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, August 28, 2016

A Civil War Murder at New Tennessee

Around the middle of July, 1864, a young man named Eli Vansickles was arrested by Union authorities at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, on suspicion of having been an accessory to the murder of a school teacher in the New Tennessee settlement of Ste. Genevieve County in the fall of 1861. On July 20th, an anonymous letter writer told officials that he knew several people who were knowledgeable about the murder, and he forwarded the names of Thomas Arendall, Arendall's wife, and Joseph Townsend as possible witnesses.
Authorities apparently did not locate Joseph Townsend, but they did take a statement from his older brother, John Townsend, on July 29. John Townsend told them that he lived in the New Tennessee settlement (located in the southern part of Ste. Genevieve County) and that it was "generally known in the neighborhood that Andrew Burnett, a rebel, murdered the man and that Eli Vansickles, now under arrest as accessory to said murder, was at the time and place in company with said Burnett and that said Eli Vansickles is also a rebel and was in the Rebel Army."
John Townsend went on to say that, after the murder, he and Joseph Townsend (whom he did not identify as his brother) went to the place where the body was lying dead, that Joseph Townsend helped bury the corpse, that he saw Joseph Townsend take a watch and some other articles off the body before the burial, and that, as far as he knew, Joseph Townsend had never accounted to anyone for those items.
The same day, July 29, William Thomas Arendall also gave a deposition in which he stated that he knew Andrew Burnett, now deceased, was the person who killed the school teacher (name not given), and he recalled the date of the murder as approximately November 1, 1861. He said the school teacher was just passing through and was shot down about 300 yards from his (Arendall's) house. Later that same evening, Arendall saw Burnett at a mill about three-fourths of a mile from where the murder had occurred and that Burnett told him that he was the one who had killed the man and that Vansickles was with him when he did it. Burnett, according to Arendall's testimony, said that both he and Vansickles belonged to Jeff Thompson's Rebel army.
Whether Vansickles (sometimes spelled Van Sickles or Van Sickle) was ever punished for his part in the crime and, if so, how severely, is not known. What is known is that Vansickles continued to live in Ste. Genevieve County after the war and died there on the last day of 1882 after "a long, painful illness."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lynching of Abraham W. Smith

Abraham W. Smith was convicted of murder in Madison County, Missouri, sometime around the early part of 1844. (I have yet to learn the details of his alleged crime.) He was sentenced to hang at the end of June, but the sentence was stayed until September 1. Apparently upset by the slow-turning wheels of justice, a mob tried to execute Smith around the first of June (probably near the time the stay was announced), but they were deterred by another group of citizens.
However, on August 5, a drunken mob broke into the county jail at Fredericktown with axes, crowbars, and other tools. One of the gang went down into the dungeon-like cell, where the prisoner was held in irons, and placed a rope around Smith's neck. The rest of the mob hauled him up by the rope and then dragged him down some stairs and outside to a walnut tree located about fifty yards from the jail. Notwithstanding the fact that he was apparently already dead by the time they reached the tree, the mob strung him up to the tree and let him hang for several minutes. They then let him down, but one of the gang, suspecting Smith might still be alive, insisted that they hang him again. The body was accordingly strung back up until the bloodthirsty mob was sufficiently convinced that life was extinct.
That very night, an inquest was held over Smith's body, and the jury returned a verdict that he had come to his death at the hands of a mob that included men named Jones, Sinclair, Mayse, Pollis, Cox, Blackburn, and Shetley, as well as five other men. Pollis, Cox, Blackburn, Shetley and one other man suspected in the vigilante execution were promptly arrested. Several days later Mayse was spotted at St. Mary's Landing, a small community on the Mississippi River in Ste. Genevieve County. It was presumed he was trying to catch a boat to make his escape. Around the first of October, John Sinclair was recognized on the streets of St. Louis and arrested. Accused of being the man who had placed the rope around Smith's neck, he was taken back to Madison County, where he and several of the other men involved in the lynching of Smith were indicted on charges of murder. However, I have so far been unable to determine the outcome of their cases.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Martha Misner and the Plain View Hotel

