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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sheriff Hardin Harvey Vicory

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a brief story on the Officer Down Memorial Page website about Sheriff Bertie Brixey of Webster County, Missouri. It sounded as if it would make an interesting historical article, but it didn't pan out, because some of the information on the website proved incorrect.
Another interesting story on the same website concerns Douglas County Sheriff Hardin Harvey Vicory, who was killed on March 8, 1879, by the former sheriff, whom Vicory was attempting to arrest for a murder the ex-lawman had committed a couple of years earlier while still serving as sheriff. This, too, seems like a very interesting historical article in the making. Unfortunately, there seems to be even less firsthand information available about this incident, such as court records and contemporaneous newspaper accounts, than there was about the Brixey killing. For instance, I found, in a Springfield newspaper, a reference to an account of the Vicory killing that had previously appeared in a Marshfield newspaper, but the Marshfield newspaper itself no longer exists. If I can come up with additional primary sources, though, writing this story might be an interesting future project.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

"The Matthews-Payton Feud"

I've been doing some research on the Meadows-Bilyeu feud in southern Christian County that erupted into violence in late November of 1898, and I was interested to learn that one of the principals in that feud, John S. "Bud" Meadows, was also involved in a previous feud in the same vicinity back in the Bald Knobber days of the 1800s.
In early 1885, Alex Payton and L. T. Matthews were involved in a replevin suit (the reclaiming of possessions through legal action), and the outcome favoring Payton angered Matthews. A feud developed between the two families, and Bud Meadows and his father, Alexander "Old Bob" Meadows, sided with the Paytons in the dispute.
Two weeks after the suit, someone threw a lit stick of dynamite on top of the Payton home, and it ripped through the roof of the house when it exploded. A small child was seriously injured (and later died according to at least one report), and several other members of the Payton family were injured.
Suspecting that the Matthews family was either directly or indirectly responsible for the explosion, the Paytons sought revenge. On April 12, 1885, as Matthews and his family were moving by wagon to Chadwick, they were ambushed by rifle from the side of the road. One shot wounded Matthews in the arm, and another struck his young son, Claudie, killing him instantly.
Matthews ran toward the bushes where the shots had come from and saw eighteen-year-old William Payton and fourteen-year-old James Payton running away. After the boys were charged with murder, Old Bob Meadows helped in their defense, and Matthews suspected that the Meadowses had played a part in the attack on his family.
Despite the legal aid provided by Old Bob, the younger Payton was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. However, the sentence was commuted in March of 1887. (He was eventually pardoned altogether.)
The commutation must have re-opened an old wound for Matthews. Less than three months later, on June 6, 1887, Old Bob Meadows was shot dead from ambush as he walked along the road just south of the Christian-Taney county line, the same way Matthews's small child had been assassinated two years earlier. Matthews was indicted in Taney County for the murder but was acquitted after a lengthy trial.
In 1895 (four years before the Meadows-Bilyeu feud), Bud Meadows was finally indicted as an accessory to the murder of little Claudie Matthews, but he, too, was acquitted.
After the Meadows-Bilyeu feud erupted into violence and Bud Meadows was on trial for killing Steve Bilyeu, several defense witnesses tried to suggest that Bilyeu and his sons had reputations as quarrelsome and violent men. Given Bud's prior history, that may have been an example of the pot calling the kettle black.
By the way, I haven't yet been able to determine whether L. T. Matthews was related to John Matthews and his nephew Wiley Matthews, the Bald Knobbers who, along with Dave Walker and his son, were convicted of killing two members of the Edens family south of Chadwick in March of 1887 (about the same time James Payton's death sentence was being commuted). Does anyone know whether they were related?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Rebel's Bluff

The story of Rebel's Bluff, a high cliff that overlooks a curve along Highway V about three and a half miles west of Mount Vernon, is an interesting tale. Around the mid point of the Civil War, a party of mounted Confederate bushwhackers were supposedly being chased during the night by a detachment of Union soldiers, and, not being familiar with the terrain, the rebels plunged over the embankment in the darkness, falling to their deaths about a hundred feet below.
The family who lived in the immediate vicinity heard the commotion but dared not venture out. The next morning, they found the bodies of the dead soldiers and their horses and buried them where they fell but didn't officially report the incident because they feared reprisal.
The story remained an unconfirmed legend for over a hundred years until about twenty or twenty-five years ago when a local man found an old bent rifle barrel at the site, which seemed to confirm the tale. Local historians speculated that the barrel had been bent by the weight of a horse and/or rider landing on it during the fall.
The old rifle barrel is now on display at the Lawrence County Historical Museum in Mount Vernon. I was at the museum a few weeks ago to talk about the Civil War in southwest Missouri and other regional history. During my visit, I was briefly introduced to the man who found the rifle barrel, but I regret to say I don't recall his name.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Nevada, the Bushwhacker Capital

