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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Murder of Thomas Budd

I have mentioned before that the murder of Thomas Budd is one of the crimes often attributed to notorious Taney County guerrilla Alf Bolin. Budd is usually referred to as "Old Man Budd" and his age given as about eighty years old in the legendary accounts, but he was actually only about fifty-five years old at the time of his death, which no longer seems particularly old to this aging writer. According to the legend, Budd had made a trip from Christian County into Taney County to get a load of corn, was on his way back home, and had just crossed the White River when he was waylaid by Bolin's gang. He was supposedly forced to get out of his wagon and wade back into the river, where he was shot several times, and the current carried his body away after he was dead.
It may be true that Budd had ventured into Taney County from Christian County when he was killed, but the 1860 census lists him as living in Taney County. At any rate, he lived close to where southwest Christian County borders Taney County, in the present-day vicinity of Spokane. About the only other things that are known with some degree of certainty about this incident come from a statement given by Jacob Aleshire to a Union provost marshal.
Although the exact date of the document is unknown, the murder happened, according to Aleshire, sometime near the end of September 1861. Aleshire, who himself lived in southwest Christian County, said that Budd was at his house when about thirty men under David Jackson came to the house and took Budd away. Aleshire's statement is somewhat contradictory in that he first seems to say that Jackson himself was in charge of the band that came to his house. This cannot be true, however, since David Jackson was killed at Forsyth in July of 1861 during the skirmish in which Union general Thomas Sweeny ran the Southern forces out of town. Aleshire later says that Dan Hilliard was in command of the men who took Budd away. At any rate, Aleshire makes no mention whatsoever of Alf Bolin. It's quite possible that Bolin was among the band, but he almost certainly was not its leader.
Aleshire said that three days after Budd's abduction, he and some other men went out and found Budd's body on Camp Creek in Christian County (near present-day Highlandville) about a quarter of a mile from Green Gideon's place. The body had been burned and disfigured, the ears and nose having been cut off. Aleshire complained that, in addition to kidnapping and killing Budd, the gang also stole some store goods and some clothing from him and his family, including some shoes and a table cloth that belonged to his daughter. They also took Budd's horse and saddle.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Neosho Bank Robbery

In my previous post about the Irish O'Malley gang's 1932 robbery of the Avilla (Mo.) bank, I mentioned that the gang later also robbed a bank at Neosho. The latter caper occurred on March 2, 1935. The men who pulled off the job were unidentified at the time but were later reported to be the O'Malley gang.
In the early morning of March 2, which was a Saturday, Leslie Cooper, janitor of the First National Bank of Neosho, was waylaid as he walked across the public square in Neosho and forced him to open the door to the bank on the south side of the square. From inside the building, the bandits "greeted" the bank's employees as the business opened for the day, tying them up and guarding them as they awaited the opening of the vault, which was controlled by a time lock.
The Joplin Globe reported the following day that the gang consisted of four or five bandits but that only three participated in the actual robbery, the others acting as lookouts or getaway drivers. Another report put the total number of gang members at seven or eight, and Leo O'Malley himself was supposedly one of the men who stood lookout outside the bank. No one was harmed during the holdup, but according to the Globe report, the bandits "used threatening language" toward the hostages. After securing between $8,000 and $18,000 in currency and negotiable bonds, the gang fled in two cars, one of which was reported to be a 1934 Chevrolet coach. The bandits went west out of Neosho before separating a short distance outside town and going in two different directions.
About three months after the Neosho caper, the O'Malley gang was broken up and most of the members arrested when they started ratting each other out after one or more of them were captured following a Fort Smith (Ark.) bank robbery. O'Malley was captured in Kansas City and extradited to Illinois on a prior kidnapping charge. Declared insane, he died there in 1944.
