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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Headlee Murder Aftermath

Last time I wrote about the tremendous bitterness engendered by the Civil War, the part it played in the murder of Rev. S.S. Headlee in July of 1866, and the angry reaction of Southern sympathizers throughout the state of Missouri to the killing. The anger of the Southerners had scarcely slackened one year after the crime.
Sometime in the spring of 1867, the citizens of Webster County elected Henderson McNabb County School Commissioner. Although McNabb was not one of the men directly implicated in the murder of Headlee, he was the leader of the mob that had prevented him from preaching at Pleasant View, and his election to office outraged Southern observers like O. S. Fahnestock, the editor of the Springfield Leader. During the spring and early summer, the Leader and the Marshfield Yeoman sniped back and forth at each other over the murder of Headlee and what Fahnestock and his co-editor, D.C. Kennedy, saw as a lack of will on the part of authorities (all of whom were, of course, Unionists) to do anything about the crime. McNabb's election to office especially rankled them.
After several exchanges between the two newspapers, the Yeoman concluded, "It seems the murder of the Rev. S.S. Headlee was a crime of such frightful turpitude that its contemplation has horrified the editor of the Leader into hopeless insanity.... He demands for the blood of one man, the execution of the Radical party. He arraigns as accessories before and after the fact the loyal people of Webster County." The Leader answered in its August 15, 1867, edition, "With all candor and earnestness, we do confess 'that the murder of the Rev. S.S. Headlee was a crime of frightful turpitude,' and we do arraign the Radical party of Webster County as accessories after the fact, because they have endorsed it by electing to office the man who is guilty of the crime...."
Alas, the outcries of men like O.S. Fahnestock produced little action on the part of authorities. The man who actually pulled the trigger in the shooting death of Headlee was ironically named William Drake (although he was no apparent relation to Charles Drake, the man after whom the Drake Constitution was named). William Drake was finally indicted for his part in the murder of Headlee about a year after the crime, but he did not actually go to trial for another four years. In 1870, about the same time that the stranglehold on Missouri politics that Radical Republicans held for several years in the wake of the Drake Constitution began to relax a bit, William Drake was finally brought to trial for the murder of Headlee, and McNabb was tried as an accessory. Both, however, were quickly acquitted. The grip of the Radical party might have been relaxing a bit, but it would be another several years before it would completely lose its grip and all the onerous provisions of the Drake Constitution would be removed.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rev. Samuel S. Headlee Murder Again

I've written previously, both on this blog and in my Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents book, about the murder of Rev. Samuel S. Headlee that occurred on July 28, 1866, at the Pleasant View Church near present-day Elkland in Webster County, Missouri. I have mentioned that the incident was a product of the lingering bitterness between Northern sympathizers and Southern sympathizers in Missouri left over from the Civil War, but I probably did not adequately stress the depth of that rancor or how much this particular incident inflamed Southerners throughout the state, because I don't think I fully appreciated the level of resentment myself when I first wrote about the incident.
Before I get to the impassioned anger of Southern sympathizers in response to the murder, however, I should probably go back and briefly summarize the events and circumstances that led up to the crime. Although Missouri was dominated politically by Conservative Unionism during the time leading up to the Civil War and during the early part of the war, Radical Republicans, who eschewed compromise with Rebels and Rebel sympathizers, grew increasingly powerful as the war wore on, and they came to dominate politics in Missouri by the spring of 1865, when a new state constitution, called the Drake Constitution after its principal advocate, was adopted. The new constitution forbade anyone who had ever fought for the South or been a Southern sympathizer from voting, holding political office, or holding certain other jobs like lawyer, teacher, or preacher without first taking an oath of allegiance (which many of them, of course, could not do in good conscience).
Rev. Headlee was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had been an outspoken Southern sympathizer. He was one of those who refused to take the oath, but in the summer of 1866 he determined nonetheless to resume preaching of the gospel and announced his intention to preach at Pleasant View on July 28. Headlee's Southern wing of the church still held title to the church building, but the Northern contingent, which had taken over the building during the war, told Headlee not to try to preach there on the 28th and threatened him with violence if he tried.
When Headlee showed up on the 28th, he was met by armed members of the Northern faction. Headlee agreed not to preach at the church and started toward some land he owned nearby, where he had been told he would be able to preach unmolested. However, four members of the Northern contingent followed and shot him dead before he could reach his property.
The words of the editor of the California Central Missourian, in reporting the news of the murder about two weeks later, will give you an idea of how Southerners viewed the crime and the Drake Constitution that laid the groundwork for the crime to be committed: "To its long and damning list of outrages the dominant party of Missouri have added another, as horrible and inexcusable as any of its predecessors.-- A minister of the gospel, the Rev. Samuel S. Headlee is murdered in cold blood--brutally and cowardly murdered by one of Drake's 'avenging angels,' a self appointed champion of an infamous law."
After giving a few more details of the crime, the editor went on the say, "It would insult the intelligence of the reader to inform him that the murderer is still at large. It is equally superfluous to declare that in all probability he will never be brought to justice as long as the present dominant party holds sway in Missouri. That party is the protector of murderers, in league with them, and the justifier of their crimes."
Strong language, to say the least! However, I have read very similar reactions published in other Southern-leaning newspapers of Missouri in the wake of Headlee's death.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Laclede County Churches

