Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written twelve nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Murder and Mayhem in Missouri; The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales; and A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Railroad Comes to Springfield

The years immediately before the Civil War and especially the years immediately after the war were a time of great activity in the building of railroads across the Ozarks (and the whole country, for that matter). The history of railroad building in the Ozarks is a vast subject that is beyond the scope of a brief blog entry, but I'll briefly outline the events that led to Springfield, Missouri, finally get a railroad in 1870.
The Pacific Railroad was chartered in 1849 to extend from St. Louis to Missouri's western border and thence to the Pacific Ocean. In 1852, an amendment to the law authorizing the Pacific Railroad created a Southwest Branch, which would diverge from the main branch at Franklin (appropriately renamed Pacific) and head southwest toward Rolla and Springfield while the main Pacific Railroad continued due west toward Jefferson City and Tipton.
By 1861, almost eighty miles of track had been completed along the Southwest Branch from Pacific to Rolla before the Civil War interrupted almost all railroad construction in the United States. Thus, work was halted on both branches of the Pacific Railroad.
Work resumed after the war, and by 1866, another twelve miles of roadbed for the Southwest Branch had been completed to Arlington. However, the Southwest Branch defaulted on its bonds, and the track from Pacific to Rolla and the roadbed to Arlington were seized by the state and sold to John C. Fremont, a Civil War general who had originally made his name as an explorer and had been the 1856 Republican presidential candidate. Fremont renamed the Southwest Branch the Southwest Pacific Railroad. (The main line of the Pacific Railroad was not sold, and it later became the Missouri Pacific.)
In 1866, the same year Fremont bought the Southwest Pacific, Congress incorporated the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad under his control with authority to build a railroad from Springfield to the Pacific Ocean. An entity of the Atlantic and Pacific purchased the Southwest Pacific in 1867, and rails were laid to Arlington on the already-existing roadbed the same year. However, that company, too, defaulted on its payments (although the main Atlantic and Pacific was still operating), and the state again seized the property in June of that year. Citizens of Springfield were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the railroad, but all the difficulty in getting a road built across the state made some people doubt whether Springfield would ever get a railroad. A St. Louis newspaperman supposedly remarked that the people who were working to get a road to Springfield were just as likely to get a railroad built to the moon as to Springfield. In 1868, the state sold the old Southwest Pacific property to a new company, the South Pacific Railroad, and it was under this name that the railroad finally reached Springfield in April of 1870. Thus the town was facetiously dubbed Moon City, and the name is still occasionally used today. For instance, the press of Missouri State University is known as Moon City Press.
Later in 1870, tracks were completed as far as Pierce City. The same year, the Atlantic and Pacific acquired the South Pacific, and the A&P was, in turn, acquired in 1878 by the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad. The Frisco remained the dominant railroad in the Ozarks until 1980, when it merged with Burlington Northern.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Killing of Aeneas Ridge

Again it's been quite a while since my last blog entry, but this time the delay has nothing to do with lack of ideas, which was the primary reason I gave last time. I've received several ideas from readers since that last post; so I can't use that excuse again for a while. The reason this time is simply that I've been too busy with other things, mainly moving. My wife and I have been moving from one house to another here in Joplin, but in some ways it seems worse than if we were moving across country, because we're doing a lot of the moving ourselves. You can accumulate a lot of stuff in 25 years (the length of time we lived at the previous house). Anyway, that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.
One of the suggestions I received had to do with the death of Aeneas Ridge, Jr. in Christian County, Missouri, in 1883; so that's what I'm going to write about today. Aeneas Ridge, Jr. was the grandson of Major Ridge, a Cherokee Indian leader who was killed in the late 1830s, along with two other leaders of the Treaty Party, by the Anti-Treaty faction in the wake of the tribe's forced removal from the Southeast along the infamous Trail of Tears.
In the fall of 1882, the grandson, who was one-fourth Cherokee, had shot two black men in Indian Territory and fled to Christian County, where he stayed with the family of Joe Danforth, to whom he was related by marriage. On June 12, 1883, Danforth and young Ridge were doing some lumber work at a sawmill Danforth owned along Piedlow Creek in northern Christian County when four law officers arrived with a warrant for his arrest for shooting the black men. The posse consisted of George Whiteside, ex-sheriff of Dade County and then a deputy in Christian County; Jim Armstrong, a deputy from Dade County; Jim White, the marshal of Greenfield; and a black man named Taylor Smith from Springfield. The four men, according to a Springfield newspaper report of the incident, went to the sawmill expecting trouble because of the "reckless and desperate character" of the man they sought. Danforth, Ridge, and some other men were seated on a pile of wood engaged in conversation when the lawmen arrived and Whiteside leveled a shotgun at the group and told them all to put up their hands. Instead the men scrambled for cover, and Ridge supposedly pulled out his pistol and fired two shots from behind a tree, the first one at Armstrong and the second at Whiteside.
Whiteside returned fire, continued the newspaper report, striking Ridge in the arm, which caused him to come out from behind the tree far enough for Whiteside to get a clean second shot, which struck the fugitive in the face. Ridge then sprang out from behind the tree completely with his hands raised in surrender and took a few steps toward the lawmen before collapsing and dying within minutes.
Ridge's body was taken to Springfield, where a coroner's jury held later the same day exonerated Whiteside on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The charges against the lawmen were later revived, however, when witnesses who had been on the scene at the time told a grand jury that the lawmen started shooting immediately as soon as Whiteside told Ridge and his friends to hold up their hands and that Ridge only took cover behind the tree and pulled out his pistol after he had already been shot. Whiteside was arrested in early February of 1884 and taken to Ozark and charged with murder. The other three members of the posse were also charged with murder, but all of them were eventually acquitted, despite the best efforts of an all-star prosecution team that included Ridge's kinsman Elias Boudinot, Jr.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Doc Jennison in Joplin, Revisted

