Silas Joseph Fults

Submitted by Karen Holtkamp

SILAS JOSEPH FULTS – b. 29 July 1836; d. 19 November 1917


Following is a personal history of Silas "Joe" Fults as told by his daughter Nellie Fults Thompson (b. 1871) to her daughter, Pearl Thompson Himmler (Bonnie Rodemich's cousin), who wrote it all down.  Some may be slightly exaggerated, but those were rough days in a part of the country which only became a state in 1818.  The stories Pearl tells are those of which Nellie either had first-hand knowledge or they were passed along by other family members and friends.


     Silas Joseph Fults, Nell's father, was born July 29, 1836 in Monroe County IL.  His mother died when he was quite young (this is not true because his mother lived until 1881, although his father died in 1841 when Silas was 5 - KH) and an older sister reared him (questionable, since his mother was very much alive - KH).  He could ride a horse and shoot a gun by the time he was 5 years old.  There were still Indians around this part of the country.  One day a group came to their house asking for food.  Grandpa (Joe), still very small, ran out and hid in a clump of bushes.  As he dove into the bushes the little Indian kids ran out the other side.  They were afraid of each other.


     An old Indian man lived near them; when anyone angered him, he would paint his face, put on his war bonnet and walk back and forth on a little foot bridge that spanned a small stream, talking to himself and getting the anger out of his system.


     Joe Fults was quite a prankster as a youth; a few of his pranks are recorded here.  There was little recreation in those days, so they improvised their own.  Once they greased a pig and turned him loose in church.  What a time the men had, trying to grab that pig and put him out!  Another time a preacher got very exuberant with his sermon; there was an open window behind him and Joe reached through and cut the preacher's suspenders – the poor man jumped right out of his pants.  Still another time, he filled his pockets with garter snakes and turned them loose in school.


     When he was in his early teens an elderly doctor saw that he was a very bright boy and began teaching him to be a doctor.  He dissected bodies, studied anatomy, medicine, herbs and diets.  Unfortunately, the old doctor died and that ended Joe's medical career, except for treating animals. 


     When he was 15 years old the gold rush to California was in full swing.  A neighbor family, with boys his age, wanted him to go with them to California.  He really wanted to go, but his sister was opposed to it, so he stayed behind.  It took his friends two years to get ready to go.  They had to raise enough food to feed themselves and their livestock for two years, plus enough to live on the first year they were there, plus enough for their first planting.  They also raised flax and wool for clothing, towels, tablecloths, etc.  The fibers were spun, woven into cloth and then made into clothing, etc.  Material was left white or dyed different colors.  They used lichen for green, poke berries for red, saffron for orange, blue vitriol for blue, marigolds for yellow.  The women sat up nights to spin, weave, knit and crochet.  When the girls would doze off, the mother had a switch and touched their fingers with it to awaken them.


     Years later (35 or 40) when the Fults family was living on Calico Island south of Valmeyer IL, an interesting thing happened.  A little old lady stopped at the school and asked the teacher where Joe Fults lived.  The teacher told her that his children Nell, Sid and Ed (Karen's grandfather) were in school there, and that Joe would come for them at 4:00 when school was out.  Their father had to come after them in a skiff to take them across the slough to the island.  It was spring, the windows were open, butterflies, bees and other insects flitted in and out.  The little old lady sat there dozing, while the flowers on her dress bonnet bobbed away.


     When school was over she walked down to the landing with the children.  Their father was waiting for them.  "Joe," she said, "do you remember me?"  He said "no."  Said she, I'm ________ who went to California many years ago."  She then pulled his head down and kissed him; his daughter said later he blushed like a school boy.  Then the conversation flew.  He took her home with him and the stories never stopped.  After supper Joe's wife sent the kids upstairs to bed, but they didn't want to miss the excitement and sneaked back downstairs where they sat behind the closed door and listened.  She told of the hardships of the wagon train as they went West, the constant fear of Indian attacks – one of the reasons they wanted Joe along was because he was so good with horse and gun.  They needed all the protection they could get.  They sat up until dawn, talking; after a few hours sleep she said she had to be on her way to visit someone else.  She told of back-breaking labor of clearing the land and building a house, then breaking new sod to plant their first crop.  All the hardships, long hours of work and uncertainties were worth it when finally success came.  One son became an executive of a bank, another of a railroad and the others also did well.  These men had been Joe's pals.  Much later, when he was in his seventies one of them got in touch with him, and when he learned Joe hadn't done well financially, he sent him a small stipend each month for the rest of his life.


