Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

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, March 26, 2017

Destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works

I mentioned last time that at least one regional newspaper said the reason Daniel Reed was lynched in early October 1874 in Joplin was not because he stole a span of mules, as he was accused of doing, but because those responsible for the destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works in Joplin a couple of months earlier were afraid he was going to tell what he knew about the crime. I promised to give a brief account of the destruction of the smelting works; so here goes.
Oliver S. Picher of Carthage was one of the first men to get rich from Joplin's lead-mining boom after the mineral was first discovered in the area in late 1870. Picher owned a farm in the mining district, and not long after the initial discovery of lead just east and slightly north of downtown Joplin, rich deposits were also discovered on Picher's land, located southeast of the downtown area.
By 1874, several mines were being worked on the land, known as the Picher Field, and it was one of the most productive lead fields in the region. Later, the most important mining operations on Picher's land were centered in the Parr Hill area, about a mile and a half from downtown Joplin, but in 1874, one of the main, if not the main, smelting operation in the Picher Field was the Hannibal Smelting Works, located nearer downtown Joplin.
Picher did not work the mines himself, nor did he directly oversee the operations on his land. Instead, like a number of other land owners, he leased out his land to miners for a share of their ore, and he hired a superintendent to oversee things for him.
In the summer of 1874, a dispute arose between the miners on the one hand and Picher and his superintendent on the other hand over the twenty percent royalty the miners had to pay Picher for the ore they mined. Apparently 20% was higher than the going rate. At least, the miners thought it was too much, and the labor dispute escalated to the point that it came to be known as the "black-jack war." Angry at the miners, Picher finally filed for an injunction to suspend all mining operations on his land.
But the miners did not take the rebuke well. In the wee hours of the morning of July 20, a party of about 25 to 50 masked men made their appearance at the Hannibal Smelting Works and ordered the few men who were working there to gather up their things and prepare to vacate the place. Some of the mob escorted the workers a safe distance away while the others went to work placing kegs of gunpowder under the building and the furnaces and then dousing everything with kerosene. "In a few moments," said the Joplin Mining News, "the furnaces were blown to atoms and the frame structure was a mass of flames."
The band of masked men waited until the fire had made good headway before slipping away into the night. The alarm was then given, and the fire department as well as scores of citizens hurried to the scene. The fire had gotten such a head-start, though, that nothing could be done to save the smelting works from utter destruction.
On the night of the 20th, less than 24 hours after the blowing up of the Hannibal works, a meeting of miners and smelters was held in Joplin to decide whether or not all mining operations should be temporarily shut down until things cooled off. A spokesman for the miners assured those present that no other smelting operations were in danger with the possible exception of the Kansas City smelter. (This was probably a reference to the smelting operation owned by John H. Taylor and other Kansas City area capitalists located in Joplin Creek valley, known as the Kansas City Bottoms.)
A Joplin correspondent to the Fort Scott Daily Monitor observed that some residents of Joplin thought Picher had been oppressing the miners and that their vengeful action was justified. Most people, though, the correspondent continued, felt the action was altogether uncalled for and "a disgrace to our community."
The editor of the Mining News was even more indignant in his condemnation of the destruction of the Hannibal Smelting Works. Calling the action a "gross wrong committed upon a fellow man," the local newspaperman pleaded, "Let differences between miners and companies be settled by law, by compromise, or by any other means than the willful destruction of property." Almost ten years after the fact, the author of the 1883 History of Jasper County recalled the blowing up of the smelting works by the miners as an example of communism at work. References: Fort Scott Daily Monitor, Oswego (KS) Independent, History of Jasper County.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lynching of Daniel Reed, Revisited

