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 ten nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Civil War Springfield, Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, and Murder and Mayhem in Missouri.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quantrill's Richmond Trip

In a couple of my previous posts, I've mentioned Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill making a trip to Richmond, Virginia during the winter of 1862-63 in quest of a colonel's commission. There's no written record that he received a colonel's commission in Richmond, but he may have or he may have received a field commission later, because some of Quantrill's men did refer to their leader as "Colonel Quantrill," even after the war.
In the past, there has been some scholarly disagreement on whether Quantrill even made such a journey to Richmond, but this question can be laid to rest. Quantrill's military service file alone provides enough evidence to prove that he did make such a journey, because it shows him, for instance, drawing pay from a Confederate paymaster in Alabama in early March of 1863 (presumably on his way back from Richmond). Also, an item in a Leavenworth newspaper in the spring of 1863, after the guerrilla leader and his men arrived back in their Jackson County stomping grounds, announced that Quantrill had just returned from Richmond.
While Quantrill, accompanied by one or two of his men, made the trip back east, most of the guerrillas attached themselves, under William Gregg, to Shelby's command of Marmaduke's division and fought at Cane Hill, Prairie Grove, Springfield, and Hartville during Marmaduke's winter campaign of 1862-1863.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Baxter Spring Battle and Massacre

William Quantrill is normally not closely associated with the Ozarks, and the Kansas City area was, in fact, his main field of operations. However, the notorious Confederate guerrilla leader did make several excursions through our region. In a previous post, I've already mentioned one such foray, the Cedar County raid in the spring of 1863 as Quantrill was returning from his trip to Richmond. Quantrill's most notable action in this region, however, was the battle and massacre that occurred at the edge of the Ozarks in Baxter Springs, Kansas, on October 6, 1863.
The action is sometimes loosely referred to as the Baxter Springs Massacre, but it actually involved both a battle and a massacre. As Quantrill and his men crossed into Kansas on their way south to spend the winter in Texas, they came upon a Federal fort that was still under construction, and they launched two or three attacks on the rampart before withdrawing to the edge of the Spring River timber north of the fort. Those attacks constituted the battle part of the action.
But even the massacre part of the action started out as a battle. After withdrawing to the edge of the timber, the guerrillas discovered a body of about a hundred Union troops, who later proved to be General James Blunt and his escort, drawn up in a line facing them from across the prairie. Quantrill ordered a charge, and the Federals put up a feckless resistance. Some in Blunt's escort had no arms, and many of those who did prematurely fired out their ammunition, while others turned to run without firing a shot. The guerrillas quickly chased them down, and many of the soldiers were reportedly killed as they tried to surrender, pleading for their lives. The action was therefore dubbed the Baxter Springs Massacre. Only a handful from the Federal detail, including Blunt himself, managed to escape.
Speaking of Quantrill, some readers may not be aware that there is such a thing as the William Clarke Quantrill Society (www.wcqsociety.com) comprised of people who are interested in the Civil War in general, the guerrilla and border warfare in Missouri in particular, and Quantrill and his men even more especially. I'm not a member of the group, but I'm acquainted with a few people who are, including Harold Dellinger, owner and operator of an online bookstore (www.haroldsbookstore.com) that specializes in books about the Civil War in Missouri and Kansas and about the outlaw era after the war. Harold's is one of several online bookstores that carries my books, including my new novel.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Day Massacre

The fact that it's getting close to Christmas reminds me of one of the most notorious incidents of the Civil War in the Ozarks, the Christmas Day Massacre (also called the Wilson Massacre) that occurred in Ripley County on December 25, 1863. In late 1863, Union troops captured Centreville, the county seat of Reynolds County, but on December 21 a company of Colonel Tim Reeves's 15th Missouri cavalry regiment under Captain Jesse Pratt recaptured the town and took about 100 Federal soldiers prisoner. Pratt hauled the captives south to Ripley County and turned them over to Colonel Reeves. On the 23rd, Major James Wilson was sent out from Pilot Knob with two companies of Union militia in pursuit of the rebels. On December 25, Reeves was camped at Pulliam's farm in the southeast part of Ripley with about 150 of his men, along with the Federal prisoners, and at least sixty civilians from the region, many of them family members of Reeves's soldiers, to celebrate Christmas. Reeves, who was also a Baptist minister, conducted religious services, and then the group sat down for a holiday dinner. Suddenly the festivites were violently interrupted when Wilson and his men charged into the camp and started firing. Only about thirty-five Confederates, who were guarding the prisoners, had arms, with the rest having stacked their weapons during dinner, and the rebel camp was quickly overrun. At least thirty rebels were killed, and most of the rest were taken prisoner, although Reeves managed to escape. Some accounts claim that many of the civilians, including women and children, were also slaughtered, although this point is in dispute.
What seems without doubt, however, is that this incident clearly illustrates that peace on earth did not reign in the Missouri Ozarks during America's Civil War, even on a sacred holiday like Christmas Day. The war in our state was a bitter provincial conflict, with Missourians often killing other Missourians, and such was the case with the Christmas Day massacre. The war in Missouri was often driven by revenge, and the aftermath of the Christmas Day massacre also illustrates this aspect of the war. When Major Wilson and a handful of his men were captured during General Sterling Price's invasion of Missouri in the fall of 1864, they were turned over to Colonel Reeves, who ordered the captives summarily executed in retaliation for the Ripley County atrocity.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Emmett Kelly

