Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Murder of Lewis Litterell

On the night of November 29, 1862, two men called at the home of 48-year-old Lewis Litterell in Pulaski County, Missouri. Lewis's wife, Mahala, went to the door, and according to her later statement, one of the men wanted to know who lived there. When she told him "Lewis Litterell," the man asked whether he was a Union man, and she said he was. The man said he and his partner were taking a message to Waynesville and needed Litterell to pilot them. When Mahala replied that her husband was sick, the man who had been talking turned to his partner and told him to hold his horse. The first man dismounted and went into the house to "talk to the old man," as Mahala phrased it. The unknown man asked Litterell, since he was unable to travel, whether he knew anyone else who might pilot them, and Litterell mentioned a neighbor named Robertson. The two night-time callers then left.
Presently, they reappeared, however, and one of the men again went into the house while the other held his horse. The intruder pointed a pistol at Litterell and ordered him to get up out of his bed and be "damn quick" about it. He told Litterell to get the best horse he could and pilot him and his partner to Waynesville.
That was the last time Mahala Litterell saw her husband alive. His dead body was returned to her a couple of days later, and at or near the same time, Larkin "Lark" Salsman of neighboring Camden County, was brought to her house in the custody of the local Enrolled Missouri Militia as a suspect in Litterell's murder. Lark told Mrs. Litterell that it was his brother, John Salsman, and Pete Cuswell who had taken her husband away.
On December 9, when Mahala Litterell and her deceased husband's sister-in-law, Cynthia Litterell, traveled to Waynesville to give statements to Union authorities there about the kidnapping of Lewis Litterell, Mahala said she believed the men who took her husband away to be Lark Salsman and Pete Cuswell. Cynthia's testimony essentially agreed with Mahala's except that Cynthia said Lark Salsman, the man brought to the Litterell house by the EMM, did not look like either of the two men who took Lewis Litterell away.
Lieutentant Thomas Thomas, assistant provost marshal at Waynesville, forwarded the women's statements to Rolla the same day he took them, and he also reported that Lark Salsman had already been killed by the EMM before the Litterell women gave their statements. Whether he was shot while trying to escape or was the victim of summary justice is not known. Thomas also added that John Salsman and Pete Cuswell were yet at large.
Authorities at Rolla, upon reviewing the paperwork forwarded by Thomas, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to assign guilt, and presumably no further proceedings in the case took place.
Source: Union Provost Marshal's Papers, Relating to Two or More Citizens, Missouri State Archives microfilm roll number 1591.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Rebel Ancestors??

I recently found in provost marshals papers a letter written on September 23, 1864, by Major J.B. Kaiser, commanding the Union post at Waynesville, Missouri, to Brigadier-General John McNeil, commanding the Rolla district, in which Kaiser identifies a number of citizens of Pulaski and Texas counties who had supposedly been aiding and harboring bushwhackers and "also conveying news to them by every opportunity they can get."
Among the people on the list accused of harboring bushwhackers was John Morgan, who was reported as living seven miles south of the Waynesville post. This was my great great grandmother's brother. In fact, the location Kaiser mentions, seven miles south of Waynesville is still the location of the Morgan farm, which has been in the family since about 1829, I believe.
Another person listed was the "Widow Tippet...where the Rebels make frequent visits for the purpose of gathering information." Mrs. Tippet was identified as living near Widow Adams, who lived west of Waynesville and was considered "a strong Rebel sympathizer." The Widow Tippet was John Morgan's sister and my great great grandmother. She had previously been married to my great great grandfather, Robert Wood. After Wood died, she remarried a man named Tippet, but he, too, died prior to the Civil War.
What I found particularly interesting was that I also found a letter written a few months earlier in April of 1864 by a prominent Union man named Ellis of Pulaski County to Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal general of the Department of the Missouri headquartered in St. Louis, in which Ellis identifies other men of Pulaski who can be trusted as honest and reliable Union men. One of the men Ellis mentioned was John Morgan.
This just goes to show how difficult it is for researchers to determine whether a Missouri ancestor (or any other person in Missouri) was actually loyal or not during the Civil War. Sometimes people were falsely reported as disloyal simply because a neighbor held a personal grudge against them, or else they were reported as disloyal on very scant evidence. On the other hand, sometimes people of suspect loyalty were reported as loyal because the person doing the reporting was of dubious loyalty himself. If Union authorities had a hard time knowing for sure who was loyal and who was not, how are researchers to know for sure 150 years later?
What I do know is that my great grandfather, Mrs. Tippet's son, joined the local Union militia near the tail end of the war when he was about 19 or 20 years old. Of course, by then many people who had previously nursed Southern sympathies had seen the writing on the wall and had shifted their loyalties, at least outwardly. I also know that two older sons of Mrs. Tippet, my great grandfather's brothers, were Confederate soldiers. So, as I say, the evidence is conflicting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hobbs Kerry Again

