Monday, December 29, 2014

Lynching of John Bright

After a mob lynched wife murderer John Wesley Bright in Taney County in March of 1892 and shot a deputy sheriff dead in the process, one newspaper account reported that the latest killings brought the total number of people killed in the Taney County area since the Civil War to 72. I have seen similar figures cited in accounts of the Bald Knobbers' activities. In fact, it was the lawlessness that pervaded the county in the post-war years that led to creation of the Bald Knobbers. However, I suspect that 72 is a highly exaggerated estimate of the actual number of people killed in Taney County from 1865 to 1892. Regardless of the actual number, though, Taney County was most assuredly a rough territory in the late 1800s, as the Bright incident attests. Although it is sometimes chronicled in accounts of Taney County's Bald Knobber era violence, the Bright episode actually came a few years later and had nothing to do with the Bald Knobbers.
On March 6, John Bright reportedly took a gun and followed his wife to a spring on the Bright property. The couple's children heard a gunshot, and a few minutes later the father came back alone and told them that their mother had been shot by someone at the spring and warned them not to go near the spring as they might get hurt. He then reportedly filled his pockets with eggs and left the house with his gun in hand. Soon afterwards, the children went to the spring, found their mother dead, and sounded an alarm. A posse of about fifty or sixty men quickly organized and went in search of Bright. A Springfield newspaper speculated that when they found the culprit, "Judge Lynch (would) preside."
Sure enough, the newspaper was right. Bright was apprehended on or about March 11 and transported to Forsyth, where a preliminary hearing was held on Saturday the 12th. That evening, a mob of about 30 to 40 men (one estimate said as many as 100) gathered, surrounded the jail, and demanded that Deputy George Williams, who met the group outside the jail, hand Bright over. When he refused and fired a shot into the air to show he meant to defend the prisoner, someone in the mob shot him down. The horde of vigilantes then broke into the jail and dragged the prisoner from his cell to an old graveyard near the edge of town, where they hanged him from a tree. The leader of the mob then reportedly fired a shot as a signal for the vigilantes to disperse, and everyone went his separate way. Supposedly no one in the mob was recognized and a coroner's inquest came back with the usual verdict in such cases, that Bright came to his death at the hand of "parties unknown."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Springfield Female College

The Springfield Female College was an institution of higher learning located in Springfield, Missouri, from 1848 to 1861. Sometimes called Carlton College after its president, Charles Carlton, it was located at the corner of College Street and Main Street just a few blocks west of the public square. It was affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After Carlton's wife died sometime around 1861 when Carlton was about 40 years old, he moved to Texas and started a new college there in 1866 with his new wife and his two daughters from his first marriage as the main instructors.
I recently ran across an ad in an August 1856 issue of the Springfield Mirror that gives an interesting glimpse of the school, as far as how much it cost to attend and so forth. The 1856-1857 school term was scheduled to start on the second Monday in September and run for ten months, with a week off between Christmas and New Year's. Cost for the basic preparatory course varied from $5.00 to $8.00 for five months (or a half-session), and cost of the collegiate course was $12.00 for a similar period. Including instruction in Greek, French, and Latin cost an extra $8.00, and other electives were also offered for an additional fee. For example, a course in painting and drawing cost $6.00. All students were charged an incidental fee of $1.00. These prices seem ridiculously cheap by modern standards. I'm not sure what the average cost of a semester of college is nowadays, because it's been so long since I or anyone I'm closely associated with has attended college, but I'm petty sure the cost of higher education has outpaced the inflation rate. I know it has in recent years, and I think it probably did in earlier years as well. Some things nowadays are not all that much more expensive than they were ten, fifteen, or even a hundred and fifty years ago. For instance, you can probably buy a bushel of corn for only five to ten times more than it cost during the Civil War era. Definitely not so with higher education.
Although I don't know how many students were normally enrolled in the Springfield Female College at any given time, the advertisement said that the school could accommodate over 100 pupils.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monte Ne

Monte Ne was a resort town developed in northwest Arkansas's Benton County in 1900 by lawyer, politician, author, businessman, and silver miner William Hope "Coin" Harvey. Harvey had gained fame during the 1890s promoting the free silver cause. In 1894, he published a book entitled Coin's Financial School, which presented his arguments in favor of silver and gave him his nickname. During the 1896 presidential campaign, he stumped throughout the U.S. for silver candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Located just east of Rogers, Monte Ne began as Silver Springs, but Harvey changed the name to Monte Ne (meaning "mountain water") after he purchased 320 acres that included Silver Springs. In 1913, Harvey started the Ozark Trails Association to promote a system of roads known as the Ozark Trails and to indirectly promote the resort. Featuring the world's largest log hotels, Monte Ne remained popular until the 1920s, when it began to decline. However, it was the site of the national convention of the Liberty Party in 1931, and Harvey was nominated for president at the event. Harvey died in 1936, and much of the resort was sold off in lots. For almost the next 30 years, part of the site was used as a summer camp for girls, called Camp Joyzelle. The camp closed in the early 1960s during construction of Beaver Lake, and most of what remained of Monte Ne was submerged by water when the lake was filled in 1964. However, parts of it are still visible, especially during times of low water. The accompanying photo shows the remains of the resort's partially submerged amphitheater.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shooting of Isaac Whittenberg

Late in the evening, on or about January 24, 1863, two men came to the home of 21-year-old Isaac Whittenberg in Webster County, Missouri. One of them barged into his house with a revolver drawn and demanded that Whittenberg pilot him to the home of a neighbor named Alexander. Whittenberg resisted the idea at first but complied under threats from the intruder. He dressed and accompanied the unwelcome caller outside, where the other man, a Wright County resident named Thomas Paul with whom Whittenberg was slightly acquainted, awaited on horseback. Whittenberg mounted Paul's horse, riding double behind Paul, and the three men started toward Alexander's house.
Whittenberg learned that the man who had burst into his house was named Todd, and Paul let Todd go first, advising Whittenberg that it was best to let Todd take the lead because Todd would just as soon shoot him (Whittenberg) as not. When the threesome neared Alexander's place, Whittenberg was allowed to dismount and start back on foot toward his house. He had not gone more than fifteen or twenty steps, however, before the two men rode back and overtook him, and Todd demanded that he give up his pistol. When Whittenberg said he did not have a pistol, Todd promptly shot him in the breast and fired a second shot before Paul intervened to prevent Todd from firing again.
Paul was later arrested and charged with the assault on Whittenberg, while Todd apparently was nowhere to be found. However, the victim, who was recovering from his wound, testified at Paul's trial in Springfield near the end of February that he felt he owed his life to Paul. He said Paul had intervened to stop Todd from shooting him a second time and that he felt Paul had done everything he could to protect him. Paul was accordingly acquitted of the charges against him.
What intrigues me about this case is the possibility that the man named Todd could have been notorious Quantrill guerrilla George Todd. I have no evidence that such is the case, but I do know that Todd and some of Quantrill's other men did participate in the Battle of Springfield in early January of 1863 and the Battle of Hartville later the same month. And Paul's description of Todd as just as likely to shoot a man as not sounds like an apt description of George Todd. It's possible that George Todd, tiring of regular Confederate service, was trying to get back to his old stomping grounds of Jackson County and thus needed local men to pilot him through the territory. It is known that some of Quantrill's men did, in fact, return to the Kansas City area shortly after the Battles of Springfield and Hartville.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Horrible Crime and a Swift Retribution

The July 28, 1870, Springfield Leader chronicled a rape and the subsequent lynching of the rapist that occurred in Henry County, Missouri, under the headline "A Horrible Crime and a Swift Retribution," and I've adopted the headline as the title of this post. Citing the Clinton Advocate, the Leader reported that "a half-breed Mexican, by the name of John Coleman," caught a young woman named Miss George while she was out "blackberrying" near Calhoun in Henry County and, under threats of murdering her, accomplished the rape.
The girl came back to Calhoun weeping and told her brother-in-law what had happened. A vigilante posse of about twenty men formed and went in search of "the fiend." That evening five black men succeeded in capturing Coleman and brought him back to town. Miss George identified him as the man who had attacked her, and he also had a butcher knife in his possession that she identified as one he had used to threaten her and accomplish "his hellish purpose."
Friends of the girl wanted to string Coleman up immediately, as soon as he had been brought back and identified, but law officers insisted that he should have a fair trial. Soon afterwards, though, the mob flourished their pistols, dragged the accused out into the street, and produced a rope, again demanding summary justice. The law officers and the town's leading citizens, however, again intervened and were able to get Coleman safely to jail. Later that evening, the angry mob broke open the front door of the jail in an attempt to get Coleman, but the horde was yet again driven back by armed citizens and officers.
The next morning, the accused was brought out of his cell for a preliminary examination, which was witnessed by the friends of the young woman. The proceedings were allowed to continue unmolested until evidence tending to show Coleman's guilt was introduced, at which point the determined vigilantes again decided to take the law into their own hands. They surrounded the defendant, dragged him to a nearby locust tree with a rope around his neck, and suspended him to the tree, although he apparently had already strangled to death before he was hoisted up.
The locust tree was reportedly located on the "courthouse square"; so it's not clear whether the lynching took place at Calhoun or Clinton. Since Clinton was (and is) the county seat of Henry County, one would assume the reference to the courthouse square would place the event at Clinton. However, except for the reference to the Clinton newspaper, Calhoun is the only town mentioned in the story.
The Advocate reported at the time that this was "the first instance of mob rule in Henry County." As far as I know, it was also the last, but it was definitely not the last hanging--just the last illegal one. (See my post of November 26 about the legal hanging of John W. Patterson.)
By the way, the only John Coleman living in Henry County at the time of the 1870 census (taken just a couple of weeks before this incident) was a 35-year-old native of Kentucky. I doubt that very many half-breed Mexicans were born in Kentucky in 1835; so it makes one suspect that the newspaper's identification of Coleman as a "half-breed Mexican" might have been a deliberate mischaracterization or an unsubstantiated rumor meant to play on the prejudice of readers in an attempt to mitigate the gravity of the mob action.
The newspaper account cited above does not give the exact dates that these events occurred. Presumably they must have occurred sometime near the middle of July.
By the way, I'll be giving a presentation this coming Tuesday (December 9) at 7 p.m. at the Library Center on South Campbell in Springfield about my Wicked Springfield book, which, as the name implies, is about the notorious history of Springfield (from its earliest days through the beginning of Prohibition).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Killing of Toby Carey

