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, February 27, 2016

Banishment of Ellen Catherine Tucker

In the fall of 1864, in the aftermath of Confederate general Sterling Price’s failed invasion of Missouri, Union general William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri headquartered at St. Louis, issued an order banishing a number of individuals from the state for their alleged disloyal activities during Price’s raid. When Lewis Tucker, parish priest of St. Michael’s Church in Fredericktown, learned that his cousin, Ellen Catherine Tucker, was one of the proposed exiles, Father Tucker took up his pen to plead with the general to rescind what he considered an unjust punishment in Catherine’s case.
Catherine was the daughter of Apollinarius Tucker. Originally from Perry County, the family moved prior to 1850 to Ripley County, where Apollinarius owned a mill near the confluence of Buffalo Creek and the Current River. In 1852, when Catherine was a young girl, Father John Joseph Hogan, a Catholic missionary in Missouri during the Civil War and pre-Civil War eras, made a trip into the southeastern part of the state and called on the Tuckers, the only Catholic family in the area. Upon his arrival, Father Hogan found Mrs. Tucker mortally ill. He administered the last sacraments, and she died shortly thereafter. Following her death, Apollinarius and his family moved to Fredericktown to live with Father Tucker, who was Apollinarius’s first cousin.
At the time of Father Tucker’s letter to General Rosecrans, Catherine was a twenty-five-year-old, unmarried schoolteacher. Father Tucker explained that she had been living under his roof since she was twelve years old, and he felt he was in a better position than those who had accused her to know her disposition. She had been charged with traveling to Pilot Knob after the battle there in September of 1864 to treat the Confederate wounded, and Father Tucker assumed this was the main reason for the expulsion order. He did not deny that she had made such a trip and that she might have cared for some of the Confederate wounded while she was there, but he did not understand why that was considered a crime rather than an act of charity.
Besides, treating the Confederate wounded was not her primary reason for making the trip, Father Tucker explained. A few days after the battle, Tucker had been summoned to Pilot Knob to administer last rites to two mortally wounded Confederate soldiers, and Catherine insisted on accompanying him. There were roving bands of men in the area at this time, and Father Tucker agreed to let her go along, thinking that her presence might deter theft or other acts of violence against him.
Father Tucker and his young cousin arrived safely, and he called on the wounded Confederate men who had summoned him. He then visited the Federal hospital but spent little time there because there were no Catholics among the wounded. He and Catherine spent the rest of the day in Pilot Knob and stayed overnight. Promptly the next day, however, they returned to Fredericktown.
Father Tucker did not understand how his cousin could be considered disloyal for having made this trip or for having visited the Confederate hospital. However, he added that he had also heard that she allegedly visited General Price’s camp one time while the Confederates were encamped near Fredericktown about two hundred yards from the Tucker home. Tucker said he didn’t see how this could be a crime when many others of all political persuasions had done the same thing, and in any case he did not think it was cause for banishment.
The priest closed his letter by stating that Catherine was not only “a nice and dear cousin” but also a great help to him in his home and at the church. “So, I trust, General, you will not consider me unimportant in addressing you and beseeching you to revoke the sentence.”
No record appears to survive showing whether General Rosecrans was influenced by Father Tucker’s letter to revoke Catherine’s order of banishment. At the time of the 1870 census, however, Catherine was still living in Missouri. So, if she got banished, she obviously returned to the state after the war.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The "Lynching" of Paralee Collins

