Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Battle of Monday Hollow

There are many Civil War skirmishes and even some fairly significant engagements that we know about primarily or only from Union sources. Such an engagement was the so-called Battle of Monday Hollow, although it was actually just a good-sized skirmish, which was fought on October 13, 1861. Monday Hollow, also called Dutch Hollow, was located in Camden County, Missouri, near a small community called Wet Glaize. Another community, now defunct, named Henrytown was also nearby. Today, about the only thing there, I think, is Beulah Church, where a monument to the battle was placed in 2010. Beulah Church is located along Highway 7 that runs between present-day Richland and present-day Camdenton, although neither of those two towns were there during the Civil War. Apparently the road between Rolla and Lebanon ran farther to the north than I-44 does today, and the skirmish took place near where the road to Linn Creek (then the county seat of Camden County) diverged from the Rolla to Lebanon road.
The opposing forces at Monday Hollow were the advance of an expedition under Colonel John B. Wyman and party of about 500 or 600 rebels under Missouri State Guard colonel William W. Summers and/or MSG colonel Myscall Johnson. Wyman was on his way from Rolla to Linn Creek to hook up with other Union forces in central Missouri under General John C. Fremont that were then on their way to southwest Missouri. The rebels were mostly from General M.M. Parsons' 6th Division of the Missouri State Guard, and they were probably on their way home, since most of them were from Camden, Maries, and surrounding counties. After winning the Battle of Lexington, General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard had started south at the end of September from Lexington, headed for southwest Missouri, and the men under Summers and Johnson had probably left Price during or after the march south.
Learning of Wyman's approach, the rebels drew up in a line of battle on a hillside overlooking the road the Union soldiers would have to pass. A wagon train hauling Union soldiers who had been wounded at Wilson's Creek happened along from the opposite direction (on its way from Springfield to Rolla) and was not allowed to pass. The Southerners and the convalescent Union soldiers reportedly exchanged a few jeers as the rebels waited to launch their attack on the approaching soldiers under Wyman. The rebels supposedly laughed that there would soon be a few more wounded Federals to haul to Rolla.
Meanwhile, Wyman's advance under Major Clark Wright learned of the presence of a Southern force in the area, and Wright sent two companies of cavalry under Captains Theodore Switzler and Bacon Montgomery to engage the enemy until reinforcements could come up. Switzler and Montgomery reportedly came up over the hill from behind the rebels, taking them by total surprise, and putting them to flight. Although outnumbered, the Union soldiers pursued the rebels a number of miles, shooting them down left and right. The number of rebels killed was variously reported at 12, 27, and 39 in the immediate aftermath of the action. A later report upped the estimate to 62, while only one Union soldier was supposedly killed.
That's the Union side, and it may well be true to a large extent. Then again, it may be a considerable exaggeration. But we don't know, because, as far as I know, there is no account of this episode written from the Southern side.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Skirmishes at Shanghai

Shanghai was a small, pre-Civil War community located near the Vernon-Barton county line in southwest Missouri, about four miles east and a mile or so south of present-day Bronaugh. It was the site of two skirmishes during the Civil War. Neither one amounted to much, and the location was certainly insignificant. Yet, both skirmishes are mentioned in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, and the second one even has a brief write-up in the Official Records.
The first Shanghai skirmish occurred on September 27, 1861, between the advance guard of General Ben McCulloch's Confederate army and some Missouri State Guardsmen under Judge John Chenault on the Southern side and jayhawkers from Jim Lane's Kansas brigade under James Montgomery and Charles "Doc" Jennison on the Union side. Montgomery reportedly put the Southerners to flight and pursued them forty miles to the east before calling off the chase and falling back to Greenfield. When news of the action reached Springfield, it supposedly threw the small detachment of the Missouri State Guard commanding that place into a state of alarm, and pickets were placed west of Springfield guarding the town round the clock for several days. Even though this was a pretty insignificant action, it was reported to the St. Louis Missouri Democrat and relayed to other newspapers across the country, including the New York Times. In fact, the New York Times covered the war in Missouri in minute detail during the early stage of the Civil War and is a surprisingly good source for Missouri Civil War researchers.
The second Shanghai skirmish occurred on May 27, 1864, when Confederate bushwhackers chased off the home guards stationed at Shanghai, captured the place, and reportedly burned it. A very short account of this episode appears in the Official Records.
During the war, the founder and leading citizen of Shanghai moved away and did not return. After the war, the town, which apparently had been pretty well destroyed during the war, was never rebuilt, and the property was converted to farm land.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Murder of Jacob Sewell

