Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 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, January 31, 2016

Arkansas Mounted Rifles

The First and Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles were two Confederate regiments of Arkansas troops organized shortly after the beginning of the Civil War near Bentonville by Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. He intended the mounted rifles as a unique brigade that could not only ride as cavalry but also dismount and fight as infantry, and he also felt they would make excellent scouts, since they were familiar with the territory.
The two regiments first saw significant action at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The First Arkansas Mounted Rifles under Colonel Thomas J. Churchill was in the thick of the fight, and the Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles under the command of Colonel James McIntosh saw action on the Confederate right. The latter men jumped a fence and drove off an attack by Federal troops under General Franz Sigel, capturing a Union cannon in the process.
The Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles, again dismounted, also saw action on the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge. The First Arkansas Mounted Rifles did not, and neither regiment saw action on the second day of the battle. Both General McCulloch and Colonel McIntosh were killed at Pea Ridge, and General Earl Van Dorn, commanding all the Southern forces there, reorganized McCulloch’s Arkansas Division, including the Arkansas Mounted Rifles, as the First Division under General Sterling Price.
The First and Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles continued to serve throughout the Civil War. Other engagements where one or both saw action include the Battle of Farmington (Mississippi), the Battle of Richmond and the Battle of Perryville during the Kentucky Campaign, the Battle of Murfreesboro, the Battle of Chickamauga (where the Arkansas Mounted Rifles earned acclaim for their valor), and numerous engagements against Union general William Sherman in an attempt to stave off his invasion of the South.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Where Are the Ozarks?

As someone who has lived almost his entire life in this region, I have at least a general idea of where the Ozarks are, but defining specific boundaries is not so easy. Even geographers and geologists do not always agree on the exact limits of the Ozarks. Some say the Ozarks extend north of the Missouri River, and some even say they extend east of the Mississippi River to include the so-called Illinois Ozarks, while others use those rivers as natural boundaries that help define the Ozarks.
Perhaps the most accepted scientific definition of the Ozarks is the one outlined by Milton Rafferty, former professor of geography and geology at Missouri State University, in his book Ozarks: Land and Life. According to Rafferty, the boundaries of the Ozarks are marked in a general way by important rivers: the Mississippi River on the east; the Missouri River, including a narrow band of hills north of the river, on the north; the Grand River on the southwest; the Arkansas River on the south; and the Black River on the southeast.
Science, however, does not tell the whole story. There exists what might be called a cultural or popular conception of the Ozarks that corresponds only in a very general way with the geographic boundaries. This popular conception of the Ozarks tends to define the region more narrowly than science does. In other words, there are a number of places that are geographically within the limits of the Ozarks where the people nonetheless do not usually think of their area as part of the Ozarks. These areas, of course, tend to be on the fringes of the region.
The Mississippi River counties, like Perry and Cape Girardeau, comprise one such area. A spokesperson for the City of Cape Girardeau recently told me that the people of that area thought of the edge of the Ozarks as lying forty or fifty miles west of Cape.
The counties that border the Missouri River on the south, in the central and eastern parts of the state, such as Cole County and Moniteau County, comprise another problematic area. A resident of Jefferson City recently told me that the Ozarks began several miles to the south. Similarly, a resident of Tipton said the people of his area associated the Lake of the Ozarks, forty miles to the south, with the Ozarks but didn’t think of their own area as part of the region.
Even the residents of some of the counties farther south do not always consider themselves as living in the Ozarks. For example, a couple of years ago I heard Dr. Brooks Blevins of Missouri State University’s Department of Ozarks Studies tell a story on Ozarks Public Television of a time he was driving south from Jefferson City on Highway 63. He stopped in the German-settled community of Vienna, Missouri, in Maries County, and was told by locals that he was not yet in the Ozarks, despite the fact that Vienna, by all geographic definitions, is well within the Ozarks.
The southeastern tip of Cherokee County, Kansas, is technically in the Ozarks, but as someone who is familiar with that area, I’ve never gotten the sense that the people there generally think of themselves as being in the Ozarks.
Conversely, there are also people who live somewhat outside the geographic limits of the Ozarks who still identify themselves as Ozarkians (or Ozarkers, as some residents prefer to be called). For example, the people who live around Clarksville, Arkansas, obviously consider themselves to be on the edge of the Ozarks, since the institution of higher learning there is called the University of the Ozarks. Yet, by most geographic definitions, Clarksville is not in the Ozarks but instead part of the Arkansas River Valley.
These people define the Ozarks (or at least their part of it) more broadly than does science, but I think they are in the minority. Overall, I think the rule that culture defines the Ozarks more narrowly than does science still holds. It seems to me there are more people who live in the Ozarks but don’t realize it than there are people who live outside the Ozarks and yet claim identity with the region.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sporting the Blue Ribbon

