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.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Robbie Camden: The Ridge Runnin' Romeo

The last chapter in my Desperadoes book is about Robert Camden, a diminutive outlaw from Reynolds County (Mo.) who terrorized south central Missouri during the 1920s and 1930s but cut enough of a romantic swath to earn the nicknames "Robin Hood of the Ozarks" and "Ridge Runnin' Romeo" along the way. Usually called Robbie or Bobby, Camden was born near the eastern Dent County community of Boss but grew up mostly in neighboring Reynolds County. He first ran afoul of the law in 1918, at the age of 17, when he and a couple of older cousins teamed up to burglarize a store in the Reynolds County community of Oates. He and his sidekicks broke out of jail while being held at Ironton and committed another burglary while on the run, after which Camden was sent to the state reformatory at Jeff City. He was released after a year and a half but soon got in trouble again when he partipated in a holdup at Thayer, Missouri, in December of 1921. Sent to Jeff City again, this time to the big house, he was released in early 1925 and quickly resumed his criminal career, graduating to violence along the way. He and cousin Burley Barton (younger brother of the two cousins with whom Camden had gotten in trouble a few years earlier) went on a robbing spree through Pulaski and Dent County and got in a shootout with law officers in Dent that left young Barton dead. Camden, however, escaped to Arkansas, where he was finally wounded and captured in another shootout with authorities in August of 1925. He was sent to the Arkansas penitentiary but paroled after a few years. He committed some petty crimes in Kansas in 1930, spending time, for example, in the Wichita city jail, before going on another burglary binge with another cousin, Mac Camden, in St. Clair County, Missouri, in early 1931. Both men gave fake names when they were caught and were sent to Jeff City under their aliases before their real identities were discovered. Camden was released in June of 1933 but, as he had already proved several times, could not stay out of trouble. He promptly set out on a string of burglaries and holdups in his home territory of south central Missouri and finally killed a country preacher in Reynolds County in a murder for hire in August of 1933. It was during the intense manhunt for Camden over the next several months that the legend of the "Robin Hood of the Ozarks" sprang up. Hiding out in his familiar hills, Camden reportedly let it be known that he would provide for any poor family that lacked food during the Depression winter of 1933-34. Finally captured in April of 1934, Camden was sent back to Jeff City for a 30-year stretch on a robbery charge. He later confessed to and was convicted of killing the preacher and had his sentence extended to life in prison. He escaped in April of 1951 but was recaptured a few months later and sent back to the state pen. He was paroled for a year in the late 1950s but had the parole revoked. He was paroled again in 1966 and released altogether in 1971. He died three years later in Ironton, Mo., just short of his 73rd birthday. Thus ended the lengthy outlaw saga of Bobby Camden.


Blogger Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Happy to have found your blog. I'm a new regular reader. I'm currently reading Civil War: Springfiled from The History Press. Did you see:http://www.examiner.com/cultureal-heritage-in-springfield-mo/civil-war-springfield-tells-of-christmas-1861-150-year-ago ? Hope it was all right. Let me know of any book signings, I'll write another article and promote it. ;-)

December 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

No, I was not previously aware of your review of the Springfield book. Thanks for the favorable mention. I'll get in touch when I have another book signing or if and when a new book comes out. I read your online resume--impressive!

December 24, 2011 at 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate was reading your story and this was wrote about one of my distant relatives and I don't mean to be picky but you had on there Oaks and it should actually be Oats, MO.

June 19, 2013 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Yes, I have it as Oates in my book, which I think is correct, but I wrote it down wrong in the blog entry here. I'll make the correction. Thanks for pointing this out.

June 19, 2013 at 5:58 PM  

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