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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Judge Lynch at Work Again

I said in a recent post that I thought vigilante justice and, in particular, lynchings were even more common in the 1800s than most of us might realize, and I went on to cite the example of a lynching that occurred in Joplin in 1874 about which I had previously been unaware. I recently ran across another case in point--a pre-Civil War lynching in Morgan County, Missouri, which I had not previously known about. I first ran across a brief report about this incident in a Springfield newspaper, but I later found a more extensive report in, of all places, the New York Times. As I have also previously pointed out, the New York Times is a surprisingly excellent resource for researchers of the history of Missouri. I made that observation in regard specifically to the Civil War in Missouri, but it also applies to events that happened in Missouri before and after the Civil War. During the war, the Times sometimes even had one of its own reporters or a paid correspondent covering Missouri. This was rarely the case before and after the war. More likely, the Times just printed what unpaid correspondents from Missouri reported, or else the newspaper picked up on and reprinted stories that had originally appeared in Missouri newspapers. Many of the old Missouri newspapers no longer survive; so the New York Times is ironically sometimes one of the best sources for researching obscure events that happened in Missouri. Such appears to be the case with the Morgan County lynching. The more thorough report of the incident was originally published in a Boonville, Missouri newspaper and was reprinted in the Times.
Here are the facts in the case. Sometime before July of 1856, presumably during the first half of that year, a man named James Ray was involved in an unknown legal proceeding in northeast Morgan County a few miles east of Florence near the Moniteau County line, and several of his neighbors swore in a court of justice that they would not believe him on oath. For this, he reportedly vowed revenge. Shortly afterwards, he removed his kids from the local school, saying that he needed them to help him thin corn. A few days later, someone poisoned the spring from which the school obtained its water, and about twenty children drank the polluted water and became sick, several severely so. Ray was immediately suspected of the heinous deed, arrested, and given five days to prepare to leave the county under a guard.
Instead of hanging around to be escorted out of the territory, he fled the next day but was pursued, overtaken in Hickory County, brought back to Morgan County, taken to a rural school house (presumably the one where he had polluted the water supply), and given a drumhead trial on July 8 with a Baptist minister named Thomas Greer acting as the impromptu judge. A crowd of about a hundred people gathered, but only those whose families had been directly affected by the recent tragedy (the poisoning of the water) were allowed to act as jurors. They quickly reached a unanimous verdict that Ray was guilty and just as promptly sentenced him to hang. The verdict was reached in the late morning, and Greer announced that the execution would take place in one hour, the interval being set aside for the condemned man to prepare his soul for eternity.
By the time the appointed hour arrived, the crowd had swelled to about 250 people. When Ray was told his time had come, he mounted a horse and rode, escorted by the crowd, to a tree a few hundred yards away, where a rope had been attached to a tree limb. Upon his arrival, he got off the horse and mounted a bench positioned below the rope and asked to be allowed to address the crowd. The request was granted, and he gave a rambling 30-minute speech, declaring his innocence but saying he was ready to die and asking his neighbors to take care of his family. Then two preachers joined him and prayed with him for about ten minutes. Finally, he made the rounds saying his final goodbyes to the folks he knew in the crowd before remounting the bench and placing the noose around his own neck. He asked only that it be positioned so as to allow him a long enough fall to kill him quickly rather than being allowed to swing and gradually choke to death. The executioners told him he already had sufficient fall, and so he stepped off the bench. He had swung about 45 seconds when it became apparent that what Ray had feared was coming to pass. He was just slowly swinging and choking to death without his neck being broken. So, he was raised back up and the noose was adjusted to make his fall longer. Ray then stepped off again and swung his last.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Southern Sympathizing Women

