Thursday, September 30, 2010


A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about Indian Springs, the mineral-water town that sprang up in northern McDonald County in the early 1880s but died almost as quickly as it arose. I said that the town was renamed McNatt not long after it had fizzled as a mineral-water town. Actually, though, that's not exactly true, as I was recently informed by a man who currently owns property at McNatt. McNatt is located where the old Neosho to Pineville road crossed Indian Creek, and apparently there was a trading post or general store at or near the crossing quite a while before the town of Indian Springs sprang up on the nearby hill that overlooks the stream. The store's location at the crossing had no official name prior to the formation of Indian Springs, but after the demise of the mineral-water town, it was given the name McNatt after the person who ran the store and/or owned the surrounding land. So, in fact, McNatt and Indian Springs were two different places located very close to each other, not the same place as I suggested in my previous post. This crossing at McNatt is the one used by Confederate troops on their way south when they evacuated Newtonia shortly after the First Battle of Newtonia. Leaving Newtonia headed south, they struck the Indian Creek woods and followed the creek in a southwesterly direction until they struck the Neosho to Pineville road just above the crossing and then took this road south toward Pineville.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mary Grabill

I have a confession. Even though I've written several books and numerous magazine articles about the Civil War, I'm really not very interested in military strategy, troop movements, or what sort of weapons were used during the war. I'm much more interested in the effects that the war had on people, both soldiers and civilians.
For instance, the thing that I found most interesting during my research and writing of The Two Civil War Battles of Newtonia was Mary Grabill's letter to her daughters, written years after the fact, detailing her experiences during the war. In fact, I tried to use Mary and her experiences as the connecting thread throughout the various chapters of my book.
Mary was a young woman (age 22 I believe) at the outset of the war, newly married to E. H. Grabill, a Newtonia merchant, and the family lived in Newtonia throughout most of the war. Even though her letter was probably written around 1900, many years after the close of the war, she recalled many of her experiences quite vividly, and her reminisciences shed light on not just what life was like in Newtonia during the war but what it must have been like for other people like Mary and her family in other parts of Missouri. Mary mostly talked about the hardships she and her family endured (because hardship was mostly what the Civil War was all about), but I found it interesting that she also mentioned some of the high points or pleasurable experiences that the war brought about. For instance, she commented on the pleasant visits and conversations that she and her husband occasionally had with Union officers and their wives, refined people that she might not otherwise have encountered had the officers not been stationed at Newtonia.
Mary and her husband continued to live in Newtonia for several years after the war, then moved to Springfield, where Mary died in 1912. She is buried at Maple Park Cemetery in Springfield.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harrison Flood

My wife grew up in Harrison, Arkansas, and was in elementary school there at the time of the May 1961 flood. Over the years of our marriage, she has occasionally talked about her memories of the flood and the fact that school was called off for a long time, but I never really had an appreciation of the magnitude of the event until I recently read a brief piece about the disaster on the website of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History (located in Springdale). A wall of water 12-feet high surged out of its banks from Crooked Creek. Merchants and customers were trapped inside buildings as the water raged through the downtown area of Harrison. Four people died, and many others narrowly escaped. Three hundred and thirty-one buildings were damaged or destroyed, and one hundred cars were reportedly "tossed around like matchsticks." Total property damage from the flood was estimated at 5.4 million dollars.
Now I have a better understanding of why my wife has such vivid recollections of this event from her childhood.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Galena Lynching

Last time I mentioned that, although Joplin may have been the most populous of the mining towns of the tri-state region and probably had the most notorious reputation, several of the smaller mining towns in the area also witnessed more than their share of crime and rowdy behavior, and I cited Webb City as an example. Galena, Kansas, was another prime example. From its founding in the spring of 1877, Galena was a rough town where fights and even killings were not uncommon, the first murder being the shooting death of William "Tiger Bill" St. Clair at the hands of Bob Layton and friends in June of '77.
Galena was still a rowdy place over twenty years later near the turn of the century. The town witnessed an especially large rash of crime during one two-day period near the end of April 1899. The Joplin Globe reported that Galena "has been 'going on' at a lively rate for the past day or so, the old town having been the scene of cutting scrapes, exhibitions of cowboys on a rampage, murder and lynching, as well as larceny and other things. A history of the city for the past two days could be dished up in such a way as to rival the slaughter of the most bloodthirsty pirates or the lawlessness depicted in the most sensational of the dime novels."
The most shocking crimes during the spree were the murder of a black woman named Laura Canafax by her lover, Charles Williams, and the subsequent lynching of Williams by a mob of black men. After Canafax's body was found strangled to death on April 24, a coroner's jury quickly declared that she had come to her death at the hands of Williams, and the suspect was lodged in the local jail. During the wee hours of the morning of April 25, the mob of about fifteen men formed at the jail, broke the lock to Williams's cell, and invited him to come out. When he refused, they fired four bullets into his body, killing him instantly.
In addition to the murder and lynching, there were also two knife fights and a couple of lesser crimes committed in Galena during the same two-day period.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Webb City

I'm scheduled to give a presentation to the Webb City Genealogical Society tonight at the Webb City Public Library. It's the second time in recent months I've appeared at one of the group's meetings. The first time I talked about my Ozarks Gunfights book, and this time I'll talk mainly about my Newtonia book.
Speaking of Webb City, it was a pretty tough place during its early mining history. I've been doing research lately on early-day Joplin, and I keep running into newspaper accounts and court records pertaining to shootings, murders, etc. that occurred in Webb City.
For instance, during the period from December of 1906 to December of 1914, there were at least four murders in Webb City, and those are just the ones I've happened to come across. There may well have been more. As might be expected, at least one or two of the four murders I know about occurred in saloons.
Joplin has a reputation as having been a rough and rowdy place during its early mining days, but Webb City was no quiet, law-abiding place either. In fact, the whole tri-state mining district attracted a lot of rough characters, and consequently all the mining towns probably witnessed more than their share of crime during the early days.

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...