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 seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, and Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Douglas County Seat

Last time I said that changes in county seats were not unusual in the Ozarks during the formative years of the counties. Sometimes the changes happened for very practical reasons such as agreeing upon a more centrally located town as the county seat, and the changes took place with little dispute. Sometimes, however, intense rivalries developed between towns and resulted in "county seat wars."
Perhaps no county in the Ozarks (none that I can think of at least) had a harder time deciding on a permanent and final county seat than Douglas County, Missouri. When Douglas County was formed in 1857 from Ozark County, Red Bud in the eastern part of the county was named the county seat. The name of the settlement was changed to Vera Cruz two years later. During the Civil War, the county records were briefly moved to Rome in the southwest part of the county because of continual skirmishing around Vera Cruz. It was quickly decided, however, that Rome was no safer than Vera Cruz, and the seat was moved back to the latter place.
In 1869, three eastern townships of Douglas County were annexed to Howell County so that Vera Cruz was now less centrally located than it previously had been. An election resulted in the county seat being moved to Arno in the western part of the county. However, Arno was just as far west of the middle of the county as Vera Cruz was east of it, and dispute arose between the two sections of the county.
In 1871, a centrally located site was selected as a sort of compromise, and the town of Ava was laid out as the county seat. Some reports suggest that Militia Springs, a military training camp during the Civil War that continued as a government post office after the war and was located about a mile and a half north of the new town site, also served briefly as the county seat while Ava was being laid out and built. So, in all, the Douglas County seat has been located in at least four and perhaps five different places and has gone by at least five and maybe six different names.      

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Multiple County Seats

A lot of counties in the Ozarks (and elsewhere) started out with a county seat different from the one they ended up with. In some cases, the move was prompted mostly because a more centrally located spot for the county seat was agreed on, and the move took place with little or no incident. In other cases, however, disputes arose over the location of the county seat and resulted in what might be called county seat wars.
One county seat dispute that comes readily to my mind is the one between Baxter Springs and Columbus that took place during the late 1860s over the location of the seat of Cherokee County, in the southeast corner of Kansas at the edge of the Ozarks. After a couple of disputed elections, Columbus was declared the county seat, but Baxter Springs, which had been the acting county seat, claimed the election was fraudulent and refused to relinquish the records. Officials from Columbus slipped into Baxter Springs one night and took the records back to Columbus, and for many years bitter Baxter Springs citizens recalled the time that Columbus "stole" the county seat.
The seat of some counties moved more than once and involved more than two towns, and the moves may or may not have involved disputes. Camden County, Missouri, for instance, comes to mind. The original county seat, when the county was known as Kinderhook, was Oregon. Oregon changed its name to Erie when the county changed its name to Camden in 1843. Erie was located where Linn Creek emptied into the Osage River and was prone to flooding; so in 1855, the town (and the county seat) moved up the creek about half a mile and took the name Linn Creek. Linn Creek served as county seat of Camden County until the town was destroyed during the building of Bagnell Dam and the Lake of the Ozarks. Old Linn Creek was covered with water, and two new towns, new Linn Creek and Camdenton, were built, with the latter town becoming the new county seat.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Crystal Cave

Growing up in Fair Grove during the 1950s and early 1960s, I was well aware of Crystal Cave, located about halfway between Fair Grove and Springfield on old Highway 65. (The segment between Springfield and Crystal Cave is now part of Highway H, and the segment between Fair Grove and Crystal Cave is, I believe, now called Shelby Road.) I went by the cave ever time I made a trip to Springfield. However, I never actually visited it until a few years ago when I did an article about it for the Ozarks Reader.
Crystal Cave was opened to the public in 1893 by Englishman Alfred Mann, and his three daughters took over the cave when he died in 1925. They ran it for over forty years (including the time I lived at Fair Grove), until the last one died in 1969 and willed it a family friend, Estel Funkhouser. She ran it until 1982, when her sister, Edith Richardson, and Edith's husband, Lloyd, took over. The Richardsons were still running the place in early 2005 when I visited. However, as far as I can tell, the cave is now closed to the public. Apparently the Richardsons either died or got too old to continue running it and could find no one to take their place. They were in their mid eighties at the time of my visit.
Crystal Cave was never highly commercialized. No drive-through trams or anything like that. No colored lights to try to enhance the beauty of the cave. As Lloyd Richardson told me during my visit, the cave was beautiful enough in its natural state and didn't need any artificial enhancement. Also, the cave was not particularly accessible. It had narrow pathways, several fairly steep climbs, and so forth. However, I have to say that Crystal Cave was one of the neatest caves I've ever seen and my visit to it was the most enjoyable cave tour I've ever taken (not that I've taken all that many).
So, it's kinda sad to see the old cave closed. It had been open to the public continuously (except for a very brief period in 1969) for well over 100 years. But now it's gone. Maybe someone will acquire it and reopen it one of these days.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Kinch West

