Mary Scott Hair, local historian and lifelong Ozarker, poses with edible greens in 1960. (Courtesy of the Springfield News-Leader/Betty Love)
HURLEY – As some might see it, Mary Scott Hair never went far from home.
The Stone County housewife spent most of her life in same town — Hurley — where she was born. In the same house where she made a home as a blushing young bride; the same home she left nearly 80 years later, when age forced her across its threshold for the final time.
Even in eternal rest, she lies in the nearby Short Cemetery, founded by her family, in the heart of her beloved Spring River Valley.
But although Hair spent the vast majority of her life physically in the same place, her words took her far and wide.
For more than 50 years, Hair wrote penned pieces on Ozarks life, lore and traditions slowly slipping away. In her later years, she was also a go-to source for reporters on traditional hillfolk weather signs to figure what the next season would bring.
Hair died in 2000 at 97. Even though it’s been nearly 20 years since her typewriter spoke, a new generation now has the chance to learn through her words. Her collection — of historical material, scrapbooks, clippings, and more — was recently donated to the Stone County Historical Museum & Genealogical Center for the world to enjoy.
“Someday, somewhere, someone will want to read what you could write down now,” she shared with a reporter for Bittersweet magazine, a publication focusing on Ozarks culture, in 1982.
She didn’t intend to speak of her own work. But she was.
The year was 1902 when Mary Scott was born into a lineage of frontier Ozarkers. Her grandparents came to Missouri around 1850, and settled near Spring Creek.
Her grandmother — Granny Short, as she was known — was even long credited with killing a bushwhacker who came to her home during the Civil War. A monument, marking his grave, is hidden in the woods in Hurley.
It’s clear that Hair was an independent thinker, even from an early age. In days when many rural students didn’t go beyond elementary school — and the town didn’t even offer high school beyond ninth grade — she boarded the train and went to Springfield and lived at the YWCA so she could continue her education.
“She was a very, very intelligent woman,” says Margaret Dillabough, Hair’s granddaughter. “She was ahead of her time.”
Hair’s high school career was interrupted before graduation. Romance convinced her to return to Hurley and marry Ernest Hair, a man around 10 years her senior, who hailed from nearby Browns Spring and first dated her sister.
“After he came back from World War I, he was quite a hero in my eyes,” Hair said in 1982, recalling her courtship as a teenager. “You know how a 17-year-old is. He had just come back from the war, all handsome in his uniform. You can imagine how it was, can’t you?”
However, neither the marriage — nor the birth of a child — deterred Hair from eventually graduating from high school. Years later, Hurley began offering high school classes, and the young mother enrolled.
“Early in January 1928, our new high school building was near enough finished that we moved into it,” Hair wrote in 1958. “To be sure I’d married and had a little girl who was six at the time I started back to school. But my senior year means more to me than any previous year, mostly, I think, because I had to work so hard.”
She continued that education with journalism correspondence courses from the University of Missouri, paid for by selling eggs, and through night classes offered in Hurley by the WPA in the midst of the Great Depression.
“There is always some good in every situation,” she said years ago. “WPA night classes for adults resulted in my business training. There I learned to type, learned some business English and law, and had a class in Missouri history and World Geography. My daughter was in eighth grade at the time. We wore the same coat. She wore it to school during the day, I wore it nights. If I hadn’t had that business training in WPA classes, I couldn’t have held the jobs that have been mine over the years.”
At her piano. (Courtesy of Margaret Dillabough)
One job, especially unusual for the time, was serving as secretary to Missouri legislators Luther Arnold and Noel Cox. Perhaps her connection to Dewey Short, longtime local legislator from Galena and her first cousin, helped faciliate those opportunities.
While sessions were underway, Hair left her husband in Hurley and boarded with families in Jefferson City.
“She took me with her, I don’t know, three or four times, and I was so fascinated,” says Dillabough. “I always told her I wanted to be a secretary because she was a secretary — which is what I ended up being.”
Back home in Hurley, Dillabough remembers other things about her grandmother, who she knew as Ma.
“She was only 37 when I was born — and she would not be called Grandma,” says Dillabough. “That’s why I call her Ma. Ma was OK, but Grandma was not.”
Hair, left, hunting greens in 1960. (Courtesy of the Springfield News-Leader/Betty Love)
Often dressed in a sunbonnet and apron, Hair spent time outside with her beloved animals, which included a flock of sheep and a herd of cats.