I've commented previously on the fact that 19th century newspapermen often offered wry commentary on the subject they were reporting on. I recently ran onto another good example from the August 17, 1876 edition of the Neosho Times. Hobbs Kerry, who had grown up in nearby Granby, had recently been arrested for helping the James-Younger gang hold up a train near Otterville in Cooper County, Missouri, and after his arrest he had named the other members of the gang. The Neosho newspaperman reported that, Kerry, who had recently been recruited to the gang by veteran members Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell, had "squealed, and his squealing will probably result in breaking up the band. But in squealing Hobbs forfeited all chance of securing a policy in any well-regulated life insurance company."
The next week, the same newspaper reported that the impression was gaining ground that Kerry confession, as far as implicating the Youngers and the James boys in the crime, was untrue. Such an impression did, in fact, gain ground during the weeks after Kerry's arrest. Many people did not believe his story. The Times reported that, according to Kerry's own admission, he had never met the Youngers or the James brothers until he accompanied Pitts and Chadwell to Jackson County a week or so before the July 7 train robbery, and the newspaper suggested that perhaps Kerry had merely been told that his partners were the James and Younger brothers in order to boost his confidence in carrying out the crime. The Neosho newspaperman questioned whether Cole Younger, who had "long head in crooked work," would have taken on a raw recruit for an important job on the mere word of Pitts and Chadwell. An alternative, the reporter suggested, was that Kerry had deliberately lied in order to deflect suspicion away from his actual sidekicks.
The fact was, as it turned out, Kerry was not lying at all and was not operating under any false impressions as to the identity of his partners. Apparently he was more concerned with trying to shorten his prison stay than with purchasing life insurance.
My book Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a chapter about Hobbs Kerry, and I've also written previously about him on this blog, back in November of 2008.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robbery of Treadway's Store

On November 18, 1863, a gang of bushwhackers robbed E.E. Treadway's store in Brighton, Missouri, of about $1,500 in goods and another $50 in cash. The next day, the gang was intercepted and attacked in Stone County by a detachment of militia under a Lieutenant Pierce. One of the bushwhackers, William Fulbright of Greene County, was killed, and about $500 worth of the goods stolen from Treadway's store was recovered. The rest of the bandits escaped to continue their marauding existence.
A few months later, however, a number of men suspected of having participated in the robbery were apparently taken into custody by the provost marshal at Springfield, and the provost marshal wrote to Treadway asking for details of the crime. Treadway responded on March 4, 1864, identifying all nine men, including Fulbright, who had participated in the robbery. Others named by Treadway were Charles Nichols of Polk County, William Simon of Polk, T.L. Brown of Cedar, Lemke Hearn of Cedar, a man named Sears of Barton County, John Holcomb of Greene County, and two other men, White and Hicks, who were also from Greene County. Treadway said he had learned the names of the men from Lemke Hearn, while Hearn was imprisoned at Springfield. (It's not clear whether Treadway was a prisoner, too, or merely visited Hearn at the prison.) Treadway also mentioned the names of several men that he knew were not involved in the robbery because they were either at the store with him or in prison at the time of the robbery. Apparently these men were among the ones the provost marshal had arrested as possible suspects in the crime.
Treadway concluded his letter to the provost marshal by saying, "Any other information you may need at my command I cheerfully give to have the villains punished."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

