Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Neosho and the Golden Rule Plan

In 1925, Reps Dry Goods of Springfield sponsored a series of “ad stories” in the Springfield Leader called “Know Your Neighbor,” which profiled a different community in southwest Missouri each week. In the August 9 issue, Neosho was profiled under the subtitle “The Best Known Town of 5,000 in the United States.”
The profile lauded Neosho for the energy and friendliness of its people and especially for its “Golden Rule” business plan. Often called the “Neosho plan” because it had first been implemented by the Advertising Club of Neosho twelve years earlier, the Golden Rule plan encouraged cooperation between the business people of a community and the farmers who lived in the surrounding countryside. One of the main features of the plan was a monthly “Sales Day” on which the businesses offered special bargains and a farmers’ exchange was set up at the local auction pavilion. People living in the rural areas came to town from miles around, either to take advantage of the bargains or to buy and sell livestock and farm goods at the pavilion. Since its inception in Neosho, the “Golden Rule Plan” had spread to towns and small cities all across the U.S.
The fertile lands around Neosho were said to be excellent for farming, dairying, poultry raising, and fruit growing; and the Newton County Harvest Show was cited as a testament to the success of these endeavors. Held in October of each year, Neosho’s harvest show was praised as one of the best county shows in the state.
“Neosho is also fortunate,” said the profile, “in having three main line railroads which enable the quick distribution of its products to the larger trade centers.” In addition, Neosho was the intersection of two highways, State Highway 21 to Joplin and State Highway 16 to Springfield.
The fact that Neosho’s bank deposits amounted to over two and a half million dollars was evidence of the town’s prosperity.
Neosho was not only well known for its thriving business community, but it was also becoming famous as a health and recreation resort because of its abundance of spring water and artesian well water. People flocked to Neosho from Oklahoma and other states to partake of the healing waters, and the water was also shipped out of Neosho in large glass-lined tank cars.
“Neosho has a modern tourist camp,” said the profile, “and many of the tourists testify to the fact that this is the prettiest town in the Ozarks.” Thousands of tourists came to Neosho every year to take in its scenic beauty or visit its points of interest, the U.S. Fish Hatchery being one of the main attractions.
Neosho had just completed a sewer system at a cost of $180,000 and was planning street paving projects, including the public square, at a cost of $75,000. The profile writer concluded by agreeing with a Neosho resident who’d recently returned from California and announced, “God Almighty has done so much more for Neosho and vicinity than man can possibly do for California.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Morgan, Lalede County

I don't think I've ever been to Morgan, Missouri. I've been to Lebanon and other places in Laclede County numerous times but not Morgan. It's located in such an out-of-the-way place that you wouldn't normally pass through Morgan on your way to anywhere else. And I've never had a reason to make Morgan my actual destination. As far as I can tell, there wouldn't be much to see if I did go, because there's not much there. This hasn't always been the case, though.
Morgan, located in southern Laclede County, came into being on March 31, 1896, when Philip Rader established a post office there and became its first postmaster. He named the place Morgan after Asa Morgan, a local resident and Civil War veteran.
By 1925, Morgan had grown into a small town of 100 people with a city government and a thriving business community. W. A. Foster was mayor in 1925, and the town had two general stores, a bank, a barber shop, two churches, an elementary school, a canning factory, a garage, an ice cream parlor, a produce exchange, a post office, a mill, and a blacksmith.
In 1925, J. H. Linsay, one of the general store owners, had the longest tenure of any businessman in town. "There have been many who have come and gone," said a correspondent to the Springfield Republican, "but Harvey still stays in the corner and vends his many wares." Linsay tried to keep everything in stock that might be needed on the farm, and he would "buy anything that the farmer has to sell."
The Bank of Morgan was established in 1919 with a capital of $10,000. The bank had "always been able to run on its own resources." The garage owner, Charles Adkins, said the correspondent, "enjoys fishing and hunting as well as working, but is always ready to work and can fix anything that is needed about a car."
The town's two churches were the Lutheran and the Missionary Baptist. The Lutheran Church had full services every Sunday, while the Baptist had only a one-fourth time preacher but with Sunday School and prayer meetings every week.
