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James R. Bowman: miller and mayor

Born on Oct. 21, 1870, as the seventh child of Benjamin and Eliza Jane (Ford) Bowman in Pocahontas, James Reed Bowman was always a man on the move.  As the son of a Baptist pastor, the family moved often. In Pocahontas, his father received the call to become the pastor in Marble Hill, where James would receive his schooling at the old Will Mayfield Academy.

The Rev. Benjamin Bowman was not only a pastor, but also an architect. The Bowmans built a two-story house on South North Street on a lot they purchased from Robert and Matilda Drum in 1883. He was also in charge of building the Masonic Hall in 1877.

Early days

Mayfield-Smith Academy had its beginnings in Smithville (renamed Sedgewickville). Dr. William Henderson Mayfield, associated with Dr. H.J. Smith, presented a plan to the Baptist Association to endorse a school in Smith-ville. The first session was held in 1878-79 with 22 pupils. After the erection of a building failed in Smithville, the school was moved to Marble Hill in 1880. The Baptist Association changed the name in 1903 to Will Mayfield in honor of Dr. and Mrs. William Henderson Mayfield’s son who died a year before (Bollinger Coun-ty 1851-1976: A Bicentennial Commemorative).

At the age of 20, James moved to Burfordville where he worked for his brother, William Chesley Bowman, manager of the oldest flour and corn mill west of the Mississippi River, having been established in 1800 by George Frederick Bollinger. Milling would become J.R.’s lifelong career.


After two years of saving a financial nest egg, James married Miss Lilly Belle Lively, the daughter of John and Virginia Lively on Aug. 30, 1892. James’ uncle, Rev. Thomas Bowman led the wedding rituals in the First Baptist Church in Jackson.

The couple made their first home in Burfordville where James took over the mill management, following his brother’s move to Sikeston to become a partner of G.B. Greer and A.G. Halley in the first flour mill for Sikeston. Greer needed Bowman’s expertise in steam-powered roller mill operations. W.C. Bowman became Greer’s miller. In 1902, W.C. and C.D. Matthews formed a partnership called Bowman-Matthews Milling Co.

During this time in Burfordville, three children would be born to James and Lilly: Hinkle Jordan born on Feb. 13, 1894; Robert Earl born on May 18, 1896; and Anice “Lilyan” born on Oct. 6, 1900 (Mrs. R.S. Duncan). Daughter Myrtle Margueritte was born on Oct. 31, 1903, (Mrs. R.B. Goodwin) in Advance while Bowman was associated with the milling there.

Milling in Jackson

In 1902, the family uprooted once more to build  a home in Jackson at 922 Oak St., when J.R. was associated with the Cape Girardeau County Milling Co., managing Mill B, located east of the Main Street bridge over Hubble Creek. Organized in 1895, Cape County Milling Co. was a complex of  three mills: A & B in Jackson and Mill C in Burfordville.

By 1914 the mills produced 1500 barrels of flour each day. The officers that year were President A.R. Byrd, Vice President J.W. Hunter, Secretary, John Mabrey and Treasurer J.R. Bowman. The mills were among the first to adopt the Hungarian or roller system and first in the world to adopt the Alsop Electrical Flour Bleaching process which revolutionized the milling companies internationally.

At one time Oak Leaf Milling Co. was an established flour mill at Oak Ridge. It was acquired by Cape County Milling Co. In 1914 they sold out to a group of men for whom the following became officers: Wash Miller, president; J.R. Bowman, vice president; James W. Kinder, secretary and general manager. The brands, “Oak Leaf,” “Belle of the Ridge,” “O.K.,” and Tip Top,” had a great reputation. The milling operation in Oak Ridge was located on six acres close to the Cape Girardeau Northern Railroad.

Service to Jackson

In 1923, J.R. Bowman wanted to contribute back to Jackson in a civic manner by running for mayor of Jackson. From the Missouri Cash Book newspaper, we have a window into what was happening in the county seat during that time.

The May 31, 1923 issue  “announces the Commercial Club was sponsoring a large celebration at the school park on the Fourth of July. Chairman of the event was J.E. Schmuke who was guiding various committees for a great musical parade and fireworks.”

“The Bowman’s 23-year-old daughter, Lillian, had arrived home for the summer from Osceola, AR, where she was a high school teacher and their other daughter, Margueritte, was off to Lindenwood.”

“ At the Circle Theatre, one could enjoy seeing movies, “Stormswept” and “What Fools Men Are.” Two major advertisers in the issue were Kroger Grocery and Jackson Mercantile. Attorneys Hines & Hines, E.A. Mason, and David Hays had their shingles out for business.

Bowman was elected mayor on the Progressive ticket with 472 votes over Sam Vandivort on the Citizens ticket with 218 votes. For alderman, Albert Sander defeated Will Niblack by six votes in Ward 1. Robert Reed was elected marshal/collector. R.K. Wilson and D.G. Seibert were elected to the school board.

Special mention in the 1923 Missouri Cash Book was a novel contest sponsored by the merchants in town. This “Chicken Catching Contest” was held the week of May 24. Seventeen chickens were turned loose  at the courthouse by Charles Walden. Scattering in all directions, the chickens were chased and caught by various individuals. Those catching one of the fowls could keep it along with 50 cents.