     Joe Fults was 19 when on August 16, 1855 he married Priscilla Dorance of Kaskaskia Island, IL.  Of the union 4 children were born: Charlotte, Forrest Lafayette (Lafe) and Isaac, who died in infancy.  His wife then died, and the children stayed with neighboring farmers until September 22, 1868 when he married Margaretha Nau (from St. Louis) and they brought them home to live.  Of this union 4 children were born:  Matilda Ellen (Nellie), Sydney, Ed and Orlando (who died in infancy).


     When the children were small, Joe was deputy sheriff and jailer of Monroe County, and his family lived on the first floor of the jail house in Waterloo, with the jail itself on the second floor.  (The jail house was torn down in the mid-1980's in order to build a parking facility. - KH.)   Lawbreakers were put in jail and held there until the circuit rider came in spring or fall to hold court.  The insane were also kept in the jail until they could be taken to the asylum at Anna.  Paupers were kept there, too, until they could be taken to the Poor House.  One time they had an insane woman in the women's jail room on the first floor.  This room had barred windows.  The woman was determined to go naked, and would tear off her clothing and stand in the window.  Joe bought some feather ticking and had his wife make a dress with just arm holes, a drawstring at the neck and a good strong hem for the woman to wear.  There was a slot in the door where they put her plate of food through, and Nellie went to see what she was doing.  The woman was German and couldn't speak English; she picked up the hem of her dress and used her fingers as scissors, indicating she wanted them to cut.  Of course Nell didn't bring the scissors, so she just turned the dress over her head and stood at the window anyway!


     Joe once had to arrest a young man for throwing a stone through the bakery window.  It was after the fall term of court.  Joe asked him why he did it.  He said he had worked his way to this part of the country from the East and couldn't find another job; winter was coming on, and he had no place to stay, so he inquired around as to where he could find a good jail.  He was told the jailer at Waterloo fed the prisoners the same food his family ate.  The young man thus had a warm bed and free board until the spring court term.


     Another time Joe had custody of an insane man who wouldn't keep his clothes on.  One Sunday after church several young ladies came to the jail and asked to see the man.  Joe said, "Oh, you don't want to see him."  He knew the man would be naked, but the girls insisted, and so, still the prankster, he let them go upstairs.  They came running and screaming downstairs!


     An old German man, a pauper, was in the jail waiting to be taken to the Poor House.  He sickened and was near death and wanted a priest.  Joe left Lafe (his son, Lafayette - KH) with the man and went after a priest.  The regular priest was out, but the older priest, who had been unfrocked for drinking too much, was there.  He had been there many years and begged to be allowed to stay as housekeeper and gardener, so they let him stay.  When told of the dying man's need, he said, "Mr. Fults, I couldn't do that!"

Joe grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and said, "By God, that man wants a priest and he's going to have one if I have to drag you there."  The old priest went and prayed with the man, but of course couldn't hear his confession.  After the priest left, Joe told Lafe to stay with the old man until he was gone.  At last Lafe thought he was dead and started to close his eyes.  The old man said, "Das is richt," ("That is right")

which nearly jarred the wits out of Lafe.


