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, September 17, 2017

Fair Grove Street Fair

Next weekend, September 23-24, 2017, will mark the 40th annual Fair Grove (Mo.) Heritage Reunion. It had rather humble beginnings back in the late 1970s, but it has since grown into one of the largest fall festivals or arts and crafts fairs in the Ozarks. Actually, though, Fair Grove's tradition of hosting a successful fall festival began long before the 1970s, because at least as early as 1908 up through the mid-1920s, Fair Grove had a three-day street fair.
Like the current Fair Grove Heritage Reunion, the Fair Grove Street Fair was always held near the end of September (although the dates for the street fair sometimes fell in early October, whereas the current event is always the last full weekend in September). In 1908, the street fair ran from Thursday, October 1 to Saturday, October 3. On Friday the 2nd, an estimated three to four thousand people attended the fair, and more were expected for the wrap-up of the event on Saturday. One of the main draws of the fair was the awarding of prizes for contests in various categories. Many of the contests involved picking winners from agricultural or horticultural displays, such as "Best Jersey Milk Cow," but there were also some contests that required speed and skill on the part of the entrants, such as a prize for the couple who could hitch a horse to a buggy in the shortest time. In 1908, Mr. and Mrs. N. V. Murphy won that coveted prize.
With 1908 being an election year, a number of Greene County politicians used the occasion of the Fair Grove Street Fair as an opportunity to campaign. That's a phenomenon, of course, that one still sees nowadays during election years, at the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion and similar events. Actually, I think the Fair Grove folks discourage political campaigning as much as possible by not allowing political booths at the Heritage Reunion, but you can't keep candidates from mingling with the people and handing out their literature.
Organizers of the 1915 Fair Grove Street Fair expected it to be the "greatest street fair ever held in Greene County," according to the Springfield Republican. The event featured over $600 worth of prizes in a whole slew of very specific categories, such as best dressed doll by a girl under twelve years old, best homemade sorghum, best chocolate cake, and prettiest sofa pillow.
The contests at the Fair Grove street fairs were very popular, but they weren't the only draw. There were also games of fun and musical entertainment that did not necessarily have contests or prizes associated with them. For instance, on the final night of the 1924 Fair Grove Street Fair, "A large throng of people" were in attendance, and "music and merrymaking" filled the air until midnight.
Sometime around the late 1920s, the Fair Grove Street Fair was apparently discontinued, probably because of the Depression, and the tradition of holding a fall festival in the town was not revived until fifty years later.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ruth and Sarah Bond: Bushwhacker Belles of Miller County?

