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We were so saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of our friend and neighbor, Noble Barker, Jr., on Sunday and extend sincere sympathy to all of his family. We shared many areas of interest, including a strong faith, agricultural roots, a love of the history of the Ozarks and an interest in preserving the old ways and lifestyle of generations past. It is very difficult to imagine the loss for this family of four generations who’ve lived and worked side by side for many years.
The Barker farm on Brush Creek, east of Bryant, is home to Noble’s folks, Skeez and Inez, to Noble and Nancy who have operated a dairy farm there for many years, and to their son, Tom and his wife and two little boys. Besides the dairy, Tom and Noble partnered in a sawmill and timber operation, continuing a long family tradition.
Several years ago, Noble, his dad, Skeez (Noble G., Sr.) and Tom told me about their timber heritage. Back in the early 1900s, Skeez’s grandfather, Charley, and father, Noble A., were part owners of the Big Mill, a large business that operated for about seven years in an area known as Cane Bottom on Bryant Creek. The operation included sawmills, a drying kiln, a planing mill and a commissary and employed many local men, as many as 50 at a time. Noble estimated that eight million board feet of virgin pine was cut during those years.
There were log cutters, skinners with their spans of mules, haulers who drove the wagon loads of logs out of the deep woods, sawyers who operated the mills, planermen, edgermen, block setters, log turners, off-beaters, boiler firemen, graders and those who hauled the cut lumber to town. All the equipment was steam-driven. Can you imagine how it must have looked and sounded?
At the time Noble was telling this story, the late Lawrence Smith of Brixey was the last surviving man who had worked in the Big Mill. He passed away a year or two ago.
Noble was proud that he and Tom were continuing the family heritage of working with timber in the Ozark hills and hollers. He was extremely knowledgeable about trees and loved to talk about the merits of different varieties and the ways in which the family worked to improve their stands of timber. Their lifestyle has been a model of timber conservation.
Music was another special love for Noble, with oldtime gospel being his favorite style. Rita Cudworth, Connie Collins, Shorty Martin, the late Glain Martin and Noble formed a group known as Bryant River Gospel, and they sang at churches and community gatherings throughout the area for many years. The five gathered every Monday night to practice, either at Connie or Glain’s home. Singing with the group was a source of true joy for Noble.
And for years he lent his tenor to the choir and to a quartet at First Christian Church in Gainesville. Last Sunday during the Go-Getters Sunday School class, of which the Barkers are members, Mary Nelson shared that Noble had recently given her a piece of music that he hoped they would soon practice. The name of the song is Springtime in Heaven. It is surely a season Noble Barker is now enjoying.