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, August 29, 2009

Baxter Springs

Few towms in the Ozarks have a richer history than Baxter Springs. (I consider Baxter Springs in the Ozarks, although admittedly it's right at the western edge.) The town is famous on at least three separate counts.
First it is well known as the site of Quantrill's battle and massacre there in October of 1863. After attacking Fort Blair, which was still under construction at the time, and being repelled, Quantrill attacked and annihilated a Union wagon train under General James Blunt that was on its way into the fort, leaving over ninety bodies strewn about the field.
Baxter is also famous for being the first cow town in Kansas. During the years immediately after the Civil War, before the railroad reached towns farther west like Abilene and Wichita, Baxter Springs was the main destination for herds of longhorns driven through Indian Territory from Texas to Kansas. After the long journey along the Shawnee Trail, the cattle would usually lay over in Baxter before being herded (later shipped) on to their final destination. Part of the reason for Baxter's rise as a cattle town was the fact that Kansas had laws that allowed the Texas longhorns to enter the state only during specified months, and the cattle would lay over in Baxter, which at the time was located south of the state line in the Cherokee Neutral Lands, while awaiting passage. Although Baxter's life as a rowdy cow town was short lived, for a while it roared just as loudly as its successors farther west. Larry O'Neal of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum told me yesterday that the only thing the other towns had that Baxter lacked was a famous marshal like Wyatt Earp. I reminded him that probably part of the reason Baxter lacked a famous lawman was because two of the town's early marshals were killed in the line of duty. I find it a little ironic that perhaps the only reason they didn't become famous was that they didn't live long enough to embellish their stories the way Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok did.
Baxter declined for a time during the late 1800s after its hurrah as a cow town, but it revived in the early part of the twentieth century during the tri-state district's lead mining days and once again became a booming town for awhile.
Baxter has a few other minor claims to fame, too, such as being the hometown of golfer Hale Irwin, but the first three are the main ones.
By the way, Treble Heart Books has just released my new historical novel, entitled Showdown at Baxter Springs, that is based on the town's heyday as booming cow town. As far as I know, it's the only western ever set in early-day Baxter Springs. For anybody who's interested, you can order the book directly from the publisher at http://www.trebleheartbooks.com/SDLarryWood.html.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Traveling to the Sedalia Fair

My wife and I made a trip from Joplin to the Missouri State Fair at Sedalia over the weekend, and, taking the shortest route (via Eldorado Springs) we passed through some interesting small towns along the way. Of course, small towns are my favorite kind, especially small towns of the Ozarks.
At Eldorado Springs, we took Highway 82 to Osceola, and along the way we passed through such wide places in the road as Roscoe, which is near the spot where the Younger brothers had their infamous shootout with Pinkerton agents in the spring of 1874. From Osceola, we followed 82 until we came to Highway 83, and we then took 83 into Warsaw, where we picked up Highway 65 for the rest of the trip to Sedalia. Neither Highway 82 nor Highway 83 is what one would call a good road. Both roads are relatively narrow and have a lot of curves and hills, but it is the shortest route.
Coming home, we took 65 all the way to Preston, where we picked up Highway 54 through Eldorado Springs, and then we got on Highway 71 at Nevada for the rest of the trip back. Not quite as eventful as the trip up, but we still saw some interesting little towns, like Weaubleau and Wheatland, and even came within seven miles of Elkton, the hometown of Sally Rand--the same place that I said in a post a couple of weeks ago that I had never visited. I was tempted to take a side trip to Elkton just to say I'd been there but decided I was in too big of a hurry to get home.
Oh, and we did stop at Collins, where we ate at Smith's Restaurant, home of the famous homemade pies. They were out of my favorite, coconut, though; so I didn't have dessert.
It was somewhat of a hectic trip, since we made the journey up and back in the same day, but still kind of fun, because I always enjoy getting out and seeing the Ozarks, especially parts of it that I don't normally visit on a regular basis.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Murphy Movement

