Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Stotts City

Lead was discovered in the area of Stotts City, Lawrence County, Missouri, in the mid-1880s, and the town was platted about 1888. It was named after after Greene C. Stotts, an area resident who had been a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War and later a state representative from Lawrence County. The town was incorporated in 1898, and it thrived over the next several years. It was near its peak in population and business activity when a Stotts City correspondent wrote a profile of the town which was published in the Springfield Republican in Deember of 1900.
Calling Stotts City the "Flower of Lawrence County," the correspondent said the town was keeping "pace with the ever rolling tide of progress." Just in the past month or two, new prospectors had moved in, new ore strikes had been made, the output of the mines had been increasing, and "traffic and trade of all kinds," including general commerce, were becoming stronger and steadier.
The Stotts City Bank, which had been organized in 1899, was operating under a capital of $10,000 and had become "a jewel to the city."
A local newspaper, the Sunbeam, was indeed a sunbeam to the town, said the correspondent. Real estate agent B. W. Pruitt was also the editor of the newspaper, and his real estate partner, James Howard, pulled double duty, too, serving as the town's postmaster.
Other businesses in Stotts City included J. D. Roper's drugstore, C. L. Burch's lumber store under S. O. Penick's management, Coleman Lumber Company under the management of George Pruitt, the O. K. Barbershop operated by C. L. Smith, W. G. Petty's livery, the Messick Hotel owned by Mrs. C. R. Shelton, and the Benton Hotel named for U. S. Congressman M. E. Benton and owned by Mrs. June Stotts.
C. H. Young was mayor of Stotts City. He was a carpenter when he wasn't tending to city business. City marshal was Peter Boswell. The town had three lawyers: C. L. Morgan, D. B. Jones, and Enoch Ragsdale.
"The above are only a few of the leading citizens of this place," the correspondent assured his readers.
Three fraternal societies (or secret orders, as the correspondent called them) were active in Stotts City. They were the Ancient Order of Union Workmen, the Modern Woodmen of America, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Some of the active mines in the area were the "Old Mt. Vernon," the CCC, the Keystone, the Spring River, the Illini, and the Boston Loy.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Neosho and the Golden Rule Plan

In 1925, Reps Dry Goods of Springfield sponsored a series of “ad stories” in the Springfield Leader called “Know Your Neighbor,” which profiled a different community in southwest Missouri each week. In the August 9 issue, Neosho was profiled under the subtitle “The Best Known Town of 5,000 in the United States.”
The profile lauded Neosho for the energy and friendliness of its people and especially for its “Golden Rule” business plan. Often called the “Neosho plan” because it had first been implemented by the Advertising Club of Neosho twelve years earlier, the Golden Rule plan encouraged cooperation between the business people of a community and the farmers who lived in the surrounding countryside. One of the main features of the plan was a monthly “Sales Day” on which the businesses offered special bargains and a farmers’ exchange was set up at the local auction pavilion. People living in the rural areas came to town from miles around, either to take advantage of the bargains or to buy and sell livestock and farm goods at the pavilion. Since its inception in Neosho, the “Golden Rule Plan” had spread to towns and small cities all across the U.S.
The fertile lands around Neosho were said to be excellent for farming, dairying, poultry raising, and fruit growing; and the Newton County Harvest Show was cited as a testament to the success of these endeavors. Held in October of each year, Neosho’s harvest show was praised as one of the best county shows in the state.
“Neosho is also fortunate,” said the profile, “in having three main line railroads which enable the quick distribution of its products to the larger trade centers.” In addition, Neosho was the intersection of two highways, State Highway 21 to Joplin and State Highway 16 to Springfield.
The fact that Neosho’s bank deposits amounted to over two and a half million dollars was evidence of the town’s prosperity.
Neosho was not only well known for its thriving business community, but it was also becoming famous as a health and recreation resort because of its abundance of spring water and artesian well water. People flocked to Neosho from Oklahoma and other states to partake of the healing waters, and the water was also shipped out of Neosho in large glass-lined tank cars.
“Neosho has a modern tourist camp,” said the profile, “and many of the tourists testify to the fact that this is the prettiest town in the Ozarks.” Thousands of tourists came to Neosho every year to take in its scenic beauty or visit its points of interest, the U.S. Fish Hatchery being one of the main attractions.
Neosho had just completed a sewer system at a cost of $180,000 and was planning street paving projects, including the public square, at a cost of $75,000. The profile writer concluded by agreeing with a Neosho resident who’d recently returned from California and announced, “God Almighty has done so much more for Neosho and vicinity than man can possibly do for California.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Morgan, Lalede County

