Hardscrabble — Speakeasy #150

The rules for the Speakeasy challenge can be found here.

My name is Cora Ann Skinner. I was born in Stoddard, Missouri on February 9, 1873. I married James Alexander King on May 15th, 1892. I was 19 years old. My mother had to sign our wedding certificate because of my age. I was one of 10 children of John Skelton and Lucretia Mcpheeters. I had ten children; John Daniel, Charley, Vera, Walter, Herman, Marshall, Roy, Nellie, Bertha, and Ralph.

Life was hard in Missouri in the late 19th century. James and I had a small shack called “Hardscrabble”.James never worked a steady job in our entire marriage. He did handyman type jobs around Hannibal. There were occasions where he would take a job “out-of-town”. Where “out-of-town” was always a mystery.

My brother Rueben committed suicide. He had a mental breakdown and locked himself in the attic with his bible and spent several days reading it. They found him hanging from the rafters. I never liked him but he planted the seed.

My father came to Stoddard county from Hawkins county, TN. He had owned some slaves in TN but knew that the area of southeast MO didn’t like slavery but they also didn’t like blacks. So before he moved he freed his slaves. One slave was named Jake and he had taken our last name. He had been with them most if not all of his life. He refused to leave them after receiving his freedom and make the journey with them to MO. It was a worry to my family that he would be beaten or worse by some ignorant member of the KKK which was pretty well established in Stoddard County at that time. They did finally talk him into moving and he settled in an African-American community near Cape Girardeau, MO. I lost a true friend in Jake.

After ten children my husband left me in 1915 the year young Ralph was born. Just disappeared, like through a black  hole and then never returned. Not a single person ever heard from James again. All I had left was ten children, a four room shack, and  five acres with a lone oak tree smack in the middle. The summer and early fall of 1917 were brutally hot, even for southeast MO. That’s when I lost my mind; “snapped” they would say today. I wanted to take Ralphie with me, but in my state of mind could not figure out how to do it. It was surprising easy once I got the rope over the lower limb. Just slipped the noose over my neck and jump off the peach basket. That would do it  I thought. But then I thought about my ten children. Along in this Godforsaken place.

She waited for someone to tell her  what  to do next.


  1. Oh, what a tragic story – and so heartbreaking that it was true. I can’t imagine how difficult life must have been for her, to be left alone to raise 10 children.

    This is told with such sensitivity. Thank you for sharing this with us. 🙂


    • I know. What a terrible position to be in. Sometimes we think we have it bad. Nothing in comparison to those living in that time. As always, thank you for your thoughtful comment.



  2. So sad… You brought this to life with an air of authenticity, something I think is often actually more difficult with a story based in fact. My mum was one of ten children with a dad who couldn’t work much. It was a very hard life for everyone and something that continued to define her her whole life.


  3. The hard life of pioneer women was well told in your story. It was sharp and captivating and gave me a sense of falling off a cliff with just a bit of hope ’till the very end.


  4. Oh wow, so sad and tragic, but also so interesting that you found that out in researching your family tree. What a hard life. I enjoyed the “voice” you gave her, it came across very matter-of-fact and told the story well.


  5. What a heartbreaking story. I got a shiver when I read your comment above that these events are true. My goodness, I’d feel helpless abandoned with my two kids… alone with ten, I can understand how she could ‘snap.’


    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I found most of this out when I was doing research on my family. All events are documented. It’s one of those things when I confronted my relatives about they all said “we don’t talk about that.” Even found a birth certificate for an uncle I never new I had who died when he was about one month old. I fear some of things I still don’t know. Oh…and I have a convicted murderer in my family tree.



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