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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sarah Parkinson: Mother of Guerrilla Leader Tom Livingston

Thomas R. Livingston moved from Washington County (Potosi area) to Jasper County a few years before the Civil War broke out, and he went on to become a notorious guerrilla leader during the war. His mother, Sarah Parkinson, who still lived in Washington County, was, like her son, considered disloyal, or at least she was suspected of disloyalty by some of her Union neighbors and by certain Federal officers and was closely watched for any disloyal activity that she might engage in.
Near the middle of the war (shortly before her son was killed at Stockton in Cedar County), she became the target of a Union investigation for allegedly harboring a Confederate soldier. Near the end of May, 1863, a Lieutenant McBride of Confederate general Daniel Frost's command was found at Mrs. Livingston's home and arrested there by the local Enrolled Missouri Militia, and she was accused of having harbored him. Shortly afterwards, Captain Benjamin F. Crail of the Third Iowa Cavalry confiscated a stallion from Mrs. Livingston when he was informed that she was a Confederate sympathizer and had harbored McBride.
It was not, however, until several weeks later when Mrs. Parkinson petitioned for return of the horse that Union authorities started trying to build a case against her. It was alleged at that time that, in addition to harboring McBride, she had allowed her home to be used as a distribution point for Rebel mail. Presumably because he thought it would strengthen the case against her, F. Kellerman, provost marshal at Potosi, also noted that she was the mother of guerrilla leader Thomas Livingston. In early July, according to Union records, McBride signed an affidavit that Sarah Parkinson had, indeed, harbored him, but the affidavit itself apparently does not survive.
Over the next several weeks, Union officials took a number of conflicting statements from Mrs. Parkinson's neighbors and acquaintances concerning her loyalty or lack thereof. Several of the deponents, including the sheriff of Washington County, said they considered Mrs. Parkinson loyal, had never heard of her harboring or feeding bushwhackers or Rebel soldiers, and had never heard her utter disloyal sentiments. A couple of the witnesses added that they knew Tom Livingston but that they were sure he had not been back to Washington County since the war started. Several other affiants, however, stated just the opposite. They said they considered her a "dreadful rebel" and had heard her express herself in opposition to Federal authorities.
The evidence against Mrs. Parkinson was forwarded from Potosi to St. Louis, but the case against her was finally dropped about the middle of August and the animal returned to her.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lynching of Joe Woods

Sedalia, Missouri, is slightly outside what is normally thought of as the Ozarks, but I'm going to go ahead anyway and write about an incident that occurred there a couple of years after the Civil War. On Saturday evening, March 23, 1867, a man named Joe Woods came into Joe Geimer's saloon and starting raising hell. Woods, according to the 1882 History of Pettis County, came from a respectable family, but, while still a young man, he had begun "a course of drinking and dissipation" and turned into a desperado. According to newspaper reports in 1867, he had a been a member of Bacon Montgomery's Missouri State Militia regiment during the Civil War and had supposedly robbed a Lexington banker and helped perpetrate a number of other crimes and depredations at Lexington as part of his militia unit. After the war, he had continued a pattern of reckless and domineering behavior and had earned a reputation as a bully. A powerfully built man, he had an especially violent temper when he had been drinking, which was reportedly quite often.
In the saloon, Woods knocked down the bartender and allegedly assaulted a couple of customers as well. He then left and went to a grocery store next door. Geimer had not been in his saloon at the time Woods paid his unwelcome visit, but he learned of the assault on his bartender and apparently went looking for Woods. He met him near the doorway of the grocery store as Woods was coming out of the store. The two men had previously been on good terms, and Geimer, who was considered a peaceful citizen, asked Woods in a civil manner, according to witnesses, not to come into his saloon and cause disturbances. As Geimer then continued toward his saloon, Woods drew his pistol and shot him in the back. Geimer collapsed and fell into the doorway of his saloon, dying almost instantly.
Woods retreated to a local hotel and swore he'd kill any man who tried to arrest him. A small posse nonetheless formed and went to the hotel. One of the men went into Woods's upstairs room with his gun drawn, got the drop on the desperado, and arrested him. The prisoner was taken to "the cooler," a two-story log building on an alley just off Main Street, which had served as a guardhouse during the war and was now used as a jail. A deputy sheriff and five or six other men were detailed to guard the prisoner until a constable showed up with an official warrant for Woods's arrest. The deputy then departed, leaving the prisoner in charge of the constable.
What happened next was mostly reported as hearsay after the fact, but supposedly a mob of about a dozen men showed up around midnight and took the prisoner from his guard. Woods reportedly put up quite a struggle but was finally subdued by repeated blows from the butts of revolvers. A rope was then looped around his neck, and he was led or dragged from the "cooler." The other end of the rope was tied to a buggy axle, and Woods was dragged through town to a local lumber yard. It was a cold night, and the ground was frozen hard. The prisoner's clothes were torn off as he was dragged along on the hard ground until he was completely naked by the time the party reached the lumber yard. The mob untied the rope from the buggy, looped it over the gateway that formed the entrance to the lumber yard, and hoisted up the almost lifeless body of the prisoner. After he had swung awhile, someone reportedly shot him through the head "to make 'assurance doubly sure.'"
The body was left hanging, and it was discovered about 9 a.m. Sunday morning still dangling from the gateway. Apparently offended by the immodesty of a naked frozen corpse, someone during the night had pinned a sheet around the body.
As was often the case in nineteenth-century lynchings, a coroner's inquest concluded that Woods had come to his death at the hands of parties unknown to the jury, although the county history later allowed that the men responsible for the extralegal execution probably could have been fairly easily determined if law enforcement officers had been inclined to investigate. However, Woods' lynching was widely seen as "a deed of justice"
For example, one eyewitness to the murder of Geimer (and perhaps to the lynching of Woods) wrote to the Sedalia Democrat on March 27 defending the action of the mob. After describing the lynching, the letter writer concluded, "So ended the life of a villain of the darkest dye, and he got a punishment he deserved long before he received it." Another correspondent to the same newspaper claimed that Woods was held in such universal disapprobation that even his own mother refused to take charge of the body after it was cut down from the gateway and he was buried in a pauper's grave at the public cemetery rather than in the family plot.
The lynching was credited with helping to reduce the lawlessness and violence that had plagued the Pettis County area since the war, and writing fifteen years later, the county historian allowed that the vigilante act had had "a decided and unmistakably beneficial influence upon the whole community."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mathew Ritchey and Newtonia

