Missouri and Ozarks History

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

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

For God’s Sake, Give Me a Chance: The Lynching of Walter Mitchell

On Thursday evening August 6, 1925, twenty-one-year-old Leonard Utt and his teenage girlfriend, Maud Holt, attended a social event at Excelsior Springs, Missouri. About midnight, as Leonard was driving the girl to her home near Lawson, several miles north of Excelsior Springs, a black man waved the couple down, knocked Utt senseless, and tried to sexually assault Maud but was scared off by her screams and flailing.
The assailant fled toward Excelsior Springs, and when a black man was found asleep in a vacant house in Excelsior Springs early the next morning, Utt identified him as the attacker. The suspect was taken to the city jail, where he was identified as Walter Mitchell (aka Miller Mitchell), a thirty-three-year-old black man originally from Meridian, Mississippi.
Maud Holt was summoned to Excelsior Springs, and she, too, identified Mitchell as the man who had attacked her. Mitchell’s arraignment on an assault charge was set for 2:00 p.m. that afternoon.
As word of the attack on Maud and the identification of a suspect spread, angry citizens poured into Excelsior Springs throughout the morning of August 7. As the mob increased in numbers and became more threatening, Chief of Police John F. Craven and several deputies attempted to remove the prisoner to safety through a basement door but were turned back by members of the mob.
Shortly before noon, Clay County prosecutor Raymond Cummins was notified at Liberty of the tense situation in Excelsior Springs, and he immediately set out for the scene. Upon arrival, Cummins pled with the mob not to resort to violence. He organized a committee of citizens and law officers to speak directly with Charles Holt, Maud’s father. Holt was brought into the city hall, but Holt declined an invitation to help escort Mitchell to safety.
About 2:00 p.m., Cummins, realizing that mob action was imminent, called the Kansas City police and asked for reinforcements. A riot squad of over fifty officers was dispatched to Excelsior Springs.
Before they could arrive, however, the mob, now numbering about 500 men, broke into the jail about 3:00 p.m. and knocked the lock off Mitchell’s cell with a sledgehammer. They dragged the prisoner outside, brushing aside a token resistance from the guards. Despite being handcuffed, Mitchell screamed and resisted as he was dragged into the street.
A few men lifted the prisoner above their heads and started down the street with him, carrying him a short distance in that manner before setting him back down and forcing him to walk. As the lynch mob and their victim marched past the Elms Hotel, the town’s most fashionable mineral-water resort, tourists and health seekers gawked at the terrible parade.
A rope was fastened around the doomed man’s neck as he was dragged along, and when the vigilantes reached an oak tree near the south edge of town, the leader of the mob asked Mitchell if he had anything to say. He replied, “Yes, I’m guilty, but for God’s sake give me a chance.”
But the ruthless mob had no intention of giving Mitchell a chance. One of the gang climbed up the oak tree and tossed the other end of the rope over a high limb. Mitchell continued to squirm and moan, even as “willing hands” drew him several feet into the air. He died, though, within three or four minutes, and the mob promptly dispersed.
The first police reinforcements from Kansas City arrived about ten minutes too late to prevent the lynching. They cut down Mitchell’s body, and it was taken to a local undertaker’s office, where a long line of people stood in the street outside waiting to view it.
Clay County officials declined to investigate the lynching, despite the fact that Chief Craven and others said they knew who the leaders of the mob were. The Missouri governer then stepped in and ordered an investigation. A grand jury was subsequently held, but it was discharged after 100 witnesses were examined and “no one remembered who actually pulled the rope that took Mitchell’s life.”
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Joplin's Ku Klux Klan Cave

