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, July 30, 2013

Murder of the Meeks Family

The killing of Gus Meeks and most of his family in May of 1894 in Linn County by brothers Bill and George Taylor constitutes another chapter in my Murder & Mayhem book, and it is one of the most notorious murder cases in the history of Missouri. The only connection this case has to the Ozarks is that the killers made their escape through southern Missouri and holed up in northern Arkansas, where they were captured at Buffalo City (near Mountain Home) in late June. However, I'm going to use that connection as enough of an excuse to go ahead and write about the case briefly on this blog about Ozarks history.
Meeks had been involved with the Taylor brothers in some shady dealings (cattle stealing, check forging, and arson) and had gone to the state pen in Jeff City in 1893 for his part in one of the crimes. Feeling they would be unable to convict the Taylor brothers without Meeks's testimony, the prosecuting attorneys of Linn County and neighboring Sullivan County petitioned the governor to release Meeks so he could testify, and the request was granted. When Meeks got back home, the Taylors almost immediately started trying to bribe him to leave the territory. They said they would pay him up to a 1,000 dollars to leave, and finally a bargain was supposedly struck, whereby the Taylors would escort Meeks out of the county and give him $800 and a wagon and team.
Meeks's wife, however, insisted on going with him and taking their three little girls. Late on the night of May 10, the Taylors drove the Meeks family away from their Milan home in Sullivan County. The next morning 7-year-old Nellie Meeks came crying to a farmhouse near George Taylor's farm in Linn County saying that her parents and both of her sisters had been killed and buried beneath a haystack on the Taylor farm. Nellie had been left there for dead but had survived, and she implicated the Taylors in the murders.
Because the Taylors, especially Bill, had considerable influence in the community, they succeeded in getting their first trial to end in a hung jury, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. (Jury tampering and bribing of witnesses were suspected.) However, they were convicted on retrial and sentenced to hang. George Taylor escaped a couple of weeks before his date with death and was never recaught, but his brother paid the ultimate price when he was hanged at Carrollton, where the trials had been moved on a change of venue, on the last day of April 1896.
I'm having a book signing for the new book at Half Price Books of the Ozarks in Springfield on Saturday, August 10, from 1-3 p.m.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chenoweth-Mann Murder Case

Another chapter in my upcoming Murder and Mayhem in Missouri book concerns the murder of Dr. Albert Chenoweth at Pineville, Missouri, on September 12, 1883. Garland Mann, a farmer and former saloon keeper who lived outside Pineville, was immediately suspected of the murder because of prior threats he had reportedly made against the doctor and other circumstantial evidence. In fact, the evidence against Mann seemed so overwhelming that, at least according to certain newspaper accounts at the time and according to Sturgis's History of McDonald County written a few years later, almost everybody familiar with the case believed he was guilty.
Mann was, in fact, arrested and tried for the murder. His first trial in the spring of 1884 ended in a hung jury with the jurors evenly split. He was retried in August of '84 and found guilty, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the verdict on a technicality. His third trial in the spring of 1885 again ended in a hung jury. He was in the midst of his fourth trial in August of the same year when he was killed in his cell at the Newton County jail in Neosho by a mob that broke in, bent on vigilante justice.
When I first started researching this case, I, too, thought, based on the superficial evidence, that Mann was probably guilty. However, the more I researched it, the more doubt I began to have to the point that I now think that it is just about as likely that he was not guilty as it is that he was guilty. For more details on this interesting case, check out my book when it is released (probably within the next few days).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Assassination of Jesse James

Another chapter in my book, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, is about the killing of Jesse James by Bob Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1882. Obviously this incident did not happen in the Ozarks, but the news of its occurrence reverberated throughout the state of Missouri and clear across the country. In fact, in my book, I call the killing and its aftermath the "greatest sensation in Missouri history," and I do not believe that is an exaggeration.
Part of what made the incident so notorious, of course, was the fact that Jesse James, even at the time of his death, had already established himself as the most noted outlaw in American history. However, what made the incident even more sensational was the method of his death. Not only was he shot in the back of the head by a purported member of his own gang, killed "in cold blood" as many observers said, but the killer, Bob Ford, was working in cahoots with the governor of the state, Thomas Crittenden. Despite his many desperate deeds, James had many people throughout Missouri who were sympathetic to him, some more than others, and some of his more ardent supporters even suggested that Crittenden should be arrested and charged with murder in the case.
One person who did not share such a view was the editor of the Joplin Daily Herald. Responding to an earlier editorial by Joseph Pulitzer's St. Louis Post Dispatch criticizing the governor, the Joplin newspaperman had this to say:
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with its usual penchant for sacrificing common sense in order to be sensational, makes a villainous attack on Gov. Crittenden for the extreme measures taken to secure the breaking up of the most notorious band of outlaws and murderers that ever disgraced this or any other country. Had the rose-water scented Bohemian who villifies the Governor through his paper, been detailed to arrest Jesse James he would no doubt have armed a posse with bouquets from the vale of Cashmere, and pressed around the fugitive until he was asphyxiated by the ravishing perfume of the offering and then carried the lamblike form to the halls of justice on a silver platter. Pulitzer would be a daisy in the role of bandit hunter. We will wager our reputation for truth against his as a vanquisher of desperadoes, that Mr. James single and alone in his St. Joseph cottage would have routed a whole battalion of such goggle-eyed kangaroos, and considered it rather insipid pastime. Joe knows how to get up a live, readable evening newspaper, but as a capturer of bandits of the Jesse James ilk a whole acre of him wouldn't be worth hell-room.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Billy Martin

