Saturday, December 30, 2017

School Fires

There have been a lot of school fires over the years, not just in the Ozarks, of course, but throughout the rest of the country and no doubt the rest of the world. Building fires of all kinds, not just school fires, were more common a hundred years ago or so because heating systems and electrical wiring systems (if they existed) tended not to be as safe as those we have today. Fires in the olden days also were often more destructive when they did occur because fire fighting techniques were less advanced than they are today. Even in relatively modern times, however, there have been occasional school fires. There have probably been quite a few just here in the Ozarks. I'm familiar with a couple because I was personally affected by them. And neither was caused by faulty equipment.
On Saturday, November 13, 1954, when I was in the third grade at Fair Grove Elementary School, the adjacent high school caught on fire when a vat containing tar exploded while workers were repairing the roof. The fire was contained to one corner of the building long enough for workers and nearby residents to remove much of the classroom equipment and furniture, but the building itself ended up being entirely destroyed. Fair Grove did not have a fire department at the time, and calls to Springfield for help proved futile, because the Springfield department refused to make the 15-mile trek to help its neighboring town. This caused some hard feelings toward Springfield among Fair Grove residents at the time, but from an objective standpoint Springfield's policy of not servicing surrounding communities was understandable. The Willard Fire Department finally responded to Fair Grove's call for help, and although they got there too late to save the building, they were credited with keeping the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings, including the grade school. This incident spurred Fair Grove to organize its own volunteer fire department in the months after the fire.
As an 8-year-old boy, I didn't get caught up in the controversy surrounding the response or lack of response to the fire. I was just fascinated by the fire itself. I remember watching the school burn from my house on the other side of town. Flames shot into the sky and great clouds of black smoke poured into the air. I wanted go across town and get a close-up view of the action, but my mother wouldn't allow it. Later, my dad took me over but by that time the fire was pretty much out, with some smoke still rising from the smoldering ruins. I thought for a while that the fire would mean an unexpected vacation, but, alas, the elementary school building was saved. Only the high school students would have "no school" for the next few days while arrangements were made to hold classes in neighboring churches and other buildings.
About mid-morning on Thursday, January 28, 1982, while I was teaching at Joplin's old Memorial High School, the school building caught on fire when a student ignited some clothes or costumes that were kept by the drama department in some unlocked closets in a hallway on the 2nd floor just off the stage. The arsonist then closed the doors of the closets, which reached clear to the ceiling, allowing the fire to burn through the ceiling and spread into an area separating the 2nd floor from the 3rd floor before it was even discovered. All students were evacuated safely, but it was a close call for some of those in a couple of classrooms located on the 2nd and 3rd floors near the point of ignition. My classroom was on the 2nd floor but on the opposite side of the building. The Joplin Fire Department responded promptly and had the fire under control by noon, although smoke continued to spiral skyward for some time afterward. School was canceled for the rest of that day and the next day, Friday; so we got a little unexpected vacation. The following Monday, school resumed at Parkwood High School, with Parkwood students and teachers going from very early morning (about 6:30 a.m.) until late morning (about 11:30) and then Memorial students and teachers taking over the building from very early afternoon until late afternoon. Each school ran an abbreviated schedule consisting of about five hours' worth of class time for a month or two while the Memorial building was being renovated. Then we moved back "home." I don't recall for sure whether the arsonist was ever caught, but I think maybe he was. I do recall a rumor among the teachers that a kid they usually referred to only as "Freddie the Firebug" was the guilty culprit. He had apparently been caught setting a smaller fire just a week or so earlier.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Grand Opening of the Crescent Hotel

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, held its grand opening on May 20, 1886. Built as a joint project of the Eureka Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad, the four-story hotel was elegantly furnished with all the latest advances like elevators, gas lighting, and hot and cold running water. It cost an estimated half million dollars and was hailed as one of the most luxurious resort hotels in the country.
Train loads of people began arriving on May 19 for the gala festivities planned for the grand opening and continued to arrive the next morning, Thursday the 20th. Special cars loaded with passengers came from Little Rock, Springfield, St. Louis and other regional cities. Dignitaries from all across the country attended the event. Among the guests were the governor of Maine and U. S. Judge Parker (the so-called hanging judge).
Throughout the day on Thursday, various bands and uniformed companies played and marched, and the boom of cannon fire punctuated the occasion during a mock battle. The "gaily attired multitudes," said the Little Rock Arkansas Gazette, had "a joyous day" under "pleasant skies." After dark, a fireworks display presented "a spectacle of beautiful grandeur," and then a grand ball in the immense dining room of the hotel culminated the day's events. "An elegantly dressed company of ladies and gentlemen danced the hours away to excellent music," said the Springfield Leader. "At a late hour, the tired guests sought the comfort of airy rooms and downy beds."
No other health resort in America, according to the Gazette, offered more comfort to visitors or more curative powers than Eureka Springs, and the growing demand for additional accommodations had resulted in the erection of the Crescent. "The magnificent hotel building is situated on the summit of the Crescent Mountain 600 feet above the Crescent
Springs, towering above the beautiful city of Eureka Springs, and overlooks the cedar brakes and beautiful White River valley on the west and north and the yellow pine forests on the south and east." Speaking of the Ozarks scenery, the Gazette correspondent concluded, "Artists have painted the grandeur and beauty of the mountains, writers have exhausted language in describing their beauty and telling of the rugged hills clothed with their native forests of perpetual verdure, but, withal, it can only be appreciated by being seen."
Accompanying photo is from the May 21, 1886, Little Rock Arkansas Gazette.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Halloween Mischief

The tradition that used to exist in America, especially in small towns across the heartland, of young people playing pranks on Halloween night pretty well expired a number of years ago, and nowadays, with the increase in youth church parties and so forth, even the tradition of going door to door trick or treating has almost gone by the wayside in a lot of places. I understand the parental concern about kids going door to door, especially if you don't know who lives in all the houses. And as far as the mischief-making that teenagers used to engage in, I suppose there was never really any justification for it, although I tend to look back on my own Halloween capers with nostalgia. Most of it was relatively harmless stuff, like soaping windows, but even in that case, the kids were still making work for someone else to have to do. And sometimes, as my post from last week illustrated, the pranks turned out to have serious consequences. Even when no one got hurt, they often resulted in the destruction of property.
On Halloween night in 1920, two boys at Sarcoxie, Missouri, entered a shed where a man stored his automobile so they could prank the car (perhaps soap the windows). When they departed, they left a door to the shed open, and two of the man's horses came into the shed and ate a bunch of wheat he had stored in the building, causing them to founder.
In 1930, two boys lit a fuse to set off a charge of dynamite close to a house near Nixa with the idea of scaring a group of their peers who were having a party at the residence. The two boys started to run, but when they saw that the fuse had ignited a grass fire, they turned back to try to put out the fire and the dynamite exploded when they were still near it. Both boys lost the sight of one eye.
In 1931, in an incident similar to the one I described last week, a thirteen-year-old boy was shot by a law officer at Butterfield as he was playing a prank. He was rushed to a Monett hospital and was expected to recover.
In 1936 at Neosho, a group of boys turned over a man's chicken house. Soon afterward, a different group of boys happened by, and the man came out of his house with a shotgun, thinking it was the same bunch of boys. He ordered them to halt, but one of them started running. The man shot the boy full of buckshot. The boy apparently was not seriously hurt, and charges were not brought against the man.
Those are just a few of the Halloween pranks gone bad that occurred in the Ozarks during the first half of the 20th century. Usually the pranks were confined mostly to soaping windows, toilet-papering trees, throwing trash into the streets, and overturning outhouses, with an occasional broken window. Still, even if nobody got hurt, these types of things still meant that someone other than the pranksters usually had to clean up the mess. So, I guess it's not a bad thing that we don't see a lot of mischief-making on Halloween nowadays.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Halloween Prank Turns Tragic

During the early 20th century, it was a tradition at Drury College in Springfield for the male students to engage in various campus pranks on Halloween night. The school generally tolerated the tomfoolery as long as it didn't get out of hand, but faculty members were deployed in strategic locations on campus to prevent serious vandalism. Special policemen were also sometimes hired to make sure the student pranks were confined to the campus and to prevent outside trouble-makers from venturing onto the campus.
In 1908, a number of special policeman, including Charles H. Finn, were employed in the lead-up to Halloween and given their instructions. They were told that they need not carry weapons, and Finn said he didn't have a gun anyway. However, he borrowed a pistol from an acquaintance as he headed to the Drury campus on Halloween night. In the wee hours of the morning of November 1, two young men, Calvin Finke and Fred Rowe, were carousing together when Rowe allegedly threw lime on some of the faculty members who were helping guard the campus. Finn chased after the two young men, yelling for them to stop. When they didn't halt, he drew his pistol and fired. The bullet struck Finke, who was the son of one of the faculty members, and he died in the hospital on the morning of November 2.
A coroner's jury found that Finke had died at the hands of Charles Finn and that Finn had fired for no reason. When the incident first happened, Finn had denied even firing the shot. Later he said he drew his pistol with the intention of firing over the boys' heads but that the weapon discharged a lot easier than he expected and he fired accidentally before he'd planned. After he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, he changed his story again, saying that he'd stumbled as he raised the pistol, causing it to fire before he intended.
The charge was reduced to second-degree murder, and Finn went on trial in March of 1909. After testimony was taken, the judge's instructions to the jury included the fact that they could find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter. Instead, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. It was an unpopular decision with a large number of people, including many in the Drury community, and even the judge later denounced the verdict.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Lynching of Roy Hammonds

