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 Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas, and Bigamy and Bloodshed: The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Missouri Bank Robberies Fall 1905

A newspaper article that originated in Chicago and circulated in papers throughout the Midwest in early 1906 detailed an outbreak of bank robberies that had occurred in the middle states the previous fall. At least thirty bank robberies had occurred in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Indian Territories, and Texas during the last three months of 1905. Missouri, "which invented train robbery," usually led all the states of the Union in bank robbery, according to the article, but the Show-Me State had lagged behind the surrounding states during the most recent outbreak of bank robberies. Still, Missouri was the scene of at least a couple of bank robberies during the designated period.
In the wee hours of the morning of November 3, 1905, burglars broke into the Bank of Creighton (located in Cass County about halfway between Clinton and Harrisonville), blew the safe with nitroglycerine, and made off with slightly over $4,000. Rewards were offered for the apprehension of the robbers, but no trace of them was found, at least not in the immediate aftermath of the crime. This robbery occurred less than a week after burglars had broken into a bank at Kingsville in neighboring Johnson County and blown the door of the vault but failed to penetrate the inner safe, thus coming away empty-handed. The robbers did get a very small amount of money, however, from the local post office, which they also broke into.
The Chicago newspaper article mentioned a bank robbery at Eldon, Missouri, in late November 1905, but I could find no mention of this incident in Missouri newspapers of the time. The Chicago article also mentioned a bank robbery at Shelbyville in early December 1905, but this was actually a post office robbery. The thieves broke into the post office through a rear door and then blew open the safe with nitro. They made off with a little over $100 in cash and about $700 in stamps and money orders.
The Chicago newspaper story claimed that the modus operandi was very similar in nearly all the bank robberies that had occurred throughout the Midwest. The robbers usually worked in gangs of four and their main tools in breaking into safes were almost always nitroglycerin and soap. The soap was used to make a "lip" or a mold by caulking the crack between the door and the main body of the safe. The nitro was poured into the lip, a percussion cap and a long fuse were inserted, and then the robbers would retire a safe distance and use the fuse to ignite the explosive. The robbers themselves also tended to share certain traits. They were neither young nor old but instead tended to be somewhere around 35. They were almost always white, as bank robbery was "unknown of negroes," and they were usually ex-convicts. 


Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Lynching of Montgomery Godley

About 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1902, several black men were drinking and supposedly involved in an altercation on West Fourth Street in Pittsburg, Kansas, where a "colored ball" was being held at the nearby Jenness Hall. When city policeman Milt Hinkle arrived on the scene and ordered the men to break up the melee, one of them, Joe Godley, greeted him with an insult. Hinkle undertook to arrest Godley, but he resisted and was aided by two of his brothers, Montgomery (aka Mumford) and Jess Godley. In the ensuing scuffle, Hinkle pulled his pistol and several shots were fired, although it's not clear how many, if any, Hinkle fired himself, because one of the Godley brothers managed to wrest the pistol away from Hinkle. The young black man then fired a shot with the officer's own gun that struck Hinkle in the head, killing him within minutes.
Two of the brothers, Montgomery and Jess, were quickly arrested and taken to the city jail, but Joe managed to escape. Within an hour, a mob formed and marched on the jail. A young lad named Doty, who claimed to be able to identify which man shot Hinkle, accompanied the mob. The vigilantes broke into the jail and overpowered the guards. They went first to that part of the jail where Jess Hinkle was being held, but Doty said he was not the man who had fired the fatal shot. Taken to the part of the jail where Mont Godley was being held, Doty identified Mont as the killer. The cell was promptly broken into, and Mont was taken out and strung up to a nearby trolley post about 1:00 a.m. on Christmas morning.
Hinkle had lived in Pittsburg almost twenty years and was serving his second stint as a city policeman at the time he was killed. Mont Godley's brother Will and an uncle, French Godley, were two of the three victims of the notorious lynchings in Pierce City, Missouri, in August 1901. Joe and Jess Godley had already left Pierce City and were living in Pittsburg at the time, and most of the black people who still lived in Pierce City also left as soon as the atrocity occurred, including Mont and the rest of his family. They joined Joe and Jess in Pittsburg.
Almost from the time Montgomery Godley was lynched in Pittsburg, there was some doubt as to whether he was the man who had actually shot Hinkle. Many people, including a number of law officers, thought Joe was the one who did the actual shooting, but several of those who agreed that the mob probably got the wrong man still tried to justify the lynching to a certain degree by saying that, even though Mont might not have been the actual shooter, he was equally guilty because of his scuffling with and resisting Officer Hinkle.
A manhunt for Joe Godley was quickly undertaken in the wake of his escape, and he was finally arrested in California in April of 1904 and brought back to Kansas. He was tried for murder in February of 1905 and promptly found not guilty. Was the quick verdict of acquittal at least partly an attempt to justify the mob action of two years earlier, an act of denial that the vigilantes had gotten the wrong man?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Tragic Story of Lulu Walker

