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, September 24, 2017

Nat Kinney in Springfield

Nat Kinney is best known in the Ozarks as the leader of the notorious Bald Knobbers of Taney County, but before he came to Taney County, he lived for a while in Springfield, where he worked as a bartender and briefly kept his own saloon. This fact, of course, opened him up to charges of hypocrisy once he relocated to Taney County and started conducting a Sunday school there and trying to enforce morality. One critic allowed, for instance, that an "ex-saloonkeeper from the slums of Springfield" was not "a proper censor of Taney County morals."
In fact, Kinney lived in Springfield less than a year. He came to Springfield about the end of February 1882 from Topeka, Kansas. In Topeka he had run the city's omnibus line for a number of years and had been a fairly respected citizen for a time. In the fall of 1880 Kansas voters passed a prohibition law that went into effect in January of 1881, and Kinney seems to have lost favor, at least among the prohibitionists, over the alcohol issue. For instance, in February of 1882, he was accused of selling liquor illegally. It was about the same time that he moved to Springfield, perhaps to avoid further repercussions over his alleged illegal activity.
By March of 1882, Kinney was working in A. F. Kinney's saloon on the northwest corner of the Springfield square. A. F. Kinney had several brothers who worked for him, but Nat Kinney was not one of them. It's not known whether Nat Kinney was more distantly related to A. F. Kinney.
By the late summer of 1882, Nat Kinney was running his own saloon a block or two off the square on Boonville Street. On the evening of September 16, Mike Ahern and Payton Parrish got into a fight at Nat Kinney's saloon, where they had been drinking throughout the day. Ahern reportedly got mad at the smaller Parrish, knocked him down, jumped on top of him, and pummeled him as he lay on the floor. Parrish managed to pull a knife out of his pocket and stab Ahern in the stomach several times in quick succession.
Ahern was taken to a nearby boardinghouse for medical attention, but he died about two weeks later. Parrish was arrested but released on bond, and the case was never prosecuted, because it was considered self-defense. When Nat Kinney was interviewed in November by a grand jury about the case, he said he "didn't know who done it." Kinney left Springfield very shortly after testifying to the grand jury. In December, he paid a visit to his old hometown of Topeka, and by early 1883 he had relocated to Taney County, Missouri.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fair Grove Street Fair

Next weekend, September 23-24, 2017, will mark the 40th annual Fair Grove (Mo.) Heritage Reunion. It had rather humble beginnings back in the late 1970s, but it has since grown into one of the largest fall festivals or arts and crafts fairs in the Ozarks. Actually, though, Fair Grove's tradition of hosting a successful fall festival began long before the 1970s, because at least as early as 1908 up through the mid-1920s, Fair Grove had a three-day street fair.
Like the current Fair Grove Heritage Reunion, the Fair Grove Street Fair was always held near the end of September (although the dates for the street fair sometimes fell in early October, whereas the current event is always the last full weekend in September). In 1908, the street fair ran from Thursday, October 1 to Saturday, October 3. On Friday the 2nd, an estimated three to four thousand people attended the fair, and more were expected for the wrap-up of the event on Saturday. One of the main draws of the fair was the awarding of prizes for contests in various categories. Many of the contests involved picking winners from agricultural or horticultural displays, such as "Best Jersey Milk Cow," but there were also some contests that required speed and skill on the part of the entrants, such as a prize for the couple who could hitch a horse to a buggy in the shortest time. In 1908, Mr. and Mrs. N. V. Murphy won that coveted prize.
With 1908 being an election year, a number of Greene County politicians used the occasion of the Fair Grove Street Fair as an opportunity to campaign. That's a phenomenon, of course, that one still sees nowadays during election years, at the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion and similar events. Actually, I think the Fair Grove folks discourage political campaigning as much as possible by not allowing political booths at the Heritage Reunion, but you can't keep candidates from mingling with the people and handing out their literature.
Organizers of the 1915 Fair Grove Street Fair expected it to be the "greatest street fair ever held in Greene County," according to the Springfield Republican. The event featured over $600 worth of prizes in a whole slew of very specific categories, such as best dressed doll by a girl under twelve years old, best homemade sorghum, best chocolate cake, and prettiest sofa pillow.
The contests at the Fair Grove street fairs were very popular, but they weren't the only draw. There were also games of fun and musical entertainment that did not necessarily have contests or prizes associated with them. For instance, on the final night of the 1924 Fair Grove Street Fair, "A large throng of people" were in attendance, and "music and merrymaking" filled the air until midnight.
Sometime around the late 1920s, the Fair Grove Street Fair was apparently discontinued, probably because of the Depression, and the tradition of holding a fall festival in the town was not revived until fifty years later.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ruth and Sarah Bond: Bushwhacker Belles of Miller County?