The Ku Klux Klan, as most people know, arose in the aftermath of the Civil War, ostensibly as a law-and-order organization, but it ended up dishing out its brand of justice in a discriminatory manner, mainly targeting freed slaves. The group fell out of favor after a few years as its racist tendencies became increasingly clear.
However, the KKK enjoyed a revival starting about 1915, and in 1921 a local conclave of the secret organization was formed in Joplin. The organizational meeting at Schifferdecker Park drew an estimated crowd of 1,500 people. Not long after the local conclave was formed, the group purchased a cave near Belleville a few miles west of Joplin (a couple of miles north of Seventh Street on Malang Road). The first specific references to the cave in local newspapers that I've found come from 1924, but it's clear from the context of these references that the cave had already been in use as a KKK meeting place for some time.
In 1922, members of the Joplin conclave traveled to Fantastic Caverns, where they conducted the initiation rituals for 125 new inductees into the Springfield conclave. So apparently caves were a favorite meeting place for KKK conclaves. I suppose that was because they were conducive to secrecy.
During the early 1920s, the KKK was often seen as a patriotic, law-and-order organization, and it won widespread acceptance. Many of its members held positions of leadership in churches and local government, and its membership even included well-known national politicians. In 1923, the KKK Imperial Wizard, the group's national leader, visited Joplin, and the local conclave held a parade on Main Street.
The Joplin KKK was definitely not without its opposition, however. In late 1923 or early 1924, a local anti-Klan group arose, and in the spring 1924 school and city elections, the anti-KKK organization mounted a strong campaign against the Klan and for its own members to be elected to the school board and to city commissions. The group charged that the Klan was dividing the city, threatening the local institutions of government, intimidating citizens, and endangering their liberties. "Will you vote for a continuance of this condition," one anti-Klan newspaper ad challenged, "or do you desire release from this stranglehold of a group...who have so dominated our city affairs that you have no voice in its administration, and must perforce accept the dictates of a secret society that issues its edicts from the Ku Klux Klan cave at Belville." In another ad, the anti-group appealed to the people to oppose "the domination of churches by secret cricles taking orders from the Cave at Belville" and for them to vote for government conducted in the open light of day. Apparently, however, the KKK still held sway in Joplin, because all the candidates endorsed by the anti-Klan group lost.
On the national level, though, the Klan was already starting to lose influence, just as it had after its brief period of popularity in the wake of the Civil War. The group was again exposed as a discriminatory organization that was anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-foreigner. It soon faded into the background, in Joplin as well as the rest of the country, and the old cave fell into disuse.
In the summer of 1939, a fiery cross was burned near the intersection of 4th and Maiden Lane, and rumors of an attempt to revive the local KKK circulated. A couple of days after the cross burning, Joplin detectives trekked out to the former KKK cave but found no signs of recent activity. The pathway leading to the cave was so obscured by weeds that it was scarcely visible, and the iron door across the entrance was padlocked. The lawmen got inside somehow, though, and discovered a room large enough to hold about 2,000 people.
In 1940, with World War II on the horizon, some Joplin city officials proposed to the federal government that the old KKK cave be used as a war industry site, perhaps a munitions plant. The local officials said the cave was two miles long with openings at both ends and that it was 20 to 30 feet high and could be widened to 20 to 50 feet, so that vehicles could be driven through it. The government rejected the proposal, however.
In the spring of 1956, a beer party at the old cave by a large number of young people got busted by police when a resident living near the cave reported the young people for disturbing the peace. About 35 young people were arrested, while another 60-70 left before they could be rounded up. Of the ones arrested, over 20 of them were charged with disturbing the peace. Two nights later, a carload of young men returned to the old cave and were harassing the man who'd called the police, driving past his house and calling him vile names, when he responded by firing a shotgun at the car, wounding a 17-year-old boy in the vehicle. The boy was not seriously hurt, though, and no charges were filed in the case, at least not in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
In the spring of 1971, a group of Memorial High School students went out to the old KKK cave and cleaned up the premises as a project for Earth Week.
In 1980, someone wrote to the Joplin Globe proposing that the KKK cave should be preserved as a historical site. A day or two later, someone else fired off a response, asking why anyone would want to preserve a monstrosity that amounted to little more than a pile of rocks.
In 1989, the Klan cave, along with ten surrounding acres, was sold at auction.
Maybe the person who bought it was a member of the Fir Road Christian Church, because a few years later, in 1996, the church used the old cave as a site for its Easter morning sunrise services. The following year, the same church presented a crucifixion drama at the cave.
In recent years, the cave, dubbed the Old Haunted Belleville Cave, has been used as a commercial spook house during the Halloween season. In fact, I think it's open right now. Not this very instant, but probably tonight.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Tramp Became a Demon

