By J. L. Starkey
Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends.– Jim Harrison
“I should have waited to write about Morris B. and the Oregon Trail,” I thought in frustration. “Adventure was his middle name! Maybe I should have waited.”
Or…maybe not. Rule number one in the game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is that there is always a wild card. This week, that wild card led me down a rabbit hole that looked a whole lot like a beehive.
I shouldn’t have waited to write about Morris B. What I should have done was pay closer attention to his brothers.
Especially that one brother – you know, that one? It must have been easy for my third-great-uncle to fly beneath the radar as he grew up in the shadow of his outspoken older brothers.
Moses Rowe didn’t choose the adventurer’s life. But the adventurer’s life definitely chose him.
Little Brother, Big Dreams
Born on 3 June 1841 in Fayette County, Ohio, Moses Truman Rowe was the second youngest child of Jesse Bascom and Sarah (Morris) Rowe . He came from a long line of farmers, but may have hoped for something different in his own life. After all, his mother was supposedly related to the “Financier of the American Revolution” Robert Morris, a man sometimes called America’s Founding Capitalist . Maybe Moses would become a merchant…or a soldier? The possibilities were endless!
When he was nine years old, Moses said goodbye to his brothers Morris and James as they left Ohio in search of gold and adventure on the Oregon Trail. James was just twenty years old when he left for parts unknown, which makes me wonder if Moses planned a similar adventure for his twentieth year.
Planned or not, Moses would fulfill his wish for travel and adventure…in a way. He would turn twenty years old the same year that James and Morris would once again leave home. But this time, Moses wouldn’t be watching as they walked away.
He would be walking right alongside them.
Private Rowe Reports for Duty
In December 1861, twenty-year-old Moses enlisted in Company G of the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He would serve until after the war ended, working first as a musician and then as a stretcher-bearer .
If Moses envisioned army life as a travel-filled adventure, his years with the 73rd were probably a rude awakening. During his time in the service, he witnessed more history than most people see in a lifetime. The 73rd took part in battles at places including Bull Run, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Atlanta, Kennesaw, and Chattanooga. They were involved in the Siege of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea, after which they were recognized at the Grand Review in Washington, D. C. .
In an 1863 letter to his sister Elizabeth, Moses downplayed the hardships he faced, and instead put a positive spin on army life. He assured “Lib” that he was fine, despite what she may have heard, and commented:
“We have been getting plenty to eat considering the condition of the roads. Whoever wrote that [letter]…only wanted to gas a little on his hardships — the poor little fool. I never went to bed hungry since we came here.”– Moses Rowe, 11 November 1863
Moses mustered out of the army as a sergeant on 20 July 1865. The 73rd OVI lost over 320 soldiers during the war, but he was one of the fortunate men who returned home unscathed . He soon began working as a merchant in Staunton, perhaps hoping to find some semblance of normalcy . But a normal life would elude him.
The family was forever changed by the war, and the hard times would continue long after the last shot was fired. In the years following the war, Moses would mourn the loss of his mother, sister, and grandmother, along with several aunts, uncles, and cousins.
By the late 1860’s, his siblings began leaving Fayette County, hoping for a better life in Missouri. Even his dad was going, and had sold the family farm to raise money for the journey .
Moses was not going to watch his family walk away again.
In spring of 1868, he moved to his father’s farm near Sni-a-Bar township in Jackson County, Missouri. One year later, he paid his father one dollar to purchase a portion of that land for himself .
It looked like he had a future as a farmer, after all.
A New Life, A Changed Perspective
“Wait just a minute!” my inner skeptic was frustrated for Moses. “What about his work as a merchant? What about travel? What about adventure?”
But the skeptic was silenced when I wondered, “What about his inner voice?”
Moses did a lot of living before age thirty. He carried the stretchers of soldiers who lay wounded and dying, he buried family members and friends, and he comforted his parents and siblings as they grieved. He endured far too many losses for someone so young, and those experiences changed him. The man who put down roots in Missouri was not the same one who enlisted in the army all those years ago. His priorities had shifted, and he knew what mattered most.
His family mattered. His friends mattered. He never cared much for adventure anyway. That really was better left to his brothers.
But in Missouri, as in Ohio, adventure had a way of finding Moses Rowe.
Becoming the Bee Man
As he headed to his late father’s estate sale on 9 May 1881, Moses may have thought about his accomplishments. Missouri had been good to him, and his farm had improved beyond expectations. He had started one of the first commercial orchards in the area, and his home was fast becoming the gathering place in Sni-a-Bar township . No longer a soldier-turned-merchant, he was now a father, a farmer, and a dedicated family man.