     Joe had to arrest a 17 year-old boy for killing his teacher.  There was friction between the two because of the boy's sweetheart.  They had gone through school together and now the young teacher was showing interest in her.  The boy was sharpening his pencil on his desk with a pen knife and the teacher told him to stop.  He ignored the order and the teacher walked down the aisle to his desk to enforce it.  The boy jumped up and stabbed him.  A pen knife is very small, but it went between his ribs and cut off the tip of his heart.  The teacher walked back to his desk and died in his chair.  Joe had to go out to the boy's farm home and bring him in to jail.  Feeling was running very high against the boy.  The teacher had been the only support of his widowed mother, and this was his first year of teaching.  No one said a word to Joe about how they felt, but they talked about it the next day at school.  The men had formed a lynching party and that night planned to storm the jail, take the boy out and hang him.  Nell, then about 8 years old, heard this at school and ran all the way home at noon to tell her father.  That afternoon Joe went to all the saloons in town and told the men he knew of their plan.  He said, "I grew up with most of you and know all your families; I don't want to hurt anyone, but I took an oath to protect my prisoners and I will do it, even if I have to kill some of you.  I'll shoot and I'll shoot to kill if you storm the jail."  He didn't know if they would heed his warning, so he went to the livery stable, got three horses and took them to the jail in an around-about way.  He muffled the horses' hooves with gunny sacks and after dark he and Lafe, heavily armed, took the boy to the jail in the next county for safe-keeping.  Joe warned the boy to stay close to him, as he would be much safer with him than out there alone, trying to escape.  The boy stuck as close as his shadow.  He was brought to trial at the next term of court in Waterloo.  The men had cooled off by then.  Joe acted as the boy's lawyer.  He had learned law, as did Lincoln, by reading law books.  He got the boy off with two years in the penitentiary.  The boy's father, an old German, was angry and said, "I need him on the farm – he should have gone free."  Joe grabbed him by the collar and said "Shut up!  You should be glad I saved his neck!"


     Joe's oldest brother, Jake (Jacob) Fults, had a daughter named Melissa; her sweetheart shot and killed her because her parents wouldn't let her marry him.  Her sister was married to his brother and evidently they didn't think too much of his family.  Melissa was on her way from school with a group of girls and boys when he stepped up to her and said, "Remember what I told you in Maeystown!"  He shot her.  Her grammar book fell open to the word "love" and was spattered with blood as she fell.  He knelt beside her, kissed her and then shot himself.  The two funerals passed each other on the road to different cemeteries.  (In our family tree, Melissa was the daughter of Joe's and Jake's brother, Christopher.  She was born in 1872 and died 29 Sept 1886 at age 15 according to Monroe Co. death records –KH)


     In 1882 an election came along.  There were two factions in the Democratic party in this election.  Jake had many sharecroppers on his rich bottomland near Fults and Renault, IL.  He was very good to them, letting each have a garden plot, cow and pasture land.  Everyone knew that however he voted his sharecroppers would vote also, and that's how that precinct would go.  Joe's brother-deputy, Sid Burris, belonged to the other faction.  On election day Jake and his son went to Renault to vote.  Sid Burris stepped up to the buggy as Jake got out and Jake said, "Well, Sid, I heard that you were coming here to shut my mouth."  Sid shot him down in cold blood.  Jake crumpled to the ground and his son stepped down to straighten him out.  Burris said, "If you touch him I'll kill you, too."  (Monroe County death records state that Jacob Fults was "shot with a pistol" at 7:00 a.m. 6 Nov 1882 in Renault – KH)

     There were no telephones in those days and Joe didn't hear about it until the next morning.  They could have made it to Waterloo in an hour or so on horseback, but they wanted time to build up a defense.  Joe was psychic, and he had just been telling his wife that he was worried about Jake, saying "he kept me awake all night trying to tell me something."  At that moment they heard a horse gallop up and stop at their gate.  Joe opened the door and the man told him of the killing.  The jail where Joe lived was one block from the Monroe County Courthouse.  They held closed sessions at night and freed Sid Burris; Joe didn't know a thing about it.  That ended his political career and he became a Republican.


