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 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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lynching of John Bright

After a mob lynched wife murderer John Wesley Bright in Taney County in March of 1892 and shot a deputy sheriff dead in the process, one newspaper account reported that the latest killings brought the total number of people killed in the Taney County area since the Civil War to 72. I have seen similar figures cited in accounts of the Bald Knobbers' activities. In fact, it was the lawlessness that pervaded the county in the post-war years that led to creation of the Bald Knobbers. However, I suspect that 72 is a highly exaggerated estimate of the actual number of people killed in Taney County from 1865 to 1892. Regardless of the actual number, though, Taney County was most assuredly a rough territory in the late 1800s, as the Bright incident attests. Although it is sometimes chronicled in accounts of Taney County's Bald Knobber era violence, the Bright episode actually came a few years later and had nothing to do with the Bald Knobbers.
On March 6, John Bright reportedly took a gun and followed his wife to a spring on the Bright property. The couple's children heard a gunshot, and a few minutes later the father came back alone and told them that their mother had been shot by someone at the spring and warned them not to go near the spring as they might get hurt. He then reportedly filled his pockets with eggs and left the house with his gun in hand. Soon afterwards, the children went to the spring, found their mother dead, and sounded an alarm. A posse of about fifty or sixty men quickly organized and went in search of Bright. A Springfield newspaper speculated that when they found the culprit, "Judge Lynch (would) preside."
Sure enough, the newspaper was right. Bright was apprehended on or about March 11 and transported to Forsyth, where a preliminary hearing was held on Saturday the 12th. That evening, a mob of about 30 to 40 men (one estimate said as many as 100) gathered, surrounded the jail, and demanded that Deputy George Williams, who met the group outside the jail, hand Bright over. When he refused and fired a shot into the air to show he meant to defend the prisoner, someone in the mob shot him down. The horde of vigilantes then broke into the jail and dragged the prisoner from his cell to an old graveyard near the edge of town, where they hanged him from a tree. The leader of the mob then reportedly fired a shot as a signal for the vigilantes to disperse, and everyone went his separate way. Supposedly no one in the mob was recognized and a coroner's inquest came back with the usual verdict in such cases, that Bright came to his death at the hand of "parties unknown."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Springfield Female College

The Springfield Female College was an institution of higher learning located in Springfield, Missouri, from 1848 to 1861. Sometimes called Carlton College after its president, Charles Carlton, it was located at the corner of College Street and Main Street just a few blocks west of the public square. It was affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After Carlton's wife died sometime around 1861 when Carlton was about 40 years old, he moved to Texas and started a new college there in 1866 with his new wife and his two daughters from his first marriage as the main instructors.
I recently ran across an ad in an August 1856 issue of the Springfield Mirror that gives an interesting glimpse of the school, as far as how much it cost to attend and so forth. The 1856-1857 school term was scheduled to start on the second Monday in September and run for ten months, with a week off between Christmas and New Year's. Cost for the basic preparatory course varied from $5.00 to $8.00 for five months (or a half-session), and cost of the collegiate course was $12.00 for a similar period. Including instruction in Greek, French, and Latin cost an extra $8.00, and other electives were also offered for an additional fee. For example, a course in painting and drawing cost $6.00. All students were charged an incidental fee of $1.00. These prices seem ridiculously cheap by modern standards. I'm not sure what the average cost of a semester of college is nowadays, because it's been so long since I or anyone I'm closely associated with has attended college, but I'm petty sure the cost of higher education has outpaced the inflation rate. I know it has in recent years, and I think it probably did in earlier years as well. Some things nowadays are not all that much more expensive than they were ten, fifteen, or even a hundred and fifty years ago. For instance, you can probably buy a bushel of corn for only five to ten times more than it cost during the Civil War era. Definitely not so with higher education.
Although I don't know how many students were normally enrolled in the Springfield Female College at any given time, the advertisement said that the school could accommodate over 100 pupils.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monte Ne

