Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Last time, I mentioned vigilantism in the Ozarks, a topic that brings to mind lynchings, since extra-legal execution was the most extreme form, yet a fairly common form, of vigilantism in early Ozarks history, as well as in the history of America as a whole.
Many people automatically associate lynching in this country with racism. Extra-legal execution, especially hanging, was, in fact, often employed by whites against blacks who had supposedly committed one crime or another, even though in many cases the evidence for such crimes was scant. In this racist sense, lynching was not as common in Missouri and other parts of the Ozarks as it was in the deep South. Of course, this was partly because the concentration of blacks in this area was not as great. Even so, we definitely had some high-profile cases of racial lynching, such as the notorious Pierce City lynchings of 1901 and the equally infamous Springfield lynchings of 1906, but overall such lynchings weren't as common in this area as they were in the deep South.
White men lynching other white men, though, I'm not so sure about. I have a hunch that the Ozarks witnessed at least its share and very likely more than its share of this type of lynching. I don't have any statistics to back up my assumption, but I've read enough old newspaper accounts and so forth to know that a lot of such extra-legal hangings occurred in this area.
This area also saw a rare instance of black men lynching another black man. In the wee hours of the morning on April 25, 1899, Charles Williams, "a disreputable negro," as a Joplin newspaper called him, was dragged from his jail cell at Galena, Kansas, at the edge of the Ozarks, by a mob of black men and shot four times when he "showed fight." Williams's girlfriend had been found dead in her bed the day before, and Williams was suspected of having strangled her to death in a fit of rage.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Taney County Vigilantism

If I were asked to describe or summarize vigilantism in the Ozarks, one of the first subjects that would come to my mind would be the Bald Knobbers of Taney County. As most people familiar with the Ozarks and Ozarks history know, the Bald Knobbers were a so-called "law and order" group that arose during the 1880s in Taney County to counter the lawlessness that had plaqued the county since the Civil War. They were such eager disciplinarians, however, that the anti-Bald Knobbers arose in response to the Bald Knobbers' heavy hand, and the two sides warred with each other for a few years before disbanding.
Recently I was reading some online newspaper entries from the old Springfield Express, and when I stumbled upon an account of a triple hanging that occurred in Taney County in the name of vigilantism, I found it interesting that the event occurred in the spring of 1882, because this predates by almost two years the formation of the Bald Knobbers.
The three victims of the 1882 lynching were Tom and John McClanahan and a man named Meex Snapp. Reportedly they had recently burglarized a store at Kirbyville and stolen a horse from a farmer, and they had been implicated in various other criminal offenses throughout the previous year. Finally, by early April of 1882, local citizens had apparently had enough. The trio were taken to the pine trees south of Kirbyville and strung up. So, it seems that vigilantism already had a good foothold in Taney County even before the Bald Knobbers came along.
By the way, one of the Bald Knobbers' victims in 1886 was Sam Snapp, who was a little too vocal in his opposition to the group to suit the Knobbers. I don't know whether he and Meex were related, but it's very likely they were. If so, that might partially account for the resentment Sam seemed to harbor against vigilantism in general and the Bald Knobbers in particular.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Alonzo Fagg

Holcombe's 1883 History of Greene County contains a brief account of the killing of Alonzo Fagg by Samuel Means in 1879. It seems Fagg was walking home along South Street in Springfield with another young man when Means came out of an alley, chased Fagg a short distance, and stabbed him to death with a knife when he caught up with him. Both men were reportedly under the influence of liquor, but supposedly there had been no prior argument between them, which seems hard to believe.
The interesting thing to me, however, about the account in the county history is that it says that both men came from "highly respectable families." Based on my research of the Fagg family, I'm not sure "highly respectable" would be the term that would come to mind if I were trying to describe Alonzo and his kin. Fagg's father, James H. Fagg, for instance, was a merchant in Springfield during the Civil War era, and he had a whole series of run-ins with the law during those years involving minor offenses like selling liquor without a license, selling liquor on Sunday, gambling, and so forth.
The real black sheep of the family, though, was a brother of Alonzo's named J. P. Fagg. J. P.'s first serious scrape with the law came in 1875 when he tried to rob a businessman in Springfield of a large sum of money by tossing a cannister of chloroform into a room where the man was sleeping. The plan backfired and he was arrested and convicted of attempted grand larceny. And that was just the beginning of his criminal career. However, in defense of Holcombe's county history, I have to add that some of J. P.'s more notorious escapades happened after 1883.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dallas County Railroad

In a piece I posted back in October about the communist Friendship Community that Alcander Longley established in Dallas County in the 1870s, I said that one of the reasons the community failed and people moved away from it was threats from Dallas County neighbors. Another reason, though, was the failure of a railroad project known in Dallas County history as the "railroad that was never built." Langley started his community in the early 1870s with an understanding that the Laclede and Fort Scott Railroad, stretching from Lebanon, Missouri, to Fort Scott, Kansas, would soon span Dallas County, allowing potential residents from across the country easy access to his isolated community and providing a ready means of shipping and receiving needed goods. When the railroad didn't come, neither did the anticipated influx of communists.
Plans for the railway had first been announced back in 1869 during the railroad-building frenzy that followed the Civil War, and the clearing and grading of the roadbed started shortly afterwards. Dallas Countians heaped upon themselves a huge indebtedness in the form of bonds to help pay for the venture, but the railroad started experiencing financial difficulties in the 1870s, and the project was never completed. Citizens of Dallas County felt cheated and for many years refused to pay off the bonds. A compromise on the indebtedness was not reached until around 1920, and the last of the bonds was finally paid off about 1940. Dallas County citizens gathered at Buffalo (the county seat) to celebrate the occasion and to burn the bonds. At the time, traces of the old roadbed, the "railroad that was never built," were still visible around Buffalo, but even those signs are getting hard to see nowadays.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ozarks Cattle Drives

When people think of Old West cattle drives in which Texas longhorns were herded to northern markets, they normally think of towns in Kansas like Dodge City, Wichita, and Abilene as the primary destinations for the cattle. The western Kansas cow towns were, in fact, the main shipping points after about 1867. Prior to that date, though, St. Louis, Sedalia, and Kansas City, Missouri were the primary destinations, and the old cattle trails criss-crossed the Ozarks.
Prior to the Civil War and during the first year after the war, the Shawnee Trail through eastern Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) was the main cattle trail from Texas. Fifty miles or so below the Kansas state line, one branch of the trail veered eastward and roughly followed the Old Wire Road to St. Louis. Near Baxter Springs, at the edge of the Ozarks, another branch veered northeastward to Sedalia, while the third branch continued north toward Kansas City, following the Military Road that connected Fort Leavenworth and Fort Gibson (in Indian Territory).
During the first year after the war, Baxter Springs became a stopover point for the herds being driven north. Thus was born the "first cow town in Kansas," a title that Baxter lays claim to today.

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