Ozarks History

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

My Photo
Name:
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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lebanon's Magnetic Water

As I mentioned recently on this blog, many resorts sprang up in the Ozarks during the medicinal water craze that swept across the rest of the country in the 1880s. Most of the resorts were located at natural, mineral-water springs that were thought to have curative properties, and the success of the resorts often led to the founding of new towns. However, there was at least one resort that sprang up during the 1880s at a town that was already long established, and the resort was not tied to mineral water from a spring. Lebanon, Missouri, which was established about 1849 as the seat of Laclede County, became a very successful resort destination after a deep well was dug in the town and the water was discovered to have magnetic properties that were thought to be curative.
In the spring of 1888, a deep well was being dug in Lebanon to supply the town with water. When the well reached about 700 feet around the first of May, something peculiar was discovered. Every piece of metal that came into contact with the well-digging equipment would immediately adhere to the augur. The well was eventually dug to a depth of about 1,000 feet, and the water that was taken from it was found to retain its magnetic qualities. Metal that came in contact with the water became magnetized. Not only that, the water also seemed to have electric properties. Holding the ends of two pieces of metal together while the other ends were touching the augur created a circuit so that tiny sparks were visible. Heating the water so that steam was released also caused sparks to fly.
The discovery of these qualities caused great excitement, as the water was almost immediately heralded for its curative properties. A.A. West a former Lebanon postmaster, started using the water almost immediately after the strange properties were discovered and was quickly sold on their curative powers. He had been suffering from rheumatism for ten years, and after being treated for with the water for about ten days, he reportedly discarded his cane. Another man, who had previously taken the waters of Eureka Springs, testified that the magnetic-electric water of Lebanon was every bit as beneficial as the Eureka water. On Saturday, May 19, just two or three weeks after the wonderful properties of the water had been discovered, a crowd estimated at 2,000 people flocked to Lebanon to test the newfound cure, and a Lebanon correspondent to the St. Joseph Weekly Herald concluded, "This well bids fair to pluck laurels from Eureka's crown."
Not everyone was convinced. The editor of the Rolla Herald, for instance, asked rhetorically, if “truth lies at the bottom of a well,” as the old adage says, “what lies at the mouth of the Lebanon Magnetic Electric well?” The Rolla journalist suggested that perhaps the great qualities of the magnetic well were little more than the boasting of Lebanon’s newspapers, the Rustic and the Graphic. Later in 1888, the city of Rolla dug its own “artesian mineral well” and began promoting it in competition with the Lebanon magnetic well. A few months later, a correspondent to the Herald questioned Lebanon’s claims that its magnetic water was superior to the mineral water of places like Eureka Springs and Rolla.
Praise for the healing waters of Lebanon continued throughout the next year. In early August of 1889, a correspondent to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch predicted that Lebanon was "destined to be one of the famous health resorts of our country." Many cures that bordered on the miraculous, said the correspondent, had already been made, especially in healing rheumatism, dyspepsia, and neuralgia. The writer further predicted that Lebanon, a town of 3,000 residents, would become a city of 10,000 people within five years, as many of the folks who came for the healing waters would decide to stay.
The fame of Lebanon's magnetic waters spread until a St. Louis firm decided to purchase the well. In 1890, the company built the elegant Gasconade Hotel, at a price of $80,000. The firm put in electric lights and established a street car service from the train depot to the hotel, so that its total investment in land, buildings, and improvements amounted to $150,000. As well as promoting the resort, the firm also started bottling the water and marketing it through St. Louis drugstores.
Alas, the hotel and the magnetic waters were not as big a success as the investors had envisioned, and Lebanon's fame as a healing resort soon faded. The Gasconade Hotel was converted to a sanitarium after just a few years, and it burned ten years after it was built.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Story of Lizzie Bobbitt

