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.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cave Spring, Greene County, Missouri

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

An Old-Time Small Town Street Fair

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Murder of Sheriff Turley

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Roy Daugherty and the Fairview Bank Robbery

My book Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a chapter on Roy "Arkansas Tom" Daugherty, and I've briefly summarized his "career" on this blog before. He was one of the few outlaws whose criminal career spanned both the Old West era and the gangster era. After spending a considerable time in prison during the late 1890s and early 1900s, Daugherty returned to the southwest Missouri area upon his release and soon resumed his criminal career, graduating from fast horses to even faster automobiles.
Today, let's take a look at one of Daugherty's specific capers in the southwest Missouri area: the robbery of the First National Bank of Fairview. He and his cousin Albert Johsnon, a former Barry County deputy sheriff, had held up the Farmers and Miners Bank of Oronogo, north of Webb City, on December 13, 1916, and then a month later, they teamed up with Jesse Cutler and William Massee, setting their sights on pulling off a job in Fairview, fifteen miles east of Neosho.
About 3:00 p.m., January 15, 1917, the gang pulled up to the side of the Fairview bank in a “new, seven-passenger Buick touring car.” Massee stayed behind the wheel with the engine running, while the other three men hopped out, donned masks, and entered the bank. Whipping out their revolvers, the gang members forced the cashier to open the vault and then herded the cashier, his wife, and a bookkeeper inside. The robbers made the hostages face the wall with their hands above their heads while the bandits gathered up all the cash in sight, about $2,500 total. The gunmen then closed the door on the hostages, took off their masks, and walked nonchalantly out of the bank to the waiting getaway car, which took off to the north at “a high rate of speed.”
Unbeknown to the crooks, the cashier’s wife had held the vault combination to keep it from locking when the door closed, and the hostages emerged from the vault to give an alarm as soon as the gang was gone. A posse quickly formed and gave chase, north through Wentworth and toward Reeds, but the lawmen had tire trouble and lost all trace of the robbers, forcing them to call off the pursuit.
In mid-February, Johnson, Cutler, and Massee were arrested in Joplin after a fifth gang member, who’d been ill at the time of the robbery and unable to participate, grew angry and turned them in because they refused to share the booty with him. Johnson and Cutler then implicated Daugherty as the leader of the gang, but Arkansas Tom was nowhere to be found at the time.
A day or two later, Daugherty was located in Galena, Kansas, and arrested there by two Joplin detectives. He freely admitted participating in the Oronogo and Fairview heists but steadfastly clung to the thieves’ code of honor and refused to say what role, if any, the other captives had played in the robberies, despite the fact that they’d implicated him.
In late February, Daugherty drew eight years in the state penitentiary for his role in the Fairview robbery, while his sidekicks got off with lesser sentences. Given an early release in late 1921, Arkansas Tom soon went back to the bank robbing business by holding up the Bank of Asbury. He was killed in a shootout with Joplin police in 1924 while still on the lam from the Asbury caper. He is buried in Joplin’s Fairview Cemetery.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Murder of the Stephens Family and the Hanging of John Duncan

