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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cherokee Feud

In the early 1800s, a feud developed among the Cherokee Indians of the southeastern United States over the question of removal to western lands. One group felt removal was inevitable and wanted to reach a treaty with the U. S. government for removal that provided the best terms possible for the Indians. This group, called the Treaty Party, was led by Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and his nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. Members of the Treaty Party tended to be mixed race Indians who had already assimilated into white society to some degree. Members of the other group, called the Anti-Treaty Party, tended to be full-blooded Cherokees, and they vigorously opposed removal from the tribe's ancestral lands. The group was led by John Ross, who ironically was only one-eighth Cherokee himself.
The Treaty Party's belief that removal was inevitable proved correct, and the Indians were forcibly removed to present-day Oklahoma in the late 1830s. The feud, however, continued after the arrival of the Cherokees in Indian Territory, partly because the Anti-Treaty Party blamed the Treaty Party for the infamous Trail of Tears on which so many of the Cherokees died of starvation, disease, and hardship. On June 21, 1839, the leaders of the Anti-Treaty Party met and pronounced a death sentence on Boudinot, Watie, and the two Ridges for their role in relinquishing the ancestral lands, which was considered a capital offense under "blood law."
The next day Boudinot and the two Ridges were killed by members of the Anti-Treaty Party, while Stand Watie survived an attempt on his life the same day and became the undisputed leader of the Treaty Party. During the next several years, the feud between the two factions intensified, as Watie's group, which included the infamous Starr family, sought revenge for the June 1839 killings. In 1842, Watie partially avenged the murders (as he considered the killings) when he killed a man named James Foreman, who had participated in the killing of Major Ridge. Both sides, however, continued to carry out raids against the other into the mid-1840s.
One chapter of my Two Civil War Battles of Newtonia discusses the removal of the Cherokees, the feud between the two factions, and how the feud carried over even into the Civil War. Virtually all the sources I consulted in writing the chapter were secondary sources, but I recently ran across an 1846 newspaper article about an incident that represented an outbreaking or resumption of the feud. Under the headline "Another Indian Murder," the piece (which was reprinted in the Springfield Advertiser on March 14, 1846 from a prior issue of the Arkansas Intelligencer) reported that Ta-ka-tan-ka, leader of the police at the time James Starr was killed, had recently been killed himself. After briefly relating the contradictory reports concerning the exact circumstances of Ta-ka-tan-ka's killing, the newspaper journalist opined, "Again, we fear there will commence a series of murders by both parties. The friends of Ta-ka-tan-ka will certainly take revenge on some one, whether he be the real offender or not; and in return, the friends of Starr will be equally sure to kill some of the other party."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Odds & Ends

First I need to append an addendum to my recent post about Pleasant Hope and Pin Hook. I said in that post that I had recently read a newspaper article in an 1872 Springfield newspaper mentioning that the new town of Pleasant Hope was situated near where Pin Hook used to be. Apparently, however, Pleasant Hope was not all that new in 1872, because just a day or two ago I ran onto another piece in a different Springfield newspaper, this one from late 1865, just a few months after the Civil War ended, in which Pleasant Hope is mentioned as a stop on a mail delivery route from Bolivar. So, I still don't know exactly when Pleasant Hope began as a town, but apparently its forerunner, Pin Hook, predated the Civil War.
A reader responded to my recent post about Alf Bolin agreeing that a lot of what has been handed down about Bolin is probably untrue or exaggerated and saying that he would like to see a post dealing with what we do know to be true about Bolin. So, that is something I have in mind for the future. There's actually not a whole lot about him that can be proved, but I'll see what I can come up with.
I'm happy to report that it was announced this past weekend at the Missouri Writers' Guild annual conference that my Wicked Joplin book won first place in the Best Book category of the guild's annual contests. My Civil War Springfield book took second place in the Major Work Award category (the guild's most prestigious award), and I also won a second place in the Best Article category for my story about the Joplin Spook Light that appeared in the Mysteries of the Ozarks, Vol. 3.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Defense of Alf Bolin

