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 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, June 19, 2016

The Sextraordinary Sally Rand

I've briefly mentioned Sally Rand on this blog previously (several years ago), but below is a more extensive telling of her story, condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Wicked Women of Missouri. Not that Sally was actually wicked--just a little naughty, you might say.
Burlesque dancer Sally Rand was born Helen Gould Beck in 1904 in Elkton, Hickory County, Missouri. When Sally was a toddler, the family moved to Kansas City, where she got her first job in show business at age thirteen as a chorus girl. She later joined a juvenile vaudeville troupe and studied dance, voice, and drama.
Sally enrolled in Christian College in Columbia but dropped out in 1922 and went to Hollywood, where she found work as a Mack Sennett “bathing beauty.” Using the stage name Billie Bett, she progressed to more serious roles, and Cecil B. DeMille signed her to his stock company. DeMille suggested she change her name to Sally Rand, supposedly picking the name after glancing at a Rand-McNally map.
She went on to have starring roles in several silent films, but her prominent lisp prevented her from transitioning to talkies in the late 1920s. With the coming of the Depression, Sally found herself facing hard times. In 1932, she arrived in Chicago as part of a traveling burlesque show, but she gave up vaudeville later the same year to appear in legitimate theater. The play was a critical success but a financial failure.
After its closure, Sally took a job at a Chicago speakeasy, the Paramount Club, despite her initial uneasiness. It was here that she first started doing the fan dance, which would soon make her a household name.
She found two large pink ostrich feathers at a costume shop and choreographed her dance to the strains of classical music. Moving rhythmically to the music, she danced nude, or nearly so, behind the feathers she manipulated in front of her, occasionally showing audiences a bare leg or a glimpse of derriere.
Although biographies of Sally Rand routinely assert that she “danced nude,” she was actually covered by white body powder or a sheer body suit during most of her performances. Sally’s act was all about illusion, and its success lay in her ability to make audiences think they had seen something, even if they hadn’t. “The Rand is quicker than the eye,” Sally told reporters.
When the World’s Fair came to Chicago in the spring of 1933, Sally tried to get a job dancing at the fair’s “Streets of Paris” concession but was turned down. The next night, she galloped through the streets of Chicago wearing nothing but a very long blonde wig and tried to crash one of the fair’s inaugural balls. She was not admitted, but her Lady Godiva act caused a sensation and got her hired as the lead performer in the “Streets of Paris” sideshow. Although Sally’s act was tame by modern standards, she soon found herself in court answering charges of lewdness. The publicity surrounding her arrest only heightened the interest in her act, and when she was released, spectators flocked to see her fan dance by the thousands. “Sally Rand dancing nude on the Streets of Paris has been jamming the place nightly,” said one contemporaneous report.
By the end of the summer Sally had rocketed to international fame, and when the World’s Fair reopened in 1934, Sally’s bubble dance was almost as big a hit as her fan dance had been the previous year. After the fair closed, she was sought as an exotic dancer all across the country. However, she didn’t like the term “exotic,” because she considered her dancing artistic. “Exotic means strange and foreign,” she reportedly told a reporter. “I’m not strange, I like boys; and I’m not foreign, I was born in Hickory County, Missouri.”
Despite some success in serious roles over the next several years, Sally kept going back to her hide-and-peek dances, and she continued appearing at expositions throughout the forties and fifties. In 1941, she came back to Missouri to appear at the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield. Her appearance helped attract a record attendance and was credited with saving the financially struggling fair.
In 1951, Sally came back to her home state again, this time for the Missouri State Fair at Sedalia. Sally was a hit, and the fair’s gate receipts surged.
Standing only five feet tall, the petite Miss Rand maintained her girlish figure and was still strutting her stuff into the 1960s and 1970s. On April 7, 1972, sixty-eight-year-old Sally stepped off an airplane in Kansas City dressed in spike heel sandals and a miniskirt in advance of her scheduled performance at Union Station, where she wowed audiences the next night with her fan dance.
Even becoming a grandmother in 1974 didn’t slow Sally down. “What in heaven’s name is so strange about a grandmother dancing nude?” she asked.
Sally Rand died on August 31, 1979, at the age of 75, in Glendora, California.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Kinderpost

