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Silas Claiborne Turnbo
by Juanita Berly (

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Juanita is a descendent of Silas Turnbo and wrote to me about the misinformation that is displayed on the Turnbo page. I asked her to write me a "real" bio and here's what she has to say. I am indebted to Juanita for making this information available to us.

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Silas Claiborne Turnbo or Claib as he was known was one of Arkansas most prolific writers. He started writing as a young man during the Civil War and continued to write throughout his lifetime. For many years some of his writings have rested in the Springfield-Greene County Public Library, Springfield, Missouri, some are at the School of the Ozarks.

For two decades these writings have been a source of information for many genealogists and historians. Much of his work cannot be verified by historical writings and documents, however, he lived his experiences and the people he interviewed lived them. He was not given to lying and was an honest man so one must think his stories are as true as he knew them to be.

There were two of his books published, Fireside Stories of the Early Days in the Ozarks, S. C. Turnbo, 1904 and Fireside Stories of the Early Days in the Ozarks, Part II. S. C. Turnbo, 1907. The second book burned, after it was published, in the Turnbo house before it could be distributed so therefore, there are very few of these books in circulation.

He wrote news items for many of the local newspapers in the region. While he did not have weekly articles in the newspapers, his stories appeared in the newspapers at Lead Hill, Mena, Harrison, and Yellville, Arkansas. He also had articles in papers at Taneyville, Forsyth, Gainesville, and Kansas City Missouri.

He was prone to say he was uneducated, however, he attended medical school for a short time after the Civil War but had to drop out for lack of funding to continue. He did learn enough that when he returned to his neighborhood he served the community as a mid-wife-doctor under the watchful eye of a friend of his who was a Doctor whose name has long since escaped the family memory. He carried his medical bag with him until his death and it was still complete with equipment at that time even though it had not been used for many years. His medical bag was later misplaced by relatives during a move years after his death.
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From gifts given him by patients, his writing and by farming he was able to provide for his family and while they were not wealthy, they were as prosperous as their neighbors. He would never ask for a fee for his medical services for fear of embarrassing a friend and neighbor who might not have money to pay him.

Claib was born 26 May, 1844 in Taney Co. Missouri to James Turnbough and Felecia Coffee. On 28 January 1865 he married Mary Matilda Holt. They in turn had five children, Liza, George, James, Mary Ann and Fannie, all born in Keesee Co. Arkansas. By the time the last child left home Claib was in very bad health, suffering from congestive heart failure. As a result, Claib and his wife moved in with their daughter, Liza, at Pontiac, Missouri, where they remained for a few years. During this time Claib continued to travel the countryside and write about the history of the area. It was also during this time that he began to make regular trips to the Missouri Confederate Soldiers Home at Higginsville, Missouri. During this time he and Matilda began to visit and stay with some of their other children.

He sent work to William E. Connelley in the hopes of having more of his work published as Connelley had expressed an interest in the work Claib was doing and remarked that he liked the hunting stories Claib wrote about. Through the years there were many correspondences.

His son James Fielding Turnbo had homesteaded at Montoya , New Mexico. It was during a visit there in 1913 that his correspondence with William E. Connelley reached a peak. He begged Connelley to pay him for his work, stating he was in need of funds in the hope that Connelley would go ahead and pay for the work he had sent him.

Privately Claib told family members he was afraid that Connelley had taken his work for his own use and that he would never be paid for the work he had done. He continued to write from memory the stories he had heard while in New Mexico and his grandchildren remember that he would sit under a tree along the driveway and write in his notebook. They said that he was never without his writing tablet and that he would often begin writing at the spur of the minute. While he continued to write he had given up on any hope of seeing more of his work published in book form.
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From New Mexico he went back to Arkansas. It was on one of these visits that he called upon the family of Riddles. He walked up to the gate where Era Morse was playing. He asked her to go get her grandmother. She did not recognize this bearded stranger and was reluctant to do that because she remembered the story about a stranger asking a girl to get her father and when she did and he came to the door the stranger shot the girl's father. She said as she hesitated it was as if he had read her mind and he said "Go get your grandmother sister, I'm not going to shoot her."