After Roy Hammonds, a nineteen-year-old black man, pled guilty on Friday, April 29, 1921, in the Circuit Court of Pike County, Missouri, to attempted assault on a fourteen-year-old white girl, he was assessed a sentence of ten years in the state penitentiary. But that wasn’t enough for the good citizens of Bowling Green. They wanted him to hang.
Not just hang. They wanted him to suffer.
Two days earlier, fourteen-year-old Virginia Terrell had been to a picture show in Bowling Green and was walking home that night past the Negro Methodist Church when she was accosted by a black youth. The assailant dragged her to the rear of the church and started choking her, but the assault was interrupted by the girl’s father and brother, who had started from their home to meet her. Hearing Virginia’s screams, they came running, and the attacker fled.
The girl’s father dashed after the villain, causing the attacker to stumble and lose his cap as he jumped a fence. Regaining his footing, the young man fled through the town square, with the father, who’d been delayed crossing the fence, trailing behind. Sheriff Charles Moore joined the chase, but the fugitive had “gained headway” and managed to elude his pursuers.
Two bloodhounds were brought in and given the scent of the cap that the fugitive had lost. The dogs followed the path of the chase through the square and eventually to the home of Roy Hammonds north of town. Several people were at the house, including Roy’s father, William, and his older brother, Willie.
Based on the dogs’ behavior and the fact that Virginia Terrell had described her attacker as a young black man, twenty-one-year-old Willie Hammonds was arrested on Thursday evening and escorted to jail. The next morning, he was taken before the girl at the prosecutor’s office in Bowling Green, and she identified him as the person who had attacked her. He was returned to the Pike County Jail over his stout protestations.
Shortly afterwards, Sheriff Moore tossed the cap found at the crime scene into Willie’s cell, saying “Here’s your cap.”
“That’s not my cap,” Willie said. “That’s Roy’s cap.”
William Hammonds, father of the two young men, confirmed that the cap belonged to Roy, but Roy claimed Willie had been wearing it on the night of the attack. Confronted by his brother, Roy finally admitted he had been wearing it. Both the sons were then taken before the girl, and she hesitantly picked out Roy as her attacker.
Roy then confessed and was tossed in jail. He admitted asking the girl to take off her clothes but she refused. That was all he did, because the two men came up and he ran. His confession was reported as a written statement, but part of the statement was that he couldn’t read and write. The confession was, in fact, transcribed by the prosecutor, and parts of it were obviously prepared ahead of time, such as an assurance that the statement was made of Hammonds’s “own volition” without coercion from law officers.
Taken into court that same afternoon for a preliminary hearing, Roy pled guilty to assault and was sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary.
Hundreds of people had flocked into Bowling Green from the countryside on Friday morning, and feelings against Hammonds ran high throughout the day. There were whisperings of vigilantism even before the hearing, and after verdict was announced, talk of a lynching reached a fever pitch. Many in the community thought ten years in the can was not enough punishment for a black man who dared assault a young white girl.
Aware of the rumors of mob violence, Sheriff Moore decided to give the would-be vigilantes the slip. He put out the word that he planned to wait until Sunday to transfer Hammonds to the state prison when his real plan was to get the prisoner out of Bowling Green as soon as possible.
About dusk, Moore and six deputies spirited Hammonds to a railroad station about a mile west of Bowling Green with the intention of boarding the 7:15 p.m. train for Mexico, Missouri, and on to Jefferson City. But somehow the lynch-happy crowd got wind of the ruse, and a mob formed at the depot before the westbound train showed up.
When the train got there, the mob forced the crew to go on without picking anybody up. They then wrested Moore’s prisoner away and took him to a tree about a mile west of the depot, where they hanged him to a large limb. The vengeful mob cruelly treated the young man, purposely leaving his arms and legs unbound so he would be “permitted to fight for his life” once he was dangling in the air. Hammonds reached above his head to grasp the rope and raise his body up to prevent strangulation. Finally growing exhausted after about fifteen minutes, he gave up and slowly strangled to death.
As usual, only token efforts were made to identify and prosecute the lynchers.
This entry is condensed from a chapter in my Yanked Into Eternity book.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Franklin County Hangs a Prussian General

Twenty-five-year-old Arthur Duestrow was a young man of leisure living off his inheritance when he killed his wife in St. Louis on Valentine’s Day Eve of 1894. Son of a wealthy St. Louis businessman, Arthur had always had everything he wanted, but this time even the best lawyers money could buy wouldn’t save him from the gallows.
Arthur had wed twenty-five-year-old Albertina Leisse when he was just twenty-one, and married life seemed to have an ameliorating effect on him at first. Wild and rebellious since his early youth, Arthur seemed to settle down after the marriage.
Arthur and Tina moved into a stately home at the edge of the exclusive Compton Heights district, and the couple appeared happy. After a couple of years, though, about the time their son, Louis, was born, young Duestrow resorted to his old ways. He enrolled in the Missouri Medical College and appended the title “Doctor” to his name, even though he failed to graduate and never practiced medicine. Instead, he spent his time frequenting saloons and carousing with women of questionable virtue.
His demeanor toward his wife turned nasty, and he took Clara Howard, a young woman who kept an “immoral resort” near downtown St. Louis, as his mistress. He visited Clara on the snowy morning of February 13, 1894, and left about noon. Wending his way home, he hit several saloons along the route.
When he reached the Duestrow residence, Tina’s servant girl, Katie Hahn, met him at the door with two-year-old Louis in her arms. “You damned bitch,” the drunken Duestrow swore at the girl as he brushed past her.
Duestrow continued his rampage when he entered the house, calling both Tina and Katie names and accusing his wife of keeping a whorehouse. He tried to hit Katie, but his wife intervened. “If you hit anybody,” she said, “hit me.”
Duestrow promptly struck his wife several times, knocking her against the bed. He picked up little Louis and went madly down the stairs but soon came back with his revolver in his hand. Another angry argument erupted between Tina and her husband, and Katie, who’d run upstairs to her third-floor room, heard gunfire and heard Tina yell that Arthur had shot her. As Katie dashed back down to the second-floor landing, she saw Tina lurch to the floor. The “doctor” then raised the little boy up and placed the revolver against his son’s heart. Panic-stricken, Katie turned away, but she heard two more shots ring out in quick succession as she hurried down the steps to give an alarm.
Duestrow made a halfhearted attempt to kill himself, but the bullet barely grazed his head. He then turned himself in.
Investigators rushed to the Duestrow home and found the little boy dead with two gunshot wounds. Tina Duestrow had been shot three times and was in critical condition.
Duestrow claimed the shooting was all an accident. When he arrived home, he said, he started to toss his revolver up to his wife on the second floor but she yelled for him not to, because it might go off. He went up the steps, where Tina met him and reached for the weapon. As he handed it to her, it accidentally discharged and kept going off on its own.
Unconvinced by his fantastic story, the police took Duestrow to the city jail, where he spent the night ranting and raving that he couldn’t have killed his baby. A few days later, Tina died also.
Duestrow got a change of venue to nearby Franklin County, and his trial for first-degree murder was set for January 1895. Duestrow’s lawyers filed an insanity plea, and a hearing to determine Duestrow’s competence to stand trial began. Both sides called experts as well as ordinary citizens who had known Duestrow throughout his life to testify as to the defendant’s sanity. Defense witnesses testified to Duestrow’s bizarre behavior, such as his claim to be a Roman Catholic cardinal, while state witnesses said his only eccentricities were laziness and drunkenness.
The sanity hearing ended in a hung jury, but a second hearing in the spring found the defendant competent to stand trial for the murder of his wife. However, the trial, which took place from late July to early August also ended in a hung jury.
At his new trial in early 1896, Duestrow was found guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to hang, and the prisoner was taken back to St. Louis for safekeeping. The execution was postponed when Duestrow’s lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In January of 1897, the high court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, and the new execution date was set for February 16, 1897. On the morning of the 15th, Duestrow, now claiming to be Prussian general Count Brandenburg, was taken from St. Louis to Union. The next day, Duestrow walked onto the platform without hesitation and placed himself on the trap. The sheriff tied Duestrow’s arms and legs and, addressing him by name, asked him whether he had any final words to say.
“I am not Duestrow,” the prisoner replied. He then bid farewell to Countess von Brandenburg.
Duestrow dropped to his death about 1:00 p.m. Afterward, his body was placed in a coffin to be turned over to his sister, Hulda Duestrow, for burial in St. Louis. Hulda had estranged herself from Arthur after his crime and he had denied even knowing anybody named Hulda Duestrow, but she had her brother’s body buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery near the son he had killed.
This post is condensed from a chapter in my book Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Billings Bank Robbery

About one o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, March 16, 1927, several men suddenly seized Billings (Missouri) night watchman J. F. McElhaney as he was making his rounds, bound him, and took him to the Bank of Billings. Several sidekicks of McElhaney's abductors were already inside the bank, making eight gang members in total. Some of the men went to the Frisco section house, broke in and secured several crowbars, which they used to tunnel through a brick wall leading into the bank's vault. One robber crawled through the hole and then pried open the door to the vault with one of the crowbars.
About 2:00 a.m. C. S. Musgraves, Frisco station agent at Billings, heard a noise uptown and started in that direction to investigate. The robbers, seeing the beam of the railroad agent's flashlight, was ready for him as he approached. Musgraves was seized and marched to the bank, where he joined McElhaney as a second hostage.
The robbers worked for several hours preparing and setting off nitroglycerin charges in an attempt to blow open the safe. The first "shot" about three o'clock was unsuccessful. The second one shortly afterward set the building on fire, but the outlaws were able to extinguish the flames.
When Musgraves did not answer a call from the train station at Springfield, the telephone operator at Billings, Wallace Swift, was aroused to go check on the Billings train agent. As he started in that direction about 4:00 a.m., he, too, was taken prisoner and bound alongside the other hostages.
The robbers finally blew the safe shortly before five o'clock and promptly finished their work, securing about $4,000 in cash and about $28,000 in bonds. A considerable amount of currency and other paper was blown to bits by the final blast. The eight crooks made their getaway, leaving the prisoners bound but unhurt. The three men managed to work themselves free about ten minutes after the robbers left, and they notified authorities. However, they were unable to give good descriptions of the gang members because the robbers kept the lights dim and were careful not to expose their faces. The bank opened for business as usual a few hours later.
On Wednesday night, three men were arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as suspects in the Billings bank robbery. One of them, Edis Tinsley of Republic, had been seen in Billings on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, but McElhaney traveled to Tulsa and was unable to positively identify any of the three men. Tinsley, however, was convicted of auto theft in Lawrence County two months later and sentenced to three years in the state pen.
Law officers thought the Billings bank robbers were not "local talent," and, as it turned out they were right. Nearly all the robbers, at least the ones who were ultimately captured, were hard cases with previous criminal records. Bob Binnum, a 30-year-old ex-con was captured in Kansas City in early April and brought back to the Christian County Jail in Ozark. He was later extradited to Oklahoma on a murder charge.
Charley Stallcup was also arrested in early April in connection with the Billings job. He was extradited from Vinita, Oklahoma, to Christian County. He was released a month or so later, however, when witnesses from Oklahoma failed to appear for his preliminary hearing.
Danny Daniels was arrested in Nebraska as a suspect in the Billings robbery about the same time as Stallcup was arrested in Oklahoma. However, the Nebraska governor refused to extradite Daniels, choosing instead to hold him for the state of Oklahoma on another charge. Daniels, however, made his escape and was recaptured in June of 1927 after a shootout in Oklahoma. He was later sent to the Colorado State Prison and was killed in October of 1929 while participating in a prison riot. A Springfield newspaper subsequently did an extensive write-up about his long criminal history throughout southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma.
In May of 1928, Jack Perry Long, who was serving a 99-year prison sentence in Texas for bank robbery, was identified as having been a member of the gang that robbed the Billings bank 14 months earlier.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Niangua Bank Robbery