On or about April 1, 1864, Miller County sisters Ruth and Sarah Bond were arrested by Federal authorities and taken to Jefferson City on charges of feeding and harboring bushwhackers, and several of their neighbors swore out affidavits against them. Twenty-two-year-old Ruth and eighteen-year-old Sarah said they were completely innocent, claiming not even to know why they were arrested. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle, as is often the case when disparate stories collide, but the Bond girls and their case made it all the way to St. Louis before they found someone to take their side in the argument.
After the Bond sisters were transported to Jefferson City, Lieutenant James M. Gavin, provost marshal of the Jefferson City sub-district, began gathering evidence against them. On the 11th, fifty-four-year-old Henry Jenkins, a close neighbor of the Bonds in northeast Miller County, testified that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do it again “in spite of hell.”
Hannah Jenkins, Henry’s daughter-in-law, was also deposed on the 11th. She said the Bonds always claimed to be in favor of the South but that she did not know of any disloyal acts on their part.
On April 22, Madison Carrendon was interviewed. Echoing Henry Jenkins, Carrendon said only that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do so again and that they had the reputation of being Southern-sympathizers.
On the evidence of these three statements, Lieutenant Gavin forwarded the paperwork in the case of Ruth and Sarah Bond to Warrensburg, headquarters of the District of Central Missouri, on April 23, although the women themselves remained imprisoned at Jefferson City. The following day, Colonel T.A. Switzler, the district provost marshal, in turn forwarded the file to General Egbert B. Brown, commanding general of the district, with the following notation: “…These women are loose characters and were arrested last summer upon the same charges. Evidence could not be obtained sufficient to convict them. The neighborhood in which they live has been infested with Bushwhackers whenever there was any in the country. The interests of the country would be promoted by sending them away.” On April 28, General Brown sent the file to department headquarters at St. Louis with a recommendation that the Bond girls be banished from his district.
Upon examining the scant file, Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal of the department, immediately sent the papers back to Colonel Switzler with a request that he gather more testimony and then return the file to him, along with the defendants in the case. Switzler remanded the case to Lieutenant Gavin, who once again started taking depositions. On May 16, Jobe Wood testified that he could not say positively the Bond women fed and harbored bushwhackers but that it was generally believed they did and that they were "very bad women, and Rebels.” Lydia Jenkins, a sister-in-law or niece of Henry Jenkins, was also interviewed on the 16th. She stated that one of the Bond sisters had always told her she was in favor of the South, that it was believed in the neighborhood that the Bonds aided bushwhackers, but that she did not know positively that they had.
The Bond sisters and the file in their case were forwarded to St. Louis on May 17. The next day, however, Sanderson again returned the papers to Switzler with a request that the depositions of the Bond sisters be added to the file. “This case in its present shape,” he declared, “is wanting in material upon which to found even an opinion.”
Ruth and Sarah Bond were lodged in the Myrtle Street Prison, and after they had languished there between two and three weeks without having been examined or tried, they wrote to Colonel Sanderson in early June beseeching him to intervene on their behalf. They told him that they had no one in St. Louis to speak for them because their brother was in the Union Army, their father was dead, and their mother, who was not in good health, was home with the younger kids. “Please you will look over our case,” they concluded. “Yours respectfully, Ruth C. Bond and Sarah A. Bond.” Whether the Bond sisters had even given depositions in Jefferson City, as Colonel Sanderson believed, is uncertain, but after appealing directly to Sanderson, the young women were promptly interviewed in St. Louis per Sanderson’s instructions. On June 6, Ruth told her examiner that she lived in Miller County five miles from Tuscumbia and was twenty years old. (According to census records, she was at least twenty-two.) She said her brother John was in the Sixth Missouri State Militia Cavalry and that her recently deceased father had always been a loyal Union man. “I am as loyal as anybody can be,” she said, “and so is my sister and mother.”
Ruth added that there had never been any bushwhackers or Rebels of any kind fed at her house and that, if they did come, she wouldn’t feed them. She named several men from her neighborhood who were supposed to be guerrillas, but she didn't know any of them personally. She said she did not know why she and her sister were arrested but she thought it might have come about because of something Hannah Jenkins had said about them. Ruth said Hannah’s husband (i.e. William Jenkins) had formerly been in the Confederate Army but was now a member of the same Union company that John Bond was a member of. Hannah had been with her husband in the field but was forced to leave, and upon her return to the neighborhood, she got mad at Sarah Bond for some reason and reported the sisters to Federal authorities, so Ruth had been told. What Hannah accused Ruth and Sarah of doing, however, Ruth did not know.
Sarah was also deposed on June 6, giving much of the same testimony that her sister gave. Sarah added that she had never carried any letters for the purpose of sending them beyond the Union lines or for any other purpose.
After the Bond sisters were deposed in St. Louis, their case was again referred back to Jefferson City for more evidence. Lt. Gavin forwarded additional information to St. Louis in mid-June with a recommendation that the Bond women be sent out of the state. After reviewing the papers, Sanderson referred the case to General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, with an endorsement that he did not think the evidence in the case justified conviction and banishment and that he, therefore, did not agree with Lieutenant Gavin’s recommendation that the young women be exiled from the state. On the 17th, Rosecrans ordered the women released on bond, and four days later they were freed on $500 bond each.
Ruth and Sarah Bond returned to their home territory and were still living in the Miller County area after the war.
The sketch of the Bond sisters above is condensed from a chapter about them in my Bushwhacker Belles book.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Double Murder at Mountain Grove

