Missouri and 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.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Chicopee "Black Hand"

Frank Dixon, Lewis Stephanos, and Marie Boso of Chicopee, Kansas, were arrested in the fall of 1909 on suspicion of committing or orchestrating wholesale robberies in the Missouri-Kansas border area around Pittsburg. After Dixon was convicted in February of 1910, newspapers reported that his conviction and the arrest of the other two had broken up “the most vengeful ‘black hand’ society in the West.” During the three years previous to the trio’s arrest, nineteen murders had reportedly been committed in the Chicopee area, and all had gone unsolved, because everybody was scared to testify or otherwise cooperate with authorities.
Even though I’ve lived in nearby Joplin for over forty years and have occasionally heard it rumored that the so-called Italian mob ruled the Pittsburg area in the early part of the 20th century, I was still a little skeptical of the Chicopee report, particularly the number of supposed murders, when I recently ran across it in a Springfield, Missouri, newspaper. However, after delving into the subject a little more, I’ve concluded that there was apparently considerable truth to it.
The Black Hand officially referred to any of several extortion rackets run by immigrant Sicilian and Italian gangsters in large cities across the US from about 1890 to 1920. The scheme consisted of extorting money from merchants or other well-off people (usually other immigrants) by sending them notes with black hands or other menacing symbols printed on them alongside threats of death or property destruction. The Black Hand was more or less a precursor to the mafia, but the term “black hand” came to be used in a generic sense to mean any criminal enterprise run by Italian or Sicilian immigrants, such as the robbery ring run by Dixon, Stephanos, and Boso around Chicopee, which was a coal mining community inhabited mainly by Italians and Sicilians.
At any rate, my search of Kansas newspapers turned up the fact that murders in the Chicopee area were indeed pretty common during the first decade of 20th century. In late May of 1904, a miner named Bartolomeo Vietta was shot and killed in a Chicopee saloon by another Italian, Costimo Bogetti. In October of 1905, brothers Sam and John Devitto got drunk and shot up a saloon, fatally wounding a man named Otto Odoneno and seriously injuring three others. One night in early November 1907, a young man named Salvatore Pollichino was gunned down at Chicopee, apparently in cold blood. The Pittsburg Headlight reported that who did the killing was a question to which no one knew the answer, although the victim was a recent immigrant and it was thought he might have been killed by someone from the “old country” who held a grudge against him. Thirteen other men had been killed in the Chicopee area in the previous four years, said the Headlight, and their killers were likewise unknown. Less than a month later, on a morning in early December of 1907, a Sicilian miner named Antonio Fasulo was beaten and shot to death in Chicopee by six Italians while he was on his way to work. The crime was supposed to be the work of “The Black Hand.” About 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night, August 22, 1908, several gunshots were heard between East Chicopee and West Chicopee, but nobody thought much about the incident until the next morning when a dead Italian man was found with seven bullet holes in his body. “Like the other twenty-four killings which have occurred at or near that place in the past four years,” reported the Columbus Weekly Advocate, “the killing is shrouded in mystery.” In none of the twenty-five cases had a murderer been brought to justice.
On August 4, 1909, however, when two young Anglo-Americans who’d grown up together in the Chicopee area got into a fight and one stabbed the other to death, the assailant, Arthur Connery, was quickly arrested. He was later convicted of manslaughter for killing his friend Harry Kilduff. Both young men came from what were described as prominent families.
On August 14, 1909, three masked men accosted eighteen-year-old Lena Baroni and her fiancé at West Chicopee and ran the fiancé off at the point of a gun. After she refused their indecent proposals, they compounded the insult by offering to pay her for sex. She broke away and started running, and they shot and mortally wounded her. Before she died, however, she said she recognized the men from their voices and other clues to their identity. She named them as Joe Chirafisi, Carlo Caletti, and Tony Mamphie. She again identified Chirafisi and Caletti after they were arrested and brought before her in the hospital. After she died, Chirafisi was tried, found guilty of first degree murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Caletti was later acquitted, and, as far as I have been able to determine, Mamphie was never brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Frank Dixon had been sent to prison several years earlier, but he had reportedly continued to run his robbery ring from behind bars. Then when he got out in July of 1909, robberies in the Chicopee area spiked. He and his cohorts, though, were soon apprehended when about $5,000 of the stolen loot was discovered at the home of Marie Boso, an Italian widow. Dixon himself was not Italian but his two partners were. After Lewis was sent away for another stretch at the big house, the crime wave around Chicopee, including the murders, receded.
So, there does seem to have been something to the stories of an Italian mob operating in the Chicopee area. But I’m still not quite convinced that there were as many unsolved murders as newspaper reports suggested.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Vigilante Murder of a "Sanctified" Preacher

