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 fourteen nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks, Bushwhacker Belles, and Wicked Women of Missouri.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


I think I've mentioned on here before some of the various ways that towns in the Ozarks (and elsewhere) came into existence and why they were situated where they were. Of course, the sites for many of the very earliest ones were chosen because of their proximity to an important waterway. Rivers and creeks were the main way of transporting goods and, to a lesser extent, people in the early days. When counties were formed, sometimes new towns were formed at the same time to serve as county seats, and a location near the center of the new county was usually selected as the site for the new town. During the post-Civil War era, a lot of towns sprang up at or near sites where lead or some other mineral was discovered. Also, in the latter 1800s, especially the 1880s, a lot of towns, as I have recently discussed, came into existence as health resorts because springs that were supposed to have curative powers were discovered nearby. Perhaps more towns came into existence because of railroads, though, than any other way. Railroad construction generally started in the Ozarks after the Civil War (although a few places on the periphery of the region had railroads a few years prior to the war) and continued into the first couple of decades of the 20th century.
One example of a railroad town was Clever, Missouri. Clever actually began about 1890 as a crossroads community where the Springfield to Billings road intersected the Old Wire Road. However, Clever did not amount to much at all until at least 1905 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad began building a line from Springfield to Crane that passed through Clever. The town of Clever was not officially platted until then, and it didn't really start growing until a year or so after that.
A correspondent of the Springfield Republican visited Clever in the fall of 1911 and reported on its remarkable growth since he'd last been there five years earlier. He said that, when he was there in 1906, Clever had but one dwelling house and one store building approaching completion, and the rails for the Missouri Pacific road had been laid as far as Clever but no farther. Blasting to build the road bed on to Crane was still taking place. By contrast, when he returned in 1911, he found Clever booming with a population of about 500 people. There were three brick business buildings completed and occupied, one approaching completion, and one more planned. There were two concrete business buildings and one of pressed steel completed and two more concrete buildings planned. The recently erected public school building was also of brick.
The businesses included a bank, a flour mill, a canning factory, a lumber yard, a grain elevator, a harness shop, two general stores, one hardware store, four grocery stores, three drug stores, one restaurant, two hotels, two produce dealers, one livery stable, two barber shops, one newspaper, two blacksmith shops, and one livestock firm. The town also had a lawyer, a real estate agent, a photographer, a veterinarian, a cobbler, a school for grades 1-8, three churches, four doctors, and four fraternal organizations. There were no saloons.
The three churches were the Baptist, the Methodist, and the Christian. The first two had full-time ministers, while the Christian Church's pulpit was filled by supply ministers.
Professor A.M. Little, aided by Prof. Rolla Hodges, ran the school. It had about 110 pupils in distributed in the eight grades, and plans were underway to offer ninth grade work in algebra, geography, history, and literature.
The land around Clever was said to be very fertile and productive. In the year just ended on September 1, 1911, Clever had shipped out 62 train cars of cattle, 60 cars of hogs, 15 cars of sheep, one car of mules, 37 cars of wheat, 28 of flour, 22 of corn, 4 of oats, 4 of apples, and 5 of tomatoes. In addition, the town had shipped 800 crates of chickens, 2,000 cases of eggs, about 3,500 pounds of wool, $600 worth of hides, and about 3,500 pounds of butter. One firm alone shipped 5,000 rabbits during the previous year and $300 worth of turkeys in one month.
Land close to Clever cost on average $100 an acre; beyond a two-mile radius it cost about $50 an acre, while hilly, unimproved land or wooded land could be had for about $10 an acre.
Clever leaned Democrat in its politics, even though the township and county (Christian) were solidly Republican.
The railroad boom passed, and Clever declined as a hub of business activity. I think it also declined, or at least became stagnant, in its population growth. I don't recall Clever having more than 400 or 500 people when I taught school there in the late 1960s. But, of course, it has grown a lot in recent years, along with a number of other so-called bedroom communities around Springfield. It's population today is well over 2,000.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cross Timbers

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the heyday of Windyville, a small community that was located in northeast Dallas County about ten miles northeast of Buffalo. Actually, I guess I should say it still is located there, what's left of it.
Another town in the same general vicinity that is well past its prime is Cross Timbers, located about 29 miles north of Buffalo on Highway 65 in northern Hickory County. While present-day Cross Timbers amounts to quite a bit more than Windyville, it is, as I say, well past its prime. Back in the day, though, it was a booming little town.
A correspondent to the Springfield Republican in October of 1911 gave an overview of Cross Timbers at the time. The town and its surroundings, said the correspondent, was "not a paradise for the shiftless, but a land of great promise for the willing worker."
Cross Timbers had a population of about 400 people at the time. It had a state bank with over $100,000 in assets. Other businesses included a flour mill, five general stores, one 25-room hotel, one confectionary, one furniture store, a barber shop, a photo gallery, an undertaking business, two blacksmiths, and one restaurant.
The town also had one doctor, one lawyer, and two churches. One of the churches had a full-time minister, while the other pulpit was filled by supply ministers.
The Cross Timbers school was a four-room brick building that cost $4,000 to build. The school was mainly for grades 1-8, but it also offered high school work if demand warranted. The school had two teachers who had completed normal school training, a library, and "other necessary equipment." The school had 82 students, fielded a basketball team, and offered "commodious grounds for exercise."
The town had two active fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen.
The correspondent noted that the sentiment of the townspeople was strongly anti-saloon, and Cross Timbers had no saloons.
Dairy farming was the dominant occupation of the citizens in the countryside around Cross Timbers.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rocky Comfort Fires

