W.W. McDonald



William Walton McDonald came to the Ozarks in 1848 from St. Louis County after serving in the Mexican War. He followed his uncles, John and Archibald, to the valley of the Big Piney River. They were among the first in establishing the pine lumber industry three decades before on the Big Piney River, Little Piney Creek, and Roubidoux Creek. W.W., as he was known, stayed with the McCourtney clan on the Big Piney. Alexander McCourtney owned 80 acres and a mill on a spring branch, known today as Miller Spring. His brother, William Russell McCourtney, owned an adjoining 80 acres upstream. W.R. McCourtney also had three daughters, the oldest being Mary Jane. W.W. and Mary Jane were married on January 24, 1849.


The McDonalds had a daughter, Mary Permelia, but she died a the age of 13 months in 1851. In 1854, the McDonalds decided to leave McCourtney Hollow and move to Waynesville, the county seat of Pulaski County. It was the county seat almost by default, as there were no other villages in the county. It also was not much of a village, either, as there were only 14 residences and 98 people enumerated on the 1860 census. W.W. and Mary Jane were looking for new opportunities. They bought Lot 4 in Block 6 on the east side of the square in the Original Town of Waynesville.

Mary Jane McCourtney McDonald


McDonald Log Cabin

The first room you enter on our tour is what we call the McDonald Cabin. W.W. built a double-pen, sometimes called a dogtrot, log cabin of hand-hewn oak logs. This is the first of the two cabins he built. It measures 16 feet by 16 feet. It was to serve as the residence cabin for the family. The south wall of the cabin is dominated by a stone fireplace with a walnut mantle. This is the largest of the two fireplaces in the building, giving us the clue that this cabin was the residence. A fire was generally burning 24/7, as it was used to cook meals, gave some light, and provided heat.
The space between the hand-hewn logs was filled with chinking. The chinking consists of pieces of wood of various sizes, often wedge shape. This quickly fills the space between the logs so that it takes less daub to fill the rest of the void. We have left a portion of the south wall to the left of the fireplace unrestored so that this feature can be seen. After the void between the logs was filled as full as possible with chinking, daub was applied to fill the rest of the space to keep out rain, cold, and critters. In pioneer days, the daub was often made of clay mud, sometimes with horsehair or grasses as a binder, and applied to the walls. Early 20th century log houses made use of cement mixtures for the daub.


Most 19th century log cabins did not have closets. They did have wardrobes, often decorative and fine pieces of furniture. The walnut wardrobe on the left was big enough to hold the nice clothing of a family of five, as the McDonalds were by 1865. Clothing needs were simpler then. You really only needed two suits of clothes. One was for working Monday through Saturday. The other was the Sunday-go-to meeting clothes.


A dresser was usually found in a cabin to hold smaller clothing items and bed-clothes. Bedding or other clothing might also be kept in a trunk, which is also in this cabin but not pictured. The dresser might hold the pitcher and bowl used for hand and face washing. An oil lamp and other items used daily are on the top of the dresser.

Of course, there would be a bed but not the mattress and box springs that we are used to. This type of bed is called a rope bed. Holes were bored every six or eight inches around the hardwood frame. A very long hemp rope was then woven through the holes. While this held the sleeper up, it was the feather-filled mattress that made for a good night's sleep. Under the weight of two adults, the ropes would stretch, causing the sleepers to roll toward the middle. A tool was inserted into a loop in the rope and twisted to tighten up the rope. Have you heard the old saying "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite"? The "sleep tight" phrase refers to tightening a rope bed. Bedbugs? There is a bottle of poison for them on the dresser.
Just as the log cabin did not have a closet, it did not have an indoor toilet. Usually found under the bed, a receptacle was at the ready. Refined people back east called this a chamber pot. Here in the Ozarks, it was called a thunder mug. It would save the occupant a trip to the backhouse during the night or inclement weather. This log cabin was typical in size and furnishings for a 19th century Ozark home. It was a comfortable abode for the McDonald family from the 1850s until 1870. In addition to W.W. and Mary Jane, there were four children: Isabelle (b. 1853), Olivia (1857), Lucinda (1860), and the first boy, Ulysses Sipio Grant James Tyree, born during the last year of the Civil War in 1865. In 1869 the railroad came through Pulaski County and stagecoach travel diminished. The McDonalds moved to the new railroad boom town of Crocker, 12 miles north of Waynesville, in 1870.