Twenty-year-old Lulu Walker came to Springfield, Missouri, from the Dunnegan area of neighboring Polk County sometime around the late spring or early summer of 1898. She was "rather good looking," according to one Springfield newspaper reporter, but she had "the appearance of having seen better days." According to Lulu herself, her parents were well-to-do farmers in Polk County, and letters later found in her possession seemed to add credence to the idea that she came from a good family. However, Lulu was no longer welcome at home, although the exact reason for her estrangement from her parents is not known.
Shortly after arriving in Springfield, Lulu was hired by Charles Afflack, manager of the Waddle Hotel on Campbell Street, to work at the hotel (probably as a maid). Afflack later said that Lulu appeared to be a good girl and was well liked by his family. Lulu stayed there only about four weeks, however, and then began "frequenting questionable houses."
On Saturday, August 27, at the Gulf depot in Springfield, Lulu ran onto a woman whose acquaintance she had previously made in Ash Grove, and the woman introduced Lulu to her niece, 18-year-old Lucy Richardson. Lucy's life, like Lulu's, had recently taken an unfortunate turn. She'd gotten married about a year earlier but had ended up leaving her husband after only a few months because he refused to support her, and she had gone back to her stepfather's surname, Richardson. Perhaps partly because of their shared hardships, the two young women struck up an immediate friendship.
The three women spent Saturday night at the home of a woman named Mrs. Dell, who lived on Dale Street. The next day, Sunday the 28th, the aunt left to go back to Ash Grove, and Lulu and Lucy were left to fend for themselves in the city of Springfield. They roamed about town until nightfall approached and then went to the north side and stopped at the Plain View Hotel, which, at the time, was probably the most notorious house of ill repute in Springfield. Late the same night, the two young women were arrested as they loitered about the Frisco Depot. They were placed in the calaboose on the North side and stayed there until the next morning, when they were taken to police court and fined one dollar apiece, plus costs. Unable to pay the fine, they were lodged in a larger jail on the South side, commonly called the city hold-over, where they were supposed to serve out the sentence.
According to Lucy's later story, on Thursday evening, September 1, two men slipped some whiskey into the jail for them, and the two young women got intoxicated. They were housed on the second floor of the two-story building, and the roof was rotten and leaky with gaping holes. Lulu started talking about breaking out of jail through the roof, and she soon had Lucy talked into going along with the scheme. The young women made it through the ceiling and onto the roof okay, but as they were preparing to scale down a pipe that ran the height of the building, they fell. Lucy said she blacked out, but somehow she made it to Nichols Junction, where she met her brothers, who took her to her stepfather's nearby home. Meanwhile, Lulu's lifeless body was found sprawled out on the ground at the base of the jail building on Friday morning.
Officers went to Nichols Junction to bring Lucy back to Springfield for a coroner's jury on Friday night. Lawmen thought at first that Lulu's name was Richardson and that she and Lucy were sisters. Tracing the girls' movements, the officers learned that Lulu had gone by the name Bertha Johnson during the brief time she'd stopped at the Plain View, and further investigation revealed that her real name was Lulu Walker. Lucy confirmed Lulu's real identity, although officers were skeptical at first of Lucy's story. For one thing, they didn't believe that whiskey had been slipped into the hold-over and that the girls had gotten drunk. According to the Springfield Republican, though, Lucy told a very convincing story, and many people were inclined to believe it. Lucy said one of the main reasons she and Lulu had decided to escape was because of the terrible food served at the hold-over. All they had the whole time they were there, she said, was bread and warm water, and the Republican railed against the poor food and other terrible conditions at the hold-over.
Lucy said she didn't realize Lulu was dead until the officers brought her back to Springfield from Nichols Junction. She said she remembered falling but didn't remember anything after that until seeing her brothers at Nichols. Investigators theorized that Lucy had fallen partly on top of Lulu rather than hitting the bare ground, which is why the fall left her only stunned and bruised while Lulu died from the fall. Lucy seemed sincerely broken up when she learned that her friend was dead, and she vowed that the tragedy would serve as a lesson for her and that she would "try to lead a better life."
Authorities sent letters to Lulu's family in Dunnegan informing them what had happened, but they got no response. So, Lulu was buried in a potter's field on September 4 at county expense.   

