Anytime I needed some particular bit of information about Willow Springs or the surrounding area, I knew where to go — I turned to Carl Ferguson. I recall one time I asked him to tell me how to get to the site of ‘Old’ Horton, an early day logging settlement west of Burnham.
Carl replied and sent along a list of names of the postmasters who had served at Horton. (The name was later changed to Cordz.) He gladly shared any information he had with others.
Despite a slow deterioration of strength and health during the last two years, he maintained a great enthusiasm for living and always had several ongoing projects to which he devoted himself. No one was prepared for his sudden death, which occurred on June 28, 1981.
Carl was born December 14, 1896, west of Willow Springs, in Howell County, the son of Thomas Jefferson Ferguson and Missouri Ann (Harris) Ferguson. His maternal grandparents were William and Pamila Jane Harris. William Harris was the first Willow Springs postmaster. Carl was postmaster at Willow Springs 1957-1963. Before becoming postmaster he served as postal clerk and mail carrier on Rural Route 2.
He worked for the post office over forty years.
Carl was what is referred to as a self-educated person. His formal education consisted of attending West Liberty, a rural school, and graduating from the eighth grade in 1912. Some of his earliest manuscripts and cartoons are dated 1911 and 1912. One of his classmates of West Liberty days is Elsie Shenkel Phinney, Willow Springs.
His son, Claude, reminded me that when his dad graduated from the eighth grade he had a firm foundation — a thorough knowledge of arithmetic, language and spelling, and a respect for books of the Masters. He knew how to read well and his parents provided books which encouraged him to read and learn from others. He had a good basic education on which he could build. Carl was a young man, fifteen or sixteen years old, when he finished his formal education that spring of 1912.
When the United States entered the war “to make the world safe for democracy,” Carl volunteered. He became PFC J. Karl Ferguson, member of the Coast Artillery Corp (C.A.C.), and helped defend the harbors where U.S. soldiers and U.S. equipment landed. His parents spelled his name K A R L, but as soon as he returned to the States he had that spelling changed.
Upon his return from World War I, Carl and his brother, Ollis, established a railroad tie-hacking camp to work several sections of land they leased in the Dyestone-Twin Mountain area near Blue Buck Mountain. With several men working the timber, they had wagons making the daily round trip to the tie yard in Willow Springs - double and triple teaming the heavy loads up the road over Tater Hill and Red Hill.
On September 19, 1920 Carl married Mary Willie Boles. Mary’s father was an early day circuit rider Methodist minister, and later pastored in West Plains. Carl and Mary became the parents of four sons.
Carl’s commercial interest in writing and photography dates back to around 1926, when he began writing a column for Outdoor Recreation. This magazine later became Outdoor Life. He wrote for the “Where-to-Go” Department as Ozark editor and also contributed other articles and photographs.
Being a country boy he was used to hunting and fishing. Willow Springs librarian Christine Steele said, “When Carl was a boy he had seen wild turkeys in great flocks; then he lived to see them almost disappear from the Ozark woods. He had known the time when quail were so thick all you had to do was build a corn stalk quail trap and drive in whole coveys.”
He had lived to see the forests ravaged by over-cutting, overgrazing and burning. For these reasons he became an ardent conservationist. He wrote for the local newspapers in the 1920s under the interesting title of “John’s Preaching in the Wilderness” regarding the need for preserving our natural resources. For some of his writing he used the pseudonym “O. Zark”.
When he drew cartoons he used the name “Fergy.”
One time he wrote a fishing story and used himself as one of the characters, but he wrote in third person and signed the article as ‘Jack Ferguson’. Claude pointed out to me, “He gave himself away though because he used the name ‘Fergy’ at the top of each of the pages and the family knew who ‘Fergy’ was.”
Carl had a sharp sense of humor which came through in both his business letters and stories. He also had a forthright temperament and was a strong champion of anything or anyone in whom he believed. He was never intimidated, and always spoke exactly what was on his mind.
He gave his assistance and active participation toward the support of the Willow Springs City Library, Forest and Wildlife Conservation, City Planning Commission, the American Legion, the School Board and the Rotary Club. He joked about being secretary for numerous organizations.
