Callaway County has been known as the Kingdom of Callaway ever since the Civil War, when local volunteers went eyeball-to-eyeball with Union militia and exacted a non-invasion "treaty." The nickname has endured, perhaps because of an unreconstructed spirit of independence and community that continues to characterize our largely rural Callaway today.
That spirit will manifest itself again March 13, when native Callawegians and friends gather at Tucker Dining Hall at William Woods University for the annual Kingdom of Callaway Supper. It is a historic event that dates back to January 18, 1906. While it has undergone many changes, including its name, it remains a joyous, much-anticipated celebration of all things Callaway.
The centerpiece of the supper is introduction of the guest of honor, a native who has moved elsewhere but achieved fame. This tradition is key to the supper's success, says Mike Boulware, the 2012 president of the event.
"Callawegians enjoy seeing folks they grew up with, left here, succeeded and came back," he says.
Mike is a cousin of I.W. Boulware, who was a leader of the very first local Old Settlers' Meeting in 1883. Just as the original settlers were passing, their descendants created the supper that came to succeed the old reunions.
The annual president is often from one of the old families. It is also now customary for presidents to alternate between residents of Fulton and the rural county.
In the beginning, the supper was called the Businessmen's Banquet. According to co-founder A.C. Bush, editor of the Fulton Daily Sun, it was an opportunity for owners of Fulton businesses to enjoy "a pleasant social evening ... (including) speeches and toasts in which the needs of the town, methods of improvements and the work of the past year may be discussed."
That first evening gathering was all male and all white, taking place in Fulton's distinctive mansard-roofed Palace Hotel, which survives just off the courthouse square today. Supper was a sumptuous spread with top-drawer appetizers such as blue point oysters on the half shell, honey-cured ham, roast turkey, and Saratoga Chips, predecessors to the potato chips now produced locally by Backer's Potato Chip Co. Tickets were $1.
Among the talks and speeches - some of whose titles seem decidedly tongue-in-cheek - were "The Kingdom of Callaway" by Judge S.P. Beaven and D.H. Harris and J.S. Watson's talk on "Our City Dads: Shall We Curse 'Em or Bless 'Em."