Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 fourteen nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks, Bushwhacker Belles, and Wicked Women of Missouri.

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.

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.

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