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, December 28, 2009

The Ed Clum murder case

For romantic intrigue, few criminal cases in Ozarks history rival the murders of J. J. White and Ella Bowe by Ed Clum in Barry County during the summer of 1886. At the time, the case was called "Barry County's most shocking crime," and the details remain pretty startling even today.
White and Clum were from the same small town in New York and were members of the same unit of the Union army during the Civil War. Returning home after the war, they remained friends and took up residence close to each other. The older White had married during the war, and Clum entered into wedlock with a carefree girl named Lottie not long after his discharge. White was apparently a frequent visitor in the Clum home, and he and Lottie soon started carrying on together, right under Clum's nose. White's wife eventually killed herself because of her husband's shenanigans, but it didn't stop his philandering.
When Lottie's health began to fail, she went to live with a sister at Lebanon, Missouri, but White soon followed and took her to a farm he had purchased south of Pierce City in Barry County. Clum showed up and was introduced around Pierce City as Lottie's brother, presumably to protect her reputation. He took her back to Lebanon and continued to New York with the understanding that she would join him as soon as her health allowed her to make the trip, but instead she went back to White's Barry County farm.
After Lottie died during the winter of 1885-1886, Clum made the trip back to Missouri again and resumed the charade he'd started the previous summer, passing himself off as the brother of White's deceased "wife." Folks in the area considered him and White not only brothers-in-law but also good friends.
Soon White started romancing a 17-year-old neighbor girl named Ella Bowe, and when the couple announced plans to get married, it was more than Clum could take. He killed them both with two shotgun blasts apiece. Clum was convicted of murder and hanged on the square in Cassville in the spring of 1887.
The full story of the Clum murders constitutes a chapter in my "notorious incidents" book.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Emma Molloy

Last time I mentioned the notorious Graham murder case that happened in Greene County in the mid 1880s. The main reason it received such notoriety was because of the involvement of nationally known evangelist and temperance revivalist Emma Molloy. Molloy came to Greene County in the winter of 84-85 and held a series of revival meetings at a Springfield church. A younger man named George Graham, with whom Molloy had previously been involved in the publication of a temperance newspaper, showed up shortly after the meetings began and started courting Ms. Molloy's foster daughter, Cora Lee. After the meetings were over, Molloy purchased a farm near Brookline and was assisted in the transaction by James Baker, a prominent Springfield citizen who had helped bring the revivalist to Greene County to begin with.
Molloy, her foster daughter, and Graham started living at the residence, and Graham soon married Cora Lee. The problem was that he hadn't told anyone he was still married to his first wife. When Sarah Graham showed up, George killed her and dumped her body in an abandoned well on the Molloy farm.
When the body was finally discovered, George Graham was charged with murder, Cora Lee with being an accessory before the fact, and Emma Molloy with being an accessory after the fact. Before Graham came to trial, he was lynched by a mob, and the cases against Cora and Emma were eventually dismissed after preliminary hearings that attracted many spectators and drew sensational publicity. Ms. Molloy then went on to re-establish her reputation in the nationwide temperance movement.
Even today, however, the extent of Molloy's involvement, if any, in the murder of Sarah Graham and the coverup of the crime, remains a subject of debate among those few individuals familiar with the case. Part of what fuels the debate is the involvement of James Baker as Ms. Molloy's patron. Twenty years earlier Baker had been a strong defender of the vigilante Regulators in Greene County, and it is thought by some that he was one of the organizers of the mob that lynched George Graham (so that George couldn't implicate Cora and Emma).
You can read a more detailed account of this case in my book about notorious Ozarks incidents.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Religious Criminals

While surfing the Internet not long ago, I ran across a New York Times article, dated April 3, 1887, that contained an interesting comment on the murder a year and a half earlier in Greene County, Missouri, of Sarah Graham by her husband, George, and the sensational trial that followed of temperance revivalist Emma Molloy as an accessory to the crime. After giving the circumstances of the crime and the trial, the writer said, "It is a curious fact that in no part of the country are religious professions and simulated religious fervor more effectively used as a cloak for atrocious criminal tendencies and acts than in Southern Missouri. One of the leaders of the infamous bands of thugs called the Bald Knobbers is a Baptist preacher, and several of his fellow assassins are members of his church. It was in Southern Missouri that Sarah Graham was murdered in September, 1885, and on Mrs. Molloy's farm."
Ozarks folklorist Vance Randolph made a similar observation in his book (written under the pseudonym of Harvey Castleman) about the Bald Knobbers when he said, "Nearly all these murderers and outlaws, for some reason, were very religious men."
I might add Kate Bender of the Bloody Bender family to the list of religious killers from this general region. Although she wasn't, as far as I know, particularly religious in the conventional sense, she did claim to be a spiritualist and seeress.
I'm not sure whether there is anything to the Times reporter's observation that the southern Missouri region seems to breed more than its share of criminals who try to hide their heinous tendencies behind a veneer of religious fervor, but it is food for thought. It seems religion has been twisted to serve violent purposes ever since there was such a thing as religion, but I'm not sure people in the Ozarks and surrounding area are any more prone to such a tendency than people from other places.
More about the Emma Molloy case next time.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesse James

If one were to believe all the legends and folklore about Jesse James that I've heard during my lifetime of living in the Ozarks and especially during my adulthood living in Joplin, one would think that Jesse spent a good deal of time in these parts, particularly the Joplin area. I've found very little documentation, however, to support such a claim. I do know that Fletch Taylor, who led a company of Quantrill's guerrillas during the Civil War that included Frank and Jesse James, moved to Joplin during the 1870s and that a sister of Jesse paid a visit to Taylor here one time around 1880. (Taylor was involved in mining and became a respected businessman in Joplin.)
However, the only time that I know about that Jesse himself was in this area was when George Shepherd, another ex-Quantrillian, tried to kill him near Galena, Kansas, in the fall of 1879. In fact, Shepherd rode into Galena claiming that he HAD killed Jesse. Few people believed him, though, even at the time. Some thought Shepherd was merely a fanciful liar, while others suggested that he was in cahoots with Jesse and the whole incident had been staged to make people think Jesse was dead so the law would quit looking for him.
What is known for sure is that some sort of gunplay between Shepherd and Jesse's gang did occur, and, given the severity of the wounds sustained by both Shepherd and one of the gang members, it seems unlikely that they were participants (at least not willing participants) in a staged event. Although the following possibility was scarcely mentioned at the time, my research has led me to believe that Shepherd sincerely thought he had killed Jesse but that the desperado survived the assassination attempt and seized the opportunity to try to stage his own death.
You can read more about this incident in my book on Ozarks gunfights, which is supposed to be released later this month.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Galena and Empire City

Galena, Kansas, is pretty tame nowadays compared to what it was during its early days. Like several of the towns in the tri-state region of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma that got their start as mining camps, Galena was a rough and rowdy place in its infancy. During the spring of 1877, lead was discovered on Short Creek just across the Missouri state line in southeast Kansas, and miners and other adventurers flocked to the area throughout the spring and summer.
Two towns, Galena and Empire City, sprang up on opposite sides of Short Creek, and a bitter rivalry between the two fledgling communities quickly developed. Empire City resented the fact that Red Hot Street at the north edge of Galena quickly became a center of saloons and other entertainment for the miners, drawing them away from their own town, and, during the summer of 1877, the city fathers began constructing a long, tall wall to separate the two towns, claiming its purpose was to retard the filthy stench emanating from Galena. Violence erupted and the citizens of Galena burned the wall down before things finally began to settle down when the cool weather of fall approached. The rivalry continued with less intensity, though, for several years, until Empire City was finally annexed into Galena during the early 1900s.

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