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 seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, and Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Perkins Gang-Part 1

An unusual outbreak of bank robbery in south-central Missouri during the late winter and the spring of 1934 alarmed citizens and local law enforcement officers alike. Most of the holdups were eventually laid at the feet of the notorious Perkins gang.
On February 6, three men held up the Bank of Bunker, located on the Dent-Reynolds county line. Only one of the robbers went inside, while the other two waited outside in the getaway car. The one who went inside held cashier R.A. Hulsey at gunpoint and took $339 from the bank tills. The lone gunman took the cashier hostage and forced him outside and into the waiting vehicle. The bandits escaped on Highway 72 south, releasing Hulsey about a mile outside town. The Bank of Bunker had been robbed in July of 1933, and Hulsey reported that, during his brief ride with the crooks, one of them remarked that they were the same men who'd pulled the previous job. There is no evidence to support this assertion, however, and Hulsey said he did not recognize any of the bandits as the same ones who'd held him up previously.
Three days later, on February 9, bandits, using a similar M.O. as the Bunker robbers, tried to hold up the Bank of Mountain View, about 60 miles southwest of Bunker in northeastern Howell County. One man stayed in the bandit car while another, wearing dark goggles, accosted the cashier when he arrived for work early that morning. Forcing the cashier to open the door, the outlaw ordered him inside. The bank president arrived on the scene about that time and was also herded inside. The would-be robber found no money in the vault, however, and the safe that contained nearly all the loot was on a time lock that could not be opened for another forty minutes or so. Not daring to wait, the bandit left empty-handed. He made his escape in a dark coupe driven by his companion. Later that day, the car was spotted at Summersville, fifteen miles to the north, but the crooks could not be corralled.
A week later, on Friday, February 16, three men held up the Bank of Grandin, about 65 miles east of Mountain View in southeast Carter County. This time, two of the robbers entered the bank while a single getaway driver stayed outside. The crooks escaped with about $400 but not before witnesses got a pretty good look at them and their vehicle, a new Ford Coupe bearing a license plate that had been stolen the previous night from a car in Fremont, 35 miles to the northwest. Late Friday afternoon, three men were arrested on suspicion at Van Buren, the Carter County seat, but they were turned loose after Grandin bank cashier William McKinney viewed them and indicated he didn't think they were the robbers. The next day, brothers Remus and Talmadge Perkins were arrested in Van Buren. Remus, 27, and Talmadge, 24, had grown up in Carter and Shannon County and had a reputation for having been in trouble before. McKinney couldn't identify Talmadge but was inclined to believe Remus was one of the robbers. Talmadge was accordingly let go on Monday. Remus was released on Tuesday after officers traveled to Illinois to check out his alibi, but suspicion continued to rest on the older Perkins brother. (This was also the second time within the past year that the Grandin bank had been robbed, but fairly conclusive evidence exists that the Perkins gang was not involved in the earlier heist.)
Following up on their suspicions, Missouri law officers gave their fellow lawmen in Granite City, Illinois, where Remus Perkins was making his home, a description of the three Grandin bandits and asked them to be on the lookout should the three men get together there. Remus Perkins, Sherman Hodges, and Frank Walker were arrested in the Illinois town in early March as the alleged robbers, and Missouri lawmen, accompanied by Cashier McKinney, trekked to Illinois. This time McKinney positively identified the three men as the culprits, and they were brought back to Missouri and lodged in the Carter County jail at Van Buren. Remus Perkins was released on bond, but Hodges and Walker were not, because they were implicated in the failed Mountain View bank robbery before they could post bond.
The arrest of Remus and his two cohorts wouldn't stop the Perkins gang, though.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lebanon's Magnetic Water

As I mentioned recently on this blog, many resorts sprang up in the Ozarks during the medicinal water craze that swept across the rest of the country in the 1880s. Most of the resorts were located at natural, mineral-water springs that were thought to have curative properties, and the success of the resorts often led to the founding of new towns. However, there was at least one resort that sprang up during the 1880s at a town that was already long established, and the resort was not tied to mineral water from a spring. Lebanon, Missouri, which was established about 1849 as the seat of Laclede County, became a very successful resort destination after a deep well was dug in the town and the water was discovered to have magnetic properties that were thought to be curative.
