Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lynching of Joe Woods

Sedalia, Missouri, is slightly outside what is normally thought of as the Ozarks, but I'm going to go ahead anyway and write about an incident that occurred there a couple of years after the Civil War. On Saturday evening, March 23, 1867, a man named Joe Woods came into Joe Geimer's saloon and starting raising hell. Woods, according to the 1882 History of Pettis County, came from a respectable family, but, while still a young man, he had begun "a course of drinking and dissipation" and turned into a desperado. According to newspaper reports in 1867, he had a been a member of Bacon Montgomery's Missouri State Militia regiment during the Civil War and had supposedly robbed a Lexington banker and helped perpetrate a number of other crimes and depredations at Lexington as part of his militia unit. After the war, he had continued a pattern of reckless and domineering behavior and had earned a reputation as a bully. A powerfully built man, he had an especially violent temper when he had been drinking, which was reportedly quite often.
In the saloon, Woods knocked down the bartender and allegedly assaulted a couple of customers as well. He then left and went to a grocery store next door. Geimer had not been in his saloon at the time Woods paid his unwelcome visit, but he learned of the assault on his bartender and apparently went looking for Woods. He met him near the doorway of the grocery store as Woods was coming out of the store. The two men had previously been on good terms, and Geimer, who was considered a peaceful citizen, asked Woods in a civil manner, according to witnesses, not to come into his saloon and cause disturbances. As Geimer then continued toward his saloon, Woods drew his pistol and shot him in the back. Geimer collapsed and fell into the doorway of his saloon, dying almost instantly.
Woods retreated to a local hotel and swore he'd kill any man who tried to arrest him. A small posse nonetheless formed and went to the hotel. One of the men went into Woods's upstairs room with his gun drawn, got the drop on the desperado, and arrested him. The prisoner was taken to "the cooler," a two-story log building on an alley just off Main Street, which had served as a guardhouse during the war and was now used as a jail. A deputy sheriff and five or six other men were detailed to guard the prisoner until a constable showed up with an official warrant for Woods's arrest. The deputy then departed, leaving the prisoner in charge of the constable.
What happened next was mostly reported as hearsay after the fact, but supposedly a mob of about a dozen men showed up around midnight and took the prisoner from his guard. Woods reportedly put up quite a struggle but was finally subdued by repeated blows from the butts of revolvers. A rope was then looped around his neck, and he was led or dragged from the "cooler." The other end of the rope was tied to a buggy axle, and Woods was dragged through town to a local lumber yard. It was a cold night, and the ground was frozen hard. The prisoner's clothes were torn off as he was dragged along on the hard ground until he was completely naked by the time the party reached the lumber yard. The mob untied the rope from the buggy, looped it over the gateway that formed the entrance to the lumber yard, and hoisted up the almost lifeless body of the prisoner. After he had swung awhile, someone reportedly shot him through the head "to make 'assurance doubly sure.'"
The body was left hanging, and it was discovered about 9 a.m. Sunday morning still dangling from the gateway. Apparently offended by the immodesty of a naked frozen corpse, someone during the night had pinned a sheet around the body.
As was often the case in nineteenth-century lynchings, a coroner's inquest concluded that Woods had come to his death at the hands of parties unknown to the jury, although the county history later allowed that the men responsible for the extralegal execution probably could have been fairly easily determined if law enforcement officers had been inclined to investigate. However, Woods' lynching was widely seen as "a deed of justice"
For example, one eyewitness to the murder of Geimer (and perhaps to the lynching of Woods) wrote to the Sedalia Democrat on March 27 defending the action of the mob. After describing the lynching, the letter writer concluded, "So ended the life of a villain of the darkest dye, and he got a punishment he deserved long before he received it." Another correspondent to the same newspaper claimed that Woods was held in such universal disapprobation that even his own mother refused to take charge of the body after it was cut down from the gateway and he was buried in a pauper's grave at the public cemetery rather than in the family plot.
The lynching was credited with helping to reduce the lawlessness and violence that had plagued the Pettis County area since the war, and writing fifteen years later, the county historian allowed that the vigilante act had had "a decided and unmistakably beneficial influence upon the whole community."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mathew Ritchey and Newtonia