Sources: Joplin Globe, March 3, 1935 and Wes Franklin's "Our Gangster Connection" in January 5, 2013 Neosho Daily News.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Avilla (Mo.) Bank Robbery

About two o'clock in the afternoon of May 18, 1932, the Bank of Avilla, Missouri, was held up by two bandits who entered the bank with revolvers drawn. Neither man wore a mask, although one wore sun glasses and the other had his face painted with some sort of brown substance to disguise his appearance. In a report published in a Joplin newspaper later that same afternoon, the pair were described as young men, but the next day a different Joplin newspaper said they were middle-aged.
The holdup men forced cashier Ivy Russell and bookkeeper Evelyn Shelton to lie down behind the teller's cage, and they and ordered Mrs. C.R. Stemmons, who was Russell's sister and a customer of the bank at the time, to take a seat in a chair at the front of the bank. Another customer, Harry Hightower, entered during the robbery, and he, like the bank officials, was made to lie on the floor.
The robbers then forced Russell to get up and retrieve the bank's cash from the safe. The take amounted to about $2,000. Threatening Russell, the bandits ordered him outside to their car and took him along as a hostage during their getaway. The bandit car, reported to be a 1929 Model A Ford sedan, sped west out of town along Route 66. The bandits turned north about two miles outside Avilla and drove about two more miles before stopping at the side of the road, where they bound Russell's hands and feet with tape, shoved him through a hedge row into a wheat field, and sped away.
The telephone operator at Avilla reported the robbery immediately after it happened, and law officers from Joplin and other surrounding towns were put on the lookout. Meanwhile, Russell was able to work his way free, and, hailing a ride, he was back at the bank less than an hour after the holdup. He reported that he saw the bandits head west on a back road after they shoved him through the hedge row, but no further trace of the outlaws was reported.
The men who held up the Avilla bank were later identified as part of the Leo "Irish" O'Malley gang, although two men hardly constitute a gang, and I'm not sure whether it's even definitely known that O'Malley himself was one of the two men who pulled off the Avilla job. In addition, the title "O'Malley Gang" was apparently something of a misnomer, as Leo O'Malley was supposedly not even the leader of the gang. The gang was reportedly made up mainly of ex-cons from Missouri who had started out as the Ozark Mountain Boys. However, newspapers had dubbed the outfit the Irish O'Malley gang after they pulled off a number of robberies in southwest Missouri, northeast Oklahoma, and surrounding region. Another report says the O'Malley gang came about as a result of the merging of the Ozark Mountain Boys with another gang.
After the Avilla robbery, the O'Malley gang committed a number of other crimes in the four-state region over the next few years, including robbing a bank at Neosho, Missouri, in early March of 1935. About three months after the Neosho job, the gang held up a bank at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and most of the members of the gang were caught and sentenced to prison in the wake of the Fort Smith robbery.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lynching of Hewett Hayden at Monett

Many, if not most, of the victims during America's lynching era (concentrated especially between 1890 and the early 1920s) were black men lynched by white mobs. As I have pointed out in the past, many whites were also lynched during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whether the victim was black or white, a lot of them, I'm sure, were innocent and wrongly strung up, but as a general rule, I think it is probably pretty safe to say that blacks were more likely to be the victims of such miscarriages of justice than whites. The case of Hewett Hayden of Monett, Missouri, seems to be a prime example.
In June of 1894, the blacks of Monett, apparently deciding that they had been oppressed for too long, decided to make a stand, and a confrontation ensued between a group of black men and a group of white men. One of the blacks, later identified as Geroge Macklin, pulled out a pistol and fired a shot, killing one of the white men, Robert Greenwood. The black men fled the scene before any of them could be taken into custody, but a week or so after the incident, Hewett Hayden was captured and was being transported by rail to the county seat at Cassville on June 28 when a mob of about 60 men boarded the train at Monett and took Hayden from the two law officers who were escorting him. Despite the fact that a coroner's inquest into Greenwood's death had already concluded that Macklin was the man who had fired the fatal shot, the mob dragged Hayden from the train and strung him up to a nearby telegraph pole. Somebody also fired a shot into his body as he dangled from the makeshift gallows. Although Hayden had not fired the fatal shot and may not have even displayed a gun during the confrontation in mid-June, he had been present, and that was enough for the enraged mob. A coroner's jury called to investigate Hayden's death came to the usual dubious verdict that he had been killed by parties unknown.
