Missouri and Ozarks History

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

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas, and Bigamy and Bloodshed: The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Springfield's First New Car Dealer

This blog post, entitled "Springfield's First New Car Dealer," is about J. E. Atkinson, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I don't know for a certainty that Atkinson was the first new automobile dealer in Springfield. However, I haven't been able to find anyone who came before him.
What I know for sure is that Atkinson offered an automobile repair service from his shop on St. Louis Street as early as 1905. He had previously sold sporting goods and electrical equipment, including bicycles and phonographs, and he continued to sell these products even after he branched into the automobile repair business.
The next year, 1906, Atkinson became an authorized agent of the Cadillac Motor Company and started selling new Cadillacs from his St. Louis Street store. He still continued handling a variety of other goods as well, as you can see in the accompanying advertisement from a Springfield newspaper in April of that year.

In early 1909, Atkinson moved his place of business to East Walnut Street, but he still dealt in essentially the same line of goods he had sold at the other place, including automobiles. However, sometime during this year or late 1908, he quit dealing in Cadillacs and instead started selling De Tamble automobiles. New De Tambles cost $650, as the advertisement below from a November 1908 Springfield newspaper shows.

In early 1910, Atkinson moved again, this time to 308 S. Jefferson, and started selling R.E.O.s, which cost $1250, almost twice as much as the De Tamble. For at least a short while, he was a dealer for both De Tambles and R.E.O.s.
By 1911, Atkinson had started selling Fords and apparently discontinued selling other makes. At least Ford cars were the ones he mainly promoted in newspaper ads such as the one below from a September 1911 Springfield newspaper.


As a sideline, or maybe it was something more than a sideline, Atkinson also began selling Ohio Electric cars while still hawking the Fords, which he continued to sell until his death in early 1914. Suffice it to say that J. E. Atkinson wore a lot of different caps as a merchant in early 1900s Springfield.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

John Hunt's Murder of his Daughter

On the evening of August 29, 1896, sixty-four-year-old John Hunt of Columbia, Missouri, arrived home in a drunken frenzy and , according to initial reports of the incident, shot his seventeen-year-old daughter, Mattie, twice for no apparent reason. He then chased his fifty-one-year-old wife, Mary, out of the house, firing one or two errant shots at her. Then he promptly mounted a horse and rode away. One report of the affair said that Hunt entered the house, starting shooting, and both women went screaming from the home pursued by the drunken man. Mattie fell dead, and her mother fainted in the garden, where she was found a half hour later. A different report the next day said that, when Hunt arrived home, Mattie came out of the house to meet him and the old man immediately drew his revolver and started shooting without provocation. After receiving a single gunshot wound to the side, the girl fled shrieking from the scene. Hunt then entered the house and started shooting at his wife but missed. She fled the house and collapsed outside, while Hunt rushed back out of the house, mounted his horse, and galloped away. The first report suggested that Mattie's wounds were probably fatal, while the second one said that she was in a serious condition but that her wound was not necessarily fatal.
Shortly after the shooting, a posse organized and went in pursuit of the demented man, who according to the second report, had "borne a bad reputation for several years." 
Hunt was captured on the afternoon of August 30 and charged with felonious assault. After Mattie died from her wound or wounds on September 4, Hunt was "re-arrested" and charged with murder.
At the time of his trial in February of 1897, Hunt's son John armed himself and threatened violence against his mother if she testified against the father. However, the son was arrested, and the mother's testimony, which went on as scheduled, brought out additional facts about the shooting. Hunt and his wife had been arguing a lot in the days and weeks leading up to the crime over the fact that Hunt wanted to sell their place in Columbia and move to the countryside while Mary preferred to stay in town. There were other issues as well, and Hunt was especially abusive when he'd been drinking. He had threatened to kill both his wife and his daughter on more than one occasion. On the fateful evening, he came home from visiting an adult son in the country and immediately started arguing with his wife. Mattie soon came home from grocery shopping and found the couple still in a heated argument. When she told her mother, "I would not stand it," Hunt pulled out his revolver and shot her. 
Hunt's lawyers pleaded insanity, but he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to hang in late March. His attorneys petitioned for a new trial, and when the motion was denied, they appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, automatically staying the execution. A newspaper report at the time said Hunt was 78 years old, but this is almost surely an error, since he was listed as 38 in the 1870 census and 46 in the 1880 census. Unless both of the census records were drastically wrong, Hunt could not have been anywhere near 78. More likely he was in his mid-sixties. 
In early December of 1897, the state supreme court upheld the lower court's verdict and reset the execution for January 13, 1898. A newspaper report at the time said that Hunt had been accused 40 years earlier of murdering his stepfather but that sufficient evidence could not be gathered for a conviction. However, shortly after this incident, Hunt had been sent to the state pen on a grand larceny charge, and when he got home he "made love to his cousin" and ended up eloping with her and marrying her over the protestations of her family. This was the same wife who later testified against him for killing their daughter, Mattie. 
Before Hunt's execution date, a sheriff's jury was convened in Boone County to consider the question of his sanity. Described as a "mental and physical wreck," he was declared insane, and an appeal for clemency was subsequently made to the governor. In early January 1898, the governor commuted the condemned man's sentence and ordered him committed to the insane asylum at Nevada. 
  

