Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Northview

The Ozarks, like nearly every other area of the country, I imagine, has a lot of small towns that enjoyed prosperity many years ago but have since become almost ghost towns. Once such community is Northview, Missouri, located in Webster County along I-44 about halfway between Strafford and Marshfield. Actually, it sits off I-44 a short distance to the south on a hill and is not even visible from the highway. In fact, the construction of I-44, which bypassed the town, was one of several factors that contributed to Northview's decline.
I think I've only been to Northview once in my life, about fifty years ago, and even then there wasn't much left of the town. But once upon a time, it was a booming little community. When Northview first came into existence, about the time of the Civil War, it was called Bunker Hill, and there is still a road at Northview called Bunker Hill Road. Around 1870, the name was changed to Northview, when the railroad came through and railroad workers said the spot offered a good north view.
A library society was organized at Northview in January 1881, and the first Sunday school was organized in June of the same year. An influx of Germans settled near Northview in 1883. In the late 1880s, the town sported one general store, a blacksmith shop, and several residences.
A mining boom spurred the growth of Northview after lead, zinc, and perhaps other ores were discovered just south of the town in 1891. The community enjoyed its greatest prosperity, however, from about the beginning until about the middle of the twentieth century. During the early 1900s, Northview had a school and a number of businesses, including a bank and a canning factory. It also had a town baseball team that competed against surrounding towns, like Niangua and Strafford. In 1930, the Northview bank closed, as did a lot of small-town banks during the Depression. The bank failure was perhaps the beginning of Northview's downward arc. With the coming of automobiles, the number of passengers arriving and departing Northview by rail declined drastically, and many people started driving to larger surrounding towns to do their shopping. The construction of I-44 was one of the last nails in the coffin, as automobiles no longer passed through the town along Route 66, as they had in the past.
In 2005, 96-year-old Eva Lena Cruise, who'd grown up in Northview during the 1920s, remembered the place as a "bustling little town," but by the time I made my one and only visit to Northview in the late 1960s, its heyday was already long past. Today, there are still a few residences at Northview but not much else, as far as I can tell without actually visiting the place.    

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Aldrich-Crawford Shooting

On Wednesday, April 20, 1892, neighbors 44-year-old John Crawford and 47-year-old Nathaniel Aldridge of Ozark County, Missouri, got into a dispute over what one report at the time called "family matters." The argument led to a "shooting scrape" in which Aldridge (name given as Aldrich in some reports) was killed instantly and Crawford was wounded. The latter retreated to his house, and Aldridge's twenty-three-year-old son, Joe, who'd taken a part in the confrontation, went after him. Joe Aldridge tried to gain admission at the Crawford residence but was denied entrance. As he was being put out, though, he fired at random, and the bullet found "a resting place in Crawford's eye, killing him instantly." Young Aldridge, who was slightly wounded in the melee, was arrested for his part in the deadly affray, along with two of his brothers who had no part in the incident.
Another contemporaneous report stated that the disagreement grew out of a disturbance that Joe Aldridge had caused at the church Crawford attended, but a grandson of Crawford said many years later that the Aldridges came to the Crawford place angry over a disputed fence. The second contemporaneous report, unlike the first, claimed that Joe Aldridge suffered serious injuries, so serious that it was doubtful whether he would ever be able to testify.
Both dead men, according to contemporaneous reports, were well thought of in the community, and excitement ran high in the immediate aftermath of the double tragedy. Nat Aldridge, a "well-known stockman and cattle dealer, was buried in the Mammouth Cemetery a few miles south of Gainesville, near where both men lived, while Crawford was buried at the Gainesville Cemetery in Gainesville.
Apparently the first report was more accurate than the second, at least as far as Joe Aldridge's injuries were concerned, because he did recover and go on to marry and have kids. The outcome of the legal proceedings against him for the killing of Crawford, if indeed there were any, has not been determined, however.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Murder of Betty Tapp

