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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Relics of the Rural Past


I have long been fascinated by what I call relics of the rural past. By that phrase, I mean institutions, buildings, and other objects that used to be common in rural areas and small towns but that are now either extinct or almost so. Examples are one-room schools, general stores, and rural post offices.
There was a time in America when almost every rural intersection of any importance at all had a general store and a post office. Some of the post offices operated as separate entities, but many were housed in the general store with the storekeeper often serving as the postmaster. Increased automobile travel and the rise of city supermarkets around the middle of the twentieth century spelled the doom of the general stores. The general store may have been convenient, but it couldn't compete with the cheaper prices that consumers could find at the supermarket. A number of factors, including the Unites States Post Office's desire to streamline its service, led to the demise of the rural post office about the same time that general stores were also disappearing from the scene.
One-room schools also used to dot the countryside, and some of the same factors that led to the passing of general stores, such as better roads and increased travel, also contributed to the disappearance of the one-room schools. It's not just rural one-room schoolhouses, though, that I tend to get nostalgic about. The movement in education toward school consolidation, especially during the early and middle 1900s, also left many small communities that formerly had high schools without such schools. Often when the school left, the town died, too. An example from my immediate area that comes readily to mind is the small community of Prosperity. At one time in the early 1900s, it was a booming little mining town with a two-year high school. The school consolidated with Webb City during the middle part of the twentieth century, and the town gradually died out to the point that very little remained except for the old, abandoned two-story school building. I remember taking pictures of the building and writing about it when it was little more than a deserted shell and the lot surrounding it was overgrown with weeds and brush. (The photo of Prosperity School accompanying this blog entry was taken during the mid to late 1970s.) About ten years ago the building was restored as a bed and breakfast, and it now looks nice and well maintained. I believe a couple of the rooms at the B&B are named for former teachers at the old Prosperity School.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quantrill's Buried Treasure

According to Ward Schrantz's Jasper County in the Civil War, Quantrill and his large band of guerrillas (estimated at nearly 400 men) camped on Spring River near present-day Oronogo on the night of October 5, 1863, on the property of Judge Onstott as they were headed south to Texas just six weeks or so after the Lawrence Massacre. One of the judge's sons, Abraham Onstott, who was just a boy at the time, later claimed that a couple of members of the guerrilla band buried some valuables at the site that had been taken during the Lawrence raid. Years later, after it was concluded that the the men who buried the treasure were never coming back for it, a search for the buried cache was made but it could not be located.
Stories similar to this seem to abound in the Ozarks (and probably elsewhere as well). For instance, I think I recall hearing about some money taken in a bank or train robbery that Jesse James supposedly buried somewhere. I don't place much stock in most of the lore of buried treasures, but reading or hearing about the stories is still interesting.
By the way, on the morning after Quantrill's band camped in Jasper County, they crossed Shoal Creek at Grand Falls and turned west into Kansas, where they came upon an encampment of Federals stationed at an incomplete fort at Baxter Springs. After being repelled at the fort, they rode out on the prairie and met General James Blunt and his escort coming from Fort Scott. Thinking the guerrillas (many of whom were clad in Federal blue) composed a party sent out to greet him, Blunt was surprised and virtually annihilated at what became known as the Baxter Springs Massacre.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter's Bone

I had intended to read Winter's Bone a few years ago when it first came out but never got around to it. Then I recently saw the movie and decided I needed to get off my duff and finally read the book, too. I'm just now finishing it up.
Daniel Woodrell is an exellent writer, and I liked both the movie and the book. However, I have to agree with Dick from Blue Eye, Missouri, who, in the Mail Box section of the current issue of the Ozarks Mountaineer magazine, said that if the characterizations in the movie are true to Ozarks life, "those people need to stop reproducing immediately."
I think the type of people portrayed in Winter's Bone do exist in the Ozarks, and I would even agree that they might be more prevalent in the Ozarks than in some other parts of the country. However, I think what Winter's Bone does is give credence to the idea that violent, clannish people are common and, indeed, almost the norm in the Ozarks.
Although the fact that the people in Winter's Bone are involved in the illegal production, sale, and use of meth obviously contributes to their insularity and their suspicion of outsiders, the way they are portrayed in both the book and the movie, I think, still perpetuates the stereotype of Ozarkians as hillbillies. The only difference between now and a hundred years ago is that, instead of running moonshine stills, these modern-day hillbillies are manufacturing meth.
The fact is that, even though meth production and trade in Missouri and the Ozarks has become what law enforcement calls an epidemic, very few entire clans are involved in the activity as the Dollys are in Winter's Bone, and most people in the Ozarks, even those in isolated areas, are friendly and welcoming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Swain Anderson Murder

An interesting criminal case in the Ozarks during the late 1800s that I've been aware of for a long time is the murder of Swain Anderson in Wright County, Missouri on the night of May 22, 1886 as he was walking home from a Masonic meeting at Mountain Grove. I say it is an interesting case, and yet it has never struck me as quite interesting enough for me to want to write extensively about it as I have many other notorious crimes in the Ozarks during the same time frame.
The case contains a bit of intrigue in that the the accused murderers included the victim's own wife and his own sons acting in conspiracy. The wife, Hannah, and one of the sons, Henry, were charged as accomplices, while another son, Ed, and a neighbor named Ewing Sanders were charged as the principals in the crime. Hannah was initially arrested on suspicion but later released. When the oldest daughter, Jennie, died unexpectedly, it was rumored that she had been poisoned by Hannah to keep her from testifying against her brother, Ed, and it was even suggested that a romantic rivalry of sorts had developed between the two women over a young preacher.
So, as I say, the case has some interesting elements to it. Yet, I've never really been moved to investigate it or write about it in more depth. I suppose part of the reason is that I doubt that the more sensational elements of the case, such as the wife poisoning the daughter, were true, and if you take those sensational elements away, there's really not much left except a fairly routine murder case. No vigilante justice. Not even a legal hanging. In fact, the only person convicted in the case was Sanders, and his sentence was later commuted to time served after Ed Anderson had been acquitted.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Faro, Seven Up, and Hazard

I mentioned in one of my posts several months ago that faro was the most popular gambling game in the Old West, even more popular than poker. I suppose the thing that made it so popular was its simplicity. There were few, if any, complicated rules to learn. If the first card turned over by the dealer matched the card you had bet on, you lost. If the second card turned over by the dealer matched the card you'd bet on, you won. There were a few other features of the game, but that was the gist of it. It is supposed that faro got its name because the backs of some early playing cards had likenesses of Egyptian pharoahs on them.
Another fairly popular card game in the nineteenth century was seven up. I think it was played more in private social groups and not so much in commercial gambling establishments as faro and some of the other gambling games. In fact, it was probably played quite a bit without gambling being involved at all. Seven up was a game that involved laying out one's cards to make books, similar to the way solitaire is played, and the first person to get rid of (or book) all his cards was the winner. I recall from reading a Quantrill biography (Connelley's Quantrill and the Border Wars, I think) that William Quantrill and his lieutenant George Todd, after they had had a falling out, got into an argument one time over a game of seven up.
Hazard was also a pretty popular gambling game, but it involved dice, not cards. The modern game of craps was derived from hazard. In the game of hazard, rolling two ones (i.e. snake eyes) was sometimes called craps or crabs. Thus, did the game of craps, a simplified version of hazard, gradually take shape.

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