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 ten nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Civil War Springfield, Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, and Murder and Mayhem in Missouri.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Diamond Grove

In doing research about the Civil War in the area of Newton and Jasper counties, I have occasionally run into references to Diamond Grove. At first, I assumed that Diamond Grove was just a precursor to or another name for present-day Diamond, which did not exist at the time of the Civil War. There's some truth to this assumption, but it's not entirely true. While present-day Diamond did borrow its name from Diamond Grove and is located in the same general vicinity as the earlier community, it is not located in the precise same place.
Diamond Grove was north and west of present-day Diamond or due north of the George Washington Carver Birthplace. In fact, there's a Diamond Grove Prairie Conservation Area just a couple of miles north of the birthplace, and still farther north (on FF Highway or Joplin's East 32nd Street) there is a Diamond Grove Christian Church.
If there was an actual community or crossroads store during the Civil War at a place called Diamond Grove (and I assume there was), I have not, however, been able to determine exactly where it was. All I know is that it was not where present-day Diamond is. If anyone knows the precise location where the community of Diamond Grove was, please let me know.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nettie Pease Fox in Joplin

I mentioned in a post a year or so ago that spiritualism revivalist Nettie Pease Fox came to Springfield in the fall of 1877, started a spiritualist newspaper there, and held a series of lectures at the Opera House on South Street. I mentioned that the revivalist fervor in Springfield had already started to cool by the end of the year, but apparently Ms. Fox continued to conduct lectures in other parts of the Ozarks for a while longer. For instance, on the last day of January of 1878, she lectured at the Opera House in Joplin, which was located at the corner of 2nd and Main.
In the late 1800s, nearly every town of sufficient size had its own opera house. Opera houses were used for more than just operas, though. They also hosted non-operatic theatrical productions, musical performances, public meetings, and lectures by noted speakers like Ms. Fox. Nettie Pease Fox was apparently fairly well received in Joplin but didn't cause the stir or stay as long as she had in Springfield.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Newtonia

My book on the two battles at Newtonia was recently released by History Press as part of the publisher's Civil War Sequicentennial Series. In an overall view of the Civil War, neither battle at Newtonia was particularly significant (although some people seem to want to try to make both of them more important than they actually were by overestimating the number of casualties, etc.) Still, they were certainly significant for the soldiers who participated in them and for other people (such as civilians who lived in Newtonia) who were directly affected, and each battle does have its distinguishing characteristics. For instance, the First Battle of Newtonia is one of the few conflicts of the Civil War that involved large-scale American Indian involvement on both sides. The second battle did not have such an unusual distinguishing characteristic, did not involve nearly as many soldiers as the first one, and did not last as long. However, it is remembered as the last significant fight of the Civil War in Missouri, and largely for that reason, therefore, it, too, is considered important. The Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association will be holding an open house at the Ritchey Mansion on Sunday afternoon, June 27, at two p.m., and they'll be hosting a book signing for me at the same time in conjunction with the open house.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Prostitutes in the Ozarks

Last time I wrote about the rowdy character of the town of Baxter Springs and cited the 1870 census as evidence, particularly the fact that the occupation of seven women living in the town at the time of the census was listed as "prostitute." Actually, I got to thinking about this whole subject of prostitution, gambliing, etc. in the early-day Ozarks because it was pointed out to me not too long ago that several women living in Joplin at the time of the 1880 census were listed as prostitutes. I know, too, that prostitution was fairly common around the mining town of Granby immediately after the Civil War before Joplin was even formed. I'm not as well versed on the early history of Springfield, but I'm pretty sure prostitution was fairly common there during the war, because Springfield was a Union headquarters throughout much of the war. Anywhere young single men congregated; be they soldiers, miners, or cowboys; prostitutes were sure to show up.
What strikes me about the census records is the fact the census takers (not necessarily the women themselves) were so open about calling a prostitute a prostitute. Today, prostitutes would more likely show up on census records as "escorts" or some other euphemism.

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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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