Sandy Becker-Gurnow

There’s an old story that many people in Labadie know or have heard about Sylvester Labaddie Jr. fighting a bear in Labaddie Cave sometime in the early 1800s. There’s even a Bryan Haynes mural depicting the imagined scene over the bar at the popular downtown Labadie restaurant, The Hawthorne Inn.

Lifelong Labadie resident Sandra Becker-Gurnow knows the story well. There are actually several versions of it, she said. But are any of them true?

Becker-Gurnow lays out the speculation and known facts about the famous Labaddie Cave story in a book she has just had published, “Tying Up the Bits & Pieces.” It’s one of many “Myths, Stories and Facts of Labadie, L’Abbadie, Labaddie, Boles, St. Albans, Port Royal and Oakfield” that she outlines in the 263-page hardcover book.

Among the other stories included in the book are an explanation for the many spellings of Labadie, evidence of the forgotten town of Port Royal that was washed away in the 1844 flood, how Bull Island got its name, and many about the railroads — “At one time, Labadie had seven sets of tracks and two stations . . . ,” Becker-Gurnow writes.

“The railroad ran right through the middle of town,” she told The Missourian. “That was the Union Pacific, which was the Missouri Pacific first. The railroad ran right in front of where Hawthorne is today and Labadie Station was the last Missouri Pacific railroad station.”

There also are stories of post offices, land grants, threshing, cemeteries, roads, schools, the river, pipeline, churches, Indians, Hollywood . . .

These represent 50 years’ worth of research by Becker-Gurnow, who has been planning to write a history of Labadie for that long.

“. . . but it takes a lot of time to gather the information . . . retirement helps, as in time to research and write,” she notes in the book’s introduction that she calls, “My Dream.”

As a child in school, Becker-Gurnow was never interested in learning history — until she was able to relate to it through family history and genealogy. In fact, she recommends that today’s schoolteachers try that approach to light a fire of interest in students.

“If they would teach genealogy and family history first, kids would have a better understanding and interest in their county, state and world,” Becker-Gurnow remarked.

It was an old family cemetery on her grandmother’s property on Fiddle Creek Road that sparked Becker-Gurnow’s interest at age 12.

That led to her first book, published in 2008, “Other Cemeteries of Boles, Labadie and St. Albans.”

It wasn’t published until 2008, because it took her three decades to research and compile all of the information from 86 cemeteries in Franklin County’s northeast corner. That includes research that other people had done and passed on to her to include in the book.

Becker-Gurnow had 50 copies of her cemetery book printed. One copy is on file at Four Rivers Genealogy Society inside the Washington Historical Society Museum.

For “Tying Up Bits and Pieces,” Becker-Gurnow’s research included reading previous written accounts (such as a journal kept by her own great-grandfather, Francis Becker) along with her own genealogy research and numerous personal interviews she conducted with the area’s senior residents.

“For years I collected file folders of bits and pieces. This file folder is questions that I asked the old-timers way back when, 1989 and back around then,” said Becker-Gurnow. “I wanted different people’s stories to try to determine if something was myth or story or a real fact.”

The difference, she explained, is that a myth and a story could be true, but “a little enhanced,” compared with a true fact, which is “something we really know for sure — like we really know there was a flood in 1844 and the other years that there were floods.”

After 50 years of collecting these “bits and pieces,” Becker-Gurnow now has three file cabinets full of information.

Many of her notes are hand-written, because they go back to the pre-computer era. Once she began working on a laptop and had the Internet available for genealogy research, her plans to turn those notes into a book quickened.

“It’s been really easy these last 10 years to get it finished,” said Becker-Gurnow.

The finished book is a hefty one with lots of dense copy and many photos and copies of old newspaper clippings.

Becker-Gurnow, who paid to have the book published herself, had only 200 copies printed by Mira Digital Publishing in Chesterfield. She is selling them for $40 each.

The cover photo shows Labadie, pre-1910, when the railroad tracks ran through the center of town.

“This is Labadie Academy up on the hill,” said Becker-Gurnow, noting the high school attended by students from Labadie, Gray Summit, Pacific and Eureka was torn down between 1910 and 1912. “They came to school by train.”

For more information on the book or to purchase a copy, people should contact Becker-Gurnow at sandy50sunshine@yahoo.com or 314-374-3159.