The following speech was presented by Judge E. Richard Webber on Monday, May 27, 2017 at the rededication of the Barnett Statue at the Downing House Museum in Memphis, MO
In preserving the tradition of the citizens of Scotland County, in revering the dedication of its best citizens, who willingly surrender their lives to protect the constitutional liberties future generations may claim, it is well, we privileged few, the beneficiaries of their sacrifices, pause now, in the shadow of this monument, to honor the one whose image is preserved in stone, to honor the family who found it fitting to use their meager treasury to build this memorial, to honor 24 men who embraced the call to serve this Country at the cost of their lives, and to give thanks to visionaries who answered the call to action, at their expense and with the contributions of others, to preserve and relocate this historical edifice, to protect it from future harm, and to make it readily accessible to still other future generations who breath the air of freedom, because of those represented on this monument, and all others who serve and have served in our armed forces,
Before I pay tribute to the individuals who made commitments to relocate this statue, ‘I want to share with you, text primarily prepared by JoAnn Aylward, concerning many significant historical facts regarding the motivation for building the monument, details of its construction, and for some stories attached to it over the years since it was placed at its earlier location.
Thank you, Mrs. Aylward, for your thorough research and willingness to share information you gathered for the benefit of others.
The Barnett monument was originally built, and until recently, located in rural Sand Hill Township, seven miles south of Memphis and seven miles northwest of Rutledge. It stood alone near the edge of what originally was a dirt road. I recall on my first visit to this monument in the late 1950s, the necessity of turning from a gravel road on to a narrow neglected dirt road, thinking, nothing significant could possibly be located around here. Then, honestly, in what was a breath taking moment, from around the corner of what, at that time was a small white house, I saw this statue, beaming in the western sunlight, and marveled at the experience of being in its presence. I soon thought, why have I not been here sooner! The James Barnett family house has been raised, giving rise to the oft repeated statement, you will find “the Soldier in the Field.”
The first draft of World War One required all men between the ages of 21 and 31 to register on June 5, 1917. Purnell Batts Barnett, age 25, registered for the draft at Sand Hill on that date and was called for examination in July. In August he was found physically qualified for service. On October 2, 1917, Purnell was among the quota of young men from Scotland County who were sent to Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas for their basic training. The Memphis Democrat of October 4, 1917, described the “rousing reception” at the Opera House in Memphis for the 38 young men who left, by train, for Camp Funston. Train service was prominent in Memphis at the time.
While going through basic training at Camp Funston, Purnell Barnett contracted influenza then pneumonia. He died on November 16, 1917, after being ill about three weeks. He had been in the army 43 days. His body was taken to his mother’s home town of Port Royal, Kentucky for burial. He was the only child of James F. Barnett and Mary Katharine (Katie) Batts Barnett. Another monument in his memory was erected at Port Royal Cemetery, said to cost $3000. Mrs. Barnett apparently never recovered from the shock of her son’s death. She died Jan. 28, 1922, just a few months after this statue was dedicated. This statue was erected in 1921 by James F. Barnett as a memorial to his son, Purnell Batts Barnett. It also honors twenty-three other young Scotland County men who died while in the service in the First World War. It stands twelve feet tall with inscriptions on each side. The front side of the base has information about Purnell Batts Barnett. The reverse side has the names of 23 other young Scotland County men who died while in service in World War One. The inscription on one side has information about the father, James F. Barnett, and on the other side there is an epitaph written by his mother, Mary Katherine (Katie) Batts Barnett. A large trough was built across the front of the monument to hold flowers. Originally there were photographs mounted on each side of the base, but many years ago they were vandalized and removed.
According to Carl Trueblood, the inscriptions on the monument were done by the Mount Brothers of Memphis, longtime monument dealers. While there are no records supporting that conclusion, I ask, who among you will challenge the conclusions of Carl Trueblood; not I. While, the Barnett monument is a memorial to Purnell Batts Barnett, and 23 other young men of Scotland County who died while in service in World War I, it is also a symbol of the grief of all the fathers and mothers and the families of those who died in service.