About midnight on the night of May 18, 1897, about twenty masked men called at the home of Benjamin Mayfield on Whetstone Creek about six miles northwest of Mountain Grove, Missouri. They passed through the house single file looking for Benjamin's son, Elijah "Lige" Mayfield. Not finding Lige at home, they threw a burning torch on the roof of the house as they stomped out, mounted up, and rode away. "Old Man" Mayfield, as Benjamin was called in reports of the incident, managed to get the fire put out before it engulfed the house.
Meanwhile, the mob rode to the nearby home of John Mitchell and finding the house barricaded, opened fire on the residence. Mitchell awoke and started across the room to retrieve his pistol when he was riddled with buckshot and rifle balls fired through a window of the house. His stepbrother, Jack Coffman, rose up in bed and was also shot to death. Dave Mitchell, John's brother, managed to return fire, persuading the mob to retreat, but he, too, was wounded with gunshots to the head and shoulder. John Mitchell's wife and two little kids were also in the house at the time, but somehow they escaped injury.
When word of the raid reached Mountain Grove the next day, it threw the town into an "intense excitement." Dave Mitchell said he thought he recognized at least one of the mob, but he said he wouldn't name any names until the coroner's inquiry. Trouble had been brewing in the Mitchell neighborhood for a number of years, according to reports in the wake of the mob action. Both John and Dave Mitchell had served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary for larceny, and it was alleged that they had been operating a theft ring all along the Frisco line between Mountain Grove and Lebanon for the past few years, stealing everything from chickens to horses. Dave admitted that, two weeks prior to the visit by the night riders, he had been taken out of the Mitchell home about midnight one night by a band of white caps (i.e. vigilantes), whipped severely, and told to leave the territory or they'd "finish him up" on their next visit. The Mitchells had refused to leave, and the vigilantes apparently had now carried through with their threat.
The action of the mob was widely denounced on the day after the raid, and authorities swore that the perpetrators would be found out and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, when a coroner's inquiry was held on May 20th, it turned out to be just a "small pretense" of an inquest. Dave Mitchell still refused to name who he thought he had recognized, because he feared retaliation, and the jury reached a verdict that John Mitchell and Jack Coffman had come to their deaths at the hands of parties unknown. A later report suggested that the mob had been composed of some of the most "highly respected" citizens in the area, which probably accounts for the jury's innocuous verdict and for the fact that nothing much was apparently ever done to try to bring the killers of Mitchell and Coffman to justice.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

JFK Campaigns in Joplin

On October 22, 1960, in the midst of the 1960 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts made three stops in Missouri. Fresh off his fourth and final debate the night before with then Vice-President Richard Nixon, Kennedy flew to St. Louis on Saturday morning the 22nd. After a campaign stop there, he got back on his plane headed to Joplin for a brief stopover and rally at the airport there later that afternoon.
An estimated crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 people had gathered at the airport to await his arrival. Many had come from surrounding towns in Oklahoma and Kansas as well as Missouri, and they’d started gathering at 9:00 o’clock that morning. Two busloads had come from Springfield in chartered Greyhounds. Student delegations from Kansas State College at Pittsburg and from Joplin Junior College were on hand. Many of those in attendance carried placards in support of Kennedy. One of the sign carriers was Daisy Howe of Neck City, Missouri, whom I remember for her passionate letters supporting progressive causes, which were regularly published on the Joplin Globe editorial page clear into the mid and late 1990s.
Just minutes before Kennedy’s plane arrived, another plane landed at the airport carrying a Republican “Truth Squad.” A cheer went up at first before the crowd realized the identity of the group that was disembarking. When the cheers turned to boos, one of the Democratic dignitaries on the platform that had been erected in the airport field grabbed the microphone and told the crowd to go ahead and make the “Truth Squad” welcome because the “Lie Detector Squad” would be arriving soon.
When Kennedy’s plane touched down shortly afterward, it didn’t stop exactly where authorities had planned, and Joplin policeman and fireman hurriedly tried to cordon off the area between the plane and the platform, but to no avail. Kennedy stepped off the plane and waded right into the surging crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs as he made his way to the makeshift stage. Chants of “We want Jack” went up among the throng of Democratic supporters.
The Joplin area was still a mining district in 1960, and shortly after Kennedy began his speech, mindful of where he was, the candidate made a special appeal to the miners of the region, saying they didn’t get paid enough for the hard work they did. A group of miners from the Miami, Oklahoma, area were among the crowd, and one of them offered Kennedy a hard hat. He tried it on, but it didn’t fit.
Near the end of his remarks, in another appeal to regional pride, Kennedy said, “I come here to Joplin, here to Missouri, here in this part of the central United States. About two weeks ago up in Boston, my own hometown, Mr. Nixon said I was just another Truman. I said I regarded that as a compliment because he was just another Dewey.” Applause and laughter broke out among the audience.
Then, still playing on the Missouri theme, Kennedy closed by asking the crowd to “Show Me” on Election Day by voting to make him the next president of the United States.
The crowd again pressed in around Kennedy as he made his way back to his airplane. After leaving Joplin, he flew to Wichita for a campaign rally there before finished the day with a stop in Kansas City, his third rally of the day in the swing state of Missouri, which he carried in the election two weeks later.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Billy Sunday in Southern Missouri

