Monday, April 27, 2009

West Plains Notables

Although West Plains is not in my neck of the Ozarks (and, in fact, I don't recall that I've ever even been there) I've been aware for years that the town was home to both country music star Porter Wagoner and major league baseball player Preacher Roe. I think I was previously aware, too, that major league player and manager Bill Virdon grew up there.
However, I was unaware until I started doing a little digging that West Plains was apparently home to a couple of other minor celebrities. Ted Gullic, another major league baseball player, also hailed from West Plains, and so, too, did Jan Howard, a country singer who was famous for her duets with whisperin' Bill Anderson in the 1960s, as well as a couple of songs she did by herself.
West Plains has streets named after most of its famous natives. Apparently, Ted Gullic is the only exception. I guess he has been gone too long or else he wasn't famous enough. Someone in West Plains needs to start a campaign for Ted.
At any rate, West Plains seems to have more than its share of well-known people who were associated with the town. Five celebrities for a town of a little over ten thousand people seems like quite a few.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Joplin's Notorious Dead, Part Three

Moving to to another Joplin cemetery, Ozarks Memorial, we find Wilbur Underhill, known during the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Tri-State Terror, because of all the banks he robbed and people he killed in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Largely forgotten today, he was, at one time, considered every bit as desperate and dangerous as Bonnie and Clyde or any of the other gangsters of the Depression era. One of his associates was Harvey Bailey, mentioned in my previous post.
Underhill grew up in Joplin and first got into trouble in his hometown during the late 1910s pulling off burglaries and then strong-arm robberies. After he was finally killed in Shawnee, Oklahoma, by agents of the fledgling agency that would become known as the FBI, his body was brought back in January of 1934 to Joplin, where thousands of curious people reportedly turned out for his funeral.
Mass-murderer Bill Cook is buried in an unmarked grave at Peace Church Cemetery at the northwest edge of Joplin. A native of Joplin, Cook kidnapped five members of the Carl Mosser family on Route 66 in late December of 1950 and, after forcing the father to drive pell-mell across the country for a couple of days, brought the whole family back to his hometown, where he killed them in the early-morning hours of January 2, 1951, and dumped their bodies in an abandoned mine shaft in the neighborhood where he had grown up. Later Cook killed a man in California, was executed for the latter crime, and was brought back to Joplin for burial. My upcoming book about notorious incidents of the Ozarks will contain a chapter on Cook.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Joplin's Notorious Dead, Part Two

Another infamous character buried in Joplin is Harvey Bailey. Often called the Dean of American Bank Robbers because of the number of banks he robbed during the 1920s and early 1930s, he was an associate of George "Machine Gun" Kelley and other gangsters.
Bailey moved to Joplin in the 1960s upon his release from prison and shortly afterwards married the widow of Herb Farmer, who himself had been an associate of the Barker gang and other outlaws. Bailey died in Joplin in 1979 and is buried in the town's Forest Park Cemetery beside his wife. Not far away lies Herb Farmer.
Forest Park Cemetery is also the burial site of a notorious character named Jay Lynch, who killed the sheriff of Barton County in March of 1919 and was lynched on the square in Lamar a couple of months later. His body was removed to Joplin, though, for final disposition and buried at Forest Park. I don't think there is a headstone, but I'm not sure, because I've never tried to look for one.
Next time, the final installment in "Joplin's Notorious Dead."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Joplin's Notorious Dead

I've mentioned previously Joplin's reputation as a wide-open town during its mining heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I lived in the Springfield area as a teenager and young adult, I would occasionally hear mention of Joplin's notorious past, and I took the stories with a grain of salt. My skepticism continued after I first moved to Joplin almost 35 years ago, because Joplin seemed about as tame as anywhere else when I arrived in the 1970s. I suspected that residents exaggerated the tales of its wild past out of some sort of perverted pride the same way that some people will brag about being related to Jesse James, even when such is not the case.
What I have learned over the years, though, is that most of the stories were true and Joplin's reputation as a rough town was well deserved. I could cite numerous cases in point, but one visible sign of the town's shady past is the number of notorious characters who are buried in Joplin.
For openers, there's Roy "Arkansas Tom" Daugherty, who started out during the Old West era as a member of the Doolin gang, later became a bank robber during the gangster era, and died in a shootout with Joplin police in the 1920s. He's buried in an unmarked grave at Fairview Cemetery on the town's west side. Another notorious duo who are buried at Fairview are Harry and Jennings Young, who killed six police officers during an infamous shootout near Brookline in Greene County in the early 1930s. A few days later, they themselves died during a face-off with Houston (Texas) police, and their bodies were brought back to Missouri for burial. Springfield and Greene County authorities turned them away, though; so the bodies were brought to Joplin. Just the fact that Greene County wouldn't accept them but Joplin would says something about the latter place. The Young brothers, like Daugherty, were buried in unmarked graves at first, but their sister Vinita later placed a headstone.
I'll mention some more of Joplin's notorious corpses in my next post.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


In my previous post about the Reunion Community, I mentioned that it was located in Jasper County about two miles northwest of Oronogo. Like the Reunion Community, Oronogo, too, has an interesting history. Founded as a lead mining camp prior to the Civil War, it was called Minersville until some years after the war.
The story of how the name change came about is a fascinating sidelight in itself. During the early mining days, it was common for miners to barter for goods and services when they didn't have cash, with lead ore being the principal medium of exchange. One day, a miner supposedly offered a merchant at Minersville something other than ore as trade for the merchant's goods, and the merchant refused the offer, saying it was "Ore or no go." The name stuck, got contracted to Oronogo, and eventually was adopted as the official name of the town.
Oronogo was a booming little town during the heyday of the Tri-State Mining District from late 1800s until the middle part of the twentieth century, and it witnessed its share of notorious incidents over the years. For instance, the Bank of Oronogo was robbed by infamous characters on at least a couple of different occasions, once by Roy "Arkansas Tom" Daugherty and another time by Clyde Barrow. The last I knew, the old bank building was still standing, although it was sitting vacant and in a somewhat dilapidated condition.
During the latter half of the twentieth century, Oronogo became almost a ghost town, but in recent years it has made a comeback. It is home to a relatively new elementary school (part of the Webb City School District), and a building boom has turned it into a thriving bedroom community for Joplin, Webb City, and other surrounding towns.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reunion Community

One of my posts a month or two ago was about Alcander Longley and the Friendship Community east of Buffalo in Dallas County. Longley's first experimental communist community in Missouri, though, was located in Jasper County near the present-day site of Oronogo. Also called the True Family Community, the Reunion Community was founded in 1868. At the time, Oronogo was still known as Minersville, and the communist community was located about two miles northwest of the town. The members of the Reunion Community engaged in farming and the nursery business, selling grape vines to the people of Jasper County. Like all of Longley's later communities in Missouri, the Reunion Community was relatively short-lived. By the end of 1871, Longley had returned to St. Louis, and the Reunion Community had disbanded. Longley went on to make several more attempts at establishing a communist community in Missouri, next in line being the Friendship Community, which he started in 1872.

Devil's Promenade

My latest book is about the famous Joplin or Tri-State Spook Light. Actually, Hornet Spook Light is probably the most accurate descriptor, s...