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, January 30, 2013

Alf Bolin Yet Again

I've written several times previously (four to be exact)on this blog about Alf Bolin, the notorious bushwhacker who operated in the Taney County area during the Civil War. Nearly every time I've written about Bolin, whether on this blog or elsewhere, I have lamented the lack of verifiable information about him, especially information pertaining to events prior to his death. I have recently learned, however, thanks to a book entitled Christian County Memories by the Old Record Collector, Wayne Glenn, that there is a little more about Bolin that is known for sure than I had previously been aware of. For instance, Glenn demonsrates in his book that the 26-year-old Alford Bowling of the 1860 Stone County census (whom I had previously thought could possibly be our man) is, in fact, the notorious bushwhacker. He and his siblings, except one married brother, were living with their widowed mother at the time. Glenn's book also identifies eight or nine specific murders that Bolin was known or thought to have been involved in. Although the author relies to a certain extent on reminiscent histories or memoirs written many years after the war, most of the evidence presented seems credible. Another important tidbit that I learned from the Glenn book was that the name of the Confederate-sympathizing woman who double-crossed Bolin and set him up to be killed in order to gain the freedom of her husband was named Cordelia Richards. Her name was not Mrs. Foster, as many post-war reports claimed, although Foster was her maiden name. She was also related to the Laytons of Layton's Mill, where Bolin often hung out, in that her sister was married to a Layton and Cordelia and her husband lived on land owned by the Laytons. Despite this new information about Bolin, I still maintain that he was not nearly as notorious in life as he became after death. Bolin almost certainly did not kill anywhere near the forty men he is said in legend to have killed, and it cannot be proved even that he or his gang committed all of the murders mentioned by Glenn. And even if the Bolin gang did kill all of them, it is probable, as the author points out, that Bolin did not personally kill all of them by himself. At any rate, though, I definitely recommend Wayne Glenn's Christian County Memories book for anyone who would like to learn more about Alf Bolin. You can order it directly from him by sending a check for $13 (that price includes shipping)to Wayne Glenn, PO Box 827, Nixa, MO 65714.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nannie McCumber and Her Infamous Den

It seems that, after I publish a book or article on a particular topic, I almost invariably come up with additonal information on the topic that I wish I had found before I published the book or article so that the additional information could have been included. Witness, for example, my several posts about Bud Blunt since the publication of my Ozarks Desperadoes book, which contained a chapter about Bud. Since the book came out, I have since found quite a bit of additonal information about him.
Here's another example: Nannie McCumber is a name I ran onto in connection to prostitution while I was researching Wicked Springfield, but none of the records or newspapers I rummaged through had any specific information about her such as where she lived or anything else that might have allowed me to give at least a sketchy profile of her. Only one or two mentions of her being charged with keeping a house of ill repute during such and such a court session, with no other details. So, I don't think she is even mentioned in my book.
Recently, however, I ran across a piece about her in the Springfield Express that would have made a fairly colorful anecdote to include in the book. In July of 1885, a group of citizens living on North Jefferson Street appeared before the Springfield City Council, and one of their representatives addressed the council complaining about a woman who kept a house of prostitution in their neighborhood. Visitors to the "infamous den" had lately become so bold as to come and go at all hours and from all directions, "in the front door and out the back." The woman reportedly had gone so far as to send her twelve-year-old daughter into the streets to drum up business. The woman had been arrested several times for keeping a bawdy house but was always merely fined and turned loose to resume her sport. The citizens appealed to the council to do something to abate this nuisance in their neighborhood, and a special policeman was appointed to watch the house of Mrs. McCumber and similar houses in Springfield. The woman in question was not named by the citizen who addressed the council, but the newspaper learned that her name was Nannie McCumber.
Less than a month later, Nannie's house caught fire when a coal oil lamp exploded during the wee hours of the morning, shortly after her last client had left for the night. Nannie rushed out of the house yelling "Fire! Fire!" and the flames were quickly doused by a neighbor man and the house saved. Nannie, however, soon "took up her abode in another quarter of the city, much to the relief of the good people on North Jefferson."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Execution of Joe Core