In the spring of 1888, a deep well was being dug in Lebanon to supply the town with water. When the well reached about 700 feet around the first of May, something peculiar was discovered. Every piece of metal that came into contact with the well-digging equipment would immediately adhere to the augur. The well was eventually dug to a depth of about 1,000 feet, and the water that was taken from it was found to retain its magnetic qualities. Metal that came in contact with the water became magnetized. Not only that, the water also seemed to have electric properties. Holding the ends of two pieces of metal together while the other ends were touching the augur created a circuit so that tiny sparks were visible. Heating the water so that steam was released also caused sparks to fly.
The discovery of these qualities caused great excitement, as the water was almost immediately heralded for its curative properties. A.A. West a former Lebanon postmaster, started using the water almost immediately after the strange properties were discovered and was quickly sold on their curative powers. He had been suffering from rheumatism for ten years, and after being treated for with the water for about ten days, he reportedly discarded his cane. Another man, who had previously taken the waters of Eureka Springs, testified that the magnetic-electric water of Lebanon was every bit as beneficial as the Eureka water. On Saturday, May 19, just two or three weeks after the wonderful properties of the water had been discovered, a crowd estimated at 2,000 people flocked to Lebanon to test the newfound cure, and a Lebanon correspondent to the St. Joseph Weekly Herald concluded, "This well bids fair to pluck laurels from Eureka's crown."
Not everyone was convinced. The editor of the Rolla Herald, for instance, asked rhetorically, if “truth lies at the bottom of a well,” as the old adage says, “what lies at the mouth of the Lebanon Magnetic Electric well?” The Rolla journalist suggested that perhaps the great qualities of the magnetic well were little more than the boasting of Lebanon’s newspapers, the Rustic and the Graphic. Later in 1888, the city of Rolla dug its own “artesian mineral well” and began promoting it in competition with the Lebanon magnetic well. A few months later, a correspondent to the Herald questioned Lebanon’s claims that its magnetic water was superior to the mineral water of places like Eureka Springs and Rolla.
Praise for the healing waters of Lebanon continued throughout the next year. In early August of 1889, a correspondent to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch predicted that Lebanon was "destined to be one of the famous health resorts of our country." Many cures that bordered on the miraculous, said the correspondent, had already been made, especially in healing rheumatism, dyspepsia, and neuralgia. The writer further predicted that Lebanon, a town of 3,000 residents, would become a city of 10,000 people within five years, as many of the folks who came for the healing waters would decide to stay.
The fame of Lebanon's magnetic waters spread until a St. Louis firm decided to purchase the well. In 1890, the company built the elegant Gasconade Hotel, at a price of $80,000. The firm put in electric lights and established a street car service from the train depot to the hotel, so that its total investment in land, buildings, and improvements amounted to $150,000. As well as promoting the resort, the firm also started bottling the water and marketing it through St. Louis drugstores.
Alas, the hotel and the magnetic waters were not as big a success as the investors had envisioned, and Lebanon's fame as a healing resort soon faded. The Gasconade Hotel was converted to a sanitarium after just a few years, and it burned ten years after it was built.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Story of Lizzie Bobbitt

Joplin had more than its share of “sinful sirens” during its early days, but the story of one of them stands out as particularly interesting. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hall married Henry Sanford in Indiana in 1871. The couple moved west, but Sanford deserted Lizzie in early 1873. After her abandonment, Lizzie spent time in Jefferson City, where she reportedly “kept a boarding house for the accommodation of members of the Legislature, from which occupation she made enough money to purchase some fine furniture.” Later, Lizzie lived in Atchison County, Missouri, where she met J. F. Bobbitt, and he started trying to win her affections. In late 1874, he told Lizzie that the mere fact her husband had left her and stayed away for almost two years constituted a legal divorce. Following Lizzie to Joplin, he convinced her to marry him in December, and the couple set up housekeeping at Lone Elm on the north edge of Joplin.