“Women back then — she did absolutely everything,” says Dillabough. “They had a garden, she canned, she pickled, she preserved. Her ‘thing’ was persimmon loafs. That was what she would give people.
“She was such a lady. The only time I ever saw her in pants was in the winter when she’d go out to feed her lambs or her chickens, and she’d put them on under her dress.”
One thing Hair did not do was drive. “Women were a lot different back then,” says Dillabough.
As much as she loved various aspects of her life, Hair really wanted to write. She was so passionate about the idea that she went to the local newspaper and convinced them to let her begin a column in the late 1940s.
“At the time I sold The Crane Chronicle on the idea of one, I did it for free for the first two or three years just to prove to them that it was a paying proposition,” she said years ago. “It proved to be enough of a subscription getter, so they began paying me for it and they have ever since.”
That column was “Much In a Basket,” a place that gave her space to share colorful descriptions of Ozarks beauty, sentiment and her beloved animals. Her stories at times focused on history, especially that of Stone County, while others were newsy portraits of hometown happenings.
It didn’t, however, identify Hair as its author. Instead, she went by the name “Samanthy.” She chose the specific moniker to honor a cousin, and because a local doctor thought more baby girls should be given the name.
“Everybody asked, ‘What have you got a pen name for?'” said Hair back in 1982. “To begin with, I was kind of leery trying to sell them on the idea of a feature column, so I thought that if it failed, I’d rather that Samanthy be writing it instead of Mary Scott Hair.”
The column continued until the mid-1960s, when Hair decided she should give someone else a chance to write. When no one assumed her place, she took up her pen again around a year later, and continued for the rest of her life.
Hair’s “Much In a Basket” regularly appeared on the front page of The Crane Chronicle.
“Much In a Basket” wasn’t Hair’s only writing project. For several years, she wrote a second column — Hurley Happenings — that uber-localized day-to-day life. She recounted how the ball games were attended, who was sick, who came to dinner, who was doing better, and just good old gossip.
“Leon Langley, Vernon Eaton and Ernest Hair, along with about 47 other people all with from two to three lines each, fished in the Barker Hole Sunday, and nary a one of them got a bite,” Hair wrote in 1958. “All day. Not a bite.”
Those columns were so tied to local life that folks knew to self-censor when around Hair.
“(Even) as kids, we said, ‘Be careful what you say,’ because it might be in the newspaper,'” says 77-year-old Jerry Wiley, who grew up across the street from Hair with his parents and two younger brothers.
An example came in 1946, when his Wiley’s brother took a grasshopper to Sunday school and it made the news:
“Most children like to go to Sunday school and are ardent boosters of the institution. One of our little neighbors, Bobby Wiley, came to Sunday school a few Sundays ago with a big green grasshopper cupped in his hands, very careful lest he hurt the big fellow. We never did decide whether Bobby wanted to boost his class attendance or whether he expected the grasshopper to reform. Anyway, when the preacher asked what he was going to do with it Bobby replied, ‘Oh, I just brought him to Sunday school!'”
Despite such stories, Wiley adds that Hair never wrote things she shouldn’t.
“Whatever she did was done in the right way,” he says, noting that many people were fond of the Ozarks woman. “If you knew Mary, you felt like you had a special friend. There was something different about her.”
Besides local papers, Hair also regularly wrote for the Ozarks Mountaineer magazine, where she submitted recipes as well as news articles and heart-tugging pieces on Ozarks beauty. Then there was work for Capper’s Weekly, the Missouri Ruralist, Otto Rayburn’s Ozark Guide, Ozarks Hills and Hollows magazine and The Echo, a publication based out of Kansas.
While Hair’s work had brains, it also had beauty, proven by an excerpt from 1974:
“Night has drawn the soft folds of her drapes around a busy world, shutting in the deep silences prevalent in the country and shutting out, or at least muffling, some of the man-made sounds so familiar to earth-people everywhere. With doors and windows closed against the evening’s chill, we welcome these autumn twilights after busy days. As the days shorten, summer’s tension and hurried hours will lose some of their edginess.”
“The Nights Are Cool” (Courtesy of The Ozarks Mountaineer)
While the timeline is a bit hazy, Hair became acquainted with the staff at Springfield’s newspapers around the same time she began writing in Crane. Soon, she began contributing to those publications as well — and became a source on Stone County history and nature-based weather forecasting for three generations of journalists.
Lucile Morris Upton, longtime Springfield newspaper reporter, called Hair “an authority on anything Ozarkian” in 1960.
