Manford Clay Miller: Adair County, Missouri

By Jo Anne (Jody) Miller Bresch

Manford Clay Miller was born to Thomas H. Miller and Laura Emily (Emma) Fuson December 31, 1908. He died May 3, 1992. Manford C. Miller, age 83, of La Plata, Missouri, formerly of the Gifford community, passed away Sunday morning, (May 3, 1992) in the Kirksville Manor Care Center.

He was also preceded in death by four brothers, Ernest, Vernon, Andrew, and Roscoe Miller; three sister,s Ethel Miller, Alice Walters, and Cynthia Miller; and one niece, Lenora LaFond.

Mr. Miller was survived by one sister-in-law, Gladys Miller, of La Plata; four newphews, Nolan Miller, of Ottumwa, Iowa; Dean Redmon, of Ottumwa, Iowa: C.E. Miller, of Moberly, Missouri; and Edwin Miller, of La Plata, Missouri, eight nieces, Dorothy Cook, of LaPlata, Missouri; Beulah Kuligowski, of New Port Richey, Florida; Margie Warren, of La Plata, Missouri; Wilma Grissom, of Kirksville, Missouri; Jewell Burnett, of Columbia, Missouri; June Anderson of Tuscon, Arizona; Bertha Easley, of La Plata, Missouri; and Donna Burnett, of La Plata, Missouri.

Mr. Miller raised his niece and newphew, Dorothy, Cook and Nolan Miller, in his home.

He was a lifelong resident of the Gifford Community where he farmed and was renowned for his registered angus cattle herd. He served as secretary of the Indian Hills Cemetery for several years and was a member of the Gifford Christian Church.

Funeral services were held on Tuesday, (May 5, 1992) at the Travis Funeral Chapel, in La Plata, Missouri, with the Rev. Terry Hunsaker, of Kirksville, Missouri, officiating. Nusic was provided by Jody Bresch, of Ottumwa, Iowa, singing "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art", accompanied by Shirley Matticks, organist.

Burial was in the Indian Hills Cemetery, north of Gifford, Missouri. Pallbearers were Nolan Miller, Larry Cook, C.E. Miller, Gary Belfield, Dean Slaughter, and David Gunnells.

As children growing up, my sister, Marion, and I, and then Marjie and Deb, we spent many weekends on the Miller Family Farm in Adair County Missouri, a few miles from LaPlata, MO. By the time I was born the only two family members still living there were Aunt Ethel and Uncle Manford. I suppose you could say they were an old maid and a bachelor, a sister and a brother. Aunt Ethel taught school for many, many years before retiring to the farm, and Uncle Manford took over the management of the farm when his father, Thomas Harrison Miller, took ill and died. Thomas built the house they grew up in and lived in their whole lives. My cousins and I had, at one time, come up with the date it was built, maybe the year Manford was born, December 31st, 1908.

It's crazy the notions kids get in their heads. I remember thinking Uncle Manford had one of those German moustaches. Maybe he did. The name, Miller, is German, and our family tree does have some deep roots in Germany. Neither Uncle Manford nor Aunt Ethel were demonstrative people, but they were most assuredly hard working people. Uncle Manford bred and raised Angus cattle, and Aunt Ethel and he planted a garden that fed them and sometimes us the whole years, and Uncle Manford took trucks full of produce to a Farmer's Market on the Kirksville square during the growing season.

In the field south of the barn, Uncle Manford kept a, to my eyes, beautiful team of white draft horses which I think he'd pretty much retired by the time I was born, but they lived there on the farm for years after. East of the house was a pond. It was dug in red clay and often looked red in a setting sun. Dad and Uncle Manford would occasionally take Marion and I fishing there, but if they really wanted to catch a fish, they left us at the farmhouse, because we couldn't sit still or be quiet enough to really fish, especially me. Occasionally one of them would put a boat on the pond. I remember Dad giving me lessons about how to use a boat motor on that little pond.

They, Uncle Manford and Dad, were often fishing there while Aunt Ethel and Mom were fixing these huge country breakfasts. It wasn't out of the ordinary for Aunt Ethel to be frying a chicken or a couple of bass for breakfast or some ham steaks, or even pork chops. While she was frying the breakfast meat and a skillet full of eggs, my mom was making homemade biscuits and pan gravy. We always had fresh fruit or frozen fruit, fresh cream and churned butter Aunt Ethel made from cow's milk. Uncle Manford milked a cow morning and evening every day of their lives, from the time he was old enough, until he retired from farming and moved to an apartment in Kirksville.