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Murder of Haggerty and Hanging of Davidson

An unprovoked murder occurred at a picnic on September 21, 1878, a few miles northeast of Warrensburg, Missouri. A young, single man named Frank Davidson had been drinking throughout the day, and he became very intoxicated and quarrelsome. About five or six p.m., he got into an argument with William Haggerty, a married man who, at 23 or 24 years of age, was about the same age as Davidson. The drunken man ended up drawing his navy revolver and shooting Haggerty. Before the victim fell, Davidson fired a couple of more bullets into his body, and Haggery was dead almost by the time he hit the ground. In the immediate wake of the murder, a report in the St. Louis Globe Democrat conjectured, "It is supposed that jealousy was the cause of the deed, as no other reason can be assigned."
What information the Globe Democrat had to go on in order to draw such a conclusion is not known, but the newspaper's speculation turned out to be right.
After shooting Haggerty, Davidson became frantic as several other men tried to apprehend him. He exchanged errant fire with one man and took a shot at a second man that also missed its mark before the men were able to close in, overpower him, and disarm him. He was taken into Warrensburg and placed in the Johnson County Jail. In the aftermath of his arrest, a dubious report circulated that he was a desperado who had recently moved to Johnson County from Kansas, where he was implicated in or suspected of other crimes. Sometime after his capture, Davidson was moved to the Pettis County Jail at Sedalia for safekeeping. He was indicted for murder at the December term of Johnson County Criminal Court.
At Davidson's trial in May of 1879, the murdered man's widow, nineteen-year-old Lydia Haggerty, testified that she had known Davidson four or five years, because he used live and work on her father's farm. Lydia had married Haggerty a year or so before he was killed, and they already had a baby at the time of the shooting.
At the fateful picnic, Lydia was helping her husband run a candy stand when Davidson approached near the end of the day and wanted to buy some candy for her. Lydia declined the offer, but he insisted. When she told him not to be spending his money on her, he leaned close to her and whispered that he was going to sleep with her that night.
"I guess not!" she exclaimed.
"By God, I will," he said.
Not unless he was a better man than her man, Lydia told him.
Davidson then wandered off, and Lydia went to her husband, who was standing some distance away, and told him what Davidson had said. Haggerty demanded to know where Davidson was, but Lydia said she didn't know. Haggerty went looking for Davidson and couldn't find him at first but then happened to meet him not far from the candy stand as he (Haggerty) was going to see about his horse, which had gotten loose. Lydia saw the two men arguing and saw Davidson pull out his pistol and start shooting at her husband, who was unarmed.
Davidson, who had known and been friends with Haggerty as well as Lydia before the couple was married, testified in his own defense. His testimony largely coincided with Lydia's, even admitting that he'd told her he was planning to sleep with her. Despite this admission, when Haggerty confronted him and demanded an apology, he told the other man that he did not realize he had insulted his wife. Haggerty starting pulling up his sleeves as if to fight and demanded that Davidson take back what he'd said or else he'd "beat his damned head off." Davidson pulled out his revolver, waved it over his head, and told Haggerty to go away or he'd shoot him. A man named Queener grabbed hold of Davidson's arm, but when Haggerty made some other angry remark, Davidson jerked away and shot him.
Davidson was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to hang on July 9, 1879. His father gathered the signatures of a large number of citizens petitioning the governor for clemency, but to no avail. The state supreme court also refused to grant a new trial. "Well, I'm not the first man ever hung," young Davidson said when given the news.
On June 14, the condemned man was baptized by the Rev. Isham Tanner, the man on whose farm he had been living and working at the time of the crime. Then, on July 9, the execution was carried out as scheduled before an estimated 10,000 people. Drawn by a morbid curiosity, they thronged to a site just outside Warrensburg, where a scaffold had been erected. and they took up positions on the surrounding hills as though for a picnic until the grounds were blanketed by a sea of humanity. Shortly before noon, Davidson was led up the steps of the scaffold. After a brief Bible reading and sermon by the condemned man's spiritual adviser, Davidson was led to the trap. The lever was sprung at exactly 12:00 o'clock, and Davidson fell through the trap into eternity.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas Day 1907 Weather

