Good Roads in 1913 …a Controversy?

In 1913 Missouri Gov. Elliott W. Major issued a proclamation setting apart two days in August when every able-bodied resident in the towns and rural areas of the state were to render personal assistance in improving the highways. At least 300,000 men were expected to respond and put two days hard work on the roads. Many of these people were willing to furnish teams and machinery.

In 1913 Missouri Gov. Elliott W. Major issued a proclamation setting apart two days in August when every able-bodied resident in the towns and rural areas of the state were to render personal assistance in improving the highways. At least 300,000 men were expected to respond and put two days hard work on the roads. Many of these people were willing to furnish teams and machinery.

The work of 300,000 men for two days would be equivalent to 6,000 days work. Young boys were also expected to turn out for the endeavor. The governor provided ample notice so that local authorities in every community could be prepared to handle the great throng of volunteer road workers. Gov. Major proposed personally to pick up a pick and shovel for one new highway project near Jefferson City, and he expected every state official to do the same.

As with all proposals, this program prompted vocal opposition. By coincidence, the announced days for Road Days conflicted with the popular Chautauqua held in Gallatin. Thus, locally at least, some people had choose between which event they would support. Some of the excuses, complaints and sentiments were as follows:

  • “I believe Gov. Major struck upon a brilliant idea when he issued his road proclamation setting apart Wednesday and Thursday, August 21 and 22, and known as ‘Good Roads Days.’ Every able bodied man in the rural districts and the cities of the state were requested to put in these days work on the public highways.”
  • “I do not intend to work on the roads. I pay my taxes and will not give any help to a major advertising scheme.”
  • “If Elliott W. would furnish me with a gold sledge and plenty of ice water, I might take a one-hour twirl on some smooth road close to my home.”
  • “Work on the roads during the Chautauqua? Not for me. The governor should have been a little more considerate in selecting the dates.”
  • “Major’s road proclamation is the first good move he’s made since he became governor. I’ve applied for the boss of the gang in which Matt Givens is going to work.”
  • “I’d gladly work on the roads if my wife would let me. She says I work at home and that word “nik” is a word on the outside of free labor.”
  • My wife would not consent. She says if she’d pass along and see me working, it’d remind her of a prisoner — ball and chain – and she couldn’t bear me in that condition.”
  • “I can never tell in the morning what I will do before night. I might cast a bit of mother earth to the side.”
  • “If it is cool and pleasant on the morning of the 20th, I may run out in my automobile and see a few of the boys work.” Major doesn’t want any loafers watching the other men work, replied the questioner. “Oh, well, I won’t go out then.”
  • “I fully intended to work until the governor came out with his second notice asking that the women in the districts aid in the cause by furnishing the workers with lunches and encouraging them with their presence and good cheer. Their good cheer would make me so sad I wouldn’t do any work.”
  • “I’m not able bodied, so that lets me out.”
  • “Major’s work proclamation is the first good move he’s made since his road proposition and I intend to get all the men out to work.”
  • “As far as I’m concerned, I won’t be able to work on account of other matters demanding my attention.”
  • “The governor estimates that work worth a million and a half will result. Let’s hope so. But even this amount won’t justify interference with our great Chautauqua.”

After much complaining from a large number of people concerning the conflict between the dates of the Chautauqua and Good Roads Day, it was decided to change the road days to August 13-14. On those days the road captains assembled men in gangs and used automobiles to take the workers to their various locations where the pick and shovel played an important part.

Researched by Wilbur Bush; SOURCES: “300,000 to do road work,” Gallatin North Missourian, July 10, 1913; “Many excuses are offered,” Gallatin North Missourian, July 24, 1913; “Road days for Daviess county,” Gallatin North Missourian, July 31, 1913; “Some good road work done,” Gallatin North Missourian, August 14, 1913.