"The little postmistress," said the correspondent, "is ever ready to attend to Uncle Sam's business," although he didn't give the name of the "little postmistress."
The elementary school was for grades 1-8, and C. R. Willard was the teacher.
The correspondent predicted that Morgan, located "on a good road nine miles east of Conway on the Frisco," was destined "soon to become a much larger town."
Alas, it was not to be. What would the prognosticating correspondent think if he could see the town of Morgan today?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fantastic Caverns and the KKK

In 2006, I wrote an article for the now-defunct Ozarks Mountaineer about the history of Fantastic Caverns, and a few years later, I posted a follow-up article about the same subject on this blog. One of the things I mentioned in the original article but did not mention in my blog post was the fact that Fantastic Caverns, was once used as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan during the early 1920s. I recently ran onto some additional, more specific information about the cave's connection to the KKK.
In the summer of 1922, the Springfield conclave of the KKK, or "Invisible Empire," as the Klan often called itself, purchased Fantastic Caverns, then called Percy's Cave, and the grounds surrounding it for about $40,000 from previous owner J. W. Crow. The Klan planned to rename the place the Ku Klux Klavern and use it as a meeting place for the Missouri realm of the secret organization.
The KKK, as many readers know, originally arose immediately after the Civil War and spread mainly throughout the Southern states. It was ostensibly a law and order organization, but it went overboard in dispensing out its brand of justice. It especially targeted blacks and ended up being a racist organization whose main activity was the suppression and punishment of freed slaves.
After virtually dying out, the KKK experienced a resurgence around 1920. Aiming for widespread acceptance, it once again tried to portray itself as a patriotic, law-and-order, Christian organization, and it was, in fact, viewed in a favorable light by many people, as the Springfield Republican's coverage of the KKK's acquisition of Percy Cave will suggest. The newspaper first announced the acquisition in its August 20, 1922, issue. The report said the KKK, in addition to using the cave and the grounds for its own meetings, planned to make them available to the public, particularly women and children. Admission would be free to the grounds, and visitors could tour the cave for a minimal charge. Order would be maintained at all times. The group particularly wanted to welcome churches and other worthy organizations to use the property.
Immediate plans for improving the property called for refurbishing the clubhouse, eliminating the dance pavilion (apparently dancing was frowned on), and beautifying the grounds. An American flag would fly above the grounds 365 days a year. The local Klan wanted the park and its activities to be an "exemplification of the leading principles for which the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan stand: law and order, protection of pure womanhood, the pursuit of happiness, and 100% Americanism." Members of the Klan were firmly convinced, said the Republican, that their order had "the highest ideals of which the human mind is capable," and they wished to give all who were not members of the KKK a "true appreciation" of the beneficial principles upon which they stood.
In keeping with that goal, the KKK planned to make their initiation or "naturalization" rituals open to the public. The public would be allowed to see the "flaming fiery cross, the white robes and hoods and all the other regalia used in initiations into the mysterious order." The only part of the ceremony the public would not be privy to would be the secret vows spoken by the initiates.
After describing some of the physical wonders of Percy's Cave, the Republican reporter concluded that "probably for the first time..., klansmen will have a setting for their ceremonials which will rival in natural weirdness the popular conception of the Invisible Empire."
The first induction or naturalization ceremony at the cave was held on August 24, 1922, and the first one to which the public was invited occurred on October 12 at 8:30 p.m. A parking area for the public was designated at the grounds, and the KKK furnished guards to watch the spectators' automobiles to make sure they were not tampered with while the guests were viewing the ceremony. Also, a jitney service from north Springfield to the cave was provided by the Klansmen for those who did not have automobiles. A crowd estimated at over 10,000 people attended the initiation ceremony, which was held in the huge natural amphitheater just outside the cave. About 2,000 klansmen from all over southwest Missouri participated in the ceremony, and about 125 new members were initiated, with the Joplin conclave conducting the rituals.