The Cassville Republican, in reporting the lynching, lamented the hotheadedness of the mob in taking the law into their own hands and hanging an innocent man. However, the paper went on to try to mitigate the culpability of the mob by explaining that an inability of crime victims to have their grievances redressed in the legal court system had led indirectly to the vigilantism. By way of argument, the newspaper enumerated over twenty felonious assaults and murders that had occurred in Barry County during the previous decade, giving the final disposition of the criminal in each case. In almost all of them, the criminal either faced no charges or had gotten off with a very light sentence. "Attorneys have gone to unusual and uncalled for efforts to acquit or secure the pardon of accused whom they must have known were murderers under the law and dangerous in the community," said the newspaper. "While it is proper that a client's interest should be protected, there is a limit beyond which the safety of society is endangered. The safety and good name of the county should be paramount to the liberty of any criminal." Thus was Hewett Hayden's life rationalized away.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Murder of Jasper Francis

An interesting murder case in the Ozarks was the killing of Jasper Jacob "Jap" Francis by Charles Blackburn near Stoutland, Missouri, on the early morning of November 10, 1915. The two men were farmers and stockmen who lived on the same road leading out of Stoutland. Some business transactions between the two men in late October and early November involving land and cattle reportedly led to the killing. One of the transactions was the sale of some cattle by Francis to Blackburn for $1,400. Blackburn had given Francis a span of mules as a $200 down payment on the cattle with a promise to pay the remaining $1,200 in the near future.
When Francis had still not been paid the balance a few days later and he learned that Blackburn had already shipped the cattle to market, he began to believe that Blackburn, who had several other debts outstanding, was trying to cheat him out of the cattle. On the evening of November 9th, after making some inquiries in Stoutland at the bank and so forth, Francis started toward home but never made it there. Then, on November 11, Blackburn appeared at the Stoutland bank and cashed several checks or notes purportedly signed by Francis.
Twelve days after Francis's disappearance, his dead body was found covered with leaves about twenty yards from the road that he had taken out of town. He had been shot in the back of the head or neck, and his skull had also been fractured by some other weapon.
A coroner's jury was called, and a woman living near where the body had been found testified that she had heard a gunshot on the early morning of November 10 that came from the direction where the body was found. Blackburn, who was almost immediately suspected of the crime, was also called to testify at the coroner's inquest, and he apparently made statements that were incriminating, because he was charged with murder in the death of Francis.
At his trial the next spring, Blackburn explained that he had sold his farm to Francis and that the notes he had cashed at the bank on the 11th represented payment for the farm that was above and beyond the $1,200 that he owed Francis for the cattle. The jury, however, didn't buy his explanation, and he was convicted of murder. He appealed the verdict, and it was overturned in 1918 by the Missouri Supreme Court, largely on the grounds that Blackburn's statements to the coroner's jury were improperly used against him, since he was testifying at the time as a witness, not as a defendant, and had not been advised that he did not have to testify. The appeal was also based on the fact that Blackburn had been convicted partly because the farm he claimed to have sold to Francis for $12,000 was worth only $7,500 and partly because he had declined to participate in the search for Francis when he first went missing. Blackburn's lawyers maintained that these facts should not have been admitted as evidence against him, but the supreme court disallowed these appeals.