As a result she ran for her grandmother who was washing dishes in the kitchen. As she dried her hands she asked what the stranger looked like and Era described him. She said her grandmother screamed, "It's my brother." and ran for the door. Era said her grandmother literally threw herself into her Uncle Claib's arms. Era described him as being a neat little man with a full beard and a kindly, polite manner. She said he walked with a walking staff wherever he went. His grandchildren said they often "decorated" this staff with feathers, beads, and pretty stones until it would be cluttered, then one day all the decorations would disappear and they would start the "decorating" all over again.

By December 1918 the family of James Turnbo had left New Mexico and moved across the road from Faith and Mary Jones north of Bixby, Oklahoma at the community known as Pumpkin Center. It was to here that Claib came. He was often very sick by then. His wife moved in with the Jones family. She too, was in failing health.

When Matilda got sick in 1922 Claib had gone to Arkansas for one of his unexpected visits on the family there. She died 27 June 1925 and was buried in the Park Grove Cemetery at Broken Arrow Oklahoma. Claib could not be found and did not know of his wife's death until after she was buried and he returned to Oklahoma.

By this time his health was further deteriorated and he sat and wrote, often pausing to play with the grandchildren. They would comb his beard and comb his hair. He would tell them stories and rock them in his rocking chair.

In March 1925 he got particularly bad and the family took time about sitting up with him. He eventually recovered from that spell, and again began his routine of rocking the children and telling them stories. It was during one such session on 27 March 1925, when my Mother Martha Turnbo Head was sitting on his lap, that he told her "Get down sister and let Grandpa rest a minute." she got down and sat on the floor at his feet playing when he gave a slight cough and died. He had requested that the family take him to the cemetery in a wagon, so despite the convenience and availability of vehicles to take him to the cemetery a group of wagons escorted his body to Park Grove Cemetery in Broken Arrow, OK and he was laid to rest at the side of his wife of so many years.
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Because the family felt his work had been stolen from him they decided to let the rest of his work go to the grave with him. They put his writings all together and wrapped then in an oilcloth, which was then put on top of his coffin. While they believed the work was good they were determined to not give it to anyone and did not think they could sell it since there had been such bad luck trying to sell his other work and they knew of no one else other than Connelley to try to sell the work to.

By the time Connelley died in 1930 he had given much of his acquisitions to the Kansas Historical Society. He still had a big collection of rare books and other items including the Turnbo Papers. His wife held an estate auction to dispose of these things. These Papers were sold to unknown purchasers. However, some became the property of H.M. Sender Book Shop, in Kansas City. It has not been determined if he bought these at the auction or from some other person who had bought them at the Auction.

From this location J.N. Heiskell purchased the history of the 27th Arkansas Infantry. Though Yale University offered to buy the Papers he refused to sell them. In 1985 these Papers were transferred to the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. In 1987 Desmond Walls Allen, a descendant of Silas Claiborne Turnbo used these papers to publish the stories in various books. She published "History of the Twenty-seventh Arkansas Confederate Infantry" in 1988.

E.E. Dale bought the papers on the 27th Arkansas from Frank Glenn in 1947. These Oklahoma Papers were typewritten and are the forerunner of the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma and are a part of the Phillips Collection.

Mrs. Eldora Farley of Kansas City, Kansas sold a typewritten copy of Turnbo's 27th Arkansas history to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1967. These Papers are now a part of the William E. Connelley collection in the manuscripts department.
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Marvin Tong, a Gainesville, Missouri newspaper publisher, with the help of Ken Shuck, Director of the Springfield Art Museum, got together a seven hundred and fifty dollar budget to buy some of the Turnbo papers from Sender's Kansas City Book Shop. Shuck had the librarian type up the papers in their spare time.

The "Ozarks Mountaineer" received permission to print some of these stories. They printed several over a four year period.

Eventually the Springfield Art Museum and the Springfield-Greene County Library reached an agreement and the Library took over the collection in 1977.

Marvin Tong gave copies of the Turnbo Papers to Lyons Memorial Library, School of the Ozarks, and to the Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas.

His writings are invaluable for genealogists and historians. They may cause an English teacher to cringe, but they are written with clarity and simplicity, in the language of the day. There is no doubt that this collection of writings will become more important as time goes on. There is definitely no way that anyone alive today could amass the history contained in these Papers.
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