(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


The Exodus

     On Sunday, December 1, 1940, the following news item appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
     “The men and women who never miss a furniture auction on Olive Street and the St. Charles County farm folk who have few chances to exchange gossip with neighbors had a field day yesterday in the village of Howell.
     They were brought together by a community sale of the unwanted possessions of St. Charles County families who have to move because their land and homes are needed for a TNT plant. It was the biggest day in Howell’s history—all the county fairs rolled into one.
     The bargain hunting auction fans—some of whom came in station wagons, others in expensive cars—kept on the heels of half a dozen auctioneers, except when farm machinery and livestock were being disposed of. At those times, the country people stopped their conversations with neighbors they hadn’t seen in a long time and joined in the buying, while the city people walked over to the undertaking parlor for refreshment. There, hot dogs and coffee were passed out in a steady stream from the embalming room.
     Any who came to the sale expecting to see sad-faced farmers parting with beloved possessions were disappointed. The only unhappy sellers appeared to be Richard and Bobby Delaloye, 6 and 9 years old, respectively, who had to sell their pet goat because they are moving to Wright City where they will live in a house near their father’s filling station, instead of on a farm. The goat brought $3.50 from a farmer who has three sons of his own.
     Prices obtained by the sweating auctioneers were a pleasant surprise to many owners of household goods and farm implements. One farmer took a neighbor aside and confided that a small piece of machinery which he acquired four years ago for $4 brought $5 in the sale. Another said to a Post-Dispatch reporter he was disappointed in getting only $85 for two horses, but the same man later told a friend that the price was far better than he had hoped for.
     A St. Charles man, stubbornly refusing his wife’s suggestion that they take part in the buying, said he had heard all the “real antiques” were bought weeks ago by dealers. Many who did buy vases and old beds examined them suspiciously for manufacturers’ labels. But most of the crowd—which exceeded 1000 persons—bought with gusto everything that was offered, from hogs to blackened waffle irons.
     A woman fought through a crowd in the Muschany Brothers’ store and asked a clerk, “Do you have any old spittoons for sale?” She was disappointed when he said he did not.
     Three and sometimes four auction sales sometimes went on simultaneously within a few feet of each other. Prices went up by nickels on most household articles, in spite of the effort of the auctioneers to raise the bidding 10 cents at a time. When there were no bids, auctioneers attempted to smoke some out with such remarks as: “This lawnmower is worth at least $2; may be no grass now, but in the spring it always comes up again.” He got 75 cents for his effort.
     Owners of some of the articles were remarkably candid. Asked whether his radio which was on sale was still in working condition, a farmer told the crowd of bidders, “I haven’t tried playing it for a long time. Don’t know if it works or not.” Sufficiently warned, only two persons made bids. The man who offered 30 cents got the radio.
     In all, total sales were expected to reach $1000, when all accounts were straightened out in the parlor of the funeral establishment. The auctioneers said they would take 5 per cent.”

    Families began to leave the area around December 14, 1940. Because the Government was acting so quickly to acquire the land, there was great concern among the property owners. Many could not find new homes nor did they have money to make down payments on new property because they had not received payment from the Government. It was a horrible mess.
     I never heard anyone make mention of “mental anguish,” or suggest that a value might be put on it in dollars. You can imagine the anguish felt when these good people had to get out of their homes, some if not most of which were handed down from generation to generation since 1835. Yet, this was never mentioned although I feel sure it must have occurred to many government agents. Instead, there were eviction and removal notices served on the citizenry, even though they had government-signed contracts. The land was posted with signs reading “No Trespassing, U.S. Government Property.” Access roads were closed in the area, and if a man had a plough in a field, he could not go and get it.
     It was as if a conquering army was moving rapidly across captured territory.
     To paraphrase a statement in the “minutes,” ‘Army men are trained at West Point to give, take, and carry out orders.’ Yes, but on their own defenseless people?

     Was there no room for humanity or moral judgment? One wonders.