On or about April 1, 1864, Miller County sisters Ruth and Sarah Bond were arrested by Federal authorities and taken to Jefferson City on charges of feeding and harboring bushwhackers, and several of their neighbors swore out affidavits against them. Twenty-two-year-old Ruth and eighteen-year-old Sarah said they were completely innocent, claiming not even to know why they were arrested. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle, as is often the case when disparate stories collide, but the Bond girls and their case made it all the way to St. Louis before they found someone to take their side in the argument.
After the Bond sisters were transported to Jefferson City, Lieutenant James M. Gavin, provost marshal of the Jefferson City sub-district, began gathering evidence against them. On the 11th, fifty-four-year-old Henry Jenkins, a close neighbor of the Bonds in northeast Miller County, testified that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do it again “in spite of hell.”
Hannah Jenkins, Henry’s daughter-in-law, was also deposed on the 11th. She said the Bonds always claimed to be in favor of the South but that she did not know of any disloyal acts on their part.
On April 22, Madison Carrendon was interviewed. Echoing Henry Jenkins, Carrendon said only that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do so again and that they had the reputation of being Southern-sympathizers.
On the evidence of these three statements, Lieutenant Gavin forwarded the paperwork in the case of Ruth and Sarah Bond to Warrensburg, headquarters of the District of Central Missouri, on April 23, although the women themselves remained imprisoned at Jefferson City. The following day, Colonel T.A. Switzler, the district provost marshal, in turn forwarded the file to General Egbert B. Brown, commanding general of the district, with the following notation: “…These women are loose characters and were arrested last summer upon the same charges. Evidence could not be obtained sufficient to convict them. The neighborhood in which they live has been infested with Bushwhackers whenever there was any in the country. The interests of the country would be promoted by sending them away.” On April 28, General Brown sent the file to department headquarters at St. Louis with a recommendation that the Bond girls be banished from his district.
Upon examining the scant file, Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal of the department, immediately sent the papers back to Colonel Switzler with a request that he gather more testimony and then return the file to him, along with the defendants in the case. Switzler remanded the case to Lieutenant Gavin, who once again started taking depositions. On May 16, Jobe Wood testified that he could not say positively the Bond women fed and harbored bushwhackers but that it was generally believed they did and that they were "very bad women, and Rebels.” Lydia Jenkins, a sister-in-law or niece of Henry Jenkins, was also interviewed on the 16th. She stated that one of the Bond sisters had always told her she was in favor of the South, that it was believed in the neighborhood that the Bonds aided bushwhackers, but that she did not know positively that they had.
The Bond sisters and the file in their case were forwarded to St. Louis on May 17. The next day, however, Sanderson again returned the papers to Switzler with a request that the depositions of the Bond sisters be added to the file. “This case in its present shape,” he declared, “is wanting in material upon which to found even an opinion.”
Ruth and Sarah Bond were lodged in the Myrtle Street Prison, and after they had languished there between two and three weeks without having been examined or tried, they wrote to Colonel Sanderson in early June beseeching him to intervene on their behalf. They told him that they had no one in St. Louis to speak for them because their brother was in the Union Army, their father was dead, and their mother, who was not in good health, was home with the younger kids. “Please you will look over our case,” they concluded. “Yours respectfully, Ruth C. Bond and Sarah A. Bond.” Whether the Bond sisters had even given depositions in Jefferson City, as Colonel Sanderson believed, is uncertain, but after appealing directly to Sanderson, the young women were promptly interviewed in St. Louis per Sanderson’s instructions. On June 6, Ruth told her examiner that she lived in Miller County five miles from Tuscumbia and was twenty years old. (According to census records, she was at least twenty-two.) She said her brother John was in the Sixth Missouri State Militia Cavalry and that her recently deceased father had always been a loyal Union man. “I am as loyal as anybody can be,” she said, “and so is my sister and mother.”
Ruth added that there had never been any bushwhackers or Rebels of any kind fed at her house and that, if they did come, she wouldn’t feed them. She named several men from her neighborhood who were supposed to be guerrillas, but she didn't know any of them personally. She said she did not know why she and her sister were arrested but she thought it might have come about because of something Hannah Jenkins had said about them. Ruth said Hannah’s husband (i.e. William Jenkins) had formerly been in the Confederate Army but was now a member of the same Union company that John Bond was a member of. Hannah had been with her husband in the field but was forced to leave, and upon her return to the neighborhood, she got mad at Sarah Bond for some reason and reported the sisters to Federal authorities, so Ruth had been told. What Hannah accused Ruth and Sarah of doing, however, Ruth did not know.
Sarah was also deposed on June 6, giving much of the same testimony that her sister gave. Sarah added that she had never carried any letters for the purpose of sending them beyond the Union lines or for any other purpose.
After the Bond sisters were deposed in St. Louis, their case was again referred back to Jefferson City for more evidence. Lt. Gavin forwarded additional information to St. Louis in mid-June with a recommendation that the Bond women be sent out of the state. After reviewing the papers, Sanderson referred the case to General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, with an endorsement that he did not think the evidence in the case justified conviction and banishment and that he, therefore, did not agree with Lieutenant Gavin’s recommendation that the young women be exiled from the state. On the 17th, Rosecrans ordered the women released on bond, and four days later they were freed on $500 bond each.
Ruth and Sarah Bond returned to their home territory and were still living in the Miller County area after the war.
The sketch of the Bond sisters above is condensed from a chapter about them in my Bushwhacker Belles book.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Double Murder at Mountain Grove

