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, January 29, 2017

Webster County's Only Lynching

On the morning of February 23, 1892, Hiram Shaw of Marshfield, Missouri, awoke and found his adopted four-year-old son, Clifford, missing from his bed and nowhere to be found in the house. Shaw gave an alarm and law officers commenced a determined search for the child. Suspicion rested at once on Richard Cullen, Shaw's 22-year-old stepson. Cullen was considered a "wild, reckless youth" who for several years previous had been out west raising hell. He had recently come to Missouri to stay with his mother and stepfather, and it was known that he was jealous of the little boy, who'd been left on the steps of a prominent Marshfield citizen's home as a newborn and subsequently taken in by the Shaws. Shaw had recently adopted the boy, and Cullen feared he would leave everything he owned to the adopted son rather than the stepson.
Cullen was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping as the search continued for the little boy. Suspicion grew throughout the day that little Clifford had been murdered, and about 5:00 p.m. searchers decided to drag a pond and search an old well near the Shaw residence. Tracks in the snow leading from the well to the residence and footprints in the mud around the well that matched Richard Cullen's boots further fastened suspicion on Cullen, and after a few casts into the stagnant water of the well with a grabbing hook, the body of the little boy, dressed in his night clothes, was brought to the surface. Investigators almost immediately concluded that they were looking at a case of premediated murder. A heavy car link (used to hook railroad cars together) was wired to the child's neck, and physicians examined the body and found no bruises or wounds, indicating that the boy was thrown into the well while still alive.
The county coroner, who was among the searching party, had the body taken to the courthouse, where he impanelled a jury. The inquest began that very evening and continued the next day. Among the witnesses interviewed was Sarah Shaw, Richard Cullen's mother. She testified that she put the little boy to bed about 8 p.m. on the night of the 22nd in the room where both he and Richard usually slept. She said Richard came home from uptown about 11 p.m., went into his room, and then came into her room and told her Clifford was missing. She got up to check, confirmed that the child was missing, and then went back to bed. At the conclusion of the inquest, Richard was charged with murder, and his mother was charged as an accomplice, because of the indifference she'd exhibited during the inquest.
On the night of February 26, about 150 quiet and determined men gathered on the west side of the Marshfield square about 9:15 p.m. The mob, armed with firearms and sledgehammers, soon marched to the jail and demanded the keys to Cullen's cell. Sheriff John Wesley Hubbard and his deputies put up a token resistance, but realizing that a stout stand would likely result in loss of lives, including their own, they soon handed over the keys. The mob went upstairs to Cullen's cell, where they found the prisoner in his underwear. They bound his hands, put a rope around his neck, and went back downstairs leading Cullen by the rope. He was taken to east side of the courthouse, and the other end of the rope was looped over a limb of a maple tree about nine feet above the ground. Asked whether he was guilty of killing the little boy, Cullen replied with cool indifference that he was innocent. He was then asked whether his mother was guilty, and he said he knew nothing about her.
Did he have anything else to say, the leader of the mob asked. "Pull your damn rope," Cullen replied.
"Enough!" the mob leader announced. "Pull away, boys!"
About twenty hands took hold of the rope and pulled, and "Dick Cullen's soul passed into eternity," according to a contemporaneous newspaper account. The body was left hanging as the mob departed, but, at the coroner's direction, it was cut down at 11:00 p.m., about an hour after Cullen was strung up.
Rolla Herald, March 3, 1892, Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, March 1, 1892, History of Webster County by Floy Watters George.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