America's favorite clown, Emmett Kelly, Sr., was born in Sedan, Kansas, around 1898, and the family moved when he was about seven years old to rural Houston, Missouri, near the village of Yukon, where he grew up. Both Sedan and Houston claim Kelly as a favorite son. I live in the Joplin area, which is almost exactly halfway between the two towns, and I've been to both places. (In fact, I lived at Houston for a year during the early 1970s.)
Sedan has an Emmett Kelly Museum featuring clown memorabilia, especially that which is related directly to Emmett Kelly. The museum was opened in the late 1960s, and Kelly came back to Sedan for the occasion.
Kelly got his start in entertainment when he was still a teenager at the Old Settlers Reunion in Houston (now called the Texas County Fair and Old Settlers Reunion) drawing cartoons and doing a chalk talk while dressed as a clown. The town named a city park for Kelly in 1975, and just as he had returned to Sedan for the museum opening, he came back to Houston for dedication of the park. Every year Houston also hosts the Emmett Kelly Clown Festival during the first weekend in May.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Pierce City: What's in a Name?

Many years ago, when I first saw the town of Pierce City spelled "Peirce City," I thought the author had made a mistake, but I soon learned that the town's name was indeed spelled "Peirce City" during its early days. That part is not in doubt, but there still seems to be conflicting information on the Internet and elsewhere as to exactly how the town got its original name. According to information I found on the website of the Springfield-Greene County Library, for instance, the depot at what became Peirce City was named after railroad executive Andrew Pierce, but the name was misspelled as "Peirce" on the original plat dedicating the land for public use. However, according to workers at the Harold Bell Wright Museum at Pierce City with whom I talked last summer, this is not true. They said that Andrew Peirce's name really was spelled "Peirce" and that descendants of the family even objected when the name of the town was officially changed to "Pierce City" in the 1980s. What is known for sure is that the "Pierce City" spelling had been in widespread popular use for many years before it was officially adopted. Can anyone shed additional light on this issue?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nettie Pease Fox

The late 1880s were a time of great social and spiritual experimentation. All sorts of Utopian societies and religious communities were founded. One such movement was spiritualism, the belief that one could communicate with spirits of the dead. Spiritualism traces its roots to the 1840s but reached its peak in the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century when spiritualist lecturers toured the country and mass camp meetings were held.
One such lecturer was Nettie Pease Fox, who caused quite a stir in Springfield when she and her husband, Dorus M. Fox, arrived in the city in the fall of 1877 and started printing a spiritualist newspaper from an office located in the 200 block of South Avenue, just south of the square, and lecturing at the Opera House located a block farther south. During Nettie Pease Fox's stay in Springfield, many locals were reportedly converted to spiritualism, but the fervor died almost as quickly as it had arisen and the Foxes' sojourn in the city proved brief.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tipton Ford Train Wreck

A mural painted by Anthony Benton Gude (grandson of Thomas Hart Benton) was recently installed at the First United Methodist Church in Neosho commemorating the tragic head-on collision between a gasoline powered passenger train of the Missouri and North Arkansas line and a Kansas City Southern freight train that occurred at Tipton Ford in Newton County, Missouri, on the late afternoon of August 5, 1914, and claimed the lives of approximately 50 people. The passenger car burst into flames, and many of the victims were burned beyond recognition. Many of the dead were black residents of Neosho who were on their way home from an Emancipation Day celebration in nearby Joplin., and a few days later the whole Neosho community came together for a public funeral on the courthouse square for both the black and white victims. Some of the victims were buried in a mass grave at the IOOF Cemetery in Neosho, and large memorial stone was later placed there by the community. It is this spirit of unity that the new mural celebrates more than the actual train wreck. The mural will be dedicated and officially unveiled this Saturday, December 6.

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