German-Americans During World War I

I have occasionally read about the prejudice that German-Americans encountered in this country during World War I (and World War II) because they were suspected of favoring their country of origin over their adopted country. The vast majority of German-Americans were, in fact, loyal to the U.S., but there was apparently just enough truth to the idea that they were disloyal to feed the prejudice. For instance, I know that some German-Americans did, indeed, resist or aid their sons in resisting military service because they did not want to fight or see their loved ones fight against their former homeland. (Of course, people who were not necessarily of German descent also sometimes resisted military service during World War I. See, for example, by blog post of several months ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War of 1918, which was precipitated by the resistance of Russellites to the Selective Service Act of 1917 based on their religious beliefs.)
One interesting incident of German-American opposition to America's involvement in World War I happened in Joplin in the early summer of 1918. A German man named Frank L. Misch was drinking in the St. Joe Saloon on the night of July 2 when he overheard a young man named Albert Thomas telling the barkeeper that he was getting ready to enlist in the army. Misch broke into the conversation to advise Thomas against enlisting, telling him that he was crazy to go to war and put himself up as a target for the Germans. Misch said that the Germans were too smart for us (i.e. Americans) and that if we did not leave them alone they might come over here and kill us all. He added that all his family except his immediate family were in Germany, that he sympathized with the Germans, and that America had no business getting involved in the war to begin with.
About midnight, Misch became so boisterous that the saloonkeeper sent for a police officer, who arrived and placed Misch under arrest. He was taken to the lockup and held overnight. The next day, an agent of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) came to Joplin to investigate the case. The detective interviewed the young man, the barkeeper, and a taxi driver who was in the bar at the time of the incident, and all three told him essentially the same thing: that Misch said he had two sons in the U.S. Army but that he expressed himself repeatedly in favor of Germany, that he advised Thomas not to join the military, and that, although he had been drinking, he did not appear to be drunk.
The G-man also went to the jail and interviewed Misch himself. Misch said he had drunk about a dozen glasses of beer and one or two shots of whiskey. He claimed that he had been drunk and that his memory of the incident in the bar was hazy. He said he recalled having a conversation with the young man but didn't remember exactly what was said, only that it was something about the war. He admitted that he might have made the statements the witnesses against him said he made but he did not know. A judge heard the case that very day and fined Misch $100 and costs, and the Federal detective wrapped up his investigation.
Source: FBI files