I mentioned in my last post about Liberal that the late 1800s were a time of great social and religious experimentation across America. It was also a time of religious revival and reform. One aspect of the reawakening was the abstinence movement, led mainly by women, that swept across the U. S. during the late 1800s and continued into the 1900s. Organizations like the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union sprang up, and their anti-liquor campaigns gave rise to crusading figures like Carrie Nation.
While these groups opposed the consumption of alcoholic beverages mainly by targeting saloons and by trying to get laws against drinking passed, one strain of the temperance movement, called the Murphy Movement, concentrated on the drinkers themselves. Named after its founder, Francis Murphy, who was a former saloonkeeper himself, the movement asked people to sign a pledge not to drink, and they were then given blue ribbons to wear as a token of the pledge. The movement started in Pittsburg, Penn. in late 1876, and by early 1878 it had reached the Ozarks. A series of meetings were held at various churches in Springfield, particularly the First Christian Church located just west of the square, during January and February of that year, and over two thousand people took the pledge. The movement also spread to other Greene County communities like Ash Grove and Walnut Grove and to towns throughout southwest Missouri, like Pierce City, Carthage, Webb City, and Joplin.
By late March of 1878, the movement had petered out in southwest Missouri, having died out about as fast as it got started, but the overall temperance movement did not culminate until many years later with passage of the Prohibition law.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009


I've mentioned in previous posts a couple of the communities founded in the Ozarks by Alcander Longley on the principle of practical communism during the late 1800s, and I've also mentioned at least a couple of towns that were founded as mineral water resorts during the same period. The late 1800s were a time of great social and religious experimentation in the United States, and I'm fascinated by the communities that sprang up across the country based on one utopian principle or another. Liberal, founded in 1880 by George H. Walser in Barton County, Mo., was one such town.
People nowadays don't give the name "Liberal" a second thought, but the town was given its name for a reason. Walser, a Union Army veteran, wanted his town to be a haven for freethinkers and other skeptics, where they would not be bothered by Christian neighbors. The idea seemed to work for awhile. Walser started a school at Liberal based on free thought, and he even named the town's streets after intellectuals like Thomas Paine. It wasn't long, though, before Christians, spiritualists, advocates of free love, and others who were devoted to something besides liberalism started to infiltrate the group. For a few years, there was a lot of friction between "the saints and the sinners," and for awhile in the 1890s spiritualism seemed to dominate in Liberal. Over time, though, the Christians gained the upper hand, and by the time Walser died in 1910, the town boasted several churches and was little different from any other small town. Today, about the only vestiges of liberalism in Liberal are the street signs with interesting names like Darwin and Ingersoll.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sally Rand

Last time I mentioned the idea of famous or semi-famous people who were born in the Ozarks, and I talked specifically about Langston Hughes, a native of Joplin.
Another Ozarkian who, like Hughes, went on to achieve a certain level of notoriety as well as fame was Sally Rand, who was born in the small village of Elkton, in Hickory County, Missouri. While Hughes was already somewhat famous as a poet and author before his uncoventional beliefs (some accused him of being a communist) got him into hot water with traditionalists, the burlesque dancer became famous and infamous at the same time by taking her clothes off.
Actually, Ms. Rand rarely, if ever, appeared completely nude but instead was always partly covered by a fan, a bubble, or a sheer body suit. Her performance at the Chicago World's Fair, though, was enough for her to make a risque name for herself.
Although I've lived in the Missouri Ozarks my whole life and I've traveled to a lot of out-of-the-way places in the region, I've never been to Ms. Rand's hometown of Elkton. From looking at a map, I conclude that there's no good way to get there. I have, however, been to Elkland, in Webster County, numerous times.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Langston Hughes

In one of my posts a couple of months ago, I mentioned some of the famous or semi-famous people who were born in West Plains. Although West Plains seems to have produced more than its share of notables, a number of other towns throughout the Ozarks also lay claim to being the birthplace of certain individuals who went on to become well known in various fields of endeavor.
Langston Hughes, for instance, was one of several well-known people who originally hailed from Joplin. Hughes was born in 1902 in a house at the southwest corner of 16th and Missouri. Actually it was probably more like a shack, since, at the time, the nearby area was a mining field, and most of the homes in the area were hastily thrown-up shanties that the miners lived in. Hughes's father, though, wasn't a miner as such. He worked for a mining company, but he held an office job.
An older brother of Langston Hughes who died in infancy about the time Langston was born is buried at Fairview Cemetery, located on Joplin's Maiden Lane.
The Hughes family moved away from Joplin a year or so after Langston was born, about the time a black man was lynched in the town. In fact, the lynching was probably the impetus for the move, since many black families fled Joplin at that time.
In the 1970s the city of Joplin voted to rename Broadway Street after Langston Hughes, but not until after some controvery. There were those in the community who accused Hughes, based on some of his writings, of being a communist and such as that. There were also those who didn't like the proposal to rename the street Langston Hughes Boulevard, because they didn't want to abolish the old name "Broadway." A compromise was reached, and the street was renamed Langston Hughes Broadway. Today everyone, or almost everyone anyway, readily accepts the idea of having a street in Joplin named after Langston Hughes, but most locals still just call it Broadway.

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