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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mount Vernon: The Carnation City

Nowadays, Mount Vernon, Missouri, is known for being the seat of Lawrence County, for its Apple Butter Makin' Days festival each fall, and for being home to a Veterans' home and a VA clinic (formerly a VA hospital), among other reasons. At one time it was known as the "Carnation City: Home of the Contented Cow" or just the Carnation City for short.
In 1923 the Carnation Milk Products Company began looking into Mount Vernon as a possible site for a new condensary to produce evaporated milk. A public announcement of its decision was planned for July 9th of that year, and "one of the largest crowds ever assembled on the courthouse lawn," according to the Springfield Republican, turned out to hear the announcement. Company officials had expressed concern as to whether there was enough interest in dairying among area farmers to justify the venture; so when the announcement was made that the company would indeed follow through with its tentative plan, a loud shout went up among the gathered crowd. The condensary was projected to cost $200,000 and it was projected that it could process 100,000 pounds of milk a day purchased from area dairy farmers.
Construction on the plant began right away and was going strong by September. It was completed the following spring at a cost of $250,000, and the condensary opened on May 1 with no special ceremony to mark the occasion. It was Carnation's first plant in Missouri.
The plant processed 25,000 pounds of milk the first day. Dairy farmers brought their milk to nineteen different collection stations throughout Lawrence County, and it was then taken to the plant in Mount Vernon by company trucks.
Area farmers, spurred by the promise of a market, took to dairy farming in earnest, and the dairy industry in Lawrence County was soon growing more rapidly than in any other county in Missouri. The Mount Vernon area was especially known for its Jerseys and Holsteins.
The company was still going strong in January 1928, when the Republican reported that Lawrence County now had about 1,100 dairy farmers who milked a total of about 17,000-18,000 cows. The plant received about 60,000 pounds of milk per day on average, although the previous summer, at the peak of the season, it had received as much as 146,000 pounds in a single day. Many farmers were building new barns and silos and otherwise expanding their operations. Dairy farming, the Republican proclaimed, had "turned a community that was practically bankrupt into a prosperous and progressive center within four years."
As large, commercial dairy farms in other states gradually displaced family farmers as the main producers of milk products during the middle part of the 20th century, the Carnation operation at Mount Vernon evolved from an evaporated milk plant to a soft drink bottling company. And the bottling company finally closed after a fire destroyed much of the facility in September of 1974 and company officials decided, because of economic factors, not to rebuild.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another False Lynching

Lynchings were relatively common during the 1800s and early 1900s, but falsely or incorrectly reported lynchings were also not altogether uncommon. I know this was the case in Missouri, and I assume it was true elsewhere as well. Sometimes the reported victim had, in fact, escaped the would-be lynchers or otherwise survived the lynching attempt. And sometimes a crime took place and newspapers reported a subsequent lynching when mob action against the perpetrator of the crime had not even been attempted but rather only rumored.
An example was the case of Katie Jacobs, a twelve-year-old girl living near Verona who was sexually assaulted by a black man on January 21, 1894, as she was on her way home after Sunday morning church services. The man raped her and then gagged her and tied her to a tree with her own clothing. As he left, he told her he had a nearby partner who would soon be there to take his turn at raping her and that the second man would kill her if she tried to scream or get loose. A black man did show up and assault the girl again, but authorities later concluded that it was the same man who’d simply changed hats and otherwise tried to disguise his appearance.
There were several false reports in the immediate wake of this incident, including one report that a black man had been apprehended and burned at the stake. Two black men were, in fact, captured at Purdy as suspects, but they were soon released when it was determined they had nothing to do with the rape. Two other suspects were arrested at Nevada and one as far away as Willow Springs, but they, too, were quickly released.
On January 24, H. B. “Pete” Barclay, a black man from Weir City, Kansas, was arrested at the Gulf Railroad station in Springfield, largely on the grounds that he’d come into town from a westerly direction and had been seen at the Billings train station, which was not terribly far from Verona. He was taken to Verona but was released after Katie Jacobs said he was not the man who had assaulted her.
In late May, a black man named Andy Boyd was arrested at Pierce City on suspicion of being the person who’d raped Katie. When he was taken before the girl, she said she thought he was the man but that she couldn’t be sure. He was locked up on suspicion, nonetheless. At his preliminary hearing in June, Katie seemed more certain that he was the man who’d violated her, and Boyd was bound over for trial on a charge of rape. When his trial came up in late August at Mt. Vernon, the jury decided that, although they thought he was guilty, there was a reasonable doubt. They therefore voted to acquit.
As far as I’ve been able to determine, nothing else ever came of this case, but nonetheless “two unknown Negroes” were listed in a 1922 report of the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission as victims of lynching near Verona, Missouri, on January 22, 1894. And, indeed, this bit of misinformation has continued to be passed down to the present day and is still listed on certain websites that purport to keep track of all known lynchings in America.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Murder with a Hint of Scandal