Winners and paying firms were: Paul Poe – Bruenings & Kerstners; Elvin Headrich – McCombs Furniture; Lester Short – Wessell’s Furniture; Babe Mabrey – Macke & Illers’; Burrell Wade – Jackson Mercantile;  Sammie Vandivort – McAtee Mercantile; Woodrow Crites – Max Stigehoff.

Second time mayor

Bowman chose to run again for the Jackson mayoral seat the spring of 1931. Front page news in the Missouri Cash Book, April 7, announced Bowman in a close race over Jahn Vaughn Priest, Jr., by 40 votes–479 to 439. The election was declared the city’s heaviest vote in history with approximately 1,000 votes cast. (The population of Jackson in 1931 was 2,500.)

Bowman’s campaign stated, “He had served before and was better versed in city affairs.”

Items of interest in the news at that time:

The county tax levy in 1931 was the same as the previous year — 58 cents per $100.

On May 7, “Mayor Bowman appointed his committees for the city: Water and light, A.H. Hoffman, chairman; Streets and Sewers, L.W. Kasten, chairman; Cemetery, T.H. Obermiller, chairman; City Clerk, Frieda Gockel; and Board of Health, Dr. B.W. Hays.” Advertisements of businesses included, Jackson Lumber Co., Cracraft-Miller Funeral Service and Roloff Grocery.

Other news included, “The 1885 AME Methodist Church had been destroyed by fire caused by defective wiring, but would be rebuilt. The brick walls were left standing and the church records had been saved.”

May 14, 1931 story, “The Highway No. 34 would be located on the old gravel road from Jackson to the finished section at Gravel Hill. The highway would cross Whitewater Creek north of Burfordville, connecting with the old Jackson-Burfordville gravel road near T.A. Friesch place near the Cane Creek School.”

Also in the issue, “The Southeast Missouri Drummers Association was to have a large convention in Jackson. There would be music and street dances all three evenings. The big show would be held Thursday night including eight high-class Vaudeville acts.”

Jackson 1944

Once again, in the spring of 1944, James R. Bowman decided to throw his hat in the election ring, after Mayor Charles Sander completed his term 1941-44. Bowman ran on this promise:

“I will exercise the same leadership as I did in my other administrations.” Henry R. Meier opposed him in what the Missouri Cash Book described as ‘the most energetic campaign in history.”

Bowman carried off the banner by gathering 422 votes to Meier’s 217. Aldermen elected were F.E. Williams, Ward 1; Harry Hoffmeister, Ward 2; and Martin Wilheim, Ward 3.

During the 1944 elections the newspaper stories took on the mood of the wartime. “The National Red Cross was staging a fund raising campaign for $200,000,000 to cover wartime needs.” Victory gardens were encouraged. “The Rotary Club, 15 years old, celebrated with a big evening at the Jackson Hotel. Dr. D.L. Mowery was in charge of the program with Allen L. Oliver invited from Cape to be speaker. There were 10 charter members present, each receiving a red rose upon arrival.”

“As for the citizens’ entertainment, the Palace Theatre had a contest (no explanation given), after which Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Martin won two tickets to ‘Princess O. Rourke.’”

Local boys who were going off to war were listed   every week. Leaving on April 14, 1944, were: Millard Schlimme, Milde Steck, Clayton Wilkening, Otto Kamp, Glenn Wessell, Henry Birk, Kermit Nations and Dewey Bangert.

On April 27, 1944, the Missouri Cash Book reiterated the terrible flooding of Hubble Creek on west side of Jackson. The flooding had also occurred two weeks prior; however this time was reported as worse. “The raging muddy water was 6-8 inches higher. It had covered the floor of West Side Grocery and the home and greenhouses of H.L. Obermiller. The negro Lincoln School had 1-2 feet of water in it, along with the Negro church on Highway 61.”

Some issues facing the city fathers included the aforementioned flooding of Hub-ble Creek, along with street repairs, and “new sewage disposal tanks that were a serious problem and needed immediate attention.” A petition was also presented at the May 18 council meeting by residents on Elmwood Boulevard for curbs and gutters.

Bowman retirement and death

J.R. Bowman retired from executive management of Cape County  Mill B the summer of 1953. Lillie passed way on Jan. 27, 1959. Following her death, J.R.’s address changed from 922 Oak St. to 2405 Terry Hill, Cape Girardeau, the home of his daughter, Lillyann Duncan.

Their other daughter, Margueritte (Mrs. R.B. Good-win), resided at 710 E. Main. Son Hinkle Bowman passed away on July 29, 1960. Richard Earl Bowman of the family home also died before their father. At the end of March 1961, James Reed Bowman fell and broke his hip. He convalesced in a Cape hospital for 10 days. On April 4, the longtime Jackson community leader died.

According to Bowman’s obituary, Jackson had progressed in many ways during Bowman’s terms. The city had built a new swimming pool and acquired  a new city  park. There was also a modern municipal light and water plant constructed. Mayor Bowman had countless friends, young and old, who sought his counsel.

He was made a master Mason in the Jackson fraternity in 1953 and was presented a 50-year pin by the local Excelsior Lodge AF & AM. He was a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason. Funeral arrangements were by McCombs Funeral Home. Services were conducted by Rev. Rex Henderson at First Baptist Church with graveside rights by the Masonic Lodge at Russell Heights Cemetery.

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