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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

John David Mefford Again

John David Mefford was a character I wrote about in the "Jayhawker to Joplinite" chapter of my Wicked Joplin book. During the Civil War, Mefford was a captain in a Kansas cavalry unit. Stationed primarily at Fort Scott, he participated in the First Battle of Newtonia in September of 1862 and also operated against partisan rangers like Thomas R. Livingston. In 1864, he was captured in Arkansas and spent most of the rest of the war in a Confederate prison. Toward the end of the war (maybe while he was still a prisoner) he was promoted to major, a title that he wore proudly the rest of his life. He went by J.D. or David but was simply called "Major Mefford" most of the time.
I initially wrote about Mefford in my Wicked Joplin book because he was involved to a large extent in the saloon scene in early Joplin and in the gambling scene to a lesser extent. He ran at least three different saloons at various times from the 1870s until he died shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. He was indicted on numerous occasions for minor liquor offenses like selling liquor on Sunday or selling liquor without a license. Mefford also ran a saloon in Galena, Kansas, for awhile and, like nearly everyone else who came to Joplin in the early days, tried his hand at mining a time or two.
Until recently, however, I didn't realize just how notorious Mefford was. I noted in my book that he lived in Leavenworth, Kansas, for awhile before coming to Joplin, but I didn't know at the time why he had lived in Leavenworth. The reason was that he was in prison.
After the Civil War, Mefford returned to Fort Scott, where he had been stationed, and took up residence there. He met and married a young woman who lived there. However, in 1867, he killed a man named Thomas Dilworth, was convicted of murder, and sent to prison.
About 1871, Mefford was pardoned out of prison, and he came to Joplin shortly afterward. He was already living at Joplin in the spring of 1873 when he and his wife took a trip to Fort Scott to see her parents. While there, the "notorious Major Mefford," as one newspaper report called him, was arrested and briefly detained under suspicion of being somehow in cahoots with the Bender family in their bloody deeds.


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