Alas, the second heyday of the KKK, like its first, did not last very long before the group was once again exposed as essentially a racist organization with the oppression of blacks as one of its primary goals.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Killing of John C. Sewell

Sometime in April of 1881, John, George, and Pascal Tucker got into a dispute at Ash Grove, Missouri, with a young man who was "a crippled cousin" of John C. Sewell, and the argument escalated into a melee when the twenty-three-year-old Sewell came to his kinsman's aid. The Tucker brothers; aged 36, 34, and 24 respectively; were, according to the Springfield Express "noted for getting into nearly all the rows that take place in Ash Grove." John and George were married and lived about two and half miles southwest of Ash Grove, while Pascal lived at home with his widowed mother in the same general neighborhood. Sewell, on the other hand, lived northeast of Ash Grove in the Cave Springs area. He "had a good reputation and was well connected."
Although young Sewell came to the aid of his cousin during the April fracas, the three Tuckers quickly overpowered the other two men, forcing them to retire from the fight. During the fray, one of the Tuckers reportedly fired a shot, but nobody was hit.
A few months later, on Saturday, July 23, Ash Grove hosted a barbecue for the Brothers of Freedom. (This was a somewhat militant farm organization that organized in Greene County in the early 1880s to oppose a tax levied on land for construction and operation of the Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis Railroad.) The gathering turned into a drunken, rowdy occasion, and the Tuckers renewed their quarrel with John Sewell. However, Sewell, who'd lived in the area all of his life, had too many friends backing him up, and the Tuckers, relative newcomers to Greene County, walked away from the initial confrontation. But only long enough to arm themselves. They went to a store and got a pistol and went back out looking for Sewell. Catching him alone on the outskirts of town, one of the brothers struck Sewell over the eye with a club. Sewell jumped back, but Tucker went at him again with the club. Sewell drew his revolver and "either fired or attempted to fire," according to the Express, "but something was wrong with his pistol."
One or more of Tucker brothers then rushed toward him and fired five shots. Two bullets struck Sewell in the head, either one of which would have been fatal. Sewell lived just a couple of hours. An inquest was held shortly after the incident, and the jury found that Sewell had come to his death at the hands of a pistol fired by Pascal Tucker.
All three brothers were indicted for murder, but they were all acquitted at their trial in May of 1882.
Alas, that wasn't the end of tragedy befalling the Sewell family. Sewell's mother was already dead, and his father, Jacob, and his youngest brother, McClure "Mack," soon moved to the Galena, Kansas, area to work in the lead mines there. Sometime around the first part of 1885, Jacob and Mack moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, and than back across the state line to Nevada, Missouri, where they arrived in July 1885. Both the father and son were murdered there in early August while they were camped on the north edge of town. Their killer was eventually found guilty of murder and hanged in Nevada the following year.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works

I mentioned last time that at least one regional newspaper said the reason Daniel Reed was lynched in early October 1874 in Joplin was not because he stole a span of mules, as he was accused of doing, but because those responsible for the destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works in Joplin a couple of months earlier were afraid he was going to tell what he knew about the crime. I promised to give a brief account of the destruction of the smelting works; so here goes.
Oliver S. Picher of Carthage was one of the first men to get rich from Joplin's lead-mining boom after the mineral was first discovered in the area in late 1870. Picher owned a farm in the mining district, and not long after the initial discovery of lead just east and slightly north of downtown Joplin, rich deposits were also discovered on Picher's land, located southeast of the downtown area.
By 1874, several mines were being worked on the land, known as the Picher Field, and it was one of the most productive lead fields in the region. Later, the most important mining operations on Picher's land were centered in the Parr Hill area, about a mile and a half from downtown Joplin, but in 1874, one of the main, if not the main, smelting operation in the Picher Field was the Hannibal Smelting Works, located nearer downtown Joplin.
Picher did not work the mines himself, nor did he directly oversee the operations on his land. Instead, like a number of other land owners, he leased out his land to miners for a share of their ore, and he hired a superintendent to oversee things for him.
