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, October 29, 2012

More Mineral Water Towns

I have written previously about the many towns that sprang up in the Ozarks (and elsewhere) during the mineral water craze that struck America about 1880. Such towns, however, were even more prevalent than I realized when I first started writing about them. As I continue to read about the Ozarks and read about its history, I periodically come across additional mineral water towns that I did not previously know about. For instance, I have long known about Ponce de Leon in northeast Stone County, Missouri, but only recently did I learn about the nearby mineral water towns of Reno and Eau de Vie. Ponce de Leon, of course, still exists and is listed on many maps, but almost nothing remains of the other two to suggest that they ever existed.
Reno was located in neighboring Christian County near where the county lines of Stone, Christian, and Taney meet. It sprang up almost overnight in the 1880s. Two hotels were built to accommodate visitors, and a saloon and a dance hall were also built to entertain them. A number of houses were also constructed, but the place died in the 1890s, almost as fast as it had come into being, as the mineral water craze subsided. The only thing that remains to mark where Reno was is the spring by that name that caused the town to be established in the first place. It is still listed on some maps.
Eau de Vie (French for "Water of Life") was located a little farther east, also in Christian County, near the Taney County line. It, too, sprang up almost overnight, and eighty acres were laid out in lots for the town. Stores and other businesses were built, along with houses, but, like its neighbor, it quickly passed into history. Nothing really remains to mark where it was.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Britt's Killing of Renno, Springfield, 1838

I mentioned last time that grocery stores acquired an unsavory reputation, at least among temperance advocates, during the 1800s because most of them sold liquor, and the word "grocery" came to be almost synonymous with "saloon." A grocery was not a place for a respectable woman to do her shopping. Instead, women concerned for their reputation usually shopped at dry goods stores, general stores, or confectionaries. Groceries were reserved mainly for men, and many of them came to be seen as de facto saloons.
Such a grocery was the business of R. J. McElhaney on the Springfield public square during the pre-Civil War days. One day in early 1838, a group of men were inside the store drinking and having a good time when a man outside the store, looking for some rough sport, suggested to Jonathan Renno, another bystander, that he ought to go inside and clean the place out. Renno accepted the dare, marched inside, and took hold of the first man he came to, who happened to be Randolph Britt.
In the struggle that ensued, Britt took out a knife and stabbed Renno to death. Britt was convicted of manslaughter and spent a few years in the state penitentiary at Jeff City.
My book entitled Wicked Springfield contains a more detailed account of this incident. It also chronicles several other similar affrays in early-day Springfield. In addition, it covers in some detail what might be called general vice, like liquor violations, gambling, and prostitution. I'll be signing copies of the book at Half Price Books of the Ozarks on the Plaza Shopping Center in Springfield on Saturday, November 3 from 1-3 p.m.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Groceries as Saloons

When we hear the word "grocery" or the term "grocery store" today, we think of a place that primarily sells food, and neither term has a negative connotation. That has not always been the case in this country.
When the temperance movement was at high tide during 1800s, the term "grocery" did have a negative connotation, at least among temperance advocates. Not all grocery stores sold liquor, but the many that did tended to give them all a bad name among zealous temperance advocates. So much so that the very word "grocery" became almost synonymous with "saloon," and many temperance advocates used the term with sarcasm or disdain to suggest a place that was a grocery in name only.
In 1856, the temperance advocates of Springfield, many of them women, managed to get a law passed by the Missouri Legislature, called the Springfield Liquor Law, that outlawed the sale of liquor in Springfield. After its passage, the ladies of Springfield, in a letter of appreciation to the legislature, boasted that there was now "no dram shop or grocery in Springfield."
This negative attitude toward the word "grocery" probably helps explain why businesses that we might tend to think of today as "grocery stores" were more often called "general stores" during the 1800s and early 1900s. If you didn't sell liquor, you let people know it by calling your place of business a general store instead of a grocery store. At least I suppose that was the logic, although I'm sure there were "general stores" that also sold liquor, under the counter if not openly.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Killing of Roberts by Judge Yancey

I said last time that one of the differences between Joplin and Springfield as far as the notorious history of each town is concerned was simply a matter of reputation, in that Joplin was widely perceived as a wild town even though Springfield probably had about as much unruly behavior as Joplin did. Another difference that I neglected to mention last time was that the heyday of vice in Springfield simply came later than it did in Joplin. Joplin was noted for its revelry and debauchery from the time it was founded as a town in the early 1870s (actually even a little before its official founding). Springfield, on the other hand, started slowly during the pre-Civil War days, as far as vice and wild behavior are concerned,  then picked up steam during and after the war, and really did not reach its peak until the early 1900s.
One notorious incident that did occur in Springfield during the pre-war years, however, was the killing of John Roberts by Judge Charles S. Yancey on the public square during the late 1830s. Roberts had served as Greene County's first coroner, but he was considered a rough character, especially when he had been drinking, and he had been charged with felonious assault at least twice for his part in affrays during the early to mid thirties. Yancey was a county court judge, and he had fined Roberts for contempt during one of Roberts's several court appearances. Roberts paid the fine but afterwards started taunting Yancey every time he saw him in public.
The fateful showdown finally came one day during the summer of 1837. After a confrontation on the square, Yancey started to walk away but, as he did so, he noticed Roberts start to reach into his pocket. Thinking Roberts was going for a knife that he was known to carry, Yancey promptly flourished a pistol and shot him dead. As it turned out, Roberts had not been reaching for his knife, but Yancey was acquitted at his subsequent murder trial. He later was appointed a circuit judge.     

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wicked Springfield Versus Wicked Joplin

About a year and a half ago, my book entitled Wicked Joplin, based on the notorious history of Joplin during its days as a booming mining town, was published. I now have a new book coming out entitled Wicked Springfield, Missouri: The Seamy Side of the Queen City. It, like the previous book, is based on the notorious history of the town in question.
Some people might find it a bit surprising that Springfield would be the subject of a book about the notorious side of its history. Most people who have lived within a hundred miles or so of Joplin for any length of time probably know that, almost from its very beginning, it had a reputation for being a wild town. By compariosn, most people, I believe, tend to think of Springfield during its early days as fairly tame. However, as I point out in the preface to my new book, even though Springfield was not founded as a raucous mining town and, therefore, was not the magnet for lawlessness in its early days that Joplin was from its very outset, Springfield was still a rough-and-tumble frontier town that had its share of shenanigans. A big part of the difference between the two towns was a merely a matter of perception. Springfield just didn't have the unruly reputation that Joplin did, even though it probably had about as much unruly behavior.
I intend to write more about the notorious side of Springfield's history next time.    

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