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 fourteen nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks, Bushwhacker Belles, and Wicked Women of Missouri.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Murder of James G. Clark and Hanging of John W. Patterson

In December of 1868, James G. Clark, residing near Roscoe in St. Clair County, Missouri, made a trip to Sedalia to buy lumber for a project on his farm. While in Sedalia he met a young man named John W. Patterson, who had a wagon available, and Clark, who had good bit of money on his person, hired Patterson to haul the lumber for him. Starting toward Roscoe with the lumber, the pair passed through Henry County. Shortly after passing through Brownington in southern Henry County, the twenty-four-year-old Patterson hacked Clark to death with a hatchet, took Clark's money (which amounted to about $400), and also took a watch off the body.
After dumping the body on the prairie a short distance off the road, Patterson started back toward Sedalia in the wagon alone. At Brownington, he unloaded the lumber, tried to trade the watch he had taken from the murdered man, and also mailed a letter to his father, who lived near Carthage in Jasper County. Meanwhile, some kids out for play happened upon Clark's body very shortly after it had been abandoned. Wagon tracks in the soft ground around the body made it apparent that the body had been left there by whoever was driving the wagon, and a posse immediately organized and started in pursuit of the driver. At Brownington, the lumber that Patterson had unloaded was found with some of his victim's blood on it, and local witnesses stated that a young man and an older man had passed through the community together but that the young man had come back alone. In addition, the letter the young man had written had not yet been mailed, and the postmaster opened it and found that the young man's name was John W. Patterson.
Patterson was trailed back to Sedalia and located at a hotel there, where he had put up. He still had most of the money that had been taken from Clark with him, and some of the men who had joined the posse recognized Patterson as the man whom they had seen riding in a wagon with an older man shortly before Clark was killed. Patterson was arrested and taken back to Henry County. On the way, he confessed to killing Clark, claiming at first that he did so in self defense before admitting that he had killed him for his money.
Patterson was placed in jail at Clinton and shortly afterwards was indicted for murder. He won a change of venue to Morgan County, however, and was transferred to a jail there. The calaboose where he was housed was described as a "rickety building," and he soon escaped, despite the fact that he was supposedly closely guarded. He disappeared and was not heard from for several years.
Then, about five years after Patterson's escape, his father died, and the murderer applied for his share of the estate. The detectives were thus once again put on his trail and he was eventually tracked down in Illinois, where he was now living with a wife and a child. He was brought back to Missouri and tried at Clinton in April of 1881 for Clark's murder, with his wife and young child in attendance. He was convicted on April 23rd and sentenced to hang on June 10.
After two stays, July 22 was finally fixed as the day of Patterson's execution, and his hanging at high noon of that day was a public spectacle, as legal hangings normally were in the 1800s. I'll let headlines from the July 26 Sedalia Weekly Bazoo tell the rest of the story in the Bazoo's inimitable style: "GONE TO GLORY. THE ANGEL OF DEATH SPEEDS HIS BLACK WINGS OVER CLINTON. THE READY ROPE SWINGS JOHN W. PATTERSON INTO THE DARK UNKNOWN, AND JAMES G. CLARK, THE MURDERED MAN, IS AMPLY AVENGED. IN THE PRESENCE OF FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE, PATTERSON EXPIATES HIS CRIME ON THE SCAFFOLD. YOUNG IN YEARS BUT RIPE IN CRIME, HIS SOUL HAS GONE TO MEET THAT OF HIS VICTIM AT THE JUDGMENT BAR.... AT TWELVE O'CLOCK, THE DROP FALLS AND PATTERSON SINKS WITH A SICKENING JERK INTO THE MISTY BEYOND. EVERYTHING WORKS SMOOTHLY, AND THE AUTHOR OF A HORRIBLE CRIME IS SENT ACROSS THE STYX WITH THOROUGH DISPATCH.

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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lynching of Jacob Fleming

