Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 eighteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas, Bigamy and Bloodshed: The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham, and Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Mo..

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Things to Do in Joplin 1953

   It's not unusual to hear people, especially younger people, complain about not having anything to do in their town or region. I've never given much credence to such complaints, because most of the time, when you hear such complaints, there's actually quite a bit to do in the designated region. I think what people are really saying when they say there's nothing to do is that they want something new and different to do.
   People nowadays probably have more activities to choose from than ever before when it comes to being entertained, but in glancing at the entertainment page of the May 12, 1953, edition of the Joplin Globe, I have to conclude that people had plenty to do to amuse themselves even sixty-eight years ago.
   Joplin boasted over a half dozen walk-in theaters at the time. These included the Orpheum Theatre at 528 S. Main Street, where The Naked Spur was playing; the Glen at 1413 S. Main, where The Girls of Pleasure Island was showing; the Fox, at 415 S. Main, where you could watch Bwana Devil; the Electric Theater at 1514 S. Main, featuring The Iron Mistress; the Lux at 308 S. Main, where No Holds Barred was on the screen; the Paramount, at 515 S. Main, which featured Down Among the Sheltered Palms; and the Rex, at 1425 S. Main, which was showing Canyon Passage. In addition, Trouble Along the Way was playing at the Civic in nearby Webb City, and Cattle Town was showing at the Larsen (also in Webb City, where the Route 66 Theater is currently located). The area also had at least four drive-in theaters, including the Crest (near the present-day intersection of Range Line and 32nd) and the Tri-State (just off West 7th Street) in Joplin, the 66 Drive In near Carthage, and the Edgewood just south of Neosho. Admission prices for these movies varied from a dime to 75 cents, depending on the movie house and the time of day.
   If you weren't in the mood for a movie, there were other things to do. For sports fans, there was professional baseball. The Class D Joplin Miners played at Miners Park (renamed Joe Becker in 1954), where general admission was 65 cents, bleacher seats were 35 cents, and kids could get in for a quarter. Also, the Greentop Speedway, located on North Main near Stone's Corner, was getting ready to open for the season the next night, May 13. The speedway was a dirt track that hosted modified stock car races, and admission was 75 cents.
   The Rock City Tavern, located a couple of miles south of Joplin where Richardson's Candy House later did business, was just one of a number of nightclubs where those of age could drink and dance the night away. If you just wanted to go out to eat, you also had a variety of places to choose from. For instance, Wilder's Restaurant, at 1216 S. Main was in its heyday, offering "fine food" and "excellent service." 
   And all this was from just one page of the Globe.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Leonard Short and the O'Malley Gang

   A brother of US Congressman Dewey Short, Stone County (MO) native Leonard Short was a feed and produce merchant in Galena in the late 1920s. He also had a title and abstract company. In early 1930, he sold the feed and produce company. While still running the abstract company, he started promoting boxers on the side, and then in 1931 he became a wrestling and boxing promoter in Springfield, renting the Shrine Mosque to stage the events.
   Short was reputed to be Stone County's biggest bootlegger, but until 1933, about the worse trouble he'd ever been in was an unproven charge of selling illegal whiskey in the late 1920s. After the Bank of Galena was held up by three men on August 28, 1933, though, Short was arrested and charged with being an accessory for allegedly having met with the perpetrators. Promptly released on bail, Short swore there was nothing to the charges against him, and he went on promoting an upcoming boxing match. The charges against him were subsequently dropped when it was determined there was insufficient evidence against him to warrant a trial.
   Short was soon in trouble again, though. In January 1934, he was re-arrested and charged with being an accessory to an October 1933 robbery of the Model Bakery in Springfield. It was alleged that Short was the "brains" of the stickup job. At his trial in March 1934, Short was convicted of conspiracy in the robbery and sentenced to ten years in prison. He was released on bond while he appealed the conviction, and while still out on bail he was implicated in yet another robbery--the holdup of the Bank of Billings in December of 1933. It was about this same time, the spring of 1934, that it was first alleged that Short was part of an organized gang of thieves and robbers. Although certain other members of the gang, such as Dewey Gilmore, were also tentatively identified, neither Short nor Gilmore had yet come to be associated with the Irish O'Malley gang, as they later would be. In fact, the O'Malley gang did not come to public attention until late May of 1935.
   Meanwhile, Short was arraigned in Christian County in connection with the Billings bank robbery and was released on $25,000 bond. One justice declined to bind Short over to the circuit court on the charge because of the dubious character of the primary witness against him, who was an ex-convict. However, the charge was refiled with another justice, who did bind the defendant over for trial in the circuit court. When the case came up at Ozark in late May, Short was granted a change of venue to Douglas County.
   As Short's legal troubles mounted, he discontinued his promotion of boxing and wrestling matches at the Shrine Mosque and returned to his title business in Galena. At his September trial in Ava on the Billings bank robbery charge, several members of Short's family testified that he was with them at the time he was supposedly meeting with the holdup men, and the jurors acquitted Short after just fifteen minutes of deliberation.
   In November 1934, Short and a couple of other men were arrested as "suspicious characters" because they were "parading the business district of Monett in a motor car," as if they were casing the town. Although the car was found to have a "large arsenal" of weapons in it, Short was released after questioning.
   Then on January 3, 1935, Short and several other men were arrested when Bob Johnson, fleeing from a shootout at Picher, Oklahoma, was captured in Stone County. He led authorities to a stash of stolen goods and implicated the other men in a series of gunfights and robberies in southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma in recent months. Short was charged, in particular, with complicity in a recent diamond robbery in Jasper County, and he was taken to the lockup in Carthage. The next day, he was also implicated as an actual participant in the robbery of the Bank of Crane on January 1.
   As usual, Short was released on bond pending trial, and while out on bond he was arrested for allegedly participating in the burglary of a Nixa filling station on the night of February 16. A week later, the charge was dropped after the complaining witness dropped his complaint, saying he was not sure of his identification of the suspect. Somewhere about this time, Short closed his title business in Galena, apparently to concentrate on outlawry.