In the chapter on James-Younger gang member Hobbs Kerry (also spelled Carey) in my Ozarks Gunfights book, I mentioned that Hobbs's brother Toby was killed on July 15, 1870, by a man named Bennett during a row over a card game at a “cyprian camp” near Granby. I recently ran onto an article in the Springfield Leader that sheds a little more light on the topic.
Citing the Neosho Investigator, the Leader says that the incident happened on a Saturday (which, if true, would mean it happened on July 16, not July 15) at a place called Shipman's Ford on Shoal Creek during a "scene of disgraceful, lewd, drunken debauchery." Bennett, Toby Kerry, and several other young men had joined "a party of prostitutes" on the creek and were engaged in playing cards and drinking whiskey. "With such elements," according to the Leader, "quarrels were inevitable." When Bennett and Kerry got into a dispute over a game of cards, several of the young men drew revolvers, and the two principals in the argument began firing at each other from six paces away.
Kerry was shot first in the hand and then in the breast, after which he tumbled into the creek dead. Kerry's friends fired several shots at Bennett as he turned and fled through a cornfield. He was seen on horseback the following Monday morning as his friends were trying to get him out of the territory, and it was reportedly confirmed at that time that one of the shots fired by Kerry's friends had struck him in the leg, shattering the bone. At last report on Monday, a party of men from Granby were in pursuit of Bennett, and Kerry was buried at Newtonia the same day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Murder of James G. Clark and Hanging of John W. Patterson

In December of 1868, James G. Clark, residing near Roscoe in St. Clair County, Missouri, made a trip to Sedalia to buy lumber for a project on his farm. While in Sedalia he met a young man named John W. Patterson, who had a wagon available, and Clark, who had good bit of money on his person, hired Patterson to haul the lumber for him. Starting toward Roscoe with the lumber, the pair passed through Henry County. Shortly after passing through Brownington in southern Henry County, the twenty-four-year-old Patterson hacked Clark to death with a hatchet, took Clark's money (which amounted to about $400), and also took a watch off the body.
After dumping the body on the prairie a short distance off the road, Patterson started back toward Sedalia in the wagon alone. At Brownington, he unloaded the lumber, tried to trade the watch he had taken from the murdered man, and also mailed a letter to his father, who lived near Carthage in Jasper County. Meanwhile, some kids out for play happened upon Clark's body very shortly after it had been abandoned. Wagon tracks in the soft ground around the body made it apparent that the body had been left there by whoever was driving the wagon, and a posse immediately organized and started in pursuit of the driver. At Brownington, the lumber that Patterson had unloaded was found with some of his victim's blood on it, and local witnesses stated that a young man and an older man had passed through the community together but that the young man had come back alone. In addition, the letter the young man had written had not yet been mailed, and the postmaster opened it and found that the young man's name was John W. Patterson.
Patterson was trailed back to Sedalia and located at a hotel there, where he had put up. He still had most of the money that had been taken from Clark with him, and some of the men who had joined the posse recognized Patterson as the man whom they had seen riding in a wagon with an older man shortly before Clark was killed. Patterson was arrested and taken back to Henry County. On the way, he confessed to killing Clark, claiming at first that he did so in self defense before admitting that he had killed him for his money.
Patterson was placed in jail at Clinton and shortly afterwards was indicted for murder. He won a change of venue to Morgan County, however, and was transferred to a jail there. The calaboose where he was housed was described as a "rickety building," and he soon escaped, despite the fact that he was supposedly closely guarded. He disappeared and was not heard from for several years.
Then, about five years after Patterson's escape, his father died, and the murderer applied for his share of the estate. The detectives were thus once again put on his trail and he was eventually tracked down in Illinois, where he was now living with a wife and a child. He was brought back to Missouri and tried at Clinton in April of 1881 for Clark's murder, with his wife and young child in attendance. He was convicted on April 23rd and sentenced to hang on June 10.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stay Out of My Watermelon Patch

On August 25, 1864, sixteen-year-old William C. Crawford saw a man climbing a fence on his father's farm east of Lebanon and watched the man go into the watermelon patch. However, the man, who turned out to be a private in the 16th Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers named Marcus Spence, was dressed in civilian clothes and young Crawford didn't know him. The boy watched Spence cut open a watermelon and plug a couple of others before moving off to what Crawford called the "lower end" of the patch. Crawford came up to the fence and, when he saw Spence still in the watermelon patch, he raised his rifle and fired.
The shot hit Spence but apparently wounded him only slightly, because his first instinct, he later said, was to go back to his assailant and "wear him out." On reconsideration, however, he decided there might be more than one person that he would have to deal with, and, therefore, he moved on off out of the watermelon patch.
Charged with assault with intent to kill, Crawford was arrested and taken before the provost marshal at Lebanon. When questioned on August 29, he stated that he at first thought the man was "old Dass Carter" and that he only shot at him after he realized it was someone he didn't know stealing from his watermelon patch. "I would not have shot Spence," he declared, "if I had known him. I would as leave done shot my father."
Spence made no mention, however, of watermelons in his statement taken three days later. He said he was on his way to the home of Josephus McVay, where his wife was temporarily staying. (McVay had been Spence's captain when Spence had been in the home guards earlier in the war.) Spence claimed that he was cutting across a tobacco field but otherwise minding his own business when Crawford shot him.
Shortly afterwards, General John B. Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District headquartered at Springfield, ordered that the charges against Crawford be dropped and that he be released. No doubt, the fact that Spence was not seriously hurt factored into the decision.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lynching of Jacob Fleming

I think I observed in one of my posts not long ago that lynchings in America during the 1800s and early 1900s were a lot more common than most people today probably realize. The only ones we still hear about today are the sensational ones like the lynching of the three black men in Springfield during Easter weekend of 1906. A lot of less sensational lynchings have been almost forgotten. Indeed, lynchings were so common that many of them were not even widely reported at the time. I don't mean to suggest that they were an everyday occurrence. Far from it. But they happened frequently enough that, unless some particularly sensational circumstances attended them, they might have been reported in the local newspaper but scarcely anywhere else. Another case in point was the lynching of Jacob Fleming at Osceola, Missouri, in June of 1871.
On Saturday, June 17, 1871, James Hughes and Jacob Fleming were among a group of men drinking in John Anderson's saloon, the Arcade, in Osceola in the middle of the afternoon. Hughes was described as a quiet, inoffensive man who normally didn't drink. On this occasion, though, he was somewhat inebriated but not obnoxiously so. The 24-year-old Fleming, on the other hand, was considered a desperado and a bully. The two men exchanged words, although the exact nature of the brief argument is uncertain. One report said that Fleming asked Hughes to play poker with him and that Hughes replied that he only played a straight game, apparently implying that he thought Fleming might play a crooked game. For whatever reason, after the brief exchange of words, Fleming promptly pulled out his pistol and shot Hughes twice from close range, once through the jaw or lower part of the face and once through the throat. Hughes fell to the floor, gravely wounded, but later tried to rise, asking for a gun so that he might go after Fleming. Instead, the wounded man was removed to a nearby building and still later to a private residence, where he died that evening about three or three and a half hours after the shooting.
A coroner's inquest was held over Hughes's body almost immediately after he died. Six different men who had been in the saloon at the time of the shooting gave testimony. Most said they had not even realized there was an argument between Hughes and Fleming until they heard the first shot. Two or three of them said they then turned in time to see Fleming fire the second shot from point-blank range, after which Hughes fell to the floor. Only one, a man named Thomas Brown, was close enough to the action to be able to give any testimony relevant to the nature of the quarrel that led to the shooting. He said that he and Hughes started toward the bar together and that when Hughes spoke to him, Fleming interjected, demanding to know whether Hughes had spoken to him. Hughes reportedly said, "No, I'm speaking to this man," (meaning Brown). "It's his treat." Brown then said to Fleming that Hughes seemed to know a lot about his (i.e. Brown's) business. Fleming agreed, and he and Hughes then exchanged a few words. The next thing Brown knew, Fleming had his arm extended toward Hughes, and Brown heard two shots but claimed not to have actually seen a weapon.
Shortly after the shooting, Fleming, a husband and a father of two small children, was arrested and placed in the St. Clair County jail. Later that night, rumors that a mob might take the law into its own hands spread, but law enforcement officers appealed for calm and nothing happened. However, on June 29, 1871, the Osceola Herald reported that Fleming had been granted a change of venue to neighboring Benton County and would soon be transferred there. Late that night, apparently spurred on by the prospect that Fleming might get away with murder if he his trial was moved to Warsaw, a mob decided to act. No doubt the mob was also prompted, at least in part, by Fleming's reputation for prior bad acts. He had reportedly joined the Union militia near the end of the Civil War and participated in several killings, house burnings, and similar acts. Then, shortly after the close of the war, he supposedly killed a man at Osceola and was not even arrested for the crime. To top things off, just five or six months before the Hughes affair, Fleming was said to have fired shots at a man at Roscoe (a small community in St. Clair County), shooting off part of the man's ear. At any rate, a mob of about 100 disguised men rode up to the jail and demanded the keys. The demand was refused, but according to the 1883 History of Henry and St. Clair Counties, the mob "came on business" and would not be denied. They forced the door to the jail with a heavy hammer and then also broke open the door to Fleming's cell. They marched the prisoner to a nearby area that the county history called "the old brick yard," where they quickly strung him up "without words." Fleming reportedly made no appeal and met his fate stoically. A couple of weeks later, an out-of-town newspaper claimed that the Osceola Democrat, in reporting the lynching, had said that "everything was done up decently and to order."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Editor's First Visit to Joplin