About 6:00 p.m. on September 2, 1896, Alice Gammon, an eleven or twelve-year-old deaf girl, left the canning factory in Rhineland, Missouri, where she worked, and started on foot to her home a half mile away. Meanwhile, a “tramp mechanic” named Tom Larkin had arrived in Rhineland by rail early that morning with two companions, and they spent the day repairing gasoline stoves for whoever would hire them. Late in the afternoon, Larkin left his two companions in Rhineland and walked out into the surrounding countryside alone.
Shortly after leaving the factory, Alice noticed someone following her. As she neared her home, the path she was on took her into a thicket of woods, and halfway through it, the man who’d been following her made a rush toward her. Seizing Alice, he threw her to the ground and smothered her cries with her skirts. The girl struggled and fought, as the assailant, in the words of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “clutched her throat and pressed his sharp finger nails into the soft white flesh until the blood came.
“Failing in his design,” the St. Louis newspaper continued, “the tramp became a demon.” He pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed Alice, then withdrew the bloody blade and plunged it into her flesh again.
The attacker then released the girl and dashed into the woods.
Weak and bleeding from the attack, Alice staggered and crawled to her nearby home, where she told her eight-year-old sister what had happened, and the little girl summoned help.
After a doctor treated Alice, she revived enough to describe her assailant. Constable William Dixon found a man answering the description at the railroad depot about 300 yards from the scene of the assault. The suspect stoutly denied the attack, but his missing finger, which Alice had mentioned, was convincing evidence. In addition, the constable took the suspect to Alice’s house, and she positively identified him.
Since Rhineland was a small village with no jail, Dixon escorted the suspect to the town’s only hotel and placed him under guard in one of the rooms. The prisoner identified himself as Thomas Larkin from Chicago.
Larkin had scarcely been confined when word spread that the doctor attending Alice had said her wounds were likely fatal. The people of Rhineland began collecting near the hotel and plotting to take Larkin from his guards so they might visit a swift vengeance upon him. The deliberate German folks of Rhineland took several hours talking over the matter, while Larkin moaned and quaked in fear.
After midnight, the crowd, now swollen in numbers, began to grow impatient. About 3:00 a.m. on the morning of September 3 they started toward the hotel with a rope. Constable Dixon came out in front of the hotel to plead with them, and they finally disbanded. For the time being.
After daylight, though, more citizens from the surrounding countryside poured into town, and by mid-morning, Dixon realized he and his deputies could not hold off the horde for long. He sent for the Montgomery County sheriff, but before the sheriff could arrive, reports of indecent proposals Larkin had made toward other women began to circulate.
By the time the sheriff arrived in the late afternoon, the crowd at Rhineland had grown so large and so indignant that the lawman was unable to remove the prisoner as he had planned, but his presence helped deter the would-be lynchers from trying to act during the daytime.
About ten o’clock that night, though, word reached the mob that Alice Gammon was dying. Whether the report was valid and the girl did, in fact, later die is not clear, but the mere rumor of Alice’s impending death was sufficient to incite the horde to action.
Eight or ten masked men, one of them toting a long rope, advanced out of the crowd and started battering the front door. The sheriff, the constable, and a deputy were on the other side of the door, and when it yielded, the officers put up a stiff resistance, knocking one of the besiegers down. The other vigilantes, though, overpowered the lawmen and quickly located Larkin. They tossed the rope around his neck with a running noose and half-dragged, half-carried him outside as he struggled for his life. The mob took him to a spot about 200 yards east of the railway station and just north of the track near the woods where Alice Gammon had been attacked.
The other end of the rope was thrown over a limb of an oak tree at the edge of the woods, and the howling mob grasped the rope and drew Larkin up. They left him dangling beneath the limbs of the tree for passengers and crew to see as they passed on the nearby railroad tracks. When a freight train went through Rhineland after daylight on the morning of September 4, about seven hours after the lynching, Larkin’s body was still swinging from the limb, and a number of curious onlookers were standing nearby gawking at the grisly sight.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my book Show-Me Atrocities: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.
This month marks ten years that I've been doing this blog. Hope I'm still around in another ten years.

