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Chapter One Early Years Harry s. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in the farm village of Lamar, Missouri, 120 miles south of Kansas City. The time was four o'clock in the afternoon, the place the small white frame house of his parents. His father and mother had married two and a half years before, and Harry was the second child-the first, also a boy, had been stillborn. Such were the vital statistics, and behind their barrenness lay still other aridities. The scene that spring day in Missouri more than a century ago comes easily to mind: Lamar was a village of seven hundred people, made up of retired farmers and merchants who catered to farmers; the streets were arranged in regular fashion, lined by rows of houses with alleys and horse barns behind; at the center of the village stood the courthouse, on a square, around which the stores arranged themselves, facing each other, a motley assemblage, with their false fronts vying for attention. And away in all directions stretched the landscape of Missouri, which, like so much of the American Middle West, does not make the heart leap up: uninspiring countryside, most of it rolling fields, as far as the eye can see. When the child Harry Truman lived in Lamar the land raised wheat and corn, oats for horses and mules, and clover to rest the ground and, like oats, feed work animals. Dirt roads ran north and south, east and west, laid out to mark the square miles so readily discernible from an airplane window today; the Ordinance of 1785 had organized the Northwest Territory that way, and Missouri followed the pattern. Houses and barns fronted the roads, and every half-dozen miles was a village that looked like the preceding one. Near the center of each county a traveler encountered another village like Lamar, with a square, within which rose another courthouse. Missouri had, and still has, 114 counties. The picture is deceptive. Missouri scenery may be beautiful only to the native beholder, but this does not mean Missourians lack imagination to do important things, as Truman proved in his lifetime. Indeed, nondescription is an advantage: if the commonplaces of Missouri offer no feasts to the eye, they 1 2 / Harry S. Truman serve to concentrate the mind. And Missouri has another advantage. Kansas City, near which Harry Truman spent the first fifty years of his life, lies almost in the geographical center of the United States. In that sense, the perspective is perfect. 1 The roster of Truman's forebears reached back into the eighteenth century , beyond which the lineage, like that of most Americans, was suspect. None of his known ancestors offered any evidence that the child of 1884 would become a national and international figure, his name a household word. Among the later president's more remote relatives, several possessed personalities that stood out, although not remarkably so; most families can discover such relatives on their family trees. Truman's great-grandmother on his father's side, Nancy Drusilla Tyler Holmes, born in Kentucky in 1780, married Jesse Holmes in 1803 and went out to Missouri with her husband, who died in 1840. Thereafter she moved from house to house of her children. Wherever she went she carried her husband's tall beaver hat, in its original box. Nancy Holmes's father had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and his absences left her mother with a household of children and slaves, whom the mother sometimes had to defend against the Indians. Once she drove the Indians from the door, only to have them try to come down the chimney; she smoked them out by stuffing a featherbed in the fireplace. Reportedly Nancy one time was scalped, and survived by lying still. A photograph taken in old age showing her with lace bonnet wrapped tightly around her head seems to offer credence to the story, though in actual fact there was no truth to it; the Truman family genealogist, Cousin Ethel Noland, eventual owner of the bonnet photograph, inquired of her mother, Aunt Ella, who lived to the age of ninety-nine. Ella said that as a young girl she had combed the long beautiful hair of Nancy, who died in 1874.1 The later president liked to say that Nancy Holmes's maiden name of Tyler related the family to President John Tyler. "One of Tyler's father's brothers moved to Kentucky,// he wrote, "and my...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826260451
Related ISBN
9780826210500
MARC Record
OCLC
533178060
Pages
519
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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