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, May 28, 2015

Henry Starr's Pryor Creek Holdup

My Desperadoes of the Ozarks book contains accounts of Henry Starr's bank robbery at Bentonville in June of 1893 and his attempted robbery of a bank in Harrison in 1921, an action during which he was killed. The main reason the two events are separated by so many years is that Starr did a long stretch of prison time in between. However, Starr, nephew by marriage of the notorious Belle Starr, was already infamous for a number of crimes committed before he pulled off the Bentonville job, one of which was the robbery of a train at Pryor Creek (i.e. Pryor) in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) at the western edge of the Ozarks on May 2, 1893. And he was already wanted at the time for allegedly murdering U.S. deputy marshal Floyd Wilson in December of 1892, for a couple of other robberies committed in Indian Territory in early 1893, and for holding up a bank at Caney, Kansas, in late March of the same year.
In the Pryor Creek caper, two outlaws presented their rifles at the train's engine and ordered the engineer and fireman to escort them to the express car as soon as the train, a passenger train of the KATY Railroad, pulled into the Pryor Creek depot about 8 o'clock on the night of the 2nd. Four other bandits immediately took charge of the rest of the train, the depot, and the surrounding grounds. During the entire operation, which lasted over an hour, an estimated fifty shots were fired for the purpose of intimidation and warning. The gang's estimated take was small, because the express messenger managed to convince the crooks that he could not open the main safe and the "local" safe contained little loot. In addition, by the time the outlaws got around to turning their attention to the passengers, they had had time to hide most of their valuables.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Murder of Austin Blankenship

During the Civil War, Missouri was such a lawless place that it was often difficult to bring offenders to justice for criminal behavior that, during normal times, would surely have resulted in arrest and prosecution. Indeed, in many places throughout the state, civil law basically ceased to exist, at least for long stretches of the war, and martial law was often a poor substitute, especially when the crimes were politically motivated and the victim happened to be on the opposite side of the military tribunal called to investigate the crime, which was many times the case. Specifically, it was hard for a Southern sympathizer to get justice in a system run by Union military officials. (The Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard instituted its own version of martial law early in the war in places like Springfield, but the South’s control of southern Missouri proved brief. For most of the war, when we talk about martial law in Missouri, we’re talking about Union military law.) Besides, the state was so overrun by roving bands of ruffians that, regardless of political considerations, citizens were often afraid to testify about a crime for fear that they might be the next target of the brigands. Of course, the roving bands were often affiliated, at least loosely, with one side or the other in the war, but my point is that it wasn’t always a distrust of the justice system that made people reluctant to testify. Often it was a very realistic fear for their own safety.
The case of Austin Blankenship, who was murdered near Cole Camp in Benton County in the summer or fall of 1863, serves as an example. After receiving complaints about this and other outrages, including two other murders, committed in Benton County about the same time, Union officials appointed a board of officers to investigate the alleged crimes, which were said to have been perpetrated by Federal officers, soldiers, and citizens (presumably against Southern sympathizers). The board began its investigation on November 9 and filed its report with General Egbert B. Brown, commanding the Central District of Missouri, which encompassed Benton County, on December 14. The officers said they had interviewed nearly every prospective witness that might have knowledge of Blankenship’s murder or any of the other crimes and that they had been unable to find even one person who was willing to testify, because everyone was “terrified by the bloodthirsty deeds so recently committed.” The witnesses told the board that they had reason to believe that, if they testified about the outrages, they would be shot and their buildings burned. Some of them said that they were even afraid to ask questions of their fellow citizens about the crimes and were glad to remain ignorant, feeling that the less they knew about the outrages, the better off they would be.
The only people willing to testify were Blankenship’s wife and a small boy, who were present when Blankenship was killed. However, all the wife could say with certainty was that the members of the gang were wearing Federal uniforms and that there were about eight or ten of them, although only three entered the house. The boy was so frightened by the experience that he was unable to offer any valuable evidence.
There seemed to be a general feeling that the killers of Blankenship were four members of the 8th Regiment, Missouri State Militia, who were known to have been in the Blankenship neighborhood on the night he was killed, and because the other two men were killed on the same night as Blankenship, it was supposed that they were killed by the same four men. However, the investigating board felt they did not have enough specific evidence to get a conviction; so they did not recommend charges be brought against the four men, one of whom was Jasper Mitchell.
Despite the recommendation of the board, General Brown forwarded the report to the Department of Missouri headquarters at St. Louis with a suggestion that the investigation be continued and that the prospective witnesses be called to St. Louis, where they might feel freer to give testimony than they would at home. The report was promptly returned to Brown, however, with a request for additional information. Specifically, officials in St. Louis wanted to know the date on which Blankenship was killed.
What happened after that is unknown, but apparently the four suspected killers were never brought to trial.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pressed Into Service

