The Hickmans of Missouri
Hope A. Hilton
While serving as a Central States L.D.S. Missionary in 1947 I was assigned to work in Kirksville, Missouri, Adair County. Little did I suspect that I was walking roads that my great-grandfather, William Adams Hickman, his father, and grandfather had trod. One Sunday afternoon in April, our Branch President, Bruce Leavitt, took my companion and me for a ride in the "Illinois Bend" area, southwest of Kirksville. It was a place of wild beauty, rivers, and streams, everywhere luxuriant growth seemed entwined in green profusion. Occasionally we passed an isolated clapboard farm house invariably in need of new paint. Wanting to add to our knowledge of Mormon history in the area, Bruce told of the men sitting on their porches when he was young, in the still of a summer evening--for Bruce was raised on the most isolated of farms in the area--and talked of news or history, or just plain neighborly gossip. Sometimes the talk would drift to the religious, then a couple of older gentlemen would invariably comment about "the two Hickman boys who had years before disgraced their family living in the 'Illinois Bend' area by running away and joining the Mormons." As I listened in 1947 to this recital of events that had occurred in this beautiful area years before, I wondered about those two brave boys who had the courage to become Mormons when Missourians hated Mormons. Never did I dream they were ancestors of mine, for my family history said my ancestors by the name of Hickman came from Kentucky where one was a famous preacher.
In 1959 when the words of Bruce Leavitt, twelve years before, kept coming into my mind, I proved that the Hickmans of Utah and Idaho were not descendants of the Reverend William Hickman of Fayette, County, Kentucky. But if not from him, who were they descended from? I decided to go to Missouri and try if I could <p.122> to pick up the threads of our Hickman family, as Mrs. Leona Peck, a granddaughter of Bill's younger brother Easom, living in Colorado said she knew they had lived in Huntsville, Missouri. I also had been given a copy of Brigham's Destroying Angel in 1952 by Dr. John Olson, a physician in Chicago, Illinois, who was a student of Mormon history but not a member of the Church. Brigham's Destroying Angel talked about Bill's early life in Missouri, he had been born in Kentucky, but it was the dirt of northeast Missouri that had nurtured him and caked his boots with its thick mud. Could those "two boys" of the "Illinois Bend" area be my ancestors? Bruce heard I was going and he came to visit me from his new home in Arizona. His advice, "Contact Charlie Lee, he's the oldest man in the area, he'll know about the Hickmans and their history." So I drove to Adair County, Missouri From my Salt Lake City, Utah home with my four children to the area where 12 years before I'd been a missionary. On highway HH west of La Plata, in the area known locally as "Illinois Bend", I found Charlie Lee. He was a most friendly farmer, and the most prosperous in the area. He got in my car and we went down the road with him as the guide. I was disappointed to learn he had never heard the story of "the two Mormon boys who ran away to become Mormons." He told me that he and his wife were devoting the remaining years of their lives to the discovery and preservation of old family graveyards in the "Illinois Bend" area. He pointed out three such small burial plots he had beautified. We searched in vain for the name Hickman on any of the old markers, none were so labeled. He said his farm of 40 acres had originally belonged to a Jane Hickman but he knew nothing of this woman as he had purchased the land years later from subsequent owners. I returned to my La Plata motel dejected, my quest seemed ended in disappointment.
The next day my children and I visited Bruce Leavitt's elderly mother in Kirksville, north of La Plata. I told her that Charlie Lee had suggested I call the Kirksville City Police to learn if they knew where I could contact a Mr. Freddy Musick. It seemed that Mr. Lee could think of only one person who might still be alive who would know more about the old history of the <p.123> "Illinois Bend" area than he did. Mrs. Leavitt recoiled at the mention of the words "Freddy Musick." "Why he's the town drunk, you can't talk to him, he won't know nothing. Anyway he's crazy. If you'd see him you'd know to be afraid of him. He's like a giant, and he always wears overalls, his brain isn't all right." With such a generous description of Freddy I was all but persuaded to avoid this character. Mrs. Leavitt could see my disappointment, she pointed to the telephone and said, "Go ahead, call the police, they might have him in jail again." She gave me the number, a nice masculine voice responded. I said, "I want to talk to Freddy Musick, but I don't know where to find him and I've come all the way from Utah to speak with him."
After a pause the voice said, "He's in Nursing Home #3 in East Kirksville."