Monte Ne was a resort town developed in northwest Arkansas's Benton County in 1900 by lawyer, politician, author, businessman, and silver miner William Hope "Coin" Harvey. Harvey had gained fame during the 1890s promoting the free silver cause. In 1894, he published a book entitled Coin's Financial School, which presented his arguments in favor of silver and gave him his nickname. During the 1896 presidential campaign, he stumped throughout the U.S. for silver candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Located just east of Rogers, Monte Ne began as Silver Springs, but Harvey changed the name to Monte Ne (meaning "mountain water") after he purchased 320 acres that included Silver Springs. In 1913, Harvey started the Ozark Trails Association to promote a system of roads known as the Ozark Trails and to indirectly promote the resort. Featuring the world's largest log hotels, Monte Ne remained popular until the 1920s, when it began to decline. However, it was the site of the national convention of the Liberty Party in 1931, and Harvey was nominated for president at the event. Harvey died in 1936, and much of the resort was sold off in lots. For almost the next 30 years, part of the site was used as a summer camp for girls, called Camp Joyzelle. The camp closed in the early 1960s during construction of Beaver Lake, and most of what remained of Monte Ne was submerged by water when the lake was filled in 1964. However, parts of it are still visible, especially during times of low water. The accompanying photo shows the remains of the resort's partially submerged amphitheater.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shooting of Isaac Whittenberg

Late in the evening, on or about January 24, 1863, two men came to the home of 21-year-old Isaac Whittenberg in Webster County, Missouri. One of them barged into his house with a revolver drawn and demanded that Whittenberg pilot him to the home of a neighbor named Alexander. Whittenberg resisted the idea at first but complied under threats from the intruder. He dressed and accompanied the unwelcome caller outside, where the other man, a Wright County resident named Thomas Paul with whom Whittenberg was slightly acquainted, awaited on horseback. Whittenberg mounted Paul's horse, riding double behind Paul, and the three men started toward Alexander's house.
Whittenberg learned that the man who had burst into his house was named Todd, and Paul let Todd go first, advising Whittenberg that it was best to let Todd take the lead because Todd would just as soon shoot him (Whittenberg) as not. When the threesome neared Alexander's place, Whittenberg was allowed to dismount and start back on foot toward his house. He had not gone more than fifteen or twenty steps, however, before the two men rode back and overtook him, and Todd demanded that he give up his pistol. When Whittenberg said he did not have a pistol, Todd promptly shot him in the breast and fired a second shot before Paul intervened to prevent Todd from firing again.
Paul was later arrested and charged with the assault on Whittenberg, while Todd apparently was nowhere to be found. However, the victim, who was recovering from his wound, testified at Paul's trial in Springfield near the end of February that he felt he owed his life to Paul. He said Paul had intervened to stop Todd from shooting him a second time and that he felt Paul had done everything he could to protect him. Paul was accordingly acquitted of the charges against him.
What intrigues me about this case is the possibility that the man named Todd could have been notorious Quantrill guerrilla George Todd. I have no evidence that such is the case, but I do know that Todd and some of Quantrill's other men did participate in the Battle of Springfield in early January of 1863 and the Battle of Hartville later the same month. And Paul's description of Todd as just as likely to shoot a man as not sounds like an apt description of George Todd. It's possible that George Todd, tiring of regular Confederate service, was trying to get back to his old stomping grounds of Jackson County and thus needed local men to pilot him through the territory. It is known that some of Quantrill's men did, in fact, return to the Kansas City area shortly after the Battles of Springfield and Hartville.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Horrible Crime and a Swift Retribution