In the summer of 1874, a dispute arose between the miners on the one hand and Picher and his superintendent on the other hand over the twenty percent royalty the miners had to pay Picher for the ore they mined. Apparently 20% was higher than the going rate. At least, the miners thought it was too much, and the labor dispute escalated to the point that it came to be known as the "black-jack war." Angry at the miners, Picher finally filed for an injunction to suspend all mining operations on his land.
But the miners did not take the rebuke well. In the wee hours of the morning of July 20, a party of about 25 to 50 masked men made their appearance at the Hannibal Smelting Works and ordered the few men who were working there to gather up their things and prepare to vacate the place. Some of the mob escorted the workers a safe distance away while the others went to work placing kegs of gunpowder under the building and the furnaces and then dousing everything with kerosene. "In a few moments," said the Joplin Mining News, "the furnaces were blown to atoms and the frame structure was a mass of flames."
The band of masked men waited until the fire had made good headway before slipping away into the night. The alarm was then given, and the fire department as well as scores of citizens hurried to the scene. The fire had gotten such a head-start, though, that nothing could be done to save the smelting works from utter destruction.
On the night of the 20th, less than 24 hours after the blowing up of the Hannibal works, a meeting of miners and smelters was held in Joplin to decide whether or not all mining operations should be temporarily shut down until things cooled off. A spokesman for the miners assured those present that no other smelting operations were in danger with the possible exception of the Kansas City smelter. (This was probably a reference to the smelting operation owned by John H. Taylor and other Kansas City area capitalists located in Joplin Creek valley, known as the Kansas City Bottoms.)
A Joplin correspondent to the Fort Scott Daily Monitor observed that some residents of Joplin thought Picher had been oppressing the miners and that their vengeful action was justified. Most people, though, the correspondent continued, felt the action was altogether uncalled for and "a disgrace to our community."
The editor of the Mining News was even more indignant in his condemnation of the destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works. Calling the action a "gross wrong committed upon a fellow man," the local newspaperman pleaded, "Let differences between miners and companies be settled by law, by compromise, or by any other means than the willful destruction of property." Almost ten years after the fact, the author of the 1883 History of Jasper County recalled the blowing up of the smelting works by the miners as an example of communism at work. References: Fort Scott Daily Monitor, Oswego (KS) Independent, History of Jasper County.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lynching of Daniel Reed, Revisited

About three years ago, I wrote on this blog about the lynching of Daniel Reed in Joplin, Missouri, in 1874. I mentioned that it, like a lot of early-day lynchings, happened in relative obscurity, or, at least, not a whole lot was reported about it in newspapers at the time. While that observation remains true, I have managed to come up with a little more information about the incident, including the fact that it took place on Thursday, October 1, a week earlier than I had previously said.
The other facts of the case, as outlined in my prior post, were these: Reed supposedly stole a span of mules in Joplin from a man named John Depriest in September of 1874. Reed was arrested near Nevada and lodged in jail there, awaiting transfer to Jasper County authorities. A posse from Joplin arrived in Nevada on or about Tuesday, September 29, and after some hesitation on the part of Vernon County officials, the prisoner was turned over to the posse. Reed was brought back to Joplin and placed in jail to await a hearing the following Monday, but during the wee hours of Thursday morning, October 1, 1874, he was taken from the jail and hanged by a mob of about thirty disguised men.
Reed had claimed he was innocent because he had won the mules from Depriest in a game of cards. He said he'd be able to prove his case at his examination, but, of course, he never got a chance to present his evidence.
A local newspaper, the Joplin Bulletin, regretted that the wild and wooly town of Joplin had received another blot on its reputation, but the editor tried at the same time to justify the extralegal hanging to some extent by painting Reed as a desperate character and by claiming he confessed to the mule theft right before he was hanged.
The Fort Scott Monitor, on the other hand, opined that the whole affair "looked suspicious, to say the least." The Monitor implied that there were already whisperings of vigilante justice when Reed was handed over to Jasper County officials in Vernon County, that the Jasper County officials knew of these rumors but failed to take any action to prevent the lynching, and that some of the deputies were even in on the lynching. The Monitor said there was at least a fair chance that Reed was innocent as he claimed, and the paper also reported that the hanging was badly handled and that Reed's body ended up being badly bruised and butchered because of the botched execution.
