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.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Doc Jennison in Joplin, Revisted

I haven't been posting on this blog quite as often lately as I normally do. There are at least a couple of reasons, including the fact that I've been busy with other projects, but one of the main reasons is that I've been having trouble coming up with good topics to write about. After almost 7 years of doing this blog, it's starting to get a little difficult to find things to write about that I haven't previously covered, or at least harder than it used to be. So, if anyone has a topic to suggest, I would be glad to consider it. Just let me know by posting in response to this entry or by sending an email to larryewood@mail.com.
Even today's topic is a bit of duplication. A few years ago I briefly wrote about Charles "Doc" Jennison's time in Joplin, especially his involvement in helping organize a relief effort after Marshfield suffered a tornado in April 1880. However, I thought I'd go into a little more detail this time.
I might start by noting that Jennison's residence is Joplin is apparently not common knowledge. There is an entire book written about Jennison and his 7th Kansas Cavalry, which also covers his time after the Civil War, but I don't believe it even mentions Jennison's time in Joplin.
Jennison, as Civil War buffs know, came to Kansas from New York a few years prior to the Civil War and aligned himself with rabid abolitionists like James Montgomery. At the outset of the war, he was named colonel of the 7th Kansas and gained a reputation among Missourians, especially Southern sympathizers, as a notorious jayhawker for his raids across the border.
After the war, he served two terms in the Kansas legislature. He came to the booming mining town of Joplin about the spring of 1877. Like most people who came to Joplin, he tried his hand at mining, but what he really enjoyed was gambling. He established a restaurant and saloon on Main Street called the Saratoga and installed a faro device. Jennison was known for serving good food, including occasional complimentary meals, and for hobnobbing with city leaders, but he also got into trouble late in 1877 for keeping an illegal gambling device.
In April of 1878, he opened a second establishment called the Bon Ton. It also served food but was mainly a gambling place. It closed after only a couple of months, but about the time it closed, a man named Day brought a suit against Jennison in an effort to regain $600 he had lost to the old jayhawker at a different establishment. In an ironic twist, Day claimed Jennison wasn't entitled to the cash because he'd won it in an "illegal gambling" operation, as though Day himself had not also been involved.
Jennison had received medical training as a young man in New York but seldom used it. In December of 1878, however, he was called upon to treat a saloonkeeper and acquaintance of his named Basset. Early the next year, Jennison was keeping faro devices at two different establishments, neither of which was the Saratoga. In the summer of '79, he was charged with gambling in two or three separate cases.
Although Jennison was civic minded and socialized with the leaders of Joplin, he was also the butt of jokes, especially from newspapermen. Sometime around the summer of 1879, Jennison joined a gun club, and after he and two other men went out shooting glass balls for target practice, one reporter joked that none of the three hit a single ball.
In the fall of '79, Jennison became involved in organizing an exposition that was scheduled to come to Joplin the following year. One of the main draws of the fair was horse racing, and Jennison had a gray mare that he entered in a demonstration race that fall as a prelude to the real thing. He also showed some visiting dignitaries around the fairgrounds, which were located just northeast of the present-day intersection of 20th and Maiden Lane.
In early 1880, Jennison and some other men went fishing on Shoal Creek near the falls, and Jennison was again the butt of jokes when he came back with only a small sunfish while all the others caught good sized bass. In April of 1880, Jennison organized the Marshfield relief effort and trekked to Marshfield to inspect the damage of the tornado.
In May of 1880 the heavyset Jennison fell down some steps in Joplin and, according to a local newspaperman, made a dent in the sidewalk but inflicted no damage on himself. The same month, Joplin law enforcement cracked down on gambling; so Jennison absconded to Galena, Kansas, just across the border with two of his gambling buddies, Bud Fagg and Boston Joe. He came back after just a few days, though, and turned a room above the Miner's Drift Saloon (located at the corner of Main and 2nd, where the Bon Ton had likely also been located) into a reading room. About the same time he also planned to set up a free soup kitchen in the basement of the Golden Gate Saloon, but he soon gave up his civic-minded efforts and went back to gambling. He was cited seven separate times for gambling during the summer of 1880. After paying two fines and getting the other cases continued, he again hightailed it to Galena but again didn't stay long.
Back in Joplin in September of 1880, Jennison turned his reading room back into a gambling establishment. In October he made the news when he beat one of his customers about the head when the man became unruly.
In early '81, Jennison was back in Galena, where he briefly tried mining again but, as usual, was mainly involved in gambling. He organized some trotting races and took bets on the outcome and also took bets on who could throw a baseball the farthest.
Not long after this Jennison returned to Leavenworth, where he had previously lived, and he died there in 1884.
I will be speaking at the Christian County Library in Ozark at 6 p.m. on Thursday June 18 about my Ozark Gunfights book, and I'll be having a book signing for my latest book, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 at Half Price Books of the Ozarks in Springfield.

1 Comments:

Blogger A.P. Hill said...

Really enjoy your site as well as the history. Funny, I was wondering yesterday if you had ran out of stories. There are only so much out there.
My suggestion might be about how people lived and how they worked to make ends meet. How about storms, farming, rivers, Native Americans, trains, sicknesses etc.
You do a great job and I appreciate your blog.
Thank you.

June 8, 2015 at 3:24 PM  

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