German cradle scythe is illustrated in a painting by Ernst Henselear (1852-1940) Wikipedia
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In 1877, John Henry Clapper was a woodworker by trade, living near the station that bore his family’s name, located on the M.K.&T. Railroad line through Monroe County.
He worked as a wagon maker, but he had one particular specialty when it came to woodworking. His grain cradles were a favorite of farmers near Paris.
At the end of June 1877, he delivered 18 hand-made grain cradles to Paris, where the newspaper reported that they sold like hotcakes.
A half century later, the Rev. Dr. Charles Francis Richmond, a retired minister of Paris, wrote his memories of the early days of hay harvesting in that region, and his story was printed in the Paris Mercury newspaper. Rev. Richmond, a teen at the time of the harvests that he wrote about, was so impressed with Clapper’s grain cradles that he included this story in his memories:
“Every farmer was proud to own a new Clapper cradle. Cradles of other makes could be bought at the stores, but they were neither so strong nor well balanced as the Clapper cradles, neither were they so pleasant to use.”
A grain cradle is a modification to a standard scythe to keep the cut grain stems aligned. The cradle scythe has an additional arrangement of fingers to catch the cut grain so that it can be cleanly laid down in a row with the grain heads aligned for collection and efficient threshing. (Wikipedia)
Best cradlers around
According to Rev. Richmond, the best wheat cradlers of the era were John Gillespie and John Maxwell. “They were both rugged, powerful men, little learned in books, but knowing farm work with a thoroughness which comes only from lifelong practice,” Richmond wrote. “Three good cradlers could cut our wheat in a day. These would fall into place in a formation like that of wild geese flying, either John Maxwell or John Gillespie leading off. Behind each cradler was a binder, keeping just far enough back to avoid being struck by the flying cradle.”
On smaller farms, neighbors helped neighbors with the harvest. At noon, worked stopped and the men sat down to a meal prepared by the women. Rev. Richmond described the scene when he was a teen:
“Chicken feathers were flying, skillets were sizzling, hot things from the oven smoking. And when the blessed noontide arrived the hungry workers would sit down to great pikes of golden brown chicken, platters of ham, vegetables, fruit, strong coffee, steaming hot biscuits, and stacks of the much adored pie. Oh, how good everything tasted. What enormous appetites. But food eaten under such circumstances seldom hurts. Hard work and lively company are enemies of indigestion.”
Who lived at Clapper?
Names associated with the Clapper region of Monroe County crop up in newspaper articles of the day.
John S. Wathen, who earlier operated a grocery store in Hannibal, by 1874 had settled down on a farm located two miles from the Clapper station.
In 1875, D.K. Garman of Clapper, previously of Hannibal, delivered a crop of wheat – via M.K.&T railroad - to the Eagle Mills in Hannibal, netting $1.05 per bushel.
In 1877, Mr. Buckman of Clapper hired Alf. Freeman to put a roof on his house. Before the job was finished, Mr. Freeman was found deceased upon the roof.
The same year, Professor Townsend Wright Jr., opened a private school at Clapper, enrolling 40 young scholars. Miss Lulu Ashcraft was hired as teacher.
In the spring of 1877, there were three business houses in Clapper: one drug and grocery store; and two stores carrying dry goods and groceries. One of the dry goods stores was operated by Messrs. Spinkle and Robins, who had recently moved their shop from Shelbina. The town physician was Dr. T.B. Luck.
The Hannibal Clipper released the names of Clapper residents subscribing to the newspaper: Thomas Williams, Thomas Hardwick, J.H. Priest and J.F. Styles.
J.J. Bick was postmaster at Clapper for some 15 years.
In 1880, Robert Parsons sold his 105-acre farm near Clapper Station to Patrick Burns and Mr. Markham for $17 per acre.
Charles F. Richmond, the author of the essay that was published in the Paris Mercury in 1928, was born Jan. 11, 1859, in Monroe County. He was the son of Joshua and Angie (Cook) Richmond. Rev. Richmond was educated at Westminster College, where he earned both his A.B. and D.D. degrees. He spent much of his life as a minister at Paris. He died at the age of 80 in 1939, and is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in Fulton, Mo.
John H. Clapper
The woodworker who made the well-regarded hay cradles was the son of Henry Clapper (born about 1807), who was among the earliest settlers in the area. John Clapper moved to Montana, where he died at the age of 83 on Oct. 31, 1916. He is buried at Laurel Cemetery in Yellowstone County, Mont.
For more information on the history of grain harvesting:
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. In retirement, she researches and writes narratives regarding the people who contributed to this region’s development. Her collective work can be found on her website, www.maryloumontgomery.com
The 1876 atlas of Monroe County, Mo., shows the route of the M.K.&T Railroad as it ran between Clapper Station and Stoutsville. ILLUSTRATION BY MARY LOU MONTGOMERY