I mentioned in recent posts that Southern sympathizing civilians in Missouri, especially women, were often arrested by Federal authorities and sent south during the Civil War and that other Southern sympathizing women requested to be allowed to go south. There were also, of course, a lot of women who were arrested or at least investigated on charges of aiding and abetting guerrillas or otherwise helping the Southern cause but who were ultimately allowed to remain in Missouri. Cynthia and Martha Donald of Hickory County, Missouri, were apparently two of the latter.
On February 18, 1865, an anonymous citizen of Hickory County wrote to General John B. Sanborn, commanding the District of Southwest Missouri headquartered at Springfield, complaining about the Donald women: "There is two familys living in Hickry county by the name of sintha and Martha Donald. there men are in the rebel army. they feed bushwhackers last fall. they feed three some 2 or 3 weeks and will do it again." The writer advised General Sanborn to check with Captain Reeder of the Hickory County unit of the Enrolled Missouri Militia for confirmation of his accusations. Referring to Captain Jacob Cassairt, who commanded a unit of the 8th Missouri State Militia Cavalry stationed at Hermitage, the letter writer also suggested, "Cpt. Hasack at hermitage can pry into it." The letter writer concluded that he would "withhold my name for fear of being bushwhack. I am a radical union man without a doubt."
On February 26, General Sanborn wrote to Cassairt asking him to look into the matter and either confirm or refute the charges against the two Donald women. Cassairt reported to Sanborn on March 9, saying, "I have no doubt their sympathy is with the South at the same time their actions, as far as I have learned, would not justify their banishment from the district." Apparently the case was then dropped, as there appears to be no further record of it.
Source: Union Provost Marshal Papers, Two or More Civilians (online at Mo. State Archives website).
Speaking of the Civil War, my new book entitled The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales is due to be released almost any day now. Also, I have published a new edition of Other Noted Guerrillas of the Civil War in Missouri, which is available from Amazon and other places. The original edition of the book, published in 2007, was out of print.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Going South During the Civil War

It was not unusual for Missouri civilians, particularly women, to be banished to the South during the Civil War by Federal authorities for having fed, sheltered, or otherwise aided guerrillas. Occasionally they were banished from the state and sent somewhere other than the South (e.g. northern Illinois), but most of those exiled from Missouri were sent south.
I did not realize it until recently, but it also was not particularly unusual for women to request to be allowed to go south to join their husbands, who were in the Southern army, or to otherwise reunite with their families. In September of 1863 and early October of 1863, for instance, a large number of women from the Springfield, Missouri, area asked to be permitted to go south. Those who had children, of course, also asked passage for their children.
Women who wanted to go south could not just strike out on their own, for at least a couple of reasons. For one thing, it would have been physically dangerous, but also the Federal authorities might have arrested them on suspicion of carrying information to the Southern army. So, they had to apply to Federal officials for permits to go south. The applications were usually granted rather routinely. In fact, if Federal officials in Missouri could have had their way, they would have sent all Southern citizens, including the women, out of the state.
Among the many citizens from the Springfield area asking to go south during the fall of 1863 was one party of seven women and twenty kids. They wanted to go to Fannin County, Texas by way of Forsyth, Missouri. Two of the women were named Snapp (Mary Snapp and Margaret Snapp). The fact that they asked to go by way of Forsyth makes me suspect that were probably related to the Snapps of Bald Knobber fame. (The bald knob where the vigilante group initially met and which gave the group its name was originally called Snapps' Bald. Also Sam Snapp was one of the victims of the Bald Knobbers.) However, I have not tried to do any genealogical research to determine how the two women tied in with the Snapp family of the Forsyth area, if, in fact, they did.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lynching of Daniel Reed

