(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany





     If there is one thing consistent in history, it is the irony with which it is laced. The account of the Howell and Hamburg tragedy is no exception.
     The European segment of World War II came to a halt in May, 1945, but the war in the Pacific against Japan continued until a great Missourian, President Harry S. Truman, was forced to make an earthshaking decision and use the A-Bomb on the Japanese mainland.
     There is a story, apocryphal or true, that President Truman said, as he gave the word to go ahead with the bomb, “there’s the beginning of the end.”
     It remains to be seen if the end is, indeed, a certainty, but it was definitely the demise of TNT as a scare weapon in international warfare. And there’s the irony of our tale of Howell and Hamburg, Missouri.
     Its citizens were displaced by TNT with which the government hoped to win the war, but it took a higher power, nuclear fission, to do the dirty work on the people of Japan.
     I am not criticizing Truman for doing what he felt he must do, but I am criticizing the War Department for not doing what they had promised to do for the Americans of Howell and Hamburg, Missouri. In fact, they treated these people as if they were the enemy, being conquered and displaced. That is our message, our rationale, our purpose in compiling these facts.
     True, I represent the Muschany and Keithly families directly, but, on the whole, I speak for the descendants of all of those fine people listed in this book.
     The record shows that my uncle and aunt, Karl and Vera Muschany, did not receive payment for their property until December 5, 1945. The Government had possession of the property four years before it paid for it. The payment was received two days after the Atlas Powder Company was notified to cease operations at the Weldon Springs Ordnance Plant. Although Karl and Vera Muschany received interest on their money, as far as I know there were no other interest payments made. I suggest that the Government paid this interest money because they did not desire more bad publicity. It is reasonable to ask why pay interest only on court cases and to no one else? Was it fair? No.
     This government property was declared surplus after the war. For the mere pittance of $1.00 the Federal Government gave approximately 8,000 acres of the land to the University of Missouri and the Conservation Department of the State of Missouri received 7,000 acres supposedly as a gift from August A. Busch, Jr., President of Anheuser-Busch Brewery of St. Louis. This occurred in November of 1948, but I have been unable to trace how the exact transaction took place. The U. S. Government still owns 1,655 acres.
     In 1977 a scandal surfaced when it was found that trees from the acreage owned by the University of Missouri had been sold for a fraction of their value to an alumnus, who in turn resold them for five times the purchase price. There was the possibility that the University of Missouri could sell the property and the matter became so serious the State Legislature of Missouri passed a law which was signed by Governor Teasdale on June 15, 1977 that prohibited the University from selling any property in the area until legislative permission had been received to do so.
     On July 22, 1977 it was recommended that the 8,000 acre Busch Wildlife Game Preserve be used for the site of the new state prison.
     On January 30, 1978 the University of Missouri announced new plans for the Weldon Spring site which would include excavation of ancient Indian sites, centers for animal behavioral studies and ecological research and an outdoor recreational training center.
     Relative to the operations of the University of Missouri property at Weldon Springs a hearing on February 2, 1978 by the Missouri House Committee the Chairman, Representative Steve Vossmeyer said, “Inept is too kind a word to use for the way it’s been run.” Such terms as feudalism and bias were used to describe the operations of the property.
     The latest development on the Weldon Spring land before the book was printed appeared in the Globe-Democrat as reported by Charles E. Burgess, Educational Writer, under dateline of June 30, 1978.

“An announcement of an agreement for the University of Missouri to sell most of its 8000 acre Weldon Spring tract to the State Department of Conservation appears likely Friday . . . .
     The Globe Democrat learned earlier from a source close to the negotiations that terms of the sale apparently would involve the university retaining about 700 acres, plus access to the remainder for archeology and other educational programs.
     The sale price is believed to be slightly below the previous $13.6 million offer from the conservation department for the total tract—an offer turned down by curators last September.”

     With these facts let’s scrutinize the record. In 1941 the Government paid $1,073,802 for 6,729 acres and, at a later date under an order from the United States Supreme Court, another $1,519,475 for 9,271-plus acres for grand total of $2,593,277 for 16,000 acres. In 1978 the University of Missouri is selling part of the same property consisting of 7,300 acres (provided the University retains 700 acres) for approximately $13,600,000. My arithmetic shows this to average $1,863.00 per acre for land the Government paid an average price of $162 per acre in 1941! The price being paid now would indicate an appreciation of 11.5 times or an increase of 1,115 per cent.
     In the transfer of this property from one state department to another state department, we, the placid public, watch this scenario and must be aware that tax money is involved which is derived from a state-wide one-eighth cent sales tax approved in 1976 for the Department of Conservation. More than $20,000,000 a year is received by this tax.
     Did the founding fathers of the state-supported post-secondary education system envision that the system would be subsidized in this manner? I do not think so. Through this subsidizing I believe that it is a financial rape of the public purse which should not be allowed to happen.
     An editorial of March 20, 1978 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said:

“If the best use of the tract is to keep it reasonably open, as many of Sen. Frappier’s constituents prefer, then perhaps the Conservation Commission might make a better trustee for the property than the university; conservation, after all is the commission’s business. In that case, perhaps the best solution would be for the university to transfer the tract to the commission for the same price it paid for it—$1. If there is a case to the contrary, the university is free to make it.”

     How or where this will end, I do not know.
     There is a lot more to be told about this entire debacle but many details have been omitted because of missing or non-existent records on the whole ugly situation.

     So, we leave it to you: Were the Hamburgites and Howellites dealt with fairly?
Remember, these families gave up their homes, farms, businesses, schools, roads, churches, and the only mode of life they knew, not because they wanted to, but because the United States Government demanded and required them to.
     Shouldn’t the heirs of the good people of Howell and Hamburg have a say in the matter of the Weldon Spring property now? I believe they should be given the first opportunity to repurchase their original holdings. If you buy a car, finance it, and can’t pay for it, the car is repossessed. If you have a mortgage on your home and default, you give up the home. If you are removed from your property because of a war, it seems reasonable to me that you should have an opportunity to reacquire it. Can a wrong be corrected as it applies in the dealings of a citizen with the largest corporation in the world, the United States Government?
     The present holders of the land, the University of Missouri, have had one scandal in dealing with the land under question, and may have more coming, according to investigators working on the “lumber” sale.
     I assure you that the Hamburgites and Howellites were not scandal-prone people, as their history proves, and neither are the heirs of these staunch pioneers. They merely wish to right a wrong, not for greed but for truth and justice, so the early settlers will have the unbroken continuity that their heroic lives deserve. As it stands, these people will go down in history as another group of “displaced persons,” aimless and without a past, present, or future. They deserve much, much more than this sort of epitaph.
     This was a community of doing, helping, loving, and living. Not one disturbing element has surfaced in the history of these folks, unless it be sickness, hardship, or death, and they coped with these as well as they did with any other fact of life.
     It has never been my intention to cast mud on our beloved country, but to point out a serious mistake made by the bureaucratic system, one which was lost in the shuffle of the war-time years. But now this can be rectified, justly and honorably, and the fine people of Howell and Hamburg can take their places in the history of our country, where they well deserve to be.
     The microcosm that was Howell and Hamburg, Missouri, when placed properly with those of all the other settlements, gave us the macrocosm called the United States of America.
     The American historians and demographers have been remiss in dealing with Howell and Hamburg and their environs. They have been too taken with the “first” of this, or the “oldest” of that, which facts actually belong in the Guinness Book of Records, not in a history of our country. Much copy has been given to Harvard College, William and Mary, and other “oldest” institutions, and to Jamestown with its Captain John Smith, and to the Puritans with their Cotton Mather. These facts certainly deserve a large role in the American story, but so do Howell and Hamburg and their outstanding citizenry.
     It would have been ideal to have these people recognized for what they were and did, rather than wait for an heir to bring up such a shameful subject as I have attempted in this book. But, one way or another, Don Muschany is pledged to bring this whole matter to light, and to give Howell and Hamburg a justly-deserved place in history.
     Though money enters into this case, it is by no means the “cause celebre.” Justice is the bottom line in this maladventure. The fact that a lumber scandal is brewing regarding the property merely fans the flames in the hearts of the Howell and Hamburg heirs.
     It is ludicrous that the land fought for and settled by the early Hamburgites and Howellites should be part of a sleazy “tree-selling” deal executed by an alumnus of the university with someone’s help from within the school. These same trees were things of nature, according to the people of Howell, and should only be used to heat and feed God’s other creatures, man, woman, and child. If there had been a dictionary peculiar only to Hamburg and Howell, the word “swindle” would not have been among the entries, adding even more irony to the whole miserable episode.
     Nor is this book meant to be a Caucasian Roots, or a genealogy with a message. It only represents a case for truth and justice for Howell and Hamburg, Missouri, their ancestors, and heirs.
     The rape of Howell and Hamburg cannot be forgotten. Bureaucracy is a growing monster in this country. Speed at the expense of sanity characterizes this whole affair.