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Springfield Athletes

I wrote a few weeks ago about people connected to Springfield who went on to become famous actors or entertainers. Springfield has also produced its share of well-known athletes.
One who was in the limelight fairly recently is Gracie Gold, who finished 4th in women's figure skating at the 2015 Winter Olympics. She was not born in Springfield but grew up there for the most part before moving to Illinois.
Steve Rogers was a Major League Baseball pitcher who played his entire career for the Montreal Expos (before they became the Washington Nationals) and is considered perhaps the best pitcher in Expos history. He was born in Jefferson City but grew up in Springfield and graduated, I think, from Glendale High.
Scott Bailes is another former Major League Baseball pitcher who was not born in Springfield but who grew up there. He graduated from Parkview High School and, unlike Rogers, also attended college in Springfield, playing baseball for SMSU (now MSU). He made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians in the mid to late 1980s and later played briefly for the Angels and Rangers. He now works for the Springfield Cardinals minor league team.
Speaking of people who played baseball for SMSU, perhaps the most famous is Ryan Howard, current first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. A former National League MVP, he grew up in St. Louis but attended SMSU and played baseball for the Bears from 1998 to 2001.
Another St. Louis native who played baseball for SMSU and went on to star in the Major Leagues was Bill Mueller. He played for the Cubs, Giants, and one or two other teams from 1996 to 2006.
There are several other former Bear baseball players who made it to the Major Leagues, but those are probably the two most famous ones. In addition there have been a number of former MLB players who became associated with Springfield mainly after their playing days were over. These include Jerry Lumpe and Sherm Lollar (after whom the Sherm Lollar Lanes bowling alley was named), both of whom died in Springfield, and Bill Virdon, who still lives there, I believe.
Jack Jewsbury is a current Major League Soccer player who grew up in Springfield and attended Kickapoo High. He was born in Joplin.
Jackie Stiles is perhaps the best known female athlete associated with Springfield. She starred for the Lady Bears from 1998 to 2001 and is still the all-time leading career scorer in women's major college basketball. She was named Rookie of the Year in the WNBA in 2001, but a series of injuries curtailed her pro career. She is now an assistant coach, I believe, for the Bears.
Speaking of basketball players, Anthony Tolliver is a current NBA player who graduated from Kickapoo and helped the Chiefs win the state championship in 2002-2003. All five starters on that team went on to play college ball, three of whom played major college ball. One of the non-starters, an underclassman, also went on to play major college basketball. To illustrate how good the team was, Tolliver was widely considered perhaps the fourth best player on the team. I remember watching the team play Joplin High in Joplin when Tolliver and his classmates were seniors, and I was one of those who felt he was no better than the fourth best player on the team. However, he went on to Creighton University and worked very hard to get better, and the work paid off.
When I wrote about people from Springfield who went on to become famous entertainers, I mentioned that I rubbed shoulders (figuratively speaking) with Tess Harper, when she and I did our student teaching at the same time at Greenwood Laboratory School in the spring of 1972. I also rubbed shoulders, so to speak, with a future famous athlete during my student teaching at Greenwood. Payne Stewart was a freshman at Greenwood at the time, and he was a student in one of my classes. I don't remember that much about him except that I remember he was in my freshman English class. Stewart, of course, went on to become a professional golfer who won eleven PGA events, including three majors, before dying in an airplane crash in 1999. A section of Interstate 44 that runs through the north edge of Springfield is now named after Stewart.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Execution of John F. Abshire