On August 16, 1876, one of the editors of the Mt. Vernon (Mo.) Fountain and Journal paid his first visit to Joplin, which at the time was a booming mining town that had been in existence only about three or four years. The purpose of the editor's visit was to attend the Republican convention of Missouri's Sixth Congressional District being held in Joplin. The day was mostly consumed by speeches, and then on the night of the 16th, a torch light procession was held, which the editor called the "grandest torch light procession that has ever been in Missouri, west of St. Louis." The editor estimated attendance at the parade at upwards of 10,000 people, and the highlights of the evening were more speeches from three different speakers' stands. One of the orators spoke for two hours and another for a full hour, but the editor thought the speeches fine entertainment. (Political speeches were, in fact, considered a higher form of entertainment during the 1800s than we regard them today. I imagine most of us today would be bored stiff by a two-hour speech, regardless of who was giving it.)
After spending the night in Joplin, the editor took a tour of the bustling town and some of the outlying mines the next day. He visited the mines at Parr Hill, which he described as being about a mile south of East Joplin. (The Parr Hill mines were where Parr Hill Park is today.) He then went to Lone Elm, which he described as "an extensive town" and "quite a business place" located one mile north of West Joplin. (Lone Elm was located on present-day Lone Elm Road, but virtually nothing remains to identify the community except a church and a slight concentration of homes in the area. The last remaining store, located at what was called Lone Elm Junction, was closed about thirty years ago or more.) The editor also paid a visit to West Joplin and "found the society is better than we had supposed, it being a mining town." The editor then headed home, stopping at Sarcoxie for the evening meal and presumably to spend the night. (His trip from Mt. Vernon to Joplin took him two days; so presumably his return trip also took two days.)
Back in Lawrence County, on August 16 (the day the editor attended the convention in Joplin), a young man named Robert Poland, as reported in the following week's Fountain and Journal, went to the home of W.F. Henderson near Round Grove about 12 miles northwest of Mt. Vernon, shot Henderson's daughter, and then turned the gun on himself. He died shortly thereafter, but the girl fortunately survived with a good chance of a full recovery. It was reported that Poland had been keeping company with Miss Henderson but that she had not encouraged his attentions. Having attempted suicide before, Poland was considered partially insane, and apparently his rejection by Miss Henderson drove him completely mad.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sarah Parkinson: Mother of Guerrilla Leader Tom Livingston

Thomas R. Livingston moved from Washington County (Potosi area) to Jasper County a few years before the Civil War broke out, and he went on to become a notorious guerrilla leader during the war. His mother, Sarah Parkinson, who still lived in Washington County, was, like her son, considered disloyal, or at least she was suspected of disloyalty by some of her Union neighbors and by certain Federal officers and was closely watched for any disloyal activity that she might engage in.
Near the middle of the war (shortly before her son was killed at Stockton in Cedar County), she became the target of a Union investigation for allegedly harboring a Confederate soldier. Near the end of May, 1863, a Lieutenant McBride of Confederate general Daniel Frost's command was found at Mrs. Livingston's home and arrested there by the local Enrolled Missouri Militia, and she was accused of having harbored him. Shortly afterwards, Captain Benjamin F. Crail of the Third Iowa Cavalry confiscated a stallion from Mrs. Livingston when he was informed that she was a Confederate sympathizer and had harbored McBride.
It was not, however, until several weeks later when Mrs. Parkinson petitioned for return of the horse that Union authorities started trying to build a case against her. It was alleged at that time that, in addition to harboring McBride, she had allowed her home to be used as a distribution point for Rebel mail. Presumably because he thought it would strengthen the case against her, F. Kellerman, provost marshal at Potosi, also noted that she was the mother of guerrilla leader Thomas Livingston. In early July, according to Union records, McBride signed an affidavit that Sarah Parkinson had, indeed, harbored him, but the affidavit itself apparently does not survive.
Over the next several weeks, Union officials took a number of conflicting statements from Mrs. Parkinson's neighbors and acquaintances concerning her loyalty or lack thereof. Several of the deponents, including the sheriff of Washington County, said they considered Mrs. Parkinson loyal, had never heard of her harboring or feeding bushwhackers or Rebel soldiers, and had never heard her utter disloyal sentiments. A couple of the witnesses added that they knew Tom Livingston but that they were sure he had not been back to Washington County since the war started. Several other affiants, however, stated just the opposite. They said they considered her a "dreadful rebel" and had heard her express herself in opposition to Federal authorities.
The evidence against Mrs. Parkinson was forwarded from Potosi to St. Louis, but the case against her was finally dropped about the middle of August and the animal returned to her.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lynching of Joe Woods

Sedalia, Missouri, is slightly outside what is normally thought of as the Ozarks, but I'm going to go ahead anyway and write about an incident that occurred there a couple of years after the Civil War. On Saturday evening, March 23, 1867, a man named Joe Woods came into Joe Geimer's saloon and starting raising hell. Woods, according to the 1882 History of Pettis County, came from a respectable family, but, while still a young man, he had begun "a course of drinking and dissipation" and turned into a desperado. According to newspaper reports in 1867, he had a been a member of Bacon Montgomery's Missouri State Militia regiment during the Civil War and had supposedly robbed a Lexington banker and helped perpetrate a number of other crimes and depredations at Lexington as part of his militia unit. After the war, he had continued a pattern of reckless and domineering behavior and had earned a reputation as a bully. A powerfully built man, he had an especially violent temper when he had been drinking, which was reportedly quite often.
In the saloon, Woods knocked down the bartender and allegedly assaulted a couple of customers as well. He then left and went to a grocery store next door. Geimer had not been in his saloon at the time Woods paid his unwelcome visit, but he learned of the assault on his bartender and apparently went looking for Woods. He met him near the doorway of the grocery store as Woods was coming out of the store. The two men had previously been on good terms, and Geimer, who was considered a peaceful citizen, asked Woods in a civil manner, according to witnesses, not to come into his saloon and cause disturbances. As Geimer then continued toward his saloon, Woods drew his pistol and shot him in the back. Geimer collapsed and fell into the doorway of his saloon, dying almost instantly.
Woods retreated to a local hotel and swore he'd kill any man who tried to arrest him. A small posse nonetheless formed and went to the hotel. One of the men went into Woods's upstairs room with his gun drawn, got the drop on the desperado, and arrested him. The prisoner was taken to "the cooler," a two-story log building on an alley just off Main Street, which had served as a guardhouse during the war and was now used as a jail. A deputy sheriff and five or six other men were detailed to guard the prisoner until a constable showed up with an official warrant for Woods's arrest. The deputy then departed, leaving the prisoner in charge of the constable.
What happened next was mostly reported as hearsay after the fact, but supposedly a mob of about a dozen men showed up around midnight and took the prisoner from his guard. Woods reportedly put up quite a struggle but was finally subdued by repeated blows from the butts of revolvers. A rope was then looped around his neck, and he was led or dragged from the "cooler." The other end of the rope was tied to a buggy axle, and Woods was dragged through town to a local lumber yard. It was a cold night, and the ground was frozen hard. The prisoner's clothes were torn off as he was dragged along on the hard ground until he was completely naked by the time the party reached the lumber yard. The mob untied the rope from the buggy, looped it over the gateway that formed the entrance to the lumber yard, and hoisted up the almost lifeless body of the prisoner. After he had swung awhile, someone reportedly shot him through the head "to make 'assurance doubly sure.'"
The body was left hanging, and it was discovered about 9 a.m. Sunday morning still dangling from the gateway. Apparently offended by the immodesty of a naked frozen corpse, someone during the night had pinned a sheet around the body.
As was often the case in nineteenth-century lynchings, a coroner's inquest concluded that Woods had come to his death at the hands of parties unknown to the jury, although the county history later allowed that the men responsible for the extralegal execution probably could have been fairly easily determined if law enforcement officers had been inclined to investigate. However, Woods' lynching was widely seen as "a deed of justice"
For example, one eyewitness to the murder of Geimer (and perhaps to the lynching of Woods) wrote to the Sedalia Democrat on March 27 defending the action of the mob. After describing the lynching, the letter writer concluded, "So ended the life of a villain of the darkest dye, and he got a punishment he deserved long before he received it." Another correspondent to the same newspaper claimed that Woods was held in such universal disapprobation that even his own mother refused to take charge of the body after it was cut down from the gateway and he was buried in a pauper's grave at the public cemetery rather than in the family plot.
The lynching was credited with helping to reduce the lawlessness and violence that had plagued the Pettis County area since the war, and writing fifteen years later, the county historian allowed that the vigilante act had had "a decided and unmistakably beneficial influence upon the whole community."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mathew Ritchey and Newtonia

