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 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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