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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sam Hildebrand Rescued from Jail

Sam Hildebrand, notorious southeast Missouri guerrilla during the Civil War, became an outlaw after the war. According to Hildebrand and his apologists, he was supposedly driven to a life of crime because Federal authorities and his Union neighbors would not let him live in peace after the war. (Apologists for the James and Younger brothers later made a smililar claim to try to justify their unlawful deeds.) There is very likely some grain of truth to the claim, but I doubt that Hildebrand or any of the other guerrillas-turned-outlaws were actually forced into a life of crime after the war.
Sometime around the early part of 1868, Hildebrand allegedly killed or participated in the killing of a man and woman in northern Arkansas. According to the Hildebrand legend, as recounted by latter-day apologist Carl Breihan, the man killed was the former brother-in-law of a friend of Hilderbrand's who had deserted the friend's sister and taken up with a black woman. The friend supposedly asked Hildebrand to help him teach the "guilty pair" a lesson by giving them a flogging, but the man and woman ended up dead from drowning. Breihan's reference to the man and woman as the "guilty pair" suggests that, in the Hildebrand myth, deserting one's wife for a black woman was apparently worse than murder.
According to an article in a St. Louis newsapper that I recently ran across (reprinted in a Springfield paper), the couple killed was an "old man and his wife," with no indication that it was a mixed marriage. After the killing, Hildebrand was arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to be hanged. He was lodged in jail at Pocahontas, Arkansas. (Breihan says Jacksonport.) Sometime in late 1868 or early 1869 just a few days before the scheduled execution date, Hildebrand escaped with the aid of friends on the outside. According to the newspaper article, Hildebrand's cohorts donned the uniforms of Federal soldiers and arrived at the Pocahontas jail with papers ordering that Hildebrand be turned over the them for "government action." The sheriff complied, and Hildebrand and his friends were long gone before the fraud was discovered.
Hildebrand returned to southeast Missouri where he had been "roaming around...as fearless as a lion" at the time of the July 1869 newspaper article. Missouri Governor McClurg had just returned from a personal trip to St. Francois County, where he had gone to try to assuage the fears of citizens in the area who were terrified of Hildebrand and to help organize posses to track him down. Some people even wanted the governor to declare martial law, but he resisted such a measure, because the majority of people opposed it. In fact, in at least one county (perhaps St. Francois) the majority of citizens were reported to be in sympathy with Hildebrand.
Despite the intense manhunt, Hildebrand eluded capture. He was finally killed in 1872 across the Mississippi River in Illinois during a confrontation with law officers, who did not know his identity at the time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Water Towns, Mining Towns, Railroad Towns, & Spring Towns

As a kid and even as a young adult, I never gave much thought to how the towns of the Ozarks that I was familiar with got started. I more or less assumed that people just got together and decided they were going to lay out a town, which I guess is somewhat correct as far as it goes, but there was, of course, more to it than that. With few exceptions, there was a reason why towns were located where they were. Rarely did people just get together and decide to create a town in the middle of nowhere.
Offhand, I can think of four reasons why the towns of the Ozarks were located where they were. In other words, we might say that there are four historical categories of towns. I'm sure there may be other categories of towns or other reasons for why they were situated where they were, but these are the four categories I can think of without giving the subject a lot of thought:
Most, if not all, of the older towns of the Ozarks (generally speaking, those that predated the Civil War) were located where they were because of their proximity to a source of water--a river, stream, or spring. A few county seats might have been situated where they were merely because the site was near the center of the proposed county, but even most county seats that I'm familiar with are relatively near a source of flowing water. Lebanon, county seat of Laclede County, and Marshfield, county seat of Webster, might be exceptions. I don't know of significant streams near Lebanon and Marshfield, but maybe there are such streams. Or maybe they were situtated where they were because they were along the old road from St. Louis to southwest Missouri. See, I'm already coming up with other possible categories, but I digress.
Another group of towns got their start as mining towns, notably a good number in the extreme southwest part of Missouri, like Granby, Joplin, and Webb City.
A third group are what might be called railroad towns. Monett is a good example. Originally called Plymouth or Plymouth Junction, it got its start in the late 1880s as station along the Frisco Railroad. Other towns may have existed as little more than wide places in the road before the railroad reached them but didn't really start growing until after the railroad came. Ash Grove is an example. I would still consider towns like Ash Grove "railroad towns."
A fourth category would be mineral water towns that sprang up, most in the 1880s, during the mineral water craze that swept the country. In a way, these towns might be considered water towns, too, but the water was a specific type--mineral water from springs sought for its supposed medicinal properties as opposed to water for merely quenching thirst or streams for navigating boats on. So, I consider these towns a separate category, and I've talked about them on this blog before. The most noted example is Eureka Springs, but there are numerous others.
Are there other categories I've omitted? Do towns situated near a main thoroughfare, such as the possibility of Lebanon and Marshfield I mentioned above, constitute a fifth category? How about county seats located where they were simply because the site was near the center of the county?  

Monday, June 11, 2012

William Taylor's Murder of Nathan Gann

I have mentioned Elkton in Hickory County, Missouri, a couple of times previously on this blog--once in connection with infamous fan dancer Sally Rand, who was born there in the very early 1900s.
Elkton was also the setting for a notorious murder in the fall of 1876. On October 23 of that year, William Taylor, an older family man of about 55; and Nathan Gann, a young single man of about 25; and several other men were pitching horsehoes and engaging in some friendly banter when Taylor took offense at something Gann said or did. They argued and had to be separated by the other men. The quarrel resumed a couple of times later in the day, but the other men again intervened. Finally, Taylor went home and got his gun and started back to town, telling several people along the way that Gann would be a dead man before the sun went down. In town, he went into a store and spotted a man turned away from him whom he took to be Gann. He pointed his shotgun at the man's back and was getting ready to pull the trigger when the man turned around, and he realized it wasn't Gann. He turned, marched out of the store, and met Gann just outside the door. Without a word of warning, he fired a load of buckshot into Gann, who collapsed and died within minutes.
Taylor was apprehended and indicted for murder in Hickory County, but he took a change of venue to Webster County. The case was argued at Marshfield in the spring of 1877, and Taylor was convicted on April 3 and sentenced to hang in May. However, he later was granted a new trial on appeal and was given a fifteen-year prison sentence.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Hanging of Sam Orr

In the late afternoon of December 14, 1872, some unknown men called at the home of George W. Davis in Christian County, Missouri, and inquired about feed for their horses. They were referred to the barn, where Davis was doing his evening chores. After exchanging a few words with Davis, the men opened fire on him, hitting him several times in different parts of the body. The men fled and Davis was carried into his house dead.
At first, several parties who had previously assaulted Davis were suspected of the crime, but suspicion soon settled on Sam Orr and Albert Cox. They were indicted in Christian County for murder, but in the meantime, they had fled the country. Orr was captured in June of 1874 at St. Joseph and brought back to the Springfield jail but escaped in December. Cox, meanwhile, was captured in Texas and brought back to Missouri to stand trial.
Orr was caught again, this time in Arkansas, and brought back a second time in March of 1875. After several continuances and changes of venue, he was finally convicted in Lawrence County of first degree murder and scheduled to hang on May 3, 1877. He was granted a delay, and the date was rescheduled for May 18. His hanging at Mt. Vernon on the latter date was, according to Goodspeed's History of Lawrence County "a dreadful spectacle." A large crowd gathered to watch the murderer "launched into eternity. Owing to some error, the wretch was choked slowly before that crowd, taking twenty-three minutes to die."
After Orr had been convicted and while he was waiting to swing, Cox was also convicted and sentenced to hang.  

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