In my book entitled The Two Civil War Battle of Newtonia, I mentioned that in the early 1864 Mathew Ritchey, Newtonia's leading citizen, petitioned General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, asking that Union forces not abandon Newtonia. Rosecrans responded in March saying it was not proper for him to comment on the disposition of forces, but Ritchey's son, a Federal captain, soon returned to Newtonia with his unit. Within two months, however, the possibility that Union forces might again abandon the town arose, and Mathew Ritchey, along with Newtonia merchant E.H. Grabill, again appealed to Rosecrans on May 20, 1864. The letter provides details about the situation in Newtonia at the time and gives the rationale for Ritchey's (and Grabill's) appeal.
Apparently plans had been announced to move additional troops to nearby Granby to help out in the operation of the lead mines there. (The lead was used in making ammunition.) The letter writers feared and assumed that moving more troops to Granby would mean that Newtonia would be abandoned. (They had probably heard rumors to this effect.) They told Rosecrans that Newtonia had been held by Union forces for the past two years and had been considered an important point by all commanders in the region. "An excellent, two-story blockhouse with surrounding stone wall and four bastions (floor raised inside for cannon), ditch, good well of water, and connected with a large two-story brick once a school building, has been erected (by Maj. Eno, 8th M.S.M.)," said the petitioners. "The position is easily defensible against any moderate force; the works will accommodate if necessary 400 or 500 or more inside, and it is believed could be held by resolute men against more than five times this number."
Ritchey and Grabill went on to describe Newtonia's location on the prairie with the nearest timber about two miles away. The area had an abundance of grass for grazing and could sustain almost any amount of stock. Water was sufficient, and a steam mill situated at the town could manufacture 60 to 75 pounds of flour in 24 hours.
For the past two years, the post at Newtonia had been center for Union refugees and a stopping point for troops, added the letter writers. Many families from Newton and McDonald counties who had abandoned their homes after losing almost everything to Confederate raids had taken up residence in vicinity, within a 2 1/2 or 3-mile radius of Newtonia. They had already planted their crops for the season and had done so with the promise and expectation that they would be protected. If the Newtonia post were to be vacated, Ritchey and Grabill pleaded, these refugees as well as established residents like the petitioners themselves would also be compelled to leave and would suffer great loss if not economic ruin.
The two men argued that it would take only a few Union soldiers left at Newtonia to secure the place, especially since Granby was only five miles to the west and Neosho only about eleven miles west. And the troops left at Newtonia would, at the same time, be close enough to reinforce those two places if need be. The Union citizens of Newtonia were willing to fight, said Ritchey and Grabill, as they had just demonstrated over the past few days (apparently in helping to repel one or more guerrilla attacks on the town). All they needed were a few soldiers "as a basis of defense" to help them out.
The petitioners closed by saying they did not want to criticize or to appear selfish, but they admitted that they wanted the troops to remain in large part to protect their own business interests in Newtonia. However, they said, having troops in Newtonia would also serve the greater good of helping many others besides themselves.
A few days later General Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District at Springfield, wrote to Ritchey assuring him that Newtonia would not be deserted.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Anti-War Sentiments During World War I

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, when large protests against the Vietnam War were fairly common across America, I somehow was led to believe or came to conclude that such anti-war sentiment was previously almost unheard of in this country. During the years since I have come to realize that the anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam war era was unprecedented perhaps only in its breadth and magnitude. Even during the Civil War, there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment and a number of demonstrations of such sentiment, such as the New York City draft riots. I suspect that anti-war feelings have been around almost ever since we've had wars.
In my reading and research, I've noticed, in particular, that there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment in the United States during World War I. I wrote on this blog not too long ago, for instance, about the fact that such sentiment was not altogether uncommon among German Americans (although German Americans were suspected of harboring such sentiments more often than they actually did). I also wrote a year or so ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War, which was a clash in Cleburne County, Arkansas, in early 1918 between local law enforcement and a small sect of Russellites whose sons had been targeted for arrest because they had not registered for the draft. The Russellites, as I explained at the time, was a religious sect that was a forerunner to present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. Often called Bible Students or the Watch Tower Society, the Russellites were noted for their pacifism, as are Jehovah's Witnesses still today.
Another interesting case of Russellite opposition to World War I occurred in Jasper County, Missouri. A Webb City man named L.D. Barnes, an avowed Bible Student, became the object of an investigation by the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in early 1918 after he wrote a number of letters to the Joplin Globe and to area citizens espousing his opposition to the war. Although the agent who investigated Barnes labeled him "a religious crank of the worst kind," some of the things Barnes said in his letters actually make a lot of sense for anyone who is interested in paying more than lip service to the ideas of the New Testament. For instance, in one letter that he wrote to the minister of a Methodist church in Webb City, Barnes (who was upset by something he had read on the church's marquee about supporting the war effort) challenged the minister and his followers to live up to what the Bible actually teaches. "War and Christianity won't mix," he declared. "Ye cannot serve God and the Devil. If war is right, Christianity is wrong, false, a lie. If Christianity is right, war is wrong, false, a lie. The God revealed by Jesus is no God of battles. He lifts no sword. His rule is peace, and His method of persuasion is forgiveness. Hear the Scripture: 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Especially in light of the terror and fanaticism we see in the world today, one might reasonably argue that Barnes was an impractical idealist, but I don't think I would call him "a religious crank of the worst kind."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wild Bill and Disloyal Teachers

As regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I spend a considerable amount of time just browsing through old records, looking not necessarily for anything in particular but for anything that strikes me as interesting. I recently ran across a couple of brief but interesting items from Union Provost Marshals' records.
The first concerns Wild Bill Hickok. On February 15, 1865, S.A. Harshbarger, a lieutenant in the 16th Missouri Cavalry Volunteers, wrote to the Southwest Missouri District headquarters at Springfield asking whether James B. Hickok, or "Wile Bill as he is cald," and another man named Jenkins were in the official employ of Brigadier General J.B. Sanborn, commanding the district. Harshbarger, who was stationed in Lawrence County, said Hickok and Jenkins had showed up at his camp claiming to be U.S. scouts on their way to Fort Scott but he thought they were acting suspicious. For one thing, they had started off to the north as though they, indeed, might be headed to Fort Scott but had turned back to the southeast as soon as they were out of sight of the camp. I don't know whether Harshabarger ever got an official reply to his letter of inquiry, but Hickok was, in fact, employed by Sanborn as a scout during late 1864 and early 1865.
The second item of interest concerned two female teachers accused of being disloyal. A man named J.W. McCullough reported on July 17, 1862, from Lawrence County that a Mrs. Trantham of Stone County was teaching "a regular Secesh school." McCullough said the woman was the wife of a strong secessionist and a strong rebel sympathizer herself. She was reportedly teaching "none but children of secessionists, for which she is pledged to take Confederate money." A Miss Haden, McCullough reported, was conducting a similar school in Lawrence County, where "treason is fully taught to the young."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Murder of Lewis Litterell

On the night of November 29, 1862, two men called at the home of 48-year-old Lewis Litterell in Pulaski County, Missouri. Lewis's wife, Mahala, went to the door, and according to her later statement, one of the men wanted to know who lived there. When she told him "Lewis Litterell," the man asked whether he was a Union man, and she said he was. The man said he and his partner were taking a message to Waynesville and needed Litterell to pilot them. When Mahala replied that her husband was sick, the man who had been talking turned to his partner and told him to hold his horse. The first man dismounted and went into the house to "talk to the old man," as Mahala phrased it. The unknown man asked Litterell, since he was unable to travel, whether he knew anyone else who might pilot them, and Litterell mentioned a neighbor named Robertson. The two night-time callers then left.
Presently, they reappeared, however, and one of the men again went into the house while the other held his horse. The intruder pointed a pistol at Litterell and ordered him to get up out of his bed and be "damn quick" about it. He told Litterell to get the best horse he could and pilot him and his partner to Waynesville.
That was the last time Mahala Litterell saw her husband alive. His dead body was returned to her a couple of days later, and at or near the same time, Larkin "Lark" Salsman of neighboring Camden County, was brought to her house in the custody of the local Enrolled Missouri Militia as a suspect in Litterell's murder. Lark told Mrs. Litterell that it was his brother, John Salsman, and Pete Cuswell who had taken her husband away.
On December 9, when Mahala Litterell and her deceased husband's sister-in-law, Cynthia Litterell, traveled to Waynesville to give statements to Union authorities there about the kidnapping of Lewis Litterell, Mahala said she believed the men who took her husband away to be Lark Salsman and Pete Cuswell. Cynthia's testimony essentially agreed with Mahala's except that Cynthia said Lark Salsman, the man brought to the Litterell house by the EMM, did not look like either of the two men who took Lewis Litterell away.
Lieutentant Thomas Thomas, assistant provost marshal at Waynesville, forwarded the women's statements to Rolla the same day he took them, and he also reported that Lark Salsman had already been killed by the EMM before the Litterell women gave their statements. Whether he was shot while trying to escape or was the victim of summary justice is not known. Thomas also added that John Salsman and Pete Cuswell were yet at large.
Authorities at Rolla, upon reviewing the paperwork forwarded by Thomas, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to assign guilt, and presumably no further proceedings in the case took place.
Source: Union Provost Marshal's Papers, Relating to Two or More Citizens, Missouri State Archives microfilm roll number 1591.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Rebel Ancestors??

