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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lynching of Abraham W. Smith

Abraham W. Smith was convicted of murder in Madison County, Missouri, sometime around the early part of 1844. (I have yet to learn the details of his alleged crime.) He was sentenced to hang at the end of June, but the sentence was stayed until September 1. Apparently upset by the slow-turning wheels of justice, a mob tried to execute Smith around the first of June (probably near the time the stay was announced), but they were deterred by another group of citizens.
However, on August 5, a drunken mob broke into the county jail at Fredericktown with axes, crowbars, and other tools. One of the gang went down into the dungeon-like cell, where the prisoner was held in irons, and placed a rope around Smith's neck. The rest of the mob hauled him up by the rope and then dragged him down some stairs and outside to a walnut tree located about fifty yards from the jail. Notwithstanding the fact that he was apparently already dead by the time they reached the tree, the mob strung him up to the tree and let him hang for several minutes. They then let him down, but one of the gang, suspecting Smith might still be alive, insisted that they hang him again. The body was accordingly strung back up until the bloodthirsty mob was sufficiently convinced that life was extinct.
That very night, an inquest was held over Smith's body, and the jury returned a verdict that he had come to his death at the hands of a mob that included men named Jones, Sinclair, Mayse, Pollis, Cox, Blackburn, and Shetley, as well as five other men. Pollis, Cox, Blackburn, Shetley and one other man suspected in the vigilante execution were promptly arrested. Several days later Mayse was spotted at St. Mary's Landing, a small community on the Mississippi River in Ste. Genevieve County. It was presumed he was trying to catch a boat to make his escape. Around the first of October, John Sinclair was recognized on the streets of St. Louis and arrested. Accused of being the man who had placed the rope around Smith's neck, he was taken back to Madison County, where he and several of the other men involved in the lynching of Smith were indicted on charges of murder. However, I have so far been unable to determine the outcome of their cases.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Martha Misner and the Plain View Hotel

Sometime during the first half of 1895, seventy-year-old Martha Misner and her husband, Henry, moved into Springfield, Missouri, from an outlying farm and took up quarters in some rooms over a store near the corner of Campbell and College streets. The couple didn't sell their rural property but instead used it to secure one or more loans that they took out. They also owned a house at 895 Franklin Avenue in the north part of Springfield, which they rented out to Belle Wilson. Belle, who had a notorious reputation as a prostitute and madam in Springfield dating back to the 1870s, ran the place as a bawdy house.
Martha decided to start her own "sporting business," renting out one or more of her upstairs rooms as trysting places. Police raided the Misner rooms not long after Martha and Henry moved in and arrested two men and two young women whom they found in bed together. (It's not clear that Henry was living with Martha at this time. He might have still been living on the rural property.)
Henry Misner died in 1896, and Belle Wilson vacated the house on Franklin about the same time. Martha moved out of the rooms at Campbell and College and took over the Franklin Avenue property, continuing to run it as a bawdy house. Not long after Martha took possession of the place, a policeman stopped by to levy a fine against her (which was the normal cost of doing business), and Martha told him she couldn't afford to let the house sit idle and that "this is the only way I can get any income from it."
Martha was indeed facing financial difficulty. Within a year or two after her husband died, she defaulted on the loans they had taken out against their farm, and the rural property was put up for sale at auction to pay off the debts.
Apparently Martha simply doubled down on her prostitution business in order to stay afloat financially. In 1899, her "boardinghouse" on Franklin was still going strong as the main bawdy house in Springfield. Often called the Plain View Hotel, its name hinted at its method of operation. Gentlemen callers were received by Rosa Cameron, who managed the place for Martha and also entertained guests herself on occasion. Rosa would summon the girls from the upstairs rooms to come downstairs and line up in "plain view" so that the men could pick out the girl they wanted. The customers paid Rosa before escorting the girl of their choice back upstairs. They were charged from $1.00 to $5.00, depending on how long they stayed and other factors, and at the end of each day, Rosa gave half of the money back to the girls in accordance with how much each one had brought in. One girl testified to a grand jury that she usually brought in about $60 to $100 a month, which she had to split with Martha to pay for her room and board. Occasionally Martha or one of her girls might be summoned to police court, but usually they simply paid periodic fines ranging from $6 to $10 directly to police officers. In other words, prostitution was a money-making operation not just for the girls and the madams but for the cops as well. If any of Martha's girls wanted to leave the Plain View at night, they normally had to pay the madam $2.50 as compensation for the lost income.