The late nineteenth century was a time of religious revival and reform in the United States. One aspect of the religious reawakening was the abstinence movement, led mainly by women, that swept across the country and continued into the 1900s. Organizations like the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union sprang up, and their anti-liquor campaigns gave rise to crusading figures like Carrie Nation.
While these groups opposed the consumption of alcoholic beverages mainly by targeting saloons and by trying to get laws against drinking passed, one strain of the temperance movement, called the Murphy Movement, concentrated on the drinkers themselves. Named after its founder, Francis Murphy, who was a reformed drinker and former saloonkeeper himself, the movement asked people to sign a pledge not to drink, and they were then given blue ribbons to wear as a token of the pledge. The movement started in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in late 1876. By mid-1877, it had reached Missouri, but initial efforts to establish the movement were something short of a glowing success. A Jefferson City newspaper reported in August that the Murphy Movement men had “folded their tent” in Sedalia and moved to Warrensburg.
One of the first places in the state where the Murphy Movement took hold was Linn in Osage County. The movement was organized there in late October and was soon going strong.
By the end of 1877 and beginning of 1878, the Murphy Movement was sweeping across the rest of the Ozarks. The Carthage Banner reported on January 10, 1878, that the movement had hit Carthage exactly one week earlier, and that meetings had been held at the local Methodist Church every night since, with each one better attended than the previous one, to the point the church could hardly hold everybody. The Reverend John Dunlap of Pittsburgh was conducting the meetings.
On January 17, a Mount Vernon newspaper reported the Murphy Movement going strong there as well with meetings every night and 135 people having already taken the pledge.
Dunlap went to Springfield in late January and began a series of meetings at various churches, particularly the First Christian Church located just west of the square. Over 200 people signed the pledge the first night, and by the end of February over two thousand people had signed up.
Springfield saloonkeepers surveyed in February generally agreed that the Murphy Movement had hurt their business. One claimed the only customers he’d lost, however, were “those who are afraid to be seen coming from a saloon while the excitement is at its height,” and he thought his loss of business was only temporary. The saloon owners refused to condemn the movement, and one even said he had refused several times to sell liquor to young men who had come into his establishment wearing blue ribbons.
The movement quickly spread to other Greene County communities like Ash Grove, Cave Springs, and Walnut Grove, as well as to towns throughout southwest Missouri. One man who attended a mass meeting at the Springfield city hall in early March reported the Murphy Movement was making excellent progress in his hometown of Pierce City as well as in Neosho and Webb City.
Not everyone in Springfield completely endorsed the movement. The Murphy revival spurred a contentious debate at a city council meeting in mid-February over the subject of prohibition.
And the movement failed to take hold everywhere throughout Missouri. For instance, at Hermann, county seat of Gasconade County and home to a large German population, the Murphy Movement that swept through neighboring towns was viewed as something of a joke. Several of Hermann’s saloonkeepers started sporting blue ribbons in jest as they continued serving a steady stream of customers.
After March of 1878, the Murphy enthusiasm gradually waned in the Ozarks, but the temperance movement as a whole, of course, continued throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, culminating finally in passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Prohibition Act of 1920. But it is probably safe to say that few, if any, temperance rallies in the Ozarks that came later surpassed the fervor of the Murphy Movement in 1877-1878.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