It was time to leave Kirksville if I was to meet my husband Lynn in Quincy, Illinois at a scheduled rendezevous. There seemed no time left to talk to a crazy giant in a nursing home. I wanted to feed my children before starting to drive the many miles that lay ahead that day. We chose a familiar park to eat our store purchased "brunch" in, a park I had walked by in 1947 at least three or four times a week. Suddenly I realized how close Nursing Home #3 was to the park, "Why not go?" Even if Freddy proved to be crazy, and ignorant, at least I could leave Kirksville knowing I had tried but failed. I quickly urged the children to finish their sandwiches in the car and drove three blocks to a large old imposing three story mansion, its lost elegance gone, and badly in need of paint, it looked forlorn and deserted. The front entrance was dwarfed by a broad case of dilapidated steps in need of repair. As we drove up the circular drive, a huge man in bib overalls began to descend the creaky stairs. Unless all old men in Missouri are giants and wear coveralls this has to be Freddy Musick, I reasoned, and I so addressed him.
"Where did I know you from?" came his startled reply. <p.124> I asked him if he remembered the Edwin Temple Hickman family in the "Illinois Bend" area. He assured me he did. Excitedly I asked him to come in my car to show me where they had lived. He said he had been raised on the neighboring farm to the Hickman place which was now known as the Jonathello Hawkins Farm, before that it was the Johnny Atteberry Farm, and before that it was the Edwin T. Hickman Farm.
"We used to call him 'Grandpa Eddie' (6), when I was a boy," he said. "He was so old, I remember his long white hair and wrinkled face, he had two boys who went bad--they both run away and joined up with them Mormons out in Utah."
I could scarcely believe the words falling from his lips. He wasn't crazy, he was recalling details long forgotten by everyone else, tales and experiences from his childhood, 82 years before.
"What were their names, I mean the names of the two boys who ran away?"
"Well, I recall my Daddy talking about it when I was a little shaver, they was named George and Bill (7). That's it, I remember how my Daddy used to talk about those two boys running off that way."
Again I urged him to get in my car so we could drive the 30 miles to La Plata and he could point out the Hickman farm. He declined, offering instead to draw me a map so I could find the area easily. I told him of my contact with Charlie Lee the day before. He answered, "Charlie Lee ain't old enough to remember the Hickmans, he's only sixty-eight." He then proceeded to draw a detailed map of where the Hickman farm house used to be located.
"Same spot as the present house stands on", he said. "Grandpa Eddie homesteaded that farm before the Civil War. He built a two-story log cabin right where the present house now stands, the log cabin burned down years ago, around 1870, a couple of years before I was born. Another house was built. It burned down too, same spot. Then they built the present house. They's buried right here, you'll find the stones of Eddie and Elizabeth right here," he said, pointing to his <p.125> rough map with a gnarled finger.
"There's another Hickman graveyard on the Jane Hickman farm owned by Charlie Lee, I've seen the stones many times in the past, I'm sure you'll find them if you look. A few years ago people came from Iowa and dug up many of the graves and moved them to other places."
I told him he was talking about knowing my great-great-grandfather, "Eddie." He seemed pleased to have been of help, then a serious look came onto his face, "Can I tell you somethin' that might hurt your feelings?", he cautiously asked. I nodded "Yes", having no idea what he could possibly want to tell me, then he said, "Grandpa Eddie owned slaves. My Mama always told me that 'Grandpa Eddie' treated his slaves good, they left him after the war but he never beat them or overworked them like some folks did."
I asked him if he could remember anything else about the Hickmans but he said he couldn't, so we parted and I drove as fast as I legally could out to see Charlie Lee again.
Take me to the Jonathello Hawkins Farm", I said, "That's where the Hickmans are buried and where they used to live." He expressed his doubts, saying he and his wife had been over the whole area, there were no graves on the Atteberry or present Hawkins farm. About a mile down the road, Charlie said, pointing his finger, "There's the place."
I stopped the car in front of a white frame house graced by the customary front porch with swing. It was sitting on a peaceful green knoll, no neighboring farm houses near. Guided by Freddy's map I walked to a low white fence some 200 feet from the house, there was a broken piece of a tombstone lying against the fence. I brushed off the dirt and read the words, "Elizabeth, wife of Edwin T. Hickman, Died 5 Dec. 1877, 84 Yrs. 1 Mo. 20 d. By this time the farm owner's wife Mrs. Hawkins, came to see what I was doing in her yard. With tears in my eyes I said, "This is the tombstone of my great-great-grandmother mending a hole in the fence of your pig pen. She could see my concern, she added, "There's another piece inside the pen, and a third piece in the barn, <p.126> you can have them if you want, we didn't know what to do with them."
Charlie Lee had witnessed the whole event with a stare of surprise. He said incredulously, "My wife and I have searched this whole area, we never knew there were people buried here, we would have fixed it up, it's our hobby."
