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.

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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Blogger MZ History said...

The Mizer brothers and this story are part of my family history. This story and much more of this story was told to my great grandmother in The sixties through a series of letters between her and another descendant of these Mizers. Thank you so much for sharing this!

January 26, 2018 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger MZ History said...


January 26, 2018 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Thanks, MZ History. It's hard to find very much about the Mizers in newspapers and other contemporaneous sources.

January 28, 2018 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger MZ History said...

The story that was written to my g-grandmother gave a different account. In his letter, Bill Mizer (Arkansas) wrote that this account was told to him by one of the vigilante who lived in the region until his death; a man by the name of Hayes. The letter kind of jumps around a bit but here is the gist..

“. . .This steadfast conviction of opinion has been without doubt the cause of the breakup of the original family (or families) at the end of the Civil War. They were forced to become outlaws or outcast and the latter seemed to be the better course to follow...
Now to the event leading up to the murder of Mike Mizer. These men, Mike, Lige (Elijah), George, Bill and Henry joined the Union army (Mike as a teamster) and saw action at Wilson Creek and later at Pea Ridge. Mike had left his wife and son at home with one team to make crop during his absence. After the battle (Pea Ridge) the foragers came leading in Mikes horses. He appealed to the Commandant who refused to give them back but offered to pay him Script which at that time was worthless and even dangerous to possess in that region. Mike then proceeded to untie his horses and started riding them home (about one mile). He got almost there when the posse overtook and shot him off his horse, beat his head in with the but end of their muskets and refused to allow grandma to bury him for 4 days. This act so enraged the other boys they deserted the Union army and swore to kill any man caught wearing blue uniform. They then started “bush-whackin” and followed the Feds clear to Vicksburg. I have it on authority of men of both armies these boys accounted for over 100 men in Union army during that march. They were of course known and marked men. You will now understand why they were forced to scatter....
..You wanted to know the name of the father who gave the boys the thousand dollars gold and told them to go West; His name John Austin Mizer. The boys were Lige (Elijah), George, Bill and Henry. Just where they went, no one would ever know. However, rumor had it that one went to California, one to Texas, another to Colorado. It was later rumored that one of them came back to Old Indian Territory. It could have been so but which one was never learned. However, Henry and the son of Mike (Eric) started West with riding and packhorses, got as far Baxter Springs ford on Spring River (at Baxter Springs __(can’t read; run?) they were stopped there by a band of vigilantes. The boy, Eric told them enough of their past history and why they were going West, the vigilantes decided they should be hanged. They proceeded to do just that. One of the incentives for this act was the frontier law (or custom) that whoever captured a criminal was entitled to whatever valuables the victim may possess. One thousand dollars and four good horses was enough to condemn any man under these circumstances unless backed by several guns. This account I have from one of the band of vigilante who lived in this region until his death. His name was Hayes...
..Now to add insult to injury, General Sigel made his headquarters in grandma’s house. Upon leaving they took everything of value and set fire to the house…”

I found someone on ancestry.com who posted a similar story that she received in an email from a Marilyn Halsey. She writes "The hangings took place near the Arkansas-Missouri line in Feb. 1867, almost two years after the end of the civil war. Our family belonged to the union, lived in a slave state and moved back and forth across the MO border. My family history oral, that is said the three Mizer brothers, William P, James and George plus their sister, Elizabeth Caroline's husband, John Edwards, were hung by a mob of rebels or bushwhackers because of the bad feelings during that time."

In any case, a very interesting story.

January 29, 2018 at 3:14 PM  

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