Peeking Into Lake City's Past
The Bunting Family
I wish to thank Paul Duggins for a book written by Eloise Puckett True from which much of this material is taken.
This is a story of the Richard Buntings who came here with a family of two small children who were deserted by their parents back in Cassopolis, Michigan. The children were Frank and Julie Ann Baker who became known as the Bunting children. The Buntings, the parents of Mrs. Bunting and the two children settled on a farm along the Raccoon River just 3 miles Southwest of what is now Lake City. The year was 1854, two years before Lake city was founded, making them some of Calhoun County's earliest citizens. (The Bunting homestead is one of several in Jackson and Calhoun townships, listed in an Atlas issued in 1875 and published in recent issues of The Graphic.
The other pioneer family in our story is Elijah and Katherane Puckett, a family of Quaker faith who with their six children came here following the Civil War, settling on the Raccoon River just over the line in Carroll County. The two families were neighbors and friends. One of Elijah's sons, sixteen year old Nathanial, later married a Lake city school teacher. The Puckett's were proud of their Quaker heritage which emphasized moral, integrity, honesty, sincerity, and compassion for others. Nathaniel was born in 1850 and arrived in this area in 1866.
(Mrs. True's book describes Nathanial's romance with a Lake City school teacher, Miss Julia Ann Baker a ward of the Richard Buntings. He courted her against the wishes of his parents.)
Frank and Julia Ann Baker, abandoned by their real parents had a hard beginning in life. Julia, two years younger than Frank, was born at Cassopolis, Michigan, July 28, 1852. She was two years old when they arrived here in 1854. She never knew her parents and could not understand why her mother gave her to the Buntings. Her real father went to California during the gold rush and was never heard of again. Her mother re-married and Julia suspected that her new husband did not want to raise another man's children. The Buntings traveled here from Michigan in a covered wagon drawn by a yoke of three oxen. They brought a cow, some household goods and a dog. Their new homestead was 160 acres of land along the Raccoon River close to what is now Lake City. With the assistance of a neighbor, (there were not many around in 1854) they built a nice two story home. Many times during the night in the log cabin, the two small children would cover their heads when they heard the blood curdling howling of savage wolves that usually lasted through the hours of darkness.
As time went on, Julie grew to womanhood to become a school teacher. Because of her interest in history she wrote of her life's experience from which I quote: "There were many happy times in the wilderness when I was a child. I love to sit on the ground at the edge of the field and watch Uncle Dick (Richard Bunting) break prairie sod. He used a breaking plow with his three oxen pulling and straining. He used a long lashed whip that cracked like a rifle over them. I can remember times when snow was so deep and temperature so low that settlers suffered desperately from both hunger and disease.
I remember when Uncle Dick went to Michigan to collect some debts. He got hurt and his return was delayed so Mother Bunting's parents moved in with us. One day Grandma and Grandpa took some grain to Oxenford's Mill, about two miles up the river to have it ground into flour. The mill was owned and operated by Wm. and John Oxenford. While Grandparents were at the Mill, a tramp came by our house begging for something to eat. Mother Bunting told him she had only a cup of hominy and a small piece of venison in the house, barely enough for her family's dinner. The tramp trudged on and Mother cried while she watched him out of sight."
The first school little Julia attended was built from lumber taken from along the river and perhaps processed by the Oxenford Mill. Julie Ann was an apt pupil, but her brother got into some mischief for which he was severely punished by the male teacher. When he arrives home from school he was severely reprimanded by his guardian, Richard Bunting. Frank Baker ran away from home and was never heard from again.
Mrs. True's book describes Julia Ann as an adventurous teen-age girl who for some reason liked to violate the rules of the Bunting household. On occasion, she would climb out of the upstairs bedroom window and go to dances with a neighborhood boy friend while the Buntings were sleeping.
After Julia's education was completed she taught school. Nathanial Puckett had been courting her for some time and the Buntings took their act of romance to be serious. Her foster parents wanted Julia to marry Nathanial Puckett even though he was ten years her senior, because was a handsome man of unquestioned character, prosperous and emotionally stable. However, Julia wasn't certain she was ready to settle down and accept the responsibilities of the marriage contract, but Nathanial convinced her he could not live without her so she gave in. They were married on April 3, 1873.
After the honeymoon, Julia and her new husband got into a heated marital argument. Julia got so angry that she packed her bag and went back home to the Buntings. However, much to her surprise, Richard Bunting sent her right back to her fine husband.
The story tells us Julia settled down and soon became pregnant with her first born. Mrs. John Sperry, the local mid-wife attended her. After hours of suffering, Mrs. Sperry laid a beautiful baby girl in her arms. They named her Effie. Three more children followed in close succession. Through all this, her husband Nathanial Puckett proved to be the most devoted of husbands and fathers. Their four children were named: Effie, John, Myrtle and Clarence who is the father of the author, Mrs. Eloise Puckett True.
Julia Ann Baker, the pretty, petite school teacher, now married with four children became bored with her status in life, at least temporarily. She caused her family great heart ache and turmoil. The event became historically important to the family and struck like lightening. Julia Ann was a beautiful, vivacious, woman but she was also indiscrete. It seems she struck up an acquaintance with a handsome young school teacher named Fred Lattimer. Her association with Lattimer came to the point where friends and neighbors thought she was having an illicit affair. Vicious gossip spread like wild fire, so Nathanial was honor bound to defend her honor. This he did with enthusiastic vigor by thrashing the young school teacher within an inch of his life. After the beating, Lattimer left our community. Nathanial's Quaker heart ached. He felt that in some way he was more at fault than was his wife.
The promiscuous event caused Julia Ann to have personality change. Her usual high spirit, vivaciousness, the beautiful sparkle in her eyes and the youthful bloom she usually generated had vanished. Her husband decided he should take her away from where they were known. After much deliberation, Nathanial decided to rent the farm and move to Oregon. Julia said to him; "You are really doing this for me aren't you Than?" He drew her close, smoothing back her hair, kissing her soundly and said; "Julia, I know your life has not been easy lately and you are suffering, so perhaps a change will help us both find peace and happiness." The children were uneasy about leaving their friends. Nathanial told them " The trip will be fun, we will go by railroad train which will take us clear to Portland."
Mrs. True's book tells us that things did not work out too well in Oregon. So in the fall of 1892 they returned home, visited and lived with relatives for a time and finally moved back to their home along the Raccoon River and sent their children to the Elk-run school.
By 1894, their son Clarence was 17 so Nathanial helped him secure 80 acres of land close by so he could start farming. Daughter Myrtle married a neighbor lad by the name of Charles Potts. This happened in the year of severe drought, corn yielded only 10 bushel per acre and times were very hard. The family again become discouraged so this time they sold their homestead farm and moved back to Oregon. But again times were hard in Oregon and they found it difficult to earn a living, so for the second time they returned to the middle-west.
By this time they had used up the money from the sale of the Raccoon River farm so they had to sell their personal belongings to purchase horses, wagon and supplies for the trip home by covered wagon. They followed the old Oregon Trail heading east. After they returned they finally settled in Missouri even though their relatives were here in the Lake City area. The trip by covered wagon took them three months. It was a hard earned trip.