Martha Misner continued to operate the Plain View Hotel, or the White House as it was also called, until at least 1908. It was one of the few authentic bordellos in Springfield, if not the only one, during the turn-of-century era, although a large number of sporting girls worked out of boardinghouses and hotels on a freelance basis during the aughts and teens. Martha Misner died in July 1912 and is buried at Hazelwood Cemetery beside her husband, Henry. For more information on Martha Misner and Springfield prostitution in general, see my book Wicked Springfield, Missouri.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Murder of Jacob Woolford

I have written quite a bit about murders and other incidents of violence in Missouri and surrounding states during the late 1800s that were motivated largely by personal and political hatred left over from the Civil War, but of course there were even more such incidents that occurred during the war. One was the killing of Jacob Woolford in Reynolds County, Missouri, in August of 1861.
On Monday, August 26, a party of about ten Southern men called at a mill run by Jacob Woolford on one of the forks of the Black River north of Lesterville. Woolford was a Union sympathizer who had apparently incurred the ire of one or more of the Southern men. When he appeared at the door of his mill, several of the men opened fire killing him almost instantly. After the murder, the gang found two Union soldiers at the mill and took them prisoner.
The identity of the killers remained unknown or unclear for a number of months. Finally, during the latter part of 1862, Edmond Falkenberry was arrested as a suspect in the murder, and he gave a full statement about the crime to the provost marshal at Pilot Knob on December 5, 1862. He named himself, James Stout, James A. McClurg, E.G. Clay, John Quigley, Joseph Quigley, Albert Wilson, William Wilson, Tolbert Hunt, Thomas Falkenberry (Edmond's brother), and William H. Copeland as participants in the incident. Edmond Falkenberry said that John Quigley was the "captain" of their squad, and he identified James McClurg and William Wilson as two of the principals in the actual murder. He said McClurg fired the first shot, and that Albert Wilson later told him that he (Wilson) had fired the shot that actually killed Woolford. Falkenberry himself claimed not to have been on the immediate premises of the mill when Woolford was shot but instead was some distance away. He also said that, as far as he knew, his group only planned to capture Woolford and take him south, either as a prisoner or a conscript, to the camp of Brigadier General William J. Hardee, who was organizing troops for the Confederacy in Arkansas. Falkenberry said he did not know that any of his comrades wanted to kill Woolford.
Sometime around the first part of 1863, James Stout and James McClurg were arrested for their part in the crime, tried and convicted by military commission, and sentenced to death. The two were shipped to St. Louis to await the execution of the sentence, but McClurg escaped, either in route or shortly after arrival. Stout also escaped a short time later.
William Copeland surrendered voluntarily about the time of Falkenberry's statement and was held for his part in the killing of Woolford. He was sent to St. Louis with a recommendation for lenient treatment since he had surrendered voluntarily and had complied with the terms of his parole. He later was either tried and found not guilty or was pardoned and released. Falkenberry and his brother also appear to have been given lenient treatment in the Woolford killing.
Most of the rest of the men involved, however, remained at large, and they had still not been captured in February 1869, four years after the war, when Missouri governor Joseph W. McClurg offered a reward of two hundred dollars each for their apprehension. Apparently, however, they were never brought to justice.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Murder of A.M.F. Hudson

Alexander McFarland Hudson was a lawyer and editor of a Republican newspaper in Lebanon, Missouri, during the Civil War era. A strong Union man during the pre-war unrest and early part of the war, he voted for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election and was personally acquainted with the president. In the summer of 1862, Hudson was appointed to the Laclede County Board by Union brigadier general E.B. Brown, commanding the Southwest Missouri District. He was named a lieutenant colonel of the local Enrolled Missouri Militia about the same time. So, it’s clear he was still in good standing with Union officials at this time.
