Saturday, June 25, 2022

Catherine Lincoln Sullenger

   At the time of the Civil War, Sherwood was the third-largest town in Jasper County, Missouri. Located in the extreme western part of the county about three or four miles northwest of present-day Joplin in the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Highway JJ and Fir Road, Sherwood was burned to the ground on May 19, 1863, by Federal soldiers in retaliation for the killing of sixteen of their comrades the previous day during the Skirmish at Rader's Farm three miles to the southeast. The village was targeted, along with a number of other homes in the vicinity, because the western half of the county was known as a hotbed of Southern sentiment. Today, about the only remnant of Sherwood that remains to suggest such a community ever existed is the local cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery is located about a quarter-mile east of JJ Highway on the north side of Fir Road. But the cemetery is noted for another reason, in addition to its Civil War connection. It is the final resting place of Catherine Lincoln Sullenger, a first cousin of President Abraham Lincoln.

   Catherine, or Kate as she was often called, was the daughter of Josiah Lincoln, who was a brother to Abe's father, Thomas Lincoln. She was born in Harrison County, Indiana, in 1817. According to later newspaper reports, Kate, as an old woman, enjoyed telling stories relating to her famous cousin's youth, and one or two reports even suggested that the two were childhood playmates. A more than eight-year difference in age casts doubt on this assertion, but the two families were indeed close. Years later, President Lincoln said that he knew Josiah Lincoln very well and that he considered him an excellent and honorable man.
   Catherine Lincoln married John Sullenger in Harrison County in 1836, and a few years later, the couple, along with other Sullenger family members, migrated to Missouri and settled in western Jasper County. The Sullengers lived for many years in the Peace Church community, and two of Kate's children, who predeceased her, were buried in the Peace Church Cemetery. However, Kate's husband and two other children, who also predeceased Kate, were buried in the Sherwood Cemetery.
   After her husband died in 1898, Kate sold the old homestead and moved into Joplin around the turn of the 20th century. After Kate herself died on March 11, 1908, her body was taken back to Sherwood for burial two days later.

   In a story that appeared in a Joplin newspaper near the 50th anniversary of Kate's death, one of her granddaughters claimed that nobody around Joplin even knew about Kate's connection to President Lincoln until after she died. This seems to be an exaggeration, because it was reported at the time of Kate's death that she was a cousin of the former president. However, it does appear to be true that Kate rarely bragged about her connection to President Lincoln or tried to gain advantage because of her famous relative.

Note: most of the information for this blog post is condensed from an article I did on the sam
e subject a few years ago for Journal of the Ozarks.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Sleeper, Missouri

   When I was growing up, one of my dad's best friends from his youth lived at Sleeper, Missouri, located about seven or eight miles northeast of Lebanon in Laclede County. Our families occasionally visited, and I remember going to Sleeper at least two or three times over the years. My impression of Sleeper at the time was that the name of the place was fitting, because the community, what there was of it, seemed always to be asleep. In truth, Sleeper never amounted to a whole lot, as far as population is concerned, and it still doesn't today.
   The first settlers in the vicinity of Sleeper came about 1840, but a community or place known as Sleeper did not come into existence until a few years after the Civil War when the railroad was being extended from Rolla to Springfield. The roadbed was built by contractors who were responsible for small stretches of the road of just one or two miles each. One of the contractors was named Sleeper, and a railroad siding and switching station were built on his section of road with a spur leading to a coal chute. The place at first was called Sleeper's Switch, but the "Switch" part was later dropped. Another, less credible, variation on how Sleeper got its name says that the contractor wasn't actually named Sleeper but that he had a reputation for sleeping or being sleepy a lot and Sleeper or Sleeper's Switch was a derisive name given to the place because of the man's drowsy habits.
   A post office was established at Sleeper's Switch in 1879 (one report says 1874), and the post office name was changed to Sleeper in 1883 as a small community continued to grow up around the railroad station. In 1889, the businesses of Sleeper amounted to two general stores and a blacksmith shop. When new coal chutes were built at Sleeper around the turn of the twentieth century, the little town perked up. Town lots were sold, and new residences constructed. In 1907, a Methodist Church moved into Sleeper from an outlying area. The town was incorporated in 1911, and a school district was formed. About 1914, Sleeper got its first telegraph office, and a new train station was built.
   By 1920, Sleeper was a thriving little village. It had three mercantile stores, one hardware store, one bank, one lumberyard, two blacksmith shops, two corn mills, one canning factory, a railroad section crew of eight men, and a coal chute crew of eight men.
   But that would be the little community's peak, because the coal chutes were removed about this same time (1920), and the town began to decline. A fire destroyed all the businesses on one whole side of the main street in 1930, and the Sleeper bank consolidated with a bank at Stoutland about the same time. In 1932, when a history of Sleeper appeared in the Lebanon Laclede County Republican, Sleeper still had a combined store/post office, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a church, a schoolhouse, and a train depot. But even most of those businesses and institutions were destined to disappear over the next twenty years or so. Sleeper lost its post office in 1955, and the Sleeper School was consolidated about the same time. Today, one store, a couple of churches, and a volunteer fire department are about the only going concerns in Sleeper, and a few people still live there.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The "Scandalous" Story of Effie Ellis