During the Civil War, especially during the early stages of the war, most military service was voluntary. However, both sides instituted drafts later in the war, the Confederacy in 1862 and the Union in 1863. In Missouri, Union service became mandatory with the formation of the Enrolled Missouri Militia in 1862. This, of course, resulted in a number of reluctant warriors (sometimes called Pawpaw Militia) who might have nursed Southern leanings but who joined the EMM in order to comply with the law. Occasionally, too, men of fighting age were simply compelled to serve, under a threat of violence, without being formally conscripted. This was the case with Martin V. Hammonds, or so he claimed.
Hammonds took his team and wagon and traveled from his home in Barton County, Missouri, to Elm Springs, Arkansas, in the summer of 1862 to move his brother and his brother’s family north. His brother, Hammonds said, was a Union man and wanted to get away from Confederate Arkansas. While at Elm Springs, Hammonds was arrested by some Rebels and told that he must enter Rebel service or they would kill him.
Hammonds joined the Rebels but, according to his story, deserted at his first opportunity, which occurred after about two months of service. On or about October 1, he was arrested by Union authorities on suspicion of being in arms against the United States and taken to Springfield, Missouri, where he gave a statement on October 22. He said he was a Union man and always had been, that he had not taken an oath, but that he was willing to do so at any time and was also willing to enlist in the Union army and “fight for the Government of the United States.”
Hammonds’s story is partially confirmed by Confederate records, which show that he joined Colonel Lewis’s 16th Missouri Infantry Volunteers, CSA on August 10, 1862. However, his date of desertion is given as October 21st, not October 1. We also learn from his Confederate service record that his place of desertion was Benton County, Missouri.
Hammonds’s case was turned over to the Springfield provost marshal at the time he gave his statement, but apparently no formal charges were ever filed against him.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Killing of Eli Baker

Twenty-four-year old Eli Baker was killed on October 1, 1861, in Stone County, Missouri, by a band of men that included James Huddleston and Isaac Bledsoe. Although details of the incident are sketchy, apparently it had political overtones, as most such incidents did during the Civil War, and the subsequent prosecution of Huddleston and Bledsoe for the crime definitely had personal overtones.
Huddleston was finally arrested in connection with this incident in mid-1863. (Whether Bledsoe was arrested is not known for sure.) Huddleston, however, was quickly paroled to Greene County. The parole was soon extended to Lawrence County. Before long Huddleston absconded to St. Louis, but he was apprehended there and placed in Union custody. In September a grand jury met in Stone County and indicted both Huddleston and Bledsoe for second degree murder.
The indictment, full of legalese, declared that "James Huddleston and Isaac H. Bledsoe and divers other persons to the jurors unknown on the 1st day of October...not having the fear of God before their eyes but being moved, seduced and instigated by the devil, did willfully, premeditatively, feloniously and of their malice aforethought with a gun, which gun was loaded and charged with gunpowder and a leaden bullet, which said gun was loaded as aforesaid, they the said James Huddleston and Isaac H. Bledsoe and divers other persons to the jurors unknown had and in their hand in and upon the body of one Ali Baker in the face of God and the State...did discharge and shoot off upon and against the body of said Ali Baker, giving to the said Ali Baker one mortal wound in the thigh of him the said Ali Baker of the depth of two inches and the breath of one-half inch, of which wound the said Ali Baker did languish and did die."
The fascinating thing about this indictment is that the foreman of the grand jury was Bowling Baker, father of Eli Baker (the victim of the shooting). Huddleston retained John S. Phelps (Union colonel, U.S. congressman, and future governor of Missouri) as his attorney. Huddlestonhad served under Phelps, probably even at the time of Baker's killing. Phelps quickly gained Huddleston's freedom on parole and bond of $2,000. A month or two later Huddleston was re-enlisted into the Union army. An new effort was made in 1864 to revive the case against Huddleston, but he served in the arny until the end of the war.
So I don't know the final outcome of this case, but apparently Huddleston was never tried for the crime he supposedly committed. Whatever the final outcome, I find the case interesting because of the political and personal overtones. Huddleston was a Union soldier, and Baker and his father were probably Southern sympathizers or at least conservative Union men, plus Bowling Baker served as foreman of the grand jury that was investigating his own son's death.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Killed Over Fifty Cents?