At the time of the 1889 History of Laclede County, Missouri, the execution of Joe Core on March 5, 1880, stood as the only legal execution ever to occur in the county. As far as I know, it still holds that distinction.
Core was indicted in February of 1879 for the murder of George E. King, which occurred sometime shortly before the court session. Prior to the murder, the two men had been involved in a couple of disputes dating back at least several months. King's son did some work for Core, and King ended up suing Core for the wages he felt were still due to his son. Apparently, either the verdict went against King or he was not satisfied with the amount of the award, because soon afterwards someone burned some wheat stacks belonging to Core. Core believed that the culprits were King's two sons and another young man and that they had done the deed at King's instigation. Core brought charges against King over the incident, but King was found not guilty. Core felt that justice had not been served and still held a grudge against King.
On the day of the murder, the two men met on a road near King's home, somewhat by accident. The old quarrel was renewed, and Core ended up shooting King to death.
At his trial in August of 1879, Core claimed he shot King in self defense when King came at him with an ax, not knowing he (Core) was armed with a pistol. Core was nevertheless convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. The fact that Core beat King with King's own ax after shooting him no doubt undermined his claim of self defense. At any rate, the verdict was upheld when it was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, and the execution date was set for March 5, 1880. On the day before the hanging, people started pouring into Lebanon to witness the coming spectacle, and by noon of the appointed day, the largest crowd ever assembled at Lebanon up until that time had gathered. Promptly at l p.m., Core was taken to the edge of town, where a scaffold had been erected, and the final preparations were made. After mounting the gallows, Core was asked whether he had any last words to say, and he said "no" he was ready to proceed. The trap door was sprung at precisely 1:19 p.m., and Core dropped into eternity, dying almost instantly from a broken neck.    

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bud Blunt Again

Among notorious Old West characters who are not well known, Bud Blunt has to be one of the more notorious. I've written about Bud before, both on this blog and in my Desperadoes book, but I keep finding tidbits about him that I hadn't previously been aware of.
One of the recent items I found about him has to do with the crime for which he was sent to the Kansas prison in August of 1884. As I say in my book, Blunt was arrested in May of 1884 near Ritchey, Missouri, in possession of a pair of stolen mules. In the book I say that he had been trailed all the way from Batesville, Arkansas, by the owner of the mules. This was reported in a Missouri newspaper at the time, but I now know it was an error. Although Blunt and other members of the George Hudson gang did have a few cavorts in and around Batesville, the May 1884 mule stealing escapade was apparently not one of them. The owner of the mules had trailed Blunt from Kansas, not Arkansas, and that's why Blunt was sent back to Kansas, not Arkansas. I imply in the book that he was sent to Kansas on a different larceny charge not related to the mule theft, but the fact is that the larceny charge he was sent back to Kansas to face WAS the theft of the mules.
At Bud's trial in early August of 1884, testimony revealed that Bud spent most of the day of May 11, 1884, at Liberty, that he started in the direction of Taggart's farm that evening, that the mules were missing the next morning, and that later the same morning (the 12th) Bud was seen in possession of the mules at Hallowell, Kansas, 40 miles from Liberty, concealing the animals in some brush. He was trailed to Missouri, where he was apprehended on the 14th still in possession of the mules.
Blunt put up a flimsy defense, claiming that, after he left Liberty, he went to Cherryvale ten miles away and boarded a train to Oswego, where he won the mules in a poker game and then took them to Missouri by way of Hallowell. As a newspaper report remarked at the time, "The jury would not believe poor Bud, and gave him six years in the pen."  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sarcoxie, Strawberry Capital of the World

Sarcoxie, Missouri, has been known for many years as the "peony capital of the world" because of the huge quantity of peonies grown in the area, and the town is still identified by that title occasionally. Sarcoxie was also known at one time as the "strawberry capital of the world."
The strawberry industry started in the area during the 1880s, reached its peak around the turn of the century or slightly later, and fizzled out about the time World War II began. Strawberry growers in the area banded together to form a cooperative called the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, and at one time the group had about 200 members. When the strawberry season came on about May of each year, migrant pickers, following the harvest north, would flood into Sarcoxie from the southern states in search of work.
A Sarcoxie bank issued tokens or "picker checks" to the various growers at the beginning of the harvest season, and the growers paid their workers in tokens that could then be exchanged for other goods or for cash at the bank. The tokens came in various sizes, and each size denoted a different value. A box of berries was worth a small token, a tray was worth a medim-sized one, and a whole crate of berries earned the worker a large token (about the size of a silver dollar).
I recently ran across a piece about Sarcoxie's 1897 strawberry harvest that was published in the New York Times in mid-May of that year. According to the report, the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, which controlled 1,400 acres of strawberry fields, had advertised for 10,000 pickers, but because of the high unemployment rate at the time, 20,000 people had swarmed into town in response to the ad "besieging the hotels and lodging houses of Sarcoxie." Many would-be workers were forced to sleep on the ground or live in shanties hastily constructed from branches and leaves. According to the newspaper, picker camps extended up and down Spring River on both sides of it, but this might have been a mistake. The stream in question might have been Center Creek, rather than Spring River, since Center Creek skirts the town while Spring River comes no closer to Sarcoxie than several miles.
"The weather is favorable now," concluded the report, "and the crop is being gathered very fast. The first shipments are going now in carload lots to St. Paul and other Northern points. Train-load shipments will commence in a few days."

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