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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Shobetown

Shobe (aka Shobetown or Shobe Town) is an extinct town that was located in Bates County, Missouri, about two miles northwest of Rich Hill. Similar to Rich Hill, it was founded during the early 1880s as a mining town when coal was discovered in the area. In fact, the original mines were mostly located in the Shobe area, even though they were usually called the Rich Hill mines. According to a couple of sources, Shobe was named after Haley Shobe, but the best evidence I can come up with seems to indicate that it was actually named after Haley's older half brother, Hudson Shobe. A businessman living in Butler when the mines started up, Hudson Shobe moved to the area and opened a store. He was also an early postmaster of the place; so presumably the post office was located in his store, which was a common arrangement for small communities in the 1800s.
Like most mining towns, Shobe had something of an unsavory reputation in its early days. One citizen of the place complained to the Butler Weekly Times in mid 1885 that there was a petition circulating at Shobe to get another saloon for the place. If the effort succeeded, the correspondent said, "Shobe will be one of the most noted places in the county, as it is now hardly fit for respectable people to live in." The writer concluded that he hoped the county court would keep the law-abiding folks of the area in mind and require that such an initiative have a two-thirds majority vote of the township's citizens for passage.
The most notorious incident in Shobe's history occurred on the evening of November 16, 1896, when miner John "Pussy" Young shot and killed fellow miner Frank Terrell at Abe Tetlock's saloon located about a half-mile west of Shobe. The saloon was about midway between two mines, and the miners from both places would usually gather there at the end of each day's work to drink beer and swap lies. On the evening in question, Terrell was in the saloon, having already had a drink or two, when Young, who'd owned the saloon before Tetlock bought it, entered the place. Hearing Terrell say that he was raffling off a shotgun, Shobe spoke up and said he'd take a chance on the gun. Terrell told him, "No, you will not take a chance on my gun."
This angered Young, and the two men got into a heated argument and had to be separated by Tetlock. After the barkeeper stepped aside, though, the quarrel was renewed, and it escalated into a violent confrontation. Terrel threw out his hand as if to emphasize one of his points, and Young immediately drew a revolver, which had been concealed, and shot Terrel in the forehead. Terrel slumped to the floor gravely wounded. Two doctors were summoned from Rich Hill, but Terrel was beyond help when they arrived. He died about two hours after he was shot.
Meanwhile, Young went directly to Rich Hill and turned himself in to the city marshal about nine p.m. Later that night, a deputy took the prisoner via train to Butler, where he was lodged in the Bates County jail. He was charged with first-degree murder, but the trial, originally set for March 1897, was continued until the June term. I have found no record of Young having ever been convicted of murder or having ever served time in the Missouri state prison, which indicates to me that either he was acquitted or the charges against him must have been dropped or reduced. If he had been convicted of murder, newspapers of the day would surely have noted this fact.
Shobe lasted only another couple of years after this murder. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was pretty much a ghost town.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Siloam Springs

