This page has been visited times since 14 June 1997.
My grandfather, Leonard Oswald Viles, was a man I not only loved
but also one I respected. I have always thought of Grandpa as
being one of the last of the old-time lawmen. He was honest,
straightforward, and didn't suffer fools easily. But he was
also the best grandfather a person could have; never afraid
to let his grandchildren know that he loved them.
Leonard was born February 6, 1909 in Branson, Missouri to Claude Lee Viles and Estella Rae Bates. He was the oldest child and weighed thirteen pounds at birth. Even as large as he was, Grandpa was a very sick baby until a problem which made it difficult for him to breathe was corrected. After correcting all of his physical problems he became healthy and lived a good long life.
"Leonard O. Viles in 1918, at the age of 9"
Branson, Missouri, where Grandpa spent his boyhood years, was not the country music capital that it is today, but was a sleepy little town situated on the White River. He was fortunate to live near grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins during his early years. One of his uncles, Robert Armstrong, owned a a riverboat that was used to haul supplies to a dam being built on the White River near Forsyth. Occasionally, Grandpa and his cousin, Bob, were allowed to go on these trips as his uncle towed barges of bricks and other supplies to the dam site. There was also another steamboat that hauled supplies to Forsyth and a rivalry developed between Robert Armstrong and the owner of the other steamboat. This rivalry led to a very memorable trip as my aunt, Eileen Turek, describes in a biography she wrote about her father:
"On one trip, never to be forgotten, the two steamboats started
to race as usual. the boats pulled away from the wharf together, but
as soon as they hit the main current, Uncle Bob's boat stopped
because of a fouled shaft. Uncle Bob stripped down to
swimming trunks and dived overboard with a Bowie knife between
his teeth. He stayed under so long that the boys and the
other people on board began to worry that something had happened
to him. When finally he surfaced, he threw some pieces of one-inch
Manila rope into the air to show the reason for the fouling and then
went back down. After four or five trips below, he climbed
aboard and ordered full speed ahead to try to catch the other
boat that had gained considerably during this delay. Soon
Uncle Bob's boat was going so fast and had gotten up so much
steam that many of the passengers expressed the fear that
she might blow up. That was her fastest run down river, but she
still lost by about one hundred yards."
As a young boy Grandpa suffered a devastating loss when his
mother died. Grandpa was only 6 years old and he had a sister,
Inez, who was 3 and a brother, Clarence, who was not yet 2.
Grandpa's father, Claude Lee Viles, took the three children
to Trinidad, Colorado to live with their grandparents. They
all spent a few months in Colorado and then Grandpa and his
father came back to Missouri leaving the two youngest children
with their grandparents. I know that for some reason the two
youngest children were later given up for adoption, but have
often wondered why. I can only assume that Claude didn't feel
able to care for the two babies by himself. Later on Clarence,
the baby, came back to Missouri but Inez never did. I do know
that my grandfather stayed in touch with his sister because I
remember meeting my great aunt as a little girl. Inez, his
sister, died in 1965 in a car accident. I was 11 at the time.
After leaving Colorado Grandpa and his father moved to Springfield, Missouri to live. To tell this next story I'll continue with a quote from my aunt's biography:
"One of the things Daddy remembers about his stay in Springfield
was a black and white shepherd dog he had when he was six or
seven years old. When the dog was about two years old, he
became quite a fighter. They had moved into a new neighborhood
and fights developed between Shep and the local canines. However,
the idea must not be acquired that Shep was vicious. He was a
real pet and was only defending himself--at first. I imagine
that he did acquire a great deal of satisfaction out of his
fights before too many of them became past history. He whipped
so many of the other boys' dogs that they began trying to get
the best of him by setting more than one dog on him at a time.
Grandpa and Daddy made him a heavy leather collar studded with
nail brads to protect his throat after he had been badly
chewed by a big bulldog and a collie at the same time.
After this protection was afforded him, he killed several dogs
Once when Daddy and Shep were walking down the street, three bigger boys and their dogs approached them from the opposite direction. They set the three dogs on Shep all at once and when Daddy (who was, you remember, only seven) tried to stop the fight, they cuffed him back out of the way. He started running for home to get help, crying all the way about his dog. As he rounded the corner, he ran into Donald, a good friend and neighbor about fifteen years old, who had his St. Bernard with him. Donald grabbed the youngster and asked him what the trouble was. Daddy sobbed out the story and the two boys and the St. Bernard started back to stop the fight. When they got to the scene of the conflict, Shep had finished one cur and another dog which was part collie. He was in the act of finishing off the remaining one which was half bulldog. The three boys were trying to kick Shep off the dog, but Donald stepped in and made them let the dogs finish the fight. Shep won and then limped home behind Daddy, where Grandpa helped patch him up again."
It is hard to imagine today that people would allow their dogs
to fight to the death but I have to remind myself that this was
over 80 years ago and peoples attitudes towards animals were
different than the ones we have today where most of us only see
animals behind fences at the local zoo.
During the winter of 1925/1926, Grandpa and a friend, Bill Campbell, (they were living in Delta, Colorado at the time) decided to leave home and "go out on the bum." They didn't have two dollars between them at the time. By riding freight cars and nearly freezing themselves to death, they made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they joined the Army. Granpa was only 16 years old at the time and lied to the recruiting officer, telling him he was 21 years old, so they would allow him to enlist. This lie came back to haunt Grandpa at the outbreak of World War II as he had to correct the records at that time and had a hard time convincing the government he was 5 years younger than they thought.
One story told by my aunt in her autobiography of Grandpa had to do with Grandpas duties of breaking the remounts (new, untrained horses):
"There was one bronc from Montana that was large and extremely
tough. He threw Daddy two or three times from a McClelland saddle, so
Daddy borrowed a stock saddle from Major Mason, put on his boots and
Western spurs, led him out into the desert, and climbed on. Daddy
spurred him all over and slapped him over the eyes with his hat, but
he would not pitch. He just cold-jawed and ran. Daddy gave up and
started riding him back to the stables. As they were passing the
Seventh Cavalry parade ground, which was hard-packed caliche, the horse
started to pitch without warning. He bucked straight up and came down with
all four legs stiff. On the first jump he put so much daylight between
the saddle and Daddy that you could have thrown your hat between them.
Daddy regained his seat and the off stirrup and rode the big devil to a
standstill. But afterward he wished that he had been thrown. His
nose bled from the punishment and he had to be helped off the horse.
He was much too stiff and sore to ride for several days. At any rate,
the horse never pitched with Daddy again."
Grandpa's abilities in the saddle allowed him to have a career which
kept him on horseback during many of his working hours, but that is a
story for the next update. . . .
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