In my book entitled The Two Civil War Battle of Newtonia, I mentioned that in the early 1864 Mathew Ritchey, Newtonia's leading citizen, petitioned General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, asking that Union forces not abandon Newtonia. Rosecrans responded in March saying it was not proper for him to comment on the disposition of forces, but Ritchey's son, a Federal captain, soon returned to Newtonia with his unit. Within two months, however, the possibility that Union forces might again abandon the town arose, and Mathew Ritchey, along with Newtonia merchant E.H. Grabill, again appealed to Rosecrans on May 20, 1864. The letter provides details about the situation in Newtonia at the time and gives the rationale for Ritchey's (and Grabill's) appeal.
Apparently plans had been announced to move additional troops to nearby Granby to help out in the operation of the lead mines there. (The lead was used in making ammunition.) The letter writers feared and assumed that moving more troops to Granby would mean that Newtonia would be abandoned. (They had probably heard rumors to this effect.) They told Rosecrans that Newtonia had been held by Union forces for the past two years and had been considered an important point by all commanders in the region. "An excellent, two-story blockhouse with surrounding stone wall and four bastions (floor raised inside for cannon), ditch, good well of water, and connected with a large two-story brick once a school building, has been erected (by Maj. Eno, 8th M.S.M.)," said the petitioners. "The position is easily defensible against any moderate force; the works will accommodate if necessary 400 or 500 or more inside, and it is believed could be held by resolute men against more than five times this number."
Ritchey and Grabill went on to describe Newtonia's location on the prairie with the nearest timber about two miles away. The area had an abundance of grass for grazing and could sustain almost any amount of stock. Water was sufficient, and a steam mill situated at the town could manufacture 60 to 75 pounds of flour in 24 hours.
For the past two years, the post at Newtonia had been center for Union refugees and a stopping point for troops, added the letter writers. Many families from Newton and McDonald counties who had abandoned their homes after losing almost everything to Confederate raids had taken up residence in vicinity, within a 2 1/2 or 3-mile radius of Newtonia. They had already planted their crops for the season and had done so with the promise and expectation that they would be protected. If the Newtonia post were to be vacated, Ritchey and Grabill pleaded, these refugees as well as established residents like the petitioners themselves would also be compelled to leave and would suffer great loss if not economic ruin.
The two men argued that it would take only a few Union soldiers left at Newtonia to secure the place, especially since Granby was only five miles to the west and Neosho only about eleven miles west. And the troops left at Newtonia would, at the same time, be close enough to reinforce those two places if need be. The Union citizens of Newtonia were willing to fight, said Ritchey and Grabill, as they had just demonstrated over the past few days (apparently in helping to repel one or more guerrilla attacks on the town). All they needed were a few soldiers "as a basis of defense" to help them out.
The petitioners closed by saying they did not want to criticize or to appear selfish, but they admitted that they wanted the troops to remain in large part to protect their own business interests in Newtonia. However, they said, having troops in Newtonia would also serve the greater good of helping many others besides themselves.
A few days later General Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District at Springfield, wrote to Ritchey assuring him that Newtonia would not be deserted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Anti-War Sentiments During World War I

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, when large protests against the Vietnam War were fairly common across America, I somehow was led to believe or came to conclude that such anti-war sentiment was previously almost unheard of in this country. During the years since I have come to realize that the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam war era was unprecedented perhaps only in its breadth and magnitude. Even during the Civil War, there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment and a number of demonstrations of such sentiment, such as the New York City draft riots. I suspect that anti-war feelings have been around almost ever since we've had wars.
In my reading and research, I've noticed, in particular, that there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment in the United States during World War I. I wrote on this blog not too long ago, for instance, about the fact that such sentiment was not altogether uncommon among German Americans (although German Americans were suspected of harboring such sentiments more often than they actually did). I also wrote a year or so ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War, which was a clash in Cleburne County, Arkansas, in early 1918 between local law enforcement and a small sect of Russellites whose sons had been targeted for arrest because they had not registered for the draft. The Russellites, as I explained at the time, was a religious sect that was a forerunner to present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. Often called Bible Students or the Watch Tower Society, the Russellites were noted for their pacifism, as are Jehovah's Witnesses still today.
Another interesting case of Russellite opposition to World War I occurred in Jasper County, Missouri. A Webb City man named L.D. Barnes, an avowed Bible Student, became the object of an investigation by the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in early 1918 after he wrote a number of letters to the Joplin Globe and to area citizens espousing his opposition to the war. Although the agent who investigated Barnes labeled him "a religious crank of the worst kind," some of the things Barnes said in his letters actually make a lot of sense for anyone who is interested in paying more than lip service to the ideas of the New Testament. For instance, in one letter that he wrote to the minister of a Methodist church in Webb City, Barnes (who was upset by something he had read on the church's marquee about supporting the war effort) challenged the minister and his followers to live up to what the Bible actually teaches. "War and Christianity won't mix," he declared. "Ye cannot serve God and the Devil. If war is right, Christianity is wrong, false, a lie. If Christianity is right, war is wrong, false, a lie. The God revealed by Jesus is no God of battles. He lifts no sword. His rule is peace, and His method of persuasion is forgiveness. Hear the Scripture: 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Especially in light of the terror and fanaticism we see in the world today, one might reasonably argue that Barnes was an impractical idealist, but I don't think I would call him "a religious crank of the worst kind."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wild Bill and Disloyal Teachers

As regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I spend a considerable amount of time just browsing through old records, looking not necessarily for anything in particular but for anything that strikes me as interesting. I recently ran across a couple of brief but interesting items from Union Provost Marshals' records.
The first concerns Wild Bill Hickok. On February 15, 1865, S.A. Harshbarger, a lieutenant in the 16th Missouri Cavalry Volunteers, wrote to the Southwest Missouri District headquarters at Springfield asking whether James B. Hickok, or "Wile Bill as he is cald," and another man named Jenkins were in the official employ of Brigadier General J.B. Sanborn, commanding the district. Harshbarger, who was stationed in Lawrence County, said Hickok and Jenkins had showed up at his camp claiming to be U.S. scouts on their way to Fort Scott but he thought they were acting suspicious. For one thing, they had started off to the north as though they, indeed, might be headed to Fort Scott but had turned back to the southeast as soon as they were out of sight of the camp. I don't know whether Harshabarger ever got an official reply to his letter of inquiry, but Hickok was, in fact, employed by Sanborn as a scout during late 1864 and early 1865.
The second item of interest concerned two female teachers accused of being disloyal. A man named J.W. McCullough reported on July 17, 1862, from Lawrence County that a Mrs. Trantham of Stone County was teaching "a regular Secesh school." McCullough said the woman was the wife of a strong secessionist and a strong rebel sympathizer herself. She was reportedly teaching "none but children of secessionists, for which she is pledged to take Confederate money." A Miss Haden, McCullough reported, was conducting a similar school in Lawrence County, where "treason is fully taught to the young."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Murder of Lewis Litterell

On the night of November 29, 1862, two men called at the home of 48-year-old Lewis Litterell in Pulaski County, Missouri. Lewis's wife, Mahala, went to the door, and according to her later statement, one of the men wanted to know who lived there. When she told him "Lewis Litterell," the man asked whether he was a Union man, and she said he was. The man said he and his partner were taking a message to Waynesville and needed Litterell to pilot them. When Mahala replied that her husband was sick, the man who had been talking turned to his partner and told him to hold his horse. The first man dismounted and went into the house to "talk to the old man," as Mahala phrased it. The unknown man asked Litterell, since he was unable to travel, whether he knew anyone else who might pilot them, and Litterell mentioned a neighbor named Robertson. The two night-time callers then left.
Presently, they reappeared, however, and one of the men again went into the house while the other held his horse. The intruder pointed a pistol at Litterell and ordered him to get up out of his bed and be "damn quick" about it. He told Litterell to get the best horse he could and pilot him and his partner to Waynesville.
That was the last time Mahala Litterell saw her husband alive. His dead body was returned to her a couple of days later, and at or near the same time, Larkin "Lark" Salsman of neighboring Camden County, was brought to her house in the custody of the local Enrolled Missouri Militia as a suspect in Litterell's murder. Lark told Mrs. Litterell that it was his brother, John Salsman, and Pete Cuswell who had taken her husband away.
On December 9, when Mahala Litterell and her deceased husband's sister-in-law, Cynthia Litterell, traveled to Waynesville to give statements to Union authorities there about the kidnapping of Lewis Litterell, Mahala said she believed the men who took her husband away to be Lark Salsman and Pete Cuswell. Cynthia's testimony essentially agreed with Mahala's except that Cynthia said Lark Salsman, the man brought to the Litterell house by the EMM, did not look like either of the two men who took Lewis Litterell away.
Lieutentant Thomas Thomas, assistant provost marshal at Waynesville, forwarded the women's statements to Rolla the same day he took them, and he also reported that Lark Salsman had already been killed by the EMM before the Litterell women gave their statements. Whether he was shot while trying to escape or was the victim of summary justice is not known. Thomas also added that John Salsman and Pete Cuswell were yet at large.
Authorities at Rolla, upon reviewing the paperwork forwarded by Thomas, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to assign guilt, and presumably no further proceedings in the case took place.
Source: Union Provost Marshal's Papers, Relating to Two or More Citizens, Missouri State Archives microfilm roll number 1591.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Rebel Ancestors??

