Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 ten nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Civil War Springfield, Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, and Murder and Mayhem in Missouri.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wyatt Earp

Many people, when they think of the Old West, automatically think of places farther west than Missouri--places like Dodge City, Kansas; Tombstone, Arizona; and Virginia City, Nevada. Actually, though, there was period of time immediately after the Civil War when the Ozarks region was the Old West.
For instance, Wild Bill Hickok's shootout with Davis Tutt immediately after the Civil War on the square in Springfield is widely considered the first gunfight of the Old West era. And, as I've mentioned in previous posts, the lead-mining town of Granby, Missouri, was one of the wildest and most lawless towns in America in the years leading up to and immediately following the Civil War. Then there was Baxter Springs, Kansas, at the edge of the Ozarks, which lays claim to the title of "First Cow Town in Kansas."
Another example is the fact that Wyatt Earp; who, of course, went on to Wild West fame as a lawman in places like Wichita, Dodge City, and especially Tombstone; got his start as as a lawman when he was hired as the constable of Lamar, Missouri, in the fall of 1869. Earp left Lamar, though, about a year later under a cloud of suspicion, and he was subsequently sued twice in Barton County, once over an allegation that he had failed to turn over public funds that he had collected while serving as constable and a second time over a charge that he had falsified court documents. In fact, although dime novels, movies, and TV made Wyatt Earp into a hero and a romantic legend of the Old West, a cloud of controversy or suspicion hovered over much of his whole career. The point at hand, though, is that it all started here in the Ozarks, America's first Wild West.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eldorado Springs

During the late 1800s, many towns sprang up in the Ozarks and, indeed, all across the country, at the site of mineral springs, which were thought to have curative powers. In our region, these communities were concentrated in northwest Arkansas and in Missouri along the northern rim of the Ozarks. The area around Springfield and east of Springfield, because of a preponderance of pure water, had comparatively few towns founded because of mineral springs.
Probably the most famous town in the Ozarks that was founded at the site of a mineral spring is Eureka Springs, but there were many others, some of which no longer even exist and others of which are now mere wide places in the road.
Another comparatively well-known town that was founded because of its mineral water and that is still a prospering little town today is Eldorado Springs, in Cedar County, Missouri. People were already coming great distances to drink the water at the site of Eldorado Springs for its supposed medicinal value when the Cruce brothers, Nathanial and Waldo, platted the town in July of 1881. By December of the same year, the town had already grown to a population of about 500 people, and by 1896 Eldorado Springs was home to almost 3,000 people.
Most people no longer believe in the curative powers of spring water, but a lot of the towns that sprang up back when most people did believe are still in existence. If you know of a town with the word "springs" on the end of its name, chances are it was probably founded during the spring water craze of the late 1880s.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

White Squirrels of Marionville

One of the minor mysteries of the Ozarks are the white squirrels that inhabit the town of Marionville in Lawrence County. No one seems to know exactly where they came from or when. One theory holds that they escaped from a traveling circus around the time of the Civil War, but some people scoff at such a notion.
I wrote an article about the furry albino creatures about 25 years ago, and judging from what I've been able to glean from the Internet, the situation with the Marionville squirrels is still about the same today as it was then. The rivalry between Marionville and Olney, Illinois, over which town has the most white squirrels and which one had them first still rages. One of the best places for viewing the white squirrels of Marionville apparently is still the grounds of the Methodist Manor, and morning and evening are still the best times to see them.
Another stronghold for the squirrels at the time I wrote my article was Lindeman's orchard at the edge of town. Apparently the squirrels were fond of apples, although I don't know whether they still hang out at the orchard or not. In fact, I'm not even sure Lindeman's orchard is still in operation, but I think it is. Maybe someone can clue me in. And if you haven't ever been to Marionville to see the white squirrels, they're worth a visit.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Monett and Plymouth

In a previous post a month or two ago, I briefly discussed the fact that Dadeville in Dade County was originally known as Melville, and I mentioned Ava in Douglas County, originally known as Militia Springs, as another example of a town that has had more than one name. A variation on this idea of the same town having been known by more than one name is the phenomenon of two different towns being built very near the same site and one of the two later outstripping and eventually absorbing the other.
Such is the case with Monett, located on the westerm Barry-Lawrence county line. When the railroad connecting Springfield and Pierce City began construction around 1880 on a southern branch that diverged from the main branch about four or five miles east of Pierce City, a town known as Plymouth or Plymouth Junction sprang up at the site. A few years later, the railroad moved its division point from Pierce City to a site just east of Plymouth and called the new town Monett. The new town grew rapidly and eventually engulfed its smaller neighbor.
In fact, the area of Plymouth/Monett has supposedly had three different names. Some sources say that the area was originally known as Billings (not to be confused with the Billings in Christian County), but whether there was actually a town or even a village by that name is doubtful.

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