     Many people on the outside became critical of the manner in which the land was acquired by the Government. Outsiders were quick to make accusations of exorbitant land prices, fraud, and collusion between landowner and Government Land Agent, and pressure mounted to have the Weldon Springs Ordnance Project investigated. Charges were even made that Col. R. D. Valliant was a co-conspirator against the U.S. Government.
     Just for the record, I am producing evidence that great pressure was put on the Muschany Family to sign the Land Option and get out. Mr. McDowell was not giving anything away, and he went to great lengths to justify his figures for property. Anyone is foolish to think otherwise.
                                                                            “1940 Nov 18




Kansas City, Mo.
November 18, 1940.

Mr. William R. Gentry
Louderman Building
St. Louis, Missouri.

Dear Sir: —

     I have spent a great deal of time in attempting to arrive at a fair valuation of the properties and holdings of the Muschany brothers. On the four farms I am setting a price of $125 per acre which must include any settlements between the owners and tenants. This is in line with prices I am closing up with others in the vicinity. This is the total cost to the Government out of which comes 5% commission and the cost of abstracts, etc., in fact, all prices discussed will be total cost to the Government.
     In regard to the business of the Muschany brothers I discussed this at length with some seven different banks and trust companies and the opinions ranged from paying them for six months’ profit to the maximum of paying a year and a half profit. Therefore, I am going to be more than liberal and base it on two years profit. The theory advanced was that these men are merchants and unquestionably will set up at another point and by using this figure they will be allowed two years to develop a business. I have settled with a large store in Hamburg on the basis of one year although I allowed more on the building than my appraisal showed which in a manner allowed more than one year.
     The average profit of the Muschany business for 1937, 1938, and 1939 was $7,000 per year. This profit included the services of the three brothers who devoted all their time to the business and it is not unreasonable to assume their services were worth $1,200 per year or a total of $3,600 should be deducted from this gross profit or the business’ net profit was $3,400 per year. Therefore, I am willing to allow $6,800 for the good will of the business. Everyone with whom I have discussed this believes it more than liberal. For the cost of moving the inventory I am willing to allow $1,000 which is approximately 15% of the inventory.
     I contacted Washington and after much discussion I was referred to the Home Owners Loan Corporation office in St. Louis. I explained that I wanted to be most liberal, that I desired to arrive at a fair valuation to the Muschany brothers, that I did not desire an appraisal on the basis of making a loan but to assure them of a fair valuation. They thoroughly understood what we were attempting to accomplish and they very generously gave me the services of Mr. Daley who was president of the Real Estate Board of St. Louis for two terms and for the past eight years had not only been Chief Appraiser for H.O.L.C. of St. Louis but for the entire state of Missouri. Accordingly he inspected these properties and made the following report to me:

                    Morris Muschany
        House & Lot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 6,220.00
        Barn  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  182.00
         Hog Shed  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12.50
       Store Room . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40.00
        Tenant House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   450.00
        Funeral Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2,000.00
                                        Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8,904.50

                    Claude Muschany

          House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 2,950.00
           Barn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 975.00
           Garage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275.00
          Poultry House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  25.00
          Out House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165.00
          Water System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  750.00
          15.31 acres at $45.00 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  688.95
           House & Lots 16, 17, 22 and 21 . . . . . . . . .  5,531.00
                                          Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   11,359.95

                    Carl Muschany

            Residence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     $ 5,000.00

                    Muschany Brothers

          Garage & Lot  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 1,800.00
           House & Lot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 576.00
                                           Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,376.00

              Soft Ball Park . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 383.00

     In regard to the Claude Muschany property of fifteen acres which had been appraised at $45 per acre, I am willing to increase that to $125 per acre in line with the balance of the acreage in that vicinity.
     The figures placed on the building are absolute top unless quickly I can be submitted figures by an independent appraiser who can be qualified as an expert which I will entertain. I am not at all particular as to whom this may be but before such appraisal is made I would want to know who he is and his background. This applies only to the buildings.
     You can contact Mr. Bolton in our office in St. Charles. The telephone number is 1091.
     As I have said I have gone into this whole matter in a most thorough manner and have devoted more time to it personally than the rest of the properties in that area put together. I thank you for the courtesy extended me and trust we can reach an agreement satisfactory to all.
Yours very truly,
R. Newton McDowell

P.S. Mr. W. C. Bernard, an engineer and valuation consultant, whom I do not know, but is considered very good, has been recommended to me in St. Louis.

