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, December 31, 2012

Female Horse Thieves

Carthage, Missouri, as most students of outlawry know, was where Myra Maybelle Shirley (aka Belle Starr), perhaps the most infamous female bandit in U.S. history, grew up, and I've written in the past about Cora Hubbard, who helped robbed the Pineville, Missouri, bank in 1897 and whom some sensationalist newspapermen referred to as the Second Belle Starr.
The southwest Missouri area also had more than its share of female horse thieves. The first one that I know about was Della or Delia Oxley, who made headlines in a Joplin newspaper in October of 1891. She was lodged in the county jail at Carthage for horse stealing and tried to dig her way out but apparently failed. I have not done enough research about her to know what happened to her afterwards or much of anything else about her case.
Seventeen-year-old horse thief May Calvin made her appearance on the scene about the same time as Della, but I know little about her "career" until the spring of 1893. In May of that year, she stole a horse in Jasper County and absconded to Kansas, where she was captured in early June. Brought back to Missouri, she was described as a "notorious horse thief" who was supposedly a member of a gang of outlaws. She was lodged in the Jasper County jail at Carthage but escaped on the 22nd of June by digging her way out through the same hole in the wall that Della Oxley had left unfinished a year or so earlier. May Calvin, or Colvin as the name usually appeared in newspapers, was eventually sent to the state penitentiary and was romanticized in the press, not only in southwest Missouri but also throughout the country and even foreign countries.  A St. Louis Republic reporter who visited her in prison in 1894, for instance, described her "a rustic beauty" with a "luscious" form that was "well rounded and plump."
In March of 1902, a young woman from Butler, Missouri, who had stolen a horse at Fort Scott, Kansas, turned herself in at Baxter Springs a few days later and was taken back to Fort Scott. A Fort Scott newspaper described her as the "first female horse thief since the palmy days of the reign of May Colvin." May's successor was described as about 22 years old and gave her name as Ethel Smith, although the Fort Scott paper identified her as Birdie McCarty.
I don't know a lot about any of these cases, but they are intriguing enough that I might research them a little more when I get time and possibly write a longer, better documented account of these young women's escapades.


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