On the late afternoon of October 31, 1928, two armed men walked into the Bank of Niangua, Missouri, eight miles northeast of Marshfield in Webster County, and demanded all the money in the place. And it wasn't a Halloween prank, because they weren't masked. The holdup men ushered the cashier and his wife, who were the only two people in the bank, into the vault and locked the couple inside as they made off with a reported $4,000 in cash. It was about thirty minutes before customers walked into the bank, found the cashier and his wife still locked in the vault, and released them.
The next day, 24-year-old Louis Petty, who'd served two previous brief stints in the Missouri State Penitentiary for larceny, was arrested as a suspect. On November 2, Eldon Baumgarner, a 35-year-old farmer, was arrested near Northview as a suspected accomplice and joined Petty at the Webster County Jail in Marshfield. Baumgarner denied that he had anything to do with the robbery, but officers thought his car had been used in the holdup and he'd been seen in Niangua on the day of the crime.
A third man, 24-year-old Lawrence Baumgarner, who was related to Eldon but not his brother, was arrested on November 10 at his father's farm three miles south of Marshfield after Petty implicated him in the robbery. Baumgarner was brought to Springfield at first before being returned to the Webster County Jail. About half of the stolen loot was found near the same time Lawrence Baumgarner was arrested.
About noon on December 21, Petty and Lawrence Baumgarner escaped from the Marshfield jail along with a 16-year-old trusty named Griggs who was incarcerated on a minor charge. He'd been given free rein of the jail, and he was able to get the keys and let the older men out (probably at their urging).
Petty and Baumgarner were tracked down early the next morning about five miles south of Marshfield, and a shootout ensued. Baumgarner was captured after the brief gunfight and returned to jail, while Petty was able to make his escape.
A few days later, though, Petty showed up in Marshfield, accompanied by two friends, and turned himself in. On December 30, he and Baumgarner made full confessions and volunteered to plead guilty in exchange for fifteen-year sentences. The proposition was turned down.
Shortly afterward, Louis's older brother, Roy, was also implicated in the Niangua heist, and all four of the defendants faced trial in January of 1929 at Marshfield. Louis Petty, as ringleader of the gang, was convicted and received a 45-year sentence in the penitentiary. Lawrence Baumgarner, as the other gunman who'd entered the bank, got 25 years. Roy Petty was sentenced to a three-year term as an accomplice, while Eldon Baumgarner managed to get a change of venue to Pulaski County. He was acquitted there in July of 1929.
All three of the convicted robbers were sent to Jeff City in late January of 1929. Roy Petty was released early for good behavior in October of 1930 after serving 7/12ths of his time. Lawrence Baumgarner was also discharged early in July of 1942 after serving 13 1/2 years of his 25-year term. Louis Petty, too, was released early in January of 1943, paroled by Governor Donnelley. However, the parole was revoked in 1947 after he violated its terms and was returned to prison. In 1958, the parole was rescinded (meaning officials ruled that it never should have been granted). Petty was finally discharged for good in 1962, having served 33 years, minus the four years he'd been out on parole.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Dirty Old Men

I have commented on this blog before that, despite the seemingly soaring crime rate in our country and the talk that one often hears about the declining morality of the present generation, I think incidents of serious crime (i.e. crime directly resulting in harm to another person) are not that much more prevalent than in the so-called good old days. Yes, young people nowadays are probably exposed to and perhaps acquiesce to more temptations at a younger age than youth did when I was growing up, and society has more sophisticated ways of killing people in mass numbers than we used to. But I'm talking about the total number of incidents of crime, not the total number of victims, and I'm talking only about violent crime or crime that results in serious physical and/or emotional damage to another human being. By that standard, I don't think there's that much difference between now and then.
For instance (and I think I've cited this example before), when I was writing my Wicked Springfield book, I did an informal comparison of the number of murders that took place there during the 1880s and the number of murders that occur in present-day Springfield. What I found was that, if you allow for increased population, there's not a lot of difference. Specifically, I found that there were about ten murders in Springfield during the decade of the 1880s, and there were ten murders in Springfield for the most recent year for which statistics were available at the time I was writing the book (around 2011 or 2012). If you consider that the population of Springfield is about ten times as great as it was in the 1880s, that works out to a similar murder rate for both time periods.
More recently, I've been looking at another kind of crime against persons: rape and statutory rape. This time, I haven't actually conducted a comparison, even an informal one, but I've glanced through enough old newspapers to know that rape and statutory rape were not at all uncommon in the 1880s and early 1900s, although they were often called by another name. When a woman was raped, newspapers often reported the incident by saying she had been "outraged" or some similar term. Statutory rape was often called "criminal intimacy," a broad term that also subsumed less serious offenses like adultery and premarital sexual intercourse.
A quick glance through early-day Springfield, Missouri, newspapers reveals a large number of incidents of "criminal intimacy" involving girls or young women being raped or sexually exploited by much older men, often their fathers or father figures. And the following list represents just the few incidents I've chosen to highlight. There are many others.
In 1894 a Springfield dance instructor named Professor James was charged with incest with his 15-year-old daughter. The professor often traveled to give his dance lessons, and his daughter began accompanying him after she became an accomplished dancer herself and was old enough to help out with the lessons. In the fall of 1893, the father allegedly coerced his daughter into sexual intercourse during an overnight trip to Arkansas, and the criminal relations continued on a more or less regular basis thereafter. Finally, the girl told her mother what was going on in May of 1894, and James was arrested and charged with criminal intimacy. He denied the allegation, and I don't know whether he was ever convicted of a crime or not.
In February of 1897, a single, 15-year-old girl living just north of Springfield gave birth to a baby. Investigation revealed that she also had given birth to a baby two years earlier when she was only 13. The girl's mother had died a number of years earlier, and the girl had been placed in the custody of Rufus Sharon and his wife. Rufus was charged with impregnating the girl on both occasions. Apparently his wife knew about the criminal relations between Rufus and the girl but did not report her husband to authorities.
In 1897, 17-year-old Mrs. Pearl Huffman (whose husband had recently been sent to prison for bigamy) and her 64-year-old great uncle John McGill were arrested for "lewd conduct" on a complaint from McGill's neighbor. McGill was subsequently charged with criminal intimacy. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, while Pearl was released from the lewd conduct charge because she was unable to pay a fine.
In 1899, 16-year-old Mattie Hansford left her foster parents, a doctor and his wife, and went to the home of another doctor, M.C. Wyatt and his wife, complaining that her foster parents had mistreated her and asking to stay with the Wyatts. Dr. Wyatt had recently treated Mattie for an illness, and apparently they had developed a relationship that went well beyond that of doctor-patient. Wyatt and his wife took the girl in, and a few months later, Wyatt was charged with criminal intimacy with her.
As I say, there are numerous other examples, but this is enough to give you an idea that rape and especially statutory rape were not uncommon in the good old days.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Julia Martin, Rebel Spy?