Last time I wrote about the Back to the Soil movement that occurred about 1909-1910 in the United States. As a product of that movement, the National Farm Homes Association was organized in St. Louis in May 1910, with Missouri governor Herbert Hadley as its president. The goal was to establish farm colonies, particularly in Missouri and other Midwest states, populated by families who would relocate from the cities and support themselves in communities under the supervision of an expert agriculturalist who would live on a central farm surrounded by the smaller family farms.
One of the first colonies was established at Kinderpost in northern Texas County, Missouri. Kinderpost itself was a post office/general store established about 1902 or 1903 by Texas County resident Columbus Bradford, a Methodist minister. Bradford's original vision for Kinderpost was that it would be a place where orphans and other needy children could live surrounded by nature and away from the corrupting influence of the cities. To that end, he started Ozark Kinderfarm, and in 1904 he published a pamphlet entitled The Kinderfarm Journal outlining his objectives for the place. The experiment lasted only a few years, and Kinderfarm had ceased to exist by about 1908.
In 1910, however, Bradford embraced the "back to the farm" movement, and Kinderpost was selected about the first of August as the site of the second colony of the National Farm Homes Association. (I'm not sure where the first was.) A newspaper report later in the month described the progress of the project. The Kinderpost colony contained about 2,000 acres with Bradford, who was described as "an expert farmer," living on a central farm of about 160 acres surrounded by forty small, family farms of about forty acres each. At the time of the mid-August report, five families had thus far been put on the land, "and the association is ready to receive applications for the other thirty-five homes."
Plans called for the forty-acre homesteads to be cleared to the extent each settler desired, and all buildings, cisterns, wells, fencing, and other improvements were to be constructed at cost (with no profit to Bradford or the association) and added to the price of the land. The base price for uncleared land was $10 an acre. Ten percent of the total cost was required as a down payment, and purchasers would have up to ten years to pay off the rest of the purchase price with no payment due the second year. In other words, the second payment would not be required until two years after the down payment.
The newspaper account further reported, "A limited number of colonists, who may need to do so, can find employment from Bradford in the work of improving the colony, at reasonable wages, and may thus use their wages to help pay for their lands. The colony is already equipped with a sawmill, planing mill, corn mill, sheller and crusher, store and postoffice.
An Immigration Board of the homes association had previously examined the property and found it to be "upland of a good grade, reasonably rolling, but not too bad to wash in heavy rains." The location was "almost exactly in the center of the Ozark region" with "natural and perfect drainage, pure water and ozone-laden atmosphere." Although the report lamented the fact that no railroad ran nearer to the colony than twenty miles, it noted that a new railroad from Rolla to Licking was currently under construction that would run much nearer to the colony.
Alas, the promised railroad was never completed, which has been cited as part of the reason why the National Farm Homes Association colony, like the Kinderfarm that preceded it, was short-lived. Other reasons for the colony's failure included a lack of agricultural experience on the part of many of the settlers and a curtailment in state aid and private donations for the project.
Bradford ran unsuccessfully for U.S. congressman on the Progressive Party ticket in 1914. He died in 1949 and is buried at Licking. Kinderpost is still listed on many maps today, but it is little more than a wide place in the road.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Back to the Farm

As someone who came of age during the hippie era of the 1960s and 1970s, I am well aware of the Back to the Land movement of the 1970s. It was led mostly by young people, often hippies or erstwhile hippies, who valued self sufficiency and wanted to commune with nature.
At the time, I thought it was unusual, if not unprecedented, but I have since learned that the Back to the Land movement of my generation was not the only such movement this country has experienced. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, a Back to the Farm movement, or Back to the Soil movement as it was sometimes called, gained traction in this country, and Missouri's own Governor Hadley was one of its leaders.
The Back to the Farm movement was more organized than the spontaneous, hippie-inspired Back to the Land movement that came later, as the fact that prominent politicians like Hadley were among its leaders would attest. Hadley and other leaders of the Back to the Farm movement had watched as millions of Americans left their farms for work in the cities during the Industrial Revolution, and they feared that, as fewer and fewer people were being called upon to feed the rest of the country, food shortages and hunger would result. They also felt that getting people, particularly young people, out of the urbans areas and back to the farm would spare them the corrupting influence of the cities. In this respect, they were similar to the Back to the Land crowd of the 1970s, but they targeted whole families, not just youth.
Meeting in St. Louis in May 1910, leaders of the Back to the Farm movement formed the National Farm Homes Association, with Hadley as the group's president. They began acquiring cheap land with the idea of establishing farm colonies, primarily in the Midwest, under the supervision of an expert agriculturist. The colonies would consist of 32 families living on forty acres each surrounding a 160-acre central farm where the supervising farmer lived and taught agricultural techniques.
In my next post, I'll write about one of the first colonies formed by the National Farm Homes Association, in south central Missouri, just a few months after the May meeting in St. Louis.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Another Lynching Debunked

