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.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Quincy, Missouri

I drove through the small community of Quincy in Hickory County a few weeks ago, and it was the first time I'd ever been there. That's partly because it's more or less off the beaten path. It's on State Highway 83, but the nearest road that might be considered a major highway is U.S. Highway 54, which passes several miles to the south of the town. Despite the fact that, at least nowadays, it is considered somewhat isolated, it was a fairly important little community in the early and mid 1800s.
The first white settlers arrived in the vicinity about 1833 or so, and the first settler on the actual site of present-day Quincy came several years later. In the early and mid 1840s, the place was known as Judy's Gap, because a man named Samuel Judy had a blacksmith shop there. The date when the town was surveyed and platted is not known for sure, although one report places it as 1848. At that time, the community was given the name Quincy, reportedly after former President John Quincy Adams, who had died earlier the same year.
In the early to mid 1840s, while still known as Judy's Gap, the place played a minor role in the so-called Slicker War or Turk-Jones feud of that era, because it and its immediate environs served as somewhat of a gathering place. For instance, one of the very first incidents of the feud happened at Turk's tavern just north of Judy's Gap.
Quincy was also the site of a few minor skirmishes and other incidents during the Civil War. One, in particular, that I know about occurred on September 4, 1863, when a band of men under a notorious guerrilla leader named John Raftre (aka Rafter) dashed into the town and immediately started shooting up the place.
Raftre had been known in the area of southeast Henry County, northeast St. Clair, southwest Benton, and northwest Hickory since at least March of the previous year, when he was reported killed in a skirmish with Federals southeast of Leesville near the Henry-Benton County line. Reports of Raftre's demise, however, were premature. In January of 1863, he was spotted prowling about Clinton, Missouri.
Then eight months later, he came charging into Quincy and started shooting at some citizens sitting in front of a store. One man was killed, and the others scattered. The guerrillas then turned their attention to four soldiers of the 18th Iowa Volunteers, who had just arrived on a stagecoach and taken shelter in one the houses in the town. Raftre and his men followed them to an upstairs room and took them prisoner, then plundered the few businesses in town and were in the act of setting the whole place on fire when the 8th Missouri Militia Cavalry came galloping into town, opened fire, and scattered the bushwhackers. Raftre was killed in the skirmish, and this time he didn't come back to life. The Federals also succeeded in regaining possession of some of the plunder that had been taken from the stores and citizens.
The remaining guerrillas herded the soldiers they had captured along with them as they made their escape, and, no doubt in retaliation for the death of their leader, killed the prisoners not far outside town. Presumably all four of them were killed, although only two bodies were found in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fisher's Cave

Although I grew up in the Springfield area and lived in Springfield for several years during my college days, I was never aware of Fisher's Cave until recently. It is a river cave located in Sequiota Park near the old village of Galloway in what is now southeast Springfield. The cave has been known at various times as Brashear's Cave, Fisher's Cave, Springdale Cave, and occasionally even Sequiota Cave.
Apparently, the first white settler on the land that includes the cave was Jacob Painter, who settled there in the mid to late 1830s. Painter was later a prominent gunsmith in Springfield and had his shop on Olive Street just off the square. During the Civil War, the land was owned by Benjamin Brashears. Shortly after the war, a man named T.B. Fisher acquired the land and began developing it as a resort with the cave as the main attraction.
In 1881, P.F. Vaughan bought the land from Fisher with the intention of developing the resort even more. He planned to beautify the grounds with shrubs and trees and to construct ponds for fishing and boating. Some of the trees were to be planted in groves to serve as gathering places for picnics. However, the cave, renamed Springdale Cave, would remain the main attraction.
Apparently, at least some of Vaughan's plans materialized, because Springdale Cave, or Fisher's Cave as it was often still called, and surrounding grounds did become a popular resort during the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth. One of the main attractions was guided boat tours of the cave.
By the 1910s, however, Fisher's Cave had been given over mainly to agricultural use. Mushrooms were grown in the cave and sold in St. Louis for fifty cents a pound. The mushroom spawns were spread in the cave, and six weeks later the whole grounds would be covered with mushrooms, ready for harvest. Rhubarb and celery were also grown in the cave, producing, some people said, a better quality plant than those grown outside in regular gardens.
In 1920, the grounds of Fisher's Cave became a state park and a fish hatchery. In 1959, the fish hatchery was removed, and the grounds became a Springfield city park. Now named Sequiota Park, it and all the other territory around Galloway were annexed into the city of Springfield in 1969.
Sequiota Park is still a local attraction. I'm not sure whether the main cave (Fisher's Cave) is open to the public or not. At least one source I checked said it has a gate across the entrance and is closed except by special permission from the city, partly because of the endangered species that inhabit it. (There's probably a liability issue, too. City doesn't want to be held responsible if someone were to drown inside the cave.) Another source, though, indicated that people could enter and explore the cave at their own risk if they wanted to.
For the less adventurous, there are two other caves at Sequiota Park that are open (at least officially) to the public. The reason I say "at least officially" is that, although they are open, they are hard to access. One is called the Crawlway-Crawl-All-the-Way Cave, and as its name indicates it is very low. It's not very long either. The other is called the Walkway-Walk-All-the-Way Cave. It is, as the name implies, tall enough for walking, but it, too, is not very long.

