Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Merrell's Female Tonic

I've mentioned on previous occasions the mineral-water craze of the late 1800s. Mineral water spas in places like Eureka Springs and Eldorado Springs were immensely popular, and thousands of people trekked to the mineral-water towns to take the cure. However, it wasn't just mineral water that people thought would heal whatever ailed them. All sorts of tonics were also thought to have curative powers. Even soda pops like Dr. Pepper and Coca Cola were marketed as much for their "pick me up" qualities as for their taste. No matter what ailment might afflict a person, there was bound to be some sort of tonic to relieve the condition, and some tonics, if you believed the advertisements of the day, could relieve virtually any symptom.
An ad from an 1887 Springfield newspaper for Merrell's Female Tonic will illustrate what I'm talking about: Merrell's Female Tonic is prepared solely for the cure of complaints which afflict all womanhood. It gives tone and strength to the uterine organs, and corrects dangerous displacemnts and irregularities. It is of great value in change of life. The use of Merrell's Female Tonic during pregnancy greatly relieves the pains of motherhood and promotes speedy recovery. It assists nature to safely make the critical change from girlhood to womanhood. It is pleasant to the taste and may be taken at all times with perfect safety. Price $1. For Sale By All Druggists.
In truth, of course, Merrell's Female Tonic probably had no curative powers whatsoever, no matter which sex the person taking it happened to be. It was not until the first Food and Drug Laws were passed in 1906 that restrictions began to be placed on the claims that manufacturers could make for their products.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bolivar's Greatest Day

I recently visited the RootsWeb genealogy site for Polk County, Missouri, and I noticed the site mentioned the dedication of the statue of Simon Bolivar that took place in Bolivar on July 5, 1948. I wrote an article about this event, sometimes referred to as "Bolivar's Greatest Day," a few years ago for the Ozarks Reader. After taking office earlier in 1948 as Venezuela's first popularly-elected president, Romulo Gallegos wanted to present a statue of Simon Bolivar to the U. S. as a gesture of good will. Bolivar, Missouri, was selected as the site for the presentation because it was one of the more populous towns in the U. S. that was named after Simon Bolivar, and July 5, the Venezuelan Independence Day and only one day after our own Independence Day, was selected as a fitting date. Both Gallegos and U. S. President Harry Truman were present for the occasion, as were the governor of Missouri and other dignataries. The town of Bolivar went all out in preparation for the event, and a crowd estimated as high as 60,000 people turned out. The statue was unveiled in Bolivar's Neuhart Park, and both presidents gave speeches. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the day, however, turned out to be the intense heat, as the temperature soared to near 100. In later years, according to legend, President Truman, who previously had been inclined to use the expression "hotter than hell" when talking about the weather, resorted instead to describing unbearably hot weather as "hotter than Bolivar."

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

West Plains Dance Hall Explosion

I've been reading a book by Lin Waterhouse entitled The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion. It's about a tragedy that occurred in West Plains, Missouri, on the night of Friday, April 13, 1928, in which 39 people were killed and numerous others injured. A dance was taking place on the second floor of a building on East Main Street just off the square when a tremendous explosion on the bottom floor of the same building (where an auto dealership was located) blew apart not only the building where the dance was taking place but also the two buildings on either side of the dance hall and set them on fire. The dancers, most of whom were young people from prominent families, were blown momentarily upward before plunging down into a large heap of burning debris. Many who were not killed by the initial explosion were trapped in the rubble and burned to death.
What is surprising to me is that, despite the magnitude of the tragedy and despite the fact that I'm a life-long resident of the Ozarks with an interest in the region's history, this is an event that I had never even heard about until the book came out a month or so ago. One of the points Ms. Waterhouse makes in the book, however, is that many people who survived the tragedy didn't like to talk about it, and it became almost a hush-hush subject in subsequent years. So, maybe that is partly why I'd never heard about it. Anyway, the book is interesting, particularly, I would think, for anyone who has a connection to West Plains.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Laclede County Rural Schools

Last time I listed a number of rural schools from the Greene County area that were present on a 1940s topographic map but that have long been gone. I have a similar map showing the southeastern part of Laclede County and a small chunk of western Pulaski County, and it, too, shows a whole slew of rural schools that no longer exist. The ones in Pulaski County are Prospect School, Fairview School, Cave Spring School, and Bellefonte School. The Laclede County schools listed on the map are Prairie Creek, Similin, Rippy, Crossroads, Stockdale, Brownfield, Mt. Salem, Oakland, Nurse, Simpson, Morehouse, Nelson, Harmony, Heard, Barnett, Delto, Franklin, Fairview (not to be confused with the school by the same name in Pulaski), and Success (not to be confused with the Success School in nearby Texas County, which, the last I knew, was still in existence. As far as I know, all of these small, rural schools in Pulaski and Laclede no longer exist. Again, if anybody out there attended one of these schools or knows anything about any of them, I'd be interested in hearing from you.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Rural Schoolhouses

Last time I talked about what I call relics of the rural past; one-room schoolhouses, rural post offices, and crossroads general stores, for example. Following up on that post, I dug out a detailed topographic map, dating from the 1940s, that used to belong to my dad. It was part of a series of such maps put out by the U. S. Geological Survey. This particular one covers the northeast part of Greene County, Missouri (including Fair Grove and Strafford), the western edge of Webster County, the southern part of Dallas, and the southeast corner of Polk. I was struck by the number of small, rural schools listed on the map that, as far as I know, do not exist today. They include Persimmon Grove School, Rock Prairie School, and Union Grove School in Polk County; Hasten School, New Garden School, Old Goss School, and Olive School in Dallas County; Bodenhammer School, Goss School (not to be confused with Old Goss School), Holman School, and Minor School in Webster County; and Bell View School, Hickory Barren School, Ingram School, Liberty School, Locust Prairie School, and Whitlock School in Greene County. And this, mind you, covers just a small area of about 18 by 14 miles.
Of the schools mentioned above the one that was closest to Fair Grove, where I grew up, was Hickory Barren. (Actually Old Goss School might have been slightly closer, but it was in Dallas County.)
I well remember when Hickory Barren closed and was consolidated with Fair Grove. I was starting third grade when the kids who had previously gone to Hickory Barren came to Fair Grove; so this would have been the fall of 1954. Most of the others probably closed about the same time or even earlier. If anybody knows anything about any of the other schools I've listed above, I'd enjoy hearing from you.
By the way, Elkland in Webster County, also falls within the boundaries of this map, and it used to have a high school that, sometime in the late 1950s, consolidated with Buffalo, Fair Grove, and Marshfield. For many years after that, it had only an elementary school, which was part of the Marshfield school system. I'm not sure whether Elkland still has a grade school or not.

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