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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ozarks Weather

Last weekend, we had a late winter storm that dropped about six to eight inches of snow on the Joplin area. The photo at left of the deck and backyard at our house will give you an idea of what it looked like. It reminded me of other late winter storms of more historic proportions, such as the one in March of 1970 that dumped up to thirty inches of snow on the Ozarks. I was in the Army at the time and didn't witness that one firsthand, but my wife and other people still talk about it. Lee George, a former weatherman for Channel 12 here in Joplin, had notoriously forecasted flurries leading up to the 1970 storm, and always after that he would never use what he called the "f" word when it came to predicting snow.
A freakish Ozarks snowstorm that I remember from my childhood occurred in early November of 1952. I still have pictures of my sister and me playing in drifts up to our waists or higher and other photos of automobiles almost completely covered by snow, so that, if not for the shape, one would not know for sure what the objects were.
I think unusual weather makes a more indelible impression on children and young people than it does on adults. At least it seems we tend to remember weather events from "back in the day" better than we do recent ones. However, I would have to say that the ice storms of 2007 (January and December), for instance, have to rank with anything I had ever witnessed previously during my sixty years or so of living in the Ozarks. And the 2003 tornadoes that hit towns like Franklin, Kansas, and Carl Junction, Stockton, and Pierce City in Missouri were probably about as devastating, except in loss of life, as the infamous tornado of 1880 that destroyed Marshfield. With modern forecasting, the availability of storm shelters, and so forth, we are probably just better prepared to survive storms than we were a hundred and thirty years ago. As far as I know, though, no one has yet composed a song about the 2003 tornadoes the way ragtime musician Blind Boone did about the Marshfield twister.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Bill Cook

From an early age, Bill Cook seemed destined for a life of crime. When he was only about five years old, his mother died, leaving his father to take care of Bill and his several siblings. Bill Cook Sr. apparently had neither the means nor inclination to tend to a whole passel of kids. He left them in a small cave in northwest Joplin in the side of a hill with an older sister in charge and merely checked in on them from time to time to bring food. Later young Bill stayed briefly with the older sister after she married but mainly got shuffled from one foster parent to another. When he was ten, he was placed with a foster mother but became incorrigible and left home when he was about twelve. Told that he had to stay where he was placed or else he would be sent to the reformatory, he chose the reformatory.
Bill Cook's crimes and troubles with the law only escalated from there, and he spent the next nine years or so in and out of the reformatory and the Missouri State Penitentiary. Then, during the wee hours of the morning of January 2, 1951, Cook wrote his name in the annals of American crime when he committed what, at the time at least, was one of the worst mass murders in U. S. history. He had flagged down motorist Carl Mosser and his family (wife and three young kids) a couple of days earlier on Route 66 in Oklahoma, jumped into their car, and forced Mosser at gunpoint to drive him pell-mell across the country. After more than two days of criss-crossing back and forth through the Southwest, Cook brought his hostages to his hometown of Joplin, where he killed all five of them near the intersection of 30th and Maiden Lane after almost being discovered by a Joplin policeman. He then dumped their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft in northwest Joplin, the area where he had grown up.
Cook then went on the lam and killed a couple of more people in southern California before finally being captured in Mexico and brought back to the U. S. to answer for his crimes. He was executed in late 1952 in California for one of the latter murders. His body was brought back to Joplin and buried in an unmarked grave at Peace Church Cemetery at the northwest edge of Joplin.
My book Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a more complete version of Bill Cook's story, as well as twenty-four other incidents, all of which I've mentioned over the past few months. Now that I've mentioned all of them, I will try, for at least my next few postings, to talk about other things besides notorious incidents covered in my book.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Bonnie & Clyde in Joplin

The apartment building at 3347 1/2 Oak Ridge Drive in Joplin where Bonnie and Clyde had their infamous shootout with police in April of 1933 has received quite a bit of attention lately. A new owner bought the property a few years ago and wanted to convert it to a bed and breakfast but couldn't get the request passed by the city council, mainly because of opposition from some of the neighbors living in the immediate area of the apartment. The last I knew, though, the owner was still trying to get the building declared a historic site.
For anyone unfamiliar with the location, the building sits just a couple of blocks off South Main Street, and although the address is Oak Ridge Drive, access to the apartment is actually from 34th Street. Back when many garages were detached from the primary house, the apartment at 3347 1/2 Oak Ridge was built over the garage, which was ideal for the Barrow gang's purposes. The gangsters could pull their cars into the garage and unload weapons or other contraband without being seen.
Clyde's brother, Buck Barrow, rented the apartment under an assumed name from Paul Freeman, and the gang had been there about two weeks before neighbors began to get suspicious of the comings and goings at the building and called police. The result, of course, was a bloody shootout that left two officers, J. W. Harryman and Harry McGinnis, dead.
The location on the outskirts of town near Main Street was another good thing about the apartment from the gang's standpoint, because after the gunfight, they made their escape south on Main Street, roaring through Redings Mill south of Joplin and eventually making their way to Texas.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Young Brothers

Many people are familiar with the so-called Young brothers massacre that occurred near Brookline in 1932, during which Harry and Jennings Young killed six law officers sent out from Springfield to arrest them. Suspecting little resistance, the officers carried only handguns while the Youngs were armed with high powered rifles. Both of the brothers were ex-cons, and at least one of them had vowed not to be taken alive. Still, the officers failed to realize the desperate nature of the men they were after, and they paid a dear price for the mistake. The incident still ranks as the deadliest shootout in history for U. S. law enforcement. After the killings, the Youngs escaped to Houston, Texas, where they themselves died in another shootout with police a couple of days later.
What many people, even some who are generally familiar with this incident, may not know is that the Young brothers were brought back to Missouri and buried at Joplin's Fairview Cemetery. Reportedly, the Young family wanted to bury them in Greene County, but outraged citizens met the hearse at the county line and refused to let it enter the county. The driver turned back and drove to Joplin, where the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave. A sister of the Young brothers later placed a stone on the grave.
The story of the Young brothers massacre forms a chapter in my book entitled Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents. By the way, I am having a book signing for the book this Saturday, March 13, from 1-3 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. Also, I'm scheduled to speak to the Webb City Genealogy Society at their regular monthly meeting on April 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the Webb City Library, and I'll probably talk mainly about the Gunfights book.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ma Barker gang

Of all the gangs that roamed the country during gangster era of the 1920s and 1930s, none had stronger ties to the Ozarks than the Ma Barker gang. Bonnie and Clyde and others sometimes used the Ozarks hill country as a hideout, but the Barkers were actually from this area.
Ma herself was born near Ash Grove as Arizona "Arrie" Clark. She got married at Aurora and she her husband, George Barker, had their first three sons there. A fourth was born after they moved to Webb City about 1903.
The Barkers first got into serious trouble with the law when the oldest son, Herman, and a couple of young sidekicks robbed some men who were playing poker in the back of store in Webb City. The Barker family moved to Tulsa shortly after this incident, but members of the Barker gang continued throughout the gang's criminal career to return on occasion to the southwest Missouri region, where they had friends like Herb Farmer who would hide them out.
And several of the gang's noted crimes were committed in the Ozarks. Among the more notorious was the murder of the Howell County sheriff at West Plains by Alvin Karpis and Herman's younger brother Fred.
Most of the Barkers, including Ma, are buried at the edge of the Ozarks in a rural cemetery near Welch, Oklahoma.

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