Twenty-two-year-old Julia Martin, a resident of northern Henry County, Missouri, was arrested on August 20, 1864, for feeding, harboring, and giving information to bushwhackers. She’d first come under Federal scrutiny after a letter she wrote in late May to a Southern-sympathizing girlfriend, Sena Bell, fell into the hands of Union authorities. Julia began the letter with mundane topics like the weather but quickly turned to other matters. She had learned that Sena’s “dear dear friend,” Thomas Cramer, was not dead as she and Sena had feared, and she also told Sena that a company of Missouri partisans had just “got in from Rebeldom.”
“I do hope,” Julia continued, “they will come in, one to every bush, and kill every devil of militia that they can catch. I do wish some of them would give Clinton a call.” Clinton, the seat of Henry County, was occupied by Federal soldiers at the time of Julia’s letter. After gaining possession of the incriminating letter, the assistant provost marshal at Clinton began gathering additional evidence to use against Miss Martin. Jonathan Eshew, a fifty-four-year-old resident of Clinton, testified that it was “the impression of the loyal citizens” that Julia Martin had been carrying dispatches to bushwhackers ever since the outbreak of the war. Eshew said that sometimes, when he was not home, Julia would pass his house and threaten his family with taunts that she was going to get the bushwhackers to drive off the family’s horses.
Bernard Greenlee told Williams he knew Julia Martin to be a Rebel, and he cited the time she and two bushwhackers had come to his father’s house in the fall of 1862. While Julia and one of the men hung back about three hundred yards from the house, the other man came to the Greenlee barn and stole a horse.
Twenty-one-year-old Jonathan Brown swore that Julia was a “notorious rebel” who, during the year 1862, had led bushwhackers to several Union men’s homes so that the men could be “robbed of everything in their houses and of their horses.” Brown also said that Julia acted as a courier for the guerrillas and that he had known her to “ride day and night carrying messages.”
William Weaver, a hotel proprietor in Clinton and a captain in the local Enrolled Missouri Militia, said that at different times when he was scouting through the countryside he had met Julia Martin “traveling unusual fast and her excuse was not sufficient for doing so.” Weaver said he knew several men Julia had mentioned in her letter to be notorious guerrillas.
Garrett Freeman, captain in a local home guard unit, said he’d led a scouting party to Julia’s stepfather’s house in the fall of 1862 and that, while there, he heard Julia threaten to have two sisters of Union proclivity “taken to the brush by the bushwhackers.” Like Weaver, Freeman said he knew some of the men mentioned in Julia’s letter were bushwhackers.
The testimony of George Murray followed the pattern of the other witnesses. He had frequently seen Julia out on the high prairie on horseback letting her horse graze, but he was “of the impression from her actions that she was standing picket for the bushwhackers.”
Julia was arrested and taken to Warrensburg, where she was subsequently interrogated. She said she knew Tom Cramer by sight but knew nothing about him. She claimed that she’d never helped bushwhackers. Asked about the incident in which she supposedly aided two bushwhackers in the theft of a horse from Mr. Greenlee, Julia said she was merely out one morning looking for a bridle she had lost the evening before when she met two men near the Greenlee place. One of them rode up to her and asked her what she was doing. He then accused her of being a spy and demanded to know where she lived. When she told him, he told her to go home, and she obeyed and had nothing more to do with the man. Asked about the incident in which she reportedly threatened to have the two young women of loyal sentiments taken to the brush, she admitted making such a statement but said she did so only because their brother had come to her house and started accusing her of complicity in the theft of the Greenlee horse and otherwise abusing her and that she replied in anger. Julia admitted she was a Rebel sympathizer, but she said she did not approve of bushwhacking.
Julia was held initially for trial by military commission, but, because some of the evidence against her was shaky, she was instead required to leave Missouri, banished to the free states north and east of Springfield, Illinois.
Exactly where Julia Martin went during her exile is not known, but she returned home at the end of the war and got married in Henry County.
Condensed from a chapter in my Bushwhacker Belles book.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Rebel Jackson Women

Last time I wrote about the lynching of Mindu Cowahgee in Marshall, Missouri, in 1900. This week, I’m staying in Saline County but going all the way back to the Civil War.
On or about August 26, 1863, Lieutenant William D. Blair led a scout through Saline County in search of guerrilla leader Bill Jackson, son of former Missouri governor Claiborne F. Jackson. As Blair passed the Mary Jackson residence in the neighborhood of Saline City, a black woman near the doorway beckoned him, and he stopped to see what she wanted. The woman told the Federal officer that Bill Jackson was in the woods nearby with four men and that Mary Jackson and her family (no relation to Bill) had fed the bushwhackers earlier the same day. While Blair was still talking to the servant woman, one of Mary Jackson’s daughters, twenty-six-year old Betty, came outside and ordered the woman away, proclaiming, according to Blair’s later testimony, that no one who would report on her friends was going to stay around her.
Blair and his scouting party promptly rode to the woods and found signs that a band of men had recently been there. Convinced that the informant had told the truth, Blair set off after the guerrillas.
Unable to overtake the bushwhackers, the Federals returned to the Jackson home the same afternoon. Confronting Mary Jackson, Blair demanded to know whether she had fed Bill Jackson’s gang earlier in the day. She admitted she had, but she stressed she had declined to feed the men at her house and had, instead, sent them to the woods.
Betty Jackson’s sister Sue admitted that she and another sister had delivered the victuals to Bill Jackson in the woods. According to Blair, Sue also stated that Bill Jackson and his men were her friends and she was not ashamed of taking food to them. Betty Jackson confirmed that she was the one who had run off the black woman earlier in the day. Betty also reportedly told Blair that Bill Jackson and his guerrillas were her friends.
The three women were arrested on August 27 and taken to Marshall. Several days later they were transferred to Jefferson City, where they were paroled on September 14 under the condition that they report when called. The next day, orders were issued that the Jackson women should be tried by military commission at Marshall.
Mary Jackson’s trial began on October 6 with Lieutenant Blair as the main prosecution witness. Mary admitted she fed Bill Jackson’s men but said she did so only because he threatened her. She introduced her hired hand as a defense witness, who said he heard Mary tell Bill Jackson and his men to leave when they first came to her house but that Jackson refused to leave until she fed them. Despite her protestations of innocence, Mary Jackson was convicted of feeding and harboring guerrillas after a two-hour trial.
The trial of her daughter Betty, charged with uttering disloyal sentiments, began immediately afterwards with Lieutenant Blair again as the chief prosecution witness. Betty offered no defense except a written statement in which she pled helpless womanhood. It read, “Her being a lady, and unaccustomed to being held responsible for anything she might say, she did not really know what was loyal or disloyal.” Like her mother, Betty pleaded for leniency and expressed a willingness to take the oath of allegiance, but she, too, was convicted.
Charged with feeding and harboring bushwhackers as well as uttering disloyal language, Sue was tried after her older sister. Sue did not deny making statements to Blair and his men that might have been construed as disloyal, but she claimed she did so only because his men used insulting language toward her. Blair rebutted her claim, saying he was the only soldier to whom she talked. Sue acknowledged carrying food to Jackson but only because she was compelled to do so. She denied ever harboring bushwhackers and said she had no recollection of saying Jackson and his gang were her friends. Claiming to be only fourteen years old, when she was at least eighteen or nineteen, she, like her mother and her sister, closed with a plea for leniency. Faring no better than they, she was convicted on both charges against her.
All three women were sentenced to be banished from the state, but the sentences were later reduced. Mrs. Jackson was required to give bond as security for her “future good conduct” and to take an oath of allegiance, while her daughters were required only to take oaths.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my Bushwhacker Belles book. Main source: Trial transcript of Mary, Sue, and Betty Jackson, National Archives.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Lynching of Mindu Cowahgee

Mindu Cowahgee had no way of knowing the trouble he was getting into when he broke into two stores in Marshall, Missouri, on the night of March 30, 1900. The Marshall Republican reported a few days later that the burglar took a total of about $45 in merchandise from the two stores, but Cowahgee ended up paying a much dearer price for the pilfered goods.
He was arrested the next day after a former employer spotted cuts and bruises he’d gotten from breaking a plate glass window in one of the stores and crawling through it to gain access. He was lodged in the Saline County jail.
Less than a month later, on Thursday evening April 26, as Sheriff Joseph Wilson was herding the inmates into their cells for the night, Cowahgee and a black prisoner named John Smith threw Wilson to the floor and took his revolver. Wilson called to his family to bolt the door, and the sheriff’s wife, Elizabeth, appeared on the front steps to try to block the men’s exit. Cowahgee, carrying the sheriff’s revolver, fired the weapon at her. The bullet struck her in the upper left arm, and he and Smith dashed past her to make their escape through the streets of Marshall.
Posses, spurred by a $300 reward, went out in pursuit of the escapees, and their descriptions were sent to law officers in surrounding towns. Cowahgee, supposedly a former convict, was variously described as a “Negro,” an “Indian,” and a “Hindoo,” suggesting that he might have been a dark-complexioned native of India.
Cowahgee was recaptured the next evening southeast of Marshall, brought back to town, and lodged in the city jail late Friday night. With his apprehension, the chase after Smith was virtually abandoned.
Aroused by the fact that doctors had been forced to amputate Mrs. Wilson’s arm, citizens clogged the streets early Saturday morning whispering of mob violence, and Cowahgee was moved to the county jail, which was considered a more secure facility. Sheriff Wilson urged the crowd to let the law take its course and convinced them to disperse.
Many thought the danger of mob action had passed, but shortly after dark, a mob again started forming at the jail, blocking all the roads and sidewalks that led to the calaboose. A prominent citizen addressed the crowd, urging them not to take the law into their own hands, and the sheriff once again appealed to the festering mob, asking them to disband for the sake of his wife’s safety. He pointed out that of all offended parties, he and his family had the most reason to want retribution but that it was his and his wife’s wish that the law be followed.
The sheriff’s appeal quieted the crowd only briefly. Soon, several men from one section of the mob leaped over a fence surrounding the jail, and they were quickly followed by others. Had strong action such as firing above the heads of the mob been taken at this moment, opined the editor of the Marshall Republican, the vigilantes might have been turned back, but the sheriff had told his deputies to hold their fire, supposedly because he was concerned that the sounds of gunfire might disturb his recuperating wife. “Affection for wife has proven stronger than sense of duty,” the newspaperman lamented.
The vigilantes surged in around the jail with the sheriff and several of his deputies retiring before the advancing horde to the interior. The officers inside the building at first refused the mob’s demand to give up the keys, but when someone outside produced a sledgehammer and started pounding the door, the keys were turned over.
The mob thronged inside and found the shackled Cowahgee in the corridor of the jail. Dragging the prisoner outside, the vigilantes were met with cries of Hang him!” and “To the square!”
Those in the crowd nearest Cowahgee kicked and prodded him, struck him with their fists, or slashed at him with knives as he was dragged by a circuitous route to the southeast corner of the courthouse square, where a large tree stood with a big branch protruding to the northwest. But no one had a rope.
While someone in the mob went to fetch one, two prominent citizens used the delay to address the crowd in a last-ditch effort to forestall the lynching, but their words had little effect. “The spirit of the masses seemed woefully lacking in any feeling of humanity,” said the Republican editor.
Realizing his fate, Cowahgee asked time to say a prayer. He asked God to forgive his sins and “those who sought his blood.” But his prayer had little effect on the unruly mob. “All pleading was in vain,” said the Republican. “Passion ruled above reason, mob tyranny above law, vengeance above mercy.”
When a rope was brought to the scene, it was tossed over the tree limb, the noose was adjusted around Cowahgee’s neck, and his arms were pinioned to his body. At 11:20 p.m. on April 28, 1900, his body was hoisted into the air before 2,000 gaping spectators.
The body was cut down at 12:10 Sunday morning, and a coroner’s jury was impaneled almost immediately. The inquest determined, predictably enough, that Mindu Cowahgee “came to his death at the hands of a mob unknown to the jury.” The body was removed to an undertaker’s office right after the inquest and buried after daybreak in a potter’s field at the county farm.
The Republican editor begged to differ with the verdict of the coroner’s inquest. The lynching was a travesty of justice and an affront to civilization, and it was made doubly so because the assault on Mrs. Wilson was not a crime for which anyone would normally receive the death penalty. The jury’s negligence of duty in reaching its verdict only compounded the tragedy. The mob was undisguised and all faces clearly visible beneath the glare of the street lights; yet the jury claimed not to know the identity of any of the lawbreakers.
The post above is condensed from a chapter in my Yanked Into Eternity book.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Vigilante Justice on the Missouri-Arkansas Border

