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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nathaniel Pryor

I atended the Cowboy Days festival at Pryor, Oklahoma, earlier today for a book signing, and I was reminded that a few years ago, at the time of the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition, I did an article for the Ozarks Mountaineer about Nathaniel Pryor, after whom the town took its name. Pryor was a sergeant and scout on the expedition, and he later settled on a creek near present-day Pryor. Both the stream and the town that grew up nearby came to be known as Pryor Creek. Although the official name of the town, I think, is still Pryor Creek, it has for years been more commonly called "Pryor" without the "Creek" part.
When Nathaniel Pryor died in the early 1830s, he was buried at his trading post about three and half miles southeast of present-day Pryor, but his grave was later moved to Fairview Cemetery at the eastern edge of Pryor and a monument erected there in his honor.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gambling

In researching the post-Civil War era (mainly the 1870s and 1880s), I have been struck by how much gambling went on during that time. Probably no more than today--in fact, probably less, given the overwhelming popularity of casinos nowadays. But it still seems like a lot, because I grew up during the comparatively tame 1950s and early 1960s thinking that gambling and other vices were rare in the halycon days of yore.
Most of the mentions of gambling from the 1870s and 1880s that I've run across pertain to Joplin and Baxter Springs, but I'm sure other towns, at least those of any size, like Springfield, also had their fair share of gambling establishments. By far the most popular game at the gambling houses was faro, but many of them also offered poker, keno, and other gambling games. Faro is no longer played in most casinos, because, unless it's a crooked game, the odds don't favor the house enough to justify it.
Men from the 1870s and 1880s, though, didn't have to go to gaming houses to gamble. They would bet on virtually anything: foot races, horse races, prize fights--you name it. Horse racing was probably the biggest competition for betting (outside of the gambling houses), but I imagine they even bet on baseball games.
By the way I have also been struck by how popular baseball was even as early as the 1870s and 1880s. It was not unusual for teams from neighboring towns to play each other. Often they were not affilated with schools as they almost always are today but instead were called "town teams" and were composed of any young men who wanted to play and could help the team. During this time period, basketball had not yet been invented, and the rules of football had not yet been standardized. The game still more closely resembled rugby than the game we know today as American football. So, I guess the popularity of baseball should come as no surprise. After all, that's why it has traditionally been known as the American pastime.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

George Hudson Again

I recently had an article in Wild West about George Hudson, the notorious villain from Granby, Missouri. I also think I may have posted an entry about Hudson on this blog a year or more ago, but I'd like to add a brief update.
As I mention in the article, one of the several murders that Hudson committed during his infamous "career" was the cold-blooded killing in 1886 of Dr. L. G. Houard, a Joplin dentist. Hudson was finally arrested for the murder in 1891, and his case came to trial the following year at Rolla, Missouri, on a change of venue from Jasper County. At the trial, evidence was a presented by the prosecution that the motive for the murder was that Houard, a known womanizer, had been having an affair with the wife of wealthy Granby mine owner Peter Blow and that Blow had hired Hudson to do the job. Despite this and considerable other evidence against Hudson, he was acquitted.
Recently I read a piece online about Peter Blow that appeared in a Tennessee newspaper a year and a half ago. (Blow spent much of his later life in Tennessee.) In discussing the Hudson murder case, the author of the newspaper piece suggests that the trial amounted to an attempt to slander Blow's good name and that Hudson was indeed innocent. He says that although a few observers made the accusation that the outcome of the trial was a travesty of justice, few people believed this assertion.
To the contrary, Hudson was widely considered to be guilty by the people who knew him and his notorious record best--the citizens of the area where he lived. In southwest Missouri, most people considered the result of the trial at Rolla to be a "bought verdict." Hudson had used intimidation, bribery, and any other means at his disposal to escape prosecution in other cases, and the overwhelming opinion around Joplin and Granby was that he had done so again in the Houard case.
I can't say with any certainty that Peter Blow hired Hudson to kill Houard, as the prosecution claimed, but I do feel quite sure that Hudson did, in fact, commit the murder.

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