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

John Nelson's Murder of John Stull

By all accounts, John Stull was a compassionate person who was always willing to help out his neighbors. Little did he know that his kindness would end up getting him and his mother killed.
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Stull lived with his elderly mother and his two young children in a crude house at Salt River Switch in Ralls County, Missouri. Stull’s wife had been dead several years, his mother was feeble, and his children were too young to work. Stull was the family’s sole support, and he was considered a hard-working man.
In the spring of 1893, John Nelson and his wife, Lavinia, moved to the Salt River Switch area and pitched their tent about three hundred and fifty feet south of the Stull home. A short time later, Nelson’s mother and stepfather, Samuel Minor, showed up in a covered wagon and parked it near Nelson’s tent. Minor and his wife lived in the wagon but cooked their meals on Nelson’s stove and ate from his table.
After a while, though, Nelson and his wife had a falling-out with the Minors and wouldn’t let them cook on their stove or eat at their table. Neglected by her son, Mrs. Minor fell ill, but rather than help her out, Nelson and his wife pulled the wagon, with the mother in it, away from their tent and left it in a swampy area nearby.
Neighbors, came to Mrs. Minor’s aid, and Stull agreed to shelter her at his house. He gave Mrs. Minor his best bed, and his mother, Mary Hughes, tended to the needs of their houseguest. Although Mrs. Minor was sick enough for a local doctor to pay a house call, Nelson and his wife never visited at all nor expressed any concerns about her welfare.
On Wednesday, August 2, 1893, Stull’s seven-year-old son, Willie, and Willie’s cousin wandered over to the Nelson tent, where Nelson enticed them into fighting each other. Stull’s daughter, fourteen-year-old Mary, went over to the Nelson place to bring the children home. When the girl arrived to summon her brother and cousin home, Nelson abused her, calling her vile names.
Informed of what had happened, Stull confronted Nelson on Thursday. Stull demanded to know why Nelson had mistreated the little boys and verbally abused his daughter. Nelson cursed Stull, and Stull told Nelson and his wife he didn’t want anything more to do with them and for them never to come to his place.
Although Nelson and Lavinia had shown no inclination to visit Stull’s home, Stull’s decree banning them from his place made them determined to go there in defiance. On Friday, the day after the argument, Nelson told one of his neighbors that Stull had prohibited him from coming into his yard but that he “was going in if he had to bore his way in.”
True to his word, Nelson showed up at the Stull house on Saturday morning, August 5, carrying a revolver, with Lavinia by his side. They walked into the house uninvited but stayed less than five minutes when they realized Stull was not home, scarcely staying long enough to check on Nelson’s sick mother.
Shortly before 6 p.m. the Nelsons went back to Stull’s place with Nelson still carrying the revolver. Lavinia picked up a piece of iron as she and her husband approached the Stull home. Stull, who’d just gotten home, was sitting on the doorstep and saw the couple walking toward his yard. He told them to stay out, but they stepped through an opening in the fence and kept coming.
Hearing the commotion, Stull’s mother stepped outside, and about that moment Lavinia Nelson struck Stull with the piece of iron she was holding. In return, Stull slapped her with his hand. Nelson then fired a shot at Stull, but it missed and struck Mary Hughes instead. She fell to the ground and died very shortly.
After the first shot, Nelson fired again, this time striking Stull in the abdomen. Nelson and his wife then turned and left, with Stull staggering after them. At the top of a nearby railroad grade, Stull fell on the track, and Nelson hallooed that he’d shot him. Two men who’d heard the shots hurried to the scene and arrested Nelson.
Stull died the next day, and Nelson was lodged in the Ralls County Jail at New London. When he was arrested, Nelson bragged to the sheriff that, if he had it all to do over, he’d shoot Stull again.
Nelson and his wife were jointly indicted for double murder with Nelson as the principal and Lavinia as an accessory. Lavinia later applied for and obtained a severance of her case from her husband’s.
Nelson’s case was continued until July of 1894, when he obtained a change of venue to neighboring Marion County. His trial at Palmyra in October 1894 for the first degree murder of John Stull ended in a hung jury after his attorneys claimed self-defense. A new trial took place in April 1895, and Stull was convicted and sentenced to hang. The execution was stayed by an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Lavinia Nelson was acquitted at her trial in Ralls County, also during April of 1895. After her acquittal, Lavinia utterly deserted her husband, taking no interest in his case and refusing even to answer his letters.
In January 1896, the supreme court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in John Nelson’s case, and the execution was reset for February 28 at Palmyra. The condemned man was led to the gallows abut 11:00 a.m. late that morning and dropped through the trap in front of about fifty spectators who’d been invited inside the stockade surrounding the platform.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my most recent book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Devilish Temper and Cruel Disposition: The Story of Hade Brown