Hudson, though, was not altogether without sympathy for the Southern cause, or at least for certain Southern men, even at this stage of the war. In May of 1862, shortly before his appointment to the county board, he wrote to Union officials on behalf of his acquaintance Rufus Phillips, a strong Southern man who was being held prisoner in St. Louis on charges of disloyalty.
It was not until the fall of 1862, however, that Hudson had a real change of heart, or so his critics said. In October, he was held prisoner by Confederate forces, and in January of 1863, not long after he was released, a Union scout returned from spying among Rebel forces and reported that Hudson, while he was a prisoner, told his captors that, if they attacked Lebanon, he and his E.M.M. regiment would go over to their side.
Acting on this intelligence, Lieutenant William Gibbs, Union provost marshal at Lebanon, gathered evidence to support the allegation of disloyalty. On January 11, he took a number of depositions from local men who knew Hudson. Although a few stated that, as far as they knew, Hudson was loyal, several others accused him of uttering disloyal statements. One man said he’d heard Hudson say just the previous day that the Rebels would take Lebanon and Laclede County and that “Lincoln would have to give it up.” The witness also said he had heard Hudson say that Union men were just as bad as Rebels in stealing and plundering. Another man stated that he heard Hudson say he wouldn’t follow such a set of thieves as the Federal troops at Lebanon and that the men calling him a Rebel didn’t have as much Union blood in them as he (Hudson) had in his little finger. The man added, however, that he didn’t think Union men would put up bonds for Rebels as Hudson had done. (This might have been, at least in part, a reference to Hudson’s support of Rufus Phillips.) Yet another deponent claimed Hudson was elated by the recent (January 8) Confederate attack on Springfield and that he was one of the strongest and most dangerous Rebels in the area.
The fact that several witnesses against Hudson mentioned his statements opposing theft by Union soldiers supports a statement in the 1889 History of Laclede County that the root cause of Hudson’s clash with Union authorities was that he would not overlook depredations by Federal troops, as many other Union men did.
Lieutenant Gibbs had Hudson arrested and escorted to St. Louis as a prisoner on or about January 20, 1863. Hudson got no farther than Rolla before prominent Union men interceded on his behalf. Among those who wrote letters to Union authorities protesting the arrest and vouching for Hudson’s loyalty were Colonel John M. Glover, commander of the Rolla District; and J.W. Thrailkill, a prominent Rolla physician.
Hudson was released at Rolla on his parole of honor that he would travel to St. Louis on his own and report to Union authorities there on January 25. After he reached St. Louis, the charges against him were dropped, and he returned home a free man. Resentment against Hudson lingered, however, among some Union soldiers and citizens.
On July 17, 1863, Hudson was killed about ten miles east-northeast of Lebanon on Bear Creek along the Rolla road. A coroner’s jury examined Hudson’s mutilated body the next day and concluded he’d been shot several times and stabbed once, as he was walking toward Lebanon.
An investigation by Colonel Joseph Gravely, commanding the post at Lebanon, revealed that a Union wagon train had passed the location where the body was found near the time residents of the area reported hearing gunshots, and the soldiers of the escort were suspected of the crime. George Johnson and John Rupell, members of Gravely’s 8th Missouri State Militia, came under particular scrutiny. They were seen off by themselves on the morning of the murder near the place and time the crime occurred. The two men testified, however, that they had not even seen Hudson on the morning he was killed. After several teamsters, members of the escort, and citizens living near the scene of the crime were interviewed, Gravely decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges, and his superior officer, Brigadier General John McNeil, concurred.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer of 1954

The temperatures in the Ozarks have been pretty hot this summer but probably not much more so, if any, than normal. In fact, July has so far, as of the 22nd, probably not been quite as hot as usual. At least, I know that in Springfield the month of June had more really hot days than July has so far, and that is the opposite of what we normally expect in the region. The high temperature thus far in Springfield this year has been 96 degrees recorded on June 22, again on June 23, and finally matched yesterday (July 21). June also had two other days with a high temperature of 95 degrees and one day with a high temperature of 94 degrees. By contrast, the hottest Springfield temperature in July before yesterday was 93 recorded on the 18th. The high temperature so far this year in both Rolla and Joplin, 96 and 98 respectively, also occurred in June, on the 22nd. I should add, however, that the forecast for the next couple of days calls for rising temperatures; so we’re not out of the woods yet as far as extremely hot July temperatures are concerned.