In my book entitled The Two Civil War Battle of Newtonia, I mentioned that in the early 1864 Mathew Ritchey, Newtonia's leading citizen, petitioned General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, asking that Union forces not abandon Newtonia. Rosecrans responded in March saying it was not proper for him to comment on the disposition of forces, but Ritchey's son, a Federal captain, soon returned to Newtonia with his unit. Within two months, however, the possibility that Union forces might again abandon the town arose, and Mathew Ritchey, along with Newtonia merchant E.H. Grabill, again appealed to Rosecrans on May 20, 1864. The letter provides details about the situation in Newtonia at the time and gives the rationale for Ritchey's (and Grabill's) appeal.
Apparently plans had been announced to move additional troops to nearby Granby to help out in the operation of the lead mines there. (The lead was used in making ammunition.) The letter writers feared and assumed that moving more troops to Granby would mean that Newtonia would be abandoned. (They had probably heard rumors to this effect.) They told Rosecrans that Newtonia had been held by Union forces for the past two years and had been considered an important point by all commanders in the region. "An excellent, two-story blockhouse with surrounding stone wall and four bastions (floor raised inside for cannon), ditch, good well of water, and connected with a large two-story brick once a school building, has been erected (by Maj. Eno, 8th M.S.M.)," said the petitioners. "The position is easily defensible against any moderate force; the works will accommodate if necessary 400 or 500 or more inside, and it is believed could be held by resolute men against more than five times this number."
Ritchey and Grabill went on to describe Newtonia's location on the prairie with the nearest timber about two miles away. The area had an abundance of grass for grazing and could sustain almost any amount of stock. Water was sufficient, and a steam mill situated at the town could manufacture 60 to 75 pounds of flour in 24 hours.
For the past two years, the post at Newtonia had been center for Union refugees and a stopping point for troops, added the letter writers. Many families from Newton and McDonald counties who had abandoned their homes after losing almost everything to Confederate raids had taken up residence in vicinity, within a 2 1/2 or 3-mile radius of Newtonia. They had already planted their crops for the season and had done so with the promise and expectation that they would be protected. If the Newtonia post were to be vacated, Ritchey and Grabill pleaded, these refugees as well as established residents like the petitioners themselves would also be compelled to leave and would suffer great loss if not economic ruin.
The two men argued that it would take only a few Union soldiers left at Newtonia to secure the place, especially since Granby was only five miles to the west and Neosho only about eleven miles west. And the troops left at Newtonia would, at the same time, be close enough to reinforce those two places if need be. The Union citizens of Newtonia were willing to fight, said Ritchey and Grabill, as they had just demonstrated over the past few days (apparently in helping to repel one or more guerrilla attacks on the town). All they needed were a few soldiers "as a basis of defense" to help them out.
The petitioners closed by saying they did not want to criticize or to appear selfish, but they admitted that they wanted the troops to remain in large part to protect their own business interests in Newtonia. However, they said, having troops in Newtonia would also serve the greater good of helping many others besides themselves.
A few days later General Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District at Springfield, wrote to Ritchey assuring him that Newtonia would not be deserted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Anti-War Sentiments During World War I

