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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Youngers & Pinkertons

I mentioned in a previous post a few months ago that I passed through Roscoe on my way to the Sedalia State Fair, and I noted at that time that Roscoe is near where the infamous Younger brothers had a shootout in March of 1874 with agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I co-wrote an article about the shootout that appeared in Wild West Magazine a few years ago, and a similar version of the article appears as a chapter in my book about notorious incidents of the Ozarks.
One of the difficulties I encountered in researching the article was in trying to determine the exact route of the Chalk Level Road, along which the shootout and the events leading up to the shootout occurred. The Chalk Level Road going north out of Roscoe followed roughly the route of present-day Highway E but definitely not exactly the same route. For example, while modern-day Highway E skirts the eastern edge of Roscoe and then angles back to the northwest, the old Chalk Level Road did just the opposite--that is, it started from the center of Roscoe and angled northeast past the Theodrick Snuffer home, which sat almost a mile east of present-day Highway E.
I am currently working on a book about the battles of Newtonia, and I find that I am once again encountering difficulty determining the exact routes of old roads. The routes of some of the roads in and out of Newtonia are fairly well established, but figuring out the routes of others is an inexact science. As I understand it, section lines in Newton County were not drawn until after the Civil War; so most of the old roads simply followed the path of least resistance. But determining exactly where they ran is not easy, since Missouri road maps from the Civil War era are almost nonexistent.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fate of the Benders

The story of the Bender family, who killed about eight or ten people in the early 1870s in Labette County, Kansas, along the road from the Osage Mission (present-day St. Paul) to Independence may not, strictly speaking, qualify as having occurred in the Ozarks, but it is a fascinating bit of criminal history. So, it's included in my book about notorious incidents of the Ozarks.
One of the enduring mysteries of the story is the question of what ultimately happened to the family (consisting of Old Man Bender, his wife, their daughter Kate, and Kate's older half-brother). What is known for sure is that, after their horrendous deeds were discovered when the graves of their victims were dug up, they fled south into Indian Territory with a posse in warm pursuit. Reports differ as to what happened after that. The best evidence seems to suggest that they were overtaken and summarily killed on the spot by the vigilante posse, then buried in a common grave. Some reports, though, suggested they had made their escape, and rumors that the family was still alive and residing in distant lands continued to surface for many years.
The Bender story is commemorated by a historical marker at the intersection of Highways 400 and 169 north of Cherryvale.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Cherokee Neutral Lands

The Neutral Lands was an area in southeast Kansas that was originally set aside as a buffer between Missouri and Osage Indian territory after the Osages were removed from Missouri to Kansas under the terms of an 1825 treaty. The area; comprising present-day Cherokee County, Crawford County, and a strip of southern Bourbon County; was ceded to the Cherokee Indians as an additonal allotment of land under terms of the 1835 treaty by which they were removed from the Southeast to Indian Territory, and the region became known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands. Few Cherokees actually settled in the area, however, and when white settlers started squatting on the land around the time of the Civil War, the Cherokees decided to sell it.
In 1866, the Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States to act as their agent in the transaction, and the following year the government sold the land to railroad magnate James F. Joy, who was representing the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railroad. The prospect of a railroad coming through the Neutral Lands, though, angered many settlers already there, and settlers and prospective settlers were further enraged when the railroad starting selling excess land at what they considered exorbitant prices. The clash between the two sides turned violent and ended up being the biggest railroad-settler dispute in Kansas history.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Vigilantism was prevalent in America for many years after the Civil War, and the vigilante actions often had political overtones left over from the war. Nowhere was this truer than in Missouri. A slave-holding border state that remained in the Union, Missouri was very divided during the war, and the bitterness engendered by the conflict lingered and gave rise to violence long after the war officially ended. Although not an act of what we would normally think of as vigilantism, the killing of Rev. Samuel S. Headlee, which I discussed last time, is an example of an act of violence that occurred shortly after the war and had political overtones. Rev. Headlee was killed by Union men in large part because he was an unrepentant and outspoken Confederate sympathizer.
About the same time that Headlee was killed in the western edge of Webster County in late July of 1866, another drama that definitely did involve vigilantism was winding down in neighboring Greene County. In fact, the Regulators, formed earlier in the year to combat an outbreak of thievery that centered around the Walnut Grove area of northwest Greene County, held a mass meeting on the very day that Headlee was killed, although there was no apparent connection between the two events.
The Regulators, who disbanded shortly after the mass meeting, were something of an exception to the idea that vigilante groups tended to be politically motivated. Although the Regulators were made up mostly of Union men and many of the lawbreakers that they opposed had been Confederate guerrillas or at least Southern sympathizers, the first victim of the Regulators was Green B. Phillips, a former captain in the Enrolled Missouri Militia who had aided in the defense of Springfield during John S. Marmaduke's attack on the town in January of 1863. There is also little evidence to suggest that Phillips had seriously violated any laws. However, he had apparently fallen in with the thieves and was therefore lynched for befriending the wrong people.
You can read more about the Regulators in my book about Ozarks gunfights and other notorious incidents.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Samuel S. Headlee