I recently found in provost marshals papers a letter written on September 23, 1864, by Major J.B. Kaiser, commanding the Union post at Waynesville, Missouri, to Brigadier-General John McNeil, commanding the Rolla district, in which Kaiser identifies a number of citizens of Pulaski and Texas counties who had supposedly been aiding and harboring bushwhackers and "also conveying news to them by every opportunity they can get."
Among the people on the list accused of harboring bushwhackers was John Morgan, who was reported as living seven miles south of the Waynesville post. This was my great great grandmother's brother. In fact, the location Kaiser mentions, seven miles south of Waynesville is still the location of the Morgan farm, which has been in the family since about 1829, I believe.
Another person listed was the "Widow Tippet...where the Rebels make frequent visits for the purpose of gathering information." Mrs. Tippet was identified as living near Widow Adams, who lived west of Waynesville and was considered "a strong Rebel sympathizer." The Widow Tippet was John Morgan's sister and my great great grandmother. She had previously been married to my great great grandfather, Robert Wood. After Wood died, she remarried a man named Tippet, but he, too, died prior to the Civil War.
What I found particularly interesting was that I also found a letter written a few months earlier in April of 1864 by a prominent Union man named Ellis of Pulaski County to Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal general of the Department of the Missouri headquartered in St. Louis, in which Ellis identifies other men of Pulaski who can be trusted as honest and reliable Union men. One of the men Ellis mentioned was John Morgan.
This just goes to show how difficult it is for researchers to determine whether a Missouri ancestor (or any other person in Missouri) was actually loyal or not during the Civil War. Sometimes people were falsely reported as disloyal simply because a neighbor held a personal grudge against them, or else they were reported as disloyal on very scant evidence. On the other hand, sometimes people of suspect loyalty were reported as loyal because the person doing the reporting was of dubious loyalty himself. If Union authorities had a hard time knowing for sure who was loyal and who was not, how are researchers to know for sure 150 years later?
What I do know is that my great grandfather, Mrs. Tippet's son, joined the local Union militia near the tail end of the war when he was about 19 or 20 years old. Of course, by then many people who had previously nursed Southern sympathies had seen the writing on the wall and had shifted their loyalties, at least outwardly. I also know that two older sons of Mrs. Tippet, my great grandfather's brothers, were Confederate soldiers. So, as I say, the evidence is conflicting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hobbs Kerry Again

I've commented previously on the fact that 19th century newspapermen often offered wry commentary on the subject they were reporting on. I recently ran onto another good example from the August 17, 1876 edition of the Neosho Times. Hobbs Kerry, who had grown up in nearby Granby, had recently been arrested for helping the James-Younger gang hold up a train near Otterville in Cooper County, Missouri, and after his arrest he had named the other members of the gang. The Neosho newspaperman reported that, Kerry, who had recently been recruited to the gang by veteran members Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell, had "squealed, and his squealing will probably result in breaking up the band. But in squealing Hobbs forfeited all chance of securing a policy in any well-regulated life insurance company."
The next week, the same newspaper reported that the impression was gaining ground that Kerry confession, as far as implicating the Youngers and the James boys in the crime, was untrue. Such an impression did, in fact, gain ground during the weeks after Kerry's arrest. Many people did not believe his story. The Times reported that, according to Kerry's own admission, he had never met the Youngers or the James brothers until he accompanied Pitts and Chadwell to Jackson County a week or so before the July 7 train robbery, and the newspaper suggested that perhaps Kerry had merely been told that his partners were the James and Younger brothers in order to boost his confidence in carrying out the crime. The Neosho newspaperman questioned whether Cole Younger, who had "long head in crooked work," would have taken on a raw recruit for an important job on the mere word of Pitts and Chadwell. An alternative, the reporter suggested, was that Kerry had deliberately lied in order to deflect suspicion away from his actual sidekicks.
The fact was, as it turned out, Kerry was not lying at all and was not operating under any false impressions as to the identity of his partners. Apparently he was more concerned with trying to shorten his prison stay than with purchasing life insurance.
My book Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a chapter about Hobbs Kerry, and I've also written previously about him on this blog, back in November of 2008.

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