Yesterday (Christmas Day 2019) was unusually warm in the Ozarks. I think the high here in the Joplin area was 70 degrees, give or take a degree or so. It felt more like mid-autumn than winter. I happened to be perusing some old Springfield newspapers yesterday and saw a story in a December 26, 1907, issue talking about how warm it had been the day before. So, I guess warm weather on Christmas Day is not a recent or a particularly rare phenomenon, although I should add that the temperatures we experienced yesterday were warmer than those Springfield and the Ozarks saw in 1907.
The headline in the Springfield Republican the day after Christmas in 1907 proclaimed, "LIKE A SPRING DAY: Weather That Prevailed Here on Christmas Day Would Be Hard to Beat." The story went on to say, "Reports were heard on every hand yesterday about what a fine day it was and what a warm Christmas the people of the Ozarks were enjoying." Some people compared the pleasant weather to balmy spring days, while others "went them one better" and said that the weather the previous day reminded them of "the good old summer time."
Men strolled upon the streets of Springfield without overcoats, and women went about "without their furs and great coats....All day the sun poured forth his warm rays in the Ozarks, and the thermometer, at his bidding, went tearing up around the sixty mark." Even at five o''clock, as the sun was starting to set, the temperature continued to hover around the fifty degree mark.
So, not quite as warm as we experienced yesterday, but still a nice, pleasant Christmas Day in 1907.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Butterfield Bank Robbery

A few weeks ago, I remarked that Barry County, Missouri, experienced five bank robberies within the space of two years (actually 25 months) from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. I've written about all five of those bank robberies on this blog. However, I later discovered that there were actually six bank robberies in Barry County during the designated time period. The one that I initially overlooked was the robbery of the Farmer's Bank of Butterfield. Occurring in February 1921, it was third in chronological order of the six bank robberies.
About 1:00 or 1:30 in the afternoon of February 4, a lone bandit entered the Farmer's Bank and flourished a revolver, backing cashier Cass Jeffries and his 17-year-old daughter, Allene, against a wall with their hands up. The local railway station agent walked past the bank during the holdup, and Allene waved at him and pointed to the robber. Taking the cue, the agent hurried to a nearby hardware store and asked the loan of a revolver because the bank was being held up. The store employees didn't believe him and refused to lend him a weapon.
Meanwhile, inside the bank, the bandit ordered Cashier Jeffries to open the money tills, and Jeffries replied that he couldn't do so with his hands in the air. The robber told him he could lower one hand as long as he kept the other one up. Jeffries then lowered one of his hands and opened up the tills. The bandit began gathering up all the currency and silver he could lay his hands on and stuffing it in his pockets. When there was just some small change left, the cashier asked the bandit the leave the rest of the money so that he could use it to finish the day's business, and the robber complied with the request. He then ordered Jeffries and his daughter into the vault, slammed the door, and made his getaway.
However, he had neglected to lock the vault, and the two captives quickly made their escape and gave an alarm. Jeffries said that, even though the robber had his face covered, he recognized him as Homer Bayless, a young man who lived south of Butterfield in the Antioch neighborhood. A posse quickly organized and was soon on the trail of the bandit. The lawmen followed the fugitive to some woods at the edge of Butterfield and found that he had made his getaway in a hack he'd left hidden there.
The robber made his way to Cassville, where, it was later discovered, he used some of the ill-gotten loot to get a haircut and to pay off a debt. He then started toward Exeter and was overtaken and arrested on the road by three lawmen who had been on his trail since the robbery. The bandit proved to be Homer Bayless, just as the cashier had said. The son of well-known farmer A.P. Bayless, Homer was twenty-three years old, married, and had three little kids. He admitted that he'd planned to rob the Butterfield bank a couple of weeks earlier but had gotten cold feet. He said he robbed the bank because he was desperate for money to provide for his family. He said he owed money to the Exeter Bank and they were pressing him for payment. He was on his way there to pay the debt, he said, when he was arrested.
Later the same evening after his arrest, Bayless was released on bond put up by his father and other friends. According to the Cassville Republican, "the crime was a shock to the entire community for Homer was a young man well liked and he comes of one of the old and highly respected families."
When his case came up in Barry County Circuit Court in late March, Bayless pleaded guilty, was sentenced to fifteen years in the state penitentiary, and was promptly forwarded to the Jeff City facility. However, Governor Arthur Hyde commuted his sentence in the spring of 1924, and he was released after serving only slightly over three years of his assessed fifteen years. In 1930, Bayless was back living in Barry County with his wife and several more kids in addition to the three he had at the time of the Farmer's bank robbery. The family later moved to Idaho, where they lived at the time of the 1940 census. Homer's occupation was listed as a carpenter. He died in Idaho in 1982 at the age of 84, apparently having lived the life of a law-abiding citizen after his release from the Missouri State Prison.