I recently ran across a couple of other newspaper reports that lend credence to the idea that Reed might have been innocent of the stealing charge. A correspondent from Granby wrote to a Lexington, Missouri, newspaper asserting that Reed had, indeed, won the mules and that he had five witnesses ready to testify to the fact. The letter writer said that Reed’s innocence was shown by the fact that he loaded up the wagon to which the supposedly stolen mules were hitched and left Joplin in broad daylight.
I also found a follow-up report in the Monitor that reiterated the belief that Reed was innocent in much stronger terms than the same paper's earlier report. The editor not only flatly declared that Reed was not guilty of stealing the mules, but he gave what he thought to be the real reason the man was lynched. Reed knew too much about the blowing up of the Hannibal Smelting Works in Joplin in July of 1874, a crime in which Depriest and some of his sidekicks were implicated, and they were afraid Reed might talk.
For my next blog entry, I'll try to come up with a fuller account of the blowing up of the Hannibal Smelting Works.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Springfield's First Murder

The very first murder in Springfield, Missouri, was an infamous case involving several of the leading citizens of Greene County. In the fall of 1836, John Roberts appeared before Charles S. Yancey, Presiding Judge of the County Court, on a minor charge. Roberts, who owned a mill and a distillery just east of Springfield near present-day Highway 65, had served as the first coroner of the county, but he had been involved in at least two serious affrays and was considered a rough character. In 1833, he had been charged with assault with intent to kill for stabbing Thomas Horn (later sheriff of Greene County). Although the criminal case was dropped the following year, Horn, with Yancey acting as his attorney, sued Roberts for trespass and assault. Then in 1835, Roberts went to trial on a new charge of assault with intent to kill after slitting the ear of Kindred Rose, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. When Roberts came before Judge Yancey in 1836, county clerk John P. Campbell, who had testified against Roberts in both assault cases, was also present.
Roberts and Campbell started exchanging heated words, and Yancey told them to settle down. Campbell, considered the founder of Springfield, obeyed, but Roberts turned his ire toward the bench, reportedly telling the judge that he would say what he damn well pleased, in Yancey’s court or any other. Yancey fined Roberts twenty dollars for the outburst. Roberts paid the fine but afterwards began making threats against the judge and taunting him whenever he happened to see Yancey in public, especially if Roberts had been drinking, which was not an infrequent occurrence. (Roberts also filed a suit against Yancey, but it is not known whether the suit pertained to the fine Yancey had levied against him.) Yancey bore Roberts’s insults for several months, walking away from confrontations on more than one occasion.
Then one day during the late summer of 1837, Roberts again appeared on the streets of Springfield. Learning that his old nemesis was in town, Yancey told fellow lawyer Littleberry Hendricks that he would not let Roberts intimidate him again. Hendricks advised Yancey to go home in order to avoid another confrontation, and the two men started together toward the judge’s house.
Near the northwest corner of the public square, however, they ran into Roberts, who again began taunting the judge. The two adversaries briefly exchanged words, and then Yancey told Roberts not to follow him any farther and started to walk away. As he turned, however, he noticed Roberts, who was known to carry a big knife, reach his hand beneath his coat. Judge Yancey, thinking Roberts was going for the weapon, pulled out a pistol and shot him. He then pulled out a second pistol and was in the act of firing again when Hendricks knocked the weapon upward, sending the ball into the air. According to an account of this incident that appeared in the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot years later, Roberts shouted, “Don’t shoot, I am a dead man now,” as he collapsed and died.
In 1838, Yancey went on trial, charged with manslaughter in Roberts’s death. Although Roberts had apparently been reaching not for a knife at the time he was killed but rather for a glasses case that he had been in the habit of snapping at the judge, Yancey was found not guilty.
Having been accused of and tried for murder apparently did little to diminish Yancey’s good name. He was later appointed a judge of the Greene County Circuit Court.
Note: This blog entry is taken from a chapter in my book Wicked Springfield.

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