Who Was Aaron L. Mastin?

A Sketch of His Life
by Viola Mastin Miller, his daughter

  Aaron Loder Mastin was born on a farm in Coshocton County Ohio, July 25, 1842. His father, Levigh Mastin, was a well-educated emigrant from England. His mother, Elizabeth Peterman, was beautiful Dutch girl, also from the British Isles. Aaron Loder had two sisters, Sarah and Martha. His four brothers were Hiram, Levi, Benjamin and John, the youngest of the boys.[Note:James, the 2nd born child is not mentioned here in this passage.]

  Levigh, Aaron's father, was a cooper by trade, and a popular stake-rider preacher who carried Bible teachings from one settlement to another. Levigh Mastin was proud of his alert youngsters and in his spare time taught them to read and write. This farseeing man also taught his growing sons to cherish and obey the laws of their state, to fight if necessary. The entire family was taught the sanctity of their government.

  Until the Confederates routed the demoralized Union troops at the Battle of Bull Run, the Mastin family believed, as most Northerners did, that the war between the North and South would be short. They thought that the Regular Army and the ninety-day Volunteers could quell the insurgents. The disastrous Battle of Bull Run dispelled that belief.

  President Lincoln made urgent appeal for a volunteer army of soldiers and seaman to help the Regular Army put down the riotous demonstrations of the Confederates. Tension was high in the states bordering the Mississippi River. The wounded and dead had hardly been cleared from Bull Run when Governor Yates of Illinois wired the War Department that his state would provide seventeen regiments, more if needed.

  Following Governor Yates' assurance, and President Lincoln's appeal to the nation, recruiting stations were set up in strategic places in Illinois. Torchlight rallies and parades, with call of fife and drums, stirred young farmboys "to go fight it out with the 'Seeceesh'". Aaron Loder Mastin, a tall lanky farmboy, took himself over the state line from Clinton to Camp Pugh, and enlisted on August 1, 1861 in the 41st Regular Illinois Volunteers, to serve three years.[Note: Aaron did not cross any state lines to enlist as he and his entire family were already living in DeWitt County Illinois and had been there since the early 1850's. Levigh Mastin, died 1854, is buried in Lisenby Cemetery]

  The young volunteer, age nineteen, had been a soldier about one month when the Confederates seized Columbus, Kentucky in direct violation of Kentucky's neutrality, followed immediately by Grant's seizure of Paducah, Kentucky, a key point on the Ohio River, an operation in which Mastin's regiment took part. The first few months of the War in the West, as this portion of the United States was called, were perilous months. Events have been pictured in many a history. Here in Aaron Loder Mastin's Diary we have one boy's view. His diary covers a few brief months.

  From August to November 1861, Mastin's enlistment was soldier training, and the occupation of Paducah, which young Aaron L. called "waiting for the fight to begin". The next account we have of the capable young farmboy was as a nurse and wardmaster in the Paducah Hospital, where he was left by his commanding officer because he was sick. His Regiment [41st Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company F] was ordered into action in the ensuing struggle for control of the Mississippi River. Thus Aaron L. "missed the fights" in which his buddies took part and served as a soldier-nurse in Paducah hospitals, which cared for the wounded soldiers from such deadly battles as Fort Donelson and bloody Shiloh.

  An accident happened while he was sorting and labeling knapsacks in connection with his duties as wardmaster. A loaded revolver in one of the knapsacks discharged in his left hand. Fortunately the two injured fingers did not have to be amputated, but the hand remained too stiff to use. He was given a medical discharge July 8, 1862

  Aaron L. went home to Coshocton[Note:He returned to DeWitt County Illinois where the Mastin family had lived since the 1850's]. During July he stayed with his brother Benjamin and helped with the farm chores. He got accustomed to the stiff fingers in his left hand. News of the war made him feel that he should help. He figured that he could handle a gun as "good as anyone", so on August 17, 1862 Aaron L. and his three brothers, Hiram, Levi and Benjamin went over to Camp Pugh and enlisted in the 107th Regular Illinois Volunteers "to serve until the wars end". Brother John was too young to go. For Aaron it was a reenlistment. Aaron L. kept no diary this time because he was too busy as a "fighting soldier". November of 1862 found the four Mastin brothers in the 107th Regular Illinois Volunteers serving under General Tecumseh Sherman's command. They served from November 1862 to 1865, and the end of the Civil War. They were given honorable discharges at Salisbury, North Carolina. The four Mastin patriots returned to their new home in Dewitt County, Illinois. Their father, Levigh, passed away shortly after the homecoming of his sons[Note:Levigh Mastin, their father, had passed away almost 11 years earlier in 1854].

  After a much needed rest, Aaron L. went to Emerald Grove, Wisconsin. He hired out as a farmhand. His "Day Book", found with the Diary, showed a careful record of his earnings and spendings. He worked for one dollar a day, beginning at sun-up and ending at sundown. He saved enough money in one year (1867) to pay for a semester at Janesville Business College, Wisconsin.