An article in the Kansas City Star of Jan 2, 1921, related the story of why the Barnett monument was constructed. After the end of World War One, citizens of Scotland County discussed the possibility of erecting a memorial for the men from the county who died in service during the war. Mr. Barnett’s enthusiasm apparently eclipsed other supporters and Mr. Barnett elected to erect a memorial with his resources. The article suggests Mr. Barnett laid the foundation with his own hands and used his own funds to construct the monument at the cost of about $2000. The foundation of the monument was said to be 9 feet 6 inches in the ground. The intention was to place a flag pole thirty feet high to fly the United States flag. Mr. Barnett planned to have a man raise and lower the flag each day. The trough in front of the monument was 7 feet long and a foot wide, and flowers were to be planted in it each spring. Mrs. Barnett hoped the flag would wave over the site and flowers would grow around the memorial forever. It was her hope the park would be a place for children to play. Mr. Barnett donated four acres of land around the monument to the county to be used as a public park. He intended to erect a community house in the park. James F. Barnett was a native of Scotland County and spent a number of years as a traveling salesman. He was involved in the telephone business, with exchanges in Rutledge, Gorin and Bible Grove. He was an organizer of the Missouri State Telephone Association in 1905. Sometime in the late 1920s or early 30s, Mr. Barnett encountered financial difficulties and lost his farm. After he lost his farm, he moved to Arkansas where he died and was buried.
An article in the Memphis Democrat, June 2, 1921, described the dedication of the Barnett monument on Sunday, May 29, 1921. Members of the American Legion were in charge of the unveiling and dedication ceremony. The newspaper reported that a large crowd attended the ceremony, which included speeches and music.
On May 26, 1932, an article appeared in the Memphis Reveille with the heading “Barnett Monument to be Moved Here Soon.” According to the article, the Barnett farm where the monument was located had been acquired by the Jayne law firm of Memphis several months previously. The Jayne law firm indicated a desire to donate the monument to the county and it was accepted by the County Court. Plans were being made to move the monument to Memphis as soon as the bridge commissioner could make arrangements.
The Reveille article stated the Court planned to move the statue to the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn, where it would be placed on a foundation and given proper care. Those plans were never executed. Possibly the County Court did not have the manpower and resources to move the monument. There was a rumor there were individuals in the community who objected to having the monument on the courthouse lawn. Today, in rededicating the monument and its relocation to this place, former concerns of inappropriate placement have become irrelevant; damage from vandals, hopefully, will end today. Because of the efforts of many, most of whom are in attendance today, the statue will remain forever in loving care, never again subjected to criminal abuse.
Over the years, rumors have circulated about the character of Purnell Batts Barnett. It has been suggested that he had an easier life than most of the young farm boys of that time. He liked hunting dogs and was the proprietor of the Happy Hunting Grounds Kennels before being drafted for service. Setting aside rumors, we know he died of pneumonia after entering the service. At least eleven of the twenty-three other young men from Scotland County, also perished by disease, all heroes, all to be forever remembered and honored.
Names on the Barnett Monument, in addition to the name of Purnell Bat Barnett are as follows. As the names are read, if anyone in attendance is a descendent of one of these heroes, please raise your hand and identify yourself and briefly explain your relationship:
Purnell Bates Barnett; Tom Sanders; Charles G. Boyer; Warren W. Chambers; Carl Leslie; Harry Snyder; Oren Blaine; Byron Dunn; Ernest O. Moyer; Earl Shinberger; Fred T. Bradley; Fred L. Fincher; Sam Poole; Vern Stone; Clarence Chancellor; Ezra W. Hartman; Carl Roasa; Nay Harris; Carey W. Clark; John H. Kerr; Lloyd Shelton; Sam Wilson; Joseph Crawford; and Leslie S. Kittle.