I usually prefer to write about things that happened many years ago, as in fifty years ago or more. Things that happened during my lifetime, at least things that happened since I've been old enough to remember them, don't seem quite as much like history to me. But then I stop and realize that, when I first starting writing about historical topics, my adult lifetime had only spanned about 25 years. Now it has spanned over 50 years. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I need to redefine my concept of  what constitutes history. With that in mind, I'm going to write today about something that happened a little over 30 years ago and that I well remember: the murder of Betty Tapp of Joplin.
On the early morning of Saturday, February 15, 1986, Jerry Tapp came home from work to discover the dead body of his 42-year-old wife Betty in the floor of their home on College View Drive in Joplin. She had suffered multiple stab wounds. The couple's Down's Syndrome daughter told her father that "Doc" had committed the crime.
The Tapps had formerly employed a man named Clendell Sanders (aka Sandles) in their janitorial service business, and they knew him as Doc. Acting on this lead and others, police located the 32-year-old Sanders driving near Wichita, Kansas, late Saturday morning, pulled him over, and arrested him. When apprehended, Sanders admitted killing Betty Tapp. He said that when he got off work late Friday night from his job as an aide at Oak Hill Hospital, he drank several alcoholic drinks and then went to the Tapp residence in the wee hours of Saturday morning. He claimed that he and Betty had consensual sex at first but then for some reason unknown even to himself he ended up stabbing her, although he admitted to stabbing her only once. An examination of Betty Tapp's body revealed that she had indeed had sex shortly before her death, but the police felt it was a case of rape, not consensual sex.
Sanders was brought back to Joplin and went on trial there in October 1986. He was convicted of first-degree murder, but the jury could not agree on the punishment. Eleven favored the death penalty, but one held out for life imprisonment. The decision was then put in the hands of the judge, who sentenced Sanders to death.
The defense appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court on the grounds that Sanders should have been granted a new trial and various other exceptions. In early 1988, the high court affirmed the lower court's verdict, but Sanders died of a heart attack in prison before his execution could be carried out.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Murder of Johanna Schollman

The body of twenty-four-year Johanna Schollman was found in the south part of Sedalia on the morning of October 24, 1892. Her body was "frightfully bruised," and her jugular vein severed with a knife. Doctors who examined the body were of the initial opinion that she had also been "horribly outraged." The murder had taken place either late the night before or in the wee hours of October 24. The scene of the crime showed evidence of a struggle between Johanna and her attacker.
Johanna had been "seduced" in St. Louis about four years earlier and bore a child out of wedlock. The father was sued for seduction and paid $125 as a settlement but refused to marry Johanna. Afterward, the young woman began leading a somewhat reckless life, and at the time of her death, it was reported that "her reputation was not good." Recently she'd started staying out late at night and "running with colored men." Many people thought her death might have something to do with the wild lifestyle she'd been leading, but no definite suspect was identified at first.

Interviewed on the 24th, Mayor Ed Stephens of Sedalia said he had employed Johanna for the past six months as a domestic but that he'd let her go just the evening before her death because her imprudent behavior had become too much to put up with.
Described as "very good looking," Johanna had several boyfriends, both white and black. A young man she'd known in Germany before the family emigrated to the United States had been writing to her and wanted her to come to Nebraska, where he lived, and marry him. She was reportedly thinking about taking him up on the offer, and he had even sent her money to make the trip. Two young black men in Sedalia were also vying for her affections. One of them, Dick Robinson, was employed by Mayor Stephens, who'd also employed Johanna. However, Stephens said his "boy" was home when the crime was thought to have been committed, and the mayor vouched for Robinson's character.
An inquest after Johanna's death determined that she was pregnant again and that the fetus was about four months old. One theory of the crime was that Johanna had told the father about the unborn baby, that she and the father had argued, and that he'd killed her in the struggle. This did not tally exactly with the fact that she had supposedly been raped. When Johanna's body was re-examined, it was decided that she might not have been raped after all but had, instead, merely had normal sex.
Despite the mayor's vote of confidence in Robinson, suspicion began to settle on him over the next day or two. Evidence against him was uncovered, and, when he was questioned, his story contained  inconsistencies. It was learned that he, like the white man in Nebraska, also wanted to marry Johanna, and she had consulted her uncle, who lived in Sedalia, about it. The uncle had advised her against it, telling her that "she would disgrace the whole family by marrying a negro." Investigators thought that perhaps Johanna had turned Robinson down in his offer of marriage, and he had reacted violently.
On the afternoon of October 25, Robinson was arrested, and later that evening he was moved to the Moniteau County Jail at California because of rumors of mob violence in Sedalia. The Pettis County sheriff visited Robinson at California the next day, and the prisoner gave a confession. He said he was with Johanna on Sunday night the 23rd and that they got into an argument about Taylor Williams, the other black man whom Johanna had been spending time with. Robinson claimed Johanna called him a son of a bitch, drew a knife, and came at him with it, threatening to kill him. He knocked her down but she got up and came at him again. He knocked her down again, took the knife away, and held her down. Finally he let her up and gave her back the knife, but she came at him with it yet again. She kept saying that one of them would have to die, and finally he took the knife and stabbed her. He denied that he had outraged the young woman or even that they had been intimate.
Robinson was tried and convicted of first-degree murder. His case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the justices sustained the lower court's decision. He was hanged at Sedalia on December 15, 1893, a little over a year after the murder.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Dogpatch Opening

