Missouri and 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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

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.     

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