Joplin had more than its share of “sinful sirens” during its early days, but the story of one of them stands out as particularly interesting. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hall married Henry Sanford in Indiana in 1871. The couple moved west, but Sanford deserted Lizzie in early 1873. After her abandonment, Lizzie spent time in Jefferson City, where she reportedly “kept a boarding house for the accommodation of members of the Legislature, from which occupation she made enough money to purchase some fine furniture.” Later, Lizzie lived in Atchison County, Missouri, where she met J. F. Bobbitt, and he started trying to win her affections. In late 1874, he told Lizzie that the mere fact her husband had left her and stayed away for almost two years constituted a legal divorce. Following Lizzie to Joplin, he convinced her to marry him in December, and the couple set up housekeeping at Lone Elm on the north edge of Joplin.
Lizzie, though, was unhappy in the relationship, and when she learned in March of 1875 that Bobbitt had deceived her in telling her that her first marriage was void in the eyes of the law, she threatened to leave him. Even though Henry Sanford had since died, he was alive at the time of her marriage to Bobbitt, and Lizzie, therefore, considered the second marriage fraudulent. Bobbitt responded to her threat by selling some of her furniture, and she then carried through on the threat. On May 3, using the name “Lizzie Sanford,” she filed a replevin suit declaring that she and Bobbitt had been living together in a “pretended marriage” and that certain property that Bobbitt had sold belonged to her. She was granted an “order of delivery,” and a Jasper County deputy sheriff gathered approximately eighty dollars’ worth of goods that Lizzie claimed were hers. When it was discovered, however, that Bobbitt and Lizzie were, in fact, legal husband and wife and that “Lizzie Sanford” was a “fictitious name,” Lizzie was charged with forgery and fraud for obtaining goods under false pretenses. When her case came up in September, she paid court costs and was let go.
About the same time, Lizzie moved to Neosho and took up residence in a “house of ill-fame” near the train depot. On December 23, a seventeen-year-old lad named Lane Britton was lolling away the evening at Lizzie’s house when a young man named Huffaker and two drunken companions called at the brothel and asked admittance. Lizzie turned them away, and when they kept trying to gain entrance anyway, Britton shot Huffaker through the door, killing him almost instantly. Lizzie Sanford, whom the Neosho Times called an “abandoned strumpet,” was arrested as an accessory to murder but was discharged when the prosecution failed to appear at her hearing, and Britton was eventually acquitted of the murder charge.
Lizzie lingered in Neosho only a few days after the shooting. By January of 1876, she was back in Joplin, where she set up residence in East Joplin. Her house, like the one she'd kept in Neosho, quickly gained a reputation as a resort for lewd women.
A teenager named Kissie West came to live with her as a housekeeper. The girl left after a couple of weeks but soon returned and asked to stay at the house as a prostitute. Lizzie turned her away, but within a month, Kissie came back begging to stay at the house and work as a prostitute. Lizzie warned the girl of the shame that would come to her if she went into prostitution, but Kissie said her life was already worse than that of a prostitute. She said she’d been seduced by her stepfather and could not live at home. She’d tried to earn a living on her own but could not make enough money to provide for herself. She said she’d been having sex with men continually and “getting nothing for it” and she’d rather be at Lizzie’s where she could make some money instead of “slinging pots and shagging for nothing” like the girls at the hotels.
Lizzie relented “out of sympathy for the girl” and let her join the other sporting women at her establishment. A few days later, Kissie’s mother, Permelia West, visited her daughter at Lizzie’s house and, according to Lizzie, seemed well satisfied with the arrangement.
Mrs. West, though, had a change of heart, because in September of 1876, at the mother’s insistence, Lizzie Bobbitt was charged with enticing a girl under the age of eighteen into prostitution. Lizzie gave bond in October and was released to appear in court the following spring.
At her trial in mid-March 1877, Lizzie was surprised when Permelia West testified that her daughter had been under parental care at the time she went to live in the bawdy house and that Kissie had moved in with Mrs. Bobbitt against the mother’s wishes. Lizzie was also surprised to hear Kissie swear she’d gone to live at the house only because Lizzie had told her she’d be better off. After hearing the testimony of the mother and daughter, the jury found Lizzie guilty and sentenced her to three years in the state penitentiary.
In late March, having gained new information, Lizzie filed a motion for a new trial. Two of her witnesses said they’d heard Permelia admit she'd driven her daughter away from home because Kissie “made trouble” between Mrs. West and her husband and that she “would not let the nasty little heifer come home anymore.” Another potential witness said he’d heard Mrs. West say she’d driven her daughter away because the stepfather was “after her (Kissie) all the time” and that she “thought it better that Kissie had gone into a whorehouse where she could make some money.” Several witnesses were also ready to testify that Kissie had not been enticed into prostitution but instead had “been living in an open state of lewdness and adultery with certain men in Joplin” long before she came to Lizzie’s house and that she came there of her own accord.
Lizzie was granted a new trial on appeal and was released on bond until October. Temporarily free, she went back to her sporting ways. In July, she was charged with “keeping a bawdy house.”
The disposition of the case against Lizzie for keeping a bawdy house is not known, although she probably paid a fine and was released. On the more serious charge of “kidnapping” Kissie West, Lizzie was acquitted at her new trial in early October. She apparently left Joplin shortly afterwards, but where she went and what happened to her after 1877 is unknown.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mayme Ousley: Missouri's First Woman Mayor

