Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 fourteen nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks, Bushwhacker Belles, and Wicked Women of Missouri.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Irish Settlement

In the past I've discussed various Utopian or otherwise non-traditional communities, and I'm going to continue that theme today. The Irish Settlement in south central Missouri on the border of Oregon and Ripley counties was not founded on Utopian principles as some of the others I've previously discussed were, but, still, it was unusual in that it involved a sort of communal living. The Irish Settlement was founded in the late 1850s by a St. Louis priest, the Rev. John Hogan, as a relief effort for poor Irish Catholics, many of whom were former railroad workers who had been laid off because of the financial panic of 1857. The Rev. James Fox of Old Mines, Missouri, bought a tract of land in southern Missouri for the settlement, and the Rev. Hogan moved there in the fall of 1858. By the spring of 1859, about forty families had arrived. A log cabin, forty feet square, was erected and partitioned off. One section was used as a chapel and the other section as a private residence for the priest. Meanwhile, the families settled on farms carved from the large tract of land and sold at twelve and a half cents per acre or else on already existing farms nearby. During the Civil War, nearly all the residents of the Irish Settlement were either killed or run off, and the buildings were destroyed by roving bands. After the war, the place was never rebuilt. It was soon overgrown with brush and became known as the Irish Wilderness. A small community in northeast Oregon County called Wilderness, founded in the early 1880s about two miles northwest of where the priest's cabin and field had been located, is about the only surviving reminder of the Irish Settlement.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Incoming Kingdom Missionary Unit

Anyone who has followed this blog at all over the past few years knows that I am fascinated by the Utopian social and religious movements that have occurred in this country, particularly during the latter 1800s and early 1900s. Another such movement was the Incoming Kingdom Missionary units that were established around 1920 by the Rev. John A. Battenfield, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Around the turn of the 20th century, Battenfield claimed to have discovered within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament "patterns of seven" by which he could discern the true meaning of the scriptures. In 1913, he began publishing a series of pamphlets called "The Great Demonstration" in which he announced that the world as it existed would end by 1926 and perhaps earlier. About the same time, he left the formal ministry and began traveling around the country as a religious lecturer, supposedly to prepare the world for the coming apocalypse. In 1919, the first issue of his newspaper, the Incoming Kingdom Harbinger, was published in Olney, Illinois, and he began urging his followers to build economically self-sufficient communities in isolated, mountainous areas of the country, where they would be able to survive the holocaust and emerge afterwards to establish the Millennial Kingdom of God. Gilbert, Arkansas (located in Searcy County) was chosen, because of its remote location, as the site for one of the units. People began arriving at Gilbert in September of 1920 when wealthy Illinois farmer C.E. Jordan, a firm believer in Battenfield's teachings, bought land for the site and started selling lots at cost to Battenfield's followers. A church and a schoolhouse were quickly constructed, as was a printing plant for the Incoming Kingdom Harbinger. Within a few months about 70 people had arrived in the community, and the number of people living in the community rose to about 200 within a couple of years. The Gilbert millenialists began mission work or "witnessing" to people in surrounding communities. According to Battenfield's vision, believers were to share their belongings and live communally, and cooperative stores and other cooperative endeavors were begun. However, problems soon arose because some of the colonists who came to Gilbert were reluctant to share their belongings. Also, Battenfield alienated some of his followers when he began to abandon traditional Christian teachings about the Trinity and other subjects. The movement became more and more endangered as the years began to elapse with no holocaust and no appearance of the Messiah. The last straw came in 1925 when Battenfield announced that he would bring one of his followers who had died back to life and his several public attempts to do so failed. Battenfield reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. His publication suspended operation, he and his family left Gilbert, and his remaining followers soon renounced his teachings. For more information on this topic, visit the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas at www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rose O'Neill and Bonniebrook