Fires are still a big threat, especially wildfires in the West, but in general fire is not as much of a menace nowadays as it used to be. Stoves, flues, and other heating apparatuses were not as safe in the old days as they generally are today, and communities were not as equipped as they are nowadays to fight fires when they did break out. My limited research on the subject suggests to me that there are probably few towns and villages in the Ozarks that have not suffered at least one devastating fire in their history. Rocky Comfort, located in northeastern McDonald County near the Barry and Newton county lines, is a good example. Its business district has suffered at least three significant fires in its history.
On Sunday night, February 15, 1925, a fire occurred in Rocky Comfort that destroyed the building where both the Oddfellows and Masons met. All the books and records of both lodges were lost. Shelley's store and another business building were also destroyed.
On Friday night, October 7, 1938, an even more devastating fire hit Rocky Comfort. Seven business buildings and practically all their contents were destroyed. The fire started in W. G. Roberts's hardware store and spread rapidly to adjacent buildings, including Harrell Lily's general store, Virgil Ford's grocery, a combination restaurant and hardware store, Lon Milligan's general store, a building owned by E.B. Montgomery that had been used to can and store tomatoes, Bill Butram's shoe store, Fred Ridenour's store, and W.G. Roberts's dwelling. The windows of the post office cracked from the heat. The fire "almost cleaned out the business section" of Rocky Comfort, according to the Neosho Times.
A fire in the wee hours of the morning on June 9, 1954, destroyed the George Parrish grocery store in Rocky Comfort. The blaze started in the rear of the building, where Mr. Parrish, his wife, and their son were asleep in their living quarters. The family escaped without injury. Wheaton's fire department responded to the blaze and was credited with preventing it from spreading to the post office across the street and a nearby garage. Damage was estimated at $6,000 to the building and $10,000 to its contents.
Nowadays not much remains of Rocky Comfort, but not because of fire. Like a lot of small communities, it has dwindled in importance over the years, especially since it lost its high school in the mid-1960s.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Now virtually extinct, Windyville, Missouri, was located in Dallas County about 15 miles northeast of Buffalo. I recall that, when I was in high school in the early to mid 1960s at Fair Grove, Windyville still had a high school. In fact, I think we even played them a time or two in basketball. Windyville lost its high school a year or two after I graduated. I might be wrong, but I think 1965-66 was the last school year before Windyville consolidated with Buffalo. Windyville had already been losing population and businesses in the mid-1960s at the time of the consolidation, but the school closing hastened the town's demise. The last time I visited Windyville was around the mid-1970s, and it was basically already a ghost town. I was writing an article for the Ozarks Mountaineer about small towns that had lost their high schools, and at that time Windyville's old high school building was still standing. I'm not sure whether that's still the case or not, but I'm thinking maybe not. Seems I might have heard many years ago that it was destroyed.
At any rate, after Windyville's demise, legends arose saying that the town's remaining buildings and its cemeteries were haunted. I don't know about that, because, as I said, I haven't visited the place in many years. Besides, I tend not to give much credence to ghost stories, but I guess some people enjoy them.
Regardless of whether the place is haunted, there's very little at Windyville nowadays to suggest that it ever mounted to much, but, in fact, it was a pretty booming little community back in the day.
Like most small towns in the Ozarks, Windyville had a tomato canning factory during the early to mid-nineteenth century when tomatoes were mostly grown on small, locally owned farms rather than large commercial farms as they are today. Apparently Windyville's canning factory was a cut above the typical such operation. During the growing season of 1925, the Windyville factory canned 96,000 cans of tomatoes, which was some kind of record at the time, at least for Windyville. The champion grower of the area was Frank Dugan, who produced 18,570 pounds of tomatoes gathered off a single acre, netting Mr. Dugan $111.42.
Windyville High School fielded a basketball team at least as early as the 1920s, and the school had some pretty good teams for a small school. They even competed against and held their own with larger schools like Lebanon. I recently came across a newspaper story from December 1928 reporting on a Windyville High School basketball game against Elkland (which is another virtual ghost town that lost its high school many years ago). The Windyville Bulldogs defeated the Elkland five by a score of 35-23. D. Triplett for Windyville and R. Pursel for Elkland were named the outstanding stars of the game for their respective teams.
On Wednesday, November 25, 1936, the Windyville High School building burned down. The fire was believed to have been caused by a defective flue. A basket dinner and student program involving children from four different Dallas County grade schools had just been held before the fire broke out. Two days later plans were being made to resume classes at the high school the following Monday by utilizing the community building and purchasing used textbooks at a discount in Kansas City. Plans were also already being discussed to build a new building for the district's sixty-four high school students.
So, I guess when I described the Windyville High School that I remember as the "old high school building," I was employing a fairly loose meaning of the word "old," because the building was apparently less than 30 years old when Windyville consolidated with Buffalo. .