Whether Blackburn was ever retried, and if so, what the outcome of the second trial was, I do not know. However, this case is the subject of a historical novel entitled Murder on Rouse Hill that was released a few years ago by Southeast Missouri University Press. Perhaps the answer is contained in that book, but I have not read the book yet.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Friendship Community Revisited

One of the first entries I posted after I started this blog back in October 2008 was about the Friendship Community, a utopian commune started by social reformer Alcander Longley in early 1872 a few miles east of Buffalo in Dallas County, Missouri. I recently ran across an interesting account written by a St. Louis newspaperman of his visit to the commune in the summer of 1872. It appeared in the St. Louis Democrat and was subsequently reprinted in the Buffalo Reflex. The reporter described not just his visit to the commune but also his journey there and back. He took a train from St. Louis to Lebanon but then had to pay $3 to hitch a ride with the mail wagon that ran between Lebanon and Buffalo in order to complete his trip. He called the 30-mile trip "a rough ride," and he described the road as "the roughest road I ever traveled." He said the ride might be worth taking from a sanitary point of view for those persons "afflicted with certain kinds of dyspepsia, where a general shaking up of the viscera and the luxation of most of the articulated bones is considered beneficial. After the soreness goes out of his bones and bowels, the patient will enjoy better health, if he survives the treatment." If, however, the traveler did not need such a vigorous workout, the newspaperman opined, he might be better advised to walk.
After reaching Buffalo and making some observations, the newspaperman reported to his St. Louis readers. A railroad had been planned from Lebanon to Fort Scott, Kansas, but work on it had been abandoned, causing agricultural prices in the Buffalo area to plummet (since farmers had no quick way to get their products to market, as they thought they were going to). You could buy a good milk cow for $15 and a good, fat yearling for $6, and cheap fertile land was plentiful. The newspaperman concluded that anyone who wanted to enter into agricultural pursuits might find the Dallas County area to be a good place to invest in, assuming the railroad was eventually built. (It never was. See my Feb. 8, 2009, blog entry on the Dallas County Railroad.)
The newspaperman registered at a hotel and paid the landlord one dollar to drive him out to the Friendship Community, about four and half miles due west of Buffalo. At this site, the reporter said, "The reformers have broken ground for the eventual redemption of the world, by doing away with the temptations to theft, robbery, swindling and murder."
The reporter's statement about Longley's followers redeeming the world was an obvious bit of sarcasm, because he felt the communist experiment was a utopian dream that would not last. In fact, by the time the St. Louis newspaperman visited in August of 1872, the community's president and chief financial backer, William H. Bennett, had already left the group. Apparently Bennett felt he was the only one contributing financially to the group, while Longley and the other members felt Bennett was not truly committed to the community and only went into the venture because of "speculative motives."
Bennett had left, withdrawing his money, the land he had donated for a commune, and the hotel and store he had been running for the financial benefit of the commune. By the time the St. Louis reporter arrived, however, Longley had succeeded in acquiring about 500 acres, with the financial backing of a Buffalo dentist, as a replacement farm for the community. Although the newspaperman held out little hope for the success of the experiment, he was impressed by Longley's dedication to the cause. He felt that a true reformer like Longley "would rather live on a crust and live as his Creator intended, than dine on purple and fine linen in the selfish, sordid, and throat-cutting struggle of ordinary life."
The newspaperman found Longley so talkative that he had a hard time breaking away from him for the return trip to Buffalo. One thing that Longley especially wanted to emphasize was that the members of his commune did not practice sexual promiscuity, as some critics had claimed. Longley said he believed each man "should have his own wife and let every other fellow's wife carefully alone." After bidding Longley adieu with a hardy handshake, the reporter made his way back to Buffalo to spend the night, and then started back to St. Louis the next day.
As the reporter thought would be the case, the Friendship Community did not succeed, although it did manage to hang on for a few years. It, however, would not be the last of Longley's communist experiments in Missouri, nor was it the first. (See my April 4, 2009, blog entry on the Reunion Community.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Douglas County Murder--Part II

Back in August of 2010, I wrote on this blog about the murder trial of James Wilson that was taking place in 1902 in Douglas County, Missouri, for a murder he had allegedly committed many years earlier. At the time I had happened onto a newspaper article about the trial, but since I was doing research on a different subject, I didn't bother to try to research the trial or the murder any further. Recently, though, I received an inquiry and some additional information about the case from a descendant of the family of Wilson's 2nd wife. That pricked my interest somewhat; so I've done a little research into the case and have come up with a little more information in addition to that provided by the family descendant. It's a fairly interesting case.