I don't think I've ever been to Morgan, Missouri. I've been to Lebanon and other places in Laclede County numerous times but not Morgan. It's located in such an out-of-the-way place that you wouldn't normally pass through Morgan on your way to anywhere else. And I've never had a reason to make Morgan my actual destination. As far as I can tell, there wouldn't be much to see if I did go, because there's not much there. This hasn't always been the case, though.
Morgan, located in southern Laclede County, came into being on March 31, 1896, when Philip Rader established a post office there and became its first postmaster. He named the place Morgan after Asa Morgan, a local resident and Civil War veteran.
By 1925, Morgan had grown into a small town of 100 people with a city government and a thriving business community. W. A. Foster was mayor in 1925, and the town had two general stores, a bank, a barber shop, two churches, an elementary school, a canning factory, a garage, an ice cream parlor, a produce exchange, a post office, a mill, and a blacksmith.
In 1925, J. H. Linsay, one of the general store owners, had the longest tenure of any businessman in town. "There have been many who have come and gone," said a correspondent to the Springfield Republican, "but Harvey still stays in the corner and vends his many wares." Linsay tried to keep everything in stock that might be needed on the farm, and he would "buy anything that the farmer has to sell."
The Bank of Morgan was established in 1919 with a capital of $10,000. The bank had "always been able to run on its own resources." The garage owner, Charles Adkins, said the correspondent, "enjoys fishing and hunting as well as working, but is always ready to work and can fix anything that is needed about a car."
The town's two churches were the Lutheran and the Missionary Baptist. The Lutheran Church had full services every Sunday, while the Baptist had only a one-fourth time preacher but with Sunday School and prayer meetings every week.
"The little postmistress," said the correspondent, "is ever ready to attend to Uncle Sam's business," although he didn't give the name of the "little postmistress."
The elementary school was for grades 1-8, and C. R. Willard was the teacher.
The correspondent predicted that Morgan, located "on a good road nine miles east of Conway on the Frisco," was destined "soon to become a much larger town."
Alas, it was not to be. What would the prognosticating correspondent think if he could see the town of Morgan today?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fantastic Caverns and the KKK

In 2006, I wrote an article for the now-defunct Ozarks Mountaineer about the history of Fantastic Caverns, and a few years later, I posted a follow-up article about the same subject on this blog. One of the things I mentioned in the original article but did not mention in my blog post was the fact that Fantastic Caverns, was once used as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan during the early 1920s. I recently ran onto some additional, more specific information about the cave's connection to the KKK.
In the summer of 1922, the Springfield conclave of the KKK, or "Invisible Empire," as the Klan often called itself, purchased Fantastic Caverns, then called Percy's Cave, and the grounds surrounding it for about $40,000 from previous owner J. W. Crow. The Klan planned to rename the place the Ku Klux Klavern and use it as a meeting place for the Missouri realm of the secret organization.
The KKK, as many readers know, originally arose immediately after the Civil War and spread mainly throughout the Southern states. It was ostensibly a law and order organization, but it went overboard in dispensing out its brand of justice. It especially targeted blacks and ended up being a racist organization whose main activity was the suppression and punishment of freed slaves.
After virtually dying out, the KKK experienced a resurgence around 1920. Aiming for widespread acceptance, it once again tried to portray itself as a patriotic, law-and-order, Christian organization, and it was, in fact, viewed in a favorable light by many people, as the Springfield Republican's coverage of the KKK's acquisition of Percy Cave will suggest. The newspaper first announced the acquisition in its August 20, 1922, issue. The report said the KKK, in addition to using the cave and the grounds for its own meetings, planned to make them available to the public, particularly women and children. Admission would be free to the grounds, and visitors could tour the cave for a minimal charge. Order would be maintained at all times. The group particularly wanted to welcome churches and other worthy organizations to use the property.
Immediate plans for improving the property called for refurbishing the clubhouse, eliminating the dance pavilion (apparently dancing was frowned on), and beautifying the grounds. An American flag would fly above the grounds 365 days a year. The local Klan wanted the park and its activities to be an "exemplification of the leading principles for which the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan stand: law and order, protection of pure womanhood, the pursuit of happiness, and 100% Americanism." Members of the Klan were firmly convinced, said the Republican, that their order had "the highest ideals of which the human mind is capable," and they wished to give all who were not members of the KKK a "true appreciation" of the beneficial principles upon which they stood.
In keeping with that goal, the KKK planned to make their initiation or "naturalization" rituals open to the public. The public would be allowed to see the "flaming fiery cross, the white robes and hoods and all the other regalia used in initiations into the mysterious order." The only part of the ceremony the public would not be privy to would be the secret vows spoken by the initiates.
After describing some of the physical wonders of Percy's Cave, the Republican reporter concluded that "probably for the first time..., klansmen will have a setting for their ceremonials which will rival in natural weirdness the popular conception of the Invisible Empire."
The first induction or naturalization ceremony at the cave was held on August 24, 1922, and the first one to which the public was invited occurred on October 12 at 8:30 p.m. A parking area for the public was designated at the grounds, and the KKK furnished guards to watch the spectators' automobiles to make sure they were not tampered with while the guests were viewing the ceremony. Also, a jitney service from north Springfield to the cave was provided by the Klansmen for those who did not have automobiles. A crowd estimated at over 10,000 people attended the initiation ceremony, which was held in the huge natural amphitheater just outside the cave. About 2,000 klansmen from all over southwest Missouri participated in the ceremony, and about 125 new members were initiated, with the Joplin conclave conducting the rituals.
Alas, the second heyday of the KKK, like its first, did not last very long before the group was once again exposed as essentially a racist organization with the oppression of blacks as one of its primary goals.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Killing of John C. Sewell