About 1900, D. M. Malone, a former Methodist minister who’d recently embraced the holiness movement started preaching his newfound gospel of Christian perfection in the Little River area of northwest Pemiscot County, Missouri. The holiness movement emphasized union with God or “sanctification,” and those who claimed to have achieved such a state often considered themselves accountable only to heaven. Malone soon learned that many of his neighbors were resistant to his unorthodox religious beliefs, but what really riled them up was his unconventional lifestyle and his mistreatment of his wife. Rev. Malone might have thought he was following the laws of God, but it was his flouting of the laws of man that ended up getting him killed.
Around the beginning of 1903, Malone left his wife, Alice, and their children at home while he took a trip into Arkansas and Mississippi. When he returned, he surprised Alice by bringing a good-looking, twenty-six-year-old “grass widow” named Mary “Molly” Friel home to live with them as their “housekeeper,” claiming that Alice was incompetent to attend to her household duties. The forty-six-year-old preacher had made Molly’s acquaintance while proselytizing in neighboring New Madrid County prior to his trip, and the pair had made the journey south together.
Alice, who had been married to Malone for almost twenty-five years, objected to the new living arrangement, but the preacher said Molly shared his holiness fervor and was indispensable to his evangelical work. Malone and the young woman tried to convert Alice to the sanctified sect, but the thirty-eight-year-old Mrs. Malone “could not believe their doctrine,” and she also greatly objected to her husband having “another wife.”
Malone and Mary continued traveling and preaching together, although they largely avoided the New Madrid County area where she was from, having incurred the hostility of the people in that vicinity with their “holiness” meetings and their growing intimacy. When they were home, though, all that stood in the way of their “entire sanctification” was Malone’s wife. Their attempts to convert Alice having failed, they started plotting to put her aside. Accusing her of being crazy and a danger to others, they even resorted to tying her to a bed.
Meanwhile, some of Alice Malone’s neighbors rose to her defense, and “an internecine war” developed between Malone and his “Holiness” allies versus an “Anti-Holiness/Malone” faction led “by no one in particular.” The mounting tension came to a head on Saturday night, April 25th, when some of the anti-holiness crowd fired several shots into the Malone house in an attempt to “whitecap” the preacher and his paramour.
Instead of backing down, Malone had his wife arrested on an insanity charge, claiming she’d tried to kill someone. A constable brought Alice to Caruthersville on Tuesday, April 28th, and lodged her in the Pemiscot County jail.
Alice denied she was crazy, and most people thought the insanity charge was trumped up. Her arrest so inflamed her neighbors that the local justice of the peace swore out a warrant against Malone for wife abandonment and gave it to Constable W. J. Mooneyhan to serve. When Mooneyhan showed up at the Malone residence on Wednesday the 29th, however, Malone greeted him with a Winchester in his hands and two revolvers strapped around his waist.
Sizing Malone up as a desperate man, Mooneyhan left and reported the incident to county authorities, who swore out a warrant for Malone’s arrest on a charge of adultery. Mooneyhan then rounded up a posse of about eighteen men and set out to serve the warrant late Friday night, May 1, 1903. They surrounded the house and waited until dawn before demanding the surrender of Malone and his distaff partner in holiness. When Malone again resisted, one of the deputies sneaked up and set a fire underneath the house. Malone surrendered, and the fire was quickly doused.
Mooneyhan took the prisoners to his house with plans to convey them to the county seat at Caruthersville the next day, and two deputies were retained as guards. Shortly before midnight, a masked mob, reportedly including some of the same men who’d acted as Mooneyhan’s deputies that morning, rapped on the door and shot Mooneyhan dead when he refused to hand over his prisoner. Malone made a dash for freedom but was gunned down, while Mary Friel managed to escape and hide in an orchard until the mob retreated.
The next morning, one of the deputies who’d been detailed as a guard took Molly to the county jail at Caruthersville. Interviewed there a day or two later, she implied that Malone had compelled her to live with him. From an adjoining cell, Alice Malone overheard the reporter’s conversation with Molly and went into a rage, berating both her husband and Molly. Alice said she couldn’t forgive her husband but that she blamed Molly more than him.
Shortly afterward, Alice was declared sane and released. She returned to her home in Pemiscot County and lived there several more years. How long Mary Friel was held in jail or the final disposition of her case is uncertain. Twelve men were rounded up as alleged members of the mob, and three were eventually convicted of second degree murder for killing Malone.
This post is condensed from a chapter in my book Yanked Into Eternity: Lynching and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