Details concerning the following incident are sketchy, and I can't seem to find verification from any other source that the incident even happened, but according to the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot, this is what happened: sometime during the middle of December 1875 in Newton County, Missouri, a man named Short came into the tent of F.W.M. Moore, where another man named Gideon was seated. Short, who had an ax in his hand, sat down and started sharpening it and began talking with the other men.
Soon, Gideon got up to leave. As he was passing Short, Short demanded payment of a fifty-cent debt he supposedly owed Short. However, Gideon denied the debt, and he and Short exchanged some heated words before Gideon passed on, exiting the tent. After he was gone, Short told Moore not to trust Gideon because he never paid his debts. Overhearing the remark, Gideon returned and demanded to know what Short had said. Short repeated the remark, and Gideon called him a "God damned liar."
"You'd better not call me a God damned liar," Short said, as the argument moved outside the tent, but when he took a step or two toward the other man, Gideon drew a revolver and commanded him to halt. Just as Short shouted "Don't shoot!" Gideon fired, and Short fell to the ground. "I'm shot!" he cried and asked Moore to help him. As Moore went to the fallen man's aid, Gideon started to leave but quickly came back and told Moore to stand aside as though he planned to shoot Short again. Moore leaped between the two men and told Gideon to leave--that Short was already hurt enough. Gideon then fled and was last heard of near Washburn in Barry County. Whether he was ever caught, however, was not reported. How long Short lived after the shooting was also not reported, but he apparently did die, because the Missouri Patriot called the shooting a "brutal murder."
As I said, I'm not sure how much of this story to believe since I've been unable to verify it from other sources, but I find it interesting because, if for no other reason, it shows the value of fifty cents in those days. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much money to us to be killing and getting killed over, but it would have been equivalent to at least a half day's wages if not a full day's wages. That's like fifty to a hundred dollars today. Looked at from that perspective, I realize that people are still killing each other today for such insignificant sums.
The fact that this incident happened in and near a tent suggests that it probably happened at a mining camp, which means it probably happened at or near Granby. The fact that Gideon was spotted soon afterward at Washburn adds credence to this idea.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Murder of Philip Schall

I think most people have a general notion of the division caused by the Civil War, but I sometimes doubt whether we fully appreciate the depth of the rancor and the length of time it lingered even after the war. I know that the amount of bitterness left over from the war in Missouri and surrounding regions during the late 1800s never ceases to amaze me, even after years of researching and writing about the period. I've previously written about a number of violent incidents in the late 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s that were brought about to a large extent by personal and political rancor that lingered after the war. Another example was the killing of Philip Schall in Fredericktown, Missouri, on August 17, 1872. In what was a considerable exaggeration, given the frequency of such incidents, one report in the wake of the killing called it "the most brutal murder for political hatred ever committed."
Schall, who was described as "a harmless man and a Republican" noted for his docile disposition, was driving his team of oxen home while under the influence of liquor when he encountered Thomas Mathews upon "the most public street" of Fredericktown. Mathews, a young man who was connected to some of the most prominent families of Madison County, was described as "a violent, blood-thirsty and revengeful man," and it was believed he was a leader of the local KKK, which had recently been threatening and abusing peaceable citizens in the area. Schall hurrahed for Grant, and Mathews shouted for Greeley (presidential candidates), saying he could whip Schall or any other Radical in the county.
Mathews continued to taunt Schall trying to get him to fight, and the two men finally got into a shoving match. Some bystanders pulled the two apart, but Mathews continued to taunt the other man while holding his right hand on a pistol in his pocket. Suddenly he struck Schall with his left hand and at the same time drew the pistol and fired two quick shots at Schall. Up to this point, Schall had not fought back other than to exchange shoves with his assailant. But now he cried, "Damn you, you have shot me!" and knocked Mathews down with his fist. He jumped on top of Mathews and commenced beating and kicking him, while Mathews drew a dagger and stabbed Schall in the hand. Suddenly, Schall collapsed and died almost on top of his assailant, having been shot through the head.
Mathews was arrested on the evening of the killing (a Saturday), and a coroner's jury that met that very night reached a conclusion in accordance with the facts stated above. Mathews was to be arraigned on Monday, but I have not seen a later report that gives the disposition of his case.
This report is from a Union sympathizing newspaper, so it might be a little biased. However, the facts are probably fairly accurate. I know, for instance, that the KKK was, in fact, very active in south central and southeast Missouri in the years after the war. At any rate, the incident is one more example of the incredible amount of hatred and bitterness engendered by and left over from the Civil War.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Murder of John Marshal