When Mayme Ousley and her husband, dentist Edward W. Ousley, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in St. James, Missouri, on September 25, 1955, one newspaper observed that it was not only an occasion to celebrate the couple’s golden anniversary but it was also a “golden opportunity” to pay tribute to Mayme’s many years of service to St. James as a civic leader and four-time mayor.
Born Mayme Hanrahan in 1887 near Edgar Springs, Mayme grew up at Rolla and got married there in 1905. She and her husband moved to St. James as newlyweds and made it their home for the rest of their lives. Dr. Ousley joined the town’s semipro baseball team, and Mayme often scolded the team for their appearance. They called her “Granny,” and the name stuck.
When Mayme was first elected mayor of St. James on April 5, 1921, the news was heralded across the state, because it represented the first time a woman in Missouri was elected to the office of mayor. Both Mayme and her opponent ran as nonpartisans, and she won by eight votes. Asked on the day of the election whether she was a Republican or a Democrat, she replied, “I hardly know. I cast my first vote for Harding, but I rather lean to the Democratic principles.”
Asked what she planned to accomplish as mayor, she said she felt somewhat flustered by all the excitement surrounding her election and that she needed some time to consider what she wanted to tackle first. But then she went on to mention obtaining electric lights and a water system for St. James as priorities.
A few days after her election, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter interviewed the new mayor. Described as a “vivacious, slender, blue-eyed blonde of slight stature,” Mrs. Ousley was in St. Louis to confer with the Frisco Travelers’ Association, which planned to hold its convention in St. James later in the year.
Asked why she would want a job that paid only one dollar a month, Mayme replied that at least the people who claimed women only wanted a job so that could buy clothes couldn’t accuse her of seeking the office for personal gain. She admitted that many men in St. James opposed the idea of a woman being mayor. She said the opposition just made her more determined and that, during the campaign, she concentrated especially on turning out the women’s vote.
One of the first things Mayme planned to do as mayor, in addition to trying to bring electric lights to the town, was the to clean up the city hall—literally. The building was filthy she said, and one of the first things to go was going to be the cuspidors. Mayme said she felt women were ever bit as capable as men but that she didn’t plan to run for re-election when her two-year term was up.
She didn’t, but she did run unsuccessfully for state senator in 1926 as a Republican, breaking with her husband’s Democratic bent. She remained active in state Republican politics for the rest of her life, and in later years she was on a first name basis with Missouri governors and with President Harry Truman.
In addition to her civic and political duties, Mayme Ousley was also very active in fraternal organizations and sororities. In 1931, she was elected state president of the Rebekah Assembly, and she was later a grand officer of the Order of the Eastern Star. She remained active in these two organizations throughout her life and was also a member of the Phelps County Historical Society and the Episcopal Church.
In 1939, Mayme once again won the mayoralty of St. James, and she ran successfully for re-election in 1941. Although “Granny” was generally well-liked, her time as mayor was not without incident. During her third term, she filed an injunction against a tavern owner because of disorder and liquor violations, and the owner sued her and the city in early 1943.
Mayme was elected to her fourth and final term as mayor of St. James in 1955. She opened her final term with a “house cleaning,” and when some of the fired city employees refused to quit, she simply quit signing their checks. In 1956, Mayor Ousley participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Boys Town of Missouri near St. James.
Mayme died in 1970 and is buried in the St. James Cemetery. In 2013, St. James honored Mayme Ousley by naming its city hall after her.
Sources: Various newspapers, including Columbia Evening Missourian, Apr. 6, 1921; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 17, 1921; St. Clair Chronicle, Apr. 10, 1941; KC Times, Sept. 23, 1955; Wikipedia.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Webster County's Only Lynching