Uncle Manford, I'm pretty sure, ate a bowl of Bran Cereal every morning his whole life. Lots of times, Marion and I had a bowl of cereal with strawberries, cream and sugar on it, yum. I could eat a bowl right now. And the adults always had their morning coffee, and their catch up conversation about who in the neighborhood was doing what, people dad was acquainted with from his childhood, growing up on the farm.

When Dad's parents died, Uncle Manford was 28 years old, but he agreed to finish raising Dad and his older sister, Dorothy. I always thought of him as a one of a kind Uncle. He's the only one I ever met who ever did that. I'm sure somewhere in this world, somebody else has also done it, but he was our one and only. I'm thinking I pretty much sat him on a pedestal of some kind. My Dad and he had a good relationship. I don't know that I thought of it as a loving relationship when I was growing up, because I never heard the word "love" exchanged between them, and I never saw them hug each other, but still, they enjoyed each other's company. They laughed and shared jokes. They spent many hours trying to come up with a tall tale that would outdo the last one either one of them might have told.

They taught my sister, Marion, and I to play cards. Pitch is the one I remember playing the most. And to you parents who let your kids win, once in a while, they didn't. They played to win, and they expected us to learn to play to win, and if we wanted to play cards with the grown-ups, we did. Pitch is what we were playing the night lightning struck the oak tree in the front yard, blew up the television, left us in the dark, and killed Uncle Manford's new breeding bull. I didn't know anything about raising cattle, and still don't know much, but Uncle Manford was on the front edge of what was going on in the cattle industry, and when Truman University, it was Kirksville College then, began an insemination breeding program, Uncle Manford was involved. He gained a national reputation in the cattle industry, and died a fairly wealthy man in that day's standards.

Uncle Manford may have explained to my father what motivated him to leave a significant part of his estate to Boy's Town. I don't know. He never explained it to me. I like to think it had something to do with his raising my dad, that he stepped up to the plate for Dad and Dorothy, and in his death, he was stepping up to the plate for a lot of other kids in maybe similar circumstances.

For me, there was something noble about what he did, what he did for Dad and Dorothy, and what he did for Boy's Town. He really was my one of a kind Uncle. Sometimes we drive by the old homestead. It's falling down, slowly returning to the earth, but I guess I don't see the decay. I see us sitting around that table loaded with homegrown, country food, sharing community gossip, tall tales, and family laughter. I'm pretty sure it's what I will always see.

Things A Broken Hinge Means To Me

(Modeled after "The Pasture" by Robert Frost)


I'm going out to feed the little chicks
chirping in the baby chickens coop. They're so young
they look like yellow balls of dandelion fluff.
If you'd like, you may come along too.

I'm going out to catch the wild kittens
hiding in the corn crib. They're so young
they might let me touch them if their mother's gone.
If you'd like, you may come along too.


The outhouse or enamel pot? The pot
is more than I can stand before breakfast.
Besides, then I'll probably have to dump it.
But it's so cold upstairs, who wants to go out back?

Down into the feather ticks I snuggle
until I think my bladder will pop.
Then reaching out, I grab the clothes I dropped
last night, quickly dressing beneath the covers.

It's such a pain to put on winter garb,
a hat, a coat, some boots a scarf,
just to dart outside and bare your butt
to a bracing winter breeze.

Corn husks or a catalogue, I've tried them both
and neither is a choice I long to make.
But this brisk bitter morning Montgomery Ward
wins the war, and I hurry to the breakfast table.


The kitchen smells of fresh warm milk
that stands in a gray pail, waiting to be
skimmed and separated. Yesterday's cream
is chilled in a white pitcher on the table.

Fried chicken fills a large oval platter,
and crisp fried bacon is sitting on another
while eggs float in popping bacon grease
as Aunt Ethel overcooks them.

Uncle Manford and Dad tell tall tales,
who caught last summer's biggest bass,
as they pour rich cream on crunchy bran flakes,
and gravy on Lucy's biscuits, Lucy being my mother.

My sister and I wait for strawberries to thaw,
the ones we picked and stemmed last summer until
our fingers felt raw, because they let us put them on
cereal, with lots of cream and sugar, just the way we like them.

First Place Winner in Special Theme Poetry
Iowa State Convention
of the
League of American Pen Women, 2000

MORNING FRESH WITH JODY BRESCH, Saturday, March 8, 2014:

Every small town in the Midwest had a couple of Five and Dimes in them when we were kids. Ottumwa and Kirksville both had a Woolworth's, and Ottumwa had a Kresge's. If we shopped for anything besides groceries, we bought it at one of these two stores when I was a kid, unless it was shoes, and Dad would only buy them from Brown's.

