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 ten nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Civil War Springfield, Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, and Murder and Mayhem in Missouri.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hot Weather

According to the weatherman on one of the Joplin TV stations, this summer is shaping up to be one of the hottest on record. I know it's one of the hottest in my memory.
I think the summer of 1954 is considered the hottest on record in the Ozarks, when we had 39 days (I believe) in which the temperature topped 100 degrees, with several of those days topping 110. At the rate we're going, we may challenge the 1954 record of 39 days with temps over 100.
I vaguely recall the summer of 1954, when I would have been seven years old. Actually, I don't recall the specific year. I only recall that during a couple of the summers of my childhood it was extremely hot. It has been only during my adulthood, after I read or was told that 1953 and 1954 were unusually hot summers, that I've concluded those must have been the years I remember as being very hot. We didn't have air conditioning, either, back in those days, but somehow the heat didn't bother me much. I'd hate to have to be without air conditioning this summer. I think it would bother me a lot, but, of course, I'm not seven anymore. Temperature extremes don't seem to bother kids the way they do adults. At least they didn't bother me and my childhood friends when we had important things to do like playing baseball or going fishing.
Extremes in weather always seem to be a topic of conversation. Recently I ran onto a piece in the September 4, 1881 Joplin Daily Herald in which a correspondent was reporting from McDonald County and complaining about the hot, dry weather. "The rains of last week that visited Joplin and vicinity failed to reach this region," the correspondent said, "and, if possible, everything looks more dry and desolate here than there. Early planted corn will make hardly a half crop, while late planting will barely make fodder. Wheat yielded about a two thirds crop. Along Lost Creek, in the neighborhood of Seneca, the corn crop would have been very good but for the chinch-bugs. What the drouth has accomplished in other localitites they have done there."

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Drake Constitution

The Missouri Constitution of 1865, passed at the end of the Civil War when Radical Republicanism was at its zenith in the state, completely disenfranchised unrepentant Southern sympathizers. Usually called the Drake Constitution after its chief proponent, Charles D. Drake, the constitution provided that anyone who had ever been in Confederate service or who had openly sympathized with the rebellion could not vote, hold office, serve on a jury or hold certain important jobs like teacher, preacher, or lawyer without first taking an oath of allegiance to the United States. The most amazing thing to me about the Drake Constitution is that, even with unrepentant Southern sympathizers barred from voting, it barely passed when put to a statewide vote in June of 1865. Obviously there were a lot of conservative and fair-minded Union people who didn't feel it was right to punish a person for what he believed or had believed in the past. There were just enough Radicals, though, to get the constitution passed into law. I can, to a certain extent, understand the punitive feeling of the Radicals who pushed the new constitution into law. If I had been a strong Union sympathizer during the Civil War, I would have found it hard to immediately start welcoming back with open arms the people who had wanted to rend the country asunder. However, the practical effect of the Drake Constitution was merely to deepen and prolong the bitterness that had torn the country apart in the first place. In some cases,it even led to violent incidents, such as the murder of Rev. Samuel S. Headlee, a Southern sympathizer who was killed when, without having taken an oath of allegiance, he tried to preach at Pleasant View Church just across the Greene County line in Webster County (near present-day Elkland) in the summer of 1866 with an eye toward restoring the congregation, which had aligned with the Methodist Episcopal Church North during the war, to the southern branch of the M. E. Church.
Fortunately the Drake Constituion didn't last very long. By the early 1870s, the most objectional provisions of the document were already being repealed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Saline County

I just got back yesterday from a trip to Marshall, Mo. in Saline County. I don't normally think of Saline County as part of the Ozarks, because it's a little too far north; so I don't know a lot about the area's history and seldom write about it. However, I suppose Saline County is considered the northern edge of the Ozarks by some definitions, where the Missouri River represents the northern boundary, and even if it is not, it is close enough to the Ozarks that it won't hurt to mention on this blog the few tidbits of Saline County history that I am familiar with.
Saline County was the site of fairly significant Civil War action, the so-called Battle of Marshall (although it was little more than a good-sized skirmish). The Battle of Marshall was the culmination of Colonel Jo Shelby's raid into Missouri during the fall of 1863, the main purposes of which were to recruit for the Confederacy, lift the spirits of Southern sympathizing people in Missouri, and perhaps occupy Federal forces that could otherwise be used in fighting battles in the East. After chasing Shelby for several days, General Egbert Brown finally caught up with the Rebels at Marshall and almost succeeded in trapping them in a deadly circle. Shelby was able to break through the Federal line, but his forces became separated into two bodies during the escape and both columns had to beat a hasty retreat toward the Arkansas border.
Probably the only other thing about Saline County that I'm familiar with at all is the fact that Arrow Rock, located on the river east of Marshall, was a significant town in the very early history of Missouri. For instance, it was the home of three Missouri governors: Claiborne F. Jackson, Meredith Miles Marmaduke, and John Sappington Marmaduke. It was also the home of artist George Caleb Bingham, who was famous for his paintings of Missouri scenes.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

James H. Fagg

I think I've mentioned Pink Fagg on this blog before. He was a notorious character in the Ozarks in the late 1800s. He first got in trouble in Springfield in the mid 1870s for theft, spent a stint in the state prison, and then got in trouble around 1880 for trying to kill his wife in Jasper County. He beat that rap but tried to kill a man at Pierce City a few years later and went up the river for another stay at Jeff City. He got released again after only a couple of years and went to Fort Smith, where he killed a man in an argument over a woman. After a term in the Arkansas State Prison at Little Rock, he finally settled down and lived out the rest of his days as a liquor dealer in Tulsa. My next book from Pelican Publishing, entitled Desperadoes of the Ozarks, will contain a chapter on Pink.
Pink Fagg apparently came by his wild streak honestly, because his father, James H. Fagg, was a character of some notoriety himself. When Pink was a kid, his father ran a grocery/saloon in Springfield and, during the Civil War era, often butted heads with law officers, both civil and military, over liquor and other violations.
To cite only one instance, James H. Fagg and his partner, DeWitt Brewster, got in trouble in December of 1863 with the provost marshal of the Springfield post for selling liquor to soldiers in violation of military policy. According to statements given to the provost marshal by soldiers and other witnesses, when Brewster and Fagg's business on the east side of town was raided in the wee hours of the morning of December 27, the pair was not only caught in the act of serving booze to soldiers but was also in possession of some flour that had been stolen the night before from one of the military units stationed at Springfield. Although Brewster denied all the charges, Fagg admitted he had sold liquor to soldiers but claimed that he thought the order against doing so had been lifted because all the other liquor dealers had been selling to enlisted men, too. Fagg implied that he was being singled out only because he had previously been accused of being disloyal, a charge which he denied. Brewster and Fagg ended up having their supply of goods confiscated by the government and getting their business shut down, but the closure must have been only temporary, at least in the case of Fagg, because he got in trouble with the provost marshal again for selling liquor to soldiers at least one more time later in the war.

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