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, July 30, 2016

Murder of A.M.F. Hudson

Alexander McFarland Hudson was a lawyer and editor of a Republican newspaper in Lebanon, Missouri, during the Civil War era. A strong Union man during the pre-war unrest and early part of the war, he voted for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election and was personally acquainted with the president. In the summer of 1862, Hudson was appointed to the Laclede County Board by Union brigadier general E.B. Brown, commanding the Southwest Missouri District. He was named a lieutenant colonel of the local Enrolled Missouri Militia about the same time. So, it’s clear he was still in good standing with Union officials at this time.
Hudson, though, was not altogether without sympathy for the Southern cause, or at least for certain Southern men, even at this stage of the war. In May of 1862, shortly before his appointment to the county board, he wrote to Union officials on behalf of his acquaintance Rufus Phillips, a strong Southern man who was being held prisoner in St. Louis on charges of disloyalty.
It was not until the fall of 1862, however, that Hudson had a real change of heart, or so his critics said. In October, he was held prisoner by Confederate forces, and in January of 1863, not long after he was released, a Union scout returned from spying among Rebel forces and reported that Hudson, while he was a prisoner, told his captors that, if they attacked Lebanon, he and his E.M.M. regiment would go over to their side.
Acting on this intelligence, Lieutenant William Gibbs, Union provost marshal at Lebanon, gathered evidence to support the allegation of disloyalty. On January 11, he took a number of depositions from local men who knew Hudson. Although a few stated that, as far as they knew, Hudson was loyal, several others accused him of uttering disloyal statements. One man said he’d heard Hudson say just the previous day that the Rebels would take Lebanon and Laclede County and that “Lincoln would have to give it up.” The witness also said he had heard Hudson say that Union men were just as bad as Rebels in stealing and plundering. Another man stated that he heard Hudson say he wouldn’t follow such a set of thieves as the Federal troops at Lebanon and that the men calling him a Rebel didn’t have as much Union blood in them as he (Hudson) had in his little finger. The man added, however, that he didn’t think Union men would put up bonds for Rebels as Hudson had done. (This might have been, at least in part, a reference to Hudson’s support of Rufus Phillips.) Yet another deponent claimed Hudson was elated by the recent (January 8) Confederate attack on Springfield and that he was one of the strongest and most dangerous Rebels in the area.
The fact that several witnesses against Hudson mentioned his statements opposing theft by Union soldiers supports a statement in the 1889 History of Laclede County that the root cause of Hudson’s clash with Union authorities was that he would not overlook depredations by Federal troops, as many other Union men did.
Lieutenant Gibbs had Hudson arrested and escorted to St. Louis as a prisoner on or about January 20, 1863. Hudson got no farther than Rolla before prominent Union men interceded on his behalf. Among those who wrote letters to Union authorities protesting the arrest and vouching for Hudson’s loyalty were Colonel John M. Glover, commander of the Rolla District; and J.W. Thrailkill, a prominent Rolla physician.
Hudson was released at Rolla on his parole of honor that he would travel to St. Louis on his own and report to Union authorities there on January 25. After he reached St. Louis, the charges against him were dropped, and he returned home a free man. Resentment against Hudson lingered, however, among some Union soldiers and citizens.
On July 17, 1863, Hudson was killed about ten miles east-northeast of Lebanon on Bear Creek along the Rolla road. A coroner’s jury examined Hudson’s mutilated body the next day and concluded he’d been shot several times and stabbed once, as he was walking toward Lebanon.
