Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Leeper's Killing of Ferguson in Springfield, 1865

In the summer of 1865, even though the Civil War was officially over, Springfield was still an army post with a considerable number of soldiers and government employees stationed there. On August 4, two men employed as teamsters arrived at Fort No. 5 (near present-day St. Louis Street and John Q. Hammons Parkway) to haul some logs. One of them, a man of about 45 named Harrison J. Ferguson, complained to one of the men who was overseeing the loading of the wagons that some of the logs were too long for his wagon bed. The other teamster, a young man named Jerome J. Leeper, overheard what was said and interjected that Ferguson's wagon was just as long as his (Leeper's) and that Ferguson could haul the logs just as well as he could. Ferguson told Leeper that he wasn't talking to him and for him to mind his own business. Leeper warned Ferguson not to give him any of his lip, and he started getting down from his wagon. As the argument escalated, Ferguson called Leeper a son of a bitch, and he too, started to climb down from his wagon. Leeper immediately picked up a large rock and threw it at Ferguson, striking him in the head. Ferguson slumped against the wheel of his wagon, and Leeper struck him in the head with another rock. Ferguson was taken to the nearby Berry Hospital (former home of Springfield citizen D. D. Berry), but he died before he got there or shortly after arrival. A coroner's inquest was held at the hospital the next day.
Meanwhile, Leeper, who was already out on bail awaiting trial for horse theft when he killed Ferguson, fled the country. He reportedly lived in Arkansas for several years after the murder but was not heard from again in Springfield until he showed back up in August of 1869, was arrested by the city marshal and a deputy sheriff, and lodged in the county jail.
I have not yet investigated what happened to Leeper afterwards. I don't know whether he was found guilty or not guilty or perhaps escaped again before coming to trial. Greene County Circuit Court records show that his bond in the horse stealing case was forfeited in 1866 but that this judgment was set aside in January 1867 after Leeper appeared in court with his attorney, but no mention of the murder case at that time. I have not yet checked later records.    

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