   Back in the prim and proper Victorian Age, it didn't take much to create a scandal. More specifically, it didn't take much for a woman to be labeled an immoral floozy. Effie Ellis's story, which made headlines in Missouri newspapers in the late 1880s, is a case in point.
   Isabelle "Belle" O'Dowd, was about 17 or 18 years of age when, using the stage name Effie Ellis, she came to Springfield at Christmastime of 1886 as an actress and a song and dance girl for a traveling variety show out of St. Louis. Fenton Cox, son of G. M. Cox, a prominent Springfield physician, became infatuated with the beautiful and charming young woman, and she seemed to return his affection to some degree. She lingered in Springfield, and young Cox tried to set her up with a variety show of her own in Springfield. Alarmed by his son's infatuation with a person he considered to be a loose woman and little better than a "demon harlot," Dr. Cox tried to break the couple up. He thought Effie was only spending time with Fenton so he would support her financially, and he finally succeeded, with the help of the local police, in running Effie out of town.

                                    from St. Louis Globe Democrat

   However, Fenton followed the girl to cities throughout the Midwest, including St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City, and Topeka. Dr. Cox made several trips to bring his son home, and he even set him up with a couple of different jobs, one in New York, to try to keep him away from Effie. But Fenton and Effie kept writing letters to each other and seeing each other on the sly. The couple even passed themselves off as man and wife in St. Louis during early 1888, but they did not live together. Dr. Cox traveled to St. Louis to bring Fenton home once again, but the young man swore he was in love with Belle (i.e. Effie) and wanted to marry her for real. Dr. Cox vehemently opposed such a union, but he was at his wit's end as to how to break the couple up. He finally decided to resort to desperate means. Using Fenton's name, Dr. Cox wired Effie in St. Louis beseeching her to come to Springfield.
   Effie balked at making the trip and even expressed to a female friend of hers that she feared something bad might happen if she went to Springfield. The friend later said that Effie seemed more afraid of Fenton because of his insane jealousy than she was in love with him. The telegrams kept coming, though, imploring her to come to Springfield, and she finally relented.
   She arrived at the Frisco depot in North Springfield on the morning of March 14, 1888, expecting Fenton to meet her there. Instead, Dr. Cox was there to pick her up. She boarded his carriage, and they started off together, being driven by a hackman. They had gone just a short distance when Dr. Cox began verbally abusing the young woman. Next, he grabbed her by the throat and began beating her. She begged him not to kill her, and he said he wouldn't kill her but he might do something worse. He then pulled out a bottle of carbolic acid and threw its contents in her face.
   Effie was taken to a Springfield hotel, where she received medical treatment. It was feared she had been blinded by the acid and left permanently disfigured. A day or so later, though, doctors announced that she would not lose her sight in both eyes and maybe not in either. Her face would be scarred, they said, but not severely so.
   Meanwhile, Dr. Cox was arrested on charges of felonious assault. At first, there was considerable talk of mob action against him, but when it was learned that Effie would not die and might make an almost complete recovery, such talk died down. Dr. Cox gave bond and was allowed to go free.
   Newspapers, while generally deploring Cox's desperate measure, seemed to sympathize with him and tended to cast blame on the victim, calling her such names as a "soiled dove," and a "fallen angel" and accusing her of being "oblivious to the seventh commandment," despite the fact that no proof was presented to suggest she was promiscuous. The most damning evidence against her seemed to be that she was associated with a "low" variety show. One newspaper did admit that, although Cox was generally respected in the community, some people didn't like him because of his quick temper.
   To the contrary of the way Effie was generally portrayed in the press, the best evidence suggests that she was not a prostitute or a promiscuous woman. Effie had been orphaned about five years earlier when her mother died, and she had to support herself. The woman who knew her in St. Louis (the theater manager's wife) said that Effie did not seem to especially enjoy the theatrical life and only stayed with it because it was the only way she knew to make a living. Despite her apparent lack of enthusiasm for her job, Effie discharged all of her duties satisfactorily. The woman also said Effie did not seem to particularly care for male company. In addition, Effie's landlady said the young woman mainly kept to herself in her room and was "very circumspect" in her behavior.
   On March 17, three days after his attack on Effie, Dr. Cox was driving a buggy on the Springfield square "at a brisk speed" when the shaft of the buggy struck a man who was carrying a basket of fish and knocked him down, bruising him in several places. The man filed charges against the doctor, and he was arrested for criminal negligence. Taken before a judge, he gave bond on the new charge and was again released. The doctor claimed his mind was so preoccupied with his troubles with his son that he didn't see the pedestrian.