Last time I listed rural churches that were on a U.S. Geological Survey map of northeast Greene County, Missouri (and the surrounding area) from the early 1940s. I have a similar map of southeast Laclede County and a small section of southwestern Pulaski County, and this time I'll list the rural churches that appear on this map.
The Pulaski County portion of the map shows several rural schools (which I listed in post a couple of years ago) but only one church, Fairview Church. I guess the Pulaski County folks were more concerned about education than religion. By the way, one of my great grandmothers is buried (in an unmarked grave) at the Fairview Church Cemetery.
The Laclede County portion of the map shows Mt. Pleasant Church, Crossroads Church, Mt. Salem Church, New Home Church, Cedar Bluff Church, Mt. Carney Church, and Porter Chapel. In fairness to Pulaski County, I should point out that Laclede also had several more schools than churches. So, that was probably just a general trend in earlier days. I suppose schools were closer together than churches because the thinking was that kids shouldn't have to walk very far to get to school but entire families were capable of making a longer trek to church.
I know even less about these churches than I do about the ones in Greene County; so if anyone has knowledge of any of these churches (e.g. whether they are still going) I would enjoy hearing from you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rural Churches

In two entries I posted a couple of years ago I listed the names of rural schools that showed up on topographical maps from the early 1940s of Greene County and Laclede County respectively that were put out by the U.S. Geological Survey. I thought some readers might find it interesting if I were also to list the rural churches that are shown on the maps.
The Greene County map includes only the northeast part of the county and also includes small sections of Polk, Dallas, and Webster counties. The churches in the southeast corner of Polk county are Rock Prairie and Union Grove. (There were also nearby schools bearing the same names.) The churches on the map in southern Dallas County are High Prairie, Union Mount, Olive Church, and Free Will Chapel. The western Webster County churches are Mission Chapel, Pleasant View Church, Timber Ridge Church, Epworth Church, Fellowship Church, and Mt. Pisgah Church. The northeast Greene County churches are Sunnyvale Church, Fruitland Church, Pleasant Ridge Church, Peace Chapel, Elm Spring Church, Mount Comfort Church, Liberty Church, Pleasant Home Church, and Potter Church. There were also at least a couple of churches each in Fair Grove and Strafford and one church in Bassville that were marked by crosses but not identified. Having grown up in Fair Grove, I know that the two churches in Fair Grove were the Fair Grove Baptist and the Fair Grove Methodist. I don't know the names of the Strafford Churches. I think the Bassville Church was known as Bass Chapel. Seemingly absent from the map is Cedar Bluff Church, which was, and still is as far as I know, located a few miles east of Fair Grove on Highway E.
I know that many of these churches were still active in the 1950s and early 1960s when I was growing up in Fair Grove, but, with a few exceptions, I'm not sure which ones are still active today. One of the exceptions is Mount Comfort, which I know is still going strong today. Both of the Fair Grove churches are still active, and I think Cedar Bluff is, too. Olive Church was still going the last I knew. Beyond these few, I'm not sure. I'd be happy to hear from anybody who has knowledge about the current state of any of these churches.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Reuben T. Wood

Since today is Labor Day, it's appropriate, I think, to write about Reuben Terrell Wood, a politician and labor leader from Springfield, Missouri, who was instrumental in improving working conditions for union members and all working people of the state during the first half of the twentieth century.
"Rube" Wood was born on a farm near Springfield in 1884. As a young man he apprenticed as a cigar maker, joined the union, and in 1901 showed up as a delegate to the Springfield Central Labor Council. In 1912, he was elected president of the Missouri Federation of Labor (now the Missouri State Labor Council) and served in that capacity until 1932, when he was elected as a representative from southwest Missouri in the U.S. Congress. After eight years in Congress, he returned to his position of president of the Missouri Federation of Labor and continued in that capacity until his retirement in 1953. He served a total of about 32 years as president of the state labor group. One of his main achievements was passage of a workman's compensation law in Missouri. Enabling workers to be compensated for injuries suffered on the job, it is a law, of course, that we now take for granted.
Wood died in 1955 and is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery in Springfield. By the way, he is no relation to me.

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