About three years ago, I wrote on this blog about the lynching of Daniel Reed in Joplin, Missouri, in 1874. I mentioned that it, like a lot of early-day lynchings, happened in relative obscurity, or, at least, not a whole lot was reported about it in newspapers at the time. While that observation remains true, I have managed to come up with a little more information about the incident, including the fact that it took place on Thursday, October 1, a week earlier than I had previously said.
The other facts of the case, as outlined in my prior post, were these: Reed supposedly stole a span of mules in Joplin from a man named John Depriest in September of 1874. Reed was arrested near Nevada and lodged in jail there, awaiting transfer to Jasper County authorities. A posse from Joplin arrived in Nevada on or about Tuesday, September 29, and after some hesitation on the part of Vernon County officials, the prisoner was turned over to the posse. Reed was brought back to Joplin and placed in jail to await a hearing the following Monday, but during the wee hours of Thursday morning, October 1, 1874, he was taken from the jail and hanged by a mob of about thirty disguised men.
Reed had claimed he was innocent because he had won the mules from Depriest in a game of cards. He said he'd be able to prove his case at his examination, but, of course, he never got a chance to present his evidence.
A local newspaper, the Joplin Bulletin, regretted that the wild and wooly town of Joplin had received another blot on its reputation, but the editor tried at the same time to justify the extralegal hanging to some extent by painting Reed as a desperate character and by claiming he confessed to the mule theft right before he was hanged.
The Fort Scott Monitor, on the other hand, opined that the whole affair "looked suspicious, to say the least." The Monitor implied that there were already whisperings of vigilante justice when Reed was handed over to Jasper County officials in Vernon County, that the Jasper County officials knew of these rumors but failed to take any action to prevent the lynching, and that some of the deputies were even in on the lynching. The Monitor said there was at least a fair chance that Reed was innocent as he claimed, and the paper also reported that the hanging was badly handled and that Reed's body ended up being badly bruised and butchered because of the botched execution.
I recently ran across a couple of other newspaper reports that lend credence to the idea that Reed might have been innocent of the stealing charge. A correspondent from Granby wrote to a Lexington, Missouri, newspaper asserting that Reed had, indeed, won the mules and that he had five witnesses ready to testify to the fact. The letter writer said that Reed’s innocence was shown by the fact that he loaded up the wagon to which the supposedly stolen mules were hitched and left Joplin in broad daylight.
I also found a follow-up report in the Monitor that reiterated the belief that Reed was innocent in much stronger terms than the same paper's earlier report. The editor not only flatly declared that Reed was not guilty of stealing the mules, but he gave what he thought to be the real reason the man was lynched. Reed knew too much about the blowing up of the Hannibal Smelting Works in Joplin in July of 1874, a crime in which Depriest and some of his sidekicks were implicated, and they were afraid Reed might talk.
For my next blog entry, I'll try to come up with a fuller account of the blowing up of the Hannibal Smelting Works.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Springfield's First Murder

The very first murder in Springfield, Missouri, was an infamous case involving several of the leading citizens of Greene County. In the fall of 1836, John Roberts appeared before Charles S. Yancey, Presiding Judge of the County Court, on a minor charge. Roberts, who owned a mill and a distillery just east of Springfield near present-day Highway 65, had served as the first coroner of the county, but he had been involved in at least two serious affrays and was considered a rough character. In 1833, he had been charged with assault with intent to kill for stabbing Thomas Horn (later sheriff of Greene County). Although the criminal case was dropped the following year, Horn, with Yancey acting as his attorney, sued Roberts for trespass and assault. Then in 1835, Roberts went to trial on a new charge of assault with intent to kill after slitting the ear of Kindred Rose, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. When Roberts came before Judge Yancey in 1836, county clerk John P. Campbell, who had testified against Roberts in both assault cases, was also present.
Roberts and Campbell started exchanging heated words, and Yancey told them to settle down. Campbell, considered the founder of Springfield, obeyed, but Roberts turned his ire toward the bench, reportedly telling the judge that he would say what he damn well pleased, in Yancey’s court or any other. Yancey fined Roberts twenty dollars for the outburst. Roberts paid the fine but afterwards began making threats against the judge and taunting him whenever he happened to see Yancey in public, especially if Roberts had been drinking, which was not an infrequent occurrence. (Roberts also filed a suit against Yancey, but it is not known whether the suit pertained to the fine Yancey had levied against him.) Yancey bore Roberts’s insults for several months, walking away from confrontations on more than one occasion.
Then one day during the late summer of 1837, Roberts again appeared on the streets of Springfield. Learning that his old nemesis was in town, Yancey told fellow lawyer Littleberry Hendricks that he would not let Roberts intimidate him again. Hendricks advised Yancey to go home in order to avoid another confrontation, and the two men started together toward the judge’s house.
Near the northwest corner of the public square, however, they ran into Roberts, who again began taunting the judge. The two adversaries briefly exchanged words, and then Yancey told Roberts not to follow him any farther and started to walk away. As he turned, however, he noticed Roberts, who was known to carry a big knife, reach his hand beneath his coat. Judge Yancey, thinking Roberts was going for the weapon, pulled out a pistol and shot him. He then pulled out a second pistol and was in the act of firing again when Hendricks knocked the weapon upward, sending the ball into the air. According to an account of this incident that appeared in the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot years later, Roberts shouted, “Don’t shoot, I am a dead man now,” as he collapsed and died.
In 1838, Yancey went on trial, charged with manslaughter in Roberts’s death. Although Roberts had apparently been reaching not for a knife at the time he was killed but rather for a glasses case that he had been in the habit of snapping at the judge, Yancey was found not guilty.
Having been accused of and tried for murder apparently did little to diminish Yancey’s good name. He was later appointed a judge of the Greene County Circuit Court.
Note: This blog entry is taken from a chapter in my book Wicked Springfield.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Perkins Gang-Part 2