I recently found in provost marshals papers a letter written on September 23, 1864, by Major J.B. Kaiser, commanding the Union post at Waynesville, Missouri, to Brigadier-General John McNeil, commanding the Rolla district, in which Kaiser identifies a number of citizens of Pulaski and Texas counties who had supposedly been aiding and harboring bushwhackers and "also conveying news to them by every opportunity they can get."
Among the people on the list accused of harboring bushwhackers was John Morgan, who was reported as living seven miles south of the Waynesville post. This was my great great grandmother's brother. In fact, the location Kaiser mentions, seven miles south of Waynesville is still the location of the Morgan farm, which has been in the family since about 1829, I believe.
Another person listed was the "Widow Tippet...where the Rebels make frequent visits for the purpose of gathering information." Mrs. Tippet was identified as living near Widow Adams, who lived west of Waynesville and was considered "a strong Rebel sympathizer." The Widow Tippet was John Morgan's sister and my great great grandmother. She had previously been married to my great great grandfather, Robert Wood. After Wood died, she remarried a man named Tippet, but he, too, died prior to the Civil War.
What I found particularly interesting was that I also found a letter written a few months earlier in April of 1864 by a prominent Union man named Ellis of Pulaski County to Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal general of the Department of the Missouri headquartered in St. Louis, in which Ellis identifies other men of Pulaski who can be trusted as honest and reliable Union men. One of the men Ellis mentioned was John Morgan.
This just goes to show how difficult it is for researchers to determine whether a Missouri ancestor (or any other person in Missouri) was actually loyal or not during the Civil War. Sometimes people were falsely reported as disloyal simply because a neighbor held a personal grudge against them, or else they were reported as disloyal on very scant evidence. On the other hand, sometimes people of suspect loyalty were reported as loyal because the person doing the reporting was of dubious loyalty himself. If Union authorities had a hard time knowing for sure who was loyal and who was not, how are researchers to know for sure 150 years later?
What I do know is that my great grandfather, Mrs. Tippet's son, joined the local Union militia near the tail end of the war when he was about 19 or 20 years old. Of course, by then many people who had previously nursed Southern sympathies had seen the writing on the wall and had shifted their loyalties, at least outwardly. I also know that two older sons of Mrs. Tippet, my great grandfather's brothers, were Confederate soldiers. So, as I say, the evidence is conflicting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hobbs Kerry Again

I've commented previously on the fact that 19th century newspapermen often offered wry commentary on the subject they were reporting on. I recently ran onto another good example from the August 17, 1876 edition of the Neosho Times. Hobbs Kerry, who had grown up in nearby Granby, had recently been arrested for helping the James-Younger gang hold up a train near Otterville in Cooper County, Missouri, and after his arrest he had named the other members of the gang. The Neosho newspaperman reported that, Kerry, who had recently been recruited to the gang by veteran members Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell, had "squealed, and his squealing will probably result in breaking up the band. But in squealing Hobbs forfeited all chance of securing a policy in any well-regulated life insurance company."
The next week, the same newspaper reported that the impression was gaining ground that Kerry confession, as far as implicating the Youngers and the James boys in the crime, was untrue. Such an impression did, in fact, gain ground during the weeks after Kerry's arrest. Many people did not believe his story. The Times reported that, according to Kerry's own admission, he had never met the Youngers or the James brothers until he accompanied Pitts and Chadwell to Jackson County a week or so before the July 7 train robbery, and the newspaper suggested that perhaps Kerry had merely been told that his partners were the James and Younger brothers in order to boost his confidence in carrying out the crime. The Neosho newspaperman questioned whether Cole Younger, who had "long head in crooked work," would have taken on a raw recruit for an important job on the mere word of Pitts and Chadwell. An alternative, the reporter suggested, was that Kerry had deliberately lied in order to deflect suspicion away from his actual sidekicks.
The fact was, as it turned out, Kerry was not lying at all and was not operating under any false impressions as to the identity of his partners. Apparently he was more concerned with trying to shorten his prison stay than with purchasing life insurance.
My book Ozark Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents contains a chapter about Hobbs Kerry, and I've also written previously about him on this blog, back in November of 2008.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robbery of Treadway's Store

On November 18, 1863, a gang of bushwhackers robbed E.E. Treadway's store in Brighton, Missouri, of about $1,500 in goods and another $50 in cash. The next day, the gang was intercepted and attacked in Stone County by a detachment of militia under a Lieutenant Pierce. One of the bushwhackers, William Fulbright of Greene County, was killed, and about $500 worth of the goods stolen from Treadway's store was recovered. The rest of the bandits escaped to continue their marauding existence.
A few months later, however, a number of men suspected of having participated in the robbery were apparently taken into custody by the provost marshal at Springfield, and the provost marshal wrote to Treadway asking for details of the crime. Treadway responded on March 4, 1864, identifying all nine men, including Fulbright, who had participated in the robbery. Others named by Treadway were Charles Nichols of Polk County, William Simon of Polk, T.L. Brown of Cedar, Lemke Hearn of Cedar, a man named Sears of Barton County, John Holcomb of Greene County, and two other men, White and Hicks, who were also from Greene County. Treadway said he had learned the names of the men from Lemke Hearn, while Hearn was imprisoned at Springfield. (It's not clear whether Treadway was a prisoner, too, or merely visited Hearn at the prison.) Treadway also mentioned the names of several men that he knew were not involved in the robbery because they were either at the store with him or in prison at the time of the robbery. Apparently these men were among the ones the provost marshal had arrested as possible suspects in the crime.
Treadway concluded his letter to the provost marshal by saying, "Any other information you may need at my command I cheerfully give to have the villains punished."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

German-Americans During World War I

I have occasionally read about the prejudice that German-Americans encountered in this country during World War I (and World War II) because they were suspected of favoring their country of origin over their adopted country. The vast majority of German-Americans were, in fact, loyal to the U.S., but there was apparently just enough truth to the idea that they were disloyal to feed the prejudice. For instance, I know that some German-Americans did, indeed, resist or aid their sons in resisting military service because they did not want to fight or see their loved ones fight against their former homeland. (Of course, people who were not necessarily of German descent also sometimes resisted military service during World War I. See, for example, by blog post of several months ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War of 1918, which was precipitated by the resistance of Russellites to the Selective Service Act of 1917 based on their religious beliefs.)
One interesting incident of German-American opposition to America's involvement in World War I happened in Joplin in the early summer of 1918. A German man named Frank L. Misch was drinking in the St. Joe Saloon on the night of July 2 when he overheard a young man named Albert Thomas telling the barkeeper that he was getting ready to enlist in the army. Misch broke into the conversation to advise Thomas against enlisting, telling him that he was crazy to go to war and put himself up as a target for the Germans. Misch said that the Germans were too smart for us (i.e. Americans) and that if we did not leave them alone they might come over here and kill us all. He added that all his family except his immediate family were in Germany, that he sympathized with the Germans, and that America had no business getting involved in the war to begin with.
About midnight, Misch became so boisterous that the saloonkeeper sent for a police officer, who arrived and placed Misch under arrest. He was taken to the lockup and held overnight. The next day, an agent of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) came to Joplin to investigate the case. The detective interviewed the young man, the barkeeper, and a taxi driver who was in the bar at the time of the incident, and all three told him essentially the same thing: that Misch said he had two sons in the U.S. Army but that he expressed himself repeatedly in favor of Germany, that he advised Thomas not to join the military, and that, although he had been drinking, he did not appear to be drunk.
The G-man also went to the jail and interviewed Misch himself. Misch said he had drunk about a dozen glasses of beer and one or two shots of whiskey. He claimed that he had been drunk and that his memory of the incident in the bar was hazy. He said he recalled having a conversation with the young man but didn't remember exactly what was said, only that it was something about the war. He admitted that he might have made the statements the witnesses against him said he made but he did not know. A judge heard the case that very day and fined Misch $100 and costs, and the Federal detective wrapped up his investigation.
Source: FBI files

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Springfield Athletes

I wrote a few weeks ago about people connected to Springfield who went on to become famous actors or entertainers. Springfield has also produced its share of well-known athletes.
One who was in the limelight fairly recently is Gracie Gold, who finished 4th in women's figure skating at the 2015 Winter Olympics. She was not born in Springfield but grew up there for the most part before moving to Illinois.
Steve Rogers was a Major League Baseball pitcher who played his entire career for the Montreal Expos (before they became the Washington Nationals) and is considered perhaps the best pitcher in Expos history. He was born in Jefferson City but grew up in Springfield and graduated, I think, from Glendale High.
Scott Bailes is another former Major League Baseball pitcher who was not born in Springfield but who grew up there. He graduated from Parkview High School and, unlike Rogers, also attended college in Springfield, playing baseball for SMSU (now MSU). He made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians in the mid to late 1980s and later played briefly for the Angels and Rangers. He now works for the Springfield Cardinals minor league team.
Speaking of people who played baseball for SMSU, perhaps the most famous is Ryan Howard, current first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. A former National League MVP, he grew up in St. Louis but attended SMSU and played baseball for the Bears from 1998 to 2001.
Another St. Louis native who played baseball for SMSU and went on to star in the Major Leagues was Bill Mueller. He played for the Cubs, Giants, and one or two other teams from 1996 to 2006.
There are several other former Bear baseball players who made it to the Major Leagues, but those are probably the two most famous ones. In addition there have been a number of former MLB players who became associated with Springfield mainly after their playing days were over. These include Jerry Lumpe and Sherm Lollar (after whom the Sherm Lollar Lanes bowling alley was named), both of whom died in Springfield, and Bill Virdon, who still lives there, I believe.
Jack Jewsbury is a current Major League Soccer player who grew up in Springfield and attended Kickapoo High. He was born in Joplin.
Jackie Stiles is perhaps the best known female athlete associated with Springfield. She starred for the Lady Bears from 1998 to 2001 and is still the all-time leading career scorer in women's major college basketball. She was named Rookie of the Year in the WNBA in 2001, but a series of injuries curtailed her pro career. She is now an assistant coach, I believe, for the Bears.
Speaking of basketball players, Anthony Tolliver is a current NBA player who graduated from Kickapoo and helped the Chiefs win the state championship in 2002-2003. All five starters on that team went on to play college ball, three of whom played major college ball. One of the non-starters, an underclassman, also went on to play major college basketball. To illustrate how good the team was, Tolliver was widely considered perhaps the fourth best player on the team. I remember watching the team play Joplin High in Joplin when Tolliver and his classmates were seniors, and I was one of those who felt he was no better than the fourth best player on the team. However, he went on to Creighton University and worked very hard to get better, and the work paid off.
When I wrote about people from Springfield who went on to become famous entertainers, I mentioned that I rubbed shoulders (figuratively speaking) with Tess Harper, when she and I did our student teaching at the same time at Greenwood Laboratory School in the spring of 1972. I also rubbed shoulders, so to speak, with a future famous athlete during my student teaching at Greenwood. Payne Stewart was a freshman at Greenwood at the time, and he was a student in one of my classes. I don't remember that much about him except that I remember he was in my freshman English class. Stewart, of course, went on to become a professional golfer who won eleven PGA events, including three majors, before dying in an airplane crash in 1999. A section of Interstate 44 that runs through the north edge of Springfield is now named after Stewart.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Execution of John F. Abshire