     My uncle and aunt, Karl and Vera Muschany signed the following option to sell their land on November 29, 1940, and it was accepted in behalf of the Government by Colonel R. D. Valliant on December 3, 1940. I am reproducing the famous option form which was in question for so many years in Court. You will be interested in later reading the opinion of three courts regarding the validity of this form. The Supreme Court of the United States reviewed the litigation on appeal in 1945 (some four years later) and held the contracts valid, repudiating all charges made against them.
     There are many pertinent statements in the “Land Option Contract.” Having faith in your Government would allow the owners to strongly believe in the instrument that they would sign. Judge for yourself.

Defendants’ Exhibit A
W 766QM
Option to Purchase Land

     Know All Men By These Presents: That the undersigned J. Karl Muschany and Vera Muschany his wife for and in consideration of One Dollar ($1.00), paid by the United States of America, hereinafter referred to as the Government, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, hereby agrees for their heirs, executors and assigns, to sell and convey to the Government for the consideration of Four Thousand Five Hundred Dollars that certain piece or parcel of land situated in the County of St. Charles, State of Missouri, more particularly described as follows:
     A tract of land situated in U.S. Survey No. 1670, Township 45 North, Range 2 and 3 East and being a part of Lots No. 5 & 6 as designated in the Report of the Commissioner appointed to make partition among the heirs of William Hayes, deceased and more particularly described as follows: Commencing at the northeast corner of said lot No. 5, thence along the Easterly line of said Lots Nos. 5 and 6, south 22° 0′ West 28.40 chains, more or less, to the most southern corner of said lot No. 6, thence North 68° West along the southerly line of said Lot 6, 13.14 chains to the place of beginning, containing 33.33 acres more or less.
     Also a strip of ground sixteen (16) feet wide, for use by the parties of the second part, their heirs and assigns as a roadway to and from said tract of land hereinabove described off the Southerly side of said lot No. 6, extending from the westerly line of the tract of land hereinabove described, along the southerly line of the said Lot No. 6, North 68° West approximately 16.50 chains to the center line (or a northerly extension thereof) of a certain public road running in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction and striking the south line of said lot No. 6 about 10 chains South 68° East from the southwestern corner of the said Lot No. 6, the said northerly line of said strip of ground 16 feet wide running parallel with said south line of the said lot No. 6 a distance of 16 feet therefrom.
     Upon exercise of this option by the Government, the undersigned agrees to pay to R. Newton McDowell a commission of five per cent (5%) of the gross sales price as full payment for the services of said R. Newton McDowell in procuring such sale, preparing the deed or deeds for the conveyance of said land and arranging for settlement and closing of the transaction.
     The undersigned hereby grants to the Government the right of immediate occupancy and use of the land for any purpose whatsoever from and after the acceptance by the Government of this option, which acceptance shall be within thirty (30) days after date hereof, until such time as said land is conveyed to the Government by the undersigned, the title approved by the Attorney General of the United States as required by law, and the agreed purchase price paid by the Government to the undersigned.
     The undersigned further agrees that they will execute and deliver a general warranty deed conveying the fee simple title to the above described land to the United States of America, free and clear of all taxes, liens and encumbrances of every kind and character, including stamps, taxes and etc.; and the undersigned will also furnish, without cost to the Government, a certificate of title of The Kansas City Title Insurance Company to the said land satisfactory to the Attorney General of the United States and after examination of the deed and certificate of title by the Attorney General, the undersigned will have said deed recorded and will furnish a certificate of title of the said The Kansas City Title Insurance Company showing title to be good and marketable as vested in the United States of America, free of all liens and encumbrances. In the event the title shall be unmerchantable, the undersigned agrees to make said title merchantable at this own expense.
     Upon furnishing of final certificate of title as above showing title to be vested in the United States of America, the agreed purchase price above mentioned will be paid by the Government to the undersigned.
     If for any reason the title to the land is not approved by the Attorney General, The Government will proceed to acquire the land by condemnation proceedings instituted in the District Court of the United States in which said property is located, under a consent verdict fixing the award at the agreed valuation and in accordance with all the terms and provisions of this option and will upon filing its petition in such proceedings deposit said agreed purchase price with the clerk of said court, same to be disbursed by said officer pursuant to the decree entered in such condemnation proceedings.
     The occupancy and use of the land by the Government as granted aforesaid shall not be interrupted, but shall continue to be enjoyed by the Government throughout the pendency of said condemnation proceedings.
     This Option is executed in triplicate at Howell, Mo., this 29th day of November 1940.