In early 1876, 18-year-old Susan Parrish of Randolph County, Missouri, left her parents’ home near Cairo to elope with James Hayden “Hade” Brown. Hade was the son of the notorious Bill Brown, who’d killed a man in 1865 and was later killed himself by his brother-in-law for abusing his wife (Hade’s mother). Sue’s parents, Dr. J. C. and Martha Parrish, bitterly opposed her marriage to Hade, who had already earned a mean and rowdy reputation of his own.
Susan was madly in love and wouldn’t listen to her parents, but soon after the wedding, according to the county history, Hade’s “devilish temper and cruel disposition was manifested toward his wife.” On July 21, 1877, while Hade was in neighboring Monroe County, Sue left home with her infant son and came to her parents’ house to plead with them for help in escaping her abusive husband. Despite their initial opposition to Sue’s marriage, the couple had counseled patience when Sue had previously appealed to them, but this time they yielded to their daughter’s entreaties. Dr. Parrish took her and the little boy in a wagon to stay with her older brother in Howard County.
On Monday the 23rd, Dr. Parrish made the return trip, accompanied by Sue’s twin sister, Sarah. As the doctor and his daughter neared their home, Hade rode up from the opposite direction wielding a double barrel shotgun and, after an angry confrontation, shot and seriously wounded Parrish, who was taken into a neighbor’s house. Hade fled but came back a few minutes later, just as Martha Parrish, who’d been summoned to the scene, arrived in a wagon to see about her wounded husband. Hade forced the driver to halt, ordered Mrs. Parrish out of the wagon, and shot and killed her.
Brown took off again and was not arrested until almost a year later, when he was recognized on the streets of Rochester, Minnesota, and brought back to Missouri. His murder trial finally got underway at Moberly in February 1879. Although Hade had killed her mother and shot her father, Susan was beside her husband supporting him throughout the trial. Hade’s lawyers put up a defense of emotional insanity, and the jury could not agree on a verdict, causing a mistrial.
Brown’s second trial began in December 1879 but was postponed twice, because of a suicide attempt by Brown and because one of the jurors got sick. The trial began for real in late January 1880. In early February, the jury came back with a guilty verdict, and the judge sentenced Brown to hang on March 26. An appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, however, stayed the execution. In early May, the high court affirmed the lower court’s verdict and set Brown’s new execution date for June 25, 1880.
Hade had been moved to Kansas City for safekeeping, and after the supreme court decision, a Kansas City Journal reporter visited him in his cell. Brown said he’d never gotten along with Dr. Parrish but had nothing against Mrs. Parrish. He claimed not to remember shooting her but agreed he must have done so. The only reason he could give for the crime was that whiskey had injured his brain.
Susan came to Kansas City to live so she could be near her husband. As time for his execution approached, Hade enlisted his wife to help him kill himself, and Sue made up her mind to join her husband in a suicide pact. On June 21, she visited Hade at the jail and slipped him some poison. Returning to her room at the home of Belle Fisher, she took her 3-year-old son to a neighbor’s house, came back and wrote out two suicide notes, and then lay down and shot herself in the head with a pistol. She died instantly. The suicide notes contained instructions for the rearing of her son and declared that she loved her husband more than life and wanted to die with him.
As officials approached Hade in his cell to inform him of his wife’s death, he desperately tried to swallow the poison Sue had handed him earlier, but they wrested it away from him after a terrific struggle. Hade was placed under a heavy guard and transferred from Kansas City to Huntsville on Thursday, June 24, 1880. About noon the next day, he was taken from the Randolph County Jail to the scaffold and hanged before a gaping crowd of almost 15,000.
After the body was cut down, it was placed in a double coffin and taken to the train depot. When the train carrying Sue’s body, which had been held in Kansas City, arrived, Hade’s body was placed on the same train. At Moberly, Sue’s body was placed in the same coffin as Hade’s, according to the couple’s wishes, and they were buried the next day at Swindell Cemetery in Monroe County.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Black and White Lynching