If you do an Internet search for "Paralee Collins," you’ll get several results naming her as a black woman lynched in Howell County, Missouri, on June 17, 1914. There are two important things wrong with this. She wasn't black, and she wasn't lynched—at least not in the popular sense of being hanged.
However, her tale is no less interesting because she is not a statistic from America’s bigoted past. The story of Paralee Collins is one of clannish feuding and scandalous behavior, and the acts of violence against her stemmed not from racial hatred but from jealousy and moral outrage.
Paralee grew up in what was called the "Collins settlement" in the vicinity of old Horton in northwestern Howell County not far from Douglas County. In 1905, when Paralee was only about fourteen, she married Lee Washington Collins, a second cousin. The Collins clan, as a local newspaper later reported, was well known for intermarrying.
Paralee and Lee already had three kids by 1910, but they must have been on the verge of a split even at the time of the census in April, because only three months later, Paralee married Levi Richard Collins, a third cousin.
Paralee's second marriage was also short lived. She was divorced from Levi Collins in April of 1913 after three years of marriage.
About the time of the divorce, Paralee started carrying on with Lee Isaac Collins, who was another second cousin.
For some time prior to December 1913, Paralee and others in the Collins settlement had been accused of "gross immorality," according to a Springfield newspaper, and the "last straw on the camel's back" came in early December when Paralee allegedly rode nude, or in "Mother Eve's attire," as the newspaper phrased it, through Horton in the company of a man (perhaps Ike Collins). On Sunday night, December 14, a mob of masked night riders raided the Collins settlement, dragged Paralee from “Blind Jane” Keith’s cabin, where she was staying, and whipped her "unmercifully" with switches. They also herded Jane out of the home, set it on fire, and ordered both women to leave the territory, under threat of death. They proceeded to burn the home of Dan Collins and two other Collins houses that were unoccupied. After they were done, they punctuated their fiery work by shooting into the air as they rode off.
Instead of leaving as they'd been ordered to do, Paralee and her friends began barricading their houses and preparing for battle. However, Paralee and Ike soon moved across the line into Douglas County and set up housekeeping in a cabin on Noblett Creek. Some of the couple's allies followed, and the affair died down for a while.
It flared back up when Paralee brought charges in early March 1914 against both of her former husbands, accusing them of being among the night riders who had whipped her and burned Jane Keith’s cabin. Paralee said she recognized one of her ex-husbands when he first entered Jane's house, that his mask came off while she was being whipped, and that he even talked to her after he realized he'd been recognized. She later learned that the other former husband was also among the mob. Although no arrests had been made in the immediate wake of the raid, both ex-husbands were arrested on charges of arson and felonious assault after Paralee’s accusations. They were released on bond, and in mid-April the charges were dropped altogether after Paralee did not show up for the men's hearing. "Godiva Failed to Appear" read the sensational headline in one newspaper story.
The arrest of Lee Collins and Levi Collins apparently rekindled their rage toward their ex-wife. In mid-June, a mob showed up at the cabin on Noblett Creek intent on teaching the woman a lesson (although it's not known for sure that the two ex-husbands were among the night riders). After banging on the door and gaining admittance, the leader of the gang pulled a revolver and covered Paralee and Ike with it. The couple made a dash for freedom and got outside, but the mob followed them into some brush and shot at them, wounding Paralee in the leg and seriously wounding Ike in the head.
Ike eventually recovered, and he and Paralee got married in 1921. This time Paralee stayed married. She died in 1979 at the age of 88, ten years after Ike had left her a widow.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