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Shobe (aka Shobetown or Shobe Town) is an extinct town that was located in Bates County, Missouri, about two miles northwest of Rich Hill. Similar to Rich Hill, it was founded during the early 1880s as a mining town when coal was discovered in the area. In fact, the original mines were mostly located in the Shobe area, even though they were usually called the Rich Hill mines. According to a couple of sources, Shobe was named after Haley Shobe, but the best evidence I can come up with seems to indicate that it was actually named after Haley's older half brother, Hudson Shobe. A businessman living in Butler when the mines started up, Hudson Shobe moved to the area and opened a store. He was also an early postmaster of the place; so presumably the post office was located in his store, which was a common arrangement for small communities in the 1800s.
Like most mining towns, Shobe had something of an unsavory reputation in its early days. One citizen of the place complained to the Butler Weekly Times in mid 1885 that there was a petition circulating at Shobe to get another saloon for the place. If the effort succeeded, the correspondent said, "Shobe will be one of the most noted places in the county, as it is now hardly fit for respectable people to live in." The writer concluded that he hoped the county court would keep the law-abiding folks of the area in mind and require that such an initiative have a two-thirds majority vote of the township's citizens for passage.
The most notorious incident in Shobe's history occurred on the evening of November 16, 1896, when miner John "Pussy" Young shot and killed fellow miner Frank Terrell at Abe Tetlock's saloon located about a half-mile west of Shobe. The saloon was about midway between two mines, and the miners from both places would usually gather there at the end of each day's work to drink beer and swap lies. On the evening in question, Terrell was in the saloon, having already had a drink or two, when Young, who'd owned the saloon before Tetlock bought it, entered the place. Hearing Terrell say that he was raffling off a shotgun, Shobe spoke up and said he'd take a chance on the gun. Terrell told him, "No, you will not take a chance on my gun."
This angered Young, and the two men got into a heated argument and had to be separated by Tetlock. After the barkeeper stepped aside, though, the quarrel was renewed, and it escalated into a violent confrontation. Terrel threw out his hand as if to emphasize one of his points, and Young immediately drew a revolver, which had been concealed, and shot Terrel in the forehead. Terrel slumped to the floor gravely wounded. Two doctors were summoned from Rich Hill, but Terrel was beyond help when they arrived. He died about two hours after he was shot.
Meanwhile, Young went directly to Rich Hill and turned himself in to the city marshal about nine p.m. Later that night, a deputy took the prisoner via train to Butler, where he was lodged in the Bates County jail. He was charged with first-degree murder, but the trial, originally set for March 1897, was continued until the June term. I have found no record of Young having ever been convicted of murder or having ever served time in the Missouri state prison, which indicates to me that either he was acquitted or the charges against him must have been dropped or reduced. If he had been convicted of murder, newspapers of the day would surely have noted this fact.
Shobe lasted only another couple of years after this murder. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was pretty much a ghost town.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Siloam Springs