School Fires

There have been a lot of school fires over the years, not just in the Ozarks, of course, but throughout the rest of the country and no doubt the rest of the world. Building fires of all kinds, not just school fires, were more common a hundred years ago or so because heating systems and electrical wiring systems (if they existed) tended not to be as safe as those we have today. Fires in the olden days also were often more destructive when they did occur because fire fighting techniques were less advanced than they are today. Even in relatively modern times, however, there have been occasional school fires. There have probably been quite a few just here in the Ozarks. I'm familiar with a couple because I was personally affected by them. And neither was caused by faulty equipment.
On Saturday, November 13, 1954, when I was in the third grade at Fair Grove Elementary School, the adjacent high school caught on fire when a vat containing tar exploded while workers were repairing the roof. The fire was contained to one corner of the building long enough for workers and nearby residents to remove much of the classroom equipment and furniture, but the building itself ended up being entirely destroyed. Fair Grove did not have a fire department at the time, and calls to Springfield for help proved futile, because the Springfield department refused to make the 15-mile trek to help its neighboring town. This caused some hard feelings toward Springfield among Fair Grove residents at the time, but from an objective standpoint Springfield's policy of not servicing surrounding communities was understandable. The Willard Fire Department finally responded to Fair Grove's call for help, and although they got there too late to save the building, they were credited with keeping the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings, including the grade school. This incident spurred Fair Grove to organize its own volunteer fire department in the months after the fire.
As an 8-year-old boy, I didn't get caught up in the controversy surrounding the response or lack of response to the fire. I was just fascinated by the fire itself. I remember watching the school burn from my house on the other side of town. Flames shot into the sky and great clouds of black smoke poured into the air. I wanted go across town and get a close-up view of the action, but my mother wouldn't allow it. Later, my dad took me over but by that time the fire was pretty much out, with some smoke still rising from the smoldering ruins. I thought for a while that the fire would mean an unexpected vacation, but, alas, the elementary school building was saved. Only the high school students would have "no school" for the next few days while arrangements were made to hold classes in neighboring churches and other buildings.
About mid-morning on Thursday, January 28, 1982, while I was teaching at Joplin's old Memorial High School, the school building caught on fire when a student ignited some clothes or costumes that were kept by the drama department in some unlocked closets in a hallway on the 2nd floor just off the stage. The arsonist then closed the doors of the closets, which reached clear to the ceiling, allowing the fire to burn through the ceiling and spread into an area separating the 2nd floor from the 3rd floor before it was even discovered. All students were evacuated safely, but it was a close call for some of those in a couple of classrooms located on the 2nd and 3rd floors near the point of ignition. My classroom was on the 2nd floor but on the opposite side of the building. The Joplin Fire Department responded promptly and had the fire under control by noon, although smoke continued to spiral skyward for some time afterward. School was canceled for the rest of that day and the next day, Friday; so we got a little unexpected vacation. The following Monday, school resumed at Parkwood High School, with Parkwood students and teachers going from very early morning (about 6:30 a.m.) until late morning (about 11:30) and then Memorial students and teachers taking over the building from very early afternoon until late afternoon. Each school ran an abbreviated schedule consisting of about five hours' worth of class time for a month or two while the Memorial building was being renovated. Then we moved back "home." I don't recall for sure whether the arsonist was ever caught, but I think maybe he was. I do recall a rumor among the teachers that a kid they usually referred to only as "Freddie the Firebug" was the guilty culprit. He had apparently been caught setting a smaller fire just a week or so earlier.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Grand Opening of the Crescent Hotel

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, held its grand opening on May 20, 1886. Built as a joint project of the Eureka Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad, the four-story hotel was elegantly furnished with all the latest advances like elevators, gas lighting, and hot and cold running water. It cost an estimated half million dollars and was hailed as one of the most luxurious resort hotels in the country.
Train loads of people began arriving on May 19 for the gala festivities planned for the grand opening and continued to arrive the next morning, Thursday the 20th. Special cars loaded with passengers came from Little Rock, Springfield, St. Louis and other regional cities. Dignitaries from all across the country attended the event. Among the guests were the governor of Maine and U. S. Judge Parker (the so-called hanging judge).
Throughout the day on Thursday, various bands and uniformed companies played and marched, and the boom of cannon fire punctuated the occasion during a mock battle. The "gaily attired multitudes," said the Little Rock Arkansas Gazette, had "a joyous day" under "pleasant skies." After dark, a fireworks display presented "a spectacle of beautiful grandeur," and then a grand ball in the immense dining room of the hotel culminated the day's events. "An elegantly dressed company of ladies and gentlemen danced the hours away to excellent music," said the Springfield Leader. "At a late hour, the tired guests sought the comfort of airy rooms and downy beds."
No other health resort in America, according to the Gazette, offered more comfort to visitors or more curative powers than Eureka Springs, and the growing demand for additional accommodations had resulted in the erection of the Crescent. "The magnificent hotel building is situated on the summit of the Crescent Mountain 600 feet above the Crescent
Springs, towering above the beautiful city of Eureka Springs, and overlooks the cedar brakes and beautiful White River valley on the west and north and the yellow pine forests on the south and east." Speaking of the Ozarks scenery, the Gazette correspondent concluded, "Artists have painted the grandeur and beauty of the mountains, writers have exhausted language in describing their beauty and telling of the rugged hills clothed with their native forests of perpetual verdure, but, withal, it can only be appreciated by being seen."
Accompanying photo is from the May 21, 1886, Little Rock Arkansas Gazette.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Halloween Mischief

