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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Melville to Dadeville

The Ozarks has its share of towns that were formerly known by a different name. For instance, Ava, the seat of Douglas County, was known as Militia Springs until several years after the Civil War.
Another town that used to be known by a different name is Dadeville, located, appropriately enough, in Dade County. The first trappings of a community on the present site of Dadeville sprang up around 1855 or 1856, and the place was called Melville, a name that was supposedly based on a drawing of straws out of a hat. The man who drew the lucky straw had the honor of naming the community and decided on Melville.
During the Civil War, Melville was raided by bushwhackers under Kinch West on two separate occasions, in the spring of 1863 shortly after West's father and brothers had been killed by Union soldiers or sympathizers and again on the morning of June 14, 1864. During the latter raid, guerrilla leader Pete Roberts also came along for the lark, and the rebels rode in and took possession of the place, gunning down a sixteen-year-old boy and a blind black man in the process before the two could make their escape with the rest of the fleeing citizens. After pillaging the stores of the town, the marauders set most of the businesses ablaze and headed northwest out of town, the same direction from which they'd come.
The community was rebuilt, and in 1865 the name was changed to Dadeville, reportedly because post office workers kept getting Melville confused with another town called Millville.
After the war, Kinch West became an outlaw of some note in Oklahoma.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Friendship Community

Although my coverage of the Ozarks will undoubtedly be tilted somewhat toward the Joplin area since that is the part of the region with which I'm most familiar, I want to try to cover other areas of the Ozarks, too. So, before I get back to the desperate characters of Granby that I mentioned last time, let me briefly discuss a couple of other topics from different sections of the Ozarks. The first one that comes to mind is the Friendship Community in Dallas County.
I first ran across a mention of the Friendship Community in the History of Dallas County several years ago. The entry said that the community was established in 1872 by Alcander Longley, publisher of a communist newspaper dedicated to social reform; that members of the community shared everything equally and lived together as one family; that they were left alone to do as they pleased; but that they disbanded in the 1880s as members became disillusioned.
All of this is largely true. The Friendship Community, located about four miles due west of Buffalo on Lindley Creek, was, in fact, a communist community, one of several started by Longley throughout the state of Missouri during the late 1800s. Longley did not view communism in political terms and was not an admirer of Karl Marx. Rather he was an advocate of what he called "practical communism" and urged people to live together in shared communities.
However, the county history entry is not entirely true. In the first place, the community had completely disbanded by the summer of 1877. Also, one of the main factors contributing to the exodus of members was threats and intimidation from Dallas County neighbors. Although Longley was an advocate of monogamous marriage, the common perception around Buffalo was that the community practiced polygamy and free love. Longley received anonymous, threatening letters telling him to quit advocating such "doctern," and the community was victimized by vandalism on a couple of occasions.
Later Longley formed a similar community just east of Halfway in Polk County called Principia, but it was even shorter lived than the Friendship Community.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Desperate Characters of Joplin, Granby, and Galena

Before I moved to the Joplin area from the Springfield area many years ago, I had occasionally heard mention of what a wild, wide-open town Joplin used to be back in its mining heyday, and my study of local history during the years since I've lived in Joplin has confirmed this to be the case. During the Old West era, the James gang and the Youngers visited the Joplin area at least once or twice for sure and probably other times as well, and a passel of lesser-known desperadoes frequented the town with some regularity. During the gangster era of the 20s and 30s, outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde, the Barkers, and Arkansas Tom of Doolin gang fame used Joplin as a hideout. Not until lead and zinc mining started petering out around the middle of the 20th century did the town finally begin to lose its reputation as an anything-goes type of place.
What I have learned in recent years, however, is that, for being a rough-and-tumble mining town in its early days, Joplin had nothing on either Granby or Galena (Kansas). Granby in particular, was home to an unusual number of murderers and assorted other rough characters. I'll be writing about some of them in more detail in future posts.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bloodland