In July of 1885, Henry S. Stair and a woman named Nanetta or Nanette came to Nevada, Missouri, from Fort Scott, Kansas. Representing themselves to be man and wife (although it was later discovered that Stair already had a wife in Indiana), the couple opened a laundry in Nevada.
Shortly afterwards, Jacob Sewell and his sixteen-year-old son also came from Fort Scott to Nevada and camped just outside town. Stair, who was slightly acquainted with Sewell from their Fort Scott days, visited the Sewells' camp several times during late July and early August and apparently got the idea to kill the man and his son for their money and/or other goods. At any rate, according to later evidence, he went to the camp on the late night of August 6 and killed them both with an ax.
He loaded the bodies in the Sewell wagon and came back to Nevada to get Nanette. In the wee hours of the morning on August 7, the couple left Nevada headed north, with Nanette driving the Stair wagon and Stair driving the Sewell wagon, which was still loaded with its gruesome cargo. About 4:30 a.m. the pair disposed of the bodies near the Marmaton River and then headed east. However, the noise they made in doing so and the early hour attracted the notice of neighbors, and the bodies were found not long afterwards. A posse went out in pursuit of the desperate duo and overtook and arrested them that same day.
Both the man and woman were tried for first degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to hang in October. Stair's conviction was upheld upon appeal and a new execution date set. However, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Nanette a new trial.
About 10,000 spectators attended Stair's execution in Nevada on January 15, 1886. After climbing the scaffold, Stair was invited to say any last words he might want to offer, and he spoke for thirty minutes, proclaiming his innocence and apparently trying to postpone his death as long as possible as well. About noon, his head was covered, and he was dropped into eternity.
At her retrial in June of 1886, Nanette was found guilty of being an accessory to the crime and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. Later that month, she was taken to the Jeff City prison, and, when her train stopped in Sedalia, a crowd of curious spectators gathered at the depot. A local newspaperman reported, "Mrs. Stair is a coarse looking woman, and was laughing and joking in the most flippant manner with all who came into the car to catch a glimpse of the somewhat noted criminal." When the reporter questioned Nanette about her seemingly flippant attitude, she replied that, although she had been wrongly convicted, she was just trying to be cheerful about the whole thing. She then accepted a cigar that was offered to her and nonchalantly took a puff.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lynching of Dr. A.D. Taylor

Dr. A.D. Taylor of Medoc in Jasper County, Missouri, had been a surgeon in the army during the Civil War and was reportedly a well-respected physician after the war. In addition, he had taken up preaching and was supposedly a gifted orator. But he was also known as an abusive husband, beating and otherwise tormenting his wife on almost a daily basis. On several occasions he had threatened to kill her.
On Friday, May 27, 1870, he apparently set out to carry through with the threat and starting beating her unmercifully. He hit her over the head with a gridiron, reportedly breaking it in two. After she fell to the floor, he started kicking her and then began torturing her by stabbing her with a pair of scissors and slicing her face and breasts with a butcher knife. He also used the knife to cut her hair off.
When some neighbors heard her screams and started toward the Taylor house to investigate, Dr. Taylor, apparently realizing he'd gone too far this time, fled to the woods and hid out. On Sunday morning he appeared at a neighbor's door asking for breakfast, but instead of feeding the hungry doctor, the man arrested him and took him to the local constable, who held him pending charges.
Later that evening, as the constable was moving his prisoner to a different location for safekeeping, a posse of about 30 men intercepted the two, took Taylor to a nearby tree, and strung him up. According to one report, Taylor's neighbors, upon hearing about the beating of Mrs. Taylor and "believing that the crime was caused by Dr. Taylor's neck being too short, lengthened it about an inch by hanging him to a tree. The remedy was effectual," the same report concluded. "He will never whip his wife again."
At last report, Mrs. Taylor was clinging to life, but it was uncertain whether she would survive.
And that, I guess, is how wife beaters were dealt with in the old days.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cold Temperatures

The cold temperatures the past couple of days have gotten me to thinking about weather in general and cold weather in particular. As I write this, it is -4 degrees in Springfield and -2 in Joplin, at least according to one source, and the overnight lows were even several degrees less. My wife and I were talking about the weather this morning as we were watching the news on TV, and I commented that the news media seemed to be overplaying the cold temperatures, because I didn't think they were all that historic. I said that it seemed to me that temperatures below zero used to be quite common during wintertime in the Ozarks.
Well, I did some checking, and apparently my memory is not as good as I thought it was. Or maybe people always seem to exaggerate when they look back on bygone times, especially the bygone times of one's youth. Anyway, on this date, January 6, there has been only one other time since 1948 that the temperature has gotten below zero in Joplin, when it got to -1 in 1968. In Springfield, there have been only two times since 1888: 1968 when it got to -1 and 1912 when it got all the way down to -12.
If we broaden the scope of our search a little, however, and include the whole month of January instead of one particular date, the results tend to do a little more toward confirming my recollection of very cold temperatures. For instance, there was one nine-year period between 1977 and 1985 that was particularly cold. During six of those nine years, the temperature dipped down to -11 or below at least once during the month of January, reaching a nadir of -13 two different years. In fact, the three consecutive winters starting with the winter of 1976-1977 were so frigid that some meteorologists suggested that we were entering a mini ice age.
The coldest temperature on record in Missouri happened on February 13, 1905, when a reading of -40 degrees was recorded at Warsaw. The -4 that we are experiencing today doesn't seem so bad compared to -40. Warsaw is also tied with Union, by the way, for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the state. Both towns registered 118 degrees on July 14, 1954.

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