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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Arkansas Traveler

Many people today probably think of the student newspaper at the University of Arkansas or the minor league baseball team based in North Little Rock when they hear the term "Arkansas Traveler." However, the term actually has a long history that goes back over 150 years.
“Arkansas Traveler” originally referred to a tune, a dialogue, or a painting, all of which date from the mid-nineteenth century. The tune and the dialogue or skit had their origins around 1840 when Colonel Sanford Faulkner got lost in rural Arkansas, stopped to ask directions at a local squatter's home, and subsequently started performing a dialogue and fiddle tune called “The Arkansas Traveler” based on the experience.
In 1856, Arkansas artist Edward Payson Washbourne painted a picture based on the meeting between the Traveler and the Squatter (see accompanying illustration). Washbbourne later painted a second picture called "The Turn of the Tune," depicting the Traveler entertaining the Squatter by playing his fiddle.
The image of the Arkansas Traveler also spawned a humorous newspaper by that name, founded in 1882. The Traveler, in print and in humorous performance, came to perpetuate a negative, “hillbilly” image of Arkansas and, by extension, the Ozarks.
From 1949 to 1963, "The Arkansas Traveler" was the official state song of Arkansas. The negative stereotype might have had something to do with the decision to drop the song as the state's official song, although I don't know that for sure. The song is now designated as the state's official historical song.
At any rate, the negative connotation of the Arkansas Traveler has obviously lessened in recent years. Otherwise, the University of Arkansas probably wouldn't be using it as the name of its student newspaper, nor would a minor league baseball team based in Arkansas be calling themselves the Travelers.

"Currier-ives-arkansas-traveller". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Currier-ives-arkansas-traveller.jpg#/media/File:Currier-ives-arkansas-traveller.jpg

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Civil War Execution of Thomas J. Thorpe

While Federal executions of Missourians for bushwhacking and other disloyal activities were not uncommon during the Civil War, they were not everyday occurrences. Authorities were usually reluctant to impose the death penalty except for very serious cases and even more reluctant to carry it out. Even when a man was condemned to death, the execution sometimes got postposed repeatedly. Such was the case of Thomas J. Thorpe of Oregon County.
Thorpe, according to his own statement, joined Thomas Freeman’s Missouri State Guard regiment (part of General James McBride’s division) early in the war. Freeman and twenty-nine of his men were captured in February 1862 at the Battle of Crane Creek (near present-day Crane, Missouri), and Thorpe might have been among those taken prisoner, although this is not altogether clear.
Regardless, Thorpe said he remained with McBride after he left Freeman’s regiment. So, he apparently did have some standing as a regular soldier, at least during the early part of the war.
However, he operated as a partisan or guerrilla later in the war. In October of 1863, he was taken into custody at Pilot Knob. According to his own account, he surrendered, but Union authorities reported only that he was arrested as a rebel. On the 19th, he took an oath of allegiance and gave a $1,000 bond. He was 28 years old at the time and stood 5’7” tall. He was described as having dark eyes and dark hair. The terms of his oath specified that he must not go south of Oregon County and must report to the provost marshal’s office at Pilot Knob on the last day of each month.
Sometime after his release from custody at Pilot Knob, he and two other men were accused of killing a citizen named Obediah Leavitt. On March 20,1864, Thorpe was arrested in Oregon County and charged with murder, violating his oath, and being a guerrilla. He was tried about the first of July and found guilty of murder and being a guerrilla. On July 6th, he was transported to St. Louis and imprisoned at Gratiot Street Prison to await the promulgation of his sentence.
The sentence was announced on July 29—to be hung by the neck until dead. The execution was scheduled to be carried out on September 2 at Pilot Knob.
Thorpe appealed to the president of the United States for a new hearing, but Lincoln denied the request and also declined to pardon Thorpe. However, on September 1, the day Thorpe was to be escorted back to Pilot Knob to meet his death, the sentence was temporarily suspended by General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri. On December 3, Thorpe was sent in irons to Alton (Illinois) Military Prison to await his fate.
The reason for the first postponement of Thorpe’s execution is not clear, but it was postponed three more times during February and March of 1865 on account of his poor health. Finally, in late April, he was deemed sufficiently recovered that he could be put to death. He was scheduled to hang on May 1.
On April 30, Thorpe was taken from Alton back to Gratiot Street Military Prison, where the execution was to take place. The next day, he was escorted to the prison yard, where a gallows awaited him. A few spectators and two or three reporters were there to witness the event. Asked if he had any last words, Thorpe replied that he had been accused unjustly and that he had never killed anyone nor been a guerrilla. A recent convert to Catholicism, he said he would die happy and he expected to go to heaven. He left a note to his wife asking her to make sure their kids received schooling and requesting they be baptized by a priest.
The rope was then placed around Thorpe’s neck, and he dropped to his death at 10:48 a.m. He died almost instantly, his neck broken by the fall, but he was not declared dead until 11:21.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