A fantastic story that has apparently circulated among certain military personnel stationed at Fort Leonard Wood over the years holds that the Bloodland area of the sprawling army post is haunted by ghosts. The story traces its origin to an incident that supposedly occurred shortly after the fort was completed in the early 1940s when a soldier, who got drunk on guard duty near Bloodland, explained his intoxication by claiming he had been kidnapped by ghosts and forced to drink hard cider through a straw. Subsequently, other soldiers reported being taken hostage in similar fashion, and in each case the kidnapping was attributed to the ghosts of former residents of the small community of Bloodland who, upset over being forced off their land when the fort was constructed, still haunted the area.
I don't lend much credence to tales of paranormal phenomena in general, and I place even less stock in this one. Bloodland, of course was only one of several small communities that were wiped off the face of the Pulaski County map when Fort Leonard Wood was built, but it was the largest. At the time the army announced plans to build the fort, Bloodland boasted a high school, two general stores, three filling stations, a post office, a couple of churches, and a population of about 100 people. While it's true that many of the people who had to leave land they had lived on all their lives were initially upset about moving, most quickly accepted it as their small patriotic contribution to winning World War II, which started only a few months later. As a lady whose family was displaced by Fort Leonard Wood told me about ten years ago when I wrote an article for The Ozarks Mountaineer about construction of the fort, "Everybody knew we had a war to win, and once they accepted it, everybody got behind it."
My parents seemed to exemplify the same sentiment. They were two of the people who had to leave Bloodland because of the fort, and I never heard them complain about it. So, I don't think there are any ghosts haunting Bloodland, although visiting the cemetery there, where my grandparents are buried and which is about the only still-visible sign that the community ever existed, can be a bit eerie. And when I took basic training at Fort Leonard Wood during the Vietnam era, I always viewed the entire training area, including Bloodland, with some apprehension, but it had nothing to do with ghosts.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Headlee Family

I wrote an article for the October-November 2001 issue of The Ozarks Mountaineer entitled "Murdered for Preaching the Gospel?" about Samuel S. Headlee, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South who was killed on July 28, 1866, in the aftermath of the Civil War, when he attempted to preach at an M. E. Church North (Pleasant View) in northwest Webster County near Elkland, Missouri; and I have had more than a passing interest in the Headlees, one of the prominent families of early Greene County, ever since. So, recently as I was perusing the Missouri in the Civil War message board (http://history-sites.com/cgi-bin/bbs53x/mocwmb/webbs_config.pl) , a thread entitled "Who Was Capt. Headlee?" caught my attention.
"Capt. Headlee" refers to Samuel W. Headlee, who, as one of the postings pointed out, served as a Union captain in both the 72nd Enrolled Missouri Militia and the 16th Regiment of the Missouri Cavalry. One of the respondents to the original post also pointed out that there were two Samuel Headlees, presumably first cousins, and that Samuel W. Headlee was not to be confused with Rev. Samuel S. Headlee, the man who was killed near Elkland. All of this is true, except that there were actually five Samuel Headlees who were first cousins.
Revolutionary War veteran Elisha Headlee and most of his adult sons and daughters moved from Maury County, Tennessee, to Greene County during the early to mid 1830s, accompanied by the family of fellow Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Steele, five of whose daughters had married five of Headlee's sons. Most of the Headlees settled in the Hickory Barrens area between Springfield and Fair Grove, although some lived near Ebenezer, and all five of the Headlee-Steele marriages resulted in a son named Samuel, after the wives' father.
After the Civil War, Samuel W. Headlee served several terms as a state representative and one term as a state senator, and he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. Another of the like-named cousins, Samuel H. Headlee, became a prominent physician and moved to Phelps County, where he, too, served a term as a state senator, and at least a couple of the other Greene County Headlees were prominent in the post-Civil War politics and civic affairs of the county.
Some of the Headlees helped found Mount Comfort Church, and Samuel Steele is buried there. Many of the Headlees, including Samuel S. Headlee's father (Joseph) and grandfather (Elisha) are buried at Old Salem Cemetery on Fruitland Road (Farm Road 173) just a mile or so west of Old Highway 65 between Springfield and Fair Grove, but the reverend himself was brought back to Elm Springs Cemetery for burial (just north of the Hickory Barrens area) after he was killed in Webster County.
On a personal note, I would like to thank my friend and fellow writer Marilyn Smith for helping with my Headlee research. I'd also like to thank Mary Nida Smith, whose recent article in the Missouri Writers' Guild newsletter inspired me to start this blog, for her tips and advice on blogging. You can check out her blog at http://marynidasmith.blogspot.com/.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halltown

I mentioned Halltown in my previous post a couple of days ago. It's located about twelve to fifteen miles west of Springfield on Highway 266, which is old Route 66. You can see the town sitting off to the north near the Carthage-Avilla exit as you drive by on I-44. Halltown is one of many once-thriving small towns scattered throughout the Ozarks that have gone downhill since their heyday in the early 1900s. George Hall started the first business in Halltown in 1876, and the town was named after him. The town prospered, especially after the coming of the Mother Road, Route 66, during the 1920s. In 1925, Halltown boasted a high school, three general stores, nine service stations, two barber shops, and numerous other businesses. Later, the town was home to many antique shops and became known as the "Antique Capital of the World." When I-44 was built during the early 1960s, the road bypassed the business district, hastening the decline of Halltown, as it did for many other small towns along Route 66. Nowadays, most of the people who travel through Halltown are locals or Route 66 enthusiasts, and only one or two businesses remain.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Turnback Creek