Last time, I wrote about Aurora Springs, one of the many resort towns that sprang up in the Ozarks during the mineral-water craze that swept across America in the late nineteenth century. Continuing that theme, let's take look at another such town, Siloam Springs, Missouri.
Dr. Jonathan Brown already owned land in northwest Howell County when he discovered some springs on his property in 1877 and began developing the site into a health resort the following year. He named the place Brown Springs and put in a small bath house and showers. Later, at the suggestion of his daughter, he renamed the resort Siloam Springs after the healing pool mentioned in the Bible.
D. F. Martin resigned his job as county treasurer of neighboring Iron County in the summer of 1878 and came to Siloam Springs because of his wife’s poor health. By 1880, Martin had acquired the resort from Brown, and he began promoting it heavily. In a letter to the Iron County Register in early July 1880, he told readers that the springs were “making themselves a wonderful reputation for their varied healing virtues in chronic diseases of all forms.”
Siloam Springs was growing rapidly, Martin said. It had 120 dwellings, several hotels or boarding houses, three general stores, two drug stores, and one livery stable. Homes suitable for small families were available to rent for two or three dollars a month.
Touting the almost magical powers of the healing waters of Siloam Springs, Martin said that, since he had come to the place two years earlier, thousands of people had visited the resort, and he had witnessed numerous cases that could only be described as miraculous cures. “So many have come here as a last resort after having been given up as incurable by their physicians, and their looks would seem to verify their conclusions; yet in spite of the judgement of their physicians, and the appearances of the patients, the waters seemed to take hold of them, and in a short time they would be on the highway to health and happiness.”
Martin said he didn’t claim to cure every disease known to man but that he could cure so many that his readers would be astonished if they were to visit. “You will see invalids brought here with the vital spark almost gone out by the wasting element of various chronic diseases, and as if by magic, some will spring into new life…while others more slowly, but none the less sure, will gather up thread by thread…until all is complete.”
Martin went on to enumerate some of the specific diseases and conditions that he and his waters could cure. He said he could cure every case of dropsy brought to the springs, as long as the edema had not been tapped. He could cure falling of the womb, all kinds of chills, and malaria of every form. “On kidney disease of all kinds the water acts like a charm,” Martin claimed. The springs also could cure general and nervous debility, paralysis and rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, and catarrh. The springs could cure consumptive patients whose lungs were not already too far gone. All heart patients benefited from the waters, and half could be cured.
Concluding his spiel, Martin offered a money-back guarantee to any ill person who came to the springs and did not see benefit after two months of treatment under his direction.
About the time of Martin’s letter or shortly thereafter, he laid out the town of Martinsville at the resort, but the new name never took, as the post office and the springs themselves were still called Siloam Springs. Unlike many of the mineral-water towns that sprang up overnight and died about as fast as they came into being, Siloam Springs continued to boom throughout the 1880s and 1890s, when it reached a permanent population of about 600 residents. In the early 1900s, John Woodruff of Springfield acquired the springs and made extensive improvements, including electric lights, a modern sewer system, and playgrounds. The place declined, though, over the years, and Siloam Springs finally lost its post office about 1969.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Aurora Springs

I have previously written about a number of resort towns that sprang up in the Ozarks during the late 1870s and the 1880s, as the mineral-water craze of the late nineteenth century swept across the country. A couple of the places I’ve previously written about that come readily to mind are Indian Springs and Saratoga Springs, both in McDonald County, Missouri.
Another such place was Aurora Springs in northern Miller County, Missouri. Aurora Springs was started in the fall of 1880 and quickly grew into a booming mineral-water resort town. As with all such towns, the waters were advertised as having medicinal qualities, and by the spring and summer of 1881, people were flocking to Aurora Springs seeking cures for all kinds of ailments. The Tuscumbia Osage Valley Banner reported on May 19, for instance, that a little girl was improving rapidly from the effects of “scald head” after using the waters at Aurora Springs. The same issue of the newspaper reported that 1,500 people had attended divine services at Aurora Springs the previous Sunday.
The Banner reported on June 30, 1881, that Colonel J. H. Stover had relocated to Aurora Springs and was now reaping the benefits of the water. The previous Thursday he had supposedly stood alone for the first time in three years.
The Banner reported in the same issue that Aurora Springs was booming. Sick and invalid people were coming in and receiving benefits and then returning home. “Some of the most wonderful cures have been performed,” claimed the newspaper.
The editor urged everybody to go to Aurora Springs for the big Fourth of July celebration and picnic that was being planned. “The largest assembly of people ever witnessed in Miller County” was expected. The newspaperman said the park grounds, hotels, and bath houses wee being put in order for the big event, and he predicted that as many as 5,000 people would probably attend the Independence Day festivities.
The Jefferson City State Tribune of July 10, 1881, confirmed that at least 5,000 people did, indeed, attend the Aurora Springs Fourth of July celebration. “The Springs, as now arranged,” said the Tribune, “is one of the most pleasant points in central Missouri for public meetings and picnics.”
In August of the same year, one issue of the Banner reported that Aurora Springs had gained 100 permanent residents just within the past week. The next month the same paper reported that a woman who had suffered from “milk leg” for twenty years was now improving rapidly as a result of taking the waters of Aurora Springs.
In late 1881 or early 1882, the Missouri Pacific Railroad built a depot about a half mile southwest of Aurora Springs, and the community that grew up around the depot was at first called simply Aurora but soon came to be known as West Aurora. The main railroad line, however, ended up bypassing Aurora Springs and West Aurora altogether and went through Eldon instead, about two miles to the north.
Aurora Springs, however, continued to flourish throughout the 1880s and into the nineties. At its height, it was the most populous town in Miller County, with a population of about 700. It boasted three hotels, three lawyers, four doctors, six churches, and businesses of almost every kind.
A post office at Aurora Springs remained in operation until 1912. The community of Aurora Springs still exists today, but very little remains to suggest its glory days of the past.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lynching of Henry Caldwell

