Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

1870 Baxter Springs Census

If anyone doubts the wild and rowdy character of Baxter Springs during its early cow town days, all you have to do to see for yourself is examine the 1870 census for the town, paying particular attention to the listed occupations of the residents. As one might expect, at least a couple of cattle dealers resided in Baxter but not as many as one might think. Most cattle drovers probably lived in Texas and only drove their cattle to Baxter and then quickly returned home. Besides, the census was taken during early and mid summer when most cattle drovers probably would have been on the trail.
Not surprisingly, one of the most common occupations among Baxter residents in 1870 was saloonkeeper or liquor dealer. There were also a couple of cigar dealers, and at least one or two professional gamblers lived in the town. Several men gave their occupation as "loafing" or "loafer," while the occupation of a few others was noted as "no occupation." So, the town obviously had a number of idlers and hangers-on. Some of these were probably also gamblers at least part time. Maybe they just didn't make enough money at their chosen pastime to justify listing "gambler" as their occupation.
I counted at least seven young women whose occupation was listed on the census as "prostitute." There was one man and one woman whose occupation was listed as "keeper of a brothel," and several of the prostitutes lived with these two individuals. Not all of them though--there were at least a couple of sporting ladies who were apparently independent contractors. The fact that fully seven young women had their occupation listed on the census as "prostitute" made me wonder how many more who gave their occupation as "waitress" or something similar also engaged in the "world's oldest profession" at least part time.
To fully appreciate the wild character of a town with at least seven full-time prostitutes and at least a dozen or more saloonkeepers or liquor dealers, one needs to keep in mind that Baxter Springs had a total population at the time of a little over a thousand people. (The town continued to prosper as a cow town for at least a couple of years after the summer of 1870, and the influx of prostitutes, gamblers, and other adventurers continued as well.)

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