As most of us know, lynching was pretty common in America during the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, I think it was probably even more common than most of us realize. Only the most sensational lynchings were widely reported. Many others occurred that received only passing mention in newspapers of the time. One of the latter was the lynching of Daniel Reed in Joplin, Missouri, on Thursday, October 8, 1874. In fact, this event was so obscure that I failed to run across any mention of it during my fairly extensive research for my Wicked Joplin book, and I only recently became aware of it.
Reed was arrested in early October in Vernon County and brought to Joplin for trial on a charge of allegedly having stolen two mules from John Depriest of Joplin. Reed claimed he was innocent because he had won the mules from Depriest in a game of cards, and he said he'd be able to prove his case at his examination, which was scheduled for Monday October 12. However, he never got a change to present his evidence. In the wee hours of the morning of October 8, Reed was taken from his guards by a party of about thirty "disguised men" and hauled to the "most thickly settled part of the city," where he was strung up to a tree.
A local newspaper, the Joplin Bulletin, regretted the fact that "our city has received another blot on her name." At this time (1874), Joplin had recently incorporated and was trying (rather unsuccessfully, I might add) to emerge from the "reign of terror" that had characterized the place during the early 70s when it was still just an unincorporated mining camp. The Bulletin further admitted that the mob was guilty of murder and that lynching Reed was a greater crime than the crime of theft with which he had been charged. At the same time, however, the local paper tried to justify the lynching to a certain degree by pointing out that Reed was considered "a desperate character" who had no friends in Jasper County, despite the fact that he had lived there for some time. The paper also reported that Reed supposedly confessed to stealing the mules before he was hanged.
The Fort Scott Monitor, on the other hand, opined that the whole affair "looked suspicious, to say the least." The Monitor implied that there were already whisperings of vigilante justice when Reed was handed over to Jasper County officials in Vernon County, that the Jasper County officials knew of these rumors but failed to take any action to prevent the lynching, and that some of the deputies were even in on the lynching. The Monitor said there was at least a fair chance that Reed was innocent as he claimed, and the paper also reported that the hanging was badly handled and that Reed's body ended up being badly bruised and butchered because of the botched execution.
The Granby Miner reported that three or four of the men suspected of being among the mob that lynched Reed were overhauled and arrested as they passed through Granby on the night after the hanging and that they were taken back to Joplin for examination. Nothing is known, however, about the outcome of their cases. More than likely, they were probably never punished. Lynch mobs rarely were.
Sources: October 15, 1874 Mount Vernon Fountain and Journal and Leavenworth Weekly Times.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fort Sumter

The firing on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War obviously didn't happen in the Ozarks, but, just as obviously, the event did affect the course of Ozarks history, just as it affected the history of the entire nation. Besides, my wife and I just got back from a trip to Charleston and other points in the Southeast; so I'm going to write briefly about Fort Sumter.
Prior to our trip, I had just the merest familiarity with the firing on Ft. Sumter. I knew that Confederate troops fired on Union troops stationed at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thus igniting the war, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. After my trip, I'm still certainly no expert on the battle, but I do have a little better understanding of it.
Among the foremost things my trip helped me understand about Fort Sumter was its physical location. Prior to my trip, I knew that Fort Sumter was located in Charleston Harbor, but somehow I always imagined it as being very close to shore. Instead, it's a good distance away from Charleston, out in the middle of the harbor. I also did not previously realize that Fort Sumter was just one of several forts that had been built in the harbor years before to defend Charleston from possible foreign attack. (Actually Fort Sumter was not complete at the time it was attacked in April 1861, but it had been started years before.) These other forts were, in fact, the points from which the Confederates launched their bombardment on Ft. Sumter. Major Robert Anderson, who commanded the Union company at Fort Sumter, comprising about 85 men, had previously occupied nearby Ft. Moultrie, but he had abandoned it on Dec. 26, 1860, six days after South Carolina's secession, because of the rising tensions between the North and the South, and moved his men to Ft. Sumter, which he thought could be better defended. Confederate troops under Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard had moved in and taken over Fort Moultrie and other forts located along the shores of the harbor, virtually surrounding Anderson. Prior to the firing on Ft. Sumter, Anderson had refused Beauregard's demands that he surrender peacefully.
One of the tidbits of info I learned during my visit to Ft. Sumter was that Captain Abner Doubleday, who would go on to become a general in the Union Army and who would later be credited with having invented baseball, was Anderson's second-in-command at Ft. Sumter. In fact, the troops stationed at Ft. Sumter supposedly played a form of baseball on the small island.
As I say, even though Fort Sumter is about a thousand miles away from the Ozarks, the events there in mid-April of 1861 affected the entire nation, including our neck of the woods. The History of Greene County, Missouri, for instance, recounted how the news of the firing on Ft. Sumter was received in Springfield. The news was received by telegraph, and the local newspaper published an extra edition announcing it. The news reportedly threw the whole town into a state of intense excitement, and people stood on every street corner discussing the event with anxiety and anticipation.
I am attaching a picture I took of the welcome sign at the entrance to Ft. Sumter, and you can see part of the fort in the left background.

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