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.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Highway 63 and Marked Tree

I just came back from Sunday's Talladega Superspeedway NASCAR race. On the way home, we drove to Memphis and then took Highway 63 thru Jonesboro, Ark. to West Plains, Mo. It's a stretch of road I had never been on before. Considering that I have lived in the Ozarks virtually my entire life of over 60 years, it sometimes amazes me that there are still a lot of places in this region that I've never been. I've probably been to most of them but not nearly all.
One of the towns I had never been to that we passed through was Marked Tree, Arkansas. The name caught my attention because it just so happens that I've been doing a little research on a notorious character named Robbie Camden, sometimes called the Robin Hood of the Ozarks, who was a terror to south central Missouri during the 1920s and 1930s. He was from the Reynolds County area, but one time, when he was on the run from the law after a shootout with the Dent County, Missouri, sheriff, he got into a second gun battle with police near Marked Tree. He was seriously injured, and it was thought his wounds might prove fatal, but he recovered and, after getting out of prison, went on to pull off other crimes, including at least one murder.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Missouri Counties during the Civil War

Recently I was reading excerpts from William Monks's book entitled A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas, and I was struck by an observation the author made about the differing political makeup of Howell County, where he lived, and that of neighboring Oregon County. Monks was a former Union officer who had made a name for himself fighting Confederate bushwhackers during the war. After the war, he went home to West Plains. Although his family and those of many other Union men had been forced out of Howell County during the war, Union sentiment soon dominated in the county once they returned. Not so in neighboring Oregon County, where lawless bands under former Confederate guerrillas like Dick Kitchen and Jim Jamison held sway. Monks was called upon by Missouri Governor Thomas Fletcher to help eradicate the lawless bands from Oregon County.
What struck me as interesting was the fact that two adjoining counties could be dominated by such diametrically opposed political sentiments. During the Civil War, the state of Missouri was very divided, but generally speaking Union sentiment dominated in the urban areas (especially St. Louis), while Confederate sympathies were more prominent in the rural areas. The general rule, though, did not always apply. For instance, in the southwest corner of the state (the part of Missouri I am most familiar with), Vernon County was about as Southern in sentiment as a county could be. Yet, Cedar County, right next door to the east, tended to be dominated by Union sentiment. This clash in sentiment between neighboring counties led indirectly to the murder of Augustus Baker by John Frizzell in May of 1863 and more directly to the subsequent burning of Nevada later the same month.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Hudspeth-Watkins Murder Case

The Andrew Hudspeth-George Watkins murder case that occurred in Marion County, Arkansas, in the late 1880s is one of the most interesting in the history of the Ozarks. The families of the two men were living together on the same farm west of Yellville, and apparently the intimate living arrangements proved too much temptation for Hudspeth and Watkins's wife. One day Hudspeth and Watkins came to Yellville together in Watkins's wagon, and that night Hudspeth came home alone driving the wagon. After the disappearance came to light, Rebecca Watkins admitted that she and Hudspeth were lovers, that they had plotted her husband's murder together, and that she was sure Andy had carried it out, although she wasn't present at the time and didn't know what he had done with the body. Much of her story was supported by the testimony of her and George's eleven-year-old son.
Andy Hudspeth was convicted of the murder, and, after considerable delay caused by his escape from jail and by numerous appeals on his behalf, he was eventually hanged in late 1892. In the meantime, Rebecca, awaiting indictment on a charge of being an accessory to the crime, died while in custody. The case took a strange twist in the summer of 1893 when George Watkins was supposedly found alive living on a farm in Kansas. The report was soon followed by a second story claiming the first one was a hoax, but the idea that George Watkins was found alive after Andy Hudspeth was executed for his murder is repeated as gospel even today on certain websites dedicated to exposing abuse in the American justice system. Obviously, if the story were true, it would be an extreme miscarriage of justice, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that Hudspeth did, in fact, kill George Watkins. The same websites that claim George Watkins was found alive after Hudspeth was executed also give Hudspeth's name as Charles Hudspeth. His name was Andrew J. Hudspeth. Failure to get the name of one of the principal characters right is, in and of itself, reason enough to distrust the rest of their version of the story.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

More Weather: 11-11-11

Last time I mentioned a few memorable weather events that have occurred in the Ozarks over the years. I forgot to mention perhaps the most spectacular one of all, though, "the Great Blue Norther" that happened on November 11, 1911. It was then that many areas in the Midwest, including towns like Springfield, Missouri, recorded their record high and record low on the same day. The morning and early afternoon of 11-11-11 was unusually mild. In Springfield, for instance, the temperature was in the low 80s in the early afternoon before the storm hit. By midnight it had dropped to around 13 degrees. Both extremes set records for the date, and I believe that one or both records still stand. I, of course, don't remember this weather event. I'm old but not quite that old. I do, however, remember old-timers from my youth occasionally talking about it. My grandmother, for instance, recalled that the temperature dropped so rapidly that most of her family's potato crop, which had been stored in a shed, froze before she and her siblings could move the potatoes to the cellar.

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