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 eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Marshfield Tornado

A couple of my recent posts concerned the killing of Webster County Sheriff Bertie Brixey in 1914. Another historical episode of note from Webster County is the infamous Marshfield tornado of 1880.
It struck in the early evening of Sunday, April 18, catching most of the townspeople unaware. Some folks living near the town square took shelter in the bottom floor of the courthouse, but some who tried didn't make it that far before the storm hit. Many others were too far away even to try and were left with nowhere to hide.
The twister killed ninety-two Marshfield residents and seriously injured over 150 others. It virtually demolished one side of the square and left the top floor of the courthouse in ruins. About 150 homes and most of the town's businesses were destroyed. In terms of lives lost and damage done, the Marshfield tornado, at the time, was the second worst twister in U. S. history, surpassed only by the 1840 tornado at Natchez, Mississippi.
The same twister that struck Marshfield first touched down in Barry County and continued in a northeasterly direction, killing seven people in Greene County, before reaching Webster County. In addition, several other distinct tornadoes struck the Ozarks on the same day as the Marshfield twister. One of them, for instance, killed five people in rural Morgan County, Missouri, before wiping out the small village of Barnett, where several more people lost their lives.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Old Theaters

I am currently working on an article for Show Me the Ozarks Magazine about restoration of the Colonial Fox Theatre in Pittsburg, Kansas, and I wrote a similar article a few months ago about the Coleman Theatre in Miami, Oklahoma. The restoration and renovation of old theaters seems to be a definite trend, not just here in the Ozarks region, but all across the country. Because of television, DVD players, and the like, there aren't as many theaters as there once were in the United States; so I guess there's a certain nostalgic element at work here. People long for the glory days of yesteryear, when nearly every small town in America had a movie house, and they want to hang on to a bit of that past by restoring some of the old theaters.
In addition to the Colonial Fox and the Coleman, I'm aware of a few other theaters across the Ozarks that have been renovated. Two in Springfield, the Landers and the Gillioz, come to mind, for instance.
Built in 1909, the Landers is reportedly the oldest and largest civic theatre in Missouri. The Landers, which has been in continuous use either as a performing arts center or a movie house since it opened, has undergone several renovations over the years, both before and after it became home to the Springfield Little Theatre in 1970. I recall going to a Springfield Little Theatre production at the Landers in the fall of 1971. In fact, I know the exact date--November 12--because it was the night my wife and I got engaged.
The Gillioz was built in 1926 and, unlike the Landers, was still in use as a movie house during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. I recall going to a few movies there during that time frame, but the crowds gradually stopped coming as the business and entertainment hub of Springfield shifted from the downtown area to Glenstone and the Battlefield Mall. The building fell into disrepair, and the Gillioz closed in 1980.
In recent years, the downtown or Park Central area of Springfield has made a comeback of sorts, and so has the Gillioz. A restoration group acquired the property in 1990, and the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. The theatre finally re-opened in 2006 and now hosts theatrical plays, musical performances, and other live productions.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bertie Brixey, Part Two

Last time I mentioned that the Officer Down Memorial Page website says Sheriff Bertie Brixey of Webster County was killed by his best friend in November of 1914 and that the killer was later lynched by a mob on the square in Marshfield. As I suggested last time, Brixey was indeed killed in November of 1914, but, after additional research, I've concluded that the more sensational details are apparently not true.
What I have learned since last time is that a man hired a buggy and team at Marshfield on Saturday, November 21, 1914, and drove the buggy to Niangua, where both buggy and team disappeared after he hitched them to a rail. Returning to Marshfield, he reported the incident to Sheriff Brixey, and the lawman set out the next morning for Niangua to try to determine who had taken the buggy and team.
For some reason, the sheriff suspected a young man named Edgar Bartlett of having knowledge pertaining to the buggy and team, and he aggressively questioned the young man, even striking him a time or two about the face. Despite the rough treatment, Bartlett said he knew nothing about the disappearance of the buggy and team.
Brixey let Bartlett go but later approached him again near the young man's home, where he resumed grilling him and accused him of having a concealed weapon on his person. Bartlett bolted away and ran toward his nearby home with the sheriff in pursuit. Inside the house, Bartlett armed himself with a shotgun and ordered the lawman to halt or he would shoot. When Brixey nevertheless started to enter the home, Bartlett fired, and the sheriff fell dead.
The missing buggy and team were found the day of the shooting incident, although it's not clear whether they had already been found before Brixey confronted Bartlett. Also, there was an intimation that at least one of the parties involved (probably Brixey) had been drinking.
Bartlett was arrested and charged with murder, but public sentiment seemed to be in his favor. At his trial in January of 1915 he was acquitted. The jury initially split eleven for acquittal and one for conviction before reaching a unanimous verdict in favor of acquittal. Not exactly the type of controversial verdict that would have given rise to mob lynching, as the ODMP website suggests. Nor did I come up with any evidence that the two men involved in the confrontation were acquaintances, much less best friends.
I'm a little disappointed in my findings, though, because the killing of a sheriff by a man who hardly knew him resulting in a verdict of justifiable homicide isn't nearly as dramatic as the murder of a sheriff by his best friend and the subsequent lynching of the killer. That's a story I would have liked to have written. The truth doesn't make nearly as good a story.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Case of Sheriff Bertie Brixey

The Officer Down Memorial Page at www.odmp.org is an interesting website commemorating law officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. There are several interesting pages at this website about lawmen from the Ozarks region who have been killed in the line of duty. One, in particular, that caught my attention is a page about Bertie Brixey, who was sheriff of Webster County during the early 1910s. According to the Officer Down website, Brixey was killed on November 22, 1914, reportedly by his best friend, whom Brixey was trying to arrest for murder. Later the killer was supposedly lynched by a mob on the Marshfield square. It's fascinating story, if it's true, but so far I've been unable to confirm the more colorful details of the case. Sheriff Brixey was, indeed, killed (in Niangua) on November 22, 1914, but I haven't found anything yet to suggest that the killer was the sheriff's best friend or that he was later lynched on the square at Marshfield. The ODMP is normally pretty accurate, though, and I'm still looking. So, maybe I'll come up with something to confirm the rest of the story.
On a personal note, I've recently learned that my book entitled "Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents" should be released by Pelican Publishing within the next couple of months. Covering both the Old West era and the gangster era, the book describes 25 notorious incidents of the Ozarks, starting with Wild Bill Hickok's shootout on the Springfield square immediately after the Civil War and ending with Bill Cook's mass murder of the Mosser family in the mid twentieth century.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Barrow Gang at Alma

I have not posted anything on this blog for almost two weeks, partly because I took a trip to New Orleans and the panhandle of Florida and just got back recently. Passing through the edge of Alma, Arkansas, both coming and going, I was reminded of the fact that the Barrow gang killed the marshal of Alma in June of 1933. After the gang's infamous shootout with police in Joplin, Missouri, in April of 1933, the gang retired to Texas, where Bonnie was seriously injured in a car wreck in mid June. Retreating to Arkansas, the gang holed up in a cabin at Fort Smith. Clyde spent his time nursing Bonnie back to health, while W. D. Jones and Clyde's brother, Buck, began holding up businesses in the area when the gang started running low on funds.
After robbing a store at Fayetteville on June 23, the pair were on their way back to Fort Smith when they rounded a corner and rammed a slow-moving vehicle in front of them. When the Alma marshal happened along and stopped to investigate, the desperate duo opened fire, mortally wounding the lawman. Buck and W. D. then reunited with Bonnie and Clyde later that evening, and the gang promptly beat a path away from the land of opportunity.

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