     Jake Fults' house is still standing, in good condition and is occupied.  It has 16 rooms, eight up and eight down, a porch running all the way across the front of the house, upstairs and down, and with 3 front doors.  It is near Fults IL.  (The great flood of 1993 swept the house away, but KH had taken photos of it in 1988 which are in Book III of Karen's family genealogy notebooks. - KH)


     As was mentioned earlier, Joe Fults was "psychic."  An old black man had taught him how to call on a "control" spirit.  I don't believe he ever told anyone how it was done and seldom practiced it; he said it took too much strength out of him.  Once one of his nieces was at his house and he told her he could get answers to questions – one knock for "no," two knocks for "yes," and that he could make the table walk.  She said, "Oh, Uncle Joe, you can't do that!"  He said, "Sit on the corner of this table" and she did.  He concentrated his powers and the table began to move.  She jumped off and started to run outside.  The door was half-closed, and she ran into it and split open her forehead.  She believed him then.


     Another time Joe was coming home from town in his farm wagon.  They had a neighbor who was very ill.  Joe heard a noise in the back of his wagon, look around and saw this very sick man climbing over the back of the wagon.  He walked across the wagon bed, climbed over the wagon tongue and disappeared between the horses.  When Joe got home he asked how the old man was and was told that he had died about an hour ago.


     Once, when he was a young man, Joe was going somewhere on horseback.  Ahead of him he saw what looked like a large tree trunk lying across the road.  His horse snorted and reared and refused to go on.  Then he saw the "log" was moving; he looked at the wheat fields on both sides of the road and saw that they were moving.  The "log" was a huge snake.  When he told about it later, others said they had seen it too, but didn't say anything about it, for they were afraid people wouldn't believe them.


     After Joe gave up politics he moved to Calico Island, south of Harrisonville, IL.  There were three farms on the Island (it is completely gone now).  He farmed there for 18 years.  There was a boat landing where river boats would stop on request.  You had to write to the boat captain and give him the date you wanted to come aboard.  There was a house closer to the river than Joe's, so anyone who wanted to go aboard went to that house.  If it was at night the farmer hung a lantern on his porch to guide the boat in.  One night Joe was outside and saw a small light on the Wright's porch.  He thought, "Someone is taking the boat tonight."  A little later he looked that way again; a larger light was on the porch and Joe thought, "They're really anxious to get the boat."  Still later he looked and a still larger light was there.  He was puzzled.  Next day he saw Mr. Wright and asked him who had gotten on the boat.  "No one," said the farmer.  "We went to bed before dark."  Joe told his wife, Margaret, "That is an omen."  Before the year was over, Wright's five-year-old son died, then his teenaged daughter, and finally Mr. Wright himself.  Just the way the lights had appeared.


     One time Joe was going somewhere on horseback, and of course everyone knew everyone else for miles around.  He saw a neighbor woman dragging her husband out of the house by the hair of his head.

Joe stopped and asked, "Minnie, what are you doing?"  She said, "I'm dragging him over to the chopping block; I'm going to chop his head off.  He's no good to me, drunk all the time; I have to do all the farm work and everything else too."  Joe got off his horse and talked her out of it.  Later he saw the man when he was partly sober and told him how near death he had been, and that he'd better start doing more work and less drinking.


     By this time the older children were married and gone; only Joe, his wife Margaret, Nell, Sid and Ed were at home.  Every 4th of July their father took the boys to the picnic at Festus, MO.  He said it was no place for women and girls, so Nell and her mother were left at home.  When Nell was about 18 she decided she wanted to go.  Her mother told her that her father wouldn't let her go.  Nell worked hard July 3 and got up early July 4 to get all her chores done.  At breakfast she told him she wanted to go.  He stormed and said she couldn't go.  Nell was furious.  As he started out the door to do his chores, thinking the matter settled, Nell, who had a cup of coffee in her hand, threw cup and all at his head.  He jerked the door shut and it shattered against the door.  Her mother was stunned at the outburst.  Nell had a good cry, then said, "I'll dress and go down and sit on the river bank until the Thompsons come along in the skiff.  They'll pick me up and take me."  Her father soon finished his chores and came into the house whistling.  "Well, aren't you women ready yet?" he asked.  He took them to the picnic.  He never held a grudge.  (Nellie Fults married one of the Thompson boys. - KH)


His wife's niece was heard to remark that Joe Fults was the bravest man she ever knew.

Silas J. Fults Obit