Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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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, 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.



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