The tradition that used to exist in America, especially in small towns across the heartland, of young people playing pranks on Halloween night pretty well expired a number of years ago, and nowadays, with the increase in youth church parties and so forth, even the tradition of going door to door trick or treating has almost gone by the wayside in a lot of places. I understand the parental concern about kids going door to door, especially if you don't know who lives in all the houses. And as far as the mischief-making that teenagers used to engage in, I suppose there was never really any justification for it, although I tend to look back on my own Halloween capers with nostalgia. Most of it was relatively harmless stuff, like soaping windows, but even in that case, the kids were still making work for someone else to have to do. And sometimes, as my post from last week illustrated, the pranks turned out to have serious consequences. Even when no one got hurt, they often resulted in the destruction of property.
On Halloween night in 1920, two boys at Sarcoxie, Missouri, entered a shed where a man stored his automobile so they could prank the car (perhaps soap the windows). When they departed, they left a door to the shed open, and two of the man's horses came into the shed and ate a bunch of wheat he had stored in the building, causing them to founder.
In 1930, two boys lit a fuse to set off a charge of dynamite close to a house near Nixa with the idea of scaring a group of their peers who were having a party at the residence. The two boys started to run, but when they saw that the fuse had ignited a grass fire, they turned back to try to put out the fire and the dynamite exploded when they were still near it. Both boys lost the sight of one eye.
In 1931, in an incident similar to the one I described last week, a thirteen-year-old boy was shot by a law officer at Butterfield as he was playing a prank. He was rushed to a Monett hospital and was expected to recover.
In 1936 at Neosho, a group of boys turned over a man's chicken house. Soon afterward, a different group of boys happened by, and the man came out of his house with a shotgun, thinking it was the same bunch of boys. He ordered them to halt, but one of them started running. The man shot the boy full of buckshot. The boy apparently was not seriously hurt, and charges were not brought against the man.
Those are just a few of the Halloween pranks gone bad that occurred in the Ozarks during the first half of the 20th century. Usually the pranks were confined mostly to soaping windows, toilet-papering trees, throwing trash into the streets, and overturning outhouses, with an occasional broken window. Still, even if nobody got hurt, these types of things still meant that someone other than the pranksters usually had to clean up the mess. So, I guess it's not a bad thing that we don't see a lot of mischief-making on Halloween nowadays.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Halloween Prank Turns Tragic

During the early 20th century, it was a tradition at Drury College in Springfield for the male students to engage in various campus pranks on Halloween night. The school generally tolerated the tomfoolery as long as it didn't get out of hand, but faculty members were deployed in strategic locations on campus to prevent serious vandalism. Special policemen were also sometimes hired to make sure the student pranks were confined to the campus and to prevent outside trouble-makers from venturing onto the campus.
In 1908, a number of special policeman, including Charles H. Finn, were employed in the lead-up to Halloween and given their instructions. They were told that they need not carry weapons, and Finn said he didn't have a gun anyway. However, he borrowed a pistol from an acquaintance as he headed to the Drury campus on Halloween night. In the wee hours of the morning of November 1, two young men, Calvin Finke and Fred Rowe, were carousing together when Rowe allegedly threw lime on some of the faculty members who were helping guard the campus. Finn chased after the two young men, yelling for them to stop. When they didn't halt, he drew his pistol and fired. The bullet struck Finke, who was the son of one of the faculty members, and he died in the hospital on the morning of November 2.
A coroner's jury found that Finke had died at the hands of Charles Finn and that Finn had fired for no reason. When the incident first happened, Finn had denied even firing the shot. Later he said he drew his pistol with the intention of firing over the boys' heads but that the weapon discharged a lot easier than he expected and he fired accidentally before he'd planned. After he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, he changed his story again, saying that he'd stumbled as he raised the pistol, causing it to fire before he intended.
The charge was reduced to second-degree murder, and Finn went on trial in March of 1909. After testimony was taken, the judge's instructions to the jury included the fact that they could find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter. Instead, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. It was an unpopular decision with a large number of people, including many in the Drury community, and even the judge later denounced the verdict.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Lynching of Roy Hammonds