On the night of December 18, 1893, just south of the Missouri state line in Baxter County, Arkansas, several unknown assassins opened fire on prominent stockman Hunter Wilson and his wife as they sat by the fireside in their home. Wilson fell dead, and his wife was seriously wounded. The killers made off with about $1,500 from a trunk, where Wilson had stored it after a recent cattle transaction.
Despite her wounds, Mrs. Wilson managed to drag herself across the ground to a neighbor’s house and give an alarm. Law officers were summoned to the scene, and bloodhounds were brought in to track the villains.
William Walter McAnish was soon arrested as a suspect in the case. His preliminary examination in early January 1894, however, did not produce enough evidence to formally charge him for the crime, and he was shortly afterward released.
Then, on February 25, the wife of Anderson Carter implicated her husband and her son, Bart, in the heinous deed. Bart immediately confessed, saying that his father and Bud Montgomery, alias Jasper Newton, were the main culprits and that he had been forced to participate.
All three men were arrested, but on February 27 Bart Carter was paroled so that he could take law officers to the spot where the ill-gotten money was hidden. That evening, while Bart was still away from the jail, a large body of vigilantes assembled in Mountain Home in an orderly fashion for the express purpose of lynching the two older men. They overpowered the jailer and guards, took their guns, and demanded the keys. The state representative from Baxter County made a speech trying to dissuade the mob from its purpose, and other officials spoke as well. But to no avail.
After listening in “sullen silence” to the speeches, the vigilantes procured the keys to the jail, unlocked the doors, and commenced shooting into the cells where Carter and Montgomery were housed. After about twenty shots rang out, there was a temporary lull. Carter was found to be dead, but Montgomery was still alive and asking for water. The request was granted, but as soon as Montgomery finished drinking, the gang opened fire on him again, riddling his body with bullets. Both men died protesting their innocence.
The mob declined to take the men out and hang them, reportedly because they thought the sheriff and his posse would be more likely to interfere in such a scenario.
In the aftermath of the lynching, it was reported that Anderson Carter had supposedly killed a man previously in Texas County, Missouri, and that Bud Montgomery (i.e. Jasper Newton) was wanted in Clay County for a crime committed fifteen years earlier.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Another Bushwhacker Belle: The Charming Mollie Goggin

I've changed the name of this blog from "Ozarks History" to "Missouri and Ozarks History," because, although I started out writing mainly about the Ozarks, I've been writing more and more in recent years about the whole state of Missouri. The person I'm going to write about today, however, actually was from the Ozarks, if you define the Ozarks as extending north all the way to the Missouri River in the eastern part of the state, as most geographers and geologists do.
On March 16, 1864, a bushwhacker named Murray was captured by Union authorities near Pisgah in Cooper County while wearing a Rebel patch with the phrase “Victory or Death” and the name “Mollie Goggin” inscribed on it, and he was imprisoned at Tipton in neighboring Moniteau County. About a month later, Miss Goggin, an eighteen-year-old young lady from the Pisgah community was interviewed at Tipton by Lieutenant Franklin Swap, assistant provost marshal, about the embroidered patch. Admitting that she made the badge, the sassy Miss Goggin became defiant, saying she was a Rebel and always had been. She said she had aided Rebels and would continue to do so, that she never had and never would take an oath of allegiance, and that she would consider it a pleasure to be sent south.
Mollie was allowed to go home, but Swap reported the girl’s statements to district headquarters at Warrensburg, and she was soon arrested and brought to Jefferson City for trial by military commission. Tried on June 20, she was found guilty of “uttering disloyal sentiments.”
The next day, June 21, she was released on parole in the town of Jefferson City to await the promulgation of her sentence, and for the next couple of months, Mollie had the run of the town. Despite having obtained her temporary release on a promise of loyalty, Mollie proved unrepentant in her Southern sympathies and was not bashful about expressing them, all the while continuing to beguile the Union officers with her charm and good looks, and her continued presence in the town of Jefferson City became a growing nuisance to Union authorities there.
On August 20, Lieutenant Swap wrote to district headquarters earnestly recommending that Miss Goggin be forwarded to St. Louis for confinement. Swap said that Mollie had “persisted in her sympathies for the enemies of the government” but that there was no suitable place in Jefferson City to incarcerate her. He added that Mollie took “particular pains to display in public the colors of the Southern Confederacy and refuses all advice to be more consistent in her conversation and dress.”
About the same time as Sapp's complaint, a federal detective who'd recently visited Jeff City, wrote to department headquarters at St. Louis denouncing the favorable treatment Miss Goggin was receiving. The detective said he “was astonished to find her the object of attention of a party of six or eight Federal officers" who were staying in the same building where Mollie was living. “She is handsome and fascinating in appearance,” the detective continued, “which is the only way I can account for her being treated in the way she is by all the officers, all of whom pet her very much.”
Mollie was finally sent to St. Louis in late August and a month later was sentenced to be confined in the Alton Military Prison in Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River. However, the authorities who pronounced the sentence probably did not count on the power of Mollie’s feminine charm to alter its terms, but that’s what happened. After her arrival at Alton, the mesmerizing Mollie quickly had the Union officials at the prison fawning over her the same way the officers back in Jefferson City had. Mary Pitman, a woman who was confined at the Alton facility for two and half weeks in late November, later complained of the favorable treatment Mollie and another young woman received from prison inspector Lieutenant L.W. Danforth and other Union officers. Pitman said that Danforth was in Mollie's room almost every night until pretty late and would also go up to her room the first thing each morning. “Miss Goggins had everything she wanted in the way of food and delicacies” by Danforth’s orders, according to Pitman.
Although Danforth spent time with both young women, according to Pitman, “but Miss Goggins was his favorite. One time Ms. Pitman saw Danforth with his arm around Mollie and his head on her shoulder but most of the time he shut the door when he went to her room. Pittman said she heard the lieutenant say that he thought Miss Goggin was in prison unjustly and that he did not believe in putting women in prison anyway.
In early 1865, several officers of the Alton prison (Danforth not being one of them), petitioned department headquarters for the release of Mollie Goggin because she was only seventeen, “a mere child in appearance and manner,” and that they felt she had been imprisoned long enough. (Mollie was actually eighteen.) They added that since her incarceration at Alton, she had won the esteem and respect of all the officers there by her uniformly good and ladylike conduct. The prison officials said Mollie “little thought when she said she was a Rebel that she would be taken from home and imprisoned for it, because she declares that she is not a Rebel and only said so to be ‘contrary.’”
In mid-January, the men's petition was granted and Mollie released immediately “in consideration of her youth and good behavior” and contingent upon her “loyalty and good conduct in the future.” What happened to Mollie after her release has not been determined.
The story above is condensed from my book about the "bushwhacker belles" of Missouri, women who got in trouble with Union authorities for helping the Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. Not all of them were treated alike, and as this story shows, how good looking and charming they were was one of the factors affecting their treatment.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nat Kinney in Springfield

Nat Kinney is best known in the Ozarks as the leader of the notorious Bald Knobbers of Taney County, but before he came to Taney County, he lived for a while in Springfield, where he worked as a bartender and briefly kept his own saloon. This fact, of course, opened him up to charges of hypocrisy once he relocated to Taney County and started conducting a Sunday school there and trying to enforce morality. One critic allowed, for instance, that an "ex-saloonkeeper from the slums of Springfield" was not "a proper censor of Taney County morals."
In fact, Kinney lived in Springfield less than a year. He came to Springfield about the end of February 1882 from Topeka, Kansas. In Topeka he had run the city's omnibus line for a number of years and had been a fairly respected citizen for a time. In the fall of 1880 Kansas voters passed a prohibition law that went into effect in January of 1881, and Kinney seems to have lost favor, at least among the prohibitionists, over the alcohol issue. For instance, in February of 1882, he was accused of selling liquor illegally. It was about the same time that he moved to Springfield, perhaps to avoid further repercussions over his alleged illegal activity.
By March of 1882, Kinney was working in A. F. Kinney's saloon on the northwest corner of the Springfield square. A. F. Kinney had several brothers who worked for him, but Nat Kinney was not one of them. It's not known whether Nat Kinney was more distantly related to A. F. Kinney.
By the late summer of 1882, Nat Kinney was running his own saloon a block or two off the square on Boonville Street. On the evening of September 16, Mike Ahern and Payton Parrish got into a fight at Nat Kinney's saloon, where they had been drinking throughout the day. Ahern reportedly got mad at the smaller Parrish, knocked him down, jumped on top of him, and pummeled him as he lay on the floor. Parrish managed to pull a knife out of his pocket and stab Ahern in the stomach several times in quick succession.
Ahern was taken to a nearby boardinghouse for medical attention, but he died about two weeks later. Parrish was arrested but released on bond, and the case was never prosecuted, because it was considered self-defense. When Nat Kinney was interviewed in November by a grand jury about the case, he said he "didn't know who done it." Kinney left Springfield very shortly after testifying to the grand jury. In December, he paid a visit to his old hometown of Topeka, and by early 1883 he had relocated to Taney County, Missouri.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fair Grove Street Fair