   In late May, Short was tied to the Irish O'Malley gang after Dewey Gilmore was arrested in Texas and Walter Holland, alias Irish O'Malley, was arrested for an alleged kidnapping in Illinois the previous August. Short was among other gang members rounded up, and he was implicated, along with Gilmore and others, in the double robbery of two Okemah, Oklahoma, banks on December 22, 1934. The same gang was suspected in several other bank robberies as well, including one at Fort Smith less than a month before the arrests and one at Neosho two months before that. One officer remarked that the arrest of the O'Malley gang members cleared up virtually every bank robbery throughout the Midwest over the previous couple of years.
   After his arrest, Short was also linked to the Six Daring Bandits, another gang that was broken up near the same time as the O'Malley gang. For instance, the Crane bank robbery was generally attributed to the Six Daring Bandits.
   Short was transported to Oklahoma and jailed at Muscogee to await trial on the Okemah robberies. While he was still awaiting trial, he lost his appeal in the Springfield bakery holdup case and was ordered to serve his ten-year sentence. Authorities in Oklahoma would not release Short to Missouri, however, until after his trial on the Okemah bank jobs. In late November, he was found guilty in federal court of complicity in the Okemah crimes. On December 3, however, before he could be sentenced, he and three of his comrades in the O'Malley gang, including Dewey Gilmore, broke out of the Muscogee jail where they were being held, seriously wounding a lawman in the process. Three days later, they were trailed to a farmhouse near Claremore, where lawmen engaged them in a shootout when they refused to surrender. One outlaw was killed outright, Short was mortally wounded and died within hours, Gilmore was also wounded, and the fourth man surrendered.
   Short's body was brought back to Galena for burial.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Grand Opening of Monte Ne

   I have written previously about Monte Ne, a health resort and planned community developed by William Hope "Coin" Harvey at Silver Springs just east of Rogers, Arkansas, in the early 1900s. (See my Dec. 17, 2014 post entitled "Monte Ne."), but that post was just a broad overview of the place and the man behind it. Today's post pertains just to the grand opening of the place.
   The grand opening occurred on Saturday, May 4, 1901. About 1,000 invitations had been seen out, and about 200 couples from various parts of the Ozarks showed up for the festivities. These included well-known citizens from Rogers, Fayetteville, Bentonville, and Springfield. A few people came from other places, like Fort Smith, St. Louis, and even one person from as far away as Chicago.
   A newspaper correspondent on the grounds during the festivities reported, "Monte Ne, Ark. is a blaze of glory tonight.... All day hundreds have visited the picturesque place and have been royally entertained by Mr. W. H. Harvey, the lord of the manor, and Mrs. Burgess and Miss Hicks, his cultured assistants.
   "The ball being given tonight is the most brilliant social event that has ever occurred in this section, and marks the beginning of a new era in the social world of Northwest Arkansas."
   Monte Ne remained popular as a resort and spa until the 1920s, when it began to decline. In the 1930s, part of it was sold off in lots, and what remained was given over to other uses. The whole area was virtually submerged in water when Beaver Lake was filled in the 1960s. Remnants of Monte Ne are still visible during low water.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Dispute Over Greene County Courthouse Location