After prominent Lafayette County farmer George W. Johnson was killed in the wee hours of August 5, 1902, when he interrupted two chicken thieves on his farm south of Lexington, Missouri, Charles Salyers and Harry Gates were arrested on suspicion later the same morning. Fearing mob violence, Sheriff Oscar Thomas tried to move the prisoners to Kansas City that afternoon, but he and his posse were overtaken west of Lexington by a mob demanding the suspects be brought back to Lexington. The gang assured the sheriff they would do the prisoners no harm if they were brought back, and Thomas let himself be persuaded. Rumors of vigilantism continued for the next day or two, but by August 9, things had settled down to the point that the Lexington Intelligencer was convinced that the law would be allowed to take its course.
Well, not quite, as it turned out.
Both Gates, who was black, and Salyers, who was white, gave confessions after they were brought back to Lexington, and their stories largely agreed as far as their movements leading up to the killing of George Johnson. The two men had gotten together in Lexington on the night of August 4 to shoot craps, and when they parted that evening, they agreed to meet up a few hours later near Johnson’s place to steal some of his chickens. They sneaked into Johnson’s henhouse shortly after 2:00 a.m. and loaded more than a dozen chickens each into two gunny sacks. They had just made their escape through a fence when Johnson, alerted by an electric alarm system he’d recently installed in his henhouse, confronted them on the road that ran in front of his house.
Both men agreed that Johnson fired two shots at them when they failed to respond promptly to his order to halt and that one of the shots slightly wounded Gates. But what Gates and Salyers couldn’t agree on was whose idea it was to steal the chickens in the first place and who fired the fatal shots at Johnson. Each one blamed the other on both counts.
Salyers claimed at first that neither he nor Gates had a weapon when they went to the Johnson place but that, after Johnson fired at them with a pistol, Gates wrested it away from Johnson and shot him with it. Gates countered that Johnson fired at them with a shotgun and that Salyers returned fire with a pistol he had brought with him, killing Johnson. Gates said he didn’t even know his partner in crime had a weapon until he heard Salyers fire the shots that killed Johnson as he (Gates) was running away.
Salyers’s initial claim that Johnson had fired at him and Gates with a pistol cast doubt on his story, because the evidence showed that Johnson had used a shotgun, as Gates said. Salyers finally admitted the pistol that killed Johnson belonged to him, but he claimed he’d given it to Gates on the night of August 4. Still, few people believed Salyers’s story. “The statement made by Salyers is incorrect,” declared the Lexington News, “as it is definitely known by the officers that he fired the shot that killed Mr. Johnson.”
Gates’s lesser culpability, however, didn’t matter to the would-be lynchers of Lafayette County. He was a black chicken thief, and George Johnson was dead. That was good enough for them.
In the wee hours of August 12, exactly a week after Johnson’s death, a mob of about 200 masked men swarmed into Lexington from the south, shut off electricity to the downtown area, and surrounded the courthouse square. On foot except for two surreys they’d brought along in which to convey the prisoners, the vigilantes knocked down the door of the jail and overpowered Sheriff Thomas and his deputies. Part of the mob broke open Salyers’s upstairs cell and hauled him downstairs while another group went to work on Gates’s downstairs cell door. It soon yielded to the hammer, and Gates was herded outside to join his fellow prisoner.
The two men were loaded into the surreys and taken about two and half miles to Edenview Church, not far from the scene of the week-old crime. Positioned beneath an elm tree, the two were invited to say any last words, and they got into an argument, each accusing the other of having killed Johnson and now lying about it. Gates’s statement was “more consistent,” according to the Lexington Intelligencer, but his apparent honesty bought him no mercy.
Both men were swung up simultaneously to the same limb of the elm tree and left “hanging between heaven and earth,” as the mob dispersed. About 4:00 a.m., county officers went out the scene, cut the bodies down, and brought them back to Lexington. As was usual in early nineteenth century lynchings, very little effort was made to identify and prosecute the leaders of the mob.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Silver Dollar City Grand Opening