Construction of Dogpatch, a theme park located at Marble Falls, Arkansas, about eight miles southeast of Harrison, on US Highway 7, began in 1967, and the park was not entirely finished when it held its grand opening on May 18, 1968, although most facilities had been completed. The theme of the park was based on the fictional town of Dogpatch from the comic strip Lil Abner by cartoonist Al Capp, and Capp was one of the stockholders in the venture.
The park, which was open for many activities even before the grand opening, featured an old-time village with an inn, an old mill, and a hillside stable. Most of the buildings that made up the village were old log structures moved to the park from the surrounding Ozarks. The mill used an old mill wheel that was also salvaged from the surrounding countryside. The mill, put into operation as Mammy Yokum's Grist Mill, let visitors see the old-fashioned method of grinding corn and wheat. The stable offered stage coach rides and trail rides on horses and burros. A narrow-gauge railroad was also constructed to carry passengers around the park.
A cold stream running through the park fed two small lakes that were stocked for trout fishing by visitors. No license was required, and fishing equipment was provided. The fisherman merely paid for the amount of fish he hauled in, and he could also have it cooked at the village restaurant. Picnic tables and benches were scattered throughout the park, and hiking trails wound through the 825-acre complex.
In addition to the park itself, a hospitality center was built at Dogpatch Cavern a short distance to the north on Highway 7 to greet visitors as they approached the park.
On May 18, Al Capp was present to give a dedicatory address, and other dignitaries included Arkansas lieutenant-governor Maurice Britt, US representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, Miss Arkansas, and folk singer Jimmy Driftwood.
All shops were open for the grand opening day, and activities included skits by Dogpatch characters, performances by various musicians, square dancing, and a fish fry.
In his address, Capp, reflecting on how his cartoon characters and his fictional town had been transformed into life-sized reality, said, "It is terribly exciting to see everything suddenly arrive real after just being a little sketch on paper." At the conclusion of Capp's speech, a large statue of General Jubilation T. Cornpone, one of the main characters in the comic strip, was unveiled to serve as the centerpiece of the park. Gazing at the statue as the cover fell away, Capp remarked, "Don't that just make you proud to be an American?"
The theme park did pretty well at first, and the name of the Marble Falls post office was changed to Dogpatch. But attendance, even the first year when the park drew about 300,000 visitors, never quite lived up to the expectations of its promoters. Attendance gradually declined during succeeding years, and Dogpatch never seriously challenged Silver Dollar City as the premier attraction in the Ozarks. Lil Abner, Daisy Mae Scruggs, Jubilation T. Cornpone, and company shut up shop for good in 1993, and name of the post office was changed back to Marble Falls a few years later.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bois D'Arc