The murder of wealthy Tulsa businessman Samuel C. Davis in Joplin, Missouri, on the night of December 18, 1916, was a mystery to lawmen who investigated it in the days that followed. Was it just a burglary gone wrong? Was Davis targeted by his business enemies? Or did the motive involve romantic jealousy? No one ever knew for sure, because the case was never solved.
The forty-four-year-old Davis, half Creek Indian, worked as a cowboy as a young man but settled down to become a respected citizen who made a small fortune in oil, gas, and real estate investments. He and his wife resided in a stately mansion in Tulsa, and their daughter married the son of Tulsa's mayor.
But Davis's world began to spiral out of control in early 1916 when divorcee Daisy Carter, a former professional swimmer, approached him about securing a home loan for her. The two became romantically involved, and Davis began drinking heavily. He spent lavishly on his paramour and provided her with homes in Tulsa and Joplin.
When he started divorce proceedings against his wife, she filed charges of adultery against him and Daisy. In June of 1916, Davis and his lover were bound over for trial on the adultery charge, but the charge was apparently dropped as a result of the divorce settlement in which Mrs. Davis was to receive $84,000 and other valuable property.
On Monday evening, December 18, Davis and Ms. Carter went to a movie theater in Joplin, accompanied by Daisy's mother and also her housekeeper. After the movie, they returned to Carter's house on North Jackson in Joplin and were surprised by a masked intruder with a revolver in his hand. Davis whipped out his own pistol, and the two shot at each other. Davis's shot missed, but the intruder's did not. Davis fell and died almost instantly. The three women closed the door to the room where the intruder was and held it shut, but they opened it and let him escape after he threatened to shoot through the door.
Investigators had no clear theory of the crime at first, but they soon discounted robbery as a motive, because nothing had been disturbed in the house, even though the intruder was known to have been there close to half an hour before the movie goers arrived home. Lawmen adopted the theory that the assailant was an enemy of Davis who had lain in wait for him, but what kind of enemy no one ever knew for sure. Davis's divorce had been scheduled to become final later in the week, and he and Carter were supposed to get married the following Sunday. Was it the intruder's purpose to make sure they didn't? Or was it someone who hated Davis for another reason?

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Walter Hartley, Ozarks Bad Man

