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.

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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Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Benders: A Mystery That's Not a Mystery

I've mentioned the Bloody Benders of southeast Kansas in at least one previous post, but recently, while doing historical research for another topic, I came across a newspaper article about the Benders that, while not exactly shedding new light on the story, does tend to confirm what I was already convinced of--namely that the so-called mystery of what ultimately happened to the Benders is not really mystery, despite the fact that the historical marker erected by the Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Department of Transportation at the intersection of Highways 400 and 169 near the site of the Bender Mounds proclaims the Benders' ultimate fate "one of the great unsolved mysteries of the old West."
The fact is that the Benders were overtaken and killed by the posse that went out in pursuit of them when they fled after their horrific deeds were uncovered. I have been virtually sure of this for some time, not only because it's the most logical conclusion to reach when one knows all the facts surrounding the case but also because several members of the posse, who at first refused to say what had happened, revealed in later years what had actually occurred. The 1880 newspaper article I recently came across contained another such statement, given about seven years after the Benders' disappearance by yet another member of the posse. The posse member described how the Benders had been trailed and overtaken and then shot to death after the posse gave them an opportunity to deny their guilt, which they did not do. Thus ends the "mystery" that's not really a mystery, but I know it really won't end, because people are more fascinated by the marvelous than they are by the truth. As the posse member told his readers in 1880, though, if you hear any sensational story about the Benders escaping to Mexico or returning to Germany or some other such fantastic tale, "you can put it down as a canard."

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