Recollections of the late Burrell Smith

February 17, 2022
The late Burrell Smith is pictured receiving a special American Legion membership certificate from Dan Schmitz, Commander of the Lewistown Post 578. Smith passed away Feb. 10, 2022. He received many honors during his long life and had been a continuous member of the Lewis County Memorial Post 578 for over 70 years at the time of this photo. The late Burrell Smith is pictured receiving a special American Legion membership certificate from Dan Schmitz, Commander of the Lewistown Post 578. Smith passed away Feb. 10, 2022. He received many honors during his long life and had been a continuous member of the Lewis County Memorial Post 578 for over 70 years at the time of this photo.

Rita Cox


Burrell Smith, age 103, passed away February 10, 2022. A lifelong resident of Lewis County, Mr. Smith had a vivid recollection of his long life and shared his memories several years ago with he was still a ‘kid’ at ninety plus years old. The Press-News Journal was honored to tell his stories and it was such a pleasure to get to know him. The following is an article written in 2012.

Burrell Smith is a Lewis County treasure. He is a man who has served his country and takes pride in his community. In his ninety plus years he has seen the whole world change. He can drive around Monticello and remember places and friends that are long gone. The precious memories are always with him and he will gladly share his recollections.

He grew up in a time that no longer exists. Imagine standing on the streets of Monticello in the 1920s and 30s. The courthouse stands proudly in the middle of town. There are few cars, most people travel by horse and buggy. There are no cell phones, televisions or computers. Everyone knows their neighbor. The town is a busy place. It is a strong community with churches that are full on Sunday and happy children attend the Monticello School.

The Monticello native was born in May of 1918 and still resides in the small town. He is a WWII veteran, was one of the first linemen for Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative, a businessman, mayor, lodge member, volunteer, lover of old cars. He is a devoted family man, community leader, friend and a Christian. With a mind like a history book, he was willing to share some of his recollections of Monticello back in the day.

He is the son of George and Elizabeth Amanda Smith. His father was from Scotland County and his mother from Lewis County. His father was sheriff of Lewis County from 1920-1924 and 1928-1932, in those days a sheriff couldn’t serve consecutive terms. They lived in the same building that housed the jail, and his mother would cook the meals for anyone incarcerated. Berle would visit with the prisoners. Inmates were usually someone they knew and the crimes were usually for chicken stealing, moon shining and things of that nature. At times they might have six or eight prisoners. Inmates in jail could become trustees and were expected to work on a farm. Berle was a little reluctant to share the fact that a trustee taught him how to drive and he has been driving ever since. He was about 12 or 13 years old at the time. One of his first jobs around the age of 14 was driving the county assessor, Johnny Johnson, around the county to people’s property. At that time the assessor would have to go to a person’s property to do the assessment. Johnson didn’t drive and he hired Smith to take him around. A drivers license was not needed back then, if you could reach the pedals and steer, you were able to drive on the road. He recalls Johnson being a good judge of horses and the process of going to all the properties would take three or four months.

Monticello in the early 1930s was a small thriving town. As the county seat, the courthouse was a place of activity. Smith remembers a chain all around the courthouse used to tie the horses up while people conducted business. Some days there would be over fifty horses hitched up. Along with the courthouse, the town consisted of two restaurants, two grocery stores, two feed stores, a garage, mill, three hotels, school, post office, doctor’s office, law offices, barber shop and a bank, which was the Monticello Trust Company, still doing business today as the Bank of Monticello. Besides all the town folk, people would come in from the country to do their trading, bringing their eggs and cream, and conduct business with the local merchants. Everyone knew each other so doing business in town was a social event.

He remembers the town showing outside movies in a vacant lot near the courthouse. A big treat for him was when the family traveled to Quincy, driving across the railroad bridge, because it was the only bridge, the Quincy Memorial Bridge hadn’t been built yet. The family went to a movie, at the Washington Theatre and although he doesn’t remember the name of the film, he does remember the star was Al Jolson and it was the first “talkie” he saw and he thought it was just great. He does remember the sound not matching up with the star’s lip movements.

His brother-in-law, Roy Keller, who married his sister Alma, was a World War I vet who brought back a Missouri Army Saddle Mule bank to young Burrell. He would save his pennies and fill the bank and then go to the Monticello Trust Company. Barely reaching the counter, he would deposit the money. Keller was one of 18 men in the first class for the Missouri Highway Patrol.

The town population was made up of many good people. Several were colorful characters.

The local barber was Raymond Orrcull. When a strange car came into town, the barber would immediately stop doing a shave or a haircut on someone and run outside to look at the car. Tom Johnson was a lawyer. Prosecuting attorney was Walter Hilbert. The doctor was Dr. Marchand. The Lindell Hotel stood where the Bank of Monticello is located today. Smith recalled a comical scene in town. Tude Selby was a local black man who lived in a house that was part log cabin. Tude would go to the local restaurants and pick up their waste to slop his hogs. Tude and Hilbert would put on an act every time they met in the street of circling each other and pretending like they were going to fight. Mrs. Legg was a nice older lady who wrote articles for the newspaper about daily life in Monticello. Sty and Hocker Breeding were good ole boys who were local handymen. Chick Dickson was deputy sheriff and also custodian at the courthouse.