Yesterday, my wife and I drove by the Bonniebrook Mansion and Museum a few miles north of Branson on U.S. Highway 65. I had noticed it before but never paid much attention to it, and my wife was surprised that I didn't know more about Rose O'Neill, who owned and lived at Bonniebrook during the early part of the 20th century and was the designer of the kewpie doll. So, I read up on her a little bit. Rose was born in 1874 in Nebraska, and at age 14 she won an illustration contest sponsored by the Omaha Herald. In 1893, her father bought some land in Taney County, Missouri, and the family moved there. About the same time, Rose, who was already making a name for herself as a cartoonist and illustrator, went to New York to further her career, and she soon became famous as an illustrator for leading magazines and other publications. Meanwhile, her father began building a mansion on the land in Taney County. It was called Bonniebrook and was financed largely by Rose's earnings from her work as an illustrator. In 1901, Rose divorced her first husband and moved to Bonniebrook. A year later, she remarried and the couple lived at Bonniebrook. Rose continued her work from the Taney County farm, and her husband wrote a popular novel, which she illustrated. She and her 2nd husband divorced in 1907. In 1909, Rose's kewpie illustration appeared in the Ladies Home Journal, and in 1912 a German manufacturer began producing dolls based on the illustration. O'Neill became enormously popular and also very wealthy. In addition, she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. Besides Bonniebrook, she owned a townhouse in New York's Greenwich Village, and she was called the "Queen of Bohemian Society." She also owned property in Europe and studied sculpture under Rodin. However, the Depression and her own extravagant lifestyle left her no longer wealthy by the time she came back to Bonniebrook to live permanently in 1937. She became popular in the Branson area, presented artistic workshops, and donated some of her artwork to the School of the Ozarks at Point Lookout. A strong advocate of women's rights, she also lectured on women's equality. Rose died in 1944 at Springfield and is buried at Bonniebrook. Today, Bonniebrook Mansion and Farm is maintained as a museum.

Monday, April 8, 2013

William Monks

I'm not sure whether I've ever previously mentioned William Monks on this blog, but if I have, it was a just passing mention. A staunch (some might say "rabid") supporter of the Union, Monks was taken prisoner by the Missouri State Guard early in the war and served as a cavalry captain in the Union army later in the conflict. A Howell County resident, Monks made a name for himself fighting guerrillas in south central Missouri and north central Arkansas during the war, but it was during the years immediately after the war as a major (later colonel) in the state militia that he really became notorious (at least in the eyes of former Confederates) because of his sometimes overzealous and harsh tactics in attempting to drive out or bring to justice the lawless bands that inhabited the south central region of Missouri during the late 1860s. Monks claimed he only targeted outlaws, but critics accused him of targeting anybody who had been sympathetic to the Southern cause. He was also roundly criticized for roaming into northern Arkansas, even though his authority was supposedly limited to Missouri. The commentary of the Springfield Leader (which was published by an ex-Confederate) in response to Monks's campaign in Howell county during the late spring and early summer of 1869 will provide a glimpse of how his activities were viewed by Southern sympathizers. In June, after driving Dr. R. K. Belden, "a peaceable and respectable citizen," from the county, Monks and his men, according to the Leader, "directed their infernal machinations against other and equally orderly citizens, and by threats and intimidations, attempted to drive them from the county also. A perfect reign of terror was inaugurated, the best citizens of the place held their lives in their hands, and an outbreak was momentarily expected which it was feared would be attended with the destruction of property and the flow of blood. Enraged by his arrest and backed by a hundred or more cut-throats, each sworn to do his bidding, it was thought and feared that Monks would scruple at no infamy to appease his hellish passion." In 1907, Monks published a memoir of his Civil War-era adventures called History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For a thorough account of Monks's activities, I refer you to a new edition of the book, edited by John Bradbury and Lou Wehmer, that was published in 2003 by the University of Arkansas Press. The editors fill in the gaps of the narrative originally told by Monks and give details about people and places mentioned in the original book that Monks did not provide. The editors also have a website (www.colonelmonks.com) that contains lots of info about Monks.

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