About midnight on the night of May 18, 1897, about twenty masked men called at the home of Benjamin Mayfield on Whetstone Creek about six miles northwest of Mountain Grove, Missouri. They passed through the house single file looking for Benjamin's son, Elijah "Lige" Mayfield. Not finding Lige at home, they threw a burning torch on the roof of the house as they stomped out, mounted up, and rode away. "Old Man" Mayfield, as Benjamin was called in reports of the incident, managed to get the fire put out before it engulfed the house.
Meanwhile, the mob rode to the nearby home of John Mitchell and finding the house barricaded, opened fire on the residence. Mitchell awoke and started across the room to retrieve his pistol when he was riddled with buckshot and rifle balls fired through a window of the house. His stepbrother, Jack Coffman, rose up in bed and was also shot to death. Dave Mitchell, John's brother, managed to return fire, persuading the mob to retreat, but he, too, was wounded with gunshots to the head and shoulder. John Mitchell's wife and two little kids were also in the house at the time, but somehow they escaped injury.
When word of the raid reached Mountain Grove the next day, it threw the town into an "intense excitement." Dave Mitchell said he thought he recognized at least one of the mob, but he said he wouldn't name any names until the coroner's inquiry. Trouble had been brewing in the Mitchell neighborhood for a number of years, according to reports in the wake of the mob action. Both John and Dave Mitchell had served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary for larceny, and it was alleged that they had been operating a theft ring all along the Frisco line between Mountain Grove and Lebanon for the past few years, stealing everything from chickens to horses. Dave admitted that, two weeks prior to the visit by the night riders, he had been taken out of the Mitchell home about midnight one night by a band of white caps (i.e. vigilantes), whipped severely, and told to leave the territory or they'd "finish him up" on their next visit. The Mitchells had refused to leave, and the vigilantes apparently had now carried through with their threat.
The action of the mob was widely denounced on the day after the raid, and authorities swore that the perpetrators would be found out and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, when a coroner's inquiry was held on May 20th, it turned out to be just a "small pretense" of an inquest. Dave Mitchell still refused to name who he thought he had recognized, because he feared retaliation, and the jury reached a verdict that John Mitchell and Jack Coffman had come to their deaths at the hands of parties unknown. A later report suggested that the mob had been composed of some of the most "highly respected" citizens in the area, which probably accounts for the jury's innocuous verdict and for the fact that nothing much was apparently ever done to try to bring the killers of Mitchell and Coffman to justice.

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