I could scarcely believe my good fortune, to me it was almost sacred ground, the search for my "roots" had begun in earnest. The records of Adair and Randolph Counties, Missouri, Warren County, Kentucky, Stokes and Surry Counties, North Carolina lay ahead. This was the miracle needed to spur me on. That evening as I joined my husband in Illinois I was very happy.
Before leaving Kirksville I drove back to see Bruce Leavitt's mother and recounted what had happened. Never again would she speak unkindly of Freddy Musick, she even mailed me a small clipping from the Kirksville newspaper years later announcing the death of Freddy in 1963 in Nursing Home #3, at the age of 86.
What caused the actions of George and Bill (7), 121 years before to be remembered so long among the resident farmers of the Illinois Bend area? George and Bill by unusual circumstances in life had broken with accepted behavior and become Mormons. Missourians and Mormons made strange bedfellows. Reared in a Mormon home in California I regularly attended Sunday School as a child. I grew up picturing "Missourians" as people with horns, black skins, pitchforks and guns. This was years before I knew that Missouri blood ran in my veins. The terrible deeds done to the early Mormon Church members by the Missourians was only erased in the late 1940s when by chance I was called to serve my L.D.S. Mission there.
Bill Hickman (7) was born in Warren County, Kentucky, 16 April 1815, came to Missouri in 1819 with his parents and three younger siblings when he was about four years of age. He was a "Missourian" in all but birthplace. His brother George, also to become a Mormon, was born and raised in Missouri.
William "Bill" Adams Hickman (7), was age 23 in 1838, the year he "ran away and joined the Mormons," who were then gathering in Caldwell and Davies Counties, Missouri. They were unpopular and a ragtail populace if ever one existed, they <p.127> came tramping, dusty and hungry, some were sick, on the road in front of Bill's farm in Randolph County, Missouri, on their way from Ohio to Caldwell County, for two years. He spoke with many of them, first out of curiosity and then from conviction as his heart told him they were right in their beliefs, and sadly in need of a protector.
Bill was ten years older than his brother George Washington Hickman, who didn't "run away" until he was almost 31 to come to Utah where he joined his brother in 1856.
No doubt Bill Hickman was an unusual man, one of the most colorful frontiersmen, and one of the most controversial men to ever come to Utah as a Mormon. What made him leave his farm of 320 acres in Randolph County, in 1838 and cast his lot with a persecuted and unpopular religious group fleeing to Illinois? Selling his farm at a loss he took his wife, Bernetta, and four small children and followed the persecuted Mormons to Nauvoo, Illinois after Lillburn W. Boggs, the Governor issued his "Extermination Order" against the hated Mormons. He left parents, in-laws, friends, and farm to face the uncertainties ahead in Illinois. In his own words he gives the reason:
"Some eight or ten months after I was married, I joined the Methodist Church, which my wife belonged to when we were married. I lived a quiet and religious life, making theology my principal study. I investigated every religious belief I had ever heard of and among the balance Mormonism, which I had supposed was trivial and trashy, but soon found I was mistaken. I continued to investigate it for two years. I lived on the road which the Mormons traveled from Kirtland, Ohio to Western Missouri, and had almost daily opportunities to talk with them. Being thoroughly convinced they were right, I joined them in the spring before they left Missouri (1838). This was a great task for me. I had a good standing in Society; the Mormons were very much disliked by the Missourians, and there was much sorrow expressed by friends and relatives for my joining them."
--Brigham's Destroying Angel, p.35
The ruggedness of life on Missouri's frontier in 1819, two years before statehood, is attested to by Bill in <p.128> his autobiography where he tells of an encounter with a wild boar and his killing it in his youth with the help of his dog and a pocketknife, and killing a full-grown panther which his dogs had attacked. As a young lad he loved sports, hunting, and fishing, but scarcely ever fought with neighbor boys, being strictly raised by a quiet father and mother.
--Hope A. Hilton, Edwin and Elender Webber Hickman,
Some Progenitors and Descendents. Early Pioneers of
Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Utah,
3rd Edition, 1978, pp. 121-128.
Hope Hilton passed away 26 October 1999.
Though he had married into the family, her
husband Lynn remains a dedicated Hickman.
He can be contacted at the following address:
Lynn M. & Nancy Hilton
40 N. State Street, Apt. 8B
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
You can send him an email by clicking here. To see a map showing Edwin T. Hickman's farm (a red "+") click here. To learn more about Edwin Temple Hickman, click here. To learn more about Elizabeth Adams Hickman, click here. To learn more about William Adams Hickman, click here. To learn more about George Washington Hickman, click here. To return to the Hickman Family index page, click here.