Friday, May 17, 2013

M.E. Gillioz

I go walking occasionally on the Wildcat Glades Nature trails along Shoal Creek south of Joplin. Part of the trail system goes over an old abandoned bridge that spans the creek. It used to be part of Highway 86 but was closed to vehicular traffic a number of years ago when a new bridge was built and now is open only for foot traffic as part of the trail system.
A few weeks ago I noticed a metal plaque on the bridge that said "M.E. Gillioz, Contractor. Monett, Missouri." I immediately wondered whether this was the same Gillioz for whom the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield was named. That is the landmark with which I automatically associate the name Gillioz. A little research on the Internet revealed that the answer is "Yes." It is the same man. Maurice Ernest "M.E." Gillioz was primarily known as a road and bridge contractor, but he also constructed a number of buildings like the theater in Springfield that bears his name.
Gillioz grew up around Rolla, Missouri. The first important building he built in southwest Missouri was the St. Mary's Catholic Church at Pierce City in 1904. He soon started building in Monett as well, moved there in 1914, and became a prominent citizen and benefactor to the community. Among the buildings he constructed in Monett were the high school, the Masonic temple, and the Gillioz Theatre of Monett. I believe the Gillioz Theatre of Monett, however, is gone and the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield is the only remaining building that still bears his name.
There are still a number of bridges remaining, though, that were constructed by Gillioz, including the Redings Mill Bridge south of Joplin that I usually walk over at least once or twice a week and that was built in 1930.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Staffelbach Bordello

There is a controversy of sorts that has been going on in Galena, Kansas, for the past several weeks over a business that was opened up not long ago and called the Murder Bordello by its owner. It consists of an old Victorian house at the corner of Front and Main streets in Galena that has been restored and opened for tours. In addition to claiming the the place was once a bordello where a murder took place, the owner also claims or at least strongly suggests that the place was not just any bordello but the one operated by the infamous Staffelbach (aka Staffleback) family and the one where they lived in 1897 at the time they killed Frank Galbreath, the man whose murder the family was convicted of later in '97. The owner has also suggested that the place is haunted.

There are certain people upset because it can be demonstrably shown that the Stafflebachs did not live at the corner of Front and Main streets in 1897 but rather a half mile or so away on the western edge of the town. Furthermore, there is no evidence to even to suggest that a murder ever took place on the grounds of the Main and Front streets property or its immediate environs. Also, the only people who think the place is haunted are those people who seem to believe all old houses are haunted, and it's not absolutely known that the place was ever even a bordello.

The people upset by the new business don't like someone perverting the town's history in order to try to make a profit from it. Meanwhile, some people on the other side argue that it makes little difference whether the restored house is actually THE Staffelbach house. As long as the businessman is bringing tourists and shoppers to Galena and helping to revitalize the downtown, he should be left to do his thing. The Staffelbach legend is, after all, part of Galena's colorful history, and the town should be allowed to cash in on it without interference from those insisting on a strict adherence to historical fact.

I tend to side with the purists who object to the location at Front and Main Street being identified, even by implication, as the house where the Staffelbachs lived at the time they murdered Galbreath. If there were any doubt whatsoever, it might be different, but there is ample proof in the form of contemporaneous newspaper articles and other documents to show beyond doubt that the family did not live there.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Small Town High Schools

I think I've commented on this blog previously about small towns that used to have high schools and no longer do. For instance, I believe I recall citing the example of McDonald County, Missouri, as a place where school consolidation, particularly during the 1960s, left several small towns without high schools. It is little wonder that small towns tend to fight school consolidation, because the towns that are left without high schools often die a rather rapid death. Often, the school had functioned as one of the main hubs of social activity, and when that unifying social force is gone, the rest of the town disintegrates as well. This general observation, however, does not really apply to the case of McDonald County that I previously discussed. Of the several towns in McDonald County whose schools went together to form McDonald County High School, the only one that has almost died out in the years since is probably Rocky Comfort. However, I think the general observation still applies in the majority of cases. For instance, another area with which I am familiar, the area of Dallas and Hickory counties, Missouri, comes to mind. I remember when Tunas and Windyville in Dallas County both had high schools. Both, however, were consolidated in the 1950s or 1960s, and now both of them are virtually ghost towns. I believe Louisburg also had a high school at one time, and it, too, hardly exists today. In Hickory County, the same can be said about Cross Timbers and Preston. About the only town in either county that used to have a high school and no longer does but yet manages to survive is Urbana. And that's probably due in part to its proximity to Skyline High, which formed when Cross Timbers, Preston, Tunas (or part of it), and Urbana came together. Louisburg and Windyville, I think, are now part of the Buffalo School District, and I think a part of Tunas may have gone to Buffalo as well. There are other communities in these two counties, such as Charity, that also had high schools at one time, but that time was longer ago than my memory goes back. I'm old but not quite that old.

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