In recent months I've written about two supposed incidents of violence in the Ozarks that have often been cited on the Internet and elsewhere as lynchings of black people. When I looked at these incidents more closely, however, I found that one of them did not occur at all and that citations about the other one usually contain erroneous and misleading details.
The whipping of Paralee Collins in Howell County, Missouri, in June of 1914 is one such incident. In fact, Collins was not black, and she was not lynched in the popular sense of the word. Originally, the word "lynch" meant simply to administer any extralegal punishment, especially by flogging. Its meaning likely derived from William Lynch, leader of a vigilante movement in early Virginia. In this broad sense, Collins was indeed lynched, but in modern times the word "lynch" has taken on a narrower sense, meaning vigilante execution by hanging. Most people nowadays understand the word "lynch" in this narrower sense; so it is misleading simply to say that Paralee Collins was lynched without giving all the facts, as most citations about her on the Internet do. In fact, some of them specifically say that she was hanged, and, of course, she was not.
The other supposed lynching of a black person in the Ozarks that I've debunked recently is that of Andy Clark in January 1903 in Wayne County, Missouri. Clark was black. At least the people who persist in listing Clark as a victim of vigilante hanging have gotten that part right. However, he was not hanged and was not even administered any sort of vigilante punishment, because he was never captured after he committed the deed that supposedly resulted in his lynching.
Now comes a third dubious victim of lynching in southern Missouri: Nelson Simpson, who was supposedly lynched near Neelyville in Butler County, Missouri. On the night of January 1, 1901, a masked band of whitecaps visited a black neighborhood near Neelyville, shooting out windows and doors of the residents as a warning for them to leave the area. (The White Caps were originally a vigilante group that started in Indiana during the 1870s to enforce morality and community standards. For instance, men who neglected their families or women who had children out of wedlock were prime targets. However, as the movement spread to the Southern states during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the word "whitecaps" became more generic and the vigilante mobs mainly targeted black people.)
The mob that visited the black community in Neelyville summoned Simpson to his door, and when he appeared, "It was the signal for the discharge of a dozen or more firearms," according to a report in a St. Louis newspaper. "The bullets fairly rained into the house." Simpson fell badly wounded, and his ten-year-old daughter also received a serious wound. (Other newspapers reported that Simpson was mortally wounded.) The outlaws kept shooting "until every window in the house was riddled and the structure was perforated with bullets in a hundred places." Before the whitecaps left, the leader of the gang told the family that they must leave the territory within twenty days or they would receive a second visit, their house would be burned, and the residents punished.
Other houses in the neighborhood were also visited, and similar outrages perpetuated. Several black men were threatened with lynching if they did not leave within twenty days.
So, Nelson Simpson was, in fact, a victim of lynching in the original sense of the word, but, like Paralee Collins, he was not hanged. He also was not mortally wounded, as several newspapers reported in the immediate wake of the incident. He was still alive at the time of the 1910 census, almost ten years later. He also did not scare easily, because he was still living in the Neelyville area in 1910.
My intention in debunking these supposed lynchings of black people in the Ozarks is not to try to dismiss or diminish the tragic violence that blacks in the Ozarks experienced during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although mob violence against blacks was not as prevalent in the Ozarks as it was in the South (at least partly, no doubt, because there weren't as many black residents as a percentage of the population), there were still plenty of blacks who were lynched (i.e. hanged illegally) in the Ozarks. Enough that we don't need to invent more.
I might add as well that Richard Mays (aka Mayes) is often cited as a black man who was lynched in Springfield, Missouri, in 1893. He was, in fact, lynched near Springville, Alabama.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Sooner Lynched By Boomers