                                                            J. KARL MUSCHANY,
                                                            VERA MUSCHANY
J. C. Baker,
Glendon H. Yahn

     Accepted by and on behalf of the United States of America this third day of December, 1940.
                                                            R. D. VALLIANT,
                                                            R. D. VALLIANT,
                                                            Colonel, Q. M. C.
                                                            United States Army.”

“Defendants Exhibit B.

     This Indenture, Made on the 11th day of January A. D. One Thousand Nine Hundred and Forty-one by and between
     James Karl Muschany and Vera Muschany, his wife, of St. Charles County, Missouri, parties of the first part and
     United States of America and its Assigns, party of the second part,
     Witnesseth: That the said parties of the first part, in consideration of the sum of Four thousand five hundred and no/100 - - - - Dollars, to them paid by the said party of the second part, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged do by these presents Grant, Bargain and Sell, Convey and Confirm unto the said party of the second part and its assigns, the following described lots, tracts or parcels of land, lying, being and situate in the County of St. Charles and State of Missouri, to-wit:

     (Description of property is set forth)

     It is the intention of grantors herein not only to convey all land as described above but also, all land incident thereto claimed by them including accreted land and land occupied by them adversely, if any.
     To Have And To Hold the premises aforesaid, with all and singular the rights, privileges, appurtenances and immunities thereto belonging or in anywise appertaining, unto the said party of the second part, and its assigns, forever; the said grantors hereby covenanting that they are lawfully seized of an indefeasible estate in fee in the premises herein conveyed; that they have good right to convey the same; that the said premises are free and clear of any incumbrances done or suffered by them or those under whom they claim, and that they will Warrant And Defend the title of the said premises unto the said party of the second part, and its assigns forever, against the lawful claims and demands of all persons whomsoever.
     In Witness Whereof, the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands and seals the day and year first above written.

                                                             JAMES KARL MUSCHANY,
                                                             VERA MUSCHANY.

State of Missouri
     County of St. Charles: —ss.

     On this 20th day of February, 1941, before me personally appeared James Karl Muschany and Vera Muschany, his wife, to me known to be the persons described in and who executed the foregoing instrument, and acknowledged that they executed the same as their free act and deed.
In Testimony Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and
           affixed my official seal, at my office in St. Charles,
           Mo., the day and year first above written.
           My term of office as a notary public will expire December 16, 1944.

                                                            ESTELLE J. AMSINGER
(Seal)                                                                             Notary Public

     I would like to present a certified copy of a letter appearing in the files of the Department of Agriculture.

“R. Newton McDowell
Home Office
Midland Building
Kansas City, Missouri.
        Land Optioner for                                                                                                                      Telephone 1091
        United States War Department                                                                                                   126 South Main
                                                                                                                                                  St. Charles, Missouri                                             
January 8, 1941

Mr. Arthur C. Ringland, Consultant
Agricultural Division
Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense
Federal Reserve Building
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Ringland:

     In reply to your letter of January 2 I note Mr. Turton’s request as to the principles governing the proper compensation for ‘disturbance damages’ to the farmers and tenants.
     This is a large subject and I could discuss it for hours but suffice it to say I did work out a long list, spending hours on it, setting up specific amounts for this and that which I believed entirely fair and due the farmers because the Government was demanding their land whether they liked it or not and was requiring them to get out pronto. However, (and this was the weakness) I based this compensation on the theory that the valuation of the land would be based on the real agricultural value. Therefore, if you start at that figure then it is very proper to add on the items you refer to as ‘disturbance charges’ but in actual practice I found the very first day that the minute the farmer is advised that the Government is in a hurry to buy his farm his very lowest talking price is far above any ‘agricultural value.’ You are then precluded from adding these ‘disturbance’ items so in disgust I threw my carefully prepared list out the window.
     I have been dealing with farmers for years and my experience has proved to me that the average farmer can give the ‘city slicker’ cards and spades and skin him alive.
     I am really a very mild mannered individual but in St. Charles County they gained the impression that I was quite a hardboiled person as I rejected options on thousands of acres as too high and sent my men back time after time (this is McDowell’s statement; I am not describing it as being a fact) because the options were out of line in my judgment of a fair price and without exception they would ultimately come down to my figure. Do not misunderstand me, I am not calloused, but I did not lose any sleep over the farmer’s compensation because he received a good deal from the Government. However, I have been reported to the White House, senators and congressmen, the Secretary of War and Lord knows to whom else but fortunately I am not a political contractor and I stuck to my guns for if you did not keep a firm hand the prices would get out of control. Not that it is all over I think these farmers are my friends and I have helped them to get money from banks to make down payments on farms. We have aided tenants in a dozen different ways and while my contract does not require this I am keeping four men in my St. Charles office merely to be of service and they have done nothing for the past month but aid the farmers in any way that they are able so they do not think we are such a bad lot after all.
     I did see to it that all of the tenants received something and all the farmers and tenants who wished it were given first chance at the jobs on the work. This is most important and in this we had excellent cooperation from the Fraser-Brace Engineering Company, the contractors, and from Captain Dutton, the Ordnance officer in charge. I must admit my method of settling with the tenants was not very scientific as I based it largely on how many children they had. Further, the work of the twelve agricultural agents was most helpful and was greatly appreciated by the farmers and tenants as it gave them a feeling that their Government was really concerned in ‘where they landed.’
     I was visiting today with Major Neilson, District Engineer here, and his assistant, Major Johnson. They used a few men they had available from their land department to acquire 2700 acres for a small arms plant located at Lake City near Kansas City. They told me they had two agricultural appraisers from the Soil Conservation Bureau and they would accept ‘offers’ from the farmers and in no case did they take an option which exceeded 7% of the appraisal made by the agricultural men. They told me their average price was $180 per acre which did not include any schools, towns, etc. This land is not much better than the Weldon Springs land and this tract is twenty miles from Kansas City whereas the Weldon Springs tract is only twelve miles from St. Louis. Our average price per acre for farms was around $125 and our overall cost for the entire site which included $100,000 of schools, the entire town of Hamburg and the town of Howell and the small village of Toonerville was $159 per acre so it would appear that the agricultural appraisers were a little more generous than I.
     I was talking in Washington the other day with Mr. Harrison, Chief Engineer of the United States Bureau of Public Roads. He told me of a rather interesting survey which had been made covering the cost of rights of way, both railroads and highways, and this survey covered most of the United States. The findings showed that if a right of way cost 1.6 times the actual farm value (minus improvements) it was a reasonable deal. He compared acquiring land quickly for munitions plants to that of quickly acquiring rights of way. I had figured the average farm at Weldon Springs (minus Government) wherein you could shop around and take your time in buying would have a value of about $75 per acre so my purchases checked out by Mr. Harrison’s yardstick excepting my prices included the improvements—and we had a number of farms which carried a substantial speculative value because of increased building in that area by St. Louis people.
     I have rambled all over the place and really have not told you much but if you are still interested I can again work up the figures I had covering ‘disturbance valuation.’

Yours very truly,

P.S. Major Neilson calls his appraisals ‘immediate possession values.’ I told the farmers each time I approved an option that the Government was overpaying him but I was allowing him the increased price because the Government was quickly dispossessing him and because he had losses on his livestock and crops in the field, he had silage which could not be removed, he had expenses in relocating, etc., etc. We made this little speech for the reason that at one time I felt that we were going to have to condemn a large number of tracts as a considerable group of farmers organized themselves and swore by all that is holy that they would not take less than $200 per acre for their farms. My thought was this: If I condemn these farms I will make a declared value of $75 and they can not use the next door neighbor’s price of $125 as an argument before the court at a later date. However, I am only going to have to condemn one tract and that belongs to the son of one of the richest men in St. Louis.”