More Adventures of Bonnie and Clyde

After the Barrow gang’s infamous shootout with Joplin police in April 1933, Bonnie and Clyde fled to Texas, where Bonnie was seriously injured in a car accident in June. The gang’s adventures in Missouri and the Ozarks, however, were far from over. Immediately after the car wreck, the gang retreated to northwest Arkansas and checked into a tourist camp in Fort Smith to lie low while Bonnie recuperated.
W.D. Jones and Clyde’s brother Buck, though, started pulling off a string of robberies to pay the gang’s bills. On June 23, they robbed a grocery in Fayetteville and were headed back to Fort Smith when they rounded a curve near Alma and rear-ended a slow-moving vehicle. Alma city marshal H.D. Humphrey and a deputy, on the lookout for the Fayetteville bandits, happened upon the scene and stopped to investigate. When Humphrey got out of his car and started toward the two disabled vehicles, Buck knocked him down with a shotgun blast, mortally wounding him. The deputy returned fire, but during the lively gun battle that ensued, Buck and W.D. managed to commandeer the police vehicle and roar away to reunite with the rest of the gang in Fort Smith.
Over the next few weeks, the Barrows stayed on the run in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In mid-July 1933, they landed in Iowa, where they pulled off a string of robberies on the 18th. They then fled south into Missouri and checked into the Red Crown Cabins near Platte City north of Kansas City late that night.
The manager grew suspicious of the mysterious group occupying his double cabins and informed authorities. Lawmen soon concluded that they were facing the notorious Barrow gang, and they closed in during the wee hours of the morning on July 20th. Another wild gunfight erupted, reminiscent of the shootout with Joplin lawmen nine months earlier, as Clyde, Buck, and W.D. shot their way to freedom. Buck was seriously wounded during the exchange. He died about a week later in Iowa, after being seriously wounded a second time in yet another shootout with officers. His wife, Blanche, was captured, and W.D. left the gang shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, Bonnie and Clyde retreated to Texas, where Bonnie helped Clyde break his old pal Raymond Hamilton and several other inmates, including Henry Methvin, out of the Eastham Prison in January 1934. The next month, Bonnie and Clyde showed back up in Missouri with Hamilton and Methvin.
On February 12, the gang stole a car from the Thompson Tire Company in Springfield and fled in two vehicles. As the gang roared through Hurley, twenty-five miles to the southwest, Hamilton and Methvin were in a red Chevy sedan, and Clyde was at the wheel of the Thompson auto. Bonnie, his “cigar-smoking sweetheart,” as one newspaper called her, was at his side.
Notified of the gang’s approach, Stone County sheriff Seth Tuttle and three deputies drove out on the highway north of Galena in search of the desperadoes, and the gang roared past them at a high rate of speed. The lawmen turned around to give chase and found the Thompson car abandoned two miles east of Galena.
Tuttle took charge of the Thompson vehicle, while his deputies resumed the pursuit. The gangsters, who’d all piled into the red Chevy, approached an underpass leading into Reeds Spring and came upon a roadblock set up by local constable Dale Davis. They turned around and retreated, briefly exchanging gunfire with Davis in the process.
On a side road, the gang kidnapped pedestrian Joe Gunn and forced him to guide them. Coming out on the road between Reed Springs and Cape Fair, they met the Stone County deputies, who had continued through Reed Springs and doubled back. The two vehicles stopped a couple hundred feet apart, and the two sides exchanged fire until the lawmen ran out of ammo. The gangsters piled back into the Chevy and roared past the deputies.
Near Berryville, Arkansas, the gang took another hostage, but they let both him and Gunn out unharmed between Berryville and Eureka Springs.
Three and a half months later, Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a police ambush in Louisiana after Methvin betrayed them.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bonnie and Clyde--Part 1

