Dig unearths glimpse in Boone County's past

The following originally appeared May 16, 2000, in the Tribune:

1956: Today I picked up rocks, square nails, an 1866 nickel and a rusty grubbing hoe as I dug through ashes remaining after we burned the old log cabin that stood in our yard. It was built facing an unnamed wagon path, which led from Cedar Creek to the early surveyors' "range line." That old road was later replaced by a new, partly graveled road that went behind the cabin. Then the back porch became the front. The backyard became the front yard. The garden, cistern and slave cabin also were in the front.

Slaves here? Yes. The abstract includes this: Item 3d: "I will and bequeath to my daughter Palina, owing to her being a cripple, a Negro girl Minta about age 8 years as a special legacy to be under the management and control of her mother until the said Palina should marry or become of age; furthermore I wish my said daughter to have an equal share of my property ... in addition to the Negro girl Minta, above named." We think our garden is on the site of the slave cabin.

Digging in the ashes, my pickax chipped a piece of pink granite off some big rock below ground level. I couldn't budge that rock and was curious because pink granite is not indigenous to this area.

Chub dug and soon determined that the huge stone was a half-circle, flat on top and was very thick -- a foundation stone for this early 19th century log home. Chub finally brought it out, a perfect half-circle 26 inches across and 10 inches thick!

As I scrubbed off the mud, he shouted, "Hey, this is part of a grindstone for a grist mill!" It was obvious that someone had carefully chiseled a circular grindstone and transported it to Missouri. Years of milling wore the grinding surfaces until it was discarded and cut in half to make a corner stone for the cabin!

Where was the mill? Where is the matching half? Questions came rapidly: Where was this stone quarried? How did it get to Boone County? Who chiseled it into shape? It must date back into early 19th century to have been worn out before our old cabin was built.

Where was the enterprise that crushed wheat, corn and oats into flour and meal? How was it powered? Is the other half of this grinding burr here, too?

Yes, we unearthed the other half that day.

We also found two more pink granite stones -- the top burr. They were the same diameter, but only 7 inches thick. The grooves, notches and hub spaces were there, matching the larger stone. Together they crushed dry grain as it came down from a hopper above. The top burr rotated against the stationary one, crushing the grain. Then the husks and the flour were separated -- husks for farm animals and fine flour for the pioneer kitchen. How long did it take to wear out the grooves on those mill stones? We have few answers.

As I write this in 1956, I'm sitting in the shade of the mulberry tree from which you Robnetts, Crewses and Baumgartners made mulberry pies and jam. I love the whippoorwills you loved. I feel close to you who cut trees from these woods and placed worn grindstones under the corners of your log home. I find broken china pieces in the garden and remember Minta, who was willed to crippled Palina.

I respect you hard-working people who wore out this soil because it was the only way you knew. My generation is trying to improve it for other generations to come. Memories and grindstones are treasures from the past.

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