A County By Any Other Name

Recently I wrote about towns throughout the Missouri Ozarks that changed their names at one time or another in their history. A fair number of counties in the region have also changed their names.
Present-day Camden County was organized in January 1841 and named Kinderhook County in honor of President Martin Van Buren’s residence, Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren, however, had recently suffered a crushing defeat in his 1840 bid for re-election, and his popularity continued to wane. Kinderhook County was accordingly renamed Camden County in 1843 in honor of England’s Earl of Camden. Oregon, the original county seat, was renamed Erie at the same time. Later, the county seat was moved to Linn Creek. The sites of both Erie and Linn Creek were inundated by construction of the Lake of the Ozarks in 1929. Another Linn Creek was formed to replace the old one, but the new, competing town of Camdenton was named the county seat. Martin Van Buren fell into such disfavor that Van Buren County, which was also named after the president, was rechristened Cass County near the same time Kinderhook County became Camden. (An interesting sidelight to this story is that supporters of President Van Buren used the slogan “Old Kinderhook” during his bid for re-election, and the expression was often shortened to O.K., which is thought to be the derivation of the American idiom “okay.”)
The county we know today as Dallas was organized as Niangua County in the early 1840s (exact date seems to be in question). It was formed from territory taken primarily from Polk County. The name of Niangua County was changed to Dallas County in December of 1844 in honor of vice-president-elect George M. Dallas. The naming decision was perhaps influenced by the fact that the progenitor county, Polk, had been named for the president-elect, James Knox Polk, almost ten years earlier when Polk was a congressman from Tennessee.
Ozark County was formed in 1841 from Taney County. At the time, it included most of present-day Douglas and Howell counties. Ozark County was renamed Decatur in 1843 after Decatur, Georgia, at the request of some the county’s residents, who had migrated from Georgia. In 1845, the named was changed back to Ozark.
Present-day Texas County was formed in 1843 from Shannon and Wright counties and named Ashley County after William Henry Ashley, a well-known fur trader during Missouri’s territorial days and later its first lieutenant governor. In February 1845, the county was renamed Texas in honor of the Republic of Texas. Texas had not yet been admitted to the Union at the time, but a congressional act authorizing its admission was imminent. So, the fact that Texas County was the largest county in the state, just as Texas would soon become the largest state in the Union, might have influenced the naming decision. In 1846, Houston was laid out as the county seat and named after Sam Houston, who was a leader of the Texas revolution, the republic’s first president, and one of the state’s first two U.S. senators.
Such renaming of counties, of course, has not been limited just to Missouri’s part of the Ozarks. Marion County, Arkansas, for instance, was formed from Izard County in 1835 as Marion County, but the name was immediately changed to Searcy County by the Arkansas General Assembly. In 1836, the county petitioned for the name to revert to Marion, and the General Assembly agreed. Marion County is named in honor of Revolutionary War general Francis Marion, known as the swamp fox.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Skirmish at Rader's Farm

I am on the board of directors of the Jasper County Civil War Rader's Farm Association that has been working for the past several years to preserve a plot of land at the northwest edge of Joplin (northeast corner of Fountain Road and Peace Church Road) near the scene of a significant skirmish that occurred during the Civil War. In fact, I and several other men worked yesterday morning clearing away some timber and brush from a fence row on the property.
On May 18, 1863, about 70 men under Jasper County guerrilla leader Thomas R. Livingston attacked a Federal foraging party consisting of about 25 soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, about 20 soldiers of the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery, and 5 or 6 teamsters. The black soldiers had stacked their arms and were throwing corn into the wagons when Livingston attacked. Many of the unarmed black soldiers and one or two of the white artillery soldiers were killed in the initial attack, and the rest of the Federals were routed.
The black men were on foot, while most of the white soldiers were mounted, and the popular version of this incident that has been perpetuated for many years is that the white men on horseback galloped for their lives, deserting their black comrades, and that the black men fled in panic. There's probably a grain of truth to this account, but it's not the whole story and maybe not even the main story.
The plot of land that the Jasper County Civil War Rader's Farm Association maintains (which by the way was donated by Joplin lawyer Ed Hershewe) is actually located about a quarter of mile west of where the Rader farm was, and our group was disappointed at first that we were unable to obtain land at the actual farm site or nearer to it. However, a project recently completed by Chris Dukes, a graduate student in archaeology at Missouri State in Springfield, for his master's degree has made us appreciate the site we do have, because his work has also changed the narrative of what happened at the Rader's farm. At least it has changed the popular conception of what happened. Contrary to the generally accepted idea that all the Federals fled in confusion and panic, Chris has shown that at least some of them, as they retreated toward Kansas, rallied and mounted a defense about a quarter of a mile west of the farm, where the Jasper County Civil War group's land is. Chris discovered 57 artifacts, primarily rounds of ammunition, bunched in a small area, which he identified as most likely coming from Union weapons. This, of course, suggests that at least some of the Federals did not flee in pure panic as the popular version of the story goes but instead retreated in a more orderly fashion, stopping to make a stand along the way, before resuming their withdrawal. It also means that our land was actually part of the battlefield.
Actually, though, if one examines Union newspaper accounts of this skirmish that were published in the immediate wake of the event, one finds that the Union side of the story all along was that the Federal soldiers, both black and white, tried to mount the best defense they could in the face of a surprise attack by a well mounted, well-armed enemy that was superior in numbers. So, Chris's recent discovery does not so much change the narrative as it tends to confirm, at least to some extent, what the Union said from the beginning. It's just that, in this case, the Southern side of the story (i.e. Livingston's report) was about the only record of the Rader's farm incident that made it into the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to become the basis of the popular narrative. That, of course, is a reversal from the norm, in which the Union side is often the only written version of Civil War events that survives.

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