Union authorities in Missouri usually considered all Southern fighters who were not in full Confederate uniform and acting in coordination with a large army to be guerrillas who should be treated as outlaws. The guerrillas themselves, however, usually did not see themselves as outlaws and, to the contrary, usually saw themselves as legitimate combatants. The case of John F. Abshire, who was executed at St. Louis in October of 1864, is instructive on this topic.
Originally from Arkansas, Abshire moved with his family to southeast Missouri not long before the Civil War broke out. He joined the Missouri State Guard near the outset of the war and served, according to his own later statement, about four and a half months in Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson's division. He then returned home for several months before enlisting in the Confederate Army, serving under a Captain Townsend in a regiment commanded by a Colonel Fielding. Apparently, however, the unit did not operate as a regular unit of the CSA, at least not during the whole time Abshire was a member of it, because, according to the Union side of the story, Abshire was operating in Wayne County in January of 1863 with a band of guerrillas led by one Captain Ellison. (Confederate service records show that an S. Ellison served in the same regiment, the consolidated 3rd and 5th Missouri Cavalry, as a Captain M. Townsend. So, this might have been the unit to which Abshire also belonged.) It's likely Ellison's men were already members of the Confederate Army in January of 1863 or at least that Ellison was recruiting them for the purpose of enlisting them in the CSA. At any rate, Abshire and a large number of fellow Rebels were captured at Bloomfield in late January, taken to St. Louis as prisoners, on to the military prison at Alton, Illinois, and finally to City Point, Virginia, to be exchanged. After he was exchanged, he was sent from Richmond to Mississippi and was among the Confederate soldiers surrendered by General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg in early July of 1863.
After being taken prisoner a second time, Abshire, according to his own later story, decided he did not want to be exchanged again but instead wanted to get out of the Southern army and become a Union man (as was not uncommon during the Civil War in Missouri). He was taken to Camp Morton, Indiana, where he made arrangements to join the Union Army. The day before he was to be released from custody for the purpose of joining the Union Army, however, he was taken to St. Louis and locked up at Gratiot Street Prison but for what reason he did not know.
After his capture someone had recognized him as having been a member of Ellison's band, and he was charged with operating as a guerrilla against the rules of war and with killing a man named William Hayes in Wayne County the previous January. Abshire was tried by military commission at St. Louis in the late summer of 1863. The main witness against him was a man named Davidson, at whose home the murder of Hayes reportedly took place. The defendant pled guilty to the specification but not guilty to the charge. In other words, he essentially agreed that he had done what he was accused of doing, but he denied that what he had done was a crime. His story was that Hayes was among a group of Unionists who had been taken prisoner, that he (Abshire) was among those detailed to guard the prisoners, that Hayes was shot when he attempted to escape, but that he (Abshire) was not the guard who actually did the shooting. Abshire said he did not try to mount a defense when he was first informed of the charges against him because he did not take them seriously and did not think others would either. He was very surprised that Davidson testified against him, he said, because he had been acting as a legitimate Confederate soldier. Not surprisingly, the military commission saw otherwise. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Abshire was originally scheduled to hang in March of 1864, but the sentence was temporarily suspended after the condemned man appealed to Union authorities that he had not seen his wife nor his parents in seventeen months and asked that his life be spared long enough to allow them to travel from St. Genevieve and St. Francois counties to visit him before his execution. His father and his wife arrived shortly after the stay of execution was granted, and his wife remained in St. Louis during the time he awaited execution. I have thus far seen no evidence to indicate whether his mother also came to see him. In May of 1864, the execution was suspended again after Abshire's friends and family submitted a petition on his behalf asking that the case be referred to President Lincoln for his review.
Lincoln approved the sentence about September or early October of 1864, and a new execution date was set for October 14. A few days prior to the execution date, Abshire was moved from the Alton Military Prison (where he had been imprisoned after his conviction) back to Gratiot Street Prison to await the fateful hour. At about half past one p.m. on the 14th, the condemned man was taken to the city jail yard where a scaffold awaited him. According to a report in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat the following day, Abshire walked to the gallows "with a firm step" and betrayed no sign of fear or other visible emotion. He stared calmly at the officer in charge of the execution as the officer read the charges against him and the findings of the military commission, and he also watched calmly as the noose was prepared. Then he stood and addressed those assembled to witness the execution. He repeated that he was innocent of the charges against him and said he had "never been nothing more than a Confederate soldier." After kneeling for a prayer beside a minister of the Christian Church who was acting as his spiritual advisor, he again stood and spoke a second time, this time with more emotion, saying that he regretted dying only on account of his wife and other family members who were "weeping and moaning" for him. He said it was through his ignorance that he failed to get witnesses to testify on his behalf and repeated that he had not thought Davidson would testify against him. "I hope to meet you all in a better world," he concluded as he motioned to the executioner that he was ready. He stepped firmly upon the trap door and a cap was drawn over his head. "Tie it so it will kill me quick," he said as the noose was adjusted. The door was then sprung, and Abshire fell about five feet to his death. His struggle was brief, and he died within a few minutes.
"His faithful young wife," said the Democrat, "who had frequently visited him in prison, took charge of the body, and the earthly career of John F. Abshire was terminated." The newspaperman, who had visited Abshire in prison the day before, described the wife, to whom Abshire had been married about two and half years, as a "very respectable, handsome and tidy young woman." The reporter also said the mother and father were respectable, hard-working people who were well thought of in the New Tennessee settlement of St. Genevieve County. The reporter said Abshire himself, although not well educated, did not appear to have any maliciousness to him, and he felt the young man had probably been misled by others for whom he was now paying the price. Abshire was described as strongly built, about 5'9" tall, with blue eyes, fair hair, a prominent nose, and a ruddy complexion.
By the way, I am participating in a multiple author book signing this coming Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. The owner is billing the event as Wordstock, in commemoration of Woodstock, which occurred 45 years ago this month. Besides me, at least four other local or regional authors are scheduled to be there.
And since I'm doing a shameless plug, let me also invite any readers of this blog who are so inclined to like my author page on Facebook at

Sunday, August 17, 2014

General Rosecrans's General Orders No. 107

On June 28, 1864, General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, issued General Orders No. 107 in response to what he called the "plundering, robbery and arson" that prevailed throughout Missouri, despite the fact that no significant battle had occurred in the state in well over a year. The general's aim was to eradicate "those who, in violation to any law of war and humanity, under the title of Confederate soldiers, guerrillas and bushwhackers, invade, plunder and murder the peaceful inhabitants" of the state. The order called for all citizens throughout the state who desired peace, regardless of political sentiment, to unite for this purpose. The citizens were to call township and county meetings to elect committees of loyal men who would work directly with Union authorities in giving information and advice to help Union soldiers combat the guerrillas. The order also called for the creation of militia companies made up of men specially selected from the already existing Enrolled Missouri Militia. (This force was shortly afterwards given the name Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia.)
Citizens throughout Missouri promptly answered Rosecrans's call, as meetings were held in virtually every county, if not every county. Some of the meetings, however, were not without controversy. For instance, on July 16 a Radical Republican wrote to a St. Louis newspaper from Springfield complaining that the Radicals had been virtually excluded from the Greene County meeting held earlier that day. The letter writer, who signed himself "Pro Bono Publico," called the meeting a fraud that had been perpetuated upon the loyal people of the county by Copperheads, Peace Democrats (who favored McClellan in the upcoming election), and other conservative Union men such as John S. Phelps, who had called the meeting and acted as its chairman. The correspondent said that despite the fact that the meeting was supposedly a countywide meeting, only a few hours' notice of it had been given and that it had been packed by men who regarded Radicals "as worse than rebels." It was strictly a partisan meeting, the letter writer said, which was exactly what General Rosecrans had suggested it should not be.
The correspondent concluded, "The meeting was not, I think, participated in by more than thirty or forty persons. All we ask is to give us timely notice and fair play, and if our Pawpaw friends in this county can out vote us at a public meeting, then we will let them have the benefit of the victory, and not until then."
Radical Republicanism, of course, was on the upswing in Missouri (and elsewhere) by this stage of the Civil War and would soon come to dominate politics in the state. So, the angry letter writer probably had the last laugh after all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Murder of Jesse Brown

The Civil War was dangerous not just for soldiers but also for civilians, and probably in no other state was this more true than Missouri, where sentiments were strongly divided and the war quickly degenerated into a partisan conflict characterized by raids and personal vendettas. People had to be careful what they said and to whom they said it. Being perceived as helping the wrong side could get you killed. Although guerrilla warfare in the state did not peak until the middle part the war, murderous incidents involving private citizens were not uncommon even during 1861.
One such incident was the murder of 70-year-old Jesse Brown of Hickory County. Late on the night of October 13, 1861, a squad of Southern men that included 23-year-old John P. Claybrook of Moniteau County called at Brown's home in the Elkton vicinity. Brown answered Claybrook's halloo and, opening the door, asked the caller what he wanted. According to the later testimony of Brown's wife, Nancy, Claybrook replied that he wanted to stay all night, and Mr. Brown said okay. At that moment, though, Nancy heard shots ring out, and her husband stumbled back into the house and fell dead. Rushing to the door, Nancy recognized the shooter and demanded, "John what did you do that for?" She got no reply, as Claybrook simply wheeled his horse around and rode off. Nancy later said she thought her husband had been killed simply for being a Union man.
A neighbor of the Browns who also later testified against Claybrook said that he hurried outside after hearing the shots and saw a squad of men ride by his house but recognized only Claybrook. The next day he saw Claybrook with a squad of men whom he took to be the same ones he'd seen the night before, and he asked Claybrook what the shooting had been about the evening before. Claybrook replied that he had shot a dog. One of the other men asked Claybrook, apparently jokingly, whether he had killed it, and Claybrook replied that he thought he had. The neighbor expressed his opinion that Claybrook was, in fact, the person who had killed Brown.
Another neighbor stated that he had also asked Claybrook about the shots he had heard in the middle of the night, and Claybrook supposedly replied that it must have been a dog he had killed "from the way it howled." Nancy was largely correct that her husband had been killed because he was a Union man, but there was a little more to the story than that. Apparently Jesse Brown had been instrumental in organizing a local company of home guards, with which Claybrook's men had skirmished shortly before Brown was killed.
Claybrook was arrested on charges of disloyalty back in his home territory of Moniteau County in January of 1862 and taken to Tipton, where he was paroled upon taking an oath of allegiance. When word of his killing of Brown several months earlier reached Moniteau County, however, Claybrook was re-arrested in April and charged with murder. In provost marshal records at the time, Claybrook was listed as 23 years old, standing 5' 8" tall, having brown eyes and black hair, and living in California (Mo.) Although I've thus far found no record of the final disposition of his case, Claybrook was apparently executed on July 28, 1862, because it is known for sure that he died on that date. A few days after his death, the local Masonic lodge published a brief tribute to Claybrook, their fellow lodge member, in a California newspaper.
Sources: California (MO) Weekly News, 1862; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Two or More Civilians; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Individual Citizens.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Famous Springfield Entertainers