If we went to the Family Farm on weekends, the trip always included a stop on the square in Kirksville at Woolworth's, usually on a Saturday morning. By that time, Dad had exhausted his repertoire of songs, games and poetry, and we little ones were ready to stretch our legs for a few minutes.

I don't remember Mom ever buying much, maybe some sewing thread or a few skeins of embroidery floss, or some bleached cotton for T-towels. She might buy Marion and I a couple of summer sun suits, or shorts or T-shirts, but whatever she bought usually fit in one sack and was easily carried to the car.

After we did our shopping we would usually go looking for Uncle Manford. After he sold his goods at the Farmer's Market he usually headed to the Pool Hall. We were usually left in the car while Dad went in to look for him, and we hated that, but when we were a little older, we did go in a couple of times. Then I knew why Dad left us in the car.

It was a man's domain, filled with cigarette and cigar smoke, glasses and bottles of beer, round, metal tubs called spittoons for men who chewed chewing tobacco to spit in, and men of all ages, bathed and dressed in their Saturday best, smelling of hair wax and Aqua Velva, sharing off-colored stories while they bested each other at pool.

After Dad conferred with Uncle Manford for a few minutes, and maybe played a game or two of pool with him, we would all converge at the White Cabin Restaurant for lunch. Us girls usually got an order or mashed potatoes and gravy and glasses of milk. The adults ordered Cheeseburgers and Cokes, and pieces of Coconut Cream Pie. They always agreed the pie wasn't as good as my mom could make, but for store bought, it was pretty good pie.

Then we would head to LaPlata, where Dad's sister, Dorothy, worked at a neighborhood grocery store. Most often she was on a cash register and Dad would have to buy something to talk to her, but he usually did. Since the store had a produce department, Mom usually got some bananas or grapes, apples or oranges, or occasionally some chocolate covered nuts. Whatever she bought that day, Dad would have his confab with his sister for a couple of moments, and then we would head to Gifford, which was about five miles from the Miller Family Homestead.

Gifford had a general store, and old country general store that smelled of dust and the meat locker that was in back, and then a blend of the tubs of penny candy that lined the front counter and the large cluster of fresh bananas that always hung from overhead beside the cash register. Sometimes there was a card table with four chairs set up, and a mean game of pitch or poker might be going on while a few farmers stood around and talked about commodity prices or politics.

If Mom hadn't already bought bananas at Aunt Dorothy's grocery store, she might buy them now, or she might buy a scoop of penny candy which was weighed on a scale on the front counter, and then poured into a brown paper bag. She often bought hot cinnamon candies, or soft candied mints, or peppermint sticks.

While it was only 5 miles on dusty dirt roads to the farmstead, it always seemed like the longest part of the whole trip. Us kids were often tired and cranky at this point, and so Dad always had us looking for land marks, the Gifford School, the wooden bridge that crossed Indian Hills Creek, Uncle Roscoe's house, and of course the most important one, Indian Hills Cemetery.

Most of our dead relatives are buried there, going all the way back to great-great grandparents, Washington and Grace Broyles Miller. It's maybe a quarter of a mile from the farm house, and was always the defining sign that we were almost there. My dad's always been a big one for paying his respects to the dead, and truthfully, I don't even mind. I find cemeteries fascinating, and this one in particular, since those names on those beautiful big stones, they represent my history.

Aunt Ethel and Uncle Manford did a beautiful job of maintaining the cemetery, by now a historic cemetery. It say on a knoll overlooking the farm with tall stately cedar trees shading the tombstones. There was an occasional flag on some veteran's grave, and something I never understood until I was older, but often there were seashells on somebody's grave. This usually designated somebody who had served in the U.S. Navy.

Since Uncle Manford was still in Kirksville, Aunt Ethel would be our one and only greeting party, but she'd usually greet us at the front door. One thing about living in the country, it's quiet enough you hear every car that passes on the gravel in front of the house, and the house had an unobstructed view in every direction where it sat up on the hill.

I think I get my cluttered house-keeping from Aunt Ethel. She had every reason to expect we were coming. We usually did, but she usually had to dig out the East Parlour to make room for us. It wasn't dirty as much as it would have collected an accumulation of her current interests, Gifford Newspaper, U.S. News Magazines, Montgomery and Wards, Sears, and J.C. Pennys Catalogues, local correspondence from family members she wrote to, and of course all the ironing she hadn't quite got to.