There were several land runs during the late 1800s when Oklahoma was being opened up to white settlement, but the biggest was the one that occurred when the Cherokee Outlet, a six million acre strip of land along Kansas's southern border, was opened up in September 1893. Prospective landowners poured into so-called "boomer" camps to await the official opening of the Indian land. The word "boomer" referred to those who had been lobbying since 1879 for the opening of the Indian lands, but it took on a double meaning in the context of the land runs because those who gathered in the camps just outside the Indian land were awaiting the "boom" of the cannon as the official signal that the rush was on. Spurred by high land prices elsewhere and the financial panic of 1893, people poured into the camps by the thousands. People who wanted to participate in the land run had to acquire certificates authorizing them to do so, and the government posted guards along the border to try to keep unauthorized settlers out. Still, many "sooners," as they were called, sneaked in ahead of time. Tensions ran high in such an atmosphere, and incidents of violence were almost inevitable.
One such incident was the lynching of a sooner named Asa Youmans (or Yeamans). Youmans was an ex-sailor who'd formerly lived at Carthage, Missouri. He was one of several Missourians organized and paid by a syndicate of real estate men to acquire land in the Cherokee Outlet, and they sneaked onto the land south of Arkansas City, Kansas, prior to September 16, the official opening day. When the cannon boomed at noon on the 16th, the land run was officially on, and men thronged across the border in search free land on which to stake their claims.
When the first group of boomers from the Arkansas City camp reached the vicinity of present-day Blackwell, Oklahoma, they found about fifty sooners holding down claims with rifles as their only authority. One man, Asa Youmans, was holding down two claims, saying his partner had gone out in search of water. The first boomers went on without attempting to dislodge Youmans but reported what they'd witnessed to some of their fellow boomers. Two of the newcomers defiantly planted their flags on the land Youmans was claiming and resolved to stand by them. Youmans raised his rifle and ordered the two men off his claim. One of them asked to see his certificate, and Youmans admitted he had none and did not propose to get one. "I am a sooner," he reportedly proclaimed, "and I would like to know what in the hell you propose to do about it."
Facing the threat of a gun, the two men, like their predecessors, departed without further resistance, but they rounded up about two dozen of their friends and returned. Now greatly outnumbered, Youmans still showed fight and claimed, perhaps in the spirit of bravado, that he had already killed two settlers and could get away with killing more. The boomers promptly dispensed with anymore of Youman's braggadocio by placing a rope around his neck and stringing him up to a nearby tree, where they left him hanging as a warning to other sooners.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Deadly Day in Ladore

On Tuesday, May 10, 1870, seven men, identified initially as either "Texans or straggling outlaws from the Indian Territory," rode into the town of Ladore, Kansas, looking to raise hell. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad had announced its intention to make Ladore, located about six miles north of present-day Parsons along the Neosho Division of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, a junction point of the M. K. & T.; and the place pulsed with rowdy activity in anticipation of the expected boon. L.A. Bowes, foreman for the contractor that was building the M. K. & T, recalled 30 years later that Ladore was "the toughest place I ever struck. Whisky was sold in nearly every house in the town. Vice and immorality flourished like a green bay tree." But even the citizens of a raucous town like Ladore drew a line, and when the seven rowdy strangers got liquored up and crossed it, only one of them rode out alive.
The seven "hard-looking characters" hit town about noon, according to Bowes, and "commenced to fill up on tangleleg. About dusk they began operations by knocking men down and robbing them. As they were heavily armed, they soon had full possession of the town and had everything their own way."
That evening about seven o'clock, the seven hombres went to a boarding house kept by James N. Roach about a quarter mile south of town near the railroad and asked to stay the night. They were refused because of their drunken condition, but they didn't take well to the rejection. Two of the desperadoes guarded a stairs leading to the second floor, where about 25 construction workers were boarding, while the other five took possession of the lower part of the building. One of them struck Roach with a revolver, knocking him to the floor unconscious and apparently lifeless. According to a contemporaneous account published in a Fort Scott newspaper, the men then "proceeded to a bed occupied by two daughters of Mr. Roach, aged...twelve and fourteen years" and dragged them outside, where they "ravished them during the entire night, using a knife to complete the accomplishment of their hellish purpose." During the night, a quarrel erupted among the desperadoes over one of the girls, and the leader of the gang shot and killed one of his own men. Mr. Roach revived during the middle of the night and could hear the heartrending pleas of his daughters but was afraid to stir, knowing the men would kill him.
Near daybreak the outlaws left, taking the younger girl with them. An alarm was sounded throughout town, and search parties, consisting of citizens and construction workers, went out looking for the villains. The one who had the girl was quickly overtaken and hung to a large limb of a hackberry tree not far from the Roach home. Two others were located still in town, having fallen into a drunken sleep in one of the saloons, and they joined their comrade on the makeshift gallows. The other three were caught on the road to Osage Mission (now St. Paul) and brought back. Two of them were hanged beside their pals, while the third man was spared because, according to Bowes, the girls said he did not participate in "the deviltry indulged in by the others." By eleven a.m., five men were hanging lifeless side by side from the hackberry limb.
Bowes recalled that all five of the outlaws were rounded up and held briefly in a log barber shop with several men standing guard over them before any action was taken against them, although this was not reported in the Fort Scott newspaper. Bowes said the men were then taken out one by one for the girls to identify before they were strung up.
The five men were left hanging until about three o'clock Wednesday afternoon, when the bodies were finally let down. They were laid out in a row while a large grave was dug, and all five bodies were buried together. According to the Fort Scott newspaper, the universal feeling in the region was that "the summary manner of inflicting justice was entirely justified by the circumstances" in the Ladore case.
According to Bowes, "Ladore became a good, moral town" after the mass hanging. "The 'Wild Bills,' 'Texas Jacks,' 'Buckskin Joes' and 'Alkali Ikes' left for more congenial climes," and the town settled into a quiet, peaceful village." Actually Ladore only lasted a couple of more years after this incident. The M. K. & T Railroad ended up bypassing Ladore when it could not reach agreement with area settlers on a price for their land, and Parsons flourished instead as the junction point of the railroad.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Irene McCann: Good Girl or Bad Woman?

