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, November 30, 2010

Simcoe or Simco

I think I remarked in a previous post on the the fact that newspapermen of yore seemed to have employed more colorful language than their modern-day counterparts, who are given to a more matter-of-fact and linear style. The same observation seems also to apply to historians. Some of the county histories written during the late 1800s, for example, are fun to read not just for the wealth of information they contain but also for the colorful, sometimes amusing, way in which the authors impart the information. Two or three weeks ago, for instance, I quoted the colorful words that Sturgis's History of McDonald County uses to describe the demise of Silver Springs.
The author employs similar language in his description of the death of Simcoe (sometimes spelled Simco), a small hamlet located in the northeast part of the county five or six miles from Rocky Comfort. For a while during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the place had a cooperative store run by and for surrounding farmers, but the experiment failed and the store soon passed into private hands. Sturgis describes the rest of the story in his characteristically picturesque fashion: "The neighboring farmers who had banked their savings in the enterprise, for a while basked in the sunlight of their day-visions when they were to be bloated bond holders and sport gold-headed canes. But the weird soughing of the wind through the bare shelves and the rattle of mice in the empty sugar barrels awoke them from their bright dreams, and a melancholy search was made in the recesses of their jeans for about $2000 to settle the liabilities."
Today Simco is a mere wide place in the road, if it's even that. I've actually not driven through Simco recently, if ever. So, I'm not sure exactly what is there, but I know it's not much, whatever it is.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Alsups of Douglas County


I recently made a trip to Douglas County to take a picture of the monument dedicated to the early Alsups of the county and their race horses. (I have occasionally heard Douglas County referred to as Booger County, and now I can see why. To reach the monument, I had to take narrow and rocky gravel road about four or five miles off the paved highway, and I felt as if I was getting back into the boonies. Not that I have anything against those types of isolated areas. In fact, I feel pretty much at home in the sticks. But I can see why some people might think the place is "boogery.")
The Alsups were among the early settlers of Douglas County prior to the Civil War. During the war they were strong Union supporters, and most or all of the Alsup men served in the Federal army. For many years after the war, the Alsups dominated Douglas County politics, and they made many enemies because of their firm rule.
Like many disputes during the late 1860s and the 1870s, especially in the border state of Missouri, the animosity had its roots in the Civil War, because most of the people who opposed the Alsups were former Confederate soldiers or sympathizers (or else lukewarm Union supporters) while the Alsups were Radical Republicans. It wasn't as if the family was universally hated, because the Alsup clan also had many supporters.
In addition to being involved in county politics, the Alsups were also noted for their avid interest in raising and riding fine race horses, and the monument in northeast Douglas County (not far from the Denlow community) is dedicated to the Alsup legacy of raising outstanding race horses. The monument specifically mentions the three Alsup brothers who originally settled in the Douglas County area, Ben, Moses Lock, and William, and it also mentions Lock's sons, one of whom, Shelt Alsup, was a two-term sheriff of Douglas County during the mid 1870s and was involved in a gunfight with his successor in 1879 that left both men dead.
For more information on the Alsups, watch for my book entitled Desperadoes of the Ozarks (which is due out from Pelican next spring and is more or less a sequel to my Ozarks Gunfights book). It contains a chapter on the Alsups.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Elkton

I said last time that the Slicker Wars that occurred in the 1840s in Benton and neighboring counties of Missouri had some of the characteristics of vigilantism but degenerated into a feud. Actually, though, I may have gotten that backwards. The so-called "wars" may have started out merely as a feud but then took on aspects of vigilantism. Suffice it to say that the Slicker Wars involved feuding among rival families but also had characteristics of a vigilante movement.
I also mentioned last time that one of the accounts of the Slicker Wars that I have read cites Elkton in Hickory County as a hotbed of the conflict. About the only other thing Elkton is known for, as far as I know, is being the birthplace of Sally Rand, the famous (or infamous) burlesque performer who wowed audiences with her risque fan dance at the World's Fair in Chicago during the Depression. She also performed on at least one occasion at the Ozarks Empire Fair in Springfield.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Slicker Wars and other Vigilante Feuds

Vigilante movements of old usually started in one particular area but often spread to neighboring communities. For instance, the Bald Knobberism that sprang up in Taney County during the mid 1880s soon spread to nearby Christian and Douglas counties. Also, sometimes a later vigilante movement would simply take the name of an earlier one. The Regulators of Greeene County shortly after the close of the Civil War were preceded by the Regulators of Missouri's territorial days fifty years earlier. The territorial Regulators were centered around the St. Louis area, notably St. Charles County, and spread to nearby counties like Lincoln. The dispute, at least initially, involved bogus bank notes. There have been other vigilante groups throughout American history who called themselves "regulators," and there may well have been others just in Missouri's history, because the term "regulators" was quite common.
The Slicker Wars of the 1840s in Benton and Hickory counties of Missouri also had some of the characteristics of a vigilante movement, although it apparently devolved into little more than a feud. It, too, seemingly spread from its point of origin to neighboring communities, but even pinning down exactly where its point of origin was is somewhat difficult. I've read at least two different accounts of the feud. One says it started south of Warsaw but still in Benton County, whereas the other places the center of the feud around Quincy in Hickory County and extending as far south as Elkton, which was a "hot bed of contention." Both accounts give Turk, Jones, and Nowell (or Newell) as some of the principal family names associated with the feud, but one account also chronicles the large role played by the Hobbs family while the other fails to even mention the Hobbses. Apparently the Slicker Wars started out as a dispute over gambling but expanded into a general feud.
As I mentioned in a previous post, researching pre-Civil War events in the Ozarks is difficult, but finding out more about the so-called Slicker Wars of the Benton/Hickory counties area is something I might like to attempt one of these days.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Silver Springs

In previous posts, I've mentioned the mineral water craze that swept through the country about 1880 and continued throughout the next decade or two. I've also mentioned specifically several towns in the Ozarks that were established during this time as mineral water resorts. Some of them were very successful and are still thriving towns today. Eureka Springs is perhaps the best example. Others flourished briefly before declining almost as rapidly as they sprang up and then receding into history to the point that little, if anything, remains to mark the spot where the town was located. Saratoga Springs, which I wrote about in a previous post, is an example.
I guess, however, there is yet another category: mineral water towns that were laid out but never actually populated. Silver Springs in McDonald County, Missouri, appears to be such a town. The place was surveyed and given the name Silver Springs in August of 1881 by a couple named William and Arzelia Harness, but that's about as far as the venture ever got. Sturgis's History of McDonald County tells the story in vivid language of what happened afterwards: "The seasons came and went. William's beard grew grizzled, and the cheeks of the fair Arzelia lost the pink tint of youth, but adversity flapped her wings over the enterprise, and their bright dreams of stocking legs filled with the shining metal vanished for aye--and the water still trickles through the gravel as of yore."
The county history places Silver Springs in Section 6, Township 22, Range 29, but I haven't found it listed on any maps and I'm not familiar enough with the townships and ranges of McDonald County to know where the place was located (or was intended to be located).

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