I haven't been posting on this blog quite as often lately as I normally do. There are at least a couple of reasons, including the fact that I've been busy with other projects, but one of the main reasons is that I've been having trouble coming up with good topics to write about. After almost 7 years of doing this blog, it's starting to get a little difficult to find things to write about that I haven't previously covered, or at least harder than it used to be. So, if anyone has a topic to suggest, I would be glad to consider it. Just let me know by posting in response to this entry or by sending an email to larryewood@mail.com.
Even today's topic is a bit of duplication. A few years ago I briefly wrote about Charles "Doc" Jennison's time in Joplin, especially his involvement in helping organize a relief effort after Marshfield suffered a tornado in April 1880. However, I thought I'd go into a little more detail this time.
I might start by noting that Jennison's residence is Joplin is apparently not common knowledge. There is an entire book written about Jennison and his 7th Kansas Cavalry, which also covers his time after the Civil War, but I don't believe it even mentions Jennison's time in Joplin.
Jennison, as Civil War buffs know, came to Kansas from New York a few years prior to the Civil War and aligned himself with rabid abolitionists like James Montgomery. At the outset of the war, he was named colonel of the 7th Kansas and gained a reputation among Missourians, especially Southern sympathizers, as a notorious jayhawker for his raids across the border.
After the war, he served two terms in the Kansas legislature. He came to the booming mining town of Joplin about the spring of 1877. Like most people who came to Joplin, he tried his hand at mining, but what he really enjoyed was gambling. He established a restaurant and saloon on Main Street called the Saratoga and installed a faro device. Jennison was known for serving good food, including occasional complimentary meals, and for hobnobbing with city leaders, but he also got into trouble late in 1877 for keeping an illegal gambling device.
In April of 1878, he opened a second establishment called the Bon Ton. It also served food but was mainly a gambling place. It closed after only a couple of months, but about the time it closed, a man named Day brought a suit against Jennison in an effort to regain $600 he had lost to the old jayhawker at a different establishment. In an ironic twist, Day claimed Jennison wasn't entitled to the cash because he'd won it in an "illegal gambling" operation, as though Day himself had not also been involved.
Jennison had received medical training as a young man in New York but seldom used it. In December of 1878, however, he was called upon to treat a saloonkeeper and acquaintance of his named Basset. Early the next year, Jennison was keeping faro devices at two different establishments, neither of which was the Saratoga. In the summer of '79, he was charged with gambling in two or three separate cases.
Although Jennison was civic minded and socialized with the leaders of Joplin, he was also the butt of jokes, especially from newspapermen. Sometime around the summer of 1879, Jennison joined a gun club, and after he and two other men went out shooting glass balls for target practice, one reporter joked that none of the three hit a single ball.
In the fall of '79, Jennison became involved in organizing an exposition that was scheduled to come to Joplin the following year. One of the main draws of the fair was horse racing, and Jennison had a gray mare that he entered in a demonstration race that fall as a prelude to the real thing. He also showed some visiting dignitaries around the fairgrounds, which were located just northeast of the present-day intersection of 20th and Maiden Lane.
In early 1880, Jennison and some other men went fishing on Shoal Creek near the falls, and Jennison was again the butt of jokes when he came back with only a small sunfish while all the others caught good sized bass. In April of 1880, Jennison organized the Marshfield relief effort and trekked to Marshfield to inspect the damage of the tornado.
In May of 1880 the heavyset Jennison fell down some steps in Joplin and, according to a local newspaperman, made a dent in the sidewalk but inflicted no damage on himself. The same month, Joplin law enforcement cracked down on gambling; so Jennison absconded to Galena, Kansas, just across the border with two of his gambling buddies, Bud Fagg and Boston Joe. He came back after just a few days, though, and turned a room above the Miner's Drift Saloon (located at the corner of Main and 2nd, where the Bon Ton had likely also been located) into a reading room. About the same time he also planned to set up a free soup kitchen in the basement of the Golden Gate Saloon, but he soon gave up his civic-minded efforts and went back to gambling. He was cited seven separate times for gambling during the summer of 1880. After paying two fines and getting the other cases continued, he again hightailed it to Galena but again didn't stay long.
Back in Joplin in September of 1880, Jennison turned his reading room back into a gambling establishment. In October he made the news when he beat one of his customers about the head when the man became unruly.
In early '81, Jennison was back in Galena, where he briefly tried mining again but, as usual, was mainly involved in gambling. He organized some trotting races and took bets on the outcome and also took bets on who could throw a baseball the farthest.
Not long after this Jennison returned to Leavenworth, where he had previously lived, and he died there in 1884.
I will be speaking at the Christian County Library in Ozark at 6 p.m. on Thursday June 18 about my Ozark Gunfights book, and I'