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.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Killing of Aeneas Ridge

Again it's been quite a while since my last blog entry, but this time the delay has nothing to do with lack of ideas, which was the primary reason I gave last time. I've received several ideas from readers since that last post; so I can't use that excuse again for a while. The reason this time is simply that I've been too busy with other things, mainly moving. My wife and I have been moving from one house to another here in Joplin, but in some ways it seems worse than if we were moving across country, because we're doing a lot of the moving ourselves. You can accumulate a lot of stuff in 25 years (the length of time we lived at the previous house). Anyway, that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.
One of the suggestions I received had to do with the death of Aeneas Ridge, Jr. in Christian County, Missouri, in 1883; so that's what I'm going to write about today. Aeneas Ridge, Jr. was the grandson of Major Ridge, a Cherokee Indian leader who was killed in the late 1830s, along with two other leaders of the Treaty Party, by the Anti-Treaty faction in the wake of the tribe's forced removal from the Southeast along the infamous Trail of Tears.
In the fall of 1882, the grandson, who was one-fourth Cherokee, had shot two black men in Indian Territory and fled to Christian County, where he stayed with the family of Joe Danforth, to whom he was related by marriage. On June 12, 1883, Danforth and young Ridge were doing some lumber work at a sawmill Danforth owned along Piedlow Creek in northern Christian County when four law officers arrived with a warrant for his arrest for shooting the black men. The posse consisted of George Whiteside, ex-sheriff of Dade County and then a deputy in Christian County; Jim Armstrong, a deputy from Dade County; Jim White, the marshal of Greenfield; and a black man named Taylor Smith from Springfield. The four men, according to a Springfield newspaper report of the incident, went to the sawmill expecting trouble because of the "reckless and desperate character" of the man they sought. Danforth, Ridge, and some other men were seated on a pile of wood engaged in conversation when the lawmen arrived and Whiteside leveled a shotgun at the group and told them all to put up their hands. Instead the men scrambled for cover, and Ridge supposedly pulled out his pistol and fired two shots from behind a tree, the first one at Armstrong and the second at Whiteside.
Whiteside returned fire, continued the newspaper report, striking Ridge in the arm, which caused him to come out from behind the tree far enough for Whiteside to get a clean second shot, which struck the fugitive in the face. Ridge then sprang out from behind the tree completely with his hands raised in surrender and took a few steps toward the lawmen before collapsing and dying within minutes.
Ridge's body was taken to Springfield, where a coroner's jury held later the same day exonerated Whiteside on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The charges against the lawmen were later revived, however, when witnesses who had been on the scene at the time told a grand jury that the lawmen started shooting immediately as soon as Whiteside told Ridge and his friends to hold up their hands and that Ridge only took cover behind the tree and pulled out his pistol after he had already been shot. Whiteside was arrested in early February of 1884 and taken to Ozark and charged with murder. The other three members of the posse were also charged with murder, but all of them were eventually acquitted, despite the best efforts of an all-star prosecution team that included Ridge's kinsman Elias Boudinot, Jr.


Anonymous Nancy Brown said...

Good article! I had done some research on this, but none of the family really knew anything about this until I found the warrant from Ft. smith saying that the deputy had killed Aeneas Jr. Since I am the gr-gr-gr granddaughter of John Ridge, it was very interesting. You did a good job explaining what happened, and I agree with your conclusions. Seems like the lawmen were really quick to start shooting. Thanks for doing this.

June 22, 2015 at 7:02 AM  

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