Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Luetta Parsons and the Child Bride Murder Case of St. Francois County

On March 4, 1921, Luetta Parsons, the young bride of forty-year-old John Parsons, shot and killed her six-year-old stepdaughter, Lillie Parsons, with a shotgun blast at the Parsons home about four miles south of Bismarck near Iron Mountain in southwest St. Francois County, Missouri. A local newspaper, the Flat River Lead Belt News, reported the death a week later as "one of the most hideous crimes in the history of St. Francois County," claiming that Luetta, whom the newspaper thought was 18 years old, had deliberately murdered the child by "blowing her head off with a shotgun." Supposedly the motive for the crime was that Luetta, who had been married to Parsons only six days, was insanely jealous and suspected her new husband of infidelity. After her husband had left for work on the morning of the incident, Luetta had reportedly gone to a neighbor woman's house expecting to find Parsons there. Although her husband was not at the woman's house, Luetta, so the Lead Belt News reported, got into an argument with the occupant and declared that she would get even with her husband for his supposed shenanigans. Killing his six-year-old daughter, it was reasoned, was her means of exacting revenge. Luetta claimed, according to the local newspaper, that the killing was an accident because she thought the gun was not loaded. Parsons confirmed that the gun was usually kept unloaded. However, Lillie's 8-year-old brother testified, according to the newspaper, that he had seen Luetta loading the gun that morning. According to the newspaper's reconstruction of the crime, Luetta had killed Lillie when the little girl had balked at bringing Luetta a pan of water as she had been instructed to do, and in the days prior to the killing, Lillie had supposedly already received several beatings from her new stepmom.
Luetta was arrested and held in the jail at Farmington to await trial. However, the picture of her that emerged in the wake of her arrest was not nearly that of the demonic stepmother that had been painted by the newspaper. Luetta's grandparents soon produced papers proving that Luetta was only 13 years and 3 months old at the time of Lillie's death. She was described as comely and physically "overdeveloped" for her age but with the mind of an 8-year-old, an illiterate and uneducated girl who enjoyed playing with dolls and other toys. Prior to her marriage, Luetta had lived with her mother and stepfather. The mother reportedly was subject to "spells," and Luetta did not get along with the stepfather. She had married Parsons mainly, she later said, because she was afraid her parents would "whoop" her if she didn't. Apparently the parents wanted to get rid of her and had signed papers indicating she was older than she really was, allowing her to marry Parsons, who was kin to Luetta's stepfather and who had four children, including Lillie, by a previous marriage. Luetta said that, although her marriage to Parsons had not been exactly voluntary, he was "awful good" to her and that she always got along fine with him and his kids. She said the shotgun had gone off when she, Lillie, and the 8-year-old brother had started to the woods to meet Parsons and she was taking along the shotgun to "scare up" a rabbit or a squirrel for supper. The gun accidently discharged as she was breaking it to see whether or not it was loaded.
Luetta's case was promptly transferred to juvenile court and she was charged not with first degree murder but with manslaughter. At her trial in May of 1921, the jury acquitted her, finding that Lillie's death was, indeed, an accident. However, rather than setting her free, which would have probably meant returning her to her 40-year-old husband, the judge ruled that Luetta was a ward of the court, because he reportedly could find no responsible person to take charge of her. The grandparents reportedly were planning to seek an annulment of the marriage, but they apparently did not want to take custody of Luetta or else the judge did not deem them fit guardians, because he awarded temporary custody of Luetta to her lawyer.
In late June, a St. Louis court of appeals ruled that the judge had overstepped his authority in retaining Luetta in custody, and she was released into the custody of an uncle with whom she was reportedly going to live at Bismarck. What happened to her after that is unknown, although she apparently never returned to Parsons.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Civil War Pension Application