I have mentioned on this blog before that, during the so-called lynching era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Missouri witnessed a lot of extralegal hangings but that a much larger proportion of Missouri's victims were white than was the case in states like Mississippi. Missouri, in this respect, was more like the Old West than the Deep South. Much, but probably not all, of this phenomenon can be explained by the simple fact that Missouri had proportionately fewer blacks than the Deep South. So, I am not saying that Missouri was not the stage for an untoward number of racially motivated lynchings. Indeed, it was. The case I chronicle below is just one example.
On Thursday morning, July 27, 1882, some citizens in downtown Ironton, Missouri, according to the Iron County Register, heard cries for help from a nearby residence and, hurrying to the scene, found Mrs. Peck, a 60-year-old white woman, "struggling and screaming in the disgusting embraces of a black brute," 37-year-old Henry Caldwell, in the yard outside her home. Several men pulled Caldwell off the woman, and he was arrested and committed to the Iron County jail. The next day he was indicted for assault and attempted rape and held in lieu of $10,000 bond.
Caldwell, who was married with at least four children, had previously been considered a bit daft "in his every-day walk and at times out-and-out crazy." Back in May, he'd had one of his "spells" and threatened to kill his mother, his wife, and his children and been arrested for carrying concealed weapons. Apparently, though, as long as Henry was mainly a threat to his own family, no one in Ironton grew too alarmed. But, now in the wake of his arrest for assaulting Mrs. Peck, there was talk of lynching Caldwell, not only as a punishment for his own deed but "to serve as a deterrent to others whose 'craziness' might have a bent in a similar direction."
However, Thursday evening and Friday evening passed without any vigilante demonstration, and it was thought that the law would be allowed to take its course. The early part of Saturday night also passed quietly. About midnight, though, several squads of two or three men each, converged on the public square from different directions. Soon about 30 or 40 men, with blackened faces or wearing masks, had assembled in front of a millinery store, where they took an oath of secrecy. They then placed guards at each corner of the square, while the rest of the mob headed toward the jail.
The horde easily gained access to a corridor leading through the sheriff's two-story residence to the jail, but a heavy iron door at the end of the corridor blocked entry to the jail. An axe was procured, and the first blow to the lock awakened Sheriff William Fletcher from his slumber in his upstairs room. Springing from his bed, he appeared on a landing above the corridor with revolver in hand, but half a dozen revolvers quickly covered him in return. Two men walked up to the landing to relieve him of his weapon, and one of them whispered in his ear, "Bill Fletcher, you're one of my best friends, but, by God, we're going to have that nigger." Vastly outnumbered, Fletcher could do little but watch helplessly as the men proceeded to break down the door leading to the jail.
They forced Fletcher to give up the key to Caldwell's cell, looped a noose around the prisoner's neck, and dragged him outside. The mob took Caldwell on a run to a railroad bridge southeast of Ironton and hurried him up the steps to the center of the bridge. With one end of the rope still tied in a noose around Caldwell's neck, the vigilantes fastened the other end of the rope to a beam of the bridge and threw the condemned man over the parapet. Caldwell clung desperately to the timbers of the bridge until someone slashed through his arm with a knife, causing him to lose his grip and fall. Although he hung suspended, his feet barely touched the ground, and the mob, thinking the hanging might not be sufficient to cause death, immediately opened fire, riddling him with about 30 bullets fired at short range. The crowd then gave a yell and dispersed in all directions.
Advised of the incident about one o'clock on Sunday morning, the county coroner assembled a jury and went down to the bridge. They cut the body down and brought it back to the courthouse, where an inquest quickly yielded the usual verdict that the victim came to his death at the hands of parties unknown to the jury. Caldwell's body rested at the courthouse until 10 a.m. Sunday morning, when it was buried in the local potter's field.
The following week, the editor of the Iron County Register took a stance in sympathy with the mob. He claimed not to be an advocate of lynch-law, "but if there ever can be a case calling justly for its intervention, this was one." The editor said Caldwell's actions during the past few months had been such that he had been forbidden to enter the premises of several people for whom he worked, and "the heads of these families had been keeping him under continual surveillance."
One wonders, of course, how banishment from white homes and constant surveillance differed from the treatment any other black man in 1880s Ironton might have been subject to. One might also reasonably ask what punishment the actual rape of a white woman by a black man merited if the mere attempt to force oneself on a white woman justified lynching.

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