During the frontier and Old West days of America, any time young men, separated from the mollifying effects of domestic life, gathered in relatively large numbers, there was apt to be violence, or at least a disproportionate amount of crime was committed by such individuals. This is still true today to some extent, of course, but it seems there was a higher percentage of jobs back in those days that attracted young, unattached men in large numbers--soldiering, mining, punching cattle, building railroads, lumbering, and so forth.
An example of what I'm talking about was the murder of John Marshal in the fall of 1869 by James Hagget and Thomas Carroll at a saloon in eastern Greene County, Missouri, on the line of the South Pacific Railroad, which was then being built to Springfield from Rolla. (The railroad would reach Springfield the following spring.) All three men were described as "railroad hands," and the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot opined that the crime appeared to be a "brutal murder without any provocation whatever."
The few details of the killing available in the days immediately after the incident were provided by a witness named Michael Donovan, who himself was a railroad worker and was present at the scene during most of the affray. Donovan told a coroner's jury that on the evening of Friday, November 26, Hagget, Thomas Carroll, and John Carroll went to the saloon, located about a mile and a half from the railroad contractor's office, to retrieve a revolver that Hagget had pawned with the saloonkeeper. Donovan went part of the way with the three but stopped at a boarding house (where he apparently had his quarters) before following the other three men to the saloon. When he got there, the saloonkeeper, a man named James Topin, was just opening the door for Hagget and the two Carrolls, and all four of the railroad hands entered the saloon together. Hagget announced that he had the money to redeem his pistol, ordered whiskey about the same time, and paid for both the whiskey and the revolver, which was turned over to him. The men, particularly Hagget, apparently started slugging down the drinks at a rapid pace. They had been there about twenty minutes, according to Donovan, when John Marshal showed up.
Soon Thomas Carroll and Marshal got into an argument about some money that Johnson had lost on the Iron Mountain Road. (Not clear whether this means literally that he dropped or otherwise lost the money on or near the road bed or simply that he lost it while he was helping build the Iron Mountain Road.) When Johnson grew irritated and told Carroll he didn't want to hear anymore about it, Carroll got up and knocked Johnson to the floor. Johnson got back up and asked Carroll why he had knocked him down, adding that he didn't know why Carroll would treat him in such a manner because he thought they were friends. Carroll replied that if Johnson didn't shut up, he would knock him down again. "May be you could not do it," Johnson challenged.
At this point, Hagget joined the fray. Stepping over with his revolver drawn, he told Johnson that if Carroll couldn't do it, maybe there was somebody else who could. Realizing the perilous situation he faced, Johnson conciliated, allowing that, as long as Hagget held a revolver, he probably could do it. The quarrel temporarily abated at this point, and the four men went back to drinking. When the saloonkeeper suggested that they had had enough, Hagget promised to leave after one more round, and Topin gave in, supplying the additional drinks.
When Hagget and the Carrolls finished what were to be their final drinks, Hagget ordered yet another round, and Topin refused to serve them at first. Both Hagget and Thomas Carroll, however, drew their revolvers and demanded the drinks. The saloonkeeper again relented but immediately left the saloon, along with Johnson, after pouring the drinks.
Standing outside the saloon, Johnson called Donovan to the front door, and he walked outside, where the two men started a conversation. They were quickly interrupted, however, by Hagget, who came to door with his revolver drawn and fired a shot in their direction. Donovan claimed not to know whether the shot was directed at him or Johnson. Cursing Johnson, Donovan, and the bartender, Hagget told them all to leave or he would blow their brains out.
Donovan went around to side of the building, while the bartender took shelter behind a pile of wood, but Johnson foolishly went back into the saloon. The barkeep followed Johnson into the saloon, but quickly re-emerged after putting out the light and then went to a neighbor's house. About five minutes later, Donovan heard two shots from inside the saloon. He also heard some noise that sounded to him like the knocking about of barrels and bottles. Shortly after that, he heard Marshal moaning in pain and complaining that he had been shot. He then heard Hagget tell Marshal to hush up or he would shoot him again.
At this stage of the melee, Donovan apparently decided that the better part of valor was discretion, and he retreated toward the rooming house. On his way, though, he met some other men who had been attracted by the sounds of gunfire, and together the men headed back toward the saloon. On the way, they heard the sound of more gunshots. When they got to within about 100 yards of the saloon, Donovan once again could hear Marshal moaning and groaning. He and the men accompanying him went closer to the saloon, and Donovan crept up to the door. The sounds coming from inside the building told him that Johnson was being beaten, but he could not see what exactly was happening because it was too dark inside the saloon. At one point, Donovan heard Hagget tell Johnson to shut up or he would kill him. Then he heard John Carroll plead, "For God's sake, don't kill him."
However, the damage had apparently already been done. Donovan again retreated toward the boarding house. After procuring a light, he and several other men returned to the saloon and went inside. They found all parties lying on the floor. Johnson was near death, while the other three men were apparently dead drunk. Hagget climbed to his feet and put his revolver in his belt. Donovan and the others, however, took it from him, and upon examining it, found that it was missing all but one round. Hagget admitted killing Johnson and said he was sorry for it but there was nothing he could do about it now. Upon inspecting Thomas Carroll's gun, the men found that it had not been fired.
The next morning Donovan and some other men loaded Johnson into a wagon and took him to Springfield, where he could be treated for his wounds, but he died within a day or two. A special jury impaneled on Monday charged both Hagget and Thomas Carroll with murder in the first degree. Hagget was arrested and brought to Springfield, but Carroll could not be immediately located.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to readily learn the final disposition of this case.

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