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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bloody Bill Anderson

My wife and I just returned from a weekend trip to north Missouri, and we passed through Huntsville, which was the boyhood home of notorious Confederate guerrilla William "Bloody Bill" Anderson. The Anderson family moved to Kansas in 1857, but Bill paid a return visit to his old hometown after he had become notorious. During the summer of 1864, he and his band rode in, fired a few shots, and placed the whole town under arrest. While still holding the town captive, Bill visited pleasantly with a couple of men he remembered from his youth. Then he and his gang loaded up all the valuables they could haul and galloped out of town.
Anderson, of course, operated mainly in north Missouri, but he did make at least a couple of forays into the Ozarks--one as a member of Quantrill's band in the fall of 1863 when the guerrillas attacked Baxter Springs and the other the following spring when he returned to Missouri leading his own small band after wintering in Texas. During the latter incursion, the Anderson gang captured a Union man in the northwest edge of Greene County and took him into Polk County, where they killed him and supposedly mutilated his body.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Patriotic Flogging

Civil war, by its very nature, tends to give rise to atrocity. America's Civil War was, of course, no exception; and the state of Missouri, where a ferocious brand of guerrilla warfare arose, probably witnessed more than its share of barbaric acts. In addition, the state also saw a number of lesser cruelties that, while perhaps not rising to the level of atrocity, were nonetheless notorious deeds. One such incident occurred at Clinton, Missouri, very early in the war.
On July 4, 1861, a combined force of about two or three thousand Kansas volunteers and army regulars marched into Clinton, the Henry County seat, on their way to link up with General Nathaniel Lyon, who was marching toward Springfield from the Missouri River region around Boonville. Although most of the Southern-leaning young men of Henry County had already gone south with General Sterling Price and Governor Claiborne Jackson a few days earlier, Sturgis found Clinton "pretty much given over to rebellion," according to the Leavenworth Weekly Conservative. It was Independence Day, but the Clintonites had "abolished the great anniversary, Yankee Doodle, the Stars and Stripes, the American Eagle, and all other National institutions."
Some of the volunteers celebrated the Fourth by imbibing a little too freely when a local man "rolled out a large keg of mean whiskey," and a few of the inebriated Kansans started stealing chickens and vegetables from local citizens and committing other minor depredations.
Eight offending soldiers and one teamster were promptly brought before Major Sturgis, who ordered them flogged by some of his regulars. The next day (the same day that Governor Jackson met Colonel Franz Sigel at the Battle of Carthage) they were tied in turn to a cannon and given fifty lashes each on the bare back with a teamster's blacksnake whip.
The severe punishment almost caused a mutiny among the Kansas volunteers, with some of them threating to kill Sturgis, and the Conservative questioned why loyal U. S. solders were dealt with so sternly for relatively minor indiscretions, while men who were in open rebellion against the United States could escape punishment by merely taking an oath.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I am currently in Columbia, where for the past day or two I've been doing some research at the State Historical Society of Missouri and at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection on the MU campus for a book I am writing about the two battles of Newtonia. When I first undertook this project, I worried that there wouldn't be enough material for a book-length manuscript (minimum length approximately 40,000 words). How much can a person write about two relatively minor Civil War battles? I asked myself. However, I'm beginning to think that lack of material may not as much of a problem as I first anticipated. There's a lot more than one might think about the Newtonia battles. Some of the sources I was completely unaware of until I started research for the book--for instance, M. Jeff Thompson's memoir here in Columbia at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection. Thompson commanded Shelby's brigade of Shelby's division during Price's invasion of Missouri in the fall of 1864, and he wrote fairly extensively about the campaign in his memoirs, including a petty good account of the Second Battle of Newtonia.
Thompson, by the way, was quite a colorful character. The mayor of St. Joseph before the Civil War, he was named a brigadier general in the Missouri State Guard when the war broke out and earned a reputation in southeast Missouri as the "swamp fox of the Confederacy." Thompson fancied himself a poet of sorts, and some of his writings are interesting to read.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Saratoga Springs

As I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts about mineral water towns, some of them, like Eureka Springs and Siloam Springs, continued to flourish even after the mineral water craze passed, but a lot of them faded into obscurity almost as rapidly as they sprang up. One of the latter was Saratoga Springs in McDonald County, Missouri.
Located at the edge of Cowskin Prairie in Prairie Township in the southwest part of the county, Saratoga Springs was laid out in 1880, and three additions were laid out the following year. For a year or two, according to Sturges's History of McDonald County, the town "promised to be a place of some importance" and "had the prettiest location and most abundant water supply of all the medical towns." Many houses were erected, several business buildings went up, and even a newspaper "flourished in its palmiest days." By the time Sturges's history was published in 1897, though, "the pride of her glory" had already "long since departed" and "the bloom of her beauty faded slowly away." Only a few residences, a post office, and a couple of small stores remained at the "once promising little city."
Today Saratoga Springs still exists but only as a wide place in the road on Highway 90 about halfway between Noel and Southwest City, and it is known nowadays as Saratoga, without the "Springs."

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