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 seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, and Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Springfield and Joplin Street Names

Joplin has a pretty simple system of street names. The main east-west thoroughfare in the very early days of the town was Broadway, which connected East Joplin and West Joplin. All the east-west streets south of Broadway were numbered: First Street, Second Street, Third Street, etc. All the east-west streets north of Broadway were designated by letters of the alphabet: A Street, B Street, C Street, etc. You can't get much simpler than that. The main north-south street in Joplin is Main Street, or at least it was in the early days. Most of the north-south streets east of Main were named after states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, etc. Many of the north-south streets west of Main, at least in the beginning, were named after founding fathers of the town: Byers, Murphy, Sergeant, etc. Again, it's a fairly simple system. As the town got bigger over the years, the people who name the streets varied from the original system, of course, especially when naming the north-sourth streets, because they soon ran out of founding fathers, but the basic plan is still easily discernible.
Springfield, too, had a pretty simple system for naming its streets, at least in the very early days. Many of the main streets were named after the principal town to which they led. For instance, St. Louis, which ran east off the square (and still does) was so named because the road ultimately led to St. Louis. Boonville was so named because it led to Boonville. Jefferson, I think, was named Jefferson not after the president but because it was the road one usually took out of Springfield to go to Jefferson City. South Avenue was so named for an obvious reason: it ran south off the square. Mt. Vernon Street led to the town of Mt. Vernon, the county seat of Lawrence County. State Street was given its name because it was a main state road that one took out of Springfield to go to Cassville and eventually to Fayetteville, Arkansas (which became known as the Wire Road). Then there is College Street, the fourth street leading off the square, which got its name because an early academy or college was located on it. No fancy explanation for how the streets got their names, at least not if you know a little about the history of the town.
When I visit a town I've never been to before, I appreciate simple systems for naming streets. New York City, for instance, is very easy to know you're way around in. All the main east-west roads are numbered streets, and most of the principal north-south roads are numbered avenues. Tulsa, Oklahoma, is another city that comes readily to mind as a place that has a simple system of street names.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Price of Gas and Corn

Nearly everyone is complaining about the price of gasoline nowadays, as it approaches four dollars a gallon, and I admit that I'm right there with them. It really takes a bite out of the old pocketbook when you have to pay well over $50 for a fill-up. It's especially a hardship on people who commute back and forth to work a considerable distance each day.
Yet, when viewed from a historical perspective, the price of gasoline is really not all that far out of line from other goods and services. I can recall paying as little as 17 or 18 cents a gallon for gasoline during the 1960s, but that was during the so-called "gas wars" that were relatively common in those days. The usual price was more like 25 to 30 cents a gallon. Until recently, the price of gas nowadays was in the three dollar per gallon range. So, you might say that gasoline has only gone up by approximately a factor of ten. I can think of many other products that have gone up at least that much. For instance, I recall that the going price for a candy bar when I was a kid was a nickel. Nowadays, a Snickers bar costs over a dollar if you purchase it at the local convenience store. That's a factor of twenty! Things like health care and higher education have probably increased that much as well.
The price of some things (notably U. S. agricultural products), on the other hand, have not increased even ten times. In doing historical research on another topic, I recently ran onto an advertisement of the Jefferson City Market, wholesale and retail dealers in groceries and other provisions, in an 1858 edition of the Jefferson City Inquirer that gave the price of various commodities at that time. A bushel of shelled corn, for instance, ranged from 75 to 80 cents. That, I'm assuming, was the retail price. So, it's hard to compare that price to the price of a bushel of corn today, because corn is usually not sold by the bushel at the retail level (at least I've never purchased it that way). The wholesale price for a bushel of corn nowadays is in the seven dollar range, I think, and that's after a fairly dramatic increase in recent years. So, you might say that the price of corn has gone up only somewhat more than a factor of ten in over 150 years. If that were true of everything else and yet we all still had the same income we do today, most of us would be rich.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clinton Flogging Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted an entry on this blog about the whipping of some Union soldiers at Clinton, Mo. that occurred on the Fourth of July of 1861. A combined force of U. S. Army regulars and Kansas volunteers of about 2,000-3,000 men were marching from Kansas to link up with General Nathaniel Lyon, who was on his way to Springfield. At Clinton, some of the volunteers got drunk and started committting minor depredations like stealing chickens from local residents. I reported last time that Major Samuel Sturgis, in command of the combined force, ordered the volunteers flogged with fifty lashes each from a black-snake whip, and the punishment was carried out by some of his regulars, which almost caused a mutiny among the volunteers. There was more to the story than that, however, and I recently ran across a newspaper article that sheds additional light on the circumstances of the flogging. Colonel George Deitzler, commanding the volunteers, came under criticism in the Kansas press for allowing the whipping of the volunteers, and the newspaper article contained a letter from one of Deitzler's captains explaining what had happened in more detail and defending the colonel. Apparently at least a couple of regulars were also among the soldiers that Major Sturgis had arrested and brought before him because of their unruly behavior. Colonel Deitzler was notified of the arrests, and he called a meeting of his captains to decide what should be done. The officers agreed that the men should be given stern punishments in order to instill a sense of discipline in the command, and they agreed to leave the volunteers with Sturgis to allow him to mete out the punishment. However, they did not expect the men to be so severely punished as to be flogged with a teamster's whip. When Col. Deitzler learned of the first whippings, he hastened to Sturgis's headquarters and protested the brutal punishment. Sturgis at first refused to countermand his order or to turn the volunteers over to Deitzler, but at last Deitzler succeeded in getting a few of the volunteers released into his custody and saved them from the harsh punishment.
Speaking of the Civil War, I'm happy to announce that my book on the two battles of Newtonia recently won the Walter Williams Major Work Award, an annual award given by the Missouri Writers' Guild for a "major work" written by one of its members. My Ozarks Gunfights book also took a second place in the Best Book about Missouri category.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Little York