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Murder of Crawford Hibbard

I've titled this blog entry "The Murder of Crawford Hibbard," because at the time of the 25-year-old Hibbard's death in 1906 in Howell County, Missouri, most observers were convinced it was a murder. However, there is some doubt about that, because the case was never solved.
On the afternoon of August 16, 1906, Hibbard and his wife, 23-year-old Anna, were home alone at their house on Wolf Creek near Mountain View, because their little daughter was visiting her grandfather, John Vaughn (Anna's father) at his nearby home. Hibbard, who had recently joined his wife in the teaching profession, lay down in the floor with a grammar book to bone up for the coming school year. According to her later testimony, Anna left the house to pick some fruit, and she had just been in the orchard a few minutes when she heard what sounded like a gunshot coming from the direction of the house. Hurrying back to investigate, she found her husband lying on the floor with the top of his head nearly blown off. Brains oozed out, and the floor and walls were splattered with blood and hair. Beside him lay the grammar book he'd been studying, and also just a few feet away lay his shotgun, which he normally kept in an adjoining room. 

Horrified, Anna ran to a neighbor's house to give an alarm, and investigators soon arrived on the scene. The coroner ruled that the death could not have been a suicide because the location of the wound and the length of the gun barrel made it virtually impossible for Hibbard to have shot himself in that location. The investigators, therefore, tentatively concluded that an unknown assassin had slipped into the house and killed Hibbard with his own gun.
However, the mysterious death fueled much speculation, and suspicion gradually began to settle on Anna Hibbard. Some people openly gossiped that the woman had killed her own husband. Anna countered by suing at least two of the gossipers for defamation of character, including a school director where she had previously taught, who had openly accused her of murder and gotten her dismissed. She won her suit against the school director, but the speculation about her didn't stop.
In April of 1907, a grand jury finally charged Mrs. Hibbard with murder. Despite the serious charge, she was released on $5000 bond, and when the case was called in June, the prosecutor dismissed it, giving no explanation at the time.
In August, however, after a new law bearing on the case went into effect, the prosecution revived the charge against Anna, and she was re-arrested. Her father, John Vaughn, was also arrested at this time as an alleged accomplice in the murder. Both defendants were released on $1000 bond each.
Anna's trial took place at West Plains in December 1907. After less than two days of testimony, both sides rested their cases, and the jury found Mrs. Hibbard not guilty after only 18 minutes of deliberation. The charges against her father were subsequently dropped. 
Photo of Crawford and Anna Hibbard from the Howell County Gazette.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Lively Case

I recently ran across an article in an 1892 Springfield newspaper entitled "A Lively Case" that I found amusing. It was about a woman named Maggie Langley who was charged with "keeping a bawdy house," with a neighbor named Lucinda King being the complaining witness.
When the case came up in early July, the prosecution brought out the names of a number of men who had allegedly visited the home of the 51-year-old Mrs. Langley at the corner of Lyon and Locust streets. There was "considerable amusement among the crowd when certain names were mentioned," and the judge had to threaten to clear the courtroom unless order was restored.
The 35-year-old complainant, however, proved to be a fairly weak witness for the prosecution. Mrs. King, a near neighbor of Mrs. Langley, admitted that she and the defendant had recently engaged in a dispute, which caused jurors to conclude that her complaint might be little more than a personal vendetta. In an apparent attempt to buttress her own character, Mrs. King also made several "more or less remarkable" statements. She claimed that she always opened the doors and blinds any time a man entered her home, that she'd never seen a married man walking with a girl on the streets, that she'd never seen a young woman "arrange a gentleman's cravat," and that she herself had "received but very little company" when she was young. Whether Mrs. King's own reputation was less than stellar or the jurors simply thought the statements were incredibly naive is not clear, but for whatever reason they found them hard to believe. Mrs. King also added that the property occupied by Mrs. Langley had previously been the domicile of "Madam Bell," whom those in the court remembered as a notorious woman but also a benevolent one.
"The case from start to finish was sensational," according to the newspaper report, "and many men were afraid that allegations would be made which it might be difficult to explain or disprove." However, "the testimony was 'rocky' all the way through," and "was not convincing to the jury," who brought in a verdict of not guilty after a brief deliberation.
In a footnote to this story, Maggie Langley and Lucinda King were still neighbors living near the intersection of Lyon and Locust eight years later, at the time of the 1900 census.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Springfield's First New Car Dealer

This blog post, entitled "Springfield's First New Car Dealer," is about J. E. Atkinson, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that I don't know for a certainty that Atkinson was the first new automobile dealer in Springfield. However, I haven't been able to find anyone who came before him.
What I know for sure is that Atkinson offered an automobile repair service from his shop on St. Louis Street as early as 1905. He had previously sold sporting goods and electrical equipment, including bicycles and phonographs, and he continued to sell these products even after he branched into the automobile repair business.
The next year, 1906, Atkinson became an authorized agent of the Cadillac Motor Company and started selling new Cadillacs from his St. Louis Street store. He still continued handling a variety of other goods as well, as you can see in the accompanying advertisement from a Springfield newspaper in April of that year.