Irene Scott, according to her mother, was a “good girl” growing up in Alabama in the 1920s and even taught a Sunday school class, but shortly after she turned eighteen she just decided to “pick up and run off.” After sending a few letters home, Irene quit writing, and her mother, Velma Richardson, began to worry she might be dead. She wasn’t, but Velma was right to be worried.
Irene traveled back and forth across the country from Dallas to Chicago to New Orleans working as a waitress and dancer in various restaurants and clubs. In the fall of 1930, while working as a waitress at a restaurant and boardinghouse in Springfield, Missouri, she met a seventeen-year-old Joplin boy named Albert McCann. They were married just a few weeks later, and Albert, supposedly a perfect gentleman during their courtship, began to curse and beat her during drunken rages. She stayed with him out of fear, she later claimed.
In late November of 1930, Albert, Irene, and another couple drove from Joplin to Kansas City, where Albert and the other young man killed a drugstore owner during a robbery attempt, while Irene and the other woman waited in the car. After the crime, the foursome fled back to Jasper County.
In mid-December, Irene agreed to help Albert try to break a friend of his out of the Jasper County jail at Carthage. During the attempt, McCann shot and killed jailer E.O. Bray when he put up a struggle. After the shooting, Irene and her villainous husband ran from the jail yard through a gate, where she stumbled and broke a heel off one of her shoes.
The couple fled to Oklahoma and stopped at Chelsea to buy bandages for a wound Albert had sustained in his gun battle with Bray. Irene went into a drugstore to make the purchase, and the town marshal, who happened to be present, noticed the missing heel on her shoe. The next day he read a news story about the killing of Bray, and it mentioned the woman accomplice having lost a heel from her shoe. The marshal sent for photos of the suspects to confirm they were the same couple he’d seen at the drugstore. When they showed back up in Chelsea a couple of weeks later, he arrested them without incident, and they were taken back to Missouri to face first-degree murder charges.
Tried in April 1931, Albert McCann was convicted and sentenced to hang in July, but the verdict was appealed and the sentence postponed. Irene testified in her own defense at her trial in May, claiming she’d only gone along with Albert out of fear, and she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years in the state prison.
Transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, Irene escaped from a hospital at the prison farm on November 10, 1931. She left behind a note explaining that she escaped because she wanted to try to get evidence to help her husband. Irene, whom one of the prison matrons called “a bad woman,” was recaptured the next day. Granted a retrial in Springfield, Albert was again convicted of murder in May of 1932, but this time he received a sentence of fifty years in prison instead of the death penalty.
In December of 1932, Irene made another dash for freedom. She and another inmate, Edna Murray, known as “the kissing bandit,” sawed their way out of a building at the prison farm that was reserved for unruly female prisoners.
After more than a year on the lam, Irene turned herself in at Chicago in January of 1934, saying that she was tired of running and wanted to go back to prison and finish her term. She was taken back to Jefferson City but stayed only about two years. Suffering from serious illness, she was paroled in January of 1936 and died shortly afterwards.

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