   Later the same day, Fenton and Effie, who was on the road to recovery, met with Dr. Cox in his office with the doctor who had treated Effie acting as an intermediary. Cox told his son to choose between the support of his family or the girl, and Fenton said without hesitation that he chose the girl. Dr. Cox said that settled the matter and peremptorily dismissed the couple.
   Effie had recuperated enough that she was able to travel, and it was thought she would not be disfigured or blinded after all. She and Fenton made plans to leave for St. Louis. From there, they planned to cross the Mississippi River to Illinois and get married. However, a prosecutor informed them that they needed to stay around so they could testify at Dr. Cox's preliminary hearing, and they delayed their departure.
   Later that afternoon, a reporter interviewed Effie and Fenton at her hotel room. Effie said it wasn't true that she was attracted to Fenton only because of his father's money and that she loved him "for his own self." She pointed out that, while it was true Fenton had furnished her money on occasion, she had also given him money from her scant savings a few times when he was short on funds, and the young man confirmed that the statement was true. Effie said she had no desire that Dr. Cox should be punished for his attack on her, even though he had "dogged and hounded" her relentlessly for the past year and had even knocked her down one time in Memphis. Effie said that, from what she knew of Fenton's mother and sister, she had the kindest regard for them.
   At his preliminary hearing on March 20, Dr. Cox waived examination and gave bond to appear at trial. The speculation was, however, that the case would never be prosecuted because Effie would not appear to testify against him, and Fenton seemed to confirm that such was the case.
   On March 22, Effie and Fenton traveled to St. Louis as planned, but when they called at the probate judge's office for a marriage license, Fenton learned his father had already contacted the judge and told him not to issue the license since the boy was not of legal age to get married. This was not true, and Fenton hotly denied it, but the marriage was nevertheless postponed. Although Effie had said she did not want to see Dr. Cox punished for his attack on her, she promptly retained a lawyer when she reached St. Louis with plans to sue the doctor for damages. Dr. Cox tried unsuccessfully about this time to get his son committed to an insane asylum.
   When Dr. Cox's criminal case came before a grand jury in Springfield in the early summer of 1888, the jury declined to indict him. Near the end of the year, a different jury did indict Cox for the assault on Effie, but she could not be located to return to Springfield and testify. The case was not further prosecuted.
   Dr. Cox died in June of 1889. Later that year, Fenton and Effie attended a theater performance in St. Louis, and the next morning a man who had shared the same theater box with them filed a complaint of larceny against Fenton for allegedly taking off with the man's coat and watch after the man fell asleep. Fenton denied the charge at first but finally broke down and confessed, claiming he only did it because he was drunk at the time. He also claimed Effie, whom the St. Louis Globe Democrat called a "disreputable woman," had no knowledge of the theft. One report near this time said that Fenton and Effie were now married, but this was apparently not true.
   Effie and Fenton traveled together for a time in a variety show, spending a lengthy sojourn in Peoria, Illinois, but now that Dr. Cox was no longer around to try to keep the couple separated, Fenton's infatuation with the girl gradually waned and they went their separate ways. Effie continued her association with the theater a while longer, but then she married a plumber named Lauer and they moved to Kansas City and stayed a few months before moving back to St. Louis. Meanwhile, Fenton's separation from Effie did not put him on the straight and narrow path, because in 1891, he once again got into trouble for stealing but this time it was highway robbery. He and two sidekicks held up a traveler and robbed him of a $200 watch and some money. Young Cox was unable to give bond and remained locked up several days after the crime. Fent, as he was often called, got into a couple of more scrapes with the law over the next year before finally being convicted in Jasper County for a burglary at Sarcoxie and being sent up the river to Jeff City for two-plus-year stint in the state prison.
   In 1897, Lauer sued Effie for divorce in St. Louis and asked for custody of their 5-year-old daughter, claiming that Effie had deserted him and gone to live with another man. Effie, or Isabella Lauer as she was now known, counter-sued. In her cross bill, Effie said Lauer knew what manner of woman she was and knew that she had been living with Fenton Cox without the benefit of matrimony when Lauer married her. Presumably the implication was that Lauer should not now be able to use her questionable reputation against her. In addition, Effie said that Lauer was abusive and often beat her. They had a son together that was born in Memphis, but Lauer took the boy from her in New Orleans and left him on the steps of a church. The reason she "deserted" Lauer, she said, was because he gave her a hard beating, then gave her three dollars, and ordered her to leave and do the best she could on her own. Effie asked for custody of the five-year-old girl.
   Lauer was finally granted a divorce in 1898 and was given custody of the daughter. And that was the last that was ever heard of Effie Ellis (aka Isabella Lauer).