Union authorities in Missouri usually considered all Southern fighters who were not in full Confederate uniform and acting in coordination with a large army to be guerrillas who should be treated as outlaws. The guerrillas themselves, however, usually did not see themselves as outlaws and, to the contrary, usually saw themselves as legitimate combatants. The case of John F. Abshire, who was executed at St. Louis in October of 1864, is instructive on this topic.
Originally from Arkansas, Abshire moved with his family to southeast Missouri not long before the Civil War broke out. He joined the Missouri State Guard near the outset of the war and served, according to his own later statement, about four and a half months in Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson's division. He then returned home for several months before enlisting in the Confederate Army, serving under a Captain Townsend in a regiment commanded by a Colonel Fielding. Apparently, however, the unit did not operate as a regular unit of the CSA, at least not during the whole time Abshire was a member of it, because, according to the Union side of the story, Abshire was operating in Wayne County in January of 1863 with a band of guerrillas led by one Captain Ellison. (Confederate service records show that an S. Ellison served in the same regiment, the consolidated 3rd and 5th Missouri Cavalry, as a Captain M. Townsend. So, this might have been the unit to which Abshire also belonged.) It's likely Ellison's men were already members of the Confederate Army in January of 1863 or at least that Ellison was recruiting them for the purpose of enlisting them in the CSA. At any rate, Abeshire and a large number of fellow Rebels were captured at Bloomfield in late January, taken to St. Louis as prisoners, on to the military prison at Alton, Illinois, and finally to City Point, Virginia, to be exchanged. After he was exchanged, he was sent from Richmond to Mississippi and was among the Confederate soldiers surrendered by General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg in early July of 1863.
After being taken prisoner a second time, Alshire, according to his own later story, decided he did not want to be exchanged again but instead wanted to get out of the Southern army and become a Union man (as was not uncommon during the Civil War in Missouri). He was taken to Camp Morton, Indiana, where he made arrangements to join the Union Army. The day before he was to be released from custody for the purpose of joining the Union Army, however, he was taken to St. Louis and locked up at Gratiot Street Prison but for what reason he did not know.
After his capture someone had recognized him as having been a member of Ellison's band, and he was charged with operating as a guerrilla against the rules of war and with killing a man named William Hayes in Wayne County the previous January. Alshire was tried by military commission at St. Louis in the late summer of 1863. The main witness against him was a man named Davidson, at whose home the murder of Hayes reportedly took place. The defendant pled guilty to the specification but not guilty to the charge. In other words, he essentially agreed that he had done what he was accused of doing, but he denied that what he had done was a crime. His story was that Hayes was among a group of Unionists who had been taken prisoner, that he (Abshire) was among those detailed to guard the prisoners, that Hayes was shot when he attempted to escape, but that he (Abshire) was not the guard who actually did the shooting. Abshire said he did not try to mount a defense when he was first informed of the charges against him because he did not take them seriously and did not think others would either. He was very surprised that Davidson testified against him, he said, because he had been acting as a legitimate Confederate soldier. Not surprisingly, the military commission saw otherwise. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Abshire was originally scheduled to hang in March of 1864, but the sentence was temporarily suspended after the condemned man appealed to Union authorities that he had not seen his wife nor his parents in seventeen months and asked that his life be spared long enough to allow them to travel from St. Genevieve and St. Francois counties to visit him before his execution. His father and his wife arrived shortly after the stay of execution was granted, and his wife remained in St. Louis during the time he awaited execution. I have thus far seen no evidence to indicate whether his mother also came to see him. In May of 1864, the execution was suspended again after Abshire's friends and family submitted a petition on his behalf asking that the case be referred to President Lincoln for his review.
Lincoln approved the sentence about September or early October of 1864, and a new execution date was set for October 14. A few days prior to the execution date, Abshire was moved from the Alton Military Prison (where he had been imprisoned after his conviction) back to Gratiot Street Prison to await the fateful hour. At about half past one p.m. on the 14th, the condemned man was taken to the city jail yard where a scaffold awaited him. According to a report in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat the following day, Abshire walked to the gallows "with a firm step" and betrayed no sign of fear or other visible emotion. He stared calmly at the officer in charge of the execution as the officer read the charges against him and the findings of the military commission, and he also watched calmly as the noose was prepared. Then he stood and addressed those assembled to witness the execution. He repeated that he was innocent of the charges against him and said he had "never been nothing more than a Confederate soldier." After kneeling for a prayer beside a minister of the Christian Church who was acting as his spiritual advisor, he again stood and spoke a second time, this time with more emotion, saying that he regretted dying only on account of his wife and other family members who were "weeping and moaning" for him. He said it was through his ignorance that he failed to get witnesses to testify on his behalf and repeated that he had not thought Davidson would testify against him. "I hope to meet you all in a better world," he concluded as he motioned to the executioner that he was ready. He stepped firmly upon the trap door and a cap was drawn over his head. "Tie it so it will kill me quick," he said as the noose was adjusted. The door was then sprung, and Abshire fell about five feet to his death. His struggle was brief, and he died within a few minutes.
"His faithful young wife," said the Democrat, "who had frequently visited him in prison, took charge of the body, and the earthly career of John F. Abshire was terminated." The newspaperman, who had visited Abshire in prison the day before, described the wife, to whom Abshire had been married about two and half years, as a "very respectable, handsome and tidy young woman." The reporter also said the mother and father were respectable, hard-working people who were well thought of in the New Tennessee settlement of St. Genevieve County. The reporter said Abshire himself, although not well educated, did not appear to have any maliciousness to him, and he felt the young man had probably been misled by others for whom he was not paying the price. Abshire was described as strongly built, about 5'9" tall, with blue eyes, fair hair, a prominent nose, and a ruddy complexion.
By the way, I am participating in a multiple author book signing this coming Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. The owner is billing the event as Wordstock, in commemoration of Woodstock, which occurred 45 years ago this month. Besides me, at least four other local or regional authors are scheduled to be there.
And since I'm doing a shameless plug, let me also invite any readers of this blog who are so inclined to like my author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryWood.

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