In early 1909, Atkinson moved his place of business to East Walnut Street, but he still dealt in essentially the same line of goods he had sold at the other place, including automobiles. However, sometime during this year or late 1908, he quit dealing in Cadillacs and instead started selling De Tamble automobiles. New De Tambles cost $650, as the advertisement below from a November 1908 Springfield newspaper shows.

In early 1910, Atkinson moved again, this time to 308 S. Jefferson, and started selling R.E.O.s, which cost $1250, almost twice as much as the De Tamble. For at least a short while, he was a dealer for both De Tambles and R.E.O.s.
By 1911, Atkinson had started selling Fords and apparently discontinued selling other makes. At least Ford cars were the ones he mainly promoted in newspaper ads such as the one below from a September 1911 Springfield newspaper.

As a sideline, or maybe it was something more than a sideline, Atkinson also began selling Ohio Electric cars while still hawking the Fords, which he continued to sell until his death in early 1914. Suffice it to say that J. E. Atkinson wore a lot of different caps as a merchant in early 1900s Springfield.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

John Hunt's Murder of his Daughter

On the evening of August 29, 1896, sixty-four-year-old John Hunt of Columbia, Missouri, arrived home in a drunken frenzy and , according to initial reports of the incident, shot his seventeen-year-old daughter, Mattie, twice for no apparent reason. He then chased his fifty-one-year-old wife, Mary, out of the house, firing one or two errant shots at her. Then he promptly mounted a horse and rode away. One report of the affair said that Hunt entered the house, starting shooting, and both women went screaming from the home pursued by the drunken man. Mattie fell dead, and her mother fainted in the garden, where she was found a half hour later. A different report the next day said that, when Hunt arrived home, Mattie came out of the house to meet him and the old man immediately drew his revolver and started shooting without provocation. After receiving a single gunshot wound to the side, the girl fled shrieking from the scene. Hunt then entered the house and started shooting at his wife but missed. She fled the house and collapsed outside, while Hunt rushed back out of the house, mounted his horse, and galloped away. The first report suggested that Mattie's wounds were probably fatal, while the second one said that she was in a serious condition but that her wound was not necessarily fatal.
Shortly after the shooting, a posse organized and went in pursuit of the demented man, who according to the second report, had "borne a bad reputation for several years." 
Hunt was captured on the afternoon of August 30 and charged with felonious assault. After Mattie died from her wound or wounds on September 4, Hunt was "re-arrested" and charged with murder.
At the time of his trial in February of 1897, Hunt's son John armed himself and threatened violence against his mother if she testified against the father. However, the son was arrested, and the mother's testimony, which went on as scheduled, brought out additional facts about the shooting. Hunt and his wife had been arguing a lot in the days and weeks leading up to the crime over the fact that Hunt wanted to sell their place in Columbia and move to the countryside while Mary preferred to stay in town. There were other issues as well, and Hunt was especially abusive when he'd been drinking. He had threatened to kill both his wife and his daughter on more than one occasion. On the fateful evening, he came home from visiting an adult son in the country and immediately started arguing with his wife. Mattie soon came home from grocery shopping and found the couple still in a heated argument. When she told her mother, "I would not stand it," Hunt pulled out his revolver and shot her. 
Hunt's lawyers pleaded insanity, but he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to hang in late March. His attorneys petitioned for a new trial, and when the motion was denied, they appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, automatically staying the execution. A newspaper report at the time said Hunt was 78 years old, but this is almost surely an error, since he was listed as 38 in the 1870 census and 46 in the 1880 census. Unless both of the census records were drastically wrong, Hunt could not have been anywhere near 78. More likely he was in his mid-sixties. 
In early December of 1897, the state supreme court upheld the lower court's verdict and reset the execution for January 13, 1898. A newspaper report at the time said that Hunt had been accused 40 years earlier of murdering his stepfather but that sufficient evidence could not be gathered for a conviction. However, shortly after this incident, Hunt had been sent to the state pen on a grand larceny charge, and when he got home he "made love to his cousin" and ended up eloping with her and marrying her over the protestations of her family. This was the same wife who later testified against him for killing their daughter, Mattie. 
Before Hunt's execution date, a sheriff's jury was convened in Boone County to consider the question of his sanity. Described as a "mental and physical wreck," he was declared insane, and an appeal for clemency was subsequently made to the governor. In early January 1898, the governor commuted the condemned man's sentence and ordered him committed to the insane asylum at Nevada. 

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