Walter Hartley left behind a long history of criminal behavior when he was finally killed in a shootout with law officers on May 18, 1934, near Dugginsville, Missouri, just across the state line in Marion County, Arkansas. The "Ozarks desperado" had a record of bank robbery dating back over ten years.
Hartley was about twenty-five years old when he first got into serious trouble in January of 1924 for holding up the Cabool State Bank, located just a few miles east of the Dunn community near where he'd grown up in rural Texas County. Hartley and a sidekick, Ernest Atkinson, entered the bank wearing false mustaches and brandishing revolvers just after closing time on the 21st. They herded three bank officials into the vault, locked it, and then scooped up all the loot contained in the cash drawer. They got about $2,500 but overlooked over $10,000 in an open safe. The crooks made their getaway in a Ford roadster but were captured late the same afternoon at the Cabool train station, where they were waiting to catch a westbound train.
Hartley was tried at a special January term of the Texas County Circuit Court. Found guilty of bank robbery, he was sentenced to ten years in the state pen but was discharged under merit time on October 1, 1929, after serving barely over half his term.
Hartley and his first wife, Blanche, split either while he was in prison or shortly after he got out, because Hartley, now about 35 years old, married a 17 or 18-year-old girl not long after he came home from Jeff City. The young woman, though, apparently did little to corral her husband's restless, criminal spirit. Hartley was arrested in January of 1932 and charged in Christian County with robbing the Bank of Sparta, along with an accomplice, on November 6, 1931, and with robbing the Bank Highlandville by himself on December 11, 1931. He was also suspected but not charged in the September, 1928 robbery of the Bank of Chadwick.
Tried first for the Highlandville heist, Hartley was convicted in early February 1932 and sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary. The case was appealed, however, and Hartley was released on $20,000 bond.
While still free on bond, Hartley was charged in July of 1933 as a participant in the robbery of the Bank of Hammond in Ozark County two months earlier. Held initially at Gainesville in default of $20,000 bond, he was transferred to the West Plains jail in neighboring Howell County. Shortly after the transfer, he escaped and fled the territory.
Hartley was recaptured in Oklahoma in April of 1934 during a dragnet that had spread over that state in search of Clyde Barrow in the wake of the Barrow gang's notorious shootout with police in Joplin, Missouri.
Brought back to Missouri, Hartley was lodged in the Ozark County Jail at Gainesville on the Hammond Bank robbery charge. Less than a month later, on May 12, 1934, Hartley brandished a knife and overpowered Sheriff S.W. Daniel when the lawman came to feed Hartley and another inmate. Hartley took the lawman's gun and made his escape.
Hartley became the object of a widespread manhunt. He was located on the morning of May 18 by Sheriff Daniel, a deputy, and Missouri Highway Patrol officers Nathan Massie and Ben Graham, holed up in a house south of Dugginsville. Surprised, Hartley came out firing, and the officers returned fire. Hartley dropped to the ground, apparently dead, and Graham and the deputy left to get their vehicles. While they were gone, Hartley suddenly revived and again opened fire on the remaining two officers before fleeing into the underbrush. Graham and Massie finally located the fugitive again later the same day and mortally wounded him in another exchange of fire. Hartley died 45 minutes later while being transported back to Gainesville.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cave Spring, Greene County, Missouri

Whether a town was one of the first ones settled in a particular area was not necessarily a good predictor of whether it would flourish. Other factors; such as whether other towns were built nearby, whether a good road system was developed to and from the town, whether a railroad was constructed to the town; were probably more important. An example of a town in Greene County that was one of the first to be settled but that never amounted to a whole lot and that has now declined to the point that there's not much left is Cave Spring in the northwest part of the county.
According to Moser's Directory to Places in Missouri, the first resident of Cave Spring arrived in 1839. At that time, Springfield was one of the few other towns in Greene County and the only important one. The first store was established at Cave Spring in 1848, and the town gradually grew for a number of years after that. By 1868, the place was populous enough to sport a high school. After a few years, though, a small pox outbreak scared away teachers and students, and the school closed, never to re-open.
A post office was established at Cave Spring about the same time as the high school or perhaps a couple of years later. It remained until 1907. At the time of Holcombe's History of Greene County was published in 1883, Cave Spring had five stores, one blacksmith shop, and one church.
A profile of Cave Spring in the Springfield Leader in September 1894 gives a fairly detailed picture of the village at that time. W.C. Wadlow was a pioneer physician who'd been practicing in and around Cave Spring for over 17 years. A.E. Neff had his blacksmith shop located on Main Street. He had been there for 13 years. Thompson and Taylor had a millinery and dressmaking shop, also on Main Street. Thomas Bricker, located in the north part of Cave Spring, did all kinds of repair work, ranging from horseshoeing to doctoring a threshing machine. C.M. Patterson was still at his "old stand" on the north side of the square, where he sold groceries and other goods. There may well have been other businesses, but these were the only ones mentioned.
In 1968, Cave Springs had one store and several dwelling houses. I'm not sure what's there now, but I'm pretty sure it's not much.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

