooch demanded. Mrs. Gooch, 84, had a sharp edge in her voice. She was standing in the Gooch family cemetery south of here glaring at a weathered tombstone.

"Thatīs not the letter īSī, is it?" she asked. It wasnīt. Thank heaven. Just the wind and rain and snow over these years that had worn a small indentation in front of the name "Hanks."

"Well, thatīs fine," Mrs. Gooch said, seemingly relieved that nobody had made a mistake. The Hankses are buried on the west side of the Gooch cemetery. Across the way, on the east and separated by a clearly marked 35 feet, are the Shankses. On each side, of course, are the markers of the Gooches.

Thomas S. Gooch and kin are buried on the east. William G. Gooch and kin on the west. Which isnīt all that suprising. Families are usually clustered in cemeteries. But here, three miles south of Browning, which straddles the Sullivan-Linn county line, is something else.

Something that could happen only in Missouri, where politics, at least years ago, fueled passions of its own. The graves on the east are Republican graves. Those on the west are Democratic resting places.

"Oh, you could look it up," said Mrs. Gooch, who lives in Trenton, Mo. "It was in Ripleyīs Believe It Or Not."

The Gooch cemetery is a pretty one. But small. Maybe 60 graves. The cemetery land was donated 120 years ago by Thomas Shelton and William Greenup Gooch, brothers. They loved this land. That is sure. William G., in fact, named a daughter Missouri Linn after his adopted state and county.

Years ago a narrow path went through the middle of the cemetery. Widened to a road, it now bends around the west side. Where the old path was, and on each side for several feet, there are no graves. Thatīs the demarcation line between the two parts of the cemetery.

When the burials started here something called the Civil War started, to. William G. took the "secesh" point of view. Three sons of Thomas S. marched with Sherman. And, as Mrs. Gooch told it, a reconciliation of sorts occurred after the war. The Gooches werenīt at each otherīs throats. There was no blood feud. But there were arguments - long and strident arguments that lasted into the 20th century. The rights and wrongs of "The War" carried over to the good and evil of the Missouri Republican or Democratic parties.

Mrs. Gooch recalled: "Oh, everybody got along. But they argued. I was a Haley and married Forrest Gooch. His father was Charley. Charleyīs father was William G. Oh, the arguments! Always over politics. Or the family and politics. Which side was right. Heavens, if a cat ran across the yard, Charleyīd claim relation and include it in his argument for the Democrats." So it was all friendlylike except for the political disputes.

Except when it came time to be planted under Godīs green earth. Then the various Gooches and Calhoons and Hankses and Gilmers and Carters and Shankses used the ultimate argument. They literally chose sides.

Mrs. Gooch said there hadnīt been a burial in the cemetery since 1968. No matter. The cemetery is neat as a pin, mowed and clipped, its fence standing straight. And, because of the natural order of things, Robert and Richard Shanks, 78-year-old twins from Browning - kin to Thomas S. - tend the east side. But only the east side.

And J.I. Purdin, now in his 80s, whoīs on the William G. side of the family, and hails from down the road at Purdin, Mo., tends the west side. But only the west side.

* * *

The Rest of the Story

A few hundred yards down the slope of the west side of the Gooch Graveyard lies another graveyard where the slaves of William G. Gooch were buried.

We, the children of John and Gertrude (Gooch) Shanks walked by these two graveyards every morning and evening attending school at the Gooch School. The negro graveyard held a special attraction for us as negros were quite uncommon in our community. A small ditch ran through the place and we could see the mounds on either side, men on the west and women on the east. Each grave had a flat stone marker with names on them. I can remember a few names: Big Annie, Little Jake, Cripple Ike, Old granny and Big Pete. (We would put our ear down on the mound and we believed we would hear the faint strains of "Marching Through Georgia." Now I can find no trace of anything.

A short distance south on another knoll still stands an old persimmon tree. Eight slave cabins stood near this tree. Each evening after a hard days work, the slaves would eat the persimmons that had fallen.

West of the Gooch home W.G. built, the Gooch Schoolhouse where each day he taught school for his own fifteen children and other neighborhood children. At night he taught the three Rīs to the negro children.

When the slaves were not tending tobacco they were burning brick in the brick kiln on the farm. Bricks were loaded into wagons, hauled to Brunswick, put on flatbed boats and sent down river to various places. Many a southern mansion was built with Gooch brick.

William G. was good to his slaves and when the Civil War was over, he freed all his slaves and gave them a team and wagon to leave in. Eight men left and got as far as Laredo [Laredo is in Grundy County, about 14 miles west of Browning-ed.] when cold, wet, hungry and lost, they returned. They told W.G. that if the country was as large east as it was west, this was sure a large nation. William G. let his slaves work for him for wages until they found a place to work. Now all I can find is the cement cellar which stands where the Gooch house was and the lone persimmon tree which stands as a silent sentinel of an era gone by.

Robert Shanks

* * *

The Shanks twins, Robert and Richard are named after their two grandfathers. Robert William is named for William Gooch, who marched with General Sherman from Atlanta to the Sea. Richard is named for Richard Hezekiah Shanks, who fought with General Lee.

* * *

The twins Robert William Shanks and Richard Hezekiah Shanks [my great uncles] are named for their grandfathers who were William Henry Clay Gooch and Hezekiah Lyon Shanks. William H.C. Gooch did serve in the Union and was involved in Shermanīs March to the Sea. We have not been able to find any military record Confederate or Union for Hezekiah L. Shanks.

Susan C. Cosgrove, sus57@stlnet.com


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Larry Flesher, Washington County, MO  lflesher@fidnet.com