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 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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Friendship Community Revisited

One of the first entries I posted after I started this blog back in October 2008 was about the Friendship Community, a utopian commune started by social reformer Alcander Longley in early 1872 a few miles east of Buffalo in Dallas County, Missouri. I recently ran across an interesting account written by a St. Louis newspaperman of his visit to the commune in the summer of 1872. It appeared in the St. Louis Democrat and was subsequently reprinted in the Buffalo Reflex. The reporter described not just his visit to the commune but also his journey there and back. He took a train from St. Louis to Lebanon but then had to pay $3 to hitch a ride with the mail wagon that ran between Lebanon and Buffalo in order to complete his trip. He called the 30-mile trip "a rough ride," and he described the road as "the roughest road I ever traveled." He said the ride might be worth taking from a sanitary point of view for those persons "afflicted with certain kinds of dyspepsia, where a general shaking up of the viscera and the luxation of most of the articulated bones is considered beneficial. After the soreness goes out of his bones and bowels, the patient will enjoy better health, if he survives the treatment." If, however, the traveler did not need such a vigorous workout, the newspaperman opined, he might be better advised to walk.
After reaching Buffalo and making some observations, the newspaperman reported to his St. Louis readers. A railroad had been planned from Lebanon to Fort Scott, Kansas, but work on it had been abandoned, causing agricultural prices in the Buffalo area to plummet (since farmers had no quick way to get their products to market, as they thought they were going to). You could buy a good milk cow for $15 and a good, fat yearling for $6, and cheap fertile land was plentiful. The newspaperman concluded that anyone who wanted to enter into agricultural pursuits might find the Dallas County area to be a good place to invest in, assuming the railroad was eventually built. (It never was. See my Feb. 8, 2009, blog entry on the Dallas County Railroad.)
The newspaperman registered at a hotel and paid the landlord one dollar to drive him out to the Friendship Community, about four and half miles due west of Buffalo. At this site, the reporter said, "The reformers have broken ground for the eventual redemption of the world, by doing away with the temptations to theft, robbery, swindling and murder."
The reporter's statement about Longley's followers redeeming the world was an obvious bit of sarcasm, because he felt the communist experiment was a utopian dream that would not last. In fact, by the time the St. Louis newspaperman visited in August of 1872, the community's president and chief financial backer, William H. Bennett, had already left the group. Apparently Bennett felt he was the only one contributing financially to the group, while Longley and the other members felt Bennett was not truly committed to the community and only went into the venture because of "speculative motives."
Bennett had left, withdrawing his money, the land he had donated for a commune, and the hotel and store he had been running for the financial benefit of the commune. By the time the St. Louis reporter arrived, however, Longley had succeeded in acquiring about 500 acres, with the financial backing of a Buffalo dentist, as a replacement farm for the community. Although the newspaperman held out little hope for the success of the experiment, he was impressed by Longley's dedication to the cause. He felt that a true reformer like Longley "would rather live on a crust and live as his Creator intended, than dine on purple and fine linen in the selfish, sordid, and throat-cutting struggle of ordinary life."
The newspaperman found Longley so talkative that he had a hard time breaking away from him for the return trip to Buffalo. One thing that Longley especially wanted to emphasize was that the members of his commune did not practice sexual promiscuity, as some critics had claimed. Longley said he believed each man "should have his own wife and let every other fellow's wife carefully alone." After bidding Longley adieu with a hardy handshake, the reporter made his way back to Buffalo to spend the night, and then started back to St. Louis the next day.
As the reporter thought would be the case, the Friendship Community did not succeed, although it did manage to hang on for a few years. It, however, would not be the last of Longley's communist experiments in Missouri, nor was it the first. (See my April 4, 2009, blog entry on the Reunion Community.)


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