Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

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.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bill Jackson, Missouri Guerrilla

When I wrote my book Other Noted Guerrillas, one of the guerrilla leaders I considered writing about was Bill Jackson, but I ended up not including a chapter about him mainly because I decided there probably wasn't enough material to fill out a whole chapter. He was only active as a guerrilla leader for a couple of months during the summer of 1864, and he was not as bloodthirsty as some of the other Missouri guerrilla leaders of the time. Still, he was an interesting character.
Bill was the son of Missouri governor Claiborne F. Jackson. He was twenty-six years old and living with his father and the rest of the Jackson family in Arrow Rock Township of Saline County at the time of the 1860 census. Like most Missouri guerrillas, Bill Jackson mainly operated in his home territory. In Bill's case, that was Saline County and surrounding counties like Cooper and Pettis. All of these counties, except for perhaps the southern tips of Cooper and Pettis, are not really in the Ozarks, but, for the purposes of this blog about Ozarks history, I don't mind stretching the limits of the region a bit if there's an interesting subject I want to write about. Bill Jackson was sometimes confused with the more infamous and bloodthirsty Jim Jackson, but they were definitely not the same person. Jim operated mainly north of the Missouri River in Boone, Howard, and surrounding counties, while Bill operated mainly south of the river.
Bill Jackson conducted a number of raids throughout Saline, Cooper, and Pettis counties, but one of the more notable was his raid on the German community of Frankfort in Saline County northeast of Marshall on August 8, 1864. The previous day a guerrilla named Richard "Dick" Durrett had been captured by Federal soldiers five miles west of Arrow Rock, taken into Arrow Rock, and executed on the morning of the 8th. Durrett was not only a member of Jackson's band, but the two men were very likely good friends, since Durrett was from the same area of Saline County as Jackson. Jackson and about fifty guerrillas promptly marched to Frankfort, where they reportedly set fire to about twenty homes and killed several citizens. Jackson let it be known he was acting in response to Durrett's death, and he swore to kill ten men to avenge the execution. The St. Louis Missouri Republican, in reporting the event, noted facetiously that Jackson was the former governor's son and "seems to be in all respects worthy of the name he bears."  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Civil War Execution of John Wilcox

It was not altogether unusual during the Civil War for Confederate guerrillas captured in Missouri by Union forces to be executed. In fact, it was almost standard operating procedure. One such execution was the death by firing squad of John P. Wilcox.
Wilcox was a member of Shumate's band of guerrillas, who committed depredations during the spring and summer of 1864 in Cole, Miller, Moniteau, and Saline counties. (I'm not sure of Shumate's first name, but he was probably one of the Shumates listed on the 1860 Saline County census. John Wilcox, on the other hand, was probably from Miller County.) He was captured during April at a house where the bushwhackers were dancing and partying with a group of young women. When Federal troops surrounded the place, a fight ensued, and Wilcox was wounded and taken prisoner. It was first thought that his wound was mortal, but when it became apparent that he might survive, he was taken to Jefferson City and put in the military hospital there.
General Egbert Brown, commanding the District of Central Missouri, ordered Wilcox shot, but the intercession of Wilcox's friends induced General Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, to countermand the order. Shortly afterwards, Wilcox made his escape from the hospital, but he stopped at a farm about four miles from Jeff City, probably because he was too weak to keep traveling, and was handed back over to military authorities by the farmer.
Shortly after this, Shumate's guerrillas captured two Federal soldiers, and sent one to Jeff City with a message offering to exchange the other one for Wilcox. In the meantime, however, a group of citizens skirmished with some of Shumate's guerrillas, and the second soldier made his escape during the confrontation. General Brown then issued another order, dated July 1, 1864, stating that Wilcox would be executed if Shumate's band or any other band of guerrillas continued committing depredations in the region.
As might have been predicted, the depredations did not stop, and General Alfred Pleasanton, who had taken over for General Brown, issued an order, dated August 6, stating that Wilcox would be shot on August 12 in accordance with Brown's earlier order. On the appointed day, Wilcox rode to the execution site in the west part of Jeff City on a spring-wagon that carried his coffin, and he was accompanied by his sister. A Rev. Manier, who had ministered to Wilcox during his final days, gave what was described as a "an impressive prayer" at the scene. Although Wilcox proclaimed his innocence, he bore his fate with "passive submission."
The prisoner was seated on the coffin with his hands pinioned at his sides, and a blindfold was put over his eyes. The assistant provost marshal of the district gave the command to fire, but all of the dubious marksmen missed their target. Another firing squad promptly stepped forward, and "twelve guns belched forth their deadly contents," according to the Jefferson City Missouri State Times. Wilcox fell forward on his face and died in about five minutes with one ball through his chin and five through his breast.    

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bob Cummings

I've mentioned in previous posts several famous people who were either born in the Ozarks or grew up here. Another such person, whom I don't believe I've discussed on this blog before, is Robert "Bob" Cummings. Cummings was a famous film and television actor. In the 1940s and early 1950s, he was known mainly as a film actor for comedies like the Bride Wore Boots with Barbara Stanwyck and dramas like Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. During the latter fifties, he turned to television and had his own show, a popular comedy called The Bob Cummings Show.
Cummings was born in Joplin in 1910 and grew up there. His father was a doctor on the first staff of St. John's Hospital there, and Dr. Cummings also established a hospital in Webb City. Bob's mother was a Science of Mind minister. Bob learned to fly airplanes at a very young age, and when he was in high school, he earned money by charging residents of Joplin $5 to take them for airplane rides. When the government started licensing flight instructors, Cummings was issued Certificate #1, making him the first officially licensed flight instructor in the U.S. After high school graduation at Joplin, Cummings briefly attended Drury College in Springfield before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and later to New York to pursue an acting career.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Blue Mound Baseball

There are several places in Missouri called Blue Mound, but the one I'm concerned with here is located in eastern Polk County near the Dallas County line. It is a hill or mound that got its name because it has a blue cast to it when seen from a distance. It is located in a rural area. Schofield, the nearest community mentioned on any maps, is itself a mere wide place in the road. However, apparently at one time Blue Mound was an actual settlement or community. At least the people of the area identified themselves as being from the Blue Mound community and were so identified by people from other communities.
I recently ran onto a piece in the Buffalo Reflex reporting on a baseball game that had taken place in the late spring of 1871 between "the 'first nines' of the Blue Mound and Buffalo clubs." The game was played on the Blue Mound field, which, according to the Reflex, was located about eight miles west of Buffalo. (It's actually southwest.) The baseball diamond was laid out on the prairie near the base of the Blue Mound. From the summit of the hill, according to the newspaper, "a delightful view is obtained of the country for from ten to twenty miles around. It is certainly a most happy location for pic-nicing, base ball playing or any other pastime which pleasure seeking mortals choose (to) indulge in." After the game, the players were treated to a picnic with food prepared by the ladies of the Blue Mound vicinity.
At least as interesting as the newspaper's description of the Blue Mound, the game played there, and the subseqent picnic is the box score of the game that was published along with the article. Blue Mound won the game by what today would be considered an incredible score of 63 to 46. The box score (as was usual for baseball games in the mid to late 1800s) gave only the number of runs each player scored and the number of outs he made. For instance, Swan, the Blue Mound pitcher, scored ten runs and made only one out.  

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