Friday, December 13, 2019

Bank of Barry County Burglarized

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were five bank heists in Barry County, Missouri, within the space of about two years from the late nineteen teens to the early nineteen twenties. Actually I've since discovered that there were six, but that's a subject for next week's post. For this week, I want to talk about the the robbery that I thought was the fifth of five but was actually the sixth of six. It happened in Cassville in early January 1922 and was not really a robbery but instead a burglary.
In the wee hours of the morning on January 5, an unknown number of burglars tunneled through a brick wall at the rear of the Bank of Barry County in Cassville, gaining access to the vault. The place where they tunneled through was the only spot in the vault weak enough that explosives were not needed to make a hole. The rest of the vault was steel reinforced, and the thieves could not have gotten through it except by use of explosives. This led investigators to speculate that at least one of the thieves knew the layout of the bank very well.
The burglars took twenty deposit boxes containing an undetermined amount of money, bonds, and other valuables, although one box alone was known to have contained over $700 in bonds. A number of other boxes containing a large amount of money were left alone.
The theft was discovered later the same morning, and a posse picked up the trail of the bandits north and northwest of Cassville in the direction of Pierce City, where several of the stolen deposit boxes were found empty and discarded along the road. As of late January, however, no arrests had been made in the case, and, as far as I've been able to determine, none were ever made.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bank of Washburn 's Second Robbery

About noon on October 17, 1921, three young men, who were unmasked, wearing overalls, and otherwise "roughly attired," approached the Bank of Washburn (Mo.) on foot. One of them stood guard outside while the other two entered the bank and covered assistant cashier Graley Wines with revolvers. They rifled through the tills, the vault, and the safe, taking about $1,900 in cash and currency. (This was the second time the Bank of Washburn had been robbed in less than two years. See last week's blog entry.)
Just as they were getting ready to herd Wines into the vault, cashier Walter Jones returned from lunch. The guard spotted Jones as he started to enter the bank and fired a shot at him. Jones hurried into the bank, where he was met by the other two bandits, and both Jones and Wines were quickly forced into the vault. The robbers closed the door on the two bank employees and made their escape.
One of the captives sounded an alarm that was located inside the vault, and townspeople promptly arrived to set the two men free. A posse formed and pursued the three bandits, as they fled on foot. At a thicket of woods about two miles west of town, the posse briefly made contact with the robbers, and Bob Wines (father of the assistant cashier) fired his shotgun at the fugitives as they climbed over a fence. The robbers returned fire as they ducked into the woods. More men gathered to surround the woods, but when the posse advanced to try to flush the bandits out of the woods, they were nowhere to be found, having already somehow made their escape. It was thought they had split up, as a young man who was thought to be one of the robbers was spotted by a witness not far from the scene.
In the aftermath of the robbery, it was revealed that the three robbers had been hanging around Washburn for several days before the crime and had camped just outside town. One man who happened on the camp while squirrel hunting a day or two before the robbery reported that the three young men had ordered him to "move on." Also, during their flight, the robbers had been forced to abandon some of their gear, including some shoes and hats, and  part of the stuff was identified as having been stolen from a store in Exeter the previous week.
Rewards totaling about $1950 were raised for the capture of the robbers, but they were not immediately apprehended. A man was killed in early December during a bank robbery attempt at Cardin, Oklahoma, and he was tentatively identified as one of the Washburn robbers, since he closely matched the description. Another suspect was taken into custody near Rogers, Arkansas, in mid-December. He was identified as Brownie Long (aka Elmer Brown), but he was released in early January 1922 for lack of evidence. As far as I've been able to ascertain, no one else was arrested in connection with the second Washburn bank robbery, at least not during the first few months after the crime.

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