An investigation by Colonel Joseph Gravely, commanding the post at Lebanon, revealed that a Union wagon train had passed the location where the body was found near the time residents of the area reported hearing gunshots, and the soldiers of the escort were suspected of the crime. George Johnson and John Rupell, members of Gravely’s 8th Missouri State Militia, came under particular scrutiny. They were seen off by themselves on the morning of the murder near the place and time the crime occurred. The two men testified, however, that they had not even seen Hudson on the morning he was killed. After several teamsters, members of the escort, and citizens living near the scene of the crime were interviewed, Gravely decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges, and his superior officer, Brigadier General John McNeil, concurred.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer of 1954

The temperatures in the Ozarks have been pretty hot this summer but probably not much more so, if any, than normal. In fact, July has so far, as of the 22nd, probably not been quite as hot as usual. At least, I know that in Springfield the month of June had more really hot days than July has so far, and that is the opposite of what we normally expect in the region. The high temperature thus far in Springfield this year has been 96 degrees recorded on June 22, again on June 23, and finally matched yesterday (July 21). June also had two other days with a high temperature of 95 degrees and one day with a high temperature of 94 degrees. By contrast, the hottest Springfield temperature in July before yesterday was 93 recorded on the 18th. The high temperature so far this year in both Rolla and Joplin, 96 and 98 respectively, also occurred in June, on the 22nd. I should add, however, that the forecast for the next couple of days calls for rising temperatures; so we’re not out of the woods yet as far as extremely hot July temperatures are concerned.
My overall point, though, is that so far the summer of 2016 has not been an extremely hot one. At least not when you compare it to the hottest summer on record, which was 1954. During that summer, Springfield had thirteen days on which the thermometer reached triple digits. Joplin, located seventy miles to the west and nearer the Great Plains, where temperatures are almost always somewhat hotter than they are in the Ozarks, recorded an astounding thirty-nine days on which the temperature topped 100. Eighteen of those days happened in July, including twelve straight days from July 11 through July 21. During that span, the temperature reached 114 on July 14, the hottest temperature on record for Joplin. Springfield had an all-time record high of 113 the same day. Rolla topped out on July 14 at 109 or 113 (depending on the source), and the mercury there reached triple digits a total of ten times during the summer of 1954.
I vaguely recall the intense heat of the summer of 1954, when I would have been seven years old. Actually, I don't recall the specific year. I only recall that during a couple of the summers of my childhood, when I was growing up in the Springfield area, it was extremely hot. It has been only during my adulthood, after I read or was told that 1953 and 1954 were unusually hot summers, that I've concluded those must have been the years I remember as being very hot. We didn't have air conditioning, either, back in those days, but somehow the heat didn't bother me much. I'd hate to be without air conditioning this summer, even though it hasn’t been one of the hottest summers on record thus far. I think it would bother me a lot, but, of course, I'm not seven anymore. Temperature extremes don't seem to bother kids the way they do adults, especially older adults like me. At least they didn't bother me and my childhood friends when we had important things to do like playing baseball or going fishing.
I should probably add that, by pointing out that the hottest summer in the Ozarks occurred over sixty years ago, I am not trying to deny that the earth is getting warmer overall. The trend of year-round temperatures for the whole globe is definitely upward. Of the sixteen hottest years on record for worldwide average temperature, all but one of them have occurred since 2001. So, global warming is definitely real.
It’s just that the summer of 1954 happened to be abnormally hot in this little part of the world.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Would-Be Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde's notorious reputation had become so ubiquitous by the spring of 1934, shortly before their deaths, that false sightings of the desperate duo were not unusual. One example occurred in Texas County, Missouri, in early May, just weeks before the real Bonnie and Clyde were killed in Louisiana.
On the night of May 2, an automobile with two young men and a young woman pulled into a filling station at Cabool, and something about them aroused the station attendant's suspicion. The older of the young men and the woman appeared to be a couple, and the other young man seemed to be along for the ride. The attendant concluded that the threesome might be Bonnie and Clyde and a male sidekick, and he notified authorities.
Highway patrolmen Nathan Massie and Ben Graham answered the call. They caught up with the suspect vehicle just north of Cabool, and a brief exchange of fire ensued. Breaking contact once again, the fugitives abandoned their vehicle, and the two men took to the woods, leaving the young woman behind.