On the morning of February 23, 1892, Hiram Shaw of Marshfield, Missouri, awoke and found his adopted four-year-old son, Clifford, missing from his bed and nowhere to be found in the house. Shaw gave an alarm and law officers commenced a determined search for the child. Suspicion rested at once on Richard Cullen, Shaw's 22-year-old stepson. Cullen was considered a "wild, reckless youth" who for several years previous had been out west raising hell. He had recently come to Missouri to stay with his mother and stepfather, and it was known that he was jealous of the little boy, who'd been left on the steps of a prominent Marshfield citizen's home as a newborn and subsequently taken in by the Shaws. Shaw had recently adopted the boy, and Cullen feared he would leave everything he owned to the adopted son rather than the stepson.
Cullen was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping as the search continued for the little boy. Suspicion grew throughout the day that little Clifford had been murdered, and about 5:00 p.m. searchers decided to drag a pond and search an old well near the Shaw residence. Tracks in the snow leading from the well to the residence and footprints in the mud around the well that matched Richard Cullen's boots further fastened suspicion on Cullen, and after a few casts into the stagnant water of the well with a grabbing hook, the body of the little boy, dressed in his night clothes, was brought to the surface. Investigators almost immediately concluded that they were looking at a case of premediated murder. A heavy car link (used to hook railroad cars together) was wired to the child's neck, and physicians examined the body and found no bruises or wounds, indicating that the boy was thrown into the well while still alive.
The county coroner, who was among the searching party, had the body taken to the courthouse, where he impanelled a jury. The inquest began that very evening and continued the next day. Among the witnesses interviewed was Sarah Shaw, Richard Cullen's mother. She testified that she put the little boy to bed about 8 p.m. on the night of the 22nd in the room where both he and Richard usually slept. She said Richard came home from uptown about 11 p.m., went into his room, and then came into her room and told her Clifford was missing. She got up to check, confirmed that the child was missing, and then went back to bed. At the conclusion of the inquest, Richard was charged with murder, and his mother was charged as an accomplice, because of the indifference she'd exhibited during the inquest.
On the night of February 26, about 150 quiet and determined men gathered on the west side of the Marshfield square about 9:15 p.m. The mob, armed with firearms and sledgehammers, soon marched to the jail and demanded the keys to Cullen's cell. Sheriff John Wesley Hubbard and his deputies put up a token resistance, but realizing that a stout stand would likely result in loss of lives, including their own, they soon handed over the keys. The mob went upstairs to Cullen's cell, where they found the prisoner in his underwear. They bound his hands, put a rope around his neck, and went back downstairs leading Cullen by the rope. He was taken to east side of the courthouse, and the other end of the rope was looped over a limb of a maple tree about nine feet above the ground. Asked whether he was guilty of killing the little boy, Cullen replied with cool indifference that he was innocent. He was then asked whether his mother was guilty, and he said he knew nothing about her.
Did he have anything else to say, the leader of the mob asked. "Pull your damn rope," Cullen replied.
"Enough!" the mob leader announced. "Pull away, boys!"
About twenty hands took hold of the rope and pulled, and "Dick Cullen's soul passed into eternity," according to a contemporaneous newspaper account. The body was left hanging as the mob departed, but, at the coroner's direction, it was cut down at 11:00 p.m., about an hour after Cullen was strung up.
Rolla Herald, March 3, 1892, Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, March 1, 1892, History of Webster County by Floy Watters George.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Clever

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 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.

Labels:

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.

hit counter
web hosting providers