After Roy Hammonds, a nineteen-year-old black man, pled guilty on Friday, April 29, 1921, in the Circuit Court of Pike County, Missouri, to attempted assault on a fourteen-year-old white girl, he was assessed a sentence of ten years in the state penitentiary. But that wasn’t enough for the good citizens of Bowling Green. They wanted him to hang.
Not just hang. They wanted him to suffer.
Two days earlier, fourteen-year-old Virginia Terrell had been to a picture show in Bowling Green and was walking home that night past the Negro Methodist Church when she was accosted by a black youth. The assailant dragged her to the rear of the church and started choking her, but the assault was interrupted by the girl’s father and brother, who had started from their home to meet her. Hearing Virginia’s screams, they came running, and the attacker fled.
The girl’s father dashed after the villain, causing the attacker to stumble and lose his cap as he jumped a fence. Regaining his footing, the young man fled through the town square, with the father, who’d been delayed crossing the fence, trailing behind. Sheriff Charles Moore joined the chase, but the fugitive had “gained headway” and managed to elude his pursuers.
Two bloodhounds were brought in and given the scent of the cap that the fugitive had lost. The dogs followed the path of the chase through the square and eventually to the home of Roy Hammonds north of town. Several people were at the house, including Roy’s father, William, and his older brother, Willie.
Based on the dogs’ behavior and the fact that Virginia Terrell had described her attacker as a young black man, twenty-one-year-old Willie Hammonds was arrested on Thursday evening and escorted to jail. The next morning, he was taken before the girl at the prosecutor’s office in Bowling Green, and she identified him as the person who had attacked her. He was returned to the Pike County Jail over his stout protestations.
Shortly afterwards, Sheriff Moore tossed the cap found at the crime scene into Willie’s cell, saying “Here’s your cap.”
“That’s not my cap,” Willie said. “That’s Roy’s cap.”
William Hammonds, father of the two young men, confirmed that the cap belonged to Roy, but Roy claimed Willie had been wearing it on the night of the attack. Confronted by his brother, Roy finally admitted he had been wearing it. Both the sons were then taken before the girl, and she hesitantly picked out Roy as her attacker.
Roy then confessed and was tossed in jail. He admitted asking the girl to take off her clothes but she refused. That was all he did, because the two men came up and he ran. His confession was reported as a written statement, but part of the statement was that he couldn’t read and write. The confession was, in fact, transcribed by the prosecutor, and parts of it were obviously prepared ahead of time, such as an assurance that the statement was made of Hammonds’s “own volition” without coercion from law officers.
Taken into court that same afternoon for a preliminary hearing, Roy pled guilty to assault and was sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary.
Hundreds of people had flocked into Bowling Green from the countryside on Friday morning, and feelings against Hammonds ran high throughout the day. There were whisperings of vigilantism even before the hearing, and after verdict was announced, talk of a lynching reached a fever pitch. Many in the community thought ten years in the can was not enough punishment for a black man who dared assault a young white girl.
Aware of the rumors of mob violence, Sheriff Moore decided to give the would-be vigilantes the slip. He put out the word that he planned to wait until Sunday to transfer Hammonds to the state prison when his real plan was to get the prisoner out of Bowling Green as soon as possible.
About dusk, Moore and six deputies spirited Hammonds to a railroad station about a mile west of Bowling Green with the intention of boarding the 7:15 p.m. train for Mexico, Missouri, and on to Jefferson City. But somehow the lynch-happy crowd got wind of the ruse, and a mob formed at the depot before the westbound train showed up.
When the train got there, the mob forced the crew to go on without picking anybody up. They then wrested Moore’s prisoner away and took him to a tree about a mile west of the depot, where they hanged him to a large limb. The vengeful mob cruelly treated the young man, purposely leaving his arms and legs unbound so he would be “permitted to fight for his life” once he was dangling in the air. Hammonds reached above his head to grasp the rope and raise his body up to prevent strangulation. Finally growing exhausted after about fifteen minutes, he gave up and slowly strangled to death.
As usual, only token efforts were made to identify and prosecute the lynchers.
This entry is condensed from a chapter in my Yanked Into Eternity book.

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