My overall point, though, is that so far the summer of 2016 has not been an extremely hot one. At least not when you compare it to the hottest summer on record, which was 1954. During that summer, Springfield had thirteen days on which the thermometer reached triple digits. Joplin, located seventy miles to the west and nearer the Great Plains, where temperatures are almost always somewhat hotter than they are in the Ozarks, recorded an astounding thirty-nine days on which the temperature topped 100. Eighteen of those days happened in July, including twelve straight days from July 11 through July 21. During that span, the temperature reached 114 on July 14, the hottest temperature on record for Joplin. Springfield had an all-time record high of 113 the same day. Rolla topped out on July 14 at 109 or 113 (depending on the source), and the mercury there reached triple digits a total of ten times during the summer of 1954.
I vaguely recall the intense heat of the summer of 1954, when I would have been seven years old. Actually, I don't recall the specific year. I only recall that during a couple of the summers of my childhood, when I was growing up in the Springfield area, it was extremely hot. It has been only during my adulthood, after I read or was told that 1953 and 1954 were unusually hot summers, that I've concluded those must have been the years I remember as being very hot. We didn't have air conditioning, either, back in those days, but somehow the heat didn't bother me much. I'd hate to be without air conditioning this summer, even though it hasn’t been one of the hottest summers on record thus far. I think it would bother me a lot, but, of course, I'm not seven anymore. Temperature extremes don't seem to bother kids the way they do adults, especially older adults like me. At least they didn't bother me and my childhood friends when we had important things to do like playing baseball or going fishing.
I should probably add that, by pointing out that the hottest summer in the Ozarks occurred over sixty years ago, I am not trying to deny that the earth is getting warmer overall. The trend of year-round temperatures for the whole globe is definitely upward. Of the sixteen hottest years on record for worldwide average temperature, all but one of them have occurred since 2001. So, global warming is definitely real.
It’s just that the summer of 1954 happened to be abnormally hot in this little part of the world.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Would-Be Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde's notorious reputation had become so ubiquitous by the spring of 1934, shortly before their deaths, that false sightings of the desperate duo were not unusual. One example occurred in Texas County, Missouri, in early May, just weeks before the real Bonnie and Clyde were killed in Louisiana.
On the night of May 2, an automobile with two young men and a young woman pulled into a filling station at Cabool, and something about them aroused the station attendant's suspicion. The older of the young men and the woman appeared to be a couple, and the other young man seemed to be along for the ride. The attendant concluded that the threesome might be Bonnie and Clyde and a male sidekick, and he notified authorities.
Highway patrolmen Nathan Massie and Ben Graham answered the call. They caught up with the suspect vehicle just north of Cabool, and a brief exchange of fire ensued. Breaking contact once again, the fugitives abandoned their vehicle, and the two men took to the woods, leaving the young woman behind.
Coming upon the abandoned car, the officers placed the young woman under arrest. She gave her name as Florence Iseley and said she didn't even know who the two young men were, because she had simply hitched a ride with them near Charleston, Missouri.
Bloodhounds were called in to help track down the two young men. The dogs located the fugitives' hiding place late the next day, May 3, and another exchange of gunfire ensued. The older young man was killed, and the other one was shot in the arm and surrendered. The wounded man gave his name as Walter Allen and said he thought the other man was Harry Williams of Evansville, Indiana, although Allen, too, claimed at first just to be a hitchhiker. He soon changed his story, however, admitting that the dead man was his older brother, Edgar Allen, and that the woman was his brother's wife.