O. K. Armstrong

The first time I was ever aware of O. K. Armstrong was when I was a little kid during the early 1950s, and my dad would occasionally mention the name of O. K. Armstrong. Armstrong was a member of the Fair Grove American Legion, in which my father was active. Armstrong wasn't active. He just maintained his membership, but I knew from the way my dad talked about him that he was a fairly important person. Not sure why he was a member of the Fair Grove American Legion, because I think he lived in Springfield at the time. Maybe he belonged to more than one chapter of the American Legion.
Only later did I learn exactly who Orland Kay "O. K." Armstrong was. At the time I recall his being a member of the Fair Grove American Legion, he had just completed his only term as a U. S. congressman representing Missouri's old Sixth District (Springfield and southwest Missouri), but he was already a fairly well known person in the Ozarks even before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1950.
Armstrong was born in Willow Springs, Missouri, in 1893, but the family moved several times during his childhood and youth, because his father was a school teacher and minister who changed churches or teaching jobs fairly often. The family settled in Carterville, Missouri, when O. K. was a young teenager, and he graduated as valedictorian in 1912 from Carterville High School (which, by the way, consolidated with Webb City years ago).
Armstrong attended Springfield's Drury College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in education in 1916, and then took a job teaching English at Southwest Baptist College, a school that his maternal grandfather had helped found. In 1917, Armstrong joined the U.S. Army to serve during World War I. He was assigned to the Signal Corps, received flight training, and became a flight instructor, a role in which he served for the remainder of the war. While serving as a flight instructor, Armstrong also entered the world of journalism, acting as editor of the flight magazine Propeller.
After the war, Armstrong spent two years in France, helping take care of Russian prisoners of war who were transitioning back to their homeland. Upon his return to the U. S., Armstrong earned a second bachelor's degree and a law degree. He passed the bar exam but declined to enter the field of law. Instead, he enrolled in the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and earned bachelor and master's degrees in 1925. Returning to teaching, he founded the University of Florida's School of Journalism and also began contributing articles to newspapers and magazines. One notable early article he did was a story for Boy's Life based on his interview with aviator Charles Lindbergh, and the two men became fast friends.
Armstrong came back to Missouri in 1929 and first entered politics the following year, running unsuccessfully for the state senate. In 1932, though, he won election to the Missouri House of Representatives. He served until 1936 and then again from 1942 to 1944.
Armstrong continued his journalism career even while he was serving as a state representative, contributing articles to various magazines. With World War II on the horizon, he expressed isolationist views and joined his friend Charles Lindbergh in supporting the America First movement (or, as Woody Guthrie called it, the America Last movement). After the attack on Pearl Harbor, though, he fully supported America's war effort.
After an unsuccessful run for Missouri lieutenant governor, Armstrong served in a variety of appointed government positions. He was elected to his only term in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1950 and served from early 1951 to early 1953. Congressional redistricting after the 1950 census would have forced Armstrong to run against his friend Dewey Short in 1952; so he chose not to run for re-election.
During the 1950s, Armstrong came under criminal investigation by the I. R. S. and was convicted of tax evasion but avoided jail time. In later life, he ran two more times for political office, failing in both 1966 and 1982 to return to the Missouri House of Representatives. He continued his journalism career, however, writing especially for the Reader's Digest. He also became well known in the Springfield area as a campaigner against pornography, and anti-pornography was the subject of a number of his magazine articles.
When I first joined the Missouri Writers' Guild in the mid to late 1970s, both O. K. Armstrong and his wife, Marjorie, were members of the organization, but I don't think I ever personally met the man. He died in Springfield in 1987.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Weaubleau Structure and the Rock Balls

The Weaubleau structure, formerly known as the Weaubleau-Osceola structure, is a crater nineteen kilometers wide in St. Clair County, Missouri, centered near the community of Vista. It is believed to have been caused by the impact of 1,200-feet meteor about 335 million to 340 million years ago.
The Weaubleau Structure is one of the fifty largest known impact craters on earth and the fourth largest in the United States. The three larger ones in the U.S. either have been glaciated and buried, submerged under water, or deformed by tectonic movement. Therefore, the Weaubleau structure is the largest exposed impact crater in the U.S. that has not been deformed or misshapen.
Surrounding the impact area are spherical rock formations of varying size, called the Missouri rock balls, which probably formed at the time of the impact. Nearly perfectly round, they are also sometimes referred to locally simply as "geodes," "round rocks," or "Weaubleau eggs." The round rocks may have formed when the impact threw shale away from the center of the crater and silica-saturated waters subsequently formed silica around the shale fragments.
The Weaubleau structure is one of a series of known or suspected impact sites along the 38th parallel in Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas. The others include the Hicks Dome in Hardin County, Illinois; the Avon crater in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri; the Furnace Creek volcanics in Washington County; the Crooked Creek structure in southern Crawford County; the Hazelgreen volcanics near the Laclede-Pulaski county line; the Decatur dome in southern Camden County; and the Rose dome in eastern Kansas. The effects of the impact on the surrounding topography at the Decatur dome can be seen in a road cut that runs along Highway 5 about sixteen miles north of Lebanon.
Because all of these structures are located roughly along the same latitude, one theory holds that all of them were the result of a serial meteorite strike. However, scientists consider such a serial impact a highly unlikely event on earth. The difficulty in dating all of the structures as having originated from the same period also casts doubt on the serial impact theory. In addition, there is evidence that at least some of the structures, such as the Hicks dome, resulted from volcanic eruptions rather than from meteorites. Only the Crooked Creek structure and the Decatur dome have been confirmed as having resulted from impacts.

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