Another chapter in my new book is about the murder of the Rev. Samuel S. Headlee at the Pleasant View Church in northwest Webster County near Elkland shortly after the Civil War. I mentioned Headlee in a previous post about a year ago and discussed the Headlee family fairly extensively, but I went into very little detail about the murder itself. Without giving away the whole story (which you'll have to read my book to get), I will briefly outline the circumstances surrounding the killing.
Before and during the early part of the war, Headlee was a circuit-riding minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church who often preached at Pleasant View. The Civil War tore the church apart, and it split into two factions, the ME Church North and the ME Church South. Although the Northern faction came to dominate the church by the time the war ended, the Southern faction still claimed title to the building.
The Drake Constitution, adopted in Missouri shortly after the war, forbade anyone who had sympathized with the Confederacy from holding a responsible job like teaching, preaching, or practicing law without first taking an oath of allegiance to the Union. Headlee, as an unrepentant Confederate sympathizer, refused to take the oath but decided nonetheless to try to reclaim the Pleasant View Church for the Southern faction. When he announced that he was going to hold a revival meeting there near the end of July 1866, the Northern faction organized to oppose him and warned him not to try to carry through on his plans.
The headstrong Headlee showed up anyway on the appointed day insisting on his right to preach, but a mob that had gathered to challenge him forced him off the church grounds. As he was removing to some land he owned in the vicinity with plans to preach on his own property, he was shot and killed about a quarter of a mile from the church.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Wild Bill Hickok & Dave Tutt

My book entitled Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents has been released (or at least it's available for order from online bookstores); so for the next several posts, I thought I'd touch briefly on some of the subjects covered in the book. A few of them I have already mentioned in previous posts, but most of them I have not previously mentioned.
Chapter One of the book is an account of Wild Bill Hickok's shootout with Davis Tutt on the Springfield square shortly after the close of the Civil War. I won't try to recount the event here, but I'll mention two or three things that struck me as remarkable as I was doing my research, because they were things I was not already aware of. The first thing is that the circumstances surrounding the event and the guilt or innocence of either party were not black and white. In the popular myth, of course, Wild Bill is the good guy, but in reality, he had something of a notorious reputation himself, at least around Springfield. Many Southern-leaning citizens felt that the jury, composed almost exclusively of Northern sympathizers, brought in its not guilty verdict more because of the fact that Hickok had been a Union soldier and Tutt had served in the Confederate army than because of the circumstances of the duel.
We usually hear that the Hickok-Tutt gunfight grew out of dispute over a card game, but I was a little surprised to learn that Tutt, according to at least one report, was not actually involved in the game. Tension between the two men (partly over a romantic rivalry) had supposedly already reached such a point that Hickok refused to play cards with Tutt, and the dispute that led directly to the gunfight involved a prior debt that Hickok owed Tutt, not a debt arising out of the game that occurred on the fateful day.
Finally, my research has led me to believe that the gunfight occurred later on the same day that the poker game took place, not the next day as many accounts suggest. It should be remembered that back in those days card games were often played during daylight hours, mainly because of the unavailabilty of electric lights. Since the gunfight took place around 6 p.m., it seems logical to conclude, and the evidence seems to suggest, that the card game had taken place earlier the same day, not the previous day.

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