Lizzie, though, was unhappy in the relationship, and when she learned in March of 1875 that Bobbitt had deceived her in telling her that her first marriage was void in the eyes of the law, she threatened to leave him. Even though Henry Sanford had since died, he was alive at the time of her marriage to Bobbitt, and Lizzie, therefore, considered the second marriage fraudulent. Bobbitt responded to her threat by selling some of her furniture, and she then carried through on the threat. On May 3, using the name “Lizzie Sanford,” she filed a replevin suit declaring that she and Bobbitt had been living together in a “pretended marriage” and that certain property that Bobbitt had sold belonged to her. She was granted an “order of delivery,” and a Jasper County deputy sheriff gathered approximately eighty dollars’ worth of goods that Lizzie claimed were hers. When it was discovered, however, that Bobbitt and Lizzie were, in fact, legal husband and wife and that “Lizzie Sanford” was a “fictitious name,” Lizzie was charged with forgery and fraud for obtaining goods under false pretenses. When her case came up in September, she paid court costs and was let go.
About the same time, Lizzie moved to Neosho and took up residence in a “house of ill-fame” near the train depot. On December 23, a seventeen-year-old lad named Lane Britton was lolling away the evening at Lizzie’s house when a young man named Huffaker and two drunken companions called at the brothel and asked admittance. Lizzie turned them away, and when they kept trying to gain entrance anyway, Britton shot Huffaker through the door, killing him almost instantly. Lizzie Sanford, whom the Neosho Times called an “abandoned strumpet,” was arrested as an accessory to murder but was discharged when the prosecution failed to appear at her hearing, and Britton was eventually acquitted of the murder charge.
Lizzie lingered in Neosho only a few days after the shooting. By January of 1876, she was back in Joplin, where she set up residence in East Joplin. Her house, like the one she'd kept in Neosho, quickly gained a reputation as a resort for lewd women.
A teenager named Kissie West came to live with her as a housekeeper. The girl left after a couple of weeks but soon returned and asked to stay at the house as a prostitute. Lizzie turned her away, but within a month, Kissie came back begging to stay at the house and work as a prostitute. Lizzie warned the girl of the shame that would come to her if she went into prostitution, but Kissie said her life was already worse than that of a prostitute. She said she’d been seduced by her stepfather and could not live at home. She’d tried to earn a living on her own but could not make enough money to provide for herself. She said she’d been having sex with men continually and “getting nothing for it” and she’d rather be at Lizzie’s where she could make some money instead of “slinging pots and shagging for nothing” like the girls at the hotels.
Lizzie relented “out of sympathy for the girl” and let her join the other sporting women at her establishment. A few days later, Kissie’s mother, Permelia West, visited her daughter at Lizzie’s house and, according to Lizzie, seemed well satisfied with the arrangement.
Mrs. West, though, had a change of heart, because in September of 1876, at the mother’s insistence, Lizzie Bobbitt was charged with enticing a girl under the age of eighteen into prostitution. Lizzie gave bond in October and was released to appear in court the following spring.
At her trial in mid-March 1877, Lizzie was surprised when Permelia West testified that her daughter had been under parental care at the time she went to live in the bawdy house and that Kissie had moved in with Mrs. Bobbitt against the mother’s wishes. Lizzie was also surprised to hear Kissie swear she’d gone to live at the house only because Lizzie had told her she’d be better off. After hearing the testimony of the mother and daughter, the jury found Lizzie guilty and sentenced her to three years in the state penitentiary.
In late March, having gained new information, Lizzie filed a motion for a new trial. Two of her witnesses said they’d heard Permelia admit she'd driven her daughter away from home because Kissie “made trouble” between Mrs. West and her husband and that she “would not let the nasty little heifer come home anymore.” Another potential witness said he’d heard Mrs. West say she’d driven her daughter away because the stepfather was “after her (Kissie) all the time” and that she “thought it better that Kissie had gone into a whorehouse where she could make some money.” Several witnesses were also ready to testify that Kissie had not been enticed into prostitution but instead had “been living in an open state of lewdness and adultery with certain men in Joplin” long before she came to Lizzie’s house and that she came there of her own accord.
