Editor’s note: This story appears in the current issue of the Missouri Historical Review, a publication of The State Historical Society of Missouri. It is written by Kathleen Seale, senior archivist at the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Rolla Research Center. It details the collection of a Texas County family, the Ray and Housden-Haggard Collections.
Edna Housden Haggard and Wilda Housden Ray, two sisters born 16 years apart in Licking, both avidly preserved the history of their families and of the places they called home. Their respective collections, recently donated to the State Historical Society of Missouri’s Rolla Research Center by Linda Concoby, the oldest daughter of Wilda, trace deep family roots in Phelps and Texas counties.
The Ray Family Collection (R1356) and Edna Housden Haggard Papers (R1379) document family genealogy, various business ventures and a large slice of local history in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Some of those historic moments include the rise and early years of Fort Leonard Wood, where Wilda, Edna’s husband Leonard “Coy” Haggard and the sisters’ brother Athol Housden all worked as civilian employees.
Edna L. Housden, the oldest daughter of Arthur H. Housden and Roxa Skiles Housden, was born on July 9, 1905. The family had a farm near Licking. On May 30, 1917, two cyclones tore through the area, killing at least 10 people and injuring several more. Included in the path of destruction was the Housdens’ farm; the farmhouse and outbuildings were destroyed, and Edna lost consciousness after being struck in the head by the flying debris, but the family escaped more serious injury. Rather than rebuild, the Housdens bought a house in town. A few years later, the family welcomed a new member; Wilda Irene Housden was born on Dec. 25, 1921. The youngest of three children, Wilda attended school in Licking as her sister joined the workforce.
Edna worked for the Universal Production Company out of Fairfield, Iowa, from 1928 to 1930. She was the director for the play Aunt Lucia and traveled across the Midwest with the group. When the onset of the Great Depression drastically reduced the size of their audiences, Edna quit the company and returned to Missouri, teaching school at Sullivan, Aurora and Licking. In 1939 she went to work for the Department of Health as a caseworker, where she remained until her retirement in 1972.
On Dec. 23, 1939, she married Coy Haggard in Salem. The couple lived at first in Cabool, where they owned and operated a filling station and hotel, but during World War II they moved to Licking while Coy worked at Fort Leonard Wood during its construction. In 1945, they moved to Houston, where they owned Royal Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business. Coy ran the business for 15 years, expanding it with two new buildings before selling it so that he could fulfill a lifelong dream. He accomplished that dream when he opened the Haggard Saddlery and Western Wear Store in Houston. An avid horseman and member of the local saddle club, he now catered to the needs of like-minded individuals. Coy ran the store until his death in 1963. In 1951 the couple had begun raising and showing Shetland ponies, eventually buying property outside of town to accommodate their enterprise. Edna kept many photographs of their farm and of the ponies in training sessions.
In the meantime, Edna’s younger sister, Wilda, graduated from Licking High School in 1939, attended business school in St. Louis, and then went to work as an assistant clerk stenographer for the quartermaster’s office at the Seventh Corps Training Area, soon to be named Fort Leonard Wood. She worked there until November 1942, when she resigned to join her husband, Alba Wilfred Ray Jr., who was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas. The Ray Family Collection contains photographs of construction at Fort Leonard Wood during Wilda’s time there, as well as glowing letters of recommendation from officers who supervised her. The army base had a significant impact on the region, not only stationing thousands of military personnel there but also providing jobs for locals. More than 32,000 laborers worked on the construction of the base, roads and railroads during World War II. People and businesses flooded into the area, leading to the establishment of St. Robert, the “Gateway to Fort Leonard Wood.”
Alba Ray, the son of Alba Ray Sr. and Rosella Williams Ray, was born on July 21, 1920, in Blooming Rose, a small unincorporated community in southwest Phelps County. He and Wilda raised three children in Licking. The Ray family was prominent in the area’s business history, owning and operating the local Chevrolet auto repair shop and dealership. The Ray Brothers Ozark Garage was co-owned by Alba’s father and his uncle, Sanford Ray. In 1928 they moved into the town’s former Ford dealership and became the Ray Brothers Chevrolet Company. Alba Ray Jr. became the sole proprietor of the dealership following his father’s death in 1955 and his uncle’s retirement in 1958. The downtown building burned in December 1971, and in 1973 the company moved to a new facility at U.S. 63 and Route BB. Alba Ray ran the business until his death in 1976.
The Edna Housden Haggard Papers include Edna’s recollections of an unusual event in the area during the 1960s. In the fall of 1964, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force conducted a joint military exercise in Texas County. The town of Houston was selected as the headquarters for the fictional South American country of Oroland; bordering Oroland on the west side of Highway 66 was its enemy, the nation of Argentia. A 16-day field training exercise known as Gold Fire I started in late October, with over 20,000 military personnel participating. Edna and Coy followed the developments of the training exercise through articles in the newspaper. Houston locals played the part of prime minister, deputy prime minister and governor of Oroland. The hypothetical military situation was that Argentia was aiding the militant Trigonist party, which had used guerrilla tactics in an attempted coup d’etat, prompting Oroland to seek military intervention from the United States.
Many local residents embraced the experience, going so far as to open businesses and churches to troops when they were not running drills. Food, entertainment and dancing were offered at several locations around town. Houston even distributed a proclamation by the Republic of Oroland’s Office of the Prime Minister proclaiming Nov. 12 a national holiday in celebration of the coup’s defeat. The experience was not entirely positive, as large military aircraft damaged both the Houston and Rolla airports, whose runways were never meant to cater to such large aircraft or heavy usage. News clippings kept by Edna Haggard also warned of the possible danger of expended ammunition in the area. Locals were cautioned that some shells might be dangerous and should be reported to the authorities if discovered.
The Ray Family Papers and the Edna Housden Haggard Papers also provide information on the Ray family’s long history of involvement in transportation-related businesses in Texas and Phelps counties. In 1879, William Ray, Alba Jr.’s grandfather, started the Ray Stagecoach Line that ran from Rolla to West Plains. The owners claimed they could make the run in 24 hours. The coach mainly carried mail, but was equipped to handle passengers as well. One woman became a participant in a mad race from highwaymen. The only passenger at the time, she lost her hat and a suitcase as the driver whipped the horses into a run. It was the suitcase bursting open and spilling her pantaloons into the path of the pursuing highwayman, startling his horse, that allowed the coach to escape.
Both the Rays and Housdens left their mark on southern Missouri’s transportation industries. The Ozark Bus Line, established in 1920, ran from Rolla to Cabool. Edna and Wilda’s father, Arthur Housden, along with Herman Barnes, John Freeland and Freeland’s son-in-law John Bradshaw, started the business. Arthur Housden had started the first jitney service in the area, and the idea grew from there. Housden and Barnes were the first drivers, but Freeland and Bradshaw eventually bought them out and continued the business.
The two Housden sisters and their families were integral parts of the Texas County community. The Housden, Ray and Haggard families provided Texas and Phelps counties with a number of different business ventures over the years, serving local residents for over a century in one capacity or another. The documents, genealogies and photographs within the Ray Family Papers and Edna Housden Haggard Papers give testimony to their contributions to the region’s history.