  In 1868 the entire family of Mastins emigrated to northern Missouri near the Iowa border in Putnam County[Levi and Fannie Warrenburg would remain in DeWitt County untill 1875 when they would move to Greene County Iowa for a brief period before settling in Lake City Iowa]. Benjamin and Levi were married. Hiram remained a bachelor and lived with his mother in her log cabin not far from Lucerne, Missouri, a small village of retired farmers and a few businessmen.

  Aaron L. went to Iowa State College to get a certificate to teach school. He began his teaching career in 1869 in a little one-room schoolhouse in a farming community in Missouri. He was very much like his father with respect to obedience and discipline. With hickory switches on his desk and a deep sympathy in his heart for big overgrown farmboys who wanted an education, Aaron L. "Mister Mastin" taught all grades their "reading writing and arithmetic".

  While teaching in Putnam County Mr. Mastin, age 32, fell in love with Mary Ann Clear, the sixteen year-old daughter of Jacob and Elizabeth Clear, of Scotch and Holland-Dutch descent. They were married October 25, 1874. Molly, as she was commonly called, was just about five foot tall with coal black hair and sparkling eyes to match, quite a contrast to Aaron L. who was tall and spare with a tinge of auburn in his hair and beard. Molly had finished only the fifth reader in school and Aaron could teach her "the capitals of the states" and "the multiplication tables". In spite of the disparity of their ages and education, this was a "until death do us part" marriage. Molly liked to dance and sing. She could sing hillbilly songs for an hour and not repeat. Her favorite songs were "When You and I Were Young Maggie", "Way Out On the Prairie the Wagon Broke Down", and "Barbara Ellen". Molly was durable, thrifty and a good housekeeper. She kept "Him" to his promise to teach her and made two songs to sing while she was washing dishes or churning the cream. The stork was welcomed every two years because both of them liked big families. The Family Bible by 1885 had the names and birthdates of three girls and two boys -Ollie May, March 30, 1876; Faral Alvin, June 8, 1878; Viola Jane, June 25, 1880; Cary Elsie, November 8, 1882; and Frederick Oscar, November 3, 1884.

  Aaron L. and Molly homestead a one-hundred sixty-acre farm halfway between Ravanna and Lucerne (1884). The county line ran through this farm. Aaron L.'s brothers helped him build a six-room frame house right on the county line of Putnam and Mercer Counties. The reason for this was education. By law his children would have a choice of going to either of the two county schools -Buchanan and Enterprise. Time passed. Aaron L., now in his forties, farmed in summer and taught school in winter. He battled with the snow storms and fretted about the lack of shelter for farm animals. The salary for winter school teachers was thirty dollars a month. His farm work, added to his five days a week in a schoolroom with one or two rowdy boys, was too hard for him. Aaron L. decided to accept a job as a loan agent in a Ravanna office, a town with no bank. This job was an offer from a millionaire cousin who had made a fortune in medicines and drug stores. The six-day a week job would pay five hundred dollars a year and provide future opportunities for a family man. Acceptance of his offer as a loan agent made it necessary for Aaron L. to move to Ravanna. The sensible thing to do, he thought, was to sell the farm with the farm animals and equipment. His advertised "Country Sale" provided sufficient cash to establish a home and office in town. He looked around for a cash bargain and found a thirteen-acre bankrupt sale on the outskirts of Ravanna. It had a rundown farmhouse, a substantial big oak barn with a hayloft and a basement, a barnyard, a rundown orchard and bluegrass meadow. The Aaron Mastin family moved there in 1890. Aaron L. tore down the old tumbledown house and built an eight-room square house with a flat tin roof -one of the first tin roofs in Ravanna. It had three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs that went clear across the back of the house, lending itself to future subdivision. Later on Mastin added a large living room. The big barn and the farmyard allowed the Mastins room for cows, a team of horses, a riding horse, some pigs and some chickens, much to Molly's delight.

  There was a short delay for an office building in Ravanna. Finally a two-room office was built on Front Street, overlooking the town square with its traditional town pump and horse trough. This Loan Office was furnished frugally, with a large rolltop desk, a few chairs and slates. "Slates and pencils filled the need for scratch paper", so the rich cousin said. There were bottles of red and black ink for bookkeeping, letters and official documents.

  In the big front window was a placard: "Aaron L. Mastin, Notary Public, State Appointed". There was little or no need for advertising the loan Office. The farmers passed the word along of a Bonded Loan Agent who had money to loan on a farm.

  While in office, Aaron L. presided over the Small Claims Court. Because of his quiet and understanding ways of settling farmers' quarrels "out of court" he was given the jocular title of "Arbitrator Mastin". Theses quarrels, more often than not, were fomented by broken-down rail fences between the men's adjoining pastures. As a Notary Public and sympathetic veteran, A. L. used his office to help disabled soldiers get a pension. Sometimes he had to fight for it. The Loan Office made it easy for the veterans and cashed their pension checks.