On December 13, 1820, twenty-year-old John Duncan called at the John B. Stephens home east of Fredericktown, Missouri, representing himself as a land buyer. When the two men started to go look at the land, Stephens suggested Duncan leave his gun in the house, but Duncan said, “No, we might see something to shoot.” What Stephens didn’t know was that Duncan already had a target in mind, because he hadn’t come to look at Stephens’s land.
He’d come to kill him.
All the way from Sumner County, Tennessee.
At the first term of the Madison County Circuit Court in July 1819, an indictment for larceny had been brought against Stephens for allegedly stealing money from his neighbor David Caruthers. There was insufficient evidence to convict, but bad blood lingered between Caruthers and Stephens. Caruthers began plotting with his friend Samuel Anthony to retrieve the money he felt sure Stephens had stolen from him, and Anthony summoned Duncan from Tennessee.
Arriving in September 1820, Duncan boarded at first with Anthony, who detailed the various ways he and others had tried to get Stephens to confess to stealing Caruthers’s money. Duncan suggested digging a grave and threatening to bury Stephens alive.
A few days later, Duncan went to stay with Caruthers. When Duncan mentioned his plan for extracting a confession from Stephens, Caruthers made no reply. Duncan then offered flatly to “put him out of the way” if Caruthers would give him “something handsome.”
According to Duncan’s later confession, Caruthers replied that he dared not, by himself, hire Duncan or anyone else to murder Stephens but he was sure that the “regulators” in the area would be able come up with “a handsome sum” for any man who would kill Stephens. Stephens was so generally disliked, Caruthers said, that he doubted whether Stephens’s own brother would try to track down such a person.
Over the next few weeks, Caruthers and Anthony kept insisting on him “taking Stephens out,” and by mid-December, Duncan had let himself be persuaded.
Now, having arrived at Stephens’s place, Duncan lured Stephens from the house under the guise of inspecting his land. Stephens’s little boy and two dogs trailed behind. They had gone but a short distance when the dogs chased a rabbit into a hollow tree.
Stephens stopped up the hole in the tree and sent his son to fetch an ax. After the boy left, Duncan and Stephens again started off together, and after a short distance, Duncan raised his gun and shot Stephens in the back. Stephens cried out and fell to the ground. Duncan stepped up and told Stephens with an oath that he’d come 300 miles to kill him, and he then struck him with the barrel of his gun. Putting his own gun aside, he picked up Stephens’s gun and struck the fallen man several more times. Finally Duncan took out a knife and cut his victim’s throat.
After killing Stephens, Duncan went to a creek and washed up. Realizing the man’s wife and kids still stood in the way of his getting the large sum of money that Caruthers had led him to believe Stephens had, Duncan determined to kill the rest of the family.
Starting toward the house, he met the boy returning with the ax. Duncan took the ax, struck the lad in the head with it, and followed up with several more blows.
The murderer then went to the house and told Mrs. Stephens her husband needed her. She immediately started away with Duncan, followed by her youngest child, a little boy, leaving her two daughters behind. The three had gone some distance from the house when Duncan knocked the woman down with his gun and sliced her throat.
He then caught the little boy and cut his throat, too.
After washing his hands again, Duncan started to the house to kill the Stephens girls. When he got to the house, he instead told the youngest girl that her father had sent him to fetch all his money. Duncan and the girl searched through a chest and found $68, which he carried off as his “dear-earned booty” for killing four people.
Word of the murders spread, and Duncan was soon captured and lodged in the Madison County jail at Fredericktown. He was tried for murder in early 1821, found guilty, and sentenced to hang on April 5. On April 4, he gave a written statement, making official an earlier confession he’d given.
On April 5, several hundred people poured into Fredericktown to witness the hanging. Based on Duncan’s confession, Anthony and Caruthers had been indicted as accomplices to the Stephens murders, but on the scaffold, the condemned man took full blame for the decision to commit the murders.
Note: The story above is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Robbery of the Bank of Exeter

About 4:00 o'clock Thursday afternoon, December 22, 1922, two masked men pulled to a halt in an automobile outside the Bank of Exeter in Barry County, Missouri, in an automobile. They left the engine running as they got out and walked into the bank flourishing pistols. The only people in the bank were cashier J.C. Elston, assistant cashier Clara Williams, and customer J.D. Kersey. One bandit stood guard over the three, while the other man looted the vault, raking all the currency and coins he could find into a large sack.
After the cash, estimated to total between $4,000 and $5,000, was gathered, the robbers forced the hostages into the vault and locked the door. They then made their getaway, fleeing in the waiting car, and headed east out of town on the Cassville road.
Within minutes after the robbery, Elston was able to open the vault by manipulating the inside combination. The alarm was given, and posses were soon in pursuit of the bandits. A mile or two east of Exeter at a sharp curve known as the Stony Point corner, the bandit car was found wrecked and abandoned, and deputies and volunteers began scouring the hills around the vehicle in search of the robbers.
One of the people in the bank tentatively identified one of the bandits as a 29-year-old Barry County resident named Bob Amos, and Amos was taken into custody while eating supper at a café near Cassville later the same night.
Burl Reed, a former a Barry County deputy sheriff and superintendent of the county farm, was arrested on December 24 on suspicion, because a pair of trousers bearing his name had been found near the abandoned getaway car, along with several other items that were apparently discarded by the robbers. The money taken in the robbery, though, was nowhere to be found.
Cassville garage owner Jack Clayton was also arrested on suspicion on the 24th because he was identified as the owner of the bandit car.
A fourth suspect, Ben Johnson, who was a prominent Barry County cattleman, was arrested on the 27th, charged with complicity in the crime, because he was allegedly heard to say that he knew where the missing money was.
Reed, Clayton, and Johnson were almost immediately released on $10,000 bond each. Amos was unable to raise the necessary money at first, but he, too, was later released on a bond of like amount.
Both Johnson and Clayton were released for lack of evidence when their preliminary hearings came up in January. Amos and Reed were indicted for bank robbery. They were scheduled for trial at the March term of Barry County Circuit Court but remained free on bond until then.
The trials of both men were continued until late April. Amos was found guilty on the 19th and sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary. Reed was found guilty on the 23rd and sentenced to 20 years in the state pen. Amos was received at the Jefferson City facility on April 25, 1922 and discharged on October 19, 1929, having served about half of his term. Reed was received on July 11, 1922 and discharged on November 16, 1932. He, too, served only about half of his original sentence, both men having been released early on account of merit time.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Professional Butcher Slaughters His Own Family