Next weekend, September 23-24, 2017, will mark the 40th annual Fair Grove (Mo.) Heritage Reunion. It had rather humble beginnings back in the late 1970s, but it has since grown into one of the largest fall festivals or arts and crafts fairs in the Ozarks. Actually, though, Fair Grove's tradition of hosting a successful fall festival began long before the 1970s, because at least as early as 1908 up through the mid-1920s, Fair Grove had a three-day street fair.
Like the current Fair Grove Heritage Reunion, the Fair Grove Street Fair was always held near the end of September (although the dates for the street fair sometimes fell in early October, whereas the current event is always the last full weekend in September). In 1908, the street fair ran from Thursday, October 1 to Saturday, October 3. On Friday the 2nd, an estimated three to four thousand people attended the fair, and more were expected for the wrap-up of the event on Saturday. One of the main draws of the fair was the awarding of prizes for contests in various categories. Many of the contests involved picking winners from agricultural or horticultural displays, such as "Best Jersey Milk Cow," but there were also some contests that required speed and skill on the part of the entrants, such as a prize for the couple who could hitch a horse to a buggy in the shortest time. In 1908, Mr. and Mrs. N. V. Murphy won that coveted prize.
With 1908 being an election year, a number of Greene County politicians used the occasion of the Fair Grove Street Fair as an opportunity to campaign. That's a phenomenon, of course, that one still sees nowadays during election years, at the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion and similar events. Actually, I think the Fair Grove folks discourage political campaigning as much as possible by not allowing political booths at the Heritage Reunion, but you can't keep candidates from mingling with the people and handing out their literature.
Organizers of the 1915 Fair Grove Street Fair expected it to be the "greatest street fair ever held in Greene County," according to the Springfield Republican. The event featured over $600 worth of prizes in a whole slew of very specific categories, such as best dressed doll by a girl under twelve years old, best homemade sorghum, best chocolate cake, and prettiest sofa pillow.
The contests at the Fair Grove street fairs were very popular, but they weren't the only draw. There were also games of fun and musical entertainment that did not necessarily have contests or prizes associated with them. For instance, on the final night of the 1924 Fair Grove Street Fair, "A large throng of people" were in attendance, and "music and merrymaking" filled the air until midnight.
Sometime around the late 1920s, the Fair Grove Street Fair was apparently discontinued, probably because of the Depression, and the tradition of holding a fall festival in the town was not revived until fifty years later.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Ruth and Sarah Bond: Bushwhacker Belles of Miller County?

On or about April 1, 1864, Miller County sisters Ruth and Sarah Bond were arrested by Federal authorities and taken to Jefferson City on charges of feeding and harboring bushwhackers, and several of their neighbors swore out affidavits against them. Twenty-two-year-old Ruth and eighteen-year-old Sarah said they were completely innocent, claiming not even to know why they were arrested. Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in the middle, as is often the case when disparate stories collide, but the Bond girls and their case made it all the way to St. Louis before they found someone to take their side in the argument.
After the Bond sisters were transported to Jefferson City, Lieutenant James M. Gavin, provost marshal of the Jefferson City sub-district, began gathering evidence against them. On the 11th, fifty-four-year-old Henry Jenkins, a close neighbor of the Bonds in northeast Miller County, testified that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do it again “in spite of hell.”
Hannah Jenkins, Henry’s daughter-in-law, was also deposed on the 11th. She said the Bonds always claimed to be in favor of the South but that she did not know of any disloyal acts on their part.
On April 22, Madison Carrendon was interviewed. Echoing Henry Jenkins, Carrendon said only that he had heard the young women say they had fed bushwhackers and would do so again and that they had the reputation of being Southern-sympathizers.
On the evidence of these three statements, Lieutenant Gavin forwarded the paperwork in the case of Ruth and Sarah Bond to Warrensburg, headquarters of the District of Central Missouri, on April 23, although the women themselves remained imprisoned at Jefferson City. The following day, Colonel T.A. Switzler, the district provost marshal, in turn forwarded the file to General Egbert B. Brown, commanding general of the district, with the following notation: “…These women are loose characters and were arrested last summer upon the same charges. Evidence could not be obtained sufficient to convict them. The neighborhood in which they live has been infested with Bushwhackers whenever there was any in the country. The interests of the country would be promoted by sending them away.” On April 28, General Brown sent the file to department headquarters at St. Louis with a recommendation that the Bond girls be banished from his district.
Upon examining the scant file, Colonel J.P. Sanderson, provost marshal of the department, immediately sent the papers back to Colonel Switzler with a request that he gather more testimony and then return the file to him, along with the defendants in the case. Switzler remanded the case to Lieutenant Gavin, who once again started taking depositions. On May 16, Jobe Wood testified that he could not say positively the Bond women fed and harbored bushwhackers but that it was generally believed they did and that they were "very bad women, and Rebels.” Lydia Jenkins, a sister-in-law or niece of Henry Jenkins, was also interviewed on the 16th. She stated that one of the Bond sisters had always told her she was in favor of the South, that it was believed in the neighborhood that the Bonds aided bushwhackers, but that she did not know positively that they had.
The Bond sisters and the file in their case were forwarded to St. Louis on May 17. The next day, however, Sanderson again returned the papers to Switzler with a request that the depositions of the Bond sisters be added to the file. “This case in its present shape,” he declared, “is wanting in material upon which to found even an opinion.”
Ruth and Sarah Bond were lodged in the Myrtle Street Prison, and after they had languished there between two and three weeks without having been examined or tried, they wrote to Colonel Sanderson in early June beseeching him to intervene on their behalf. They told him that they had no one in St. Louis to speak for them because their brother was in the Union Army, their father was dead, and their mother, who was not in good health, was home with the younger kids. “Please you will look over our case,” they concluded. “Yours respectfully, Ruth C. Bond and Sarah A. Bond.” Whether the Bond sisters had even given depositions in Jefferson City, as Colonel Sanderson believed, is uncertain, but after appealing directly to Sanderson, the young women were promptly interviewed in St. Louis per Sanderson’s instructions. On June 6, Ruth told her examiner that she lived in Miller County five miles from Tuscumbia and was twenty years old. (According to census records, she was at least twenty-two.) She said her brother John was in the Sixth Missouri State Militia Cavalry and that her recently deceased father had always been a loyal Union man. “I am as loyal as anybody can be,” she said, “and so is my sister and mother.”
Ruth added that there had never been any bushwhackers or Rebels of any kind fed at her house and that, if they did come, she wouldn’t feed them. She named several men from her neighborhood who were supposed to be guerrillas, but she didn't know any of them personally. She said she did not know why she and her sister were arrested but she thought it might have come about because of something Hannah Jenkins had said about them. Ruth said Hannah’s husband (i.e. William Jenkins) had formerly been in the Confederate Army but was now a member of the same Union company that John Bond was a member of. Hannah had been with her husband in the field but was forced to leave, and upon her return to the neighborhood, she got mad at Sarah Bond for some reason and reported the sisters to Federal authorities, so Ruth had been told. What Hannah accused Ruth and Sarah of doing, however, Ruth did not know.
Sarah was also deposed on June 6, giving much of the same testimony that her sister gave. Sarah added that she had never carried any letters for the purpose of sending them beyond the Union lines or for any other purpose.
After the Bond sisters were deposed in St. Louis, their case was again referred back to Jefferson City for more evidence. Lt. Gavin forwarded additional information to St. Louis in mid-June with a recommendation that the Bond women be sent out of the state. After reviewing the papers, Sanderson referred the case to General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, with an endorsement that he did not think the evidence in the case justified conviction and banishment and that he, therefore, did not agree with Lieutenant Gavin’s recommendation that the young women be exiled from the state. On the 17th, Rosecrans ordered the women released on bond, and four days later they were freed on $500 bond each.
Ruth and Sarah Bond returned to their home territory and were still living in the Miller County area after the war.
The sketch of the Bond sisters above is condensed from a chapter about them in my Bushwhacker Belles book.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Double Murder at Mountain Grove

About midnight on the night of May 18, 1897, about twenty masked men called at the home of Benjamin Mayfield on Whetstone Creek about six miles northwest of Mountain Grove, Missouri. They passed through the house single file looking for Benjamin's son, Elijah "Lige" Mayfield. Not finding Lige at home, they threw a burning torch on the roof of the house as they stomped out, mounted up, and rode away. "Old Man" Mayfield, as Benjamin was called in reports of the incident, managed to get the fire put out before it engulfed the house.
Meanwhile, the mob rode to the nearby home of John Mitchell and finding the house barricaded, opened fire on the residence. Mitchell awoke and started across the room to retrieve his pistol when he was riddled with buckshot and rifle balls fired through a window of the house. His stepbrother, Jack Coffman, rose up in bed and was also shot to death. Dave Mitchell, John's brother, managed to return fire, persuading the mob to retreat, but he, too, was wounded with gunshots to the head and shoulder. John Mitchell's wife and two little kids were also in the house at the time, but somehow they escaped injury.
When word of the raid reached Mountain Grove the next day, it threw the town into an "intense excitement." Dave Mitchell said he thought he recognized at least one of the mob, but he said he wouldn't name any names until the coroner's inquiry. Trouble had been brewing in the Mitchell neighborhood for a number of years, according to reports in the wake of the mob action. Both John and Dave Mitchell had served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary for larceny, and it was alleged that they had been operating a theft ring all along the Frisco line between Mountain Grove and Lebanon for the past few years, stealing everything from chickens to horses. Dave admitted that, two weeks prior to the visit by the night riders, he had been taken out of the Mitchell home about midnight one night by a band of white caps (i.e. vigilantes), whipped severely, and told to leave the territory or they'd "finish him up" on their next visit. The Mitchells had refused to leave, and the vigilantes apparently had now carried through with their threat.
The action of the mob was widely denounced on the day after the raid, and authorities swore that the perpetrators would be found out and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, when a coroner's inquiry was held on May 20th, it turned out to be just a "small pretense" of an inquest. Dave Mitchell still refused to name who he thought he had recognized, because he feared retaliation, and the jury reached a verdict that John Mitchell and Jack Coffman had come to their deaths at the hands of parties unknown. A later report suggested that the mob had been composed of some of the most "highly respected" citizens in the area, which probably accounts for the jury's innocuous verdict and for the fact that nothing much was apparently ever done to try to bring the killers of Mitchell and Coffman to justice.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