Friday, June 3, 2022

A Murder at Red Top

   A somewhat notorious murder occurred at Red Top, Missouri, in 1922. Where the heck is Red Top? you might ask. Well, it's located about halfway between Fair Grove and Buffalo on Old Highway 65. I probably should say "used to be located," because I don't think much of anything remains to suggest the place ever existed, except that the stretch of Old Highway 65 where it is/was located is now called Red Top Road. Red Top had a post office when I was growing up in Fair Grove, but that was about all it had, even then. I remember going to an auction at Red Top with my dad when I was about eight years old, but my reminiscences of Red Top have nothing to do with the brutal crime that was committed there 100 years ago.
   On the afternoon of April 19, 1922, Frank Creed, a resident of the Red Top community, grew concerned because he had not seen his elderly neighbors, John W. and Margaret Hunt, for several days and a dog they always kept tied in the front yard was nowhere to be seen. Creed decided to investigate, but he was unable to rouse anyone when he knocked at his neighbors' door. Finding the door locked, Creed went to a side window, peered inside, and saw Margaret Hunt's body lying on a bed buried beneath a heap of bed clothes. Several pieces of furniture in the room were overturned, giving the impression that a struggle had taken place.
   Creed summoned authorities, and further investigation determined that Mrs. Hunt's skull had been crushed and her throat slashed. After a lengthy search, her husband's body was found in the barn hidden beneath a stack of hay. His skull, too, had been crushed, and his body was cut and bruised in several places. Officers estimated that the couple had been dead for several days.
   On the night of the 19th, 25-year-old Ezra Davison was arrested on suspicion of having killed the Hunts. Part of the evidence that led authorities to Davison was the fact that a wagon and a team of mules were missing from the Hunt place and a man who knew Hunt and recognized his white mules had seen the suspect driving the wagon and team in Springfield. Davison, who was also a resident of the Red Top area, was lodged overnight in the Dallas County Jail at Buffalo.
   The next morning, Hunt's wagon was located on a farm ten miles north of Springfield on the Pleasant Hope road, where Davison had recently been working. The same morning, Davison was brought to the Greene County Jail at Springfield for safekeeping.
   Authorities speculated that robbery was the motive for the crime, since the Hunts were known to be fairly well off financially. On the afternoon of the 20th, Davison gave a confession to a Springfield newspaperman, however, that suggested a different motive. Two years earlier, Davison had been attacked while in his bed, beaten severely, and left disfigured and blind in one eye. Afterwards, he filed for divorce from his wife and for custody of his two children, claiming that she had played some part in the attack on him. The divorce had recently been granted after a bitter trial, but the couple's two small children had been split between them, with each parent gaining custody of one child. Davison said that on the fateful day, which he identified as April 12, he stopped by the Hunt place late in the afternoon and was going to help Hunt retrieve a load of hay from a field. Before they started, however, the two men were discussing Davison's recent problems, and Hunt supposedly said, in reference to the attack on Davison, that he got about what he deserved. Both men became angry, and, according to Davison, Hunt attacked him with a pitchfork. Davison grabbed another pitchfork and knocked Hunt off his wagon. At this point, Mrs. Hunt came outside and tried to intervene on her husband's behalf, attacking Davison with a hoe. Davison knocked the woman down with his pitchfork and then resumed hostilities with Hunt, knocking him down a second time.
   Both Mr. and Mrs. Hunt lay unconscious on the ground. Davison picked the woman up, took her to her house, and washed the blood from her face. Going back outside, he found Hunt still lying on the ground, and he struck him with a grubbing hoe to make sure he was dead. Davison carried the dead man into his barn and covered him with hay. He then left but came back a couple of days later and took Hunt's wagon and mules.
   Davison later changed his story to say that he was not alone when the fight with the Hunts occurred. He claimed another man had killed Mrs. Hunt and that he (Davison) had only killed Hunt in self-defense. Still later, he changed the story again, maintaining that he was not even present when the deadly events unfolded.
   The jury that tried Davison on a first-degree murder charge in Bolivar on a change of venue in early 1923, however, apparently gave more credence to his first confession. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years in the state penitentiary. He was received at the Jefferson City prison on February 18 and died in the prison hospital there over 26 years later.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Joplin's Memorial Hall