I've written quite a bit (on this blog and elsewhere) about the guerrilla conflict in Missouri during the Civil War. I don't consider myself an apologist for the Confederate guerrillas, because I think that they (and the South in general) were ultimately on the wrong side of history, but I can see the Southern side of the story. I think that much of the story that America has traditionally been told about the guerrillas has been skewed in favor of the Union because it was generally told by the victorious Union side. For instance, the Missouri guerrillas have often been portrayed as murderous outlaws who had no military legitimacy and whose only goal was plunder. My book Other Noted Guerrillas of the Civil War in Missouri contains a fairly thorough discussion of how I see the guerrillas, but suffice it to say here that this simplistic Union portrayal of the guerrillas as opportunist brigands is far from the truth in most cases. 
On the other hand, Southern apologists often go too far in the other direction and try to portray the guerrillas as gallant knights who were driven to take up arms only in response to the horrible maltreatment that they and their families received at the hands of the federal government. In many cases, there was some truth to this generalization, but it, too, is an oversimplification.
Take Dade County, Missouri, guerrilla Kincheon "Kinch" West (who was a first cousin of one of my great grandmothers, by the way), for example. Kinch is probably most famous for his raid on Melville (now Dadeville), in 1864. The Union side of the story seems to suggest that Kinch was nothing but an outlaw looking for plunder, whereas the Southern side of the story suggests that Kinch was a peaceful young man at the beginning of the war who only took to the bush on the Confederate side after his father was mercilessly killed without provocation by Union troops in 1863.
The truth is almost certainly somewhere in the middle. In all likelihood, Kinch joined the Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard near the outset of the war, although, as is often the case, no documentation of his military service has survived. What is known is that Kinch was later affiliated in his guerrilla activities with Lafayette "Fate" Roberts, who is known to have been an officer in the 8th Division of the Missouri State Guard during the early part of the war. So, Kinch, like most guerrilla leaders, probably did have some military standing or legitimacy, at least as far as the Southern side was concerned. However, it is also known that Kinch began his marauding activities before his father was killed by Union soldiers. In fact, his father was probably killed at least in part in retaliation for Kinch's activities. Of course, nothing would justify killing a father for what one of his sons had done, but the point I'm making is that Kinch was almost certainly not a peaceful young man who was staying home minding his own business at the time his father was killed, as the Southern side of the story would have us believe. In short, Kinch West was a desperate character, as the Union side of the story suggests, but he probably did not start out to be an outlaw and he did have personal reasons that helped drive him to desperation.
For anybody interested in more detailed information about Kinch West, I'm providing a link to a website dedicated to info about him:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bears in the Ozarks

When white men first started settling the Ozarks in the 1810s and 1820s, black bears were common in the region. They were killed at such a rate during the first 20 or 30 years of white settlement, however, that they were virtually gone by the time of the Civil War, or at least they were thought to be nearly gone. During the 1960s, Arkansas began reintroducing black bears to that state, and some of them have now roamed northward into the Missouri Ozarks. Also, there is some evidence that black bears never completely left southern Missouri. However, they are still nowhere near as prevalent as they were during the first half of the 19th century. In fact, they are probably still not as prevalent as they were during the years shortly after the Civil War.
For instance, in June of 1870, two black bears were killed in the Springfield vicinity within a week. The first one, as reported by the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot, was killed by a farmer living about nine miles east of town when the bear "strayed from his native forests too close to the habituations of the white man" and scattered some rails the farmer had used to enclose a spring. The farmer put his hounds on the trail of the bruin, they treed it, and he filled it full of lead. The next week, the same newspaper reported that another black bear had been killed by a man living about seven miles south of Springfield. The newspaperman remarked that he had thought, after chronicling the first bear's demise the previous week, he would probably never have occasion to report a similar story again. It's clear from his statement that the sighting and killing of two bears in such a short span of time and in the same general vicinity of the Ozarks was a rare instance in 1870, but the fact that two bears were, in fact, killed within a week not more than fifteen miles apart is also an indication that they were probably more common in 1870 than they are now.   

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