In July of 1862, the U.S. Congress passed an act authorizing pensions for soldiers wounded and disabled during the war and for widows of soldiers killed during the war. It wasn't always easy to get a pension application approved, however, as the case of Maria Kansteiner of Benton County, Missouri, shows.
Her husband, Wilhelm Kansteiner had served in the German Regiment of Benton County (also called the Benton County Home Guards), which had been authorized by General Nathaniel Lyon in early June of 1861. Kansteiner was mustered into service on June 13 and took part six days later in the Battle of Cole Camp.
The battle, which could more accurately be described as a skirmish, occurred when the Benton County Home Guards gathered at two adjoining farms near Cole Camp to try to impede Governor Claiborne Jackson's Missouri State Guard troops, who were on their way south after their defeat at Boonville on June 17. Two groups of local Southern troops, called the Warsaw Grays and the Warsaw Blues, attacked the home guards on the early morning of June 19, surprising and overrunning the sleepy Union camp and thus clearing the way for Jackson's Missouri State Guard to march south. Casualties were high, considering the relatively small number of troops involved (about 450 home guards and about 350 Rebels). A reported 34 Union troops were either killed or mortally wounded and another 60 less seriously wounded. Only 7 Southerners were reportedly killed, while 25 were wounded. Wilhelm Kansteiner, whose first name was often anglicized to William, was among the home guards killed.
In April of 1864, his widow applied for a pension under terms of the pension act, but the application was not immediately granted. In support of her application, she obtained notarized statements from a couple of men who had known Wilhelm Kansteiner and who testified that they had been in the German Regiment of Benton County with him and that he had been killed at Cole Camp. She herself had to submit a statement swearing that she had never in any way supported the rebellion. She also had so offer proof of her marriage to the deceased, and she produced a statement from a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Morgan County that he had married Wilhelm Kansteiner and Maria Schumacher of Benton County on October 1, 1860. Maria's application process dragged on for over a year. In June of 1865, the Missouri adjutant general's office verified that Wilhelm Kansteiner had, indeed, been a member of the German Regiment and had been killed at Cole Camp. However, the following month the United States adjutant general's office said that it could find no record that such an organization as the German Regiment of Benton County had ever existed. Maria or someone working on her behalf then appealed to the Treasury Department, saying that a record of Kansteiner's service was contained in a report of the Hawkins-Taylor Committee. The Treasury Department, however, said it could not locate any such report.
Despite all the obstacles, Maria's application was finally approved, or so it seems, shortly after this time, because the record of her application is found in a file of approved widows' Civil War pension applications. However, it is also known that Maria had remarried shortly after filing her application; so if the pension was granted, it might have been taken away some time thereafter.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gordon Kahl Shootout

Gordon Kahl was an anti-government tax protester who was killed in Lawrence County, Arkansas, in 1983, in a showdown with law officers. Reared in North Dakota, Kahl was a World War II veteran who owned a farm in North Dakota after the war and later worked in the Texas oil fields. In the 1960s he became a tax protester, writing a letter to the I.R.S. stating that he would no longer pay taxes to what he considered the communist federal government. In the 1970s, he organized a Texas chapter of the Posse Comitatus, a right-wing, anti-government and anti-Semitic group. In the mid seventies, he was convicted of willful refusal to pay taxes and was sentenced to two years in prison. Released on parole after less than a year in prison, Kahl became involved in the township movement, a version of the "sovereign citizenship" belief that citizens are not answerable to county, state, and especially federal authority but only to common law administered at the most fundamental level. On February 13, 1983, as law officers attempted to arrest Kahl for violation of his probation while he was leaving a township meeting near Medina, South Dakota, he and his son became involved in a shootout with the officers, leaving two of the officers dead and Kahl's son wounded. Taking the vehicle of a Medina law officer, Kahl fled to Texas and then to Arkansas.
About the first of June 1983, authorities received a tip that Kahl was holed up near Smithville in northwest Lawrence County on property where fellow tax protester Leonard Ginter and his wife were living. On June 3, law officers surrounded the Ginter house, and when Lawrence County sheriff Gene Matthews approached the house, shots were exchanged. The FBI SWAT team accompanying Matthews then opened fire, pouring hundreds of rounds of lead into the house. The house was then set on fire. Kahl was later found dead in the rubble, reportedly killed by a single shot before being burned. Matthews was mortally wounded by Kahl and later died on the operating table.
Right-wing extremists still today insist that Kahl was killed in cold blood by government thugs and that the house was set on fire to cover up the murder. Some maintain that Sheriff Matthews was also a victim of the government officers rather than being killed by Kahl as officially reported.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Murder of Jack Burris

