May 9, 2021

Pages 860-861
Whole Number 48


by Louise Knoche

William Thomas Sparks, who was born in Madison County, Virginia, in 1821 and died in Saline, Missouri, in 1880, was my great-grandfather. (See above sketch, page 857.) His oldest daughter, Anna Belleville (Sparks) Potter, was my grandmother, and it was from her that I learned much about the family's way of life before they lost everything in the Civil War. William T. Sparks had been a slave trader, and my grandmother could remember seeing him, accompanied by his overseers, riding on horseback and driving herds of Negroes down the road to the auction block in town. They were driven like cattle, the overseers cracking their black-snake whips over their heads. She recalled that on their plantation in Virginia they had hundreds of cabins where the slaves stayed between sales.

Maria Elizabeth Fry, wife of William T. Sparks, came from a very wealthy Virginia family and descended from a Revolutionary soldier named Joshua Fry. She was reared by her parents to be a true Southern lady and prior to her marriage had never tied her own shoes nor dressed herself. For a wedding present, her father gave her twenty-four slaves, each worth $2, 000. A slave whom we called Aunt Lucy accompanied the family to Missouri and continued to cook for my Grandmother until her death, then went to work for my great-aunt, Alice (Sparks) Graves. I remember going to old Aunt Lucy's funeral just prior to the First World War.

William T. and Maria Elizabeth (Fry) Sparks had seven sons, all of whom grew to manhood, although Thomas died as a relatively young man. They were all tall, slim, handsome men with winning personalities. They were born salesmen. My grandmother, their oldest sister, also had a powerful personality, and no one could have loved the South more than she. She could rave for hours on what an awful man Abraham Lincoln was.

After the Civil War, William T. Sparks moved with his family across the Blue Ridge Mountains to Missouri. They camped for a day or two where Kansas City, Missouri, now stands, and my grandmother could remember the many other wagons that stopped there daily. The Sparkses went on to settle at Arrow Rook on the Missouri River and it was there that my great-grandfather established a boat store. When his sons grew up, they split rails for fences and railroads until they had saved enough money to establish a business for buying and selling mules. They built big mule barns in Marshall, Missouri, but soon outgrew the town and moved on to Kansas City. Then the National Stockyard in St. Louis, Missouri, paid them a huge sum of money to move their business to the St. Louis Yards. I remember the amount as a million dollars, but it probably just sounded like a million as I heard the story as a child. In any case, it was a large amount of money.

My grandmother's brothers all became extremely wealthy men through their mule and horse business, and their animals were sold all over the world. They made a fortune during the Spanish American War, and they furnished the American Government with nearly all of the thousands of mules used in building the Panama Canal. My mother's brother worked for the Sparks Brothers at that time and was in charge of getting the mules to Panama-- they drove them overland, across Old Mexico.

The seven Sparks brothers have been dead for many years and most of their children have likewise passed on. The business which they established has long since been out-moded by modern technology, but their old mule barns still stand in the Kansas City Stockyards, and if one looks closely he can still see, beneath the faded paint, the letters S-P-A-R-K-S.