Around 1922, Cecil Hunter made a decision with lasting consequences for his family. Hearing of an impressive-sounding land opportunity in southwest Missouri, Cecil sold his business, loaded his family into a covered wagon, and headed for his new acreage. It was a disastrous move. When the family arrived, they found that the property Cecil purchased was on a hilltop covered with mesquite brambles with no buildings and miles from the nearest settlement. Margaret’s comfortable life soon changed forever. Her mother’s health was poor, and by 1920, Margaret found herself playing the “little mother” to her three younger siblings.
There were some positive aspects to the move. The area around Buffalo Creek, adjoining the Hunter land, was indeed beautiful. My uncle Paul said the fishing was good on Buffalo Creek. My aunt Florence spoke of the fun she and Margaret had riding their pony. But given the multiple problems with their land, the family struggled mightily with poverty for the next several years. My mother would never talk about this time. The rocky land was nearly impossible to farm. There is no clear information on what the family lived in; my brother says he believes they lived in Army surplus tents, at least for a time. The oldest son, Tom, apparently got a job and helped support the family, while my mother looked after her three younger siblings.
Margaret and her siblings attended the one-room school at May, Missouri. Their intrepid teacher was Miss Alma, who came daily with her buggy and little pony, and in a one-horse sleigh in winter. My mother loved school and did well there. One of the few things she talked about of this time was her bitterness at being required to leave school in the eighth grade, near graduation time, to help with the harvest. So Margaret never got to graduate with her class.
By about age 16, Margaret had enough of farming and poverty. She went to live with her uncle Emiel Stump (Martha’s brother) and her aunt Viola in St. Louis. Margaret found a good job at a tailoring establishment. She loved living in St. Louis; she said her aunt and uncle taught her how to live like a lady in the big city. Emiel worked as a conductor on the St. Louis street car line. Margaret returned home to visit wearing fashionable clothes of her own creation, and a stylish hairdo (at right December 1930, with unidentified child). In November 1930, Margaret married her long-time sweetheart, John Stucke. The Stuckes were rather more prosperous neighbors of Margaret’s family. William Stucke was the local Justice of the Peace. John and Margaret were married in the Stucke living room by William Stucke, on a fine Sunday afternoon, right after church.In 1934, John and Margaret had their first child, John Calvin Stucke, born in a log cabin on the Stucke property.But times were very hard for farmers in the 1930’s, and John Stucke became the first family member to decide to move away from the Ozarks.
By 1935, Margaret’s siblings had also had enough of hard times. They posed here in front of Tom’s Model T Ford. Note that Tom (middle, back row) is in shirt and tie, Margaret and Florence are wearing stylish dresses (created by Margaret, of course), but Paul and Bob were still in denim overalls. But the overalls soon were changed as the family made their way, one by one, westward: Tom to Idaho, and the others to California.John Stucke blazed the trail to California, sending for his wife and son in 1940 after he found a house and a job. In California, a second child, Merrilee, was born.
In 1943, the five Hunter siblings gathered in California for a studio portrait, looking vastly different from their Missouri snapshot of 1935.Soon both Paul and Robert went into military service for World War II: Paul in the Army in the Pacific, Bob in the Army Air Corps in Britain. Martha, still in poor health, left Missouri in 1938. In the World War II years, Cecil tended the farm on his own. For years, Mattie planned to return to Missouri. But at the urging of their children, the farm was sold and in 1947 Cecil and Mattie were reunited in a comfortable home in San Bruno, California.
In 1950, with the war years, farming, and poverty behind them, Margaret’s whole family met at their parents’ home for a happy Easter reunion–Cecil, Mattie, all five siblings with their spouses and three grandchildren.
In 1980, John and Margaret Stucke celebrated their 50th (Golden) wedding anniversary. John passed away in 1984, Margaret in 1993. They filled our lives with their love and devotion in many ways.
Although Margaret was devoted to her family and put them first all her life, she never lost her sense of fun, her lively intellect, and love of beauty. She was a talented seamstress and very creative. But she never forgot that first lost doll. In the 1980’s, I found an antique china head doll dating from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The head was intact but the kidskin body was in sad condition; the seams had split and most of the sawdust filling had been lost, along with the clothes. I wanted to restore the doll. I asked Mother to make the doll an appropriate dress. I didn’t understand, at the time, why my mother showed such high interest in this sad little doll. But she went to work and created a beautiful ensemble for the doll. It turned out so well, and Mother loved the doll so much, that we decided to keep it. We named the doll “Susanna” after my paternal grandmother, Susanna Lauren Stucke. I didn’t realize until after Mother’s passing in 1993 that this doll greatly resembled Margaret’s lost childhood doll. I have it still, and now it is a treasured memorial to both my great grandmother and my mother.
My mother, Margaret Frances Hunter was born on October 2, 1910 in Gage, Oklahoma. Her parents were Martha Ellen Stump Hunter and Cecil Alistair Hunter.
Martha, Margaret, Thomas and Cecil Hunter
Martha and Cecil began their married life as homesteaders in what was then the Territory of Oklahoma. Cecil and his older brother Robert were part of the last wave of homesteaders in Oklahoma. Cecil and Martha were married in Gage in 1908. By 1910, they had two children, Tom and Margaret.
Robert and his wife Amanda stayed in Gage, where they raised five children. But Cecil and Martha moved to Missouri, where they had three more children: Florence, Paul, and Robert. Cecil established a successful plant nursery business.
In 1917, Cecil’s sister Margaret Dearest Hunter came to visit from her Iowa home. Aunt Margaret brought her little namesake a wonderful china head doll.
An early picture from about 1917 or 1918 (below) shows seven-year-old Margaret sitting with “one of my Wheat cousins” and holding her precious doll. Unfortunately the fragile china doll was broken somehow. How? We’ll never know.But that was not the end of dolls in Margaret’s life. Due to her family’s situation in her later childhood, that childhood doll was never replaced. But, as I found out seventy years later, it was never forgotten, either.