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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Professor Babboo

I continue to marvel at how open the United States was to religious and social experimentation in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Civil War had torn the social fabric of the country apart, and the old beliefs and the old ways of doing things no longer provided, for many people, a solid foundation they could count on. During the years after the war, entire communities were often founded by groups of like-minded individuals advocating an experiemental belief system or economic system. Liberal, founded in Barton County, Missouri, as a haven for freethinkers, is a good example.
The openness to experimentation and unconventional ways of doing things, though, extended beyond social and religious matters. The field of medicine was another area where the willingness to try new things manifested itself. Witness, for example, the mineral-water craze that I've written about in previous posts. Indeed, there was a tolerance toward (some might say a gullibility toward) anybody who claimed to be able to cure you of whatever ailed you, make you rich, read your mind, or tell your fortune.
For instance, I recently ran across a series of newspaper reports that appeared in the Joplin Globe during the month of May 1899 about a palm reader who called himself Professor Babboo the Hindoo Wonder. The so-called professor set up his headquarters in a Joplin hotel charging customers $1.00 per reading and was kept so busy that he tarried in Joplin throughout the whole month of May. The Globe reported in one instance that he was "besieged all day long by an eager, anxious crowd of patrons, seeking the consolation derived from a reading of the palms of their hands by this scientific adept." The Science of Palmistry, according to Professor Babboo, was "not fortune telling but is as plain as reading a book if one is educated in the Hindoo method." The Globe reporter, who seemed to be a true believer, urged his readers to take advantage of this rare opportunity to meet with a scientific adept such as Professor Babboo.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Indian Springs

Last time I mentioned Saratoga Springs, located in southwestern McDonald County, as an example of a town that was founded during the mineral-water craze of the early 1880s. Although it was briefly popular as a medical resort shortly after it opened, it never really caught on the way some of the other spring-water towns, like Eureka Springs, did. Another mineral-water town that was founded in McDonald County shortly after Saratoga Springs, however, did rival Eureka Springs in popularity, at least briefly among Joplinites. Indian Springs was laid out in July of 1881 on Indian Creek in the northern part of McDonald County. The growth of the place was so rapid that by August of the same year the founders were already laying out additions to the town, and the population soared, reportedly approaching 2,000 people at its peak. Among the visitors to Indian Springs during the summer and early fall of 1881 was a steady stream of folks from Joplin looking for a little relaxation and spa treatment. The greater popularity of Indian Springs over Saratoga Springs with Joplinites can be partially explained by the simple fact that it was closer to Joplin, but also Indian Springs was better organized and promoted. However, its popularity, too, like that of Saratoga Springs, soon ran its course, and by the turn of the twentieth century when its name was changed to McNatt (after the town's founder), Indian Springs was little more than a wide place in the road.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saratoga Springs

When I was discussing on this blog a year or so ago the mineral water craze that sprang up in the Ozarks (and elsewhere) during the 1880s, I think Saratoga Springs, a town in McDonald County, Missouri, was among the examples I cited. Recently, while perusing the 1881 Joplin Daily Herald, I ran across a column written by a reporter who had taken a trip from Joplin to the fledgling community of Saratoga Springs in the late summer of 1881. The reporter said there were, at the time of his visit, two grocery stores and a drug store in the town as well as three or four dozen "summer houses" made of native lumber. Four or five springs flowed from a ravine below the town, but no medical qualities were claimed for even the largest of the group, which was dubbed the "Liz Weaver." In additon, the community had no organized town company or leaders working on behalf of building the place up. So, the reporter held out little hope that the town would flourish, and, of course, he turned out to be right. Today, Saratoga (the "Springs" part has been dropped from the name) is barely a wide place in the road on Highway 90 between Noel and Southwest City.
One place that did prosper, though, was Eureka Springs. It was tremendously popular, at least among Joplin citizens, from its very founding. It amazes me, in reading 1880s Joplin newspapers, how often I run into items reporting that a certain citizen was in Eureka Springs or had just returned from there. And I'm sure Eureka Springs was almost as popular with other residents of the Ozarks as it was with Joplinites.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

W. S. Norton-Killer of Jake Killian

The current issue of Wild West Magazine contains an article of mine about Jake Killian of Granby, Missouri, and his notorious family, and my Ozarks' Gunfights book contains a chapter about the same subject that is similar to the article. I don't have anything else to say about Jake and his family right now, but I would like to add a few words about William S. Norton, the man who ended up killing Jake in the spring of 1878 at Empire City, Kansas (now part of Galena), because Norton was something of a notorious character in his own right.
Norton and Killian were members of the same unit during the Civil War, and the two men got into a violent argument over a card game during the latter part of the war. They grappled over Norton's gun, but Norton managed to turn the gun toward Killian and shot him in the face, blinding him in one eye. Killian swore revenge, a mistake that eventually cost him his life.
After the war, Norton lived in Dallas County, Missouri, awhile but came to Joplin soon after lead was discovered and the town was established in the early 1870s. He served briefly as a constable or deputy constable and became embroiled in an 1874 dispute in Joplin when he was appointed city marshal after the sitting marshal was ousted by the city council. The two men feuded awhile before the incumbent went to court and regained his office. Norton hung around Joplin a few more years and was reported to have killed at least one or two men in cases that were ruled self defense.
Shortly after lead was discovered on Short Creek in southeast Kansas in 1877, Norton moved to the booming new lead town of Empire City. He killed Killian in March of 1878 when the latter came looking for him. Although this killing, like the previous ones, was ruled self defense (primarily because Killian had a notorious reputation and had stalked Norton), it was actually a clear case of murder. Killian was not even armed at the time Norton gunned him down.
Norton later ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Cherokee County. Maybe the good folks of southeast Kansas wanted someone for their chief law enforcement officer who was a little more deliberate in the use of firearms than Bill Norton.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Douglas County Murder

It's not unusual for me, while researching a historical topic, to run across newspaper stories about other interesting topics. In fact, that's how I come up with about half of my ideas. Recently, while researching the early history of Joplin, I came across a 1902 account of a murder trial which was getting ready to take place in Douglas County involving a crime that had occurred there in 1870, over thirty years before, at the beginning of what the newspaper called "the famous Alsup feud."
The Alsup family dominated politics in Douglas County for many years after the Civil War and made many enemies, but the term "feud" is a bit of a misnomer if we think of the word as implying a fight between two different families. At first the feud did involve the Alsups and their allies against John Hatfield and his few allies, but Hatfield was killed in the spring of 1871. So, the feud became one between the pro-Alsup faction and the anti-Alsup faction.
The murder about which I recently found the newspaper piece was committed by a follower of the Alsups named James Wilson, and the victim's name was Orville Lynn. After the murder, Wilson hid out in the woods awhile and ended up killing a second man named Hall when he heard Hall approaching in some bushes and, thinking his pursuers were closing in on him, fired at the noise.
Wilson later surrendered, but because he was an Alsup ally, he was not prosecuted and soon left the county. In 1889, almost twenty years later, after the Alsup reign had finally run its course, Wilson was finally indicted, but he was not captured until around the beginning of 1902, when he was caught in Oklahoma and brought back to Douglas County to stand trial. I'd be interested to know how the trial turned out, if anyone can fill me in.

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