JFK Campaigns in Joplin

On October 22, 1960, in the midst of the 1960 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts made three stops in Missouri. Fresh off his fourth and final debate the night before with then Vice-President Richard Nixon, Kennedy flew to St. Louis on Saturday morning the 22nd. After a campaign stop there, he got back on his plane headed to Joplin for a brief stopover and rally at the airport there later that afternoon.
An estimated crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 people had gathered at the airport to await his arrival. Many had come from surrounding towns in Oklahoma and Kansas as well as Missouri, and they’d started gathering at 9:00 o’clock that morning. Two busloads had come from Springfield in chartered Greyhounds. Student delegations from Kansas State College at Pittsburg and from Joplin Junior College were on hand. Many of those in attendance carried placards in support of Kennedy. One of the sign carriers was Daisy Howe of Neck City, Missouri, whom I remember for her passionate letters supporting progressive causes, which were regularly published on the Joplin Globe editorial page clear into the mid and late 1990s.
Just minutes before Kennedy’s plane arrived, another plane landed at the airport carrying a Republican “Truth Squad.” A cheer went up at first before the crowd realized the identity of the group that was disembarking. When the cheers turned to boos, one of the Democratic dignitaries on the platform that had been erected in the airport field grabbed the microphone and told the crowd to go ahead and make the “Truth Squad” welcome because the “Lie Detector Squad” would be arriving soon.
When Kennedy’s plane touched down shortly afterward, it didn’t stop exactly where authorities had planned, and Joplin policeman and fireman hurriedly tried to cordon off the area between the plane and the platform, but to no avail. Kennedy stepped off the plane and waded right into the surging crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs as he made his way to the makeshift stage. Chants of “We want Jack” went up among the throng of Democratic supporters.
The Joplin area was still a mining district in 1960, and shortly after Kennedy began his speech, mindful of where he was, the candidate made a special appeal to the miners of the region, saying they didn’t get paid enough for the hard work they did. A group of miners from the Miami, Oklahoma, area were among the crowd, and one of them offered Kennedy a hard hat. He tried it on, but it didn’t fit.
Near the end of his remarks, in another appeal to regional pride, Kennedy said, “I come here to Joplin, here to Missouri, here in this part of the central United States. About two weeks ago up in Boston, my own hometown, Mr. Nixon said I was just another Truman. I said I regarded that as a compliment because he was just another Dewey.” Applause and laughter broke out among the audience.
Then, still playing on the Missouri theme, Kennedy closed by asking the crowd to “Show Me” on Election Day by voting to make him the next president of the United States.
The crowd again pressed in around Kennedy as he made his way back to his airplane. After leaving Joplin, he flew to Wichita for a campaign rally there before finished the day with a stop in Kansas City, his third rally of the day in the swing state of Missouri, which he carried in the election two weeks later.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Billy Sunday in Southern Missouri

In the 1880s, while he was playing professional baseball, Billy Sunday converted to Christianity. Denouncing drinking, swearing, and gambling, he soon started speaking in churches and at YMCAs. A dynamic baserunner and a flashy but inconsistent fielder, Sunday was never more than a mediocre hitter. He soon left baseball and went to work full time for a YMCA in Chicago, where he ministered to the sick and the troubled. Later he became an assistant to J. Wilbur Chapman, a well-known evangelist. In the late 1890s Sunday went out on his own as a traveling evangelist, and during the first two decades of the 20th century he became the most famous evangelist in America. Not until Billy Graham rose to fame in the late 1940s did an evangelist fill more pews or convert more sinners than Billy Sunday did. He spoke to millions and converted an estimated 300,000 people.
Throughout his life, Sunday remained a big fan of baseball, and he often used his ties to baseball to promote his revivals. One time in 1907 in Fairfield, Iowa, for instance, he urged the community businesses to organize two baseball teams in advance of his appearance, and when he arrived in town, he played alternately for both teams wearing his professional baseball uniform. Known for his fiery, histrionic sermons, he would occasionally slide across the stage in imitation of a baseball slide as he exhorted his audience to slide safely into the arms of the Lord. Espousing a traditional, "old-time" religion, he was also known for his straightforward, sometimes coarse language. For instance, he once characterized evolution as a "bastard theory" and "pure jackass nonsense."
His theatrical yet blunt style and his conservative views were, of course, not universally popular. He was criticized as a tool of big business and for making too much money from his preaching, and there were places throughout the country where he was not welcome. Yet he did adopt certain progressive positions that, if anything, might have made him even more controversial, such as his support for women's suffrage and for the full acceptance of Catholics. Even in conservative southern Missouri, Billy Sunday received a uneven welcome.
In December of 1909, Sunday held a series of revival meetings in Joplin with several hundred people in attendance. At one sermon, he preached against dancing, denouncing it as a "hotbed of licentiousness" and "nothing but a hugging match set to music." At least one newspaper, however, editorialized against Sunday at the time, claiming that he used "slang and vulgarity in the pulpit."
When Billy Sunday held a tabernacle revival at Cape Girardeau in March of 1926, more than hundred people from Sikeston alone traveled to Cape to hear the evangelist. Afterward, the Sikeston group declared that they had been "highly entertained and thrilled, an occasion seldom experienced in a lifetime." During the revival, Sunday took a side trip to Sikeston for a single sermon on March 17 and packed the Methodist Church "to the utmost."
In 1928, the ministerial alliance of Springfield tried to organize a Billy Sunday revival there, but the idea was dropped when some ministers and other church officials voiced their opposition to the idea. Sunday said he wouldn't come where he wasn't wanted.
Sunday's success and importance as an evangelist waned during the late 20s and early 30s as more people began going to movies, listening to radio, and so forth instead attending camp meetings and revivals. Sunday died in 1935.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach District

I've previously written on this blog about the apple industry and the strawberry industry in the Ozarks, but there was also a thriving peach industry in the region during the early 1900s. Probably the most prominent area for commercial peach growing was the Koshkonong-Brandsville district in the south-central part of Missouri. Peaches had been grown for personal consumption in the Koshkonong area (and throughout the whole state) since early pioneer days, but commercial growing did not begin until the 1890s. At that time, the land was cleared and developed by outside capital specifically for peach growing.
Comprising parts of Howell and Oregon counties, the Koshkonong-Brandsville district extended along the Frisco Railroad from Pomona on the north to Thayer on the south, a distance of about forty miles. Nearly all the orchards were located within five miles of the railroad with loading points from one to three miles apart all along the railroad, because the peaches had to be transported to market in a timely fashion before they spoiled. Thus, the district was roughly ten miles wide by forty miles long, although not all of the acreage within that area, of course, was devoted to peach growing. In the fall of 1913, there were about 8,000 acres in the Koskonong-Brandsville district with fruit-bearing peach trees and another 10,000 acres where new trees had been planted but were not yet bearing fruit.
It usually took three years from the time a tree was planted until it started bearing fruit. When the tree was three years old, it would usually yield about three pecks to one bushel of fruit. One acre could sustain approximately 100 trees, and in 1913 farmers could expect to get about a dollar a bushel for their fruit. So each acre would yield from $75 to a $100 during the third year. This figure went up in succeeding years. For instance, a four-year-old tree could be expected to yield about three bushels, or about three times what it produced in year three. In 1911, when prices were higher than they were in 1913, some growers made as much as $800 an acre from their orchards.
Nearly all peaches shipped from the Koshkonong-Brandsville district were handled by the Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach Growers Association, which was affiliated with the Ozark Fruit Growers Association headquartered at Springfield. Growers had to abide by certain restrictions imposed by the association, pertaining to how the peaches were cultivated, pruned, sprayed, and so forth. Nearly all the peaches grown in the district were of the Elberta variety. In the 1913 season, the association shipped a total of 398 train carloads of peaches, 380 of which were Elbertas. A few were of a variety that produced fruit earlier than the Elberta, and a few were later. 1913 was considered a disappointing year, but many growers still averaged better than $100 an acre for their orchards.
Most of the fruit produced in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district was shipped from either Koshkonong or Brandsville, but Pomona, West Plains, Olden, and a couple of other small communities also had shipping sheds. Most of the fruit was sent to northern cities like Boston and New York.
Harvesting the peaches required an army of pickers, and during the season people flocked to the area seeking employment. Most came by train, but many arrived in wagons and pitched their tents. Most of the picking occurred during the mornings, and after the day's work was done, many of the workers would go into town, usually Koshkonong seeking what meager entertainment there was to find. In 1913, about all Koshkonong offered in the way of amusement was a traveling theatrical show, horseshoe pitching, or a game of mumbley-peg.
Land in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district, for those interested in going into the peach growing business, sold for $25 to $75 an acre, depending on such factors as whether the land was cleared or not, exactly where it was located, and the terrain. When clearing the land, a new grower could expect to sell his timber to the lumber industry for enough money to pay the cost of the clearing.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mary Stepp, Notorious Springfield Madam