Coming upon the abandoned car, the officers placed the young woman under arrest. She gave her name as Florence Iseley and said she didn't even know who the two young men were, because she had simply hitched a ride with them near Charleston, Missouri.
Bloodhounds were called in to help track down the two young men. The dogs located the fugitives' hiding place late the next day, May 3, and another exchange of gunfire ensued. The older young man was killed, and the other one was shot in the arm and surrendered. The wounded man gave his name as Walter Allen and said he thought the other man was Harry Williams of Evansville, Indiana, although Allen, too, claimed at first just to be a hitchhiker. He soon changed his story, however, admitting that the dead man was his older brother, Edgar Allen, and that the woman was his brother's wife.
Young Allen said he was from Quincy, Illinois, was 18 years old, and had been released from the Algoa Reformatory near Jefferson City only four months earlier, having originally been sent there from Hannibal, Missouri.
A shotgun, some burglary tools, some ammunition, and some merchandise thought to have been stolen was found inside the abandoned vehicle. Notified of the shootout, officers in Quincy said the brothers were wanted there for theft of an automobile from a showroom on March 29 and that they had tried unsuccessfully to sell the car in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Both Walter Allen and his sister-in-law were lodged in the Texas County jail at Houston, but I'm not sure what happened to them after that.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Kidnapping and Murder of Dr. J.C.B. Davis

On Tuesday, January 26, 1937, as Dr. J.C.B. Davis of Willow Springs, Missouri, was leaving his office, he was approached by a young man who introduced himself as "Mr. James" and said his wife was ill and needed the doctor's help at their home in rural Willow Springs. Davis left with the stranger and did not return in a timely manner. The next day, he was reported to authorities as missing, and Missouri State Highway Patrol began an investigation.
A ransom letter, mailed from West Plains and postmarked January 28, was received the following day, Friday the 29th, and FBI agents were sent to Willow Springs to join the investigation. Opening with the salutation "Dear friend," the letter was written in the doctor's handwriting, meaning the kidnapper had forced Davis to write his own ransom letter. It demanded that $5,000 be paid in four $1,000 bills, nine $100 bills, and five $20 bills. It threatened the doctor with death if the family did not comply, and it contained instructions for delivering the money.
The same day, January 29, Davis's medical kit was found about thirteen miles southwest of Willow Springs in the North Fork River. This no doubt raised fears that the doctor had already been foully dealt with, but nevertheless Davis's son-in-law, following the letter's instructions, drove along the road between Willow Springs and Ava after dark looking for a white flag that the letter said would mark the spot where the ransom money was to be dropped, but the son-in-law, his vision obscured by heavy fog, failed to find a white flag.
On Monday, February 2, Davis's wife received a second note, written in unfamiliar handwriting, renewing the demand for $5,000 in ransom and directing that it should be delivered by 9:00 p.m. February 4th.
Meanwhile, acting on a tip from a person who had seen the doctor and the young man in an automobile together on the day of the doctor's disappearance, highway patrol officers located, early on the morning of February 3, an automobile matching the witness's description at the home of Samuel Kenyon in Grimmet, a small community northwest of West Plains about halfway between West Plains and the North Fork River where the medical bag was found. Officers identified Kenyon's twenty-one-year-old son, Robert, as a suspect in the kidnaping, and during a search of the residence, they found a notebook pad with the top sheet containing barely legible indentations that matched the words and handwriting of the second ransom note. Young Kenyon was also in possession of a .25 caliber automatic pistol, and it was determined that the suspect automobile found on the premises had been stolen from Rolla a few months earlier.
Robert Kenyon confessed to kidnapping and killing Davis, and he led officers to the doctor's body in a brushy area just off Highway 63 near Olden, Missouri. Davis was found face down clutching a pair of gloves in one hand and a checkbook in the other. It was concluded upon close inspection and further investigation that the doctor had been killed shortly after he was kidnapped, having been shot while in the act of trying to write a check to pay his own ransom. The only explanation Kenyon could offer for his desperate deed was that he wanted money so that he and his girlfriend could get married.