Bois D'Arc, Missouri, in western Greene County is an interesting place, because of its name, if for no other reason. Bois D'Arc was named after the bois d'arc or bodark tree, sometimes called the Osage orange because of the large, inedible fruit it bears, or the Hedge apple, because many such trees were used to form windbreaks or hedges. Bois d'arc is French for "wood of the bow," and the bois d'arc tree was used by the Osage Indians in early-day America for making bows. The tree was used extensively for making hedge rows in the Greene County area and elsewhere in the Ozarks at the time Bois D'Arc came into being. Many such trees had been planted, in particular, in the immediate vicinity of the selected site for Bois D'Arc. Thus the name of the tree was adopted as the name of the town.
According to Perry Mason, a longtime resident of Bois D'Arc in 1956 when he wrote a short piece in the Springfield Daily News about how the town got its name, the name was also selected in part because its residents wanted a name that was in keeping with the neighboring towns of Ash Grove and Walnut Grove, which were also named after trees. Mason said Bois D'Arc was founded about the time of the Civil War. Other sources suggest that there was a post office named Bois D'Arc in the area as early as 1847 but that the town was not actually founded until 1872, when a man named John Bymaster moved to the current site of Bois D'Arc and had the post office, which was located a couple of miles to the southeast, moved to the new town, known as New Bois D'Arc at first to distinguish it from the old post office site. By 1876, however, the exact name of the place had apparently still not been settled, because on that year's plat map of Greene County the town that became Bois D'Arc is identified as Little De Bois, meaning Little Woods.
In 1878, the railroad came through Bois D'Arc, and the place began to grow. By 1883, the town boasted five general stores, two drug stores, two blacksmith/repair shops, a carpenter's shop, a shoe shop, a hotel, a Masonic and Odd Fellows' lodge, and one saloon. The only church and the only school were located a couple of miles outside town, but plans were underway to erect both a church house and a school house in the booming little town.
In fact, Bois D'Arc did go on to have a thriving school system for many years, and the high school's athletic teams were quite competitive during the early to mid-1900s. However, the town began to lose population with the emergence of the automobile as the dominant mode of travel, because Bois D'Arc was located on an out-of-the-way county road rather than a main highway. By 1956, when Perry Mason wrote his piece for the Springfield newspaper, the town had dwindled to one grocery store, one filling station, a blacksmith shop, a feed mill, and a drug store, in addition to the school and a church or two. Within a year or two after this, Bois D'Arc lost its high school, when the district consolidated with Ash Grove. Although an elementary school remained at Bois D'Arc, the loss of the high school hastened the town decline, and today little remains at Bois D'Arc except the elementary school, a post office, a fire station, and a few residences.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Killing at Prosperity

Prosperity is a former mining town in Jasper County, Missouri, about seven miles east of downtown Joplin or about four miles southeast of Webb City. Nowadays, it is mainly known for the old, two-story, brick schoolhouse that was abandoned about 1961 when Prosperity School consolidated with Webb City. The building, said by some people to be haunted, served as a bed and breakfast for a while but now sits vacant again. I didn't know about this incident until recently, but Prosperity was also once the site of a somewhat sensational killing.
Somewhere around the early part of 1903, Benjamin Aylor, owner of the Eleventh Hour Mining Company in Prosperity, lent Joplin miner Gordon Allen $1,500, with Allen mortgaging some mining machinery adjoining the Eleventh Hour Mine as collateral. Aylor was the son of J. W. Aylor, who was said to be the wealthiest miner in the district, and 30-year-old Ben Aylor was wealthy and successful in his own right. Allen had once been quite wealthy himself but had lost most of his money through "unfortunate mining ventures."
When Allen had not made any payments on Ben Aylor's loan after several months, Aylor foreclosed on the mortgage and took possession of the mining machinery. Allen, who felt he hadn't been treated fairly, grew angry and started making threats against young Aylor. On October 16, 1903, he drove to Prosperity in a buggy and confronted Aylor outside the office of the Eleventh Hour Mining Company. Still seated in the buggy, Allen directed some angry words at Aylor and then brandished a buggy whip as if he was going to lash Aylor with it. Before he could do so, though, Aylor whipped out a pistol and fired five shots into Allen's body, killing him instantly. After the shooting, Aylor went back to work loading ore without saying a word to any of the bystanders who'd been attracted to the scene. When he finished the task at hand, he went into his office and called the sheriff to turn himself in.
Aylor was arrested and put under guard but not placed in jail. A coroner's jury a day or two later failed to agree, with two members arguing justifiable homicide and the other four holding out for an open verdict (saying that the death was suspicious but assigning no cause). Aylor was eventually charged with second-degree murder and lodged in jail.
At his trial in December, the prosecution paraded several witnesses to the stand who had been at the Eleventh Hour Mine on the day of the shooting. Several testified to hearing shots and seeing Allen lying dead immediately afterward, but none of them had actually been an eyewitness to the shooting. The defense witnesses, on the other hand, were mainly men who testified as to the numerous threats Allen had made toward Aylor in the days and weeks leading up to the shooting.
Aylor took the stand in his own defense. He, too, testified as to Allen's prior threats, and he said that Allen had come to his mine on the day in question in a belligerent mood. He said he pulled his pistol and started shooting when he thought Allen was getting ready to whip him. He admitted that he continued emptying the weapon at Allen even after the man had tumbled from the buggy, but the jury nevertheless acquitted him after only ten minutes of deliberation.  
   

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