A year or so ago, I wrote on this blog about Martha Misner, the queen of the Springfield madams around the turn of the 20th century, but there were a number of other notorious women operating in the city around that time as well. One was Mary Stepp.
I wrote in my Wicked Springfield book about an incident involving Mary Stepp that occurred in 1900, but she was an even more notorious character than I realized at the time. She was already well known to Springfield police as a "female brute" when her home was raided on January 24, 1898. Officers found Mary and another scarlet woman entertaining two men while Mary's eight-year-old daughter and another young girl looked on. Mary was arrested, and authorities planned to take Mary's daughter, Dutchie, away from her and place her in a girls' home. While Mary was out on bond the next day, however, she sent her daughter to stay with her sister near Kansas City. Charged with keeping a bawdy house within 100 yards of a church, Mary agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and was given three months in jail.
In early December of 1898, Mary and another woman were arrested for causing a disturbance at the local Salvation Army. They came into the place intoxicated and made themselves obnoxious to the "peace loving lads and lassies" on the premises. Mary Stepp, commonly called Mother Stepp, was described at the time as a "well-known character" who was a "curious mixture of good and bad--mostly the latter." She was known for her "debauching carousals," but she was also known occasionally to lend a hand to someone in need.
In the spring of 1899, Mary again faced a charge of keeping a bawdy house, and the case went to trial in early May. The jury split 4-2 in favor of conviction, resulting in a mistrial. The Springfield Leader-Democrat lamented the fact that nothing could apparently be done to keep the "old crone" from running a house of ill repute out of her "dilapidated shack" on Phelps Avenue. Mother Stepp, according to the newspaper, had lived in Springfield for years and had been arrested "times without number" but had never faced serious jail time.
In July of 1899, Mary reportedly tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of morphine after her lover left her. Learning of Mary's deed, the man came back and helped nurse Mary back to health.
In mid-May of 1900, Mary was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace of the Mrs. T. J. Young family. Mrs. Young accused Mary of using loud and indecent language in their neighborhood on North Evans Street, known as "Cully Row," because a man named Cully owned most of the houses there.
In the fall of 1900, Mary got involved in the case that I wrote about in Wicked Springfield. Around the first of August, she had taken in a fifteen-year-old girl named Lizzie Rice with a promise to cure her of the "mumps." Lizzie had run away from her home near Rogersville about a year earlier. According to Mary's later testimony, Lizzie had taken up the sporting life before she came to live with Mary, and it was a venereal disease, not the mumps, that she treated the girl for. Not long after Lizzie came to live with Mary, Mr. Young, Mary's neighbor, reported to a police officer that Mary was keeping an underage girl in her home and using her for immoral purposes. The cop visited Mary's home, but Mary denied the girl was underage and said she was already a whore before she came to live with her. A month or so later the officer, after determining the girl was still living with Mary, arrested both of them. Lizzie's father was notified, and he came to Springfield to take the girl back home. Mary was charged with keeping an underage girl in her house for the purposes of prostitution. She was convicted at her trial the next year and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.
Mary came back to Springfield in late 1902 after serving 18 months at Jefferson City and being released under the three-fourths good behavior rule. She vowed to stay out of trouble and generally succeeded in doing so. The last trace I've found of Mary was in November of 1908 when she made a complaint against another Springfield woman for disturbing the peace. Mary's main complaint was that the other woman had referred too strongly and too loudly to Mary's previous record. Mary declared that she had not been in court since being released for prison six years earlier. Mary wanted the police to make the woman quit talking bad about her, but she didn't want to have to appear in court to accomplish her purpose.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Willow Springs Creamery

I wrote last time about the Carnation Milk Products Company at Mount Vernon, and I mentioned that Lawrence County was a center for dairy farming during the first half of the twentieth century. Actually, though, dairy farming flourished throughout much of the Ozarks during this time.
Another dairy products plant built in the Ozarks a few years after the Mount Vernon plant was the Willow Springs Creamery constructed at the corner of Main Avenue and Phelps Street in Springfield in 1927. This was not the first Willow Springs Creamery in Springfield, but it was considerably larger than the previous one that had operated in the teens and early twenties and maybe earlier. There was also a Willow Springs Creamery at Willow Springs at this time, but I don't think the Willow Springs Creamery company was actually headquartered at Willow Springs, and I'm not sure whether the company borrowed its name from the Missouri town or not. If anyone knows the answer, please enlighten me.
At any rate, the new creamery at Springfield opened in late June of 1927 in a building about 100 feet wide and 200 feet long, and it had two stories. It employed about fifty workers, although this figure fluctuated based on the season, economic factors, etc. The Springfield creamery was devoted to producing butter and buttermilk, and it had a projected output of 10,000,000 pounds of butter per year.
The Willow Springs Creamery was not the only milk products plant in Springfield at the time. For instance, the Merchants Creamery located on Commercial Street produced condensed milk. The new expansion of the Willow Springs Creamery, however, made Springfield the 4th largest butter manufacturing center in the Midwest, behind only Omaha, Sioux City, and Kansas City. Although the Willow Springs plant shipped butter all over the country, the butter that the company sold in the Ozarks was marketed under the brand name "Ideal."
During the late 1920s and 1930s, the Willow Springs Creamery was known in Springfield for its sponsorship of local baseball teams perhaps as much as or more than for its milk products.
Despite the growing milk industry in the Ozarks, one spokesperson for the industry observed at the time the new Willow Springs facility was constructed that he did not think there was any danger of overdoing the dairy business in the Ozarks and that there was still room for growth. He said the main problem was not in farmers milking too many cows but in the production and marketing techniques they used. The main challenge was producing milk with high butterfat content and getting it to market in good shape.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mount Vernon: The Carnation City

Nowadays, Mount Vernon, Missouri, is known for being the seat of Lawrence County, for its Apple Butter Makin' Days festival each fall, and for being home to a Veterans' home and a VA clinic (formerly a VA hospital), among other reasons. At one time it was known as the "Carnation City: Home of the Contented Cow" or just the Carnation City for short.
In 1923 the Carnation Milk Products Company began looking into Mount Vernon as a possible site for a new condensary to produce evaporated milk. A public announcement of its decision was planned for July 9th of that year, and "one of the largest crowds ever assembled on the courthouse lawn," according to the Springfield Republican, turned out to hear the announcement. Company officials had expressed concern as to whether there was enough interest in dairying among area farmers to justify the venture; so when the announcement was made that the company would indeed follow through with its tentative plan, a loud shout went up among the gathered crowd. The condensary was projected to cost $200,000 and it was projected that it could process 100,000 pounds of milk a day purchased from area dairy farmers.
Construction on the plant began right away and was going strong by September. It was completed the following spring at a cost of $250,000, and the condensary opened on May 1 with no special ceremony to mark the occasion. It was Carnation's first plant in Missouri.
The plant processed 25,000 pounds of milk the first day. Dairy farmers brought their milk to nineteen different collection stations throughout Lawrence County, and it was then taken to the plant in Mount Vernon by company trucks.
Area farmers, spurred by the promise of a market, took to dairy farming in earnest, and the dairy industry in Lawrence County was soon growing more rapidly than in any other county in Missouri. The Mount Vernon area was especially known for its Jerseys and Holsteins.
The company was still going strong in January 1928, when the Republican reported that Lawrence County now had about 1,100 dairy farmers who milked a total of about 17,000-18,000 cows. The plant received about 60,000 pounds of milk per day on average, although the previous summer, at the peak of the season, it had received as much as 146,000 pounds in a single day. Many farmers were building new barns and silos and otherwise expanding their operations. Dairy farming, the Republican proclaimed, had "turned a community that was practically bankrupt into a prosperous and progressive center within four years."
As large, commercial dairy farms in other states gradually displaced family farmers as the main producers of milk products during the middle part of the 20th century, the Carnation operation at Mount Vernon evolved from an evaporated milk plant to a soft drink bottling company. And the bottling company finally closed after a fire destroyed much of the facility in September of 1974 and company officials decided, because of economic factors, not to rebuild.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another False Lynching

Lynchings were relatively common during the 1800s and early 1900s, but falsely or incorrectly reported lynchings were also not altogether uncommon. I know this was the case in Missouri, and I assume it was true elsewhere as well. Sometimes the reported victim had, in fact, escaped the would-be lynchers or otherwise survived the lynching attempt. And sometimes a crime took place and newspapers reported a subsequent lynching when mob action against the perpetrator of the crime had not even been attempted but rather only rumored.
An example was the case of Katie Jacobs, a twelve-year-old girl living near Verona who was sexually assaulted by a black man on January 21, 1894, as she was on her way home after Sunday morning church services. The man raped her and then gagged her and tied her to a tree with her own clothing. As he left, he told her he had a nearby partner who would soon be there to take his turn at raping her and that the second man would kill her if she tried to scream or get loose. A black man did show up and assault the girl again, but authorities later concluded that it was the same man who’d simply changed hats and otherwise tried to disguise his appearance.
There were several false reports in the immediate wake of this incident, including one report that a black man had been apprehended and burned at the stake. Two black men were, in fact, captured at Purdy as suspects, but they were soon released when it was determined they had nothing to do with the rape. Two other suspects were arrested at Nevada and one as far away as Willow Springs, but they, too, were quickly released.
On January 24, H. B. “Pete” Barclay, a black man from Weir City, Kansas, was arrested at the Gulf Railroad station in Springfield, largely on the grounds that he’d come into town from a westerly direction and had been seen at the Billings train station, which was not terribly far from Verona. He was taken to Verona but was released after Katie Jacobs said he was not the man who had assaulted her.
In late May, a black man named Andy Boyd was arrested at Pierce City on suspicion of being the person who’d raped Katie. When he was taken before the girl, she said she thought he was the man but that she couldn’t be sure. He was locked up on suspicion, nonetheless. At his preliminary hearing in June, Katie seemed more certain that he was the man who’d violated her, and Boyd was bound over for trial on a charge of rape. When his trial came up in late August at Mt. Vernon, the jury decided that, although they thought he was guilty, there was a reasonable doubt. They therefore voted to acquit.
As far as I’ve been able to determine, nothing else ever came of this case, but nonetheless “two unknown Negroes” were listed in a 1922 report of the Missouri Negro Industrial Commission as victims of lynching near Verona, Missouri, on January 22, 1894. And, indeed, this bit of misinformation has continued to be passed down to the present day and is still listed on certain websites that purport to keep track of all known lynchings in America.

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...