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, when large protests against the Vietnam War were fairly common across America, I somehow was led to believe or came to conclude that such anti-war sentiment was previously almost unheard of in this country. During the years since I have come to realize that the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam war era was unprecedented perhaps only in its breadth and magnitude. Even during the Civil War, there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment and a number of demonstrations of such sentiment, such as the New York City draft riots. I suspect that anti-war feelings have been around almost ever since we've had wars.
In my reading and research, I've noticed, in particular, that there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment in the United States during World War I. I wrote on this blog not too long ago, for instance, about the fact that such sentiment was not altogether uncommon among German Americans (although German Americans were suspected of harboring such sentiments more often than they actually did). I also wrote a year or so ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War, which was a clash in Cleburne County, Arkansas, in early 1918 between local law enforcement and a small sect of Russellites whose sons had been targeted for arrest because they had not registered for the draft. The Russellites, as I explained at the time, was a religious sect that was a forerunner to present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. Often called Bible Students or the Watch Tower Society, the Russellites were noted for their pacifism, as are Jehovah's Witnesses still today.
Another interesting case of Russellite opposition to World War I occurred in Jasper County, Missouri. A Webb City man named L.D. Barnes, an avowed Bible Student, became the object of an investigation by the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in early 1918 after he wrote a number of letters to the Joplin Globe and to area citizens espousing his opposition to the war. Although the agent who investigated Barnes labeled him "a religious crank of the worst kind," some of the things Barnes said in his letters actually make a lot of sense for anyone who is interested in paying more than lip service to the ideas of the New Testament. For instance, in one letter that he wrote to the minister of a Methodist church in Webb City, Barnes (who was upset by something he had read on the church's marquee about supporting the war effort) challenged the minister and his followers to live up to what the Bible actually teaches. "War and Christianity won't mix," he declared. "Ye cannot serve God and the Devil. If war is right, Christianity is wrong, false, a lie. If Christianity is right, war is wrong, false, a lie. The God revealed by Jesus is no God of battles. He lifts no sword. His rule is peace, and His method of persuasion is forgiveness. Hear the Scripture: 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Especially in light of the terror and fanaticism we see in the world today, one might reasonably argue that Barnes was an impractical idealist, but I don't think I would call him "a religious crank of the worst kind."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wild Bill and Disloyal Teachers

As regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I spend a considerable amount of time just browsing through old records, looking not necessarily for anything in particular but for anything that strikes me as interesting. I recently ran across a couple of brief but interesting items from Union Provost Marshals' records.
The first concerns Wild Bill Hickok. On February 15, 1865, S.A. Harshbarger, a lieutenant in the 16th Missouri Cavalry Volunteers, wrote to the Southwest Missouri District headquarters at Springfield asking whether James B. Hickok, or "Wile Bill as he is cald," and another man named Jenkins were in the official employ of Brigadier General J.B. Sanborn, commanding the district. Harshbarger, who was stationed in Lawrence County, said Hickok and Jenkins had showed up at his camp claiming to be U.S. scouts on their way to Fort Scott but he thought they were acting suspicious. For one thing, they had started off to the north as though they, indeed, might be headed to Fort Scott but had turned back to the southeast as soon as they were out of sight of the camp. I don't know whether Harshabarger ever got an official reply to his letter of inquiry, but Hickok was, in fact, employed by Sanborn as a scout during late 1864 and early 1865.
The second item of interest concerned two female teachers accused of being disloyal. A man named J.W. McCullough reported on July 17, 1862, from Lawrence County that a Mrs. Trantham of Stone County was teaching "a regular Secesh school." McCullough said the woman was the wife of a strong secessionist and a strong rebel sympathizer herself. She was reportedly teaching "none but children of secessionists, for which she is pledged to take Confederate money." A Miss Haden, McCullough reported, was conducting a similar school in Lawrence County, where "treason is fully taught to the young."

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