I think I observed in one of my posts not long ago that lynchings in America during the 1800s and early 1900s were a lot more common than most people today probably realize. The only ones we still hear about today are the sensational ones like the lynching of the three black men in Springfield during Easter weekend of 1906. A lot of less sensational lynchings have been almost forgotten. Indeed, lynchings were so common that many of them were not even widely reported at the time. I don't mean to suggest that they were an everyday occurrence. Far from it. But they happened frequently enough that, unless some particularly sensational circumstances attended them, they might have been reported in the local newspaper but scarcely anywhere else. Another case in point was the lynching of Jacob Fleming at Osceola, Missouri, in June of 1871.
On Saturday, June 17, 1871, James Hughes and Jacob Fleming were among a group of men drinking in John Anderson's saloon, the Arcade, in Osceola in the middle of the afternoon. Hughes was described as a quiet, inoffensive man who normally didn't drink. On this occasion, though, he was somewhat inebriated but not obnoxiously so. The 24-year-old Fleming, on the other hand, was considered a desperado and a bully. The two men exchanged words, although the exact nature of the brief argument is uncertain. One report said that Fleming asked Hughes to play poker with him and that Hughes replied that he only played a straight game, apparently implying that he thought Fleming might play a crooked game. For whatever reason, after the brief exchange of words, Fleming promptly pulled out his pistol and shot Hughes twice from close range, once through the jaw or lower part of the face and once through the throat. Hughes fell to the floor, gravely wounded, but later tried to rise, asking for a gun so that he might go after Fleming. Instead, the wounded man was removed to a nearby building and still later to a private residence, where he died that evening about three or three and a half hours after the shooting.
A coroner's inquest was held over Hughes's body almost immediately after he died. Six different men who had been in the saloon at the time of the shooting gave testimony. Most said they had not even realized there was an argument between Hughes and Fleming until they heard the first shot. Two or three of them said they then turned in time to see Fleming fire the second shot from point-blank range, after which Hughes fell to the floor. Only one, a man named Thomas Brown, was close enough to the action to be able to give any testimony relevant to the nature of the quarrel that led to the shooting. He said that he and Hughes started toward the bar together and that when Hughes spoke to him, Fleming interjected, demanding to know whether Hughes had spoken to him. Hughes reportedly said, "No, I'm speaking to this man," (meaning Brown). "It's his treat." Brown then said to Fleming that Hughes seemed to know a lot about his (i.e. Brown's) business. Fleming agreed, and he and Hughes then exchanged a few words. The next thing Brown knew, Fleming had his arm extended toward Hughes, and Brown heard two shots but claimed not to have actually seen a weapon.
Shortly after the shooting, Fleming, a husband and a father of two small children, was arrested and placed in the St. Clair County jail. Later that night, rumors that a mob might take the law into its own hands spread, but law enforcement officers appealed for calm and nothing happened. However, on June 29, 1871, the Osceola Herald reported that Fleming had been granted a change of venue to neighboring Benton County and would soon be transferred there. Late that night, apparently spurred on by the prospect that Fleming might get away with murder if he his trial was moved to Warsaw, a mob decided to act. No doubt the mob was also prompted, at least in part, by Fleming's reputation for prior bad acts. He had reportedly joined the Union militia near the end of the Civil War and participated in several killings, house burnings, and similar acts. Then, shortly after the close of the war, he supposedly killed a man at Osceola and was not even arrested for the crime. To top things off, just five or six months before the Hughes affair, Fleming was said to have fired shots at a man at Roscoe (a small community in St. Clair County), shooting off part of the man's ear. At any rate, a mob of about 100 disguised men rode up to the jail and demanded the keys. The demand was refused, but according to the 1883 History of Henry and St. Clair Counties, the mob "came on business" and would not be denied. They forced the door to the jail with a heavy hammer and then also broke open the door to Fleming's cell. They marched the prisoner to a nearby area that the county history called "the old brick yard," where they quickly strung him up "without words." Fleming reportedly made no appeal and met his fate stoically. A couple of weeks later, an out-of-town newspaper claimed that the Osceola Democrat, in reporting the lynching, had said that "everything was done up decently and to order."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Editor's First Visit to Joplin

On August 16, 1876, one of the editors of the Mt. Vernon (Mo.) Fountain and Journal paid his first visit to Joplin, which at the time was a booming mining town that had been in existence only about three or four years. The purpose of the editor's visit was to attend the Republican convention of Missouri's Sixth Congressional District being held in Joplin. The day was mostly consumed by speeches, and then on the night of the 16th, a torch light procession was held, which the editor called the "grandest torch light procession that has ever been in Missouri, west of St. Louis." The editor estimated attendance at the parade at upwards of 10,000 people, and the highlights of the evening were more speeches from three different speakers' stands. One of the orators spoke for two hours and another for a full hour, but the editor thought the speeches fine entertainment. (Political speeches were, in fact, considered a higher form of entertainment during the 1800s than we regard them today. I imagine most of us today would be bored stiff by a two-hour speech, regardless of who was giving it.)
After spending the night in Joplin, the editor took a tour of the bustling town and some of the outlying mines the next day. He visited the mines at Parr Hill, which he described as being about a mile south of East Joplin. (The Parr Hill mines were where Parr Hill Park is today.) He then went to Lone Elm, which he described as "an extensive town" and "quite a business place" located one mile north of West Joplin. (Lone Elm was located on present-day Lone Elm Road, but virtually nothing remains to identify the community except a church and a slight concentration of homes in the area. The last remaining store, located at what was called Lone Elm Junction, was closed about thirty years ago or more.) The editor also paid a visit to West Joplin and "found the society is better than we had supposed, it being a mining town." The editor then headed home, stopping at Sarcoxie for the evening meal and presumably to spend the night. (His trip from Mt. Vernon to Joplin took him two days; so presumably his return trip also took two days.)
Back in Lawrence County, on August 16 (the day the editor attended the convention in Joplin), a young man named Robert Poland, as reported in the following week's Fountain and Journal, went to the home of W.F. Henderson near Round Grove about 12 miles northwest of Mt. Vernon, shot Henderson's daughter, and then turned the gun on himself. He died shortly thereafter, but the girl fortunately survived with a good chance of a full recovery. It was reported that Poland had been keeping company with Miss Henderson but that she had not encouraged his attentions. Having attempted suicide before, Poland was considered partially insane, and apparently his rejection by Miss Henderson drove him completely mad.

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