Hank Billings, who wrote for Springfield newspapers from the early 1940s until his death in 2017, frequently featured her words in “Ozarks Quotes,” a space dedicated to excerpts from “country weeklies,” or newspapers throughout the outlying area.
“Samanthy was one of my favorites,” wrote Billings in 2000.
That fact is part of the reason Mike O’Brien, a former Springfield newspaper editor and columnist, first heard of Hair.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, he was writing several columns every week about Ozarks personalities, culture and history, and decided to introduce himself to Hair on a visit through Hurley.
“That started a long friendship,” says O’Brien. “She was so cheerful. Just a delightful woman. I just loved her.”
O’Brien periodically interviewed Hair on what nature-based “signs” said about upcoming weather. For example, in 1991, she told him that a “boogerish” winter was ahead, based on the sighting of spoons (or shovels) inside persimmons.
“It’s telling us we’ll have to shovel snow,” she said. “And we’re due to have four heavy snows, by the way, because we had heavy fog on four mornings in August.”
Other signs included the coats of wooly worms, and the thickness of cobwebs.
“I think she documented a belief system and a way of life that has largely disappeared in recent years,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien was also the one who wrote about a major revelation Hair made in the late 1990s. For decades, it was said that Hair’ grandmother killed a bushwhacker with an axe; the story went so far that it’s inscribed on the monument marking the soldier’s grave. But Hair revealed that the story wasn’t quite true.
“Grandpap had to shoot the bushwhacker to finish him off after Granny hit him with the axe,” she told O’Brien in 1998. “They just didn’t tell that part to many folks. Somehow it seemed better to give Granny credit for it.”
A monument still says that “Granny” Short was the one who killed the bushwhacker with an axe during the Civil War.
In addition to her newspapering, Hair contributed to history in other ways.
In 1955, she purchased a spot of land in the middle of town where her grandfather staked his claim around 100 years earlier. The land was cleared, and transformed into today’s Homestead Park.
She wrote multiple books, including one of poetry, and another tied to the town’s history. Another was about the Hurley United Methodist Church, which two of her grandfathers built and she attended all her life.
However, to say Hair was simply a lifelong member of the church would be an understatement.
Local author and attorney Robert Wiley (the boy who brought the grasshopper to Sunday school) once wrote that she had “devoted” her life to the Methodist congregation.
She grew up with the church, as it was built the same year she was born. She served as its historian, and she was a longtime Sunday school teacher. She also played the piano and organ for the congregation for 75 years, until she broke her wrist at 89 years old.
“Anytime the doors were open, she was there,” says her granddaughter.
Another person who remembers Hair’s ties to the church is Joyce Rush, minister at Hurley Methodist, who came to the congregation in the early 1990s.
The pastor didn’t realize it at the time, but Hair’s approval was an important stamp to get.
“My greatest claim to fame was when she put my name in her newspaper article,” says Rush. “She wrote in her column that ‘We have a new minister, and do we like her? Yes, we do.’
“Someone told me (those words were) a very good thing for me.”
The Hairs in 1973. (Courtesy of Springfield News-Leader/Art Evans)
Life, like a chapter book, continued flipping pages — and Hair kept writing.
Her husband died in 1976, and still she wrote. Her home was flooded in 1979, but she kept going. Her heart gave her trouble in the early 1980s, but that didn’t stop her.
As time sped up, however, Hair gradually slowed. By the late 1990s, a series of falls forced the nearly 100-year-old Hair from her Stone County home to Springfield, where she lived with Dillabough.
The distance didn’t end her “Much In a Basket” column. She continued to write from Springfield, where she dictated content to Dillabough, who typed and faxed each one to the newspaper.
“She brings out the best of everybody in the community,” said Fred Hall, editor of the Crane Chronicle/Stone County Republican newspaper, in 1998. “She always looks for the best. Not too many people disappoint her.”
In May 2000, Hair died after complications from surgery to repair a broken hip. She was 97.
“Through the decades, she became known as the woman who knew most everything about Stone County and what winter would bring,” printed the Springfield News-Leader the day after her death.
Newspapers across the country picked up the story, including USA Today. “I always knew that she was well thought of and known in the area, (but) to be in that paper, it was kind of a shock,” says Dillabough. “She was very special, and I miss her.”
The next week, Hair was memorialized by Hank Billings in the News-Leader.
“Her writing sparkled and bubbled happily, as inviting as Spring Creek meandering through Hurley a few blocks from Samanthy’s home,” he wrote. “Personal journalism lives — and so does Mary Scott Hair, through her large family, her vast reservoir of friends and her 54 years of newspaper columns.”