I think I've mentioned on here before some of the various ways that towns in the Ozarks (and elsewhere) came into existence and why they were situated where they were. Of course, the sites for many of the very earliest ones were chosen because of their proximity to an important waterway. Rivers and creeks were the main way of transporting goods and, to a lesser extent, people in the early days. When counties were formed, sometimes new towns were formed at the same time to serve as county seats, and a location near the center of the new county was usually selected as the site for the new town. During the post-Civil War era, a lot of towns sprang up at or near sites where lead or some other mineral was discovered. Also, in the latter 1800s, especially the 1880s, a lot of towns, as I have recently discussed, came into existence as health resorts because springs that were supposed to have curative powers were discovered nearby. Perhaps more towns came into existence because of railroads, though, than any other way. Railroad construction generally started in the Ozarks after the Civil War (although a few places on the periphery of the region had railroads a few years prior to the war) and continued into the first couple of decades of the 20th century.
One example of a railroad town was Clever, Missouri. Clever actually began about 1890 as a crossroads community where the Springfield to Billings road intersected the Old Wire Road. However, Clever did not amount to much at all until at least 1905 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad began building a line from Springfield to Crane that passed through Clever. The town of Clever was not officially platted until then, and it didn't really start growing until a year or so after that.
A correspondent of the Springfield Republican visited Clever in the fall of 1911 and reported on its remarkable growth since he'd last been there five years earlier. He said that, when he was there in 1906, Clever had but one dwelling house and one store building approaching completion, and the rails for the Missouri Pacific road had been laid as far as Clever but no farther. Blasting to build the road bed on to Crane was still taking place. By contrast, when he returned in 1911, he found Clever booming with a population of about 500 people. There were three brick business buildings completed and occupied, one approaching completion, and one more planned. There were two concrete business buildings and one of pressed steel completed and two more concrete buildings planned. The recently erected public school building was also of brick.
The businesses included a bank, a flour mill, a canning factory, a lumber yard, a grain elevator, a harness shop, two general stores, one hardware store, four grocery stores, three drug stores, one restaurant, two hotels, two produce dealers, one livery stable, two barber shops, one newspaper, two blacksmith shops, and one livestock firm. The town also had a lawyer, a real estate agent, a photographer, a veterinarian, a cobbler, a school for grades 1-8, three churches, four doctors, and four fraternal organizations. There were no saloons.
The three churches were the Baptist, the Methodist, and the Christian. The first two had full-time ministers, while the Christian Church's pulpit was filled by supply ministers.
Professor A.M. Little, aided by Prof. Rolla Hodges, ran the school. It had about 110 pupils distributed in the eight grades, and plans were underway to offer ninth grade work in algebra, geography, history, and literature.
The land around Clever was said to be very fertile and productive. In the year just ended on September 1, 1911, Clever had shipped out 62 train cars of cattle, 60 cars of hogs, 15 cars of sheep, one car of mules, 37 cars of wheat, 28 of flour, 22 of corn, 4 of oats, 4 of apples, and 5 of tomatoes. In addition, the town had shipped 800 crates of chickens, 2,000 cases of eggs, about 3,500 pounds of wool, $600 worth of hides, and about 3,500 pounds of butter. One firm alone shipped 5,000 rabbits during the previous year and $300 worth of turkeys in one month.
Land close to Clever cost on average $100 an acre; beyond a two-mile radius it cost about $50 an acre, while hilly, unimproved land or wooded land could be had for about $10 an acre.
Clever leaned Democrat in its politics, even though the township and county (Christian) were solidly Republican.
The railroad boom passed, and Clever declined as a hub of business activity. I think it also declined, or at least became stagnant, in its population growth. I don't recall Clever having more than 400 or 500 people when I taught school there in the late 1960s. But, of course, it has grown a lot in recent years, along with a number of other so-called bedroom communities around Springfield. It's population today is well over 2,000.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cross Timbers

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the heyday of Windyville, a small community that was located in northeast Dallas County about ten miles northeast of Buffalo. Actually, I guess I should say it still is located there, what's left of it.
Another town in the same general vicinity that is well past its prime is Cross Timbers, located about 29 miles north of Buffalo on Highway 65 in northern Hickory County. While present-day Cross Timbers amounts to quite a bit more than Windyville, it is, as I say, well past its prime. Back in the day, though, it was a booming little town.
A correspondent to the Springfield Republican in October of 1911 gave an overview of Cross Timbers at the time. The town and its surroundings, said the correspondent, was "not a paradise for the shiftless, but a land of great promise for the willing worker."
Cross Timbers had a population of about 400 people at the time. It had a state bank with over $100,000 in assets. Other businesses included a flour mill, five general stores, one 25-room hotel, one confectionary, one furniture store, a barber shop, a photo gallery, an undertaking business, two blacksmiths, and one restaurant.
The town also had one doctor, one lawyer, and two churches. One of the churches had a full-time minister, while the other pulpit was filled by supply ministers.
The Cross Timbers school was a four-room brick building that cost $4,000 to build. The school was mainly for grades 1-8, but it also offered high school work if demand warranted. The school had two teachers who had completed normal school training, a library, and "other necessary equipment." The school had 82 students, fielded a basketball team, and offered "commodious grounds for exercise."
The town had two active fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen.
The correspondent noted that the sentiment of the townspeople was strongly anti-saloon, and Cross Timbers had no saloons.
Dairy farming was the dominant occupation of the citizens in the countryside around Cross Timbers.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rocky Comfort Fires