Some people might not readily associate Bonnie and Clyde with Missouri and the Ozarks. Both were born in Texas around 1910. They grew up there during the teens and twenties. And they met their end in Louisiana in May 1934—killed by a police ambush after one of their partners betrayed them. But the desperate duo committed several of their infamous deeds in this region.
The pair was still relatively unknown outside Texas when they first appeared in Missouri in the fall of 1932. Using a Carthage motor lodge as their headquarters, Clyde and two other members of his gang pulled off a string of robberies in the Jasper County area during November. On the 29th, Clyde sent Bonnie into Oronogo to scout out the Farmers and Miners Bank. The next day, Clyde and his two male sidekicks drove into Oronogo in a Chevy they’d stolen that morning while Bonnie waited just outside town in the getaway car, a Ford V-8. Clyde and one of his partners went into the bank and got into a shootout with the cashier when he resisted the holdup. They scooped up a small amount of money and raced outside to the Chevy, where the third man waited as a lookout. The desperadoes sped out of town through a hail of bullets from citizens who’d hurried to the scene at the sound of gunfire. Outside town, they abandoned the Chevy, hopped in the Ford with Bonnie, and made their getaway.
On January 26, 1933, less than two months after the Oronogo caper, Bonnie and Clyde, along with new partner W.D. Jones, kidnapped Springfield motorcycle cop Tom Persell at gunpoint near the Shrine Mosque after he pulled them over on suspicion. They forced Persell to guide them out of town. A few miles north of Springfield, still compelling their hostage to pilot them, they turned west and traveled at a high rate of speed along the back roads through Golden City and finally came out on a north-south road north of Carthage (present-day I-49/U.S. 71). Late that night, they finally let Persell out unharmed north of Joplin near Carl Junction. As he was getting out of the car, Persell, still unaware who his captors were, asked whether he might have the weapon back that they had taken from him. Clyde told the cop not to press his luck. Slamming the door, he and the rest of the gang sped off, leaving Persell to find his way into Joplin on foot. The cop told his story to a Springfield newspaper the next day. The girl, who kept bumming cigarettes from him, simply “ate fags,” Persell complained, and all three of the gang members were quite profane in their language.
After the Persell kidnapping, Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. went back to Texas and picked up Clyde’s brother Buck and Buck’s wife, Blanche. The five soon returned to Missouri and rented an apartment in south Joplin in early April 1933. On the afternoon of April 13th, the police closed in. Thinking they were dealing with bootleggers, two Joplin policeman, two highway patrolmen, and a Newton County deputy drove up to the apartment in two separate cars. The car containing the city cops and the county deputy blocked the driveway while the highway patrolmen cruised past the residence and parked at the side of the street. The gang immediately opened fire, killing the deputy almost instantly and mortally wounding one of the Joplin officers when they stepped out of their car to return fire. W.D. Jones was wounded in the exchange, but Clyde and Buck kept firing away. Two of the remaining lawmen circled around toward the back of the apartment, while the third kept up a sporadic fire at the front of the building. The five gangsters piled into their Ford V-8, and Clyde revved up the engine and dropped the clutch. The Ford rammed the police vehicle and knocked it down the inclined driveway into the street, clearing a path for the gang’s escape. The Barrow gang sped away at such a high speed that an eyewitness said the Ford almost wrecked rounding a curve south of town at Redings Mill.

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