An Old-Time Small Town Street Fair

A lot of small towns in the Ozarks still hold annual fairs or festivals of one sort or another, and some of theme still have a bit of an old-time feel to them. But they're not quite like the old-fashioned street fairs and county fairs from the first half of the 20th century, such as the one that Weaubleau, Missouri, used to hold from at least as far back as the 1910s and continuing at least into the early 1930s. A look at the program for the 1928 Weaubleau Street Fair will give readers a flavor of what the old-time street fairs were like.
The three-day fair opened on Thursday, September 6 featuring music provided by the Weaubleau Band and a variety of other events and contests. A 50-yard foot race for boys 15 and under and a similar dash for men and boys over 15 kicked things off in the morning. Winner of the boys race received a dollar while the men's race winner got two dollars. The morning events ended with a reading contest for ladies, which yielded a $2 prize for the winner and $1 for second place.
The afternoon featured more music and a women's foot race. The day concluded in the evening with yet more band music and a performance by a man who did juggling and other marvelous feats.
Friday morning featured horse riding contests and a fat man's foot race. (No word on how fat you had to be to be eligible to enter.) There was also a driving contest. I assume this meant driving an automobile, but it might have meant driving a horse and buggy. The afternoon featured horseshoe pitching contests, one of which was reserved for men 70 years of age and older. There was also a declamatory (i.e. speech) contest for boys and girls. The day's events also included what was called simply a "pulling contest." I assume this was a contest pitting one person's horse against another person's horse to see which one could out-pull the other, although it might have been what we nowadays call a tug of war pitting humans against other humans.
Saturday was the climax of the three-day street fair. The day's events included livestock and poultry judging, a baseball game between Weaubleau and a neighboring town, more horseshoe pitching, egg races, a tug of war between attendees from Hickory County vs. those from all other counties, and, of course, more band music. The night events included the giving away of a grand prize (a new automobile), an old fiddlers' contest, more amazing feats, a Charleston dance contest, and a male quartet singing contest.
The Index from neighboring Hermitage announced the next week that the 1928 Weaubleau Street Fair had the largest attendance it had ever had and that a good time was had by all. Winner of the grand prize automobile was a man from St. Clair County who had held only one entry ticket.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Murder of Sheriff Turley

On Wednesday morning, February 27, 1889, in Van Buren, Missouri, a local citizen tried to collect on a $35 note that had Carter County sheriff Elvin G. Turley's name signed on it, but Turley realized immediately that someone had forged his signature. A quick investigation determined that Amp O. Thomason was the guilty culprit and that he had also forged the names of at least two other local men.
Twenty-two-year-old Thomason and another young man, James Taylor, had arrived from Kentucky about six months earlier and opened a saloon in Van Buren. Around the middle of February, they closed the Van Buren saloon and left for Winona, announcing they planned to open a new saloon there.
Still on Wednesday morning, Sheriff Turley, taking along Deputy George Henderson, set out for Winona by train. About noon, the officers chanced to meet Thomason and his sidekick at the depot in Low Wassie when the train made a stop there. When Turley stepped up to Thomason and told him he was under arrest, Thomason started to reach for his revolver, but both officers closed in on him before he could draw it, and the sheriff grabbed his hand. Thomason fell backward, trying to wrest his hand away, but the sheriff still had a grip on him. "Jim, if you ever mean to help me," Thomason yelled to his partner while still on the ground, "now is the time." Taylor, who was thought to be Thomason's half-brother, promptly pulled out a revolver and fired at the sheriff but missed. Stepping closer, he fired again, and Turley fell dead, dying almost instantly. Henderson made a move toward Taylor, but the desperate young man shot the deputy in the leg and made a break for some nearby woods with Thomason scrambling to his feet and straggling along behind.
A posse quickly organized and went in pursuit of the fugitives, but they escaped. Carter County offered a reward for their capture, and a week or so later, the Missouri governor placed a $300 bounty on Thomason's head and a $200 one on Taylor. Despite the rewards offered, no clues as to the whereabouts of the fugitives turned up. Turley's widow offered to up the reward so that it would be lucrative enough to attract professional bounty hunters if she could collect on her husband's $2,000 life insurance policy. However, the company refused to pay, reportedly because a pint bottle of whiskey was found in the sheriff's pocket after he was killed.
Twenty-five years went by with no word on where Thomason and Taylor might be. Finally, in February of 1914, Carter County authorities received a tip that the two fugitives might be holed up in Texas. At the request of the county officials, the Missouri governor renewed the state reward for the capture of the two men, except the amount was only a $100 now. Later in the year, acting on a supposedly reliable tip, Carter County sheriff Orren Munger traveled to Texas to try to effect an arrest, but the fugitives had left the place where they were supposed to be a couple of days before the lawman's arrival.
Thomason and Taylor were never apprehended, although a rumor filtered back to Missouri a couple of years after Munger's burnt run to Texas that Thomason had died of tuberculosis.

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