One Day … Or, Here at Joe-Mama’s

Joe-Mama’s Hilltop Tavern, Grubville, Missouri. R.I.P.

by Terry Wieland

Every single life-long hunter of my acquaintance is afflicted with one hopeless trait: A nagging desire to see what’s over that hill, what’s down that road, what’s around that bend. This, I believe, is usually the root cause for picking up a gun and heading out the back door, even when the weather’s bad and nothing’s flying.

From where I live, it’s about 40 miles to my favorite shooting range, an establishment I frequent more than most people. Driving out two or three times a week could become tedious but for one saving grace: About halfway there, I can turn off onto a sideroad that leads to a hamlet that rejoices in the name of Grubville — seriously, Grubville — and from there spreads out into a lattice-work of county roads with names like Y, WW, and FF.

Any of them can get me where I’m going eventually — they connect and interconnect, once you get the hang of it — but along the way they’ll take me back to 1920, 1880, or in one case, 1794. That latter is the barely legible date hammered onto a tombstone peeking out of the weeds, in a tiny graveyard, tucked into a curve in the road between Nowhere and Farther Out.

Olde-tyme workmanship, Ozark style.

This is the Ozarks, or at least the northern edge, and from the number of times one name crops up — Boone’s Lick, Boone’s Crossing — you know who came here first. He may well have known whoever it is that lies beneath that tombstone. In fact, he may have put him there.  It’s fun to think so, anyway.

But I started to tell you a bit about Grubville. It’s the usual minute Missouri settlement, with a white Baptist church, a cemetery, and a U.S. Post Office housed in a clapboard building that needs paint. You come around a curve and up a hill and around another curve and there you are, in the center of town, with a clutch of cattle munching hay on one side, and the local saloon — or what used to be the local saloon — on the other.

The first time I drove through Grubville, the saloon was still in business. It was called “Joe-Mama’s Hilltop Tavern,” proclaimed by a square illuminated sign up on the roof.  The windows were boarded up even then, which suggests that while the local Baptists may have frequented the place, they wanted to spare passers-by the sight of the wickedness inside.

Who lived here? Where did they go? And why?

Was a time I’d have stopped right there and gone no further, but those days are past. I always intended, one day, to stop in for a sarsaparilla, but then I drove through and saw a “Closed” notice nailed to the door, beside some sort of notification from the health department (Grubville has a health department?) and that was that.

The cattle are still there across the road, gathered round the hay rick, chewing and chatting, and it struck me they look just like a lot of guys I’ve known, standing around a lot of bars I’ve known. They could likely fill me in on what happened to Joe-Mama’s, if they felt like talking.

Past the former Joe-Mama’s, Road Y takes a sharp turn and immediately splits off from WW, right where a mossy log cabin broods in a grove of trees, protected by a “No Trespassing” sign.  You can go right or you can go left. I usually go right, since that’s the more direct path to the range. A mile on, WW splits from Harry Maupin Road and proceeds by ever-narrowing degrees of pavement through stands of timber, old farmhouses, abandoned threshing machines, geographical entities named something-or-other Hollow, and the usual profusion of creeks.

Can’t say I’ve ever found much down those side roads. Every time I cross a creek, I look to see where it goes, and it always goes around a bend, out of sight. It’s just a trickle of water through a jumble of rocks with steep banks, scoured out by the perennial spring floods, but it presents a minor question that one day might be answered. One day.

I always think there’s a ten-point buck just around the bend, having a nice drink. There are always does and fawns in the ravines, and turkeys, too, and where there are does and fawns there has to be bucks. Has to be.

I wonder if Daniel Boone went to his grave with a raft of as-yet-unexplored creeks, trails, and distant hills in the back of his mind? I’ll bet he did. He probably knew what Joe-Mama’s was like inside, too, if not the Baptist church.


Even when there’s no hunting, shooting editor Terry Wieland finds some way to pretend there is. Exploring strange roads in bad weather is as good a way as any.