Alf Bolin, a Civil War bushwhacker in the Taney County, Missouri, area, was, according to legend, one of the worst fiends who ever lived. The legend holds that Bolin slew upwards of forty people and was largely indscriminate in his heinous crimes, killing defenseless old men as well as young boys, although the legend does allow that he tended to target loyal citizens more than Southern sympathizers.
The problem with the legend is that very little of it can be documented, and much of it is probably untrue. The main reason it gained credence more than likely had to do with the unusual circumstances of his death. With a Federal bounty on his head, Bolin was double crossed by people he thought were his friends and killed in a scheme hatched by Yankee authorities. Then his corpse was decapitated and his head taken into Ozark and later Springfield for public display.
As the story of Alf Bolin's life and death was told and retold, details of his life no doubt had to be invented or the real details embellished so that they were just as sensational as the details of his death. Thus, the legend grew in the retelling until Alf Bolin became almost a caricature of evil.
The legend of Alf Bolin as bogeyman that has been handed down is, understandably, told mostly from a Union perspective, but I recently ran across a letter published in an 1872 Springfield newspaper showing that, where Alf Bolin was concerned, the Union side had no monopoly on exaggeration. The letter was written by a correspondent calling himself simply "Reb," and it is as full of absurd claptrap as the Union legend.
According to the Southern version of Bolin's story, Alf and about ten or twelve other Taney County men banded together at the beginning of the Civil War for their own protection but vowed not to join either army. However, all of the men except Bolin betrayed their pledge as soon as the Union army made its appearance in the region, as they quickly enlisted in Federal service. To prove their loyalty, they almost immediately arrested their old pal Bolin and started with him to Springfield. When Bolin tried to escape on the way to Springfield, the men riddled him with bullets and left him for dead beside the road, but Bolin survived and eventually killed all of his betrayers, thereby "earning for himself at the same time the reputation of being a desperado." Stories unfairly representing Bolin to be a fiend were soon circulated and a bounty placed on his head. Shortly afterwards, a party of Yankees started in pursuit of the incarnate devil and went to his mother's home asking his wheareabouts. When "the old and tottering mother of the victim" refused to tell, the low-life Yankees whipped her with a cowhide. Enraged by this act, Bolin "watched his opportunity and put a ball through the brain of each one who took part in the dastardly act of whipping his mother."
The rest of the letter, detailing the Yankee scheme for capturing and killing Bolin, follows the Union version of the legend fairly closely, and, in fact, I think it's fairly safe to say that the part of the legend involving Bolin's death that has been handed down is probably pretty accurate. I think it's just as safe to say, however, that the Union version and this "Reb" version of Bolin's Civil War career prior to the events surrounding his death are both a bunch of malarkey. Both versions may contain certain elements of truth, but Bolin's Civil War "career" was almost certainly much less sensational than either version would suggest.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pleasant Hope (aka Pin Hook)

Growing up in Fair Grove, I often heard our neighboring town of Pleasant Hope only ten miles away referred to as Pin Hook, and I assume locals still call it Pin Hook. I believe there are even one or two businesses in Pleasant Hope with the words "Pin Hook" in their name.
I used to wonder how Pleasant Hope got the nickname Pin Hook. As a kid, I always assumed it was just that--a nickname--and that it probably came about because the words in both names start with the same two letters. I figured Pin Hook was just a name some clever fellow came up with as a play on the words of the real name, Pleasant Hope.
A few years ago, I learned that the name Pin Hook actually predated the name Pleasant Hope; so it is inaccurate, or at least misleading, to call Pin Hook a nickname for Pleasant Hope. What I read a few years ago was that Pin Hook was an earlier name for Pleasant Hope, that the place was sometimes also mockingly called Lick Skillet (because of its supposed impoverished condition) during the same time or perhaps even before it was called Pin Hook, and that the community's name was merely changed to Pleasant Hope sometime in the late 1800s.
I now know, however, that this generally accepted explanation of the town's origins is also somewhat inaccurate or at least not the whole story. I recently read a brief report in an 1872 Springfield newspaper that led me to such a conclusion. The piece in the paper mentioned the new town of Pleasant Hope that had grown up NEAR old Pin Hook, which, in turn, had become nothing but a cornfield. No doubt Pleasant Hope soon engulfed the site that had previously been Pin Hook (and borrowed the name of the earlier place as an alternate name), but it is obvious from this report that originally Pin Hook and Pleasant Hope were two separate places rather than the same place that merely changed its name.
The derivation of the name Pin Hook is also a matter of some conjecture. There are at least a couple of legends about how the place got its name, both involving sewing materials (i.e. pins), but I'll leave that issue to another time or another person.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Springfield Normal School

I remember hearing, when I attended Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University), that the school started as a normal school, but I never knew for sure exactly what a normal school was. After looking the term up, I can say that a normal school was school designed to train students to become teachers. It came from the French term "ecole normale," and such schools were meant to establish certain "norms" or standards in the teaching profession. Thus, the word "normal." The normal school, officially called the Fourth District State Normal School, was established in 1905 (first classes in 1906). It became Southwest Missouri Teachers College in 1919. The name changed again in 1945 to Southwest Missouri State College and yet again in 1972 when the "College" part of the name became "University." Finally, in 2005 the institution received its current name, Missouri State University.
So, the current university has gone through quite a few incarnations, and, actually, even the State Normal School had a forerunner, called Springfield Normal School. It was a private institution founded in 1894 and located at the corner of Cherry and Pickwick. Like most normal schools of the day, it was a two-year institution, and it offered only one degree, a master of pedagogy. Springfield Normal School merged with the Fourth District Normal School when the latter opened in 1906, and, in fact, classes for the State Normal School were held in the old Springfield Normal School building for the first couple of years (until the building that is now known on the MSU campus as Carrington Hall was completed in 1909).


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