The romantic escapades of Billy Martin of Laclede County, Missouri, constitute another chapter in my new book, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri. This subject, like the Slickers and the slave burnings at Carthage, is something I've previously written about on this blog. So, I won't repeat the whole story here, since anybody who is interested can check out the previous posting in October 2010 (or better yet, read the expanded version of his story in my upcoming book). However, I will add a few details or observations about Martin's story.
For one thing, I called him Frank Martin in my previous post, and he did go by that name occasionally. However, his full name was William Franklin Martin, and he usually went by Billy. Also, the murder of his uncle George Mizer that I wrote about in my previous post was not Billy's first killing. In July of 1878, about a year before the Mizer shooting, Billy had gotten into an argument with two other young men at a wheat threshing. One of them apparently threatened Billy with a pitchfork, and he pulled out a pistol and killed one of them and wounded the other. In addition, Billy's killing of his uncle was not his last serious crime. In the mid-1880s, a few years after he had been cleared of all charges in the Mizer case, he was convicted of stealing a pair of horses and sentenced to the state pen at Jeff City.
He was released after serving about three years of his four-year sentence, came home, and resumed his life with Maggie, the girl who had helped him escape from the Laclede County jail after he had been sentenced to death for killing his uncle and was awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. He and Maggie had married while on the run together, and she had stood by him through thick and thin. Apparently, they ended up having a happy life together after Billy was released from the state prison in the late-1880s.
I said in my previous post about Martin that I had run onto newspaper articles and so forth about his case several times but that I had never attempted to write extensively about the case because, despite the obvious contemporaneous interest in it and despite the element of romantic intrigue, it had never struck me as particularly exciting or dramatic. Suffice it to say, I was wrong.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Slicker War

Chapter One in my forthcoming book entitled Murder and Mayhem in Missouri is about the so-called Slicker War that occurred in the 1840s in Benton County, Missouri. I wrote previously about the Slickers in a post on this blog dated November 12, 2010. At the time, I lamented the fact that first-hand historical records in Missouri, particularly southwest Missouri, that predate the Civil War are few and far between, because many such records were lost during the war or afterwards because of courthouse fires and so forth. Indeed, one of the reasons I had not tried to write extensively about the Slicker War until I began my current book is that I had always assumed that first-hand documentation about the episode was scarce, just as it is in the case of almost everything else that happened before the war. The fact that nearly all the accounts I had ever read about the Slickers were reminiscences written many years later seemed to bear out my assumption.
However, I also indicated at the time of my previous post that, despite the seeming dearth of primary records, I might try to research the Slicker War a little more thoroughly sometime and try to write more extensively about it. What I have learned, as it turns out, is that the Slicker War is somewhat of an exception to the rule that little firsthand documentation survives concerning events prior to the Civil War. This is due mainly to the fact that almost all county records for the counties of Benton and Polk (which the Slicker War spilled into) have been preserved. This is rare, indeed, among Missouri counties. In addition to the county records, there are also some records pertaining to the Slicker War at the state level. And there are a few, although not many, contemporaneous newspaper accounts pertaining to the Slickers.
In my previous post about the Slicker War, I commented on the seeming confusion in the various reminiscent accounts, noting that some of them ascribed the events as having occurred in Benton County and some placed them in Hickory County. What I learned during my recent research is that there really is no discrepancy here. All, or almost all, of the events pertaining to the the Slicker War happened in what today is Hickory County. However, in the early 1840s, the northern part of the territory that became Hickory County was in Benton County, and the southern portion was in Polk County.

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