The following tale is told by David Haenke, following a visit with Noble Barker:
In May 1996 I visited with Noble Barker. He told me the story of the Big Mill and the pine forest. Noble’s grandfather came to this country in the 1830s, the time of the first pioneers. The span of Noble Barker’s generational memory through his grandfather goes back to the time of transition from the Indians to the settlers. The Barker family story is also the story of the history of the pine forest. In Noble’s words:
“The Landers and the Barkers got together in 1917 and formed the Landers and Barker Lumber Company. In 1922 the company built the Big Mill. The Big Mill included a sawmill, dry kiln, and planing mill.” The Big Mill was located along Cane Bottom Hollow near the Bryant. This is the hollow on the south side of the Bryant where Highway 95 runs today.
“The mill was the center of a small town which included a company store and office, a blacksmith shop, horse and mule barn, and 27 ‘sawmill shacks’. Pine logs cut in the woods were between one and two feet in diameter. They were cut by crews of two or three men who used a crosscut saw to bring down the trees. A mule skinner would then skid the logs out to a landing, where they were loaded on a wagon bound for the mill.
“Fifty men worked at the mill. They used milling wastes for boiler fuel. All the machinery was powered by steam. The operation was built so the logs could be piled at the top of the hollow, then rolled down to the mill.
“Sawn lumber was taken to the company lumber yard in Mountain Grove by wagon, and later by truck. Wagons took two days to make the round trip, trucks a half day. Today it takes an hour and a half to make the drive. The mill and settlement thrived from 1922 to 1929. By 1929 the big pine was all cut. They packed up the mill and moved it to Texas County.”