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, September 18, 2016

A Civil War Murder in Springfield

As even casual students of the Civil War in Missouri know, the conflict in our state was characterized by bitter guerrilla fighting that spawned rampant lawlessness. Robberies, destruction of property, and even murders were not uncommon. Most of these criminal acts were related at least peripherally to military operations—either committed during the fight for control of the state early in the war or else during Confederate efforts to dislodge the occupying Federal Army after the Union secured Missouri in the spring of 1862. However, some crimes were personally motivated and had little or nothing to do with military operations. In the rural parts of the state, most such outrages were committed by partisans and freebooters who identified at least nominally with the Southern cause. However, crimes in the larger cities, which served as Union posts and headquarters, were also not uncommon, and these were often authored by the Federal soldiers themselves. An example is a shooting affray that occurred in Springfield in the spring of 1862, perhaps the city’s most notorious incident of the Civil War that did not directly involve military operations.
Union sympathizer Mrs. Mary Willis, having lost two sons at the hands of bushwhackers in her home territory of northern Arkansas, sought refuge at Springfield during the latter part of the winter of 1861-1862, and she and her family were placed in a vacant house in the east part of town. Because the house had previously been occupied by “a squad of accommodating girls,” two soldiers were placed as guards at the house to turn away unwelcome visitors. About sundown on the evening of May 21, 1862, duty officer John R. Clark and his orderly, A. J. Rice, both in a state of intoxication, called at the Willis home and demanded dinner. When Mrs. Willis declined to prepare the meal, Captain Clark and his companion grew irate, began cussing, pulled their pistols, and tried to force their way into the house. One of the guards shot Clark through the body, and he staggered back a few steps and fell dead. Rice promptly fired at the guard but missed and hit Mrs. Willis’s daughter, Miss Mary Willis, in the head, killing her instantly. The second guard then shot Rice and wounded him severely. The ball struck him in the breast and ranged up through the shoulder, which was badly shattered.
A Mexican War veteran, Clark was a member of Company B, Fifth Kansas Cavalry, but he and most of the men of his company had been recruited into Federal service from Mercer County, Missouri, where he had served four years as sheriff of the county and had been a delegate to the 1856 Democratic State Convention. Despite the circumstances of his death and despite the fact that he was considered by at least one member of his own regiment “a Pro-Slavery brute” who “ought to have joined the rebels instead of our side,” Clark was buried in Springfield the day after his death with both military and Masonic honors.
Upon initial examination, A.J. Rice’s wound was considered mortal, but he lived long enough to be indicted the following summer in Greene County Circuit Court for the murder of Miss Mary Willis. At the August 1862 term of court, he took a change of venue to Phelps County. He was tried at Rolla in late October and convicted on October 30 of first degree murder. The next day, he appealed and was granted a new trial on November 1. The following April the case was continued, but no record of it has been found after that. Rice might have died before the new trial began, because, according to Holcombe’s 1883 History of Greene County, Rice’s wound “eventually proved fatal.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Murder of Peter P. Keen

On or about March 26, 1862, thirty-seven-year-old Peter P. Keen was killed by a gang of bushwhackers in Johnson County, Missouri, in the vicinity of Holden. Members of the gang included Andrew J. Wallace, Joseph Ross, Jack Briscoe, George Smith, and William F. Smith, but nothing was done about the crime at the time because the alleged perpetrators could apparently not be located.
In late December of 1862, however, two and a half years after the crime, an investigation was undertaken after several letters passed through the Holden post office addressed to Andrew J. Wallace, giving his address as Frankford, Illinois. (This might have been a misspelling of Frankfort.) Three citizens of Johnson County, including Keen's widow, promptly offered their testimony about Wallace's involvement in the killing of Peter Keen.
Harriett Keen said she knew Wallace was one of those who had participated in the murder of her husband and that Wallace was known in the area at the time as a notorious bushwhacker.
Elijah Buchanan echoed Mrs. Keen's testimony, saying that, at the time of the murder, he was close enough to the scene of the crime to hear the gunfire, that he saw the gang of bushwhackers immediately afterward, and that Wallace was one of them.
Holden postmaster William Rose (who no doubt was the one who called attention to the letters addressed to Wallace) said that Wallace and his comrades had taken him prisoner on the same day Keen was killed and had threatened to kill him, too. Rose said the bushwhackers spared him only because his father-in-law pled with them to do so. Rose added that the bushwhackers said in his presence that they "would kill every damned Union man in the county" or any man who went among the Federal soldiers. Rose said that Wallace had been a schoolteacher before the war and that he thought he was also teaching school in Illinois.
Apparently Wallace was never brought back to central Missouri to answer the charge of killing Peter Keen, or if he was, he was not detained long. He spent most of his adult life in the Decatur, Illinois, area and died there in 1908.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Maria McKeehan, Another Bushwhacker Belle