Eighteen years have passed since those words were penned. In that time, children not yet born have become adults. The world has moved on.
Hair’s reality, in many ways, is now history. But perhaps that would’ve pleased her. After all, in one of her books, a phrase was underlined: “There is poetry in history, believe it or not. The pulse of a people has political and economical beats, to be sure, but it also contains throbs of sentiment that cannot be ignored.”
Today, Hair’s little home still stands, the one where she lived in the heart of Hurley. A stained glass window at the church also shines colorfully in her memory.
“We decided we wanted to do a stained glass window in her honor,” says Rush, Hair’s minister. “We said it had to have a lamb in it.”
And now, her work will soon tell the 21st century about an Ozarks long gone at the Stone County historical museum. Dillabough recently donated most of her grandmother’s papers to the museum, which contain scrapbooks of columns, historical documents and more.
“We’re so glad they brought these items so they can be preserved where a lot of people can come see them instead of being hidden in an attic or a basement,” says Kay Vinsand, president of the Stone County historical society.
Before donating the items to the museum, Dillabough spent time sorting the papers into category-specific files — wrapping up something her grandmother planned to do decades ago.
“I have to laugh every time I make such a statement as ‘I need that for my files’ … for said ‘files’ are a joke!” wrote Hair in 1947. “Empty candy boxes, two cigar boxes, an expanding envelope file, large brown envelops and a couple of scrapbooks make up ‘my files.’ When I want a particular clipping, leaflet or booklet, chances are I have to empty the boxes, look thru the contents and find the clipping right on what would have been the top if I hadn’t turned the box upside down. Some day, I promise myself, I’m going to put my valuables in order.”
Now, those “valuables” are in order and available, and in a place where they’re safe for the future. The museum recently secured a $500 grant from the State Historical Society of Missouri to purchase archival-quality boxes and folders to keep the materials from deteriorating.
And, as volunteers fill the new boxes and folders with the items, they’re digitizing them so researchers may use keywords to search for topics.
It’s all part of helping the Ozarks remember: Remember its past, and remember the woman who spent her life preserving and sharing its stories.
“It seems like everything is connected with Mary about Hurley,” says Wiley, who grew up across the street from Hair. “I wish so much when I was younger that I’d would’ve asked more questions.”
Now, perhaps some of those questions can answered. That posthumous help ties to how Dillabough believes her grandmother would want to be remembered.
“I think she would want to be remembered as a historian, and a die-hard Methodist,” says Dillabough. “And a lady.”
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“The bushwhacker saddle,” Mike O’Brien, Springfield News-Leader, July 5, 1998
“Callers protest cancer stories,” Dale Freeman, Sunday News and Leader, Oct. 6, 1974
“Community, newspaper await Samantha’s return,” Robert Edwards, Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 25, 1998
“A Country Woman’s Journal,” Mary Scott Hair, Missouri Ruralist, Sept. 13, 1947
“A Country Woman’s Journal, Mary Scott Hair, Missouri Ruralist, Oct. 26, 1946
“County historical society receives grant to preserve Mary Scott Hair collection,” Isaac Estes-Jones, Crane Chronicle, May 3, 2018
“Dewey Short: Orator of the Ozarks,” Robert Wiley, 1985
“Folkways survive,” Jenell Wallace, Springfield Daily News, May 25, 1982
“It takes experiences all added up to make a life,” Dena Meyers, Bittersweet, 1982
“A Little Patch of Ground in Hurley, Mo.,” Mary Scott Hair, 1958
“Local writer, folklorist dies at 97,” Laura Bauer Menner, Springfield News-Leader, May 16, 2000
“Making seasonal predictions,” Mike O’Brien, Springfield News-Leader, Oct. 6, 1991
“Mary Scott Hair,” obituary, Springfield News-Leader, May 16, 2000
“A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region,” 1894
“Samanthy and Ernest,” Susan Croce Kelly, Sunday News and Leader, Nov. 18, 1973
“Samanthy drops pen,” Sunday News and Leader, Jan. 31, 1965
“Samanthy leaves gentle legacy,” Hank Billings, May 22, 2000
“We go a-greenin’ with the ladies at Hurley,” Lucile Morris Upton, Sunday News and Leader, May 15, 1960
“Weekly column a 50-year habit,” Robert Edwards, Springfield News-Leader, Dec. 24, 1998