Lizzie was granted a new trial on appeal and was released on bond until October. Temporarily free, she went back to her sporting ways. In July, she was charged with “keeping a bawdy house.”
The disposition of the case against Lizzie for keeping a bawdy house is not known, although she probably paid a fine and was released. On the more serious charge of “kidnapping” Kissie West, Lizzie was acquitted at her new trial in early October. She apparently left Joplin shortly afterwards, but where she went and what happened to her after 1877 is unknown.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mayme Ousley: Missouri's First Woman Mayor

When Mayme Ousley and her husband, dentist Edward W. Ousley, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in St. James, Missouri, on September 25, 1955, one newspaper observed that it was not only an occasion to celebrate the couple’s golden anniversary but it was also a “golden opportunity” to pay tribute to Mayme’s many years of service to St. James as a civic leader and four-time mayor.
Born Mayme Hanrahan in 1887 near Edgar Springs, Mayme grew up at Rolla and got married there in 1905. She and her husband moved to St. James as newlyweds and made it their home for the rest of their lives. Dr. Ousley joined the town’s semipro baseball team, and Mayme often scolded the team for their appearance. They called her “Granny,” and the name stuck.
When Mayme was first elected mayor of St. James on April 5, 1921, the news was heralded across the state, because it represented the first time a woman in Missouri was elected to the office of mayor. Both Mayme and her opponent ran as nonpartisans, and she won by eight votes. Asked on the day of the election whether she was a Republican or a Democrat, she replied, “I hardly know. I cast my first vote for Harding, but I rather lean to the Democratic principles.”
Asked what she planned to accomplish as mayor, she said she felt somewhat flustered by all the excitement surrounding her election and that she needed some time to consider what she wanted to tackle first. But then she went on to mention obtaining electric lights and a water system for St. James as priorities.
A few days after her election, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter interviewed the new mayor. Described as a “vivacious, slender, blue-eyed blonde of slight stature,” Mrs. Ousley was in St. Louis to confer with the Frisco Travelers’ Association, which planned to hold its convention in St. James later in the year.
Asked why she would want a job that paid only one dollar a month, Mayme replied that at least the people who claimed women only wanted a job so that could buy clothes couldn’t accuse her of seeking the office for personal gain. She admitted that many men in St. James opposed the idea of a woman being mayor. She said the opposition just made her more determined and that, during the campaign, she concentrated especially on turning out the women’s vote.
One of the first things Mayme planned to do as mayor, in addition to trying to bring electric lights to the town, was the to clean up the city hall—literally. The building was filthy she said, and one of the first things to go was going to be the cuspidors. Mayme said she felt women were ever bit as capable as men but that she didn’t plan to run for re-election when her two-year term was up.
She didn’t, but she did run unsuccessfully for state senator in 1926 as a Republican, breaking with her husband’s Democratic bent. She remained active in state Republican politics for the rest of her life, and in later years she was on a first name basis with Missouri governors and with President Harry Truman.
In addition to her civic and political duties, Mayme Ousley was also very active in fraternal organizations and sororities. In 1931, she was elected state president of the Rebekah Assembly, and she was later a grand officer of the Order of the Eastern Star. She remained active in these two organizations throughout her life and was also a member of the Phelps County Historical Society and the Episcopal Church.
In 1939, Mayme once again won the mayoralty of St. James, and she ran successfully for re-election in 1941. Although “Granny” was generally well-liked, her time as mayor was not without incident. During her third term, she filed an injunction against a tavern owner because of disorder and liquor violations, and the owner sued her and the city in early 1943.
Mayme was elected to her fourth and final term as mayor of St. James in 1955. She opened her final term with a “house cleaning,” and when some of the fired city employees refused to quit, she simply quit signing their checks. In 1956, Mayor Ousley participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Boys Town of Missouri near St. James.
Mayme died in 1970 and is buried in the St. James Cemetery. In 2013, St. James honored Mayme Ousley by naming its city hall after her.
Sources: Various newspapers, including Columbia Evening Missourian, Apr. 6, 1921; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 17, 1921; St. Clair Chronicle, Apr. 10, 1941; KC Times, Sept. 23, 1955; Wikipedia.

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