Sometime in the fall of 1863, Union authorities in Johnson County, Missouri, arrested several young men, supposed to be members of what was called the Knob Noster Independent Company, as bushwhackers and as suspects in the murder of a man named William Dillingham. Twenty-four-year-old Maria McKeehan (spelled Mariah in Union records) was arrested near the same time for aiding and abetting them.
In December of 1863, Dr. James M. Mitchell of Knob Noster gave a statement to Union authorities against Maria. Presumably he was compelled to do so, since he himself was a Southern sympathizer.
Dr. Mitchell said that on the 9th of August, he was called to the home of Catherine Hart, Maria's married sister, located in the Bristle Ridge neighborhood about six miles southwest of Knob Noster, because a family named Jones who was staying there had a sick child. While Dr. Mitchell was at the Hart residence, Maria, whose parents lived about two miles east of Knob Noster but who was then staying with her sister, asked Dr. Mitchell for a bottle of medicine for her sick brother, who was in the bush with the bushwhackers. Maria informed the doctor that she had been to the bushwhackers' camp that very morning and that the guerrillas told her that they had killed Dillingham earlier the same morning about two miles from her sister's home. (Dillingham was indeed killed on the morning of August 9 at his home near Bristle Ridge and his body was found "shot into holes" about 30 yards from his house.)
Maria further stated that she regularly fed the bushwhackers and aided them with medicine and information. She told Dr. Mitchell that she had heard one of the bushwhackers, Sam Whitley, threaten to kill him (i.e. Dr. Mitchell) because he would not come into the bush to administer to the bushwhackers' medical needs, and she told the doctor which road to take back to Knob Noster to avoid the guerrillas. Dr. Mitchell said the reason he thought Maria had helped him was that he had been kind to her aged father and had been the family doctor for a number of years.
A Union official noted on Mitchell's deposition that the doctor was a truthful man, even though he was "secesh."
Apparently little more ever happened in Maria McKeehan's case, as I have been unable to find any record of her having been shipped to St. Louis for banishment or trial as many women arrested during the Civil War for helping Missouri's guerrillas were. And that's why I did not include her in my Bushwhacker Belles book published earlier this year.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Civil War Murder at New Tennessee

Around the middle of July, 1864, a young man named Eli Vansickles was arrested by Union authorities at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, on suspicion of having been an accessory to the murder of a school teacher in the New Tennessee settlement of Ste. Genevieve County in the fall of 1861. On July 20th, an anonymous letter writer told officials that he knew several people who were knowledgeable about the murder, and he forwarded the names of Thomas Arendall, Arendall's wife, and Joseph Townsend as possible witnesses.
Authorities apparently did not locate Joseph Townsend, but they did take a statement from his older brother, John Townsend, on July 29. John Townsend told them that he lived in the New Tennessee settlement (located in the southern part of Ste. Genevieve County) and that it was "generally known in the neighborhood that Andrew Burnett, a rebel, murdered the man and that Eli Vansickles, now under arrest as accessory to said murder, was at the time and place in company with said Burnett and that said Eli Vansickles is also a rebel and was in the Rebel Army."
John Townsend went on to say that, after the murder, he and Joseph Townsend (whom he did not identify as his brother) went to the place where the body was lying dead, that Joseph Townsend helped bury the corpse, that he saw Joseph Townsend take a watch and some other articles off the body before the burial, and that, as far as he knew, Joseph Townsend had never accounted to anyone for those items.
The same day, July 29, William Thomas Arendall also gave a deposition in which he stated that he knew Andrew Burnett, now deceased, was the person who killed the school teacher (name not given), and he recalled the date of the murder as approximately November 1, 1861. He said the school teacher was just passing through and was shot down about 300 yards from his (Arendall's) house. Later that same evening, Arendall saw Burnett at a mill about three-fourths of a mile from where the murder had occurred and that Burnett told him that he was the one who had killed the man and that Vansickles was with him when he did it. Burnett, according to Arendall's testimony, said that both he and Vansickles belonged to Jeff Thompson's Rebel army.
Whether Vansickles (sometimes spelled Van Sickles or Van Sickle) was ever punished for his part in the crime and, if so, how severely, is not known. What is known is that Vansickles continued to live in Ste. Genevieve County after the war and died there on the last day of 1882 after "a long, painful illness."

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.

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