He authored many articles for the Missouri Conservationist, Forest Service publications, Southern Sportsman, Hunter-Trader-Trapper and Outdoor Life. He contributed to the Willow Springs Chamber of Commerce brochure. For some of his articles he received fishing and hunting equipment-rods and reels, waders, guns, etc. - as payment for his work.
Growing up when Carl did meant working for what you wanted. There were no government hand-out programs for the average citizen. If you wanted something you worked to pay for it. This was his wonderful philosophy, which he acted on. He wrote in longhand until he could afford a typewriter, then he continued writing until he paid for that piece of equipment and could purchase a camera.
Much of his photography equipment he made. Then he wrote out how he had done it and mailed the information to a suitable magazine. He could have taken out a patent but preferred to let others benefit from his experience, Claude said. He also did his own darkroom developing and enlarging.
His strong belief in the work ethic led him to return to the farm in 1934 so his boys could grow up raising registered Jersey cows, plus other livestock, and working the soil. This meant more years for the family without electricity and indoor plumbing, which they gave up with the move.
Much could be said about Carl’s patriotism. He was a charter member of the National American Legion for 63 years, 1918-1981. Willow Springs has a fine American Legion building, dedicated in 1939, which is partly due to Carl’s efforts. This building serves the community at large. He was appointed by Governor Donnelly of Missouri as captain of Company 1, 6th Infantry, Missouri State Guard, 1942, and became major, Reserve State Guard, 1946.
It was a matter of pride to Carl that there were family members in every war from the American Revolution to Vietnam. All four sons served their country in World War II and the Korean War. His oldest son, J. Carl Ferguson, Jr., graduated from Annapolis, and grandson Richard, Claude’s son, served as a first lieutenant in Asia during the Vietnam era.
Claude said, “While Dad might have appeared to some to be short on religion, he was long on faith in all men of good will. His tolerance was limited to chiggers-he substituted respect when referring to people. He was a Mason and a Pythian. His guidance was Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”
Anything which would cause him to grow and expand his knowledge, Carl wanted to be a part of. For that reason he became a member of Toastmasters Club, where he gained expertise in public speaking. Perhaps he derived his greatest pleasure, however, from being a member of the Willow Springs Rotary Club.
Rotary President Steve Norman said, “He was an authority on Rotary. He made it interesting for everyone, and his knowledge and leadership is going to be greatly missed. If there was ever a question about protocol, Carl was our source of authority.”
At the last Rotary Auction, Carl opened the bidding with a few interesting remarks. He and rotarian Ed Hamilton shared a special joke about soliciting donations for the auction-Carl was given the windows’ names, and Ed, being a preacher and having the predilection most preachers have for fired chicken, solicited that commodity. It was a camaraderie which everyone in the club enjoyed.
One Rotarian said he enjoyed getting Carl to talking about early days of Willow Springs. He could go on for hours. Carl made the remark recently that he used to enjoy listening to the old-timers telling stories to the younger generation.
Carl was one of the three remaining charter members of that club, which was organized in Willow Springs in October of 1957. Sometime back, the club voted to contribute $100 each toward Carl and the other two, Harry Lovan and Lyle James, becoming sustaining members of the Paul Harris Fellowship. One June 23, five days before his death, Carl drew the other two gentlemen aside and asked if they would mind if he paid the remaining $900 and became a full-fledged member of the Paul Harris Fellowship. The men were glad he planned to bring this honor to the Willow Springs Rotary Club. Memorials have been given toward this goal by friends, and the Ferguson family will make up any deficit so Carl’s dream will be realized.
Carl and Mary celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in September, 1970. She preceded him in death in 1976.
He had just completed having an appropriate monument for his Grandmother Harris places in the Harris Cemetery in Willow Springs and had let the contract for the Civil War record to be lettered on his Grandfather Harris’ monument in the same cemetery.
Now Carl has joined his forefathers and has left a legacy of accomplishment and community contribution unmatched in the history of his native area. And, like them, he will not be forgotten. We will remember Carl Ferguson for many reasons, but most of all because he truly cared about his fellow man.
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