Fires are still a big threat, especially wildfires in the West, but in general fire is not as much of a menace nowadays as it used to be. Stoves, flues, and other heating apparatuses were not as safe in the old days as they generally are today, and communities were not as equipped as they are nowadays to fight fires when they did break out. My limited research on the subject suggests to me that there are probably few towns and villages in the Ozarks that have not suffered at least one devastating fire in their history. Rocky Comfort, located in northeastern McDonald County near the Barry and Newton county lines, is a good example. Its business district has suffered at least three significant fires in its history.
On Sunday night, February 15, 1925, a fire occurred in Rocky Comfort that destroyed the building where both the Oddfellows and Masons met. All the books and records of both lodges were lost. Shelley's store and another business building were also destroyed.
On Friday night, October 7, 1938, an even more devastating fire hit Rocky Comfort. Seven business buildings and practically all their contents were destroyed. The fire started in W. G. Roberts's hardware store and spread rapidly to adjacent buildings, including Harrell Lily's general store, Virgil Ford's grocery, a combination restaurant and hardware store, Lon Milligan's general store, a building owned by E.B. Montgomery that had been used to can and store tomatoes, Bill Butram's shoe store, Fred Ridenour's store, and W.G. Roberts's dwelling. The windows of the post office cracked from the heat. The fire "almost cleaned out the business section" of Rocky Comfort, according to the Neosho Times.
A fire in the wee hours of the morning on June 9, 1954, destroyed the George Parrish grocery store in Rocky Comfort. The blaze started in the rear of the building, where Mr. Parrish, his wife, and their son were asleep in their living quarters. The family escaped without injury. Wheaton's fire department responded to the blaze and was credited with preventing it from spreading to the post office across the street and a nearby garage. Damage was estimated at $6,000 to the building and $10,000 to its contents.
Nowadays not much remains of Rocky Comfort, but not because of fire. Like a lot of small communities, it has dwindled in importance over the years, especially since it lost its high school in the mid-1960s.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Now virtually extinct, Windyville, Missouri, was located in Dallas County about 15 miles northeast of Buffalo. I recall that, when I was in high school in the early to mid 1960s at Fair Grove, Windyville still had a high school. In fact, I think we even played them a time or two in basketball. Windyville lost its high school a year or two after I graduated. I might be wrong, but I think 1965-66 was the last school year before Windyville consolidated with Buffalo. Windyville had already been losing population and businesses in the mid-1960s at the time of the consolidation, but the school closing hastened the town's demise. The last time I visited Windyville was around the mid-1970s, and it was basically already a ghost town. I was writing an article for the Ozarks Mountaineer about small towns that had lost their high schools, and at that time Windyville's old high school building was still standing. I'm not sure whether that's still the case or not, but I'm thinking maybe not. Seems I might have heard many years ago that it was destroyed.
At any rate, after Windyville's demise, legends arose saying that the town's remaining buildings and its cemeteries were haunted. I don't know about that, because, as I said, I haven't visited the place in many years. Besides, I tend not to give much credence to ghost stories, but I guess some people enjoy them.
Regardless of whether the place is haunted, there's very little at Windyville nowadays to suggest that it ever mounted to much, but, in fact, it was a pretty booming little community back in the day.
Like most small towns in the Ozarks, Windyville had a tomato canning factory during the early to mid-nineteenth century when tomatoes were mostly grown on small, locally owned farms rather than large commercial farms as they are today. Apparently Windyville's canning factory was a cut above the typical such operation. During the growing season of 1925, the Windyville factory canned 96,000 cans of tomatoes, which was some kind of record at the time, at least for Windyville. The champion grower of the area was Frank Dugan, who produced 18,570 pounds of tomatoes gathered off a single acre, netting Mr. Dugan $111.42.
Windyville High School fielded a basketball team at least as early as the 1920s, and the school had some pretty good teams for a small school. They even competed against and held their own with larger schools like Lebanon. I recently came across a newspaper story from December 1928 reporting on a Windyville High School basketball game against Elkland (which is another virtual ghost town that lost its high school many years ago). The Windyville Bulldogs defeated the Elkland five by a score of 35-23. D. Triplett for Windyville and R. Pursel for Elkland were named the outstanding stars of the game for their respective teams.
On Wednesday, November 25, 1936, the Windyville High School building burned down. The fire was believed to have been caused by a defective flue. A basket dinner and student program involving children from four different Dallas County grade schools had just been held before the fire broke out. Two days later plans were being made to resume classes at the high school the following Monday by utilizing the community building and purchasing used textbooks at a discount in Kansas City. Plans were also already being discussed to build a new building for the district's sixty-four high school students.
So, I guess when I described the Windyville High School that I remember as the "old high school building," I was employing a fairly loose meaning of the word "old," because the building was apparently less than 30 years old when Windyville consolidated with Buffalo. .

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