In the 1880s, while he was playing professional baseball, Billy Sunday converted to Christianity. Denouncing drinking, swearing, and gambling, he soon started speaking in churches and at YMCAs. A dynamic baserunner and a flashy but inconsistent fielder, Sunday was never more than a mediocre hitter. He soon left baseball and went to work full time for a YMCA in Chicago, where he ministered to the sick and the troubled. Later he became an assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, a well-known evangelist. In the late 1890s Sunday went out on his own as a traveling evangelist, and during the first two decades of the 20th century he became the most famous evangelist in America. Not until Billy Graham rose to fame in the late 1940s did an evangelist fill more pews or convert more sinners than Billy Sunday did. He spoke to millions and converted an estimated 300,000 people.
Throughout his life, Sunday remained a big fan of baseball, and he often used his ties to baseball to promote his revivals. One time in 1907 in Fairfield, Iowa, for instance, he urged the community businesses to organize two baseball teams in advance of his appearance, and when he arrived in town, he played alternately for both teams wearing his professional baseball uniform. Known for his fiery, histrionic sermons, he would occasionally slide across the stage in imitation of a baseball slide as he exhorted his audience to slide safely into the arms of the Lord. Espousing a traditional, "old-time" religion, he was also known for his straightforward, sometimes coarse language. For instance, he once characterized evolution as a "bastard theory" and "pure jackass nonsense."
His theatrical yet blunt style and his conservative views were, of course, not universally popular. He was criticized as a tool of big business and for making too much money from his preaching, and there were places throughout the country where he was not welcome. Yet he did adopt certain progressive positions that, if anything, might have made him even more controversial, such as his support for women's suffrage and for the full acceptance of Catholics. Even in conservative southern Missouri, Billy Sunday received a uneven welcome.
In December of 1909, Sunday held a series of revival meetings in Joplin with several hundred people in attendance. At one sermon, he preached against dancing, denouncing it as a "hotbed of licentiousness" and "nothing but a hugging match set to music." At least one newspaper, however, editorialized against Sunday at the time, claiming that he used "slang and vulgarity in the pulpit."
When Billy Sunday held a tabernacle revival at Cape Girardeau in March of 1926, more than hundred people from Sikeston alone traveled to Cape to hear the evangelist. Afterward, the Sikeston group declared that they had been "highly entertained and thrilled, an occasion seldom experienced in a lifetime." During the revival, Sunday took a side trip to Sikeston for a single sermon on March 17 and packed the Methodist Church "to the utmost."
In 1928, the ministerial alliance of Springfield tried to organize a Billy Sunday revival there, but the idea was dropped when some ministers and other church officials voiced their opposition to the idea. Sunday said he wouldn't come where he wasn't wanted.
Sunday's success and importance as an evangelist waned during the late 20s and early 30s as more people began going to movies, listening to radio, and so forth instead attending camp meetings and revivals. Sunday died in 1935.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach District

I've previously written on this blog about the apple industry and the strawberry industry in the Ozarks, but there was also a thriving peach industry in the region during the early 1900s. Probably the most more prominent area for commercial peach growing was the Koshkonong-Brandsville district in the south-central part of Missouri. Peaches had been grown for personal consumption in the Koshkonong area (and throughout the whole state) since early pioneer days, but commercial growing did not begin until the 1890s. At that time, the land was cleared and developed by outside capital specifically for peach growing.
Comprising parts of Howell and Oregon counties, the Koshkonong-Brandsville district extended along the Frisco Railroad from Pomona on the north to Thayer on the south, a distance of about forty miles. Nearly all the orchards were located within five miles of the railroad with loading points from one to three miles apart all along the railroad, because the peaches had to be transported to market in a timely fashion before they spoiled. Thus, the district was roughly ten miles wide by forty miles long, although not all of the acreage within that area, of course, was devoted to peach growing. In the fall of 1913, there were about 8,000 acres in the Koskonong-Brandsville district with fruit-bearing peach trees and another 10,000 acres where new trees had been planted but were not yet bearing fruit.
It usually took three years from the time a tree was planted until it started bearing fruit. When the tree was three years old, it would usually yield about three pecks to one bushel of fruit. One acre could sustain approximately 100 trees, and in 1913 farmers could expect to get about a dollar a bushel for their fruit. So each acre would yield from $75 to a $100 during the third year. This figure went up in succeeding years. For instance, a four-year-old tree could be expected to yield about three bushels, or about three times what it produced in year three. In 1911, when prices were higher than they were in 1913, some growers made as much as $800 an acre from their orchards.
Nearly all peaches shipped from the Koshkonong-Brandsville district were handled by the Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach Growers Association, which was affiliated with the Ozark Fruit Growers Association headquartered at Springfield. Growers had to abide by certain restrictions imposed by the association, pertaining to how the peaches were cultivated, pruned, sprayed, and so forth. Nearly all the peaches grown in the district were of the Elberta variety. In the 1913 season, the association shipped a total of 398 train carloads of peaches, 380 of which were Elbertas. A few were of a variety that produced fruit earlier than the Elberta, and a few were later. 1913 was considered a disappointing year, but many growers still averaged better than $100 an acre for their orchards.
Most of the fruit produced in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district was shipped from either Koshkonong or Brandsville, but Pomona, West Plains, Olden, and a couple of other small communities also had shipping sheds. Most of the fruit was sent to northern cities like Boston and New York.
Harvesting the peaches required an army of pickers, and during the season people flocked to the area seeking employment. Most came by train, but many arrived in wagons and pitched their tents. Most of the picking occurred during the mornings, and after the day's work was done, many of the workers would go into town, usually Koshkonong seeking what meager entertainment there was to find. In 1913, about all Koshkonong offered in the way of amusement was a traveling theatrical show, horseshoe pitching, or a game of mumbley-peg.
Land in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district, for those interested in going into the peach growing business, sold for $25 to $75 an acre, depending on such factors as whether the land was cleared or not, exactly where it was located, and the terrain. When clearing the land, a new grower could expect to sell his timber to the lumber industry for enough money to pay the cost of the clearing.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mary Stepp, Notorious Springfield Madam

