Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Alf Bolin

Alf Bolin, as most students of Ozarks history and folklore know, was a notorious bushwhacker in the Taney County area during the Civil War. He was not, however, nearly as notorious as the legend would have one believe. At least, I don't think so. I've written about this before in The Ozarks Mountaineer and elsewhere, but it continues to bother me when I see stuff written about Bolin perpetuating the notion that he was one of the worst criminals to ever step foot on the soil of Missouri. In fact, so much bloated nonsense has been written about Bolin that he has been turned almost into a folk hero.
The truth is Bolin wasn't even very well known in his own time. He may have had a local reputation around Forsyth as a thief and a bully, but if he had been even half as bad as the modern-day legend leads one to believe, he would have been well known throughout the whole state. Taney County may have been an isolated area during the Civil War, but it wasn't that isolated. Confederate guerrillas like Tom Livingston of Jasper County were well known in Union circles at least as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis, and Livingston was often mentioned in official Union and Confederate reports. Bolin, on the other hand, who was supposedly more heinous than Livingston ever thought about being, receives not one mention in the Official Records--not one. There is one brief mention of a horse thief named Boler in the Taney County area that may refer to Bolin but nothing specifically about Alf Bolin.
Because Bolin was not particularly infamous, very little was written about him until after he died, and because of this lack of a written record, it's hard to go back and disprove the legend. In at least one instance, though, the legend can be discredited by available written records. Bolin is usually blamed (or given credit for) the murder of Old Man Budd in southern Christian County. Written records at the Missouri State Archives show that this incident occurred during the late summer or early fall of 1861, and the leader of the gang who committed the murder was not Alf Bolin. Bolin may have been among the gang, but he was not its leader.
The main reason Bolin became so legendary and notorious after his death was the way he died and what happened to his body postmortem. He had the misfortune (or the good fortune one might say if he was aiming for immortality) to get his head chopped off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stand Watie

Not long ago, I ran across a short article in the September 14, 1871 Neosho Times about the death of Stand Watie that had occured a few days before. (Yes, I spend a lot of time perusing old newspapers.) Watie, as anyone who has studied the Civil War in the Trans Mississippi knows, was a Confederate general during the war, perhaps most famous for the two battles of Cabin Creek near the spot where the Fort Scott to Fort Gibson road crossed the creek a couple of miles north of present-day Pensacola, Oklahoma, not far from the Craig-Mayes county line. The first battle, in the summer of 1863, was a Federal victory, but Watie got a measure of revenge a little over a year later when he whipped the Yankees at the Second Battle of Cabin Creek.
In the years leading up to the war, Watie was the leader of the mixed-race Cherokees, while John Ross, chief of the tribe, was the leader of the purebreds. This is quite ironic, though, since Watie was seven-eighths Cherokee while Ross was a Scotsman with only one-eighth Cherokee blood. The mixed-bloods, who had a long history of interaction with whites, had mostly favored the treaty by which the tribe was removed from the Southeast, while the full-blood Cherokees largely opposed it. The split led to a bitter feud between the two factions that resulted in the deaths of Watie's brother, uncle, and others and that continued clear up through the Civil War. There's a lot more to the story, but that's the very short version.
Stand Watie is buried at the Ridge cemetery just west of Southwest City, Missouri, a mile or so inside Oklahoma.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dennis Weaver

I've mentioned several famous and semi-famous people from the Ozarks in past posts. Another person who comes to mind is Dennis Weaver, who grew up in Joplin, where I currently live. The house where Weaver lived as a boy, in the 600 block of Brownell, is still standing, and Joplin has a street near the airport named after Weaver. As a young man, Weaver attended Joplin Junior College (which grew into Missouri Southern State University).
Weaver is mainly remembered for his roles in three TV series: Gunsmoke, Gentle Ben, and McCloud. One of my most vivid memories of the McCloud series is the time Weaver's character was being tracked by radar and, to his boss's alarm, it showed him going across New York City on a diagonal at over 100 miles an hour. Come to find out, he had somehow managed to get himself into a predicament that forced him to be hanging on to the bottom rails of a speeding helicopter. Another vivid memory is the made-for-TV movie Duel, in which Weaver was being chased by a seemingly driverless semi-trailer truck.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Climax Springs

One of the ways I come up with new ideas to write about is let to something I've previously written about be a springboard to my next project. So, it is with this blog. I find myself using previous entries to come up with ideas for new ones, and right now I seem to be stuck on the general subject of towns throughout the Ozarks that sprung up around mineral springs.
Another such community is Climax Springs in Camden County, Missouri. It was founded in 1882 as merely "Climax." The "Springs" part was added in 1886 by a group of businessmen who decided to promote the healing waters of the area's many mineral springs. Although Climax Springs never enjoyed the popularity of some of the other mineral-water towns in the Ozarks, the 1889 Camden County history declared that it was "a romantic and pleasant village in which to live" and claimed that "as a health resort it is probably not excelled."
Today Climax Springs sports a population of only 100 people or so, but the town and the surrounding area still prosper enough to support a high school.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cedar Springs and Jerico Springs

A few weeks ago, in a couple of my posts about towns in the Ozarks that grew up around springs during the mineral-water craze of the late 1800s, I mentioned Monegaw Springs in St. Clair County and Eldorado Springs in Cedar County. Cedar County was also home to at least a couple of other famous springs, Cedar Springs and Jerico Springs.
Cedar Springs, another town that I passed through coming home from Sedalia recently, was laid out in 1884 and originally called Balm to suggest the healing powers of its waters. Like quite a few such towns, Cedar Springs declined rapidly after the mineral-water craze passed, and today it is little more than a wide place in the road along Highway 54 east of Eldorado Springs.
Jerico Springs, located in western Cedar County near the Barton County and Vernon County lines, was laid out in 1882, although the area was reportedly known for the curative powers of its waters long before that date. The name of the town came from a combination of the biblical city of Jericho and a man named Carrico, who had formerly owned the land on which the town was built. Bath houses were opened in Jerico Springs in 1883, and the town's springs were advertised as the "Fountain of Youth." Today, Jerico Springs, with a population of a couple of hundred people, has declined since its heyday, but it has not yet faded to near extinction the way Cedar Springs has.

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...