After John L. Soper was shot and killed on his farm near Kearney, Missouri, in March of 1880, a “terrible suspicion” prevailed that he’d been murdered by his own son, Bates Soper. But there was not enough evidence against the twenty-five-year-old Soper to arrest him for killing his father.
Bates couldn’t stay out of trouble, though. About the same time as his father’s death, Soper stole a horse and was arrested shortly afterward. Convicted of grand larceny in early 1881, he was sentenced to two years in the Missouri State Penitentiary but was released early, in September 1883.
After his discharge, Soper wasted little time before launching into a romance with twenty-five-year-old Delia Hunt, and they were married in January 1883. The couple lived with Soper’s mother in Clay County for six years, then moved to Arkansas for a year and a half. In 1890, the family, now consisting of two small children in addition to the father and mother, came to Archie, Missouri, where Soper went into business as a butcher.
After nobody saw the Soper family for several days in the spring of 1891, the Archie city marshal was summoned to check their house late Friday afternoon, April 24. He discovered a horrifying spectacle inside.
In one room lay the body of the Sopers’ daughter, six-year-old Maude, with her skull broken and her brains spattered upon the floor. In the next room, Delia Soper lay sprawled on the floor with her face “pounded to a jelly and her skull pounded to a shapeless mass.” By the mother’s side lay the little Soper boy, three-year-old Gillis, with his head split open.
In a corner stood a blood-stained ax with clumps of hair matted to the dry blood. Two notes were found in the house in the handwriting of Bates Soper. In the notes, he virtually admitted the grisly murders, saying his family was better off dead than suffering through a miserable life as he had. He said he was going to Clay County to kill the devil who had caused all his problems and was then going to kill himself.
Investigators learned that Soper had, indeed, bought a train ticket in Archie bound for Kansas City early Wednesday morning, shortly after the presumed time of the murders. But there was no trace of him in neighboring Clay County. Instead of continuing to his home territory to kill “the devil,” Soper had simply disappeared.
He was finally tracked down in April 1897 in Oregon and brought back to Harrisonville to stand trial in Cass County for the murder of his family six years earlier. After Soper was already back in Missouri, further investigation by Oregon authorities revealed that Soper had remarried in their state under an assumed name and that just weeks before his arrest and extradition, he’d abandoned his second wife, taking their two-year-old son, and then killed the son.
At Soper’s trial in late 1897 for the murder of Delia and her children, Soper freely admitted the crime but pled insanity, saying he was a born murderer with no control over his actions. He blamed all his trouble on the unfair treatment he’d supposedly received since his release from the Missouri State Penitentiary, and he said he felt he was being merciful by killing his family, because he didn’t want them to suffer as he had.
On December 4, the jury found Soper guilty of first-degree murder. Ten days later, he was sentenced to hang on February 4, 1898, but an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court postponed the execution until March 30, 1899.
Sometime before Soper’s execution date, he confessed that he had, indeed, killed his father nineteen years earlier. On March 28, Soper wrote a letter from his jail cell addressed “To the public.” Much of it echoed the sniveling tone of his earlier confession, with Soper still seeking to place the blame for his atrocities anywhere but on himself.
Soper was hanged from a scaffold on the courthouse lawn in Harrisonville on the early morning of March 30. Afterward, the body was cut down and placed in a coffin, and the remains were then sent on a train to Clay County for burial.
Note: The story above is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

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