The July 28, 1870, Springfield Leader chronicled a rape and the subsequent lynching of the rapist that occurred in Henry County, Missouri, under the headline "A Horrible Crime and a Swift Retribution," and I've adopted the headline as the title of this post. Citing the Clinton Advocate, the Leader reported that "a half-breed Mexican, by the name of John Coleman," caught a young woman named Miss George while she was out "blackberrying" near Calhoun in Henry County and, under threats of murdering her, accomplished the rape.
The girl came back to Calhoun weeping and told her brother-in-law what had happened. A vigilante posse of about twenty men formed and went in search of "the fiend." That evening five black men succeeded in capturing Coleman and brought him back to town. Miss George identified him as the man who had attacked her, and he also had a butcher knife in his possession that she identified as one he had used to threaten her and accomplish "his hellish purpose."
Friends of the girl wanted to string Coleman up immediately, as soon as he had been brought back and identified, but law officers insisted that he should have a fair trial. Soon afterwards, though, the mob flourished their pistols, dragged the accused out into the street, and produced a rope, again demanding summary justice. The law officers and the town's leading citizens, however, again intervened and were able to get Coleman safely to jail. Later that evening, the angry mob broke open the front door of the jail in an attempt to get Coleman, but the horde was yet again driven back by armed citizens and officers.
The next morning, the accused was brought out of his cell for a preliminary examination, which was witnessed by the friends of the young woman. The proceedings were allowed to continue unmolested until evidence tending to show Coleman's guilt was introduced, at which point the determined vigilantes again decided to take the law into their own hands. They surrounded the defendant, dragged him to a nearby locust tree with a rope around his neck, and suspended him to the tree, although he apparently had already strangled to death before he was hoisted up.
The locust tree was reportedly located on the "courthouse square"; so it's not clear whether the lynching took place at Calhoun or Clinton. Since Clinton was (and is) the county seat of Henry County, one would assume the reference to the courthouse square would place the event at Clinton. However, except for the reference to the Clinton newspaper, Calhoun is the only town mentioned in the story.
The Advocate reported at the time that this was "the first instance of mob rule in Henry County." As far as I know, it was also the last, but it was definitely not the last hanging--just the last illegal one. (See my post of November 26 about the legal hanging of John W. Patterson.)
By the way, the only John Coleman living in Henry County at the time of the 1870 census (taken just a couple of weeks before this incident) was a 35-year-old native of Kentucky. I doubt that very many half-breed Mexicans were born in Kentucky in 1835; so it makes one suspect that the newspaper's identification of Coleman as a "half-breed Mexican" might have been a deliberate mischaracterization or an unsubstantiated rumor meant to play on the prejudice of readers in an attempt to mitigate the gravity of the mob action.
The newspaper account cited above does not give the exact dates that these events occurred. Presumably they must have occurred sometime near the middle of July.
By the way, I'll be giving a presentation this coming Tuesday (December 9) at 7 p.m. at the Library Center on South Campbell in Springfield about my Wicked Springfield book, which, as the name implies, is about the notorious history of Springfield (from its earliest days through the beginning of Prohibition).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Killing of Toby Carey

In the chapter on James-Younger gang member Hobbs Kerry (also spelled Carey) in my Ozarks Gunfights book, I mentioned that Hobbs's brother Toby was killed on July 15, 1870, by a man named Bennett during a row over a card game at a “cyprian camp” near Granby. I recently ran onto an article in the Springfield Leader that sheds a little more light on the topic.
Citing the Neosho Investigator, the Leader says that the incident happened on a Saturday (which, if true, would mean it happened on July 16, not July 15) at a place called Shipman's Ford on Shoal Creek during a "scene of disgraceful, lewd, drunken debauchery." Bennett, Toby Kerry, and several other young men had joined "a party of prostitutes" on the creek and were engaged in playing cards and drinking whiskey. "With such elements," according to the Leader, "quarrels were inevitable." When Bennett and Kerry got into a dispute over a game of cards, several of the young men drew revolvers, and the two principals in the argument began firing at each other from six paces away.
Kerry was shot first in the hand and then in the breast, after which he tumbled into the creek dead. Kerry's friends fired several shots at Bennett as he turned and fled through a cornfield. He was seen on horseback the following Monday morning as his friends were trying to get him out of the territory, and it was reportedly confirmed at that time that one of the shots fired by Kerry's friends had struck him in the leg, shattering the bone. At last report on Monday, a party of men from Granby were in pursuit of Bennett, and Kerry was buried at Newtonia the same day.

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