I've always been fascinated by the way some early communities prospered and grew, while others stagnated or completely died out. And often the towns that nowadays are the most populous and vital are not the oldest. For instance, Little York was a prosperous little community in western Greene County, a mile or two west of present-day Brookline, that no longer even exists. When the railroad came through about 1872, the new community of Brookline grew up beside the railroad, and most of the people of Little York moved to the new town. Republic came along in the same general vicinity about the same time as Brookline and, of course, outshone both Little York and Brookline to the point that Brookline, too, is today little more than a wide place in the road. Ebenezer and Cave Spring, a couple of other very early communities of Greene County, barely exist today. Then you have towns like Fair Grove and Walnut Grove that have been around since before the Civil War but have never experienced quite the growth that newer communities like Nixa, Republic, and Willard have. In the case of Fair Grove, its lack of growth during the late 1800s and early 1900s may have had to do with its lack of a railroad. In the case of Walnut Grove, it may have had more to do with its distance from Springfield. The same phenomenon that we see in Greene County was also at work here in Jasper County (as well as other places, I'm sure). We have communities here like Medoc and Fidelity that predated the Civil War but that barely exist nowadays, whereas newer communities like Carl Junction have boomed in recent years. In fact, because Jasper County was a huge mining district in the late 1800s, we probably have more than our share of once-booming little towns that now no longer exist or barely exist. Then we have Oronogo, which is an example of a town that was a booming mining town, virtually died out, but has made a comeback in recent years and is now a thriving bedroom community for people who work in the Joplin area. Joplin itself, of course, is not nearly as old as some of the other towns in Jasper County, like Carthage and Sarcoxie.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Civil War Ozarks

Holcombe's 1883 History of Greene County, Missouri, in discussing the months leading up to the Civil War, observes that people were very fickle in their political sentiments--that Unionists one week became secessionists the next and vice versa. This observation applies not just to the people of Greene County but to people throughout Missouri and probably northern Arkansas as well. The number of ardent Unionists or ardent secessionists was relatively small. Most people were somewhere in the middle, and they were guided not so much by political beliefs as they were by impulses of self-preservation. A vast number of people (and I don't mean this as a criticism) were willing to shift with whichever way the wind was blowing. When Union troops were in their area in force, they were Union sympathizers; when Confederate forces were in control, they became Confederate sympathizers. This state of things was truer at the very beginning of the war and during the months leading up to its outbreak than it was later in the war. A lot of people who would have preferred to stay neutral were forced to choose sides at some point. However, even later in the war, the overriding principle for many people was simple--how they could best survive the war. This partially explains why the people of Missouri, who were predominantly conservative Unionists at the start of the war, became even more Unionist in sympathy as the war wore on and it became increasingly clear that a Southern victory was a longshot.

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