   The citizens of Joplin (MO) recently voted down a proposal to renovate Memorial Hall, located at the corner of 8th and Wall. I no longer live inside the city limits and was, therefore, ineligible to vote on the issue. Had I been able to vote, I probably would have voted for the proposal. The folks who were pushing the proposal to renovate the old building are now left to contemplate their next step, and the structure might even have to end up being torn down. If so, I would hate to see it go, not just because of the fact that it was built as a patriotic tribute to veterans of the region, both living and dead, but also because of a certain sentimental attachment I have to the place. I've attended a number of events there over the years, including quite a few music concerts featuring performers like Willie Nelson, Chicago, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and B.J. Thomas. Most recently my wife and I saw Rhonda Vincent there four or five years ago, but I guess the place has deteriorated now to the point that it is not being used for much of anything.
   The idea of a building to memorialize Joplin's veterans was first bandied about shortly after World War I. With the local American Legion spearheading the effort, the idea was finally adopted by the city and plans to build the structure put into action in 1924. Local architect Alfred S. Michaelis designed the hall, and contractor A. S. Greenwell was engaged to built it at a cost of $250,000. An old school building on the site, encompassing almost the entire block between Joplin and Wall streets and Eight and Ninth streets, was torn down to make way for the project, and construction work on the new building began on August 4, 1924. Plans called for the auditorium of the two-and-a-half story structure to seat slightly over 4,000 people.
   The building was completed in the fall of 1925, but not before Michaelis, the architect, was ironically killed in a fall from the structure a few weeks before it was finished. Dedication ceremonies for Memorial Hall were held on October 18. About two thousand people turned out for the occasion. Speakers at the event included the Missouri state American Legion commander; Mercer Arnold, a prominent Joplin attorney who was also a veteran of the Spanish-American War; and A. J. P. Barnes, a Civil War veteran.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Insane on Religion

