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 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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stay Out of My Watermelon Patch

On August 25, 1864, sixteen-year-old William C. Crawford saw a man climbing a fence on his father's farm east of Lebanon and watched the man go into the watermelon patch. However, the man, who turned out to be a private in the 16th Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers named Marcus Spence, was dressed in civilian clothes and young Crawford didn't know him. The boy watched Spence cut open a watermelon and plug a couple of others before moving off to what Crawford called the "lower end" of the patch. Crawford came up to the fence and, when he saw Spence still in the watermelon patch, he raised his rifle and fired.
The shot hit Spence but apparently wounded him only slightly, because his first instinct, he later said, was to go back to his assailant and "wear him out." On reconsideration, however, he decided there might be more than one person that he would have to deal with, and, therefore, he moved on off out of the watermelon patch.
Charged with assault with intent to kill, Crawford was arrested and taken before the provost marshal at Lebanon. When questioned on August 29, he stated that he at first thought the man was "old Dass Carter" and that he only shot at him after he realized it was someone he didn't know stealing from his watermelon patch. "I would not have shot Spence," he declared, "if I had known him. I would as leave done shot my father."
Spence made no mention, however, of watermelons in his statement taken three days later. He said he was on his way to the home of Josephus McVay, where his wife was temporarily staying. (McVay had been Spence's captain when Spence had been in the home guards earlier in the war.) Spence claimed that he was cutting across a tobacco field but otherwise minding his own business when Crawford shot him.
Shortly afterwards, General John B. Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District headquartered at Springfield, ordered that the charges against Crawford be dropped and that he be released. No doubt, the fact that Spence was not seriously hurt factored into the decision.


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