This past weekend I was in Nevada for the town's annual Bushwhacker Days celebration. The idea behind the festival is to commemorate the town's heritage as a bushwhacker stronghold during the Civil War. At least that was the inspiration for the name of the festival, although the annual celebration involves a lot more than Civil War-related activities, just as Mount Vernon's annual Apple Butter Makin' Days celebration, for instance, involves a lot more than apple butter.
To be sure, though, many people around Nevada still identify with and celebrate the town's reputation as a bastion of Confederate sentiment during the war. On Saturday, while I was at the festival, for instance, the public address announcer pointed out, with what seemed like a measure of pride, the fact that in the U. S. presidential election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln received not a single vote in Vernon County. And more than once he joked about running jayhawkers out of town.
While Southern pride, in Nevada and elsewhere, mostly manifests itself nowadays in the same good-natured, lighthearted way that the public address announcer meant his comments, there are, of course, a few Dixie diehards who are still fighting the war. I readily admit there's a part of me that identifies with Southern culture, because virtually all of my ancestors came to Missouri from the South. But to the extent that the war was fought over slavery, I have to say that the right side won the war. Of course, we can argue all day about the extent to which the war was, in fact, fought over slavery. Many claim it had very little to do with it, and I can see their point. However, I find the argument that it had nothing whatsoever to do with it somewhat specious.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bonnie and Clyde Again

One of my posts a few weeks ago had to do with the Barrow gang's murder of the marshal of Alma, Arkansas, in June of 1933 a couple of months after the infamous shootout in Joplin. The gang made several other forays into the Ozarks, too, besides the Joplin shootout and the killing of the Alma marshal.
One occurred on January 26, 1933, a couple of months before the Joplin shootout, when the gang kidnapped Springfield motorcycle cop Thomas Persell near the Shrine Mosque, after Persell pulled their car over for suspicious activity around 6 p.m. The occupants (Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, and W. D. Jones) forced Persell into the car and headed out of town. With Persell piloting them along the unfamiliar roads, the gang headed north on Highway 65, turned off near Crystal Cave, and drove west through towns like Pleasant Hope, Greenfield, and Golden City. Once the gang reached the Joplin area, they seemed to be back in familiar territory, and they finally let their hostage out unharmed north of Joplin near Stone's Corner shortly after midnight.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Where Are the Ozarks?

I write principally about the history of the Ozarks, but I know that I often stretch the boundaries of the Ozarks when I write about things like the Dalton gang's fiasco at Coffeyville, Kansas, which is a good fifty or sixty miles beyond the Missouri border. Most attempts to define the boundaries of the Ozarks region have traditionally included a small piece of southeast Kansas but not sixty miles' worth of it. What I probably should say is that I write principally about the history of the Ozarks region and its surroundings.
So, what exactly are the boundaries of the Ozarks? The area's western edge is fairly clear to me, partly I think, because the state borders of Kansas and Oklahoma help define it. Most maps of the Ozarks that I've ever seen show the boundaries extending only a few miles into Kansas and not many more into Oklahoma. But maybe the reason the western edge of the Ozarks is fairly clear to me is merely because I happen to live in the western part of the region.
What about the northern edge of the Ozarks? The Missouri River would seem to form a natural boundary, but I'm not sure the region actually extends that far north, at least not in central and western Missouri. Sedalia, for instance, just doesn't seem much like the Ozarks to me.
I also have trouble defining our region's southern boundary. Where do the Ozarks leave off and the Boston Mountains begin? They seem pretty much the same to me, and maybe they are the same. Are the Boston Mountains simply the southern part of the Ozarks?
As for our region's eastern limit, I've seen some maps that show the Ozarks extending almost to the Mississippi River. Again, that seems a little far afield to me. I think a case can clearly be made that, when you're driving east on I-44, you're still at the edge of the Ozarks when you pass through the hills around Pacific, for instance, but to me, when you get twenty miles farther on and into the suburbs of St. Louis, you're no longer in the Ozarks.
I know that Springfield used to be fond of calling itself the Queen City of the Ozarks, and I've always thought of it more or less as the region's center. But maybe that's just my own bias coming through, since I grew up in the Springfield area. If one were to draw a circle with a hundred mile radius around the city of Springfield, would the outer limits of the circle roughly approximate the boundaries of the Ozarks? I think so, although the real geographical center of the region probably lies a few miles east of Springfield and the radius probably extends a little more than a hundred miles in many places, meaning, of course, that the circle is an uneven one.

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