   A case of mistaken identity that caused a lot of excitement at Halltown, Missouri, in February of 1901 turned out to be almost comical, at least in retrospect.
   Someone burglarized the post office at Lawrenceburg, a small village in northeast Lawrence County, on the night of Friday, February 8, and the next day word was sent to Springfield that a man, thought to have been involved in the crime, was "lurking" around Yeakley in western Greene County and neighboring Halltown in eastern Lawrence. An officer from Springfield was dispatched immediately to bring the culprit in, but by the time he arrived, the suspect had fled.
   The officer sent word back to Springfield, and the police chief and a third officer left Springfield to join the hunt. Upon reaching Nichols Junction in the wee hours of Sunday morning, February 10, the chief learned that a "demented man" had jumped from a train at that place Saturday morning and had gone in the direction of Halltown. The chief decided that the man who'd jumped from the train was probably the same man who'd been seen lurking around Yeakley and Halltown, and he and the third officer returned to Springfield.
   Not privy to the intelligence gained by the chief, the citizens around Halltown, meanwhile, determined to rise up in arms and capture the desperado they thought to be in their midst. A report reached Halltown that a "suspicious character" had been given dinner at a farmhouse a few miles outside town, but the excitement did not reach a fever pitch until the supposed culprit was spotted near the town hall, where a public meeting was taking place. A horse was hitched to a rail outside the building, and it was thought the villain was planning to steal the horse.
   The meeting broke up about the same time that word of the man's suspicious activity was being sent around to townspeople, and a crowd of vigilantes quickly formed and went in "hot pursuit" of the suspect, according to the Springfield Leader-Democrat. The mob, numbering ten to fifteen men, found their prey in the horse lot of a local townsman, which they took as proof of the man's criminal intent. Upon seeing the mob approach as if to apprehend him, the man took off running, and some in the crowd took a few shots at him. "Fortunately, whose aim (was) good "had only loaded their guns with bird shot, which did the man no serious harm."
   At this point, the Springfield officer who'd been involved in the chase since Saturday appeared on the scene and persuaded some in the crowd to help him capture the unarmed fugitive without firing their weapons. However, in the excitement of the affair, some of the other men, not being acquainted with the Springfield officer, mistook him for the wanted man. One local leveled his gun at the officer and was about to pull the trigger, when the lawman finally succeeded in making his identity known.
   The man the mob had been hunting was quickly taken into custody, and he proved to be the "crazy man" who'd jumped off the train at Nichols, not the post office robber. He was soon identified as J. M. Cross, "a demented preacher and teacher" from Tennessee. He and his family were on their way to Ezburn, Kansas, when Cross, convinced that the train was going the wrong way, bailed out on his wife and children at Nichols. He was taken back to Springfield, where he was examined by a doctor. He was considerably bruised from his jump, and a few of the bird shot had taken effect in the back of his head, but he was not seriously hurt.
   Concluded the Leader-Democrat, "Cross seemed to be insane on religion, and while in custody kept up a continual conversation on religion."



Word was sent to Springfield

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Flemington, Missouri

   I've previously said on this blog that, having lived in southwest Missouri my whole life, I've traveled through nearly every part of it at one time or another. I have to admit, however, that there are a lot of out-of-the-way villages in the region that I've never been to. If a community is located on a county road or even a state highway that is not considered a main route, there's a good chance I might never have been there. I've mentioned one or two such places on this blog in recent weeks. Flemington, a small town in northwest Polk County at the intersection of Route O and Route V, is another such place. It's the sort of place that you're not likely to pass through on your way to somewhere else unless you live in the immediate vicinity. If you live over a hundred miles away from Flemington, as I do, it's not likely you'd ever go there unless it was your specific destination.
   Flemington got its start as a railroad town, as did a good number of other towns in the Ozarks (and elsewhere). Flemington was founded in 1898 when an extension of the Frisco Railroad was built between Bolivar, the Polk County seat, and Kansas City. The place was named after Robert L. Fleming, a longtime resident of the area who donated the town site.
   Flemington grew pretty rapidly at first, and it had a population of about 200 and a good number of businesses by 1905, when the Springfield Leader published a profile of the town. A that time, Flemington had a bank, a post office, a school, a hotel, a lumber yard, a livery, a large poultry dealer, an insurance and real estate agency, and several groceries and general stores.
   The population of Flemington gradually declined throughout the mid and late-twentieth century. It reached a low of 124 in 2000 but rebounded to 148 in the 2010 census. Today it is still a going little town with a post office, a private elementary school, several businesses, and a considerable number of residences.

Catherine Lincoln Sullenger

    At the time of the Civil War, Sherwood was the third-largest town in Jasper County, Missouri. Located in the extreme western part of the...