It is the nature of Scotland County to rise to any challenge. At a restoration event for the Rutledge School held at the Memphis firehouse, Doctor Larry Wiggins told Carl Trueblood, “We have another project! Elaine Forrester with the Scotland County Historical Society called, she has a letter from Annabelle Easley, Elaine Fuller and Mary Wright, the Cantril heirs. They are willing to donate the World War I Monument provided it is moved only to the Downing House, and it be moved as soon as possible.”
On the following Tuesday, Carl, with Leon Trueblood promptly visited the statute to make a preliminary assessment of the proper method of dismantling it. On Thursday, they returned with Doc Wiggins. Doc promptly called Elaine Forrester that evening; she responded, “We need prices.”
On Friday, Carl and Leon drove to Quincy to visit Bill Awercamp seeking advice on the practical aspects of moving a near century old fragile large granite memorial. Mr. Awercamp, according to Carl, said “Get pictures and measurements, I’m on board. The cost will be dinner at the Catfish Place.” Next racing to help was Irwin Zimmerman with two sons, Anthony and Kevin, and a friend, Billy Halderman. In the middle of Carl’s explanation of the need for heavy equipment including cranes, Irwin stopped Carl and said, “I’ll do it and it will cost you nothing.”
Jeremy Hamlin is the concrete contractor who was assisted by Jason Ketchum, Craig Brown and Patrick See. He said, “Order the concrete, there will be no charges for my services.” He crafted the beautiful ornate base.
Carl, Bill and Leon spent the better part of a day getting the strap placement in perfect order. They had to chisel concrete under the statue. Moving Day was two weeks after the initial conversation of the prospective donation. That morning, Doc Wiggins, Carl, Bill, Randy Woods, Jeff Dyer from the Historical Society and Perry Harrison from Warsaw, Illinois, met at Gas and More at 8:00 a.m. They met Irwin and his sons at the original site of the monument. At 9:25 a.m. the seven to seven and one half ton monument, absent its head, was on a trailer headed for its destination at the Downing House. Nancy McClamroch visually recorded the entire relocation exercise. As a footnote, the great uncle of Randy Woods is Clarence Chandler whose name is included in the twenty-three names on the back of the monument.
Brigands had inflicted substantial damage to this treasure; the restoration of the severed head was entrusted to Olin Anderson and Jim Cottey. A substantial part of the back of the head was missing; there was damage to the nose and one ear was absent. Parts of the hat were torn away. This segmental restoration was masterful, as any viewer will attest. With the aid of Joel Kapfer’s man lift, the head was successfully reattached by Perry Harrison. In the monument business in Warsaw, Illinois, he had orders for over 100 monuments deliverable by Memorial Day, but donated his time to be present to assist with the restoration. Jesse Ketchum donated a light and will install it to illuminate the flag.
The monument, at its former location, faced west; sightseers have reported when the sun is ready to take its repose, the eyes reveal a glowing phenomenon, and so, Private Barnett will continue to gaze to the west. Since it has been relocated, viewers say no matter where you stand in front of the monument, the eyes of the statue follow your movement, as if acting as if Private Barnett is acting as sentinel.
This effort has engendered fervent activity in collecting information concerning this monument and the names enshrined hereon. Carl and Rose Trueblood have located nine photos of these men. Perry Harrison intends to produce porcelain inserts to replace those missing. As a final note referencing the many loving acts so freely given, with no expectation of reward, Leon will dig the flowers located at the original monument site, and replanted them in a soon-to-be fashioned flower bed at the base of the statue.
To each of you who made this possible, you have enriched the heritage of this great county. Where, but here, could so much be accomplished by so precious few at such small cost.
Repeating the words of historian Elmer Davis “This nation will remain the land of the free, only so long as it is the land of the brave.” Today, we celebrate the brave.”
I chose not to take unto myself the privilege of rededicating this monument and recognizing its relocation and preservation, but instead, humbly request we share in the honor. Accordingly, please repeat after me:
“On this 29th day, of May, 2017, we who love freedom, we who know, it is purchased at the cost/of our best and bravest sons and daughters, honor them today. We rededicate this statue and its relocation and preservation to all who have died in military service to the United States of America”.