A year or so ago, I wrote on this blog about Martha Misner, the queen of the Springfield madams around the turn of the 20th century, but there were a number of other notorious women operating in the city around that time as well. One was Mary Stepp.
I wrote in my Wicked Springfield book about an incident involving Mary Stepp that occurred in 1900, but she was an even more notorious character than I realized at the time. She was already well known to Springfield police as a "female brute" when her home was raided on January 24, 1898. Officers found Mary and another scarlet woman entertaining two men while Mary's eight-year-old daughter and another young girl looked on. Mary was arrested, and authorities planned to take Mary's daughter, Dutchie, away from her and place her in a girls' home. While Mary was out on bond the next day, however, she sent her daughter to stay with her sister near Kansas City. Charged with keeping a bawdy house within 100 yards of a church, Mary agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and was given three months in jail.
In early December of 1898, Mary and another woman were arrested for causing a disturbance at the local Salvation Army. They came into the place intoxicated and made themselves obnoxious to the "peace loving lads and lassies" on the premises. Mary Stepp, commonly called Mother Stepp, was described at the time as a "well-known character" who was a "curious mixture of good and bad--mostly the latter." She was known for her "debauching carousals," but she was also known occasionally to lend a hand to someone in need.
In the spring of 1899, Mary again faced a charge of keeping a bawdy house, and the case went to trial in early May. The jury split 4-2 in favor of conviction, resulting in a mistrial. The Springfield Leader-Democrat lamented the fact that nothing could apparently be done to keep the "old crone" from running a house of ill repute out of her "dilapidated shack" on Phelps Avenue. Mother Stepp, according to the newspaper, had lived in Springfield for years and had been arrested "times without number" but had never faced serious jail time.
In July of 1899, Mary reportedly tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of morphine after her lover left her. Learning of Mary's deed, the man came back and helped nurse Mary back to health.
In mid-May of 1900, Mary was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace of the Mrs. T. J. Young family. Mrs. Young accused Mary of using loud and indecent language in their neighborhood on North Evans Street, known as "Cully Row," because a man named Cully owned most of the houses there.
In the fall of 1900, Mary got involved in the case that I wrote about in Wicked Springfield. Around the first of August, she had taken in a fifteen-year-old girl named Lizzie Rice with a promise to cure her of the "mumps." Lizzie had run away from her home near Rogersville about a year earlier. According to Mary's later testimony, Lizzie had taken up the sporting life before she came to live with Mary, and it was a venereal disease, not the mumps, that she treated the girl for. Not long after Lizzie came to live with Mary, Mr. Young, Mary's neighbor, reported to a police officer that Mary was keeping an underage girl in her home and using her for immoral purposes. The cop visited Mary's home, but Mary denied the girl was underage and said she was already a whore before she came to live with her. A month or so later the officer, after determining the girl was still living with Mary, arrested both of them. Lizzie's father was notified, and he came to Springfield to take the girl back home. Mary was charged with keeping an underage girl in her house for the purposes of prostitution. She was convicted at her trial the next year and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.
Mary came back to Springfield in late 1902 after serving 18 months at Jefferson City and being released under the three-fourths good behavior rule. She vowed to stay out of trouble and generally succeeded in doing so. The last trace I've found of Mary was in November of 1908 when she made a complaint against another Springfield woman for disturbing the peace. Mary's main complaint was that the other woman had referred too strongly and too loudly to Mary's previous record. Mary declared that she had not been in court since being released for prison six years earlier. Mary wanted the police to make the woman quit talking bad about her, but she didn't want to have to appear in court to accomplish her purpose.

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