I recall visiting Silver Dollar City in the early 1960s when it was just a reconstruction of a small nineteenth century village situated on the grounds of Marvel Cave Park, and admission was free. I don't recall the exact date or even the exact year, but it couldn't have been terribly long after the place opened because, as I say, there wasn't much to it at the time. The grand opening occurred on Sunday, May 1, 1960, and I'm guessing that this might have been a year or so after that.
Silver Dollar City was completed in April of 1960 by Mary Herschend and her two sons, Jack and Pete, who jointly owned and operated Marvel Cave. The village was represented as an "authentic reproduction of a little village that once occupied the very same spot."
The place was designed by architect Russell Peterson. He had also built Frontier City on the outskirts of Oklahoma City and was nationally known for his reconstruction of pioneer communities. When Silver Dollar City opened on the first of May, it consisted of a general store, a miner's shack, a candy store, a stage coach inn, and a print shop, along with authentic facades of a doctor's office, a gun shop, a barber shop, a courthouse, and a jail. Some of the structures were actual buildings moved log by log from their original locations in the Ozarks. An old country church and a rural schoolhouse were also in the process of being dismantled, moved timber by timber to the site, and reconstructed as part of Silver Dollar City. Plans called for a few of the buildings to be turned into businesses. For example, a Springfield restaurateur was opening up an eating place in the stage coach inn.
About 300 area motel and resort owners participated in a mass ribbon cutting to kick off opening day ceremonies, and an estimated 8,000 people visited Silver Dollar City throughout the day. At one point, cars waiting to enter the park were backed up for a mile in each direction along Highway 76. The place continued to draw "tremendous crowds" throughout the summer. One person who visited during July was Lucille Morris Upton, legendary Ozarks author and columnist for the Springfield Daily News. She was struck the welcoming and smiling faces of the folks who ran the reconstructed village, and she called it "the cutest attraction you can imagine." I wonder what she would think of Silver Dollar City if she could see it today?
The newspaper photo above is from the Springfield Leader and Press. It was published on the day of the grand opening and presumably taken a day or two before.

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