Sometime in April of 1881, John, George, and Pascal Tucker got into a dispute at Ash Grove, Missouri, with a young man who was "a crippled cousin" of John C. Sewell, and the argument escalated into a melee when the twenty-three-year-old Sewell came to his kinsman's aid. The Tucker brothers; aged 36, 34, and 24 respectively; were, according to the Springfield Express "noted for getting into nearly all the rows that take place in Ash Grove." John and George were married and lived about two and half miles southwest of Ash Grove, while Pascal lived at home with his widowed mother in the same general neighborhood. Sewell, on the other hand, lived northeast of Ash Grove in the Cave Springs area. He "had a good reputation and was well connected."
Although young Sewell came to the aid of his cousin during the April fracas, the three Tuckers quickly overpowered the other two men, forcing them to retire from the fight. During the fray, one of the Tuckers reportedly fired a shot, but nobody was hit.
A few months later, on Saturday, July 23, Ash Grove hosted a barbecue for the Brothers of Freedom. (This was a somewhat militant farm organization that organized in Greene County in the early 1880s to oppose a tax levied on land for construction and operation of the Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis Railroad.) The gathering turned into a drunken, rowdy occasion, and the Tuckers renewed their quarrel with John Sewell. However, Sewell, who'd lived in the area all of his life, had too many friends backing him up, and the Tuckers, relative newcomers to Greene County, walked away from the initial confrontation. But only long enough to arm themselves. They went to a store and got a pistol and went back out looking for Sewell. Catching him alone on the outskirts of town, one of the brothers struck Sewell over the eye with a club. Sewell jumped back, but Tucker went at him again with the club. Sewell drew his revolver and "either fired or attempted to fire," according to the Express, "but something was wrong with his pistol."
One or more of Tucker brothers then rushed toward him and fired five shots. Two bullets struck Sewell in the head, either one of which would have been fatal. Sewell lived just a couple of hours. An inquest was held shortly after the incident, and the jury found that Sewell had come to his death at the hands of a pistol fired by Pascal Tucker.
All three brothers were indicted for murder, but they were all acquitted at their trial in May of 1882.
Alas, that wasn't the end of tragedy befalling the Sewell family. Sewell's mother was already dead, and his father, Jacob, and his youngest brother, McClure "Mack," soon moved to the Galena, Kansas, area to work in the lead mines there. Sometime around the first part of 1885, Jacob and Mack moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, and than back across the state line to Nevada, Missouri, where they arrived in July 1885. Both the father and son were murdered there in early August while they were camped on the north edge of town. Their killer was eventually found guilty of murder and hanged in Nevada the following year.

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