A few months ago, I wrote on this blog about the Girl Scout murders that occurred in Mayes County, Oklahoma, in 1977, and I mentioned that the crime is officially considered an unsolved case, although many observers, including many law enforcement officials, felt sure that the man arrested and tried for the crime, convicted rapist Gene Leroy Hart, was guilty, even though he was acquitted. However, the Girl Scout case was not the first notorious unsolved murder case in Mayes County history.
On the evening of June 7, 1952, county prosecutor Henry Lawrence "Jack" Burris was working on an air conditioning unit in his back yard in the small town of Locust Grove, using the lights of his tractor to illuminate his work area, when an assailant came out of the dark and shot him dead with a .12 gauge shotgun blast to the face. Several theories emerged as to the motive for the crime and several suspects were identified, including a cousin of Burris's second wife, who supposedly held a personal grudge against the man. The most prevalent theory, however, was that Burris had been killed by someone with underworld connections because of Burris's vigorous prosecution of liquor law violations in what was then a dry state. In pursuing this theory, law officers made at least one arrest and announced that others were imminent.
However, no one ever came to trial in the case, and Burris's murder is considered one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in Oklahoma history.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Five Horse Thieves Lynched

I mentioned not long ago that lynchings in the Old West were even more common than most people probably realize. Most people, I think, are familiar only with the notorious ones, but, as I said previously, there were so many lynchings that they were almost commonplace and, therefore, not widely reported unless remarkable circumstances attended them. Another example in the Ozarks occurred at Baxter Springs, Kansas, in early 1867, when that town was just getting started. (Baxter Springs existed as a trading post before the Civil War and during the war as a military outpost, but the town did not actually come into being until after the war.)
For several months prior to January of 1867, or so said the Carthage (Mo.) Banner, a gang of horse thieves had been operating all along the Kansas-Missouri border as far north as Nebraska and as far south as Indian Territory. Not only were horses being stolen, but other property was also being taken and murders were occasionally being committed by the "prowling scoundrels." So extensive were the outlaws' activities that no man who owned a horse, according to the Banner, felt safe.
Sometime during the summer of 1866, two men had arrived in the Baxter Springs area from Indiana, and one of them had promptly hooked up with the gang of outlaws. He tried to talk his partner into joining, too, plying him with tales of easy money, and the second man acted interested in joining. He was, however, only gathering information to use against the gang, and sometime around the first of the year, 1867, he reported what he knew to law enforcement authorities, who set out to round up the desperadoes.
On Saturday morning, January 26, one man was taken into custody, and, according to the Banner, an attempt was made to try him in a civil court. However, the effort proved fruitless, as he quickly showed himself to be innocent. A vigilante committee then took charge of the proceedings and, on Saturday evening, arrested three more of the gang. After receiving what the Banner considered a "fair trial," they were found guilty and strung up by the vigilantes. Monday morning two more gang members were apprehended and given similar trials as the other three. When the verdicts were announced, one of the men started running and was shot dead, while the other one was hanged like the previous three.
The Banner reported that three of the men executed were brothers named Mizer. One of the brothers, before being launched into eternity, supposedly confessed to helping kill 15 men during a recent trip to Texas and back. He reportedly said that he and his gang had killed every man they met that they thought might have any money. The Banner concluded, "Surely such wretches should die, and the sooner the better."
One of the leaders of the gang, a man named Bill Smith, was not arrested at the time his five sidekicks met their fate. However, the Banner held out hope that he would soon be apprehended and would get his "deserts at the end of a short rope."
The Banner headlined its story reporting the vigilante proceedings thus: "FIVE HORSE THIEVES HUNG AND SHOT. THEY MAKE STARTLING DISCLOSURES. JUDGE LYNCH PRESIDING." The newspaper allowed that, although there were still a few desperadoes like Smith on the loose, the recent actions of the vigilantes might "serve as a gentle damper" on the gang's crime spree.

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