Here are the facts of the case in brief. Wilson was a farmer near Arno in Douglas County, and he had a neighbor named Orville Lyons (not Orville Lynn as the newspaper article I saw in 2010 said). Wilson and Lyons owned a threshing machine together, or at least each of them operated it on different occasions, and sometime in 1869 (not 1870 as I previously said) they got into an argument over the machine. One account said they got into a physical altercation with Wilson getting the worse of the contest. At any rate, the two men returned to their respective homes after the argument, but Wilson showed up at Lyons's house and killed him with a shotgun blast when he emerged from the house. Wilson then went on the lam, hiding out in Douglas County. After about three weeks, a man named James Hall called at night at a house where Wilson was holed up, and Wilson, thinking Hall was a deputy of some sort who had come to arrest him, shot the man dead with the same shotgun he had killed Lyons with. Wilson turned himself in shortly afterwards, but no indictment was brought, reportedly because he was a prominent ally of the Alsup family, which controlled Douglas County politics. During the time he was hiding out or near that time, Wilson, who had been previously married and had several kids, married a Douglas County woman named Martha Coonts, and as soon as Wilson was allowed to go free, he and his new wife fled to Arkansas.
After spending about five years in Arkansas, Wilson and his family moved to Kansas and then finally moved to Oklahoma in 1889, when the territory was opened up to white settlement. The Wilsons homesteaded near Guthrie. The Alsups finally lost their grip on Douglas County politics, and an indictment against Wilson was finally brought in the James Hall case about the time Wilson settled in Oklahoma Territory. However, he was not tracked down, despite the fact he was living under his own name and even drawing a pension under that name. Instead, he became prominent farmer and landowner in the Guthrie area.
About 1899, Wilson and his wife separated and divorced, because, according to at least one report, he was prone to beat her. Martha was apparently granted some land that she and Wilson had lived on together, but Wilson received most of the couple's other belongings in the divorce settlement. Shortly after the divorce, Wilson married a third time to a woman who herself had reportedly been married four previous times.
In the spring of 1901, two men from Douglas County came through the Guthrie area and stopped at the Wilson home or otherwise ran onto James Wilson. Recognizing him, they reported to a local deputy sheriff that he was wanted back in Douglas County, Missouri. The deputy corresponded with law officers in Missouri and also interviewed Martha Coonts Wilson. Reportedly still peeved by what she considered the less-than-fair settlement she had received in the divorce case and by her ex-husband's brutish treatment of her, she confirmed that Wilson had killed two men in Douglas County over 32 years earlier.
Meanwhile, back in Douglas County, Orville Lyons's son William, who had been four years old at the time of his father's death and had reportedly witnessed the killing, had become a prominent citizen in the county, and he succeeded in getting a warrant drawn up against Wilson on a murder charge. The Missouri governor issued extradition papers, and Oklahoma authorities honored them.
Wilson was arrested near Guthrie on December 21, 1901, and taken back to Douglas County to stand trial. The trial got underway in late March of 1902, and Hannah Coonts, sister of Martha, was called to testify in the case. Hannah, who had lived with her sister and James Wilson for many years, was interviewed by reporters before leaving Guthrie on or about March 25, and she revealed many details of the case. Martha Coonts Wilson also spoke to reporters and confirmed what her sister had said.
Hannah Coonts, who had never married and was reportedly an old woman, was one of the main witnesses against Wilson, who himself was almost 65. William Lyons also reportedly testified against his father's killer. The case was turned over to the jury on April 2 for deliberation, and the next day the jurors came back with a verdict of guilty of second degree murder. Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His lawyers were reportedly planning to appeal the verdict and sentence, but whether they did and, if so, what the outcome of the appeal was, I do not know.

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