There once was an opera house that was later used as an ice house, men would cut ice from the nearby creek and kept the ice cold by layering sawdust between the cut blocks. The old Caldwell mill was located north of town and farmers would bring their grain to the mill by horse and wagon.

The Masonic Lodge 58 AF&AM still stands prominently in town and has a rich history of its own. Smith has been an active member for over 70 years, holding every office through the years, and was secretary for 20 years. Dues were three or four dollars in his first years, and some members would bring loads of wood to trade for dues fees. The lodge would and still does help people who have fell on hard times, mainly women and orphans. He comments that it is a very good organization. Just a few of the many members over the years included Farron Jenkins, Jake Hetzler, Alec Leslie, T.R. Legg.

There was a larger population of African Americans living in Monticello back then. Most of the men would work as farm hands and the women would mainly do domestic help. Goldie Buckner worked for his mother and helped take care of the large family.

The small community had four churches, Baptist, Methodist, Christian and a church which black people attended. The Christian Church in Monticello was where in early life he attended Sunday School and Church and continued to be a member until low membership forced him to close the church. With great sadness, he says it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do was closing the church that he had grown up in. He currently attends the Methodist Church in Monticello and goes every Sunday and is always dressed in a suit and tie.

In the 1920s and 30s, hard times had fell across America, but Smith said his family always had plenty to eat, because they raised their own food. His mother always had a garden and they raised hogs and chickens. He said at the time he didn’t really realize what poor conditions were, everyone was having hard times, that’s just the way it was. As common in those days, he had many siblings. Burrell is the youngest of six sisters and one brother, but he says he doesn’t remember ever wanting or needing anything.

The fair grounds were east of Monticello. The event always drew large crowds and everyone dressed up to go to the fair. It was a fun social occasion and there was a large amphitheater. People came to view the livestock, especially the saddle horses. Smith was proud to show his pony, Prince. Prince was black with four white feet. The ladies would show off their flowers and quilts and of course their canning, gardening and cooking skills.

Smith attended Monticello High School, which was located where the ASC Office now stands. He became the bus driver at an early age and needed a chauffeur’s license so they had him write down that he was 18 instead of 17. Some of the children he drove to school were Norman Merrell, who would later become a senator, Donnie, Delorus and Jimmy Burke, Russell Heindselman, Winston Little and Paul and Lucretia Hinton. His first Model A Ford bus held eight to ten kids and he later bought a bus for less than a thousand dollars that held 21 children. The high school closed in 1946 and the grade school continued until 1970.

He purchased the filling station in 1937, operating it until he went into the service. This was a full service gas station, as most were in those days. When you pulled up to the pump, Burrell would pump the gas, check the oil, fill the radiator, and wash all the windows. Gas was twelve cents a gallon, cigarettes were four cents a pack. The soda machine had to be cleaned every night, because during the delivery the bottles would get very dusty because the delivery trucks weren’t enclosed as they are now and the condensation in the soda machine would make the dust turn into mud and make the machine a mess. Soda came in glass bottles and there were only a couple of choices, no diet, mainly just plain Coke or Pepsi. A bottle of ice cold soda would cost a nickel.

The station was open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and if someone came in after hours there was a call button. Burrell lived next to the station and if a customer came in the middle of the night he would get dressed and go over to serve the person. One night, this ole boy pulled up, and Burrell got dressed and went to help him. He wouldn’t say who the guy was, but he said he was known around town for being a little tight with his money. The man was driving a cattle truck, full of cattle and when Burrell gets there he asks him to check his tires. The man had a lantern between his feet for heat. Smith checked the four tires and told the man he was done, the guy rolled the window down an inch or two and said “Did you get the spare? So Burrell crawled underneath the truck, full of cattle and their waste dripping down on him, checked the spare, and when he was done the man drove off without a thank you or acknowledgment. This was a rare incident, as Smith says most people were friendly and courteous. He made a lot of friends and was a trusted businessman. He sold the station after seven years and went into the service. He was in the Army, attached to the Air Force, during World War II.

Returning from the war, he started working for REC, (Rural Electric Cooperative) in December of 1945 and continued until retiring in September 1980. He said one of his greatest pleasures was seeing people turning on a lamp in their home after he had brought electricity to them. He attends gatherings with other retired REC workers. REC will celebrate their 75 year anniversary in 2012.

He was on the Monticello town board for over 40 years, serving as mayor several times. He is a member of the American Legion in Lewistown and has always been a proud supporter of his community. He has been involved in several organization throughout his life.

He married Ruth Adams on Oct. 12, 1939. They had two children, Bill and Ruth Ann, four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Smith was always interested in cars and is known around the community for his Model T. He has restored seven Model T cars and currently has one that he has owned for forty-five years and can be seen driving around town and in local parades. He and Ruth went on over twenty national tours in their old cars, each 500 miles, and made many many friends. They enjoyed their time traveling around the country. Sadly, his wife passed away in 1998. Burrell visits the Monticello Cemetery everyday.

Smith has a good memory and has many pictures of Monticello that show places that no longer exist. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and recollections of days gone by. He likes to read and is very interested in history. He has experienced more changes in technology than most people can ever imagine. He was born at a time when horses were used more than cars and today, thanks to a grandson, he can use a computer. He is a proud father and grandfather. His love for his family, his country and his community is very evident.