   Last time I wrote about a dispute in Jasper County in the late 1890s over whether the county seat should remain in Carthage or be moved to Joplin or Webb City. Just a few years earlier, Greene County had a similar dispute, although the dispute wasn't between two different towns. It was between two different sections of the same town--Springfield.
   North Springfield sprang up as a separate town in 1870 when Springfield was trying to get a railroad and the depot was located north of town rather than in the heart of the city. The new town grew up around the depot, located on Commercial Street, and a rivalry quickly developed between Springfield and its upstart neighbor to the north. The two towns finally merged in the spring of 1887, when North Springfield became part of Springfield, but the rivalry wasn't quite over.
   Within months a controversy arose over the location of a proposed new jail. Some of Springfield's wealthy citizens and a number of county commissioners and county judges wanted to build it on Center Street (now Central Street), about halfway between the old town and North Springfield, and a lot of North Springfieldians, of course, favored this idea. However, most of Springfield's rank and file citizens and a majority of the people in outlying parts of the county thought the new jail should be built on or near the square, close to the courthouse. (Located at the northwest corner of College Street and the square, the old courthouse is pictured below.)

   To circumvent the argument that the jail should be near the courthouse, those favoring the Center Street location soon proposed that a new courthouse might also be built on Center Street. This caused the dispute to heat up even more.
   One argument put forth by those proposing to move the courthouse and jail was that Greene County did not own the land where the square was, because it was part of the original 50 acres donated to the City of Springfield by John P, Campbell in the 1830s. Moving the courthouse and jail to Center Street would place it outside the original 50 acres and, thus, on county land. Those opposed to the move countered that, if such a legal argument was correct, then nearly all the courthouses in southwest Missouri, such as the Christian County courthouse at Ozark, were not located on county property but on city property instead. Those who wanted to keep the courthouse and jail on the square said the plan to move them was just a scheme to line the pockets of some wealthy investors who had purchased lots on Center Street. "It is nothing but legal robbery," said one farmer from rural Greene County, "and the judges deserve hanging more than George Graham." (This was a reference to a wife-murderer who had been lynched near present-day Grant Beach Park about a year earlier. See my book Bigamy and Bloodshed: The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham.)
   Those favoring the Center Street location soon won out on the question of where to build the new jail. It was constructed in 1889 in the northeast quadrant of Center and Boonville. The disagreement over building a new courthouse, though, continued for a quite a few years, before a new structure was finally built next to the jail between 1910 and 1912.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Jasper County Seat Dispute

   Carthage, Missouri, was named the county seat of Jasper County within a year or so after the county was formed in 1841. Joplin and Webb City did not come into existence until the 1870s, after lead and zinc were discovered in the western part of the county. However, Joplin and Webb City, especially Joplin, grew quickly, and a rivalry soon developed between the old town of Carthage and its upstart neighbors to the west. At the same time, Webb City, Carterville, and some of the other smaller towns of the mining district also resented the fact that Joplin, its larger neighbor, hogged all the publicity relative to the mining district. Often the region was even called the Joplin Mining District, and some folks especially resented this, because Webb City and Carterville, which were so close to each other as to be virtually the same town, and Galena, just across the state line in Kansas, had almost as much mining output as Joplin. Not to mention the fact that there was a plethora of other, smaller mining camps in western Jasper County, like Zincite. They preferred to call the region the Missouri-Kansas Mining District. (Lead had yet to be discovered in large quantities in northeast Oklahoma. After that happened, the region was usually known as the Tri-State Mining District.)
   The people of western Jasper County did not like having to travel to Carthage to file mining deeds and to transact other legal business, and as the area continued to grow, they began to push for a second county seat to be located in the western part of the county, or else to have the western half split off into a whole separate county. The citizens of Joplin petitioned to have a second county seat located in Joplin, which was by far the largest of the towns in the western section. Webb City and the other smaller mining communities opposed this, but the people of Carthage forged an unlikely partnership with Joplin to get the proposal passed in 1891. It called for a large new courthouse (the current building) to be constructed in Carthage and a smaller one in Joplin. In effect, Joplin became a satellite of the main county seat in Carthage, although it was sometimes referred to as a separate county seat.
   Webb City, though, did not give up on its efforts to have a county seat located there. In 1898, a movement formed to have the main county seat moved from Carthage to Webb City, and this time Joplin allied with Webb City. In fact, most observers said that Joplin was really the driving force behind the movement. A Carthage correspondent to a Springfield newspaper called the whole thing a "scheme...hatched at Joplin," because the citizens of western Jasper County were unhappy that the region wasn't getting as many bridges and other road improvements as they thought it should. "A deal seems to have been made between Joplin and Webb City," continued the correspondent, "whereby they will vote together and 'do' Carthage."
  Although I have not learned the exact outcome of any vote of the people or vote of the legislature that might have been taken on this 1898 proposal, the effort to move the county seat to Webb City obviously failed, since Carthage is still today the main county seat of Jasper County, with a satellite court building at Joplin