It was her domain until she had a path cleared though. Mom might help her by ironing a little or her laundry once in a while, but other than that she dug it out herself. This was my favorite room in the house. It had a gray wool area rug with burgundy cabbage roses on it, gray wall paper with the same burgundy roses, and a burgundy colored sofa that would fold out into a double bed. An antique library table was loaded with framed family photos, even some of us on there.

Marion and I would sleep on the couch cushions she made into a bed on the floor for us. We slept there for years. It was a pretty, large, comfortable room, and Marion and I spent many long hours in there.

By the time Uncle Manford had returned from Kirksville, Aunt Ethel would have put a light meal together on the large kitchen table, which we'd eat when he finished the evening milking. Sometimes Marion and I would get to go with him. I liked listening to the rhythmic squirting of fresh cow's milk into an empty metal bucket. Sometimes the milk cow was nursing a calf, and there wouldn't be as much milk then, but it usually filled the bucket otherwise. Fresh cow's milk has a warm milk aroma that is difficult to describe, but in all the years we went to the farm, the farmhouse always smelled like fresh cow's milk, always.

After milking, we would gather at that large, gray formica table, and eat our evening meal. It was large enough it would comfortably seat eight. One of the fun things Aunt Ethel did was to make ice cream in silver metal cups that fit in a little metal tower made to stack the cups in, or sometimes she made it in ice cream trays. I should have asked her how you make ice cream in ice cube trays, but I never did.

Breakfast was always the biggest meal of the day on the farm, and supper was always the lightest, but since we could have ice cream and store bought cookies for desert, there was always plenty to fill us up. After supper there might be a card game set up in the living-room, or Uncle Manford might turn on the radio to listen to a Cardinal's base ball game, or we might watch "Gunsmoke" on the black and white TV he finally bought.

Marion and I would play on the living-room floor with a jar of marbles Aunt Ethel kept just for us. When those metal ice-cream cups were empty and washed, we filled them up with marbles by the hour. I never fell asleep at the farmhouse easily. I was always too wired with the excitement of being there, but once I was asleep, I slept like a rock. I always woke to the smell of hot grease popping in a skillet and a fresh pot of coffee percolating in the coffee pot.

*By Twyla Salisbury

The Indian Hill Cemetery is located in Pettis Township 61, Section 34, Range 16. To reach it, you take Route H south from Kirksville to Highway 11. Take 11 south to Route N, take N to just east of Yarrow, turn south on a gravel road. Go past Route HH almost to the Macon County line about 3 miles. The cemetery is at the corner where the first gravel road goes east after HH>.

The cemetery started when Frances, daughter of Washington and Grace Miller, was buried on the Henry Nelson,Sr. Farm in 1850. Some Nelsons and perhaps others were already buried there. Henry Nelson died in 1854 and Washington Miller bought the property. He marked off 1/2 acre as a cemetery before he died in 1855. In 1855 five Nelsons died from what was diagnosed as cholera. In 1884 two of Mrs. Miller's sons, Thomas and Daniel (half brothers), fenced the land and named it Indian Hill Cemetery, deeding it for use of the neighborhood, except for a 20'X30' plot for the Miller family on which were already buried John, Nancy, and Washington Miller, their graves mounded for easy location.>.

Millers, Glucks and Magers set out evergreens to mark their lots. Some of these trees still stand. In 1934 Creed Robinson and George Anspach built a wall on the west side to prevent caving in and erosion and men of the neighborhood used cement blocks to mark all the known graves. (No names and dates.)>.

One grave is of an unknown alien teen-aged railroad worker who died in a brawl at the camp of the Iowa and St. Louis Railroad employees in 1904 or 1905. He was given a funeral by the neighborhood which followed the traditions of his native land. A field stone marks his grave.

February 8, 1940, Manford Miller deeded another 1/2 acre of land joining the cemetery on the south, free for burial to neighbors. There are 7 half lots with 6 graves each and 21 lots of 12 graves each in this section.

Indian Hill Extension Club in the 1950s held bake sales, etc. to raise money to beautify the cemetery, to fence the cemetery, put up a sign, and to purchase lawn mowers.

In 1970 a meeting was held to incorporate and raise money for perpetual care which has been done. The board consists of Manford Miller, president; Cecil Belfield, vice president; Opal Magus, 2nd vice president; Ethel Miller, secretary- treasurer; Stanley Easley and Billie Lee, board members. Information was furnished by Ethel Miller.

The Legend of Mars Hill