Last time I wrote about some of the people from Joplin who went on to become well known in the entertainment industry. So, this time I thought I might mention a few people or groups from Springfield who have likewise become famous as singers, actors, and so forth.
One well known singer associated with Springfield was Brenda Lee, who lived in Springfield for a few years in the 1950s when she made regular appearances on the Ozarks Jubilee and became a popular recording artist. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are country rock group from Springfield who gained their greatest fame in the early to mid 1970s with hits like "If You Want to Get to Heaven" and "Jackie Blue." Country singer Slim Wilson was very famous regionally and marginally famous nationally during the 1950s and 1960s, when he had his own TV show, which, I think, was broadcast nationwide for at least a year or two.
Bob Barker, who was host of the game show The Price Is Right for many years, was from Springfield and attended Drury University there.
Perhaps the most famous actor from Springfield is Brad Pitt, who graduated from Kickapoo High School in 1982. Another well-known actor from Springfield, one I was not aware of until recently, was William Garwood, who was a famous star in and director of silent films during the 1910s or thereabouts. Other actors associated with Springfield include John Goodman, who graduated from Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State) in 1975. One of his best known roles was opposite Roseanne Barr on the Roseanne TV show. He has also made numerous movies and is known for his guest appearances on Saturday Night Live. Kathleen Turner also attended Missouri State in the early to mid 1970s. In fact, she was born in Springfield but grew up mostly overseas, since her father worked for the Foreign Service. She became famous in the 1980s with roles in such movies as Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, and Prizzi's Honor.
Another well-known actress with Missouri State connections that I've always had a particular interest in is Tess Harper (photo below). She grew up in Mammouth Springs, Arkansas, and graduated in 1972 from Missouri State, where she was very active in theater. In the spring of 1972, she and I did our student teaching at the same time and under the same supervising teacher at Greenwood, the university's laboratory school, she in speech and drama and I in English. (I had previously taught a year on a temporary certificate, been to Vietnam, and was back in school finishing up my master's degree and my teaching accreditation, while she was just graduating.) I recall that she was very irregular in her attendance and didn't seem to care whether she did well in her student teaching or not. One day I said something to her about her missing a lot of days or made a similar observation, and her reply was that she didn't care if she made a poor grade in student teaching or not because she wasn't going to be a teacher, she was going to be an actress. I remember thinking at the time, "Yeah, sure," but I didn't say anything to dispute the notion. And sure enough, ten years later or so I saw her name in the Hollywood limelight when she starred opposite Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. Later, I believe, she received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her role in Crimes of the Heart, which starred Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, and Diane Keaton. One of her more recent roles was in No Country for Old Men.
John Goodman's time at Missouri State overlapped both Tess Harper's and Kathleen Turner's, and he worked with each of them at separate times, I think. However, I believe Tess Harper was already gone from MSU by the time Kathleen Turner arrived.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pauline Starke

I have known for a long time that several people who went on to become well known in the entertainment and film industry were born in or otherwise had connections to Joplin. Ones that come immediately to mind include Dennis Weaver (Chester on Gunsmoke), Robert "Bob" Cummings (who starred in movies and had his own TV show during the 1950s), and Percy Weinrich, a ragtime composer in the early 1900s known for such songs as "Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet"), and John Beal, a serious actor who played opposite famous actresses like Helen Hayes and Katharine Hepburn during the 1930s. One famous actress from Joplin that I, however, was not aware of until very recently was Pauline Starke (photo below). She was born in Joplin in 1901 and went on to star in silent films during the late 1910s when she was just a teenager. Her fame continued into the early and mid-1920s but began to peter out in the late 1920s. She lived until 1977, however, dying in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 76.
There might be one or two other lesser known people from Joplin who succeeded in show business or the entertainment business, but these, I think, are the main ones. Certainly there were other famous people, such as the poet Langston Hughes, but I don't really consider writing poetry show business, even though Hughes did, I think, sometimes give public readings of his poems.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Towns' Changing Names

I've written on this blog before about the fact that many towns in the Ozarks (and presumably elsewhere as well) eventually adopted a name other than the one by which the place was originally known. Sometimes the name was changed to honor a prominent resident of the area. Other times it was changed to honor an outsider, such as a railroad official when a railroad first reached the community. Sometimes it was changed simply because the citizens decided they liked a different name better. One of the most common reasons for changing the name of a community, however, was the fact that the postal service often rejected the original name when the community applied for a post office, and the main reason for this was that a community by the same name or a very similar name already existed in the state.
Here is a list of some of the many places in the Ozarks (current name followed by original name) that changed their name because of postal service objections to the original name: Competition, Mo.--Newburg; Crane, Mo.--Hickory Grove; Dadeville, Mo.--Millville; Fair Play, Mo.--Oakland; Olean, Mo.--Proctor Station; Sarcoxie, Mo.--Centerville; and Willard, Mo.--Robberson.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Affair on Lane's Prairie, Maries County, Missouri

The guerrilla warfare in Missouri during the Civil War was characterized by raids, sabotage, and occasional atrocities. Most of us know about the big massacres, like the one at Lawrence, Kansas, carried out by Quantrill, and the one at Centralia, Missouri, carried out by Bloody Bill Anderson. However, there were numerous smaller massacres, occasionally involving civilians but more often involving soldiers who had surrendered or were attempting to surrender. In fairness, it should be noted that Federal soldiers as well as Confederate-allied guerrillas were guilty of such atrocities, but in honesty, it should also be admitted that the bushwhackers were guilty of more than their share. (Given the desperate situation the Missouri guerrillas found themselves in late in the war, their occasionally resorting to extreme actions can perhaps be somewhat understood, if not condoned, but let us save that argument for another day.)
One minor atrocity of the guerrilla warfare in Missouri occurred in Maries County when about ten men of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry under Sergeant Legrand Carter went out on a scout from Rolla on May 26, 1864. Northwest of Rolla on the Waynesville to Vienna road near Maries Creek, the soldiers met a party of about twenty guerrillas dressed in Federal uniforms. According to civilian reports after the fact, some heated words were exchanged between the two parties as the soldiers apparently tried to ascertain the identity of the blue-clad strangers. The witnesses said the two parties then moved off together (the soldiers apparently being herded as prisoners) into some nearby woods, where the guerrillas opened fire on the Federals. Some of the soldiers broke and ran and made their escape, but the sergeant and four of his men were shot dead.
A second Union scout went out from Rolla the following day and found the corpses of Sgt. Carter and his four comrades still lying in the woods, minus their weapons. In addition, Carter's body had been stripped of his pants and boots, and someone had put a pair of old worn-out shoes on his feet in place of the stolen boots. The second scouting party ascertained that the guerrillas had left in the direction of Waynesville after killing the Union soldiers, but nothing was discovered to indicate who their leader was. So, on the 18th, the second scouting party gave up its hunt after the culprits and returned to Rolla.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Springfield During the Civil War

In my book Civil War Springfield I touched on the fact that the town was overrun with refugees from southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas (mostly Union sympathizers trying to escape the bushwhackers who infested the rural areas), and I mentioned the poverty and miserable living conditions that many of them faced once they reached Springfield. In browsing the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, I recently ran across a letter written by a Springfield correspondent in early April of 1863 that further illustrates what I was talking about in the book.
Colonel William F. Cloud had recently replaced General Egbert B. Brown in command of the District of Southwest Missouri and had issued several orders upon assuming command. One of the orders had to do with removing offal from the city precincts. Estimating that there were no fewer than 2,000 "dead horses, mules, pigs and cattle lying unburied in and around Springfield," the correspondent welcomed the directive. "Upon a warm spring day," he continued, "the stench is even now unbearable and is the sure presage of a sickly season."
The carcasses were to be gathered up and hauled two miles west of town, and the work was to be done by prisoners under guard. "Commanding officers will henceforward be required to keep their camps clean," concluded the correspondent, "and the sanitary condition of Springfield will thereby be greatly improved."
Not surprisingly, another letter from Springfield, written by the Reverend Frederick Wines and published in the same newspaper a few days later, mentioned the tremendous amount of sickness in Springfield. He said a statement published in the Daily Missouri Republican a week or two earlier that many people had died in Springfield from a lack of food was not true, but he said at least a hundred had probably died just during the past winter from sickness and a lack of proper medical attention.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lynching of Bud Isbell

