Hooked on My Family History: Rebecca Musteen Johnson

I can tell you exactly when I became entranced with my family history.

One month before my 12th birthday, I was resting fretfully at St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa, OK after surgery to remove my right kidney (due to a birth defect, which had been undetected earlier). The actual procedure was far more fearful to Mother than me…I was greatly relieved to be done with weeks of irritating and painful tests.

My main problem was entertainment. I’d read ALL the classic Nancy Drew mysteries on the top shelf of our Candy Striper’s gray rolling trolley, and Mother had gone back to Northwest Arkansas to tend my three younger siblings.

Grandma Musteen Came and Shared My Family History

Dad’s 76-year-old Mama* arrived to sit with me and told me stories we had never enjoyed the solitude to share. While I dined on broth, weak tea and any flavor of Jell-O that my heart desired, she shared tales that were far more flavorful.

Jennie Brown Musteen

Jennie Brown Musteen with the 6th of her 12 grandchildren…me.

Her grandfather was a solid Ozark farmer with eight children. For his main livelihood, he tanned hides in an earthen pit, filled with tanning chemicals. Northwest Arkansas was just slightly south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so his pit was covered with branches and leaves to conceal it from armed bands of post-Civil War raiders from both sides.  

Food was precious. One story told of his youngest, Mary, crying for the warm bread her mother had just taken from the oven…after “Bushwhackers” rode into the yard and rudely stole it away.

Butterfield Overland Trail

Butterfield Overland Trail

To supplement his family income before the Civil War, John drove a Butterfield Stage from a point in MO to Fort Smith, AR on a regular route. Great-Great-Grandpa’s route went right through that upper corner of AR, which you can see in the official trail map. Grandma specifically mentioned that he stopped at the Elkhorn Tavern. I’ve searched the Butterfield records and found that it was an unofficial, but popular stop.  

Prior to the Civil War, the house was used for many purposes, although it was well-known locally as a stop for the Overland Stage. Although the Butterfield Stage passed by on the Telegraph Road, the Elkhorn Tavern was not an official stop on the Butterfield line. During this period, the Tavern was described as a place “of abundant good cheer”.

Wait! While Grandma was describing the tavern, I knew something about it. In my 5th-grade class, the silver-haired granddaughter of the tavern’s Civil War-era managers came to share her mother’s unforgettable, youthful memories from The Battle of Pea Ridge. The tavern was occupied as the field hospital by Army surgeons, who worked tirelessly to remove shattered limbs and save as many lives as possible.

Now, my region’s history, my country’s history, was also my family history! (Dad’s mamma was born in 1887 and would have been close in age to the kind woman who shared her mother’s Civil War memories with our class.)

It was Cox, who later renamed it Elkhorn Tavern. Under Cox’ management, the structure served as a trading post, an unofficial Butterfield Overland Mail stop, post office, voting place, eating establishment, church of the Benton County Baptist Society and inn. As the war moved near, Jesse Cox left the tavern to the care of his son and daughter-in-law Joseph and Lucinda Pratt Cox and went to Kansas.


The last time I visited Pea Ridge National Military Park, a stretch of bare-earth ruts from Telegraph Road were still visible near the tavern. I stood and thought of my great-great-grandfather driving his coach and team over those ruts.

By a quirk of fate, my only granddaughter now attends Butterfield Trail Elementary School in Fayetteville, AR. Even stranger, the first successful Butterfield stage run was finished on her birth date of September 19—148 years and six family generations before she was born.

The first Butterfield stage entered Forth Smith on Sunday, September 19, 1858, at 2:00 a.m. Its route took it over Fort Smith’s old Washington Street, which today is 2nd Street. Even at that hour, its arrival was greeted with music, cheering, and cannon fire, which continued until the coach left for California.

While it thrills me to know something of my family history, I wish I knew so much more! The last Musteen in my dad’s direct siblings is gone now. My cousins and I never sat down with her and captured her rich trove of memories. We intended to do it “next visit,” “when we get the chance.”

Time didn’t wait for us. If you’re interested in your family history, please grab any opportunity NOW to capture family stories…those treasured memories can live forever.

I’m very fortunate to have history for several generations on three of my grandparents. The main focus of this blog is my dad’s Mustain lineage. I begin with this history because our ancestor, Thomas Mustain, built a home that has stood for more than 250 years. I love that tangible reminder of my heritage. I have no idea why Thomas received a royal land grant, so that’s a subject for future research.

Any blood descendent of Thomas is eligible to join Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Click here for details about Thomas donating a firearm, and you can also find more information on all requirements at www.dar.org.

Avery and Jesse were both enlisted in the Revolutionary War, so their service records can be used, too.

According to Delores M. Mustaine’s book, The descendents of Thomas Mustain of Pittsylvania County, Virginia; Thomas’ daughter Molley’s father-in-law, Littleberry Patterson, was also a veteran of the Revolutionary War. So far, I’ve found this reference. The online photo archive of Delores’ book has page numbers in the upper right corner…details about Molley and the Patterson family begin in the middle of page 5.

Dad’s grandfather, Nathaniel Baxter Mustain, fought in the Civil War, waited for wages that didn’t come and endured a Union prison camp…more about that in a later post.

Please comment and share this blog with your family members. The details of our family histories are too precious to lose!

*Jennie Lee Brown married Nathaniel Baxter Musteen when she was 23. Only the oldest of Nate’s four surviving children, Walter, raised his own family. More about this in a later post. Four of Jennie and Nate’s seven children gave Jennie 12 grandchildren. Nate died in 1946, so we grandchildren have photos and a few minutes of video made by my Uncle Hubert in the handful of years before Grandpa’s death.  

Hubert: Martha Jane and Sarah Lee Musteen
Mary: Lisle Gene, Bennie Joe and Gail Lou Stevenson
Jack: Debbie, David and Margie Musteen
Joe: Rebecca Gail, Jennie Lynn, Michael Wayne and Barry Twan Musteen

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4 thoughts on “Hooked on My Family History: Rebecca Musteen Johnson

  1. I really enjoyed reading how you have become enamored with your genealogy, as I too am a genealogy addict. I began researching my roots about a year before my grandma (a Mustain descendant) passed away, two months before her 100th birthday. Grandma used to talk about her great-grandmother Caroline Thomas Mustain who died giving birth to her grandmother Sarah Jane Wine in 1834. I became intrigued about the story of the tavern when you mentioned that Jesse Cox purchased it and gave it the name Elkhorn Tavern. I’m also a Cox descendant through Moses Cox. I will have to see where the connection to Jesse comes in to play. I look forward to reading more stories about the Mustain family. If anyone has information on the murder of my four times great-grandfather James W. Mustain, please share it!

  2. Debi, I debated about adding the Elkhorn Tavern and Cox details…as perhaps less relevant to our own history. I’m glad now that I did; hopefully you can find a connection.

    You didn’t mention through which of Thomas’ children your family descended. If you’d like to write a few details for a guest post or several (and any relevant scanned photos), I’d be glad to add them to the blog. (Of course that offer is open to our other extended family members.)

    Thanks so much for leaving a note with some details of your family and and how you became interested in our family history. :)

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