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Unable to Work but First Class at Kicking Up Rows

   I recently ran onto a few brief news items in Springfield newspapers during the fall of 1893 about a character named Tim Heath that I found interesting, not because the incidents were particularly important but mainly because of the colorful phraseology the reporters used in describing Heath and his misadventures.
   In early September 1893, Heath appeared before a Springfield judge on a charge of disturbing the peace of one of his neighbors, Mary E. Duke for "cussing her and threshing her son." Heath had only recently been released from jail for beating his wife, and now he was convicted on the new charge and sent back to the lockup for three days. Heath, according to the Springfield Leader, seemed disappointed that he got off with such a light sentence. Heath, who was described as "crippled," was "unable to work but (was) first class at kicking up rows and constituting himself the leader and star performer thereof."
   About the middle of September, Heath and his wife, Cordell, were arrested on complaint from another neighbor, Effie Mitchell. Ms. Mitchell, "being especially ornate in her objurgations," claimed the Heaths "exhausted their vocabulary of foul words upon her." The defendants pleaded guilty and were fined $1.00 each. Tim Heath was also sentenced to a unspecified jail term. The Leader observed at the time that Heath "breaks into jail with the regularity of clockwork and seems to prefer the retirement of the county hotel to that domestic felicity which he should find within the purview of his personal vine and fig tree." In this case, however, a stay of execution was granted so that Mr. Heath was "temporarily foiled in his attempt to force himself upon the hospitality of the people." While he was waiting for the sentence to be imposed, Heath had both Mary Duke and Effie Mitchell arrested on charges of "keeping a bawdy house and being guilty of lewd and lascivious conduct." The case against the women was continued, and, meanwhile, all parties were "getting hotter under the collar...boiling over with venom against one another."
   The final disposition of the two mid-September cases is not clear, but in mid-November Heath was once again arrested for beating his wife. He was released from jail on November 21 "to search for more trouble." Presumably he found it, but maybe not, since there seems to be no trace of him after this.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Courtroom Killing: One Lawyer Attacks Another

    On March 18, 1922, attorney Robert Stemmons appeared in court at Mount Vernon to seek a parole for one of his clients, Lavanus Jackson, who'd recently been sentenced to jail on an illegal liquor charge. J. B. Tillman, another Lawrence County attorney, had played a part in Jackson's arrest, and he was present in court as well. During arguments, Stemmons strongly criticized Tillman for the part he had taken in Jackson's arrest.
    After hearing the arguments, the judge denied Jackson's request for a parole. Tillman then asked for and was granted permission to explain his part in Jackson's arrest. After some preliminary remarks, the sixty-year-old Tillman remarked in reference to the thirty-year-old Stemmons that "young lawyers sometimes let their ambition get away with them and say too much" and that it was "a good thing for young lawyers to be called down."
    Strongly resenting the remarks, Stemmons, who was seated across the courtroom from Tillman, sprang from his chair, ran across the room, and struck Tillman. The two men went into a clinch and fell to the floor. While they were still struggling, Jackson came over and started kicking Tillman in the head. A deputy sheriff, aided by several other men, quickly separated the combatants, but Tillman did not rise after the fight had been broken up. Seriously injured, he was rushed to a local hospital, where he died the next day.
    Even before Tillman died, Stemmons, Jackson, and the latter's brother, who had taken some small part in the assault, were arrested. After Tillman died, all three were charged with first-degree murder. The cases against the three men were subsequently severed, and Stemmons was ultimately tried in January 1923 on a reduced charge of manslaughter. He was convicted and fined $500. However, Stemmons appealed the verdict, and the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in his favor in June 1924. The justices found that Tillman had died as a direct consequence of Jackson kicking him in the head and that Stemmons had not conspired with his client nor said anything whatsoever to encourage Jackson in the attack. Therefore, he could not be found guilty of any level of intentional homicide.
    Meanwhile, Lavanus Jackson was also found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in prison. He was paroled after serving slightly over half of his sentence. Apparently all charges were dropped against his brother, or else he got off with a very light sentence.
    I want to thank my friend Tom Carver for calling this incident to my attention and for providing much of the information on which the story above is based.

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