  Aaron L. Mastin was a Loan Agent, "in a town that had no bank", was responsible for all cash loans. He appraised the value of the land, as well as appraising the man who wanted a loan on a farm. With secret thanks to Janesville College, Aaron L. was keen on mental figures and used the old six percent method faster than he could use a pen or pencil. Men teachers came from long distances to have Mr. Mastin help them solve arithmetic problems from the schoolbook "that had no answers", and left it up to the teachers and older pupils to figure out. He could do square and cube roots in his head faster than they could use slates and pencils.

  This thirteen acres on the outskirts of Ravanna was one of Mastin's best investments. One daughter took a course in Kirksville where she learned to prune and care for trees. She revived the best of the orchard by trimming the trees and cleaning out the borers. In a reasonable time Ben Davis and Jonathan apples supplied the family with nutritious and sweet apple juices made in the cider mill from the culls and fallen apples left by the Kansas City packers who came with barrels for packing apples directly from the orchard. Usually enough apples could be salvaged for dried apples and apple butter. The big all-weather barn paid off. Two milking cows supplied plenty of milk, cream, butter, and buttermilk. A young calf could be raised. An old sow and pigs helped provide meat. Molly's laying hens provided eggs and a little spare money. During the nineties the Mastins had a team of horses, a plow, a wagon, a buggy and a sleigh. They also had a riding horse, but if the girls wanted to ride straddle the father was strict about riding in the pasture and never, never on the road where people could see them.

  In 1893 the stork surprised the Mastin family with identical twin boys, Earl and Merle, born in the parlor bedroom of the big white house with the tin roof. Earl and Merle were said "to be as much alike as two peas in a pod". They were the joy of the Mastin family. Mr. Mastin was proud of his family of intelligent, healthy, good-looking children. He \spent time with them every night after the chores were done. He had the habit of coming home around sundown, taking off his black broadcloth coat, hanging it carefully in the closet, then divesting himself of his broadcloth trousers and his shiny black boots. After he had put on his work clothes he went out to the barnyard to look after the animals. Then supper over, the family settled down to quiet evenings, except Saturday which was "music night". The older children gathered around the center table in the living room, studying under the light of the big hanging lamp with its interesting dangles. The father sat close by in his favorite rocking chair, smoking homegrown tobacco in his clay pipe ready to answer questions in geography, history and arithmetic. With the father's experience, they were sure to have interesting and correct answers for their school work and get high grades on their report cards. Molly, in habitual dark cotton dress, gathered full at the waist, and a white handmade apron, sat contentedly knitting an endless number of socks and mittens. If you stop to listen you can still hear the soft click-click of Molly's knitting needles. (Molly had one fine black silk moiré dress with a full skirt that she wore to church and special occasions. She wore this "best" dress as long as she lived.) On the Sabbath everyone went to Sunday school and to church. Aaron L. was the Deacon in the church and Molly was one of his most enthusiastic singers.

  During the period between 1890 and 1908 Aaron L. was busy "educating" his children for he and Molly both wanted every child to have a good education. The three girls went to teacher-training schools at Kirksville and Chillicothe and each taught school until she married. Faral left school in 1898 to join the Army during the Spanish American War. Oscar went through Business College and on the side became an accomplished clarinet player in a band. The twins funned their way through grammar school. Aaron L. also bought up real estate at bargains which included farm land and brick store buildings in Ravanna. Molly did her share with thrift in running a household. Aaron L.'s holdings were supplemented by a meager Civil War pension, which was "forty-two dollars every three months". Both of them hoped that they would be able to leave each child a farm someday, a hope that was realized.

  Aaron L. Mastin passed away at his home in Ravanna, March 21, 1908, at the age of sixty-five leaving a widow, seven children and thirteen grandchildren. His was a lingering illness. In spite of the cold winter weather the attendance at the funeral was something to speak about in muted voices. Friends and relations came from town and farms, from Putnam, Sullivan and Mercer Counties. After the church service at his home the funeral was taken over by the Grand Army of the Republic, with beautiful ritual of that Order.

  Young men came to Ravanna on horseback, tied their horses to the hitchracks, and joined the long procession on foot behind the wagon that carried the corpse. The march was over one mile long proceeding from town to the old Ravanna graveyard and the adjoining new cemetery, and Mastin's burial plot. Wires of adjoining pastures were cut to allow the entrance of wagons, sleds and surreys, and clear the one-way county road.

  At Aaron L. Mastin's death in 1908 the Princeton Telegraph [Note: Princeton is located in Mercer County Missouri] gave his picture, and a two-column biography. The following eulogy was the last paragraph of this obituary.

  "He was a man of exemplary habits, fair in his dealings and enjoyed the confidence and respect of his fellow man, a businessman of strictest integrity and honor, his whole life worthy of sincere praise".

Viola Jane (Mastin) Miller
Los Angeles, California
February 12, 1973

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