Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Elusive Frank Martin

As I've mentioned previously, I often find secondary topics to write about while I'm researching a primary subject. I don't necessarily take much notice of the second topic, though, unless I encounter the same subject again later on. If I run onto the same topic more than once, I usually begin to think that maybe it's a subject worth writing about.
An example is the case of Frank Martin of Laclede County, Missouri, that occurred circa 1880. When I first read about this case it didn't strike me as particularly fascinating, even though it had an element of romantic intrigue, but I've run onto multiple items about the case in 1880s newspapers and have begun to think that, if it was followed so closely at the time, maybe it's worth writing about now.
Briefly the facts of the case are these: Martin, a young man of about 20 years old, killed a man named George Mizer in Laclede County on June 9, 1879 (one report says Mizer was Martin's uncle). In February 1880, Martin was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, but while the case was being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, the sheriff's niece, Maggie Wilson, who apparently had fallen in love with the jailbird, helped him escape in November of 1880. She and the fugitive absconded together, got married, and settled down together in Tennessee. Martin, though, was recaptured in Sullivan County, Tennessee, about the first of September of 1881 and brought back to Missouri aboard a train. As the train slowed for a hill near Dixon (in Pulaski County just east of Laclede), the prisoner, even though he was shackled at the wrists and ankles, leaped from the train and made his escape, as a search turned up no trace of him. He was later recaptured at his father's farm in Laclede County, but in the meantime, the Supreme Court had granted him a new trial on the murder charge. He was retried in Dallas County on a change of venue in April of 1882 and was found not guilty. His wife, meanwhile, had given birth to twin babies after having been held briefly in the Laclede County jail for aiding her husband in his first escape, and the couple was, as one newspaper worded it, "rewarded by an opportunity for them to live in peace a wedded life begun under such adverse circumstances."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Killings in Butler

Recently I visited the Oak Hill Cemetery at Butler, Mo. to take pictures of the tombstones of J. H. Morgan and John P. Willis. The two men killed each other in 1889 while Morgan was serving as the city marshal of Butler and Willis was a deputy U. S. marshal. The incident will be one of the subjects covered in my next book; so more about them later. While I was at the cemetery, though, the sexton told me about another Butler lawmen, A. J. Aleshire, who also lost his life in the line of duty. A little research revealed that Aleshire was a night watchman and was killed by a man named Summer Holcomb when the two got into a dispute. Holcomb was eventually found not guilty of murder, something that seemed to happen with regularity in the Wild West days. If two men got mad at each other and one or both went for their weapons, the killer was often not convicted of any crime. Murder, it seems, almost had to be premeditated and cold-blooded in order to result in conviction of a crime. Aleshire's tombstone says that he died in March of 1893. However, a genealogy website that I found says the incident happened in March of 1883. I think the 1893 date is right, but I'll have to do a little more research to find out for sure. Interestingly, Aleshire's oldest son was killed in Butler just a little over a year after Aleshire was killed. Again the assailant was found not guilty.
I'm scheduled to give a presentation at the Grove (Oklahoma) Public Library at noon on November 18. I'll be talking about both my Ozarks gunfights book and my book on the two battles of Newtonia.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two Blacks Lynched By Burning at Carthage

Last time I promised to give a brief account of the burning of two black men at Carthage that occurred in 1853, as the event was chronicled in the Springfield Advertiser (and later reprinted in the Liberty Tribune). The newspaper account largely agrees with the account written years later that appears in Livingston's History of Jasper County. Indeed, Livingston, who no doubt was privvy to details not available to the newspaper, gives a more thorough account than the Advertiser. The county history, though, was wrong in at least one important detail. Livingston says the event occurred in August of 1853 when the actual date was July 30, 1853. A slave named Colley, who belonged to a man named Dale, apparently decided to rob a Dr. Fisk after Dale paid Fisk a fairly large sum of money in a business transaction, and he recruited a slave who belonged to a neighboring farmer named Scott to help in the scheme. A few nights after the business transaction, Colley went to the Fisk house and said that his master, Mr. Dale, needed the doctor's services. Dr. Fisk grabbed his doctor's bag and headed toward the Dale farm. He had gone but a little distance when he was accosted by the Scott slave, who was lying in wait. Trailing behind Dr. Fisk, Colley came up and joined his partner in crime, and together the two killed the doctor by knocking him in the head with an ax. Not finding any money on the doctor, they returned to Fisk's house, where they killed his wife and child. (They reportedly also outraged the wife, but this report probably needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as it may have been an embellishment that was added to the tale simply to inflame opinion against the murderous pair.) Colley was quickly apprehended and made a confession, but the other slave made a run for it and was caught a couple of days later several miles north of Carthage. He was brought back to town, where the townspeople held an impromptu "trial" and convicted the pair of killing the Fisk family. A vote was taken on whether to hang the men or burn them, and burning won on an almost-two-to-one vote. On Saturday, July 30, the two were chained to stakes and burned to death in downtown Carthage with a large gathering of spectators in attendance.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pre-Civil War Southwest Missouri Records

Most of my historical writing has been about either the Civil War or events (often notorious events) that have occurred since the Civil War. One reason for this is simply that the Civil War provides a natural dividing point, but the main reason that I haven't written much, if anything, about pre-Civil War events is that there is a dearth of primary sources pertaining to those events, particularly if the events occurred in the southwest Missouri area, my primary area of interest. For instance, almost no southwest Missouri newspapers from the pre-Civil War era survive, mainly because they were burned during the war by bushwhackers or other raiding parties. Most county records were likewise destroyed when courthouses were burned. (Many county records were also destroyed by accidental fire after the war during the late 1800s.) There are a few scattered issues of Springfield newspapers from the pre-Civil War era that are extant, but that's about the extent of antebellum newspapers from southwest Missouri.
So, it's unusual to find a newspaper account of something that happened in southwest Missouri during the 1840s, 1850s, or early 1860s. Occasionally, however, if an event was newsworthy enough, other newspapers in Missouri or elsewhere might publish an account of the event from a special correspondent, or more likely they would reprint an account of the event that had originally appeared in a southwest Missouri newspaper. That is what happened in the case of the burning of two slaves at Carthage by a vigilante mob in late July of 1853. A brief story of the event was published in the Springfield Advertiser but then was reprinted in the Liberty (Mo.) Tribune. So, thanks to the Tribune, we do have at least a brief contemporaneous account of this event. (The event is also described in Jasper County histories written years after the fact.) I'll describe what the Tribune (i.e. the Advertiser) said about the event next time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cora Hubbard Addendum

My book on Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a chapter on Cora Hubbard, the female bandit who helped rob the Pineville, Missouri, bank in 1897. Cora was convicted of robbery and sentenced to twelve years in prison, but, as I say at the end of the chapter, the sentence was commuted by the governor and she was released on January 1, 1905. I still don't know what happened to her after her release, but I do have a little more information (that I didn't have at the time I wrote the book) about Cora's time in prison. According to an article in a Jefferson City newspaper at the time of her release, she had been employed as a seamstress during her incarceration and had been a model prisoner. Now proficient at sewing, she planned to seek employment in that line of work.

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...