Kenyon was arrested and taken back to Willow Springs but quickly whisked away to Kansas City early the same morning (Feb. 3) to avert feared vigilantism. Kidnapping and first-degree murder charges were filed against him later the same day. His trial was held in July at the Oregon County seat of Alton on a change of venue. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Kenyon's lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the verdict was upheld. Kenyon was executed in the gas chamber at Jefferson City on April 28, 1939. He was the first person to be put to death in Missouri by gas, as execution by hanging had recently been abolished.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Murder of Minnie Grimes and Swift Retribution

In the spring of 1886, a young man in his mid to late twenties named Francis "Frank" Lyle, who lived with his brother north of Hume, Missouri, near the state line, was courting a seventeen-year-old girl named Minnie Grimes, who lived just across the border in Linn County, Kansas. At some point, the courtship developed into a serious romance, or so Lyle thought, but by May, as Frank pressed her to marry him, Minnie started trying to extricate herself from the relationship. Her parents reportedly opposed the match, partly because of the age difference.
Minnie had also developed an interest in another young man, William Scott, and on Sunday evening, May 9th, she went out with her new beau, infuriating Lyle. The next day, he left his brother's house, packing a .22 revolver, and trekked into Hume to buy cartridges and a pint of whiskey. He then hiked across the border to Minnie's house, drinking the whiskey along the way to steel his nerves. At the Grimes residence, Lyle was told Minnie was at the nearby home of Henry Spencer. He then struck out across the field toward the Spencer place.
Minnie was walking along the road near the Spencer residence with Mrs. Spencer when the girl saw Lyle coming toward them a little after four o'clock in the afternoon. Minnie told her companion that the young man probably wanted to see her, and she walked out to meet him. Lyle demanded to know once again whether Minnie would marry him, and when she still refused, he promptly pulled out his revolver and started firing. Minnie fell at the second shot but recovered and ran toward the Spencer house. Lyle then unloaded his pistol, firing the rest of his cartridges into her back. Meanwhile, Mrs. Spencer, at the first fire, ran toward a nearby field to alert her husband.
Minnie fell again as she neared the Spencer home, and Lyle walked up, calmly reloaded his revolver, and again emptied it into Minnie's now-lifeless body. All told, he reportedly fired from ten to fourteen shots. For good measure, he slashed her throat with his pocket knife after firing out all his cartridges and then picked up a fence board and clubbed her face "to a jelly."
Henry Spencer and a neighbor named Howard, whose aid he had enlisted, reached the scene shortly afterward and found Lyle still there, supposedly guarding the body, as he said, to keep predatory animals away. He offered little resistance, freely admitting that he had done the bloody deed and was "d----d glad of it." He said he would "learn these western girls that when they promised to marry a man, they would keep their word."
Spencer tied the villain up while Howard guarded him with a shotgun, and they then summoned authorities. One or more law officers arrived to take charge of the criminal, but, in the meantime, a mob formed and promptly took Lyle into custody themselves. A man who was passing the scene in a buggy stopped to inquire what was going on. Informed of the situation, he asked one of the mob whether they expected to wait until dark before stringing the desperado up. The vigilante replied that they "didn't expect to wait a minute," and the passerby got back in his buggy and drove away so as not to be a part of the grisly incident. At least one report, however, said the lynching did not take place until about nine or ten o'clock that evening (May 10), when the vigilantes strung the murderer up to a tree at the head of Walnut Creek just inside Kansas, about a mile north and three and one-half miles west of Hume.
Lyle was left hanging all night, and his body was not cut down until about 11:00 a.m. the next morning, when an inquest was held at the scene. Afterward, Lyle's body was turned over to his brother, G.T. Lyle. Meanwhile, Minnie was buried in the Littell Cemetery at Pleasanton, Kansas.

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