But there was one thing that remained unfinished, and that needed to change.
The buzz had been building in Jackson County for several years, and Moses and his father had worked hard to capitalize on the opportunity. It came with a unique set of risks, and many other farmers simply gave it up, frustrated by their losses.
But not Moses Rowe. Life was an adventure, and with adventure came risk. Quitting was not an option.
Moses didn’t purchase much at his father’s estate sale. The five stands of bees cost less than seven dollars, but it would be money well spent .
In the early 1880’s, Moses started the first apiary in eastern Jackson County, and offered both stained and comb honey for sale . By 1884, he was one of the top producers of extracted honey in the Midwest, and his apiary had grown to eighty colonies . Locals described him as someone “who understood [beekeeping] better” than others who had tried and failed.
He understood it so well, in fact, that he became a hometown legend. Moses didn’t know everyone in Jackson County, but everyone knew him. After all, it was pretty easy to remember a guy that everyone called the Bee Man. Moses probably didn’t choose that nickname, but it stuck…for the rest of his life.
On 13 May 1914, Moses Rowe died at home, close to the orchards and hives that brought him so much happiness. Those who knew him described him as an influential gentleman who was “always hopeful,” regardless of the challenges he faced .
I wonder what the Bee Man would say if he knew that his influence was still being felt today? After I shared the Bee Man’s story with my family, my son said, “Beekeeping sounds like it might be a good hobby for me. Someone in the family probably inherited the beekeeping gene, right?”
My mind started racing as I wondered if I could actually hurdle a car to get away from a buzzing bee. The odds were not in my favor, obviously.
“First of all,” I responded, “I was joking about the beekeeping gene. And second – “
I glanced at the photo of Moses, and then I reconsidered my response.
Message received, Uncle Mose. You’re right…sometimes, you just can’t ignore your inner voice.
” – that sounds really interesting!” I finally said. “The Bee Man would be proud of you.”
- Missouri Secretary of State. “Death Certificates 1910-1968,” digital images. Missouri Digital Heritage (http://www.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesdb/deathcertificates/: accessed 10 October 2019.) record for Moses T. Rowe, 13 May 1914.
- Rappleye, Charles. Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution. Simon & Schuster, 2010.
- Ohio. Roster Commission. Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio In the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. VI, p. 152. Akron: Werner Co., 18861895. Retrieved from HathiTrust.org.
- Hurst, Samuel H. Journal-history of the Seventy-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Chillicothe, Ohio: S.H. Hurst, 1866. Internet resource. (Retrieved from archive.org.)
- “73rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry,” Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 20 Oct 2019 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1138>
- The History of Jackson County, Missouri …: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, Etc., Biographical Sketches … History of Missouri, Maps of Jackson County. Union Historical Co., 1881, https://archive.org/details/cu31924028846505/page/n975.
- “Jesse B. Rowe,” Fayette County Herald, Washington, Ohio, 20 Feb 1868, p. 3, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: Record of Deeds, Fayette County, Ohio, Vol. W., 1878-1868, Image 243 of 690. Retrieved from FamilySearch: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C375-QSGS?i=242&cat=233016.
- Warranty Deed. Rowe, Jesse B., to M. T. Rowe. Jackson County, MO, Instrument 1873I0106489, 3 October 1873, Book 106, p. 489. Retrieved from http://aumentumweb.jacksongov.org/RealEstate/SearchDetail.aspx.
- Hickman, W Z. History of Jackson County, Missouri. Historical Publishing Company, 1920, pp. 502-504. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/books.
- Rowe, Jesse B., Probate. “Missouri Probate Records, 1750-1998,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9L9-19DV-R?cc=2399107&wc=QZ9D-C6D%3A1328185701%2C1331820802 : 22 September 2014), Jackson>Estate case files, series 2, box 65, no 7-43,>image 664 of 1966; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.
- “Bees and Honey for 1884.” American Bee Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1 January 1884, pp. 697–697., https://books.google.com/books?id=7NnDcPzHg2MC&vq=Rowe&dq=moses rowe bees&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
- “Death of M. T. Rowe,” The El Dorado Springs Sun, El Dorado Springs, Missouri, 28 May 1914, p. 13, col. 2. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “Death of M. J. Rowe,” Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri, 13 May 1914, p. 3, col. 2. Retrieved from genealogybank.com.)