The arrest of Remus Perkins in the spring of 1934 for robbing the Bank of Grandin in February did not stop the Perkins gang nor the rash of bank holdups that had been occurring in south-central Missouri since early in the year. On May 3, a single bandit went into the Bank of Raymondville, in Texas County. The robber took about $150, said to be all the ready cash in the bank at the time, and fled in a waiting automobile, a Ford V-8 two-door sedan. The getaway driver was described as tall.
Then, on May 10, the Bank of Mill Springs in the southwest corner of Wayne County was held up. In a tactic reminiscent of the Bunker bank robbery earlier in the year, the three men who pulled off the job forced the cashier to accompany them as they escaped in a Ford sedan, before ditching the hostage about a mile outside town. A time lock was on the safe; so the amount of money the crooks got was small.
On June 21, an automobile accident that proved fortuitous for law enforcement occurred near Columbia, Illinois. Not only did it help clear up the Raymondville and Mill Springs robberies, but it also struck a blow against the Perkins gang. Killed in the accident was John Biggs, who was identified as having participated in the robbery of a gas station in Staunton, Illinois, two nights earlier. Another passenger, Olin "Bish" Perkins received serious injuries in the accident. He was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in East St. Louis and guarded as a suspect in the Mill Springs robbery, because two sets of stolen Missouri license plates were found in the wrecked vehicle, one of which was used in the Mill Springs job. A third passenger, Claude Dickerson was only slightly injured in the wreck, and he was held for Missouri authorities as Olin Perkins's suspected partner on the Mill Springs robbery and also the Raymondville caper. Another suspected accomplice of Olin Perkins on the Missouri bank jobs, Eugene Goodman, was not in the wreck but was being sought.
Texas County officials beat the Wayne County sheriff to Illinois and brought Dickerson back to Texas County to answer for the Raymondville robbery, even though evidence against him was at least as strong, if not stronger, in the Mill Springs crime. Dickerson was lodged in jail at Houston.
Interviewed in the hospital while he was recuperating, Olin Perkins gave his home as Newburg, Missouri, even though he'd never actually lived there. He had relatives there and occasionally visited Newburg, but his family lived in the Dixon area until moving to Eminence, where Olin grew up and went to high school. One of his Newburg cousins, who had stayed with Olin's family a while and gone to school with him at Eminence, described him as a smart, happy-go-lucky type whom everybody liked. She was startled that he'd turned to a life of crime.
On the Fourth of July, Eugene Goodman, who'd grown up in the Eminence area with Olin Perkins, broke Claude Dickerson out of the Texas County jail by getting the drop on a deputy sheriff and forcing him to hand over the keys to Dickerson's cell. The pair then escaped in a vehicle that Goodman had driven to the scene. When news of the escape reached Illinois, the guard on Olin Perkins at St. Mary's Hospital was bolstered.
Meanwhile, Sherman Hodges was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in the Grandin Bank robbery. Remus Perkins and Frank Walker got their cases continued and eventually moved to Oregon County on a change of venue.
The increased security at the hospital in St. Louis where Olin Perkins was recuperating apparently didn't last long. On August 14, Dickerson and Goodman walked in and "half carried, half dragged" their partner in crime from the building, apparently with little or no resistance from the law.
Around the early part of September, 1934, Dickerson, Goodman, and Bish Perkins sent a letter to Carter County authorities claiming credit for the Grandin Bank robbery back in February. Calling themselves the "Dillingers of the Ozarks, they said Remus Perkins, Frank Walker, and Sherman Hodges were innocent. Sherman Hodges, had, of course, already been convicted and sent to prison.
An even more staggering blow against the Perkins gang than the car wreck back in June occurred in late September during a botched tavern holdup in St. Jacob, Illinois. On the last day of September, five armed bandits entered the tavern but were met by shotgun fire from the owner, stationed in an adjoining room. The gang retreated, raining gunfire in every direction as they did so. One customer and one employee of the tavern were killed and another customer mortally wounded. The employee was deliberately murdered after being wounded in the initial burst of gunfire. Early the next morning, Eugene Goodman and Arnett "Wess" Perkins, younger brother of Bish Perkins, were found dumped in a vacant lot adjoining St. Mary's Hospital in East St. Louis. Arnett Perkins was dead, and Goodman died from his wounds shortly afterward.
The trial of Remus Perkins and Frank Walker for the Grandin bank job was scheduled for November at Alton but was postponed because Perkins was ill and was undergoing treatment in a St. Louis hospital. Interviewed while he was in St. Louis, he said he was innocent of all the crimes he'd been accused of. He blamed his troubles on the fact that he was a double cousin of Olin "Bish" Perkins and bore a close resemblance to Bish's sidekick, Eugene Goodman. Consequently, he said, he was always getting accused of their crimes.
While out on bond and still awaiting trial on the Grandin bank robbery, Walker was tried and convicted of an Arkansas bank job and sent to the Arkansas State Penitentiary. Remus Perkins was eventually tried at Alton in July of 1935 and acquitted of the Grandin heist. Apparently his lawyers succeeded in getting the jury to believe Remus's mistaken identity claim. Whether Remus was a ringleader of the Perkins gang or, indeed, a victim of guilt by association, is not known for sure, but this much is certain: the Perkins gang was already severely crippled.
The final blow came in September of 1935 when Bish Perkins was killed in a gunfight with East St. Louis police, who were responding to the report of a prowler.

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