I travel I-44 between Springfield and Joplin fairly often, and I always used to wonder, when I would see the "Turnback Creek" sign near Halltown, about the curiously named stream that meanders beneath the highway bridge there. I imagined that perhaps the creek got its name because of the many "turnbacks" of its circuitous route. Come to find out, the course that the stream follows has nothing to do with how it got its name. In the fall of 1831, so the story goes, a group of settlers from Tennessee, led by John Williams, went out from Springfield in search of new land and camped on the creek. While there, some in the group decided to turn back, presumably because of threatening weather or illness, and spend the winter in Springfield. Williams, though, ventured on and built a home about three miles southeast of present-day Mount Vernon, becoming the first permanent white settler in what became Lawrence County. A hundred years later, in 1931 the event and the location were commemorated with a large celebration, and a small monument was placed at the home site.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thomas Hart Benton

The third annual Thomas Hart Benton festival, sponsored by the Newton County Tourism Commission, is coming up in late November. I've never been a connoisseur of Benton's art or of art in general for that matter, but, because of the local angle, I have written a couple of brief articles about his life, including one in the November 2008 issue of Show-Me the Ozarks Magazine, a publication for which I write almost every month. Benton was born in rural Neosho, but the part of his autobiography, An Artist in America, that especially interested me when I read it a number of years ago was his account of the summer he spent in nearby Joplin in 1906 at the age of seventeen. At the time, Joplin was a booming, anything-goes mining town, and Benton thoroughly enjoyed his first summer of freedom. He started out working as a surveyor for a mining company but got hired midway through the summer as a cartoonist for a fledgling newspaper, the Joplin American, in the 400 block of Main Street. At night, particularly on weekends, Benton drank beer in Joplin saloons, including the infamous House of Lords, and no one questioned the seventeen-year-old boy's adult standing. At some point during the summer, young Benton made the acquaintance of a man who frequented the bawdy houses of the wide-open town, where "insinuatingly decorated girls" plied their trade. On his first few visits to one of the houses, according to Benton, he merely waited in an outside room drinking beer while his friend went inside, but the lad eventually surrendered his innocence to a sporting girl in "a flaming red kimono." The romantic Benton found the experience unpleasant and "looked no further into the mysteries of sex."
Thomas Hart Benton, of course, went on to become a famous artist, noted especially for his murals depicting everyday American life. During the early 1970s, he returned to Joplin to paint a mural for the city hall called "Joplin at the Turn of the Century," based partly on his recollections from the summer he had spent in the town over sixty years earlier.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Dug Springs

A group of reenactors and other Civil War enthusiasts placed a monument at Clever, Missouri, on October 7 in commemoration of the skirmish at Dug Springs that occurred near present-day Clever along the Old Wire Road on August 2, 1861. The skirmishers on the Federal side were part of a force of over 5,000 men under General Nathaniel Lyon, and those on the Confederate side were part of a force of about 3,000 men under General James S. Rains of the Missouri State Guard. The action at Dug Springs, a precursor to the Battle of Wilson's Creek a week later, was considered a Union victory, since Rains retreated, leaving the field of battle in Federal hands. However, as was almost always the case during the Civil War, each side minimized its own losses and exaggerated the other side's losses in reports filed after the action. Rains, for instance, suggested that as many as fourteen Union soldiers were killed during the skirmish, but the facts seem to suggest that the number of men lost in killed and seriously wounded by each side during the skirmish could probably be counted on one hand. As Ozarks historian and folklorist Silas Turnbo said in regard to a similar skirmish that took place at Forsyth eleven days earlier, the action at Dug Springs "was not a big fight, but it was hot enough to be remembered" by those who took part in it. A solider who fell at Dug Springs was just as dead as the thousands who gave their lives in epic battles like Gettysburg.
By the way, my first job out of college was teaching high school at Clever.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why Ozarks history?

I've lived in the Ozarks all my life and have long had an interest in local history, whetted partly by my interest in genealogy, since all branches of my family settled in the Ozarks generations ago. I've been freelance writing for publiction for almost thirty-five years, and for the past twenty years or so my speciality has been the history of the Ozarks and surrounding regions like Kansas and northern Missouri. Even my fiction tends to be historically based. I've altered the oft-cited advice to "write what you know" only slightly, in that I tend to "write where I know." Periodically I'll be posting thoughts and news pertaining to historical people and events of the Ozarks and to my writing about those events.

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