Sometime during the first half of 1895, seventy-year-old Martha Misner and her husband, Henry, moved into Springfield, Missouri, from an outlying farm and took up quarters in some rooms over a store near the corner of Campbell and College streets. The couple didn't sell their rural property but instead used it to secure one or more loans that they took out. They also owned a house at 895 Franklin Avenue in the north part of Springfield, which they rented out to Belle Wilson. Belle, who had a notorious reputation as a prostitute and madam in Springfield dating back to the 1870s, ran the place as a bawdy house.
Martha decided to start her own "sporting business," renting out one or more of her upstairs rooms as trysting places. Police raided the Misner rooms not long after Martha and Henry moved in and arrested two men and two young women whom they found in bed together. (It's not clear that Henry was living with Martha at this time. He might have still been living on the rural property.)
Henry Misner died in 1896, and Belle Wilson vacated the house on Franklin about the same time. Martha moved out of the rooms at Campbell and College and took over the Franklin Avenue property, continuing to run it as a bawdy house. Not long after Martha took possession of the place, a policeman stopped by to levy a fine against her (which was the normal cost of doing business), and Martha told him she couldn't afford to let the house sit idle and that "this is the only way I can get any income from it."
Martha was indeed facing financial difficulty. Within a year or two after her husband died, she defaulted on the loans they had taken out against their farm, and the rural property was put up for sale at auction to pay off the debts.
Apparently Martha simply doubled down on her prostitution business in order to stay afloat financially. In 1899, her "boardinghouse" on Franklin was still going strong as the main bawdy house in Springfield. Often called the Plain View Hotel, its name hinted at its method of operation. Gentlemen callers were received by Rosa Cameron, who managed the place for Martha and also entertained guests herself on occasion. Rosa would summon the girls from the upstairs rooms to come downstairs and line up in "plain view" so that the men could pick out the girl they wanted. The customers paid Rosa before escorting the girl of their choice back upstairs. They were charged from $1.00 to $5.00, depending on how long they stayed and other factors, and at the end of each day, Rosa gave half of the money back to the girls in accordance with how much each one had brought in. One girl testified to a grand jury that she usually brought in about $60 to $100 a month, which she had to split with Martha to pay for her room and board. Occasionally Martha or one of her girls might be summoned to police court, but usually they simply paid periodic fines ranging from $6 to $10 directly to police officers. In other words, prostitution was a money-making operation not just for the girls and the madams but for the cops as well. If any of Martha's girls wanted to leave the Plain View at night, they normally had to pay the madam $2.50 as compensation for the lost income.
Martha Misner continued to operate the Plain View Hotel, or the White House as it was also called, until at least 1908. It was one of the few authentic bordellos in Springfield, if not the only one, during the turn-of-century era, although a large number of sporting girls worked out of boardinghouses and hotels on a freelance basis during the aughts and teens. Martha Misner died in July 1912 and is buried at Hazelwood Cemetery beside her husband, Henry. For more information on Martha Misner and Springfield prostitution in general, see my book Wicked Springfield, Missouri.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Murder of Jacob Woolford

I have written quite a bit about murders and other incidents of violence in Missouri and surrounding states during the late 1800s that were motivated largely by personal and political hatred left over from the Civil War, but of course there were even more such incidents that occurred during the war. One was the killing of Jacob Woolford in Reynolds County, Missouri, in August of 1861.
On Monday, August 26, a party of about ten Southern men called at a mill run by Jacob Woolford on one of the forks of the Black River north of Lesterville. Woolford was a Union sympathizer who had apparently incurred the ire of one or more of the Southern men. When he appeared at the door of his mill, several of the men opened fire killing him almost instantly. After the murder, the gang found two Union soldiers at the mill and took them prisoner.
The identity of the killers remained unknown or unclear for a number of months. Finally, during the latter part of 1862, Edmond Falkenberry was arrested as a suspect in the murder, and he gave a full statement about the crime to the provost marshal at Pilot Knob on December 5, 1862. He named himself, James Stout, James A. McClurg, E.G. Clay, John Quigley, Joseph Quigley, Albert Wilson, William Wilson, Tolbert Hunt, Thomas Falkenberry (Edmond's brother), and William H. Copeland as participants in the incident. Edmond Falkenberry said that John Quigley was the "captain" of their squad, and he identified James McClurg and William Wilson as two of the principals in the actual murder. He said McClurg fired the first shot, and that Albert Wilson later told him that he (Wilson) had fired the shot that actually killed Woolford. Falkenberry himself claimed not to have been on the immediate premises of the mill when Woolford was shot but instead was some distance away. He also said that, as far as he knew, his group only planned to capture Woolford and take him south, either as a prisoner or a conscript, to the camp of Brigadier General William J. Hardee, who was organizing troops for the Confederacy in Arkansas. Falkenberry said he did not know that any of his comrades wanted to kill Woolford.
Sometime around the first part of 1863, James Stout and James McClurg were arrested for their part in the crime, tried and convicted by military commission, and sentenced to death. The two were shipped to St. Louis to await the execution of the sentence, but McClurg escaped, either in route or shortly after arrival. Stout also escaped a short time later.
William Copeland surrendered voluntarily about the time of Falkenberry's statement and was held for his part in the killing of Woolford. He was sent to St. Louis with a recommendation for lenient treatment since he had surrendered voluntarily and had complied with the terms of his parole. He later was either tried and found not guilty or was pardoned and released. Falkenberry and his brother also appear to have been given lenient treatment in the Woolford killing.
Most of the rest of the men involved, however, remained at large, and they had still not been captured in February 1869, four years after the war, when Missouri governor Joseph W. McClurg offered a reward of two hundred dollars each for their apprehension. Apparently, however, they were never brought to justice.

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