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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I've written at least a couple of times before about the phenomenon of towns that changed their names. Another such town is the current town of Jasper, Missouri, which started out as Midway. Located in northern Jasper County near the Barton County border, the town was founded in 1868 and took the place of an earlier settlement by the same name on the other side of the border in Barton County. Both communities got their names because of the fact that they were approximately halfway between the established towns of Carthage and Lamar. In 1876, a post office was established at Midway and called Jasper, supposedly so that it could utilize the equipment of a defunct post office named Jasper that had previously existed for a short while southeast of Carthage. (In the 1870s, a community named Knights existed at or near the same location southeast of Carthage where the first Jasper had been, but I'm not sure whether they were the same place.) After Midway changed its name to Jasper, it was often called Jasper City to distinguish it from the county in which it was located, but nowadays it is just called Jasper.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lula Noel: The Knoxville Girl

I'm currently working on a new book, tentatively entitled Murder and Mayhem in Missouri. Like my Ozarks Gunfights book and my Desperadoes of the Ozarks book, this one will be about an assortment of notorious incidents. Whereas the first two books concentrated on the Ozarks, including portions of Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, the new one will concentrate only on Missouri but will include the whole state. One of the incidents I debated about including in the new book was the murder of Mary Lula Noel in McDonald County in December of 1892. I decided against including it for a couple of reasons, but the incident is still a fairly interesting story. The basic facts of the case are as follows: Lula Noel was staying with her sister near Lanagan, Missouri, when a young man from Joplin named William Simmons, who had been courting her for several months, came down to visit on December 7, 1892. On Saturday the 10th, the sister and her husband left to visit relatives with the understanding that Simmons would return to Joplin and Lula would go to her parents' house on the other side of nearby Cowskin Creek. Simmons returned to Joplin as planned, but Lula didn't show up at her parents' home. Alarm for her safety grew throughout the following week as she remained missing. On Saturday, December 17, exactly one week after her disappearance, her body was found floating in Cowskin Creek just a quarter mile or so from the crossing she would have used to go to her parents' house. A coroner's examination of the body revealed that she had not drowned but instead been killed before being placed in the water, having been choked and also struck with a blunt instrument. Simmons was immediately suspected of the crime, and he was arrested on the evening of the 19th in Joplin and taken to the Newton County jail at Neosho the next day. He was indicted for first degree murder in McDonald County at the February 1893 term but got a change of venue to Newton County. The trial there in May resulted in a hung jury. At his retrial in November, the jury was given an option of finding him guilty of second degree murder, and that is what they did. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. His appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court was allowed, but the court refused to hear the case because he and his lawyers were one day late in filing their bill of exceptions. The sentence of the Newton County court was, therefore, confirmed. Part of what makes this case interesting is that it was supposedly the inspiration for the American version of "Knoxville Girl," which became a popular and well-known folk song. The original version of the song dates back to England many years earlier, but Lula Noel was supposedly America's Knoxville girl.

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