I have written briefly on this blog about the notorious lynchings of three black men that occurred in Springfield, Missouri, on Easter weekend of 1906. I also have written about another lynching of a black man, Mart Danforth, in Springfield in 1859, two years before the Civil War started. I don't believe, however, that I've written about yet another Springfield lynching of a black man in 1871.
It occurred under circumstances very similar to the 1859 Danforth lynching, in which Danforth was accused of molesting a white women. (In fact, rape or molestation of white women was usually the pretext for most lynchings of black men during the 1800s and into the early 1900s.) On June 19, 1871, Martha Christian, a twenty-year-old white woman, was reportedly attacked by a black man at her home in the south part of Springfield. Her assailant was immediately identified as Bud Isbell, and her husband, thirty-eight-year-old Peter Christian, offered a one-hundred-dollar reward for Isbell’s arrest.
Later the same week, the fugitive was captured in Newton County and brought back to Springfield on Saturday, June 24. He was first taken to the Christian residence, where Martha identified him as the man who had outraged her, and then he was marched to the public square. A large crowd soon gathered, and after some consultation, the mob decided to take Isbell “into the Jordan valley” and hang him. He was herded out to a spot just east of Benton Avenue on the opposite bank of the creek from where Mart Danforth had been lynched twelve years earlier. He was placed on a horse, and a rope that was tied to a tree limb was looped around his neck. The horse was led out from under him, but when he dropped, the rope was too long, so that his feet touched the ground and he was only partially choked. The crowd lifted him up while someone adjusted the rope to make it shorter, and Isbell was soon “swinging between heaven and earth,” according to the Springfield Leader. Before he died, however, someone pulled out a pistol and shot him in the head, finishing off what the rope had begun. A coroner’s inquiry into the lynching named three men who had participated in the mob action, including Peter Christian, but no one was ever charged in the crime.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trouble in the Cherokee Nation

I recently ran onto an interesting newspaper article in the August 8, 1861 issue of the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican. Bearing the same title that I've given this post, it was the reprint of a brief article that had appeared shortly before in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and the Appeal, in turn, was citing an article that had appeared in the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Times. The Appeal reported that "Montgomery, the notorious brigand," had arrived on the western frontier and begun "fortifying himself in the Cherokee Nation" just west of the Missouri and Arkansas borders. Specifically, he had reportedly stolen cattle from the Cherokees and killed four of them. In response to the invasion, Stand Watie had sent to Tahlequah for ten kegs of gunpowder but had thus far received only two. The Appeal said there was much excitement in the Nation and that a large number of Pin Indians, previously allied with the North, had gone over to the South. (Some of the Pins later changed back to the North.) "It will be bad day's business for this skulking Guerilla if he should venture too near the 'bowie knife' boys under Benj. McCulloch in northwestern Arkansas."
What I mainly found interesting about this brief article is its pro-Southern slant, a perspective that researchers of the Civil War in Missouri like myself seldom see. Nearly all the surviving Missouri papers from the time had a pro-Union bias, because the Southern sympathizing press in the state was suppressed early in the war. In fact, had this incident occurred later in the war, it's doubtful any of the St. Louis newspapers would have reprinted (or been allowed to reprint) such a pro-Southern story as this without an accompanying statement of ridicule or satire. No such ridicule accompanied this article, but, of course, the position of the Appeal was certainly not endorsed either. No Northern newspaper, including the relatively conservative Missouri Republican, would ever have referred to James Montgomery, who was commissioned a colonel in Senator Jim Lane's Kansas Brigade about the time of his raid into the Cherokee Nation, as a "notorious brigand" or "skulking Guerilla," although that, of course, is how most Southern-sympathizing Missourians saw him.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I-44 Truck Explosion

Since I established last time with my post about the Connor Hotel collapse in Joplin in 1978, at least to my own satisfaction, that events that happened within my memory can still be considered history, I'm going to write briefly this time about another incident that occurred in the 1970s: the explosion of a truck loaded with dynamite on I-44 just outside Springfield in late September of 1970. I was in Vietnam at the time. So, I didn't get a lot of information about it when it first happened, although I think I did at least hear about it, even in Vietnam. Perhaps my mother or father mentioned it in a letter. And when I got home to Springfield a few months later, I recall that people were still occasionally talking about it. Where they were when it happened--that sort of thing.
The facts in the case, as reported in newspapers at the time and as they later came out in court, were these: The Teamsters Union was on strike against Tri-State Trucking of Joplin in the fall of 1970, and some of the striking Union workers had started firing rifle shots into the company's trucks as they drove down the highway and otherwise harassing the company's non-union drivers in an apparent effort to force the company back to the bargaining table. On the night of September 29, Bobby Lee Shuler, Gerald Bowen, Mrs. Bowen, and a woman named Mrs. Kimmel started from Joplin in Kimmel's car. Shuler and perhaps the others had been drinking before they left Joplin, and they drove to Springfield and bought more beer. Starting back toward Joplin, they met a Tri-State Truck going the opposite way. At the next overpass, they turned around and overtook the truck, and Shuler and Bowen fired three shots into the grille of the truck as they passed it, thereby disabling it.
The foursome was again on their way back to Joplin in the wee hours of the morning on September 30 when they met two more Tri-State Trucks. They again turned around and passed the vehicles, but this time they raced ahead to the next overpass, crossed it, and stopped the car on the westbound ramp to await the approach of the trucks that were coming toward Springfield in the eastbound lane. (I think the overpass where they stopped was at the Republic exit, although I'd have to check more to be sure.) Shuler got out of the car with his rifle and fired two shots into the grille of the first truck, a flat-bed unit, as it passed. By then, the second truck, which had an enclosed trailer, was near, and Shuler also started firing at it. The first two shots hit the grille, doing little damage, but the third shot apparently went slightly awry. It exploded the trailer, which was carrying almost 43,000 pounds of dynamite, upon impact, and the driver, John Galt, was blown to bits, killing him instantly.
The explosion blew a hole in the road fifty feet wide, seventy feet long, and twenty-five feet deep. The effects of the explosion were felt at least seven miles away, and it was even reported that windows were blown out in Springfield. The Shuler party headed back toward Joplin on I-44 but soon took to the back roads, where they had a flat tire and eventually had to abandon the vehicle. They soon afterwards gave themselves up and were taken into custody. At trial the following year, Shuler claimed he wasn't trying to hurt anybody (even though he must have known the danger of shooting toward a truck carrying dynamite, since he himself had driven such trucks), but he was convicted of 2nd degree murder and received a sentence of 99 years in prison. Bowen was also convicted, presumably of a lesser charge, and got ten years in prison.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

When Is History History?: The Collapse of the Conner Hotel

I usually don't write about things that happened within my memory, because I don't really consider them historical. If I can remember when something happened, I tend to still think of it as contemporary. But then, if I stop to consider how old I am and how far back my memory stretches, I'm forced to re-evaluate my definition of history. After all, I can remember things that happened sixty years ago. Take, for example, the assassination of JFK. I've never really thought of it as history because I lived through the era when it happened. I was a senior in high school at the time. But then I realize that it's been over fifty years now. The large majority of Americans today were not even born when Kennedy was killed, and an even larger majority were not old enough at the time to remember the event. So, for those people, JFK's assassination is definitely history. So, I guess it should be history for the rest of us, too. In fact, I suppose, in its broadest definition, history can be thought of as anything that happened in the past, even if was just one year ago, one month ago, or maybe even one week ago.
All of this by way of introducing today's topic, the collapse of the Connor Hotel in Joplin in November of 1978. I definitely I have never thought of it as history, not only because I lived in Joplin at the time it happened but because I actually wrote about it when it was still a (relatively) contemporary event. Yet again, when I stop to consider how much time has passed since 1978, I realize that probably only about half of the people who lived in the Joplin area at the time the Connor collapsed are still alive today and probably less than half of the people who lived in Joplin and were old enough at the time to be able to recall the event firsthand today are still alive. After all, it's been 36 years.
So, I guess the collapse of the Conner Hotel is history, too. At least it is going to be history for the purposes of today's post. The facts of the case briefly are as follows: The Connor Hotel, a historic hotel that had been built in 1907 at the corner of 4th and Main in Joplin, was being prepared for demolition to make way for a new public library. (By the way, the library is getting ready to vacate the building that was constructed at 4th and Main and move into a new building on 20th Street within the next couple of years. Some of the funds Joplin received in the wake of the tornado three years ago are slated to be used to help finance the new library building.) On Saturday, November 11, Alfred "Butch" Summers was working in the basement, and two other men were working nearby or on one of the nine-story building's lower floors. The three men were notching beams and otherwise preparing the building for implosion when it unexpectedly collapsed prematurely.
What followed were several days of frantic rescue efforts as construction crews worked round the clock trying to find any signs of life beneath the rubble. Truckload after truckload of debris was removed as hastily as possible while still taking care not to needlessly endanger anybody who might possibly be alive beneath the ruins. High tech listening devices were flown in to listen for any signs of life. Dogs trained in search and rescue were brought in to try to find any possible survivors. The collapse and frantic rescue efforts made national headlines, but hope gradually faded as time passed with no signs of life. But then, miraculously, on Tuesday evening, three and a half days after the collapse, with layer after layer of debris having been removed, a man's faint voice was heard coming from beneath the remaining rubble. Al Summers was rescued in relatively good health (suffering only mild dehydration) after spending what he called a "long Saturday" beneath the ruins of the nine-story building, and national interest in the story spiked. In fact, as far as making national headlines, the Connor Hotel collapse was one of the biggest things that ever happened in Joplin until the 2011 tornado. Not long after Summers was rescued, the other two men were found dead, and it was concluded that they had likely died immediately when the building collapsed.
For a more complete telling of the Connor Hotel collapse story, you might try to get hold of the December 1979 issue of Reader's Digest, which contains my "Drama in Real Life" account of the event. Also, I think the Joplin Public Library has a copy of my original manuscript of 50+ pages, which describes the event in much more detail. The Reader's Digest simply took my much longer manuscript and "digested" it into a much shorter version.

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...