Last time, I wrote about Aurora Springs, one of the many resort towns that sprang up in the Ozarks during the mineral-water craze that swept across America in the late nineteenth century. Continuing that theme, let's take look at another such town, Siloam Springs, Missouri.
Dr. Jonathan Brown already owned land in northwest Howell County when he discovered some springs on his property in 1877 and began developing the site into a health resort the following year. He named the place Brown Springs and put in a small bath house and showers. Later, at the suggestion of his daughter, he renamed the resort Siloam Springs after the healing pool mentioned in the Bible.
D. F. Martin resigned his job as county treasurer of neighboring Iron County in the summer of 1878 and came to Siloam Springs because of his wife’s poor health. By 1880, Martin had acquired the resort from Brown, and he began promoting it heavily. In a letter to the Iron County Register in early July 1880, he told readers that the springs were “making themselves a wonderful reputation for their varied healing virtues in chronic diseases of all forms.”
Siloam Springs was growing rapidly, Martin said. It had 120 dwellings, several hotels or boarding houses, three general stores, two drug stores, and one livery stable. Homes suitable for small families were available to rent for two or three dollars a month.
Touting the almost magical powers of the healing waters of Siloam Springs, Martin said that, since he had come to the place two years earlier, thousands of people had visited the resort, and he had witnessed numerous cases that could only be described as miraculous cures. “So many have come here as a last resort after having been given up as incurable by their physicians, and their looks would seem to verify their conclusions; yet in spite of the judgement of their physicians, and the appearances of the patients, the waters seemed to take hold of them, and in a short time they would be on the highway to health and happiness.”
Martin said he didn’t claim to cure every disease known to man but that he could cure so many that his readers would be astonished if they were to visit. “You will see invalids brought here with the vital spark almost gone out by the wasting element of various chronic diseases, and as if by magic, some will spring into new life…while others more slowly, but none the less sure, will gather up thread by thread…until all is complete.”
Martin went on to enumerate some of the specific diseases and conditions that he and his waters could cure. He said he could cure every case of dropsy brought to the springs, as long as the edema had not been tapped. He could cure falling of the womb, all kinds of chills, and malaria of every form. “On kidney disease of all kinds the water acts like a charm,” Martin claimed. The springs also could cure general and nervous debility, paralysis and rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, and catarrh. The springs could cure consumptive patients whose lungs were not already too far gone. All heart patients benefited from the waters, and half could be cured.
Concluding his spiel, Martin offered a money-back guarantee to any ill person who came to the springs and did not see benefit after two months of treatment under his direction.
About the time of Martin’s letter or shortly thereafter, he laid out the town of Martinsville at the resort, but the new name never took, as the post office and the springs themselves were still called Siloam Springs. Unlike many of the mineral-water towns that sprang up overnight and died about as fast as they came into being, Siloam Springs continued to boom throughout the 1880s and 1890s, when it reached a permanent population of about 600 residents. In the early 1900s, John Woodruff of Springfield acquired the springs and made extensive improvements, including electric lights, a modern sewer system, and playgrounds. The place declined, though, over the years, and Siloam Springs finally lost its post office about 1969.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Aurora Springs

I have previously written about a number of resort towns that sprang up in the Ozarks during the late 1870s and the 1880s, as the mineral-water craze of the late nineteenth century swept across the country. A couple of the places I’ve previously written about that come readily to mind are Indian Springs and Saratoga Springs, both in McDonald County, Missouri.
Another such place was Aurora Springs in northern Miller County, Missouri. Aurora Springs was started in the fall of 1880 and quickly grew into a booming mineral-water resort town. As with all such towns, the waters were advertised as having medicinal qualities, and by the spring and summer of 1881, people were flocking to Aurora Springs seeking cures for all kinds of ailments. The Tuscumbia Osage Valley Banner reported on May 19, for instance, that a little girl was improving rapidly from the effects of “scald head” after using the waters at Aurora Springs. The same issue of the newspaper reported that 1,500 people had attended divine services at Aurora Springs the previous Sunday.
The Banner reported on June 30, 1881, that Colonel J. H. Stover had relocated to Aurora Springs and was now reaping the benefits of the water. The previous Thursday he had supposedly stood alone for the first time in three years.
The Banner reported in the same issue that Aurora Springs was booming. Sick and invalid people were coming in and receiving benefits and then returning home. “Some of the most wonderful cures have been performed,” claimed the newspaper.
The editor urged everybody to go to Aurora Springs for the big Fourth of July celebration and picnic that was being planned. “The largest assembly of people ever witnessed in Miller County” was expected. The newspaperman said the park grounds, hotels, and bath houses wee being put in order for the big event, and he predicted that as many as 5,000 people would probably attend the Independence Day festivities.
The Jefferson City State Tribune of July 10, 1881, confirmed that at least 5,000 people did, indeed, attend the Aurora Springs Fourth of July celebration. “The Springs, as now arranged,” said the Tribune, “is one of the most pleasant points in central Missouri for public meetings and picnics.”
In August of the same year, one issue of the Banner reported that Aurora Springs had gained 100 permanent residents just within the past week. The next month the same paper reported that a woman who had suffered from “milk leg” for twenty years was now improving rapidly as a result of taking the waters of Aurora Springs.
In late 1881 or early 1882, the Missouri Pacific Railroad built a depot about a half mile southwest of Aurora Springs, and the community that grew up around the depot was at first called simply Aurora but soon came to be known as West Aurora. The main railroad line, however, ended up bypassing Aurora Springs and West Aurora altogether and went through Eldon instead, about two miles to the north.
Aurora Springs, however, continued to flourish throughout the 1880s and into the nineties. At its height, it was the most populous town in Miller County, with a population of about 700. It boasted three hotels, three lawyers, four doctors, six churches, and businesses of almost every kind.
A post office at Aurora Springs remained in operation until 1912. The community of Aurora Springs still exists today, but very little remains to suggest its glory days of the past.

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