Young Allen said he was from Quincy, Illinois, was 18 years old, and had been released from the Algoa Reformatory near Jefferson City only four months earlier, having originally been sent there from Hannibal, Missouri.
A shotgun, some burglary tools, some ammunition, and some merchandise thought to have been stolen was found inside the abandoned vehicle. Notified of the shootout, officers in Quincy said the brothers were wanted there for theft of an automobile from a showroom on March 29 and that they had tried unsuccessfully to sell the car in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Both Walter Allen and his sister-in-law were lodged in the Texas County jail at Houston, but I'm not sure what happened to them after that.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Kidnapping and Murder of Dr. J.C.B. Davis

On Tuesday, January 26, 1937, as Dr. J.C.B. Davis of Willow Springs, Missouri, was leaving his office, he was approached by a young man who introduced himself as "Mr. James" and said his wife was ill and needed the doctor's help at their home in rural Willow Springs. Davis left with the stranger and did not return in a timely manner. The next day, he was reported to authorities as missing, and Missouri State Highway Patrol began an investigation.
A ransom letter, mailed from West Plains and postmarked January 28, was received the following day, Friday the 29th, and FBI agents were sent to Willow Springs to join the investigation. Opening with the salutation "Dear friend," the letter was written in the doctor's handwriting, meaning the kidnapper had forced Davis to write his own ransom letter. It demanded that $5,000 be paid in four $1,000 bills, nine $100 bills, and five $20 bills. It threatened the doctor with death if the family did not comply, and it contained instructions for delivering the money.
The same day, January 29, Davis's medical kit was found about thirteen miles southwest of Willow Springs in the North Fork River. This no doubt raised fears that the doctor had already been foully dealt with, but nevertheless Davis's son-in-law, following the letter's instructions, drove along the road between Willow Springs and Ava after dark looking for a white flag that the letter said would mark the spot where the ransom money was to be dropped, but the son-in-law, his vision obscured by heavy fog, failed to find a white flag.
On Monday, February 2, Davis's wife received a second note, written in unfamiliar handwriting, renewing the demand for $5,000 in ransom and directing that it should be delivered by 9:00 p.m. February 4th.
Meanwhile, acting on a tip from a person who had seen the doctor and the young man in an automobile together on the day of the doctor's disappearance, highway patrol officers located, early on the morning of February 3, an automobile matching the witness's description at the home of Samuel Kenyon in Grimmet, a small community northwest of West Plains about halfway between West Plains and the North Fork River where the medical bag was found. Officers identified Kenyon's twenty-one-year-old son, Robert, as a suspect in the kidnaping, and during a search of the residence, they found a notebook pad with the top sheet containing barely legible indentations that matched the words and handwriting of the second ransom note. Young Kenyon was also in possession of a .25 caliber automatic pistol, and it was determined that the suspect automobile found on the premises had been stolen from Rolla a few months earlier.
Robert Kenyon confessed to kidnapping and killing Davis, and he led officers to the doctor's body in a brushy area just off Highway 63 near Olden, Missouri. Davis was found face down clutching a pair of gloves in one hand and a checkbook in the other. It was concluded upon close inspection and further investigation that the doctor had been killed shortly after he was kidnapped, having been shot while in the act of trying to write a check to pay his own ransom. The only explanation Kenyon could offer for his desperate deed was that he wanted money so that he and his girlfriend could get married.
Kenyon was arrested and taken back to Willow Springs but quickly whisked away to Kansas City early the same morning (Feb. 3) to avert feared vigilantism. Kidnapping and first-degree murder charges were filed against him later the same day. His trial was held in July at the Oregon County seat of Alton on a change of venue. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Kenyon's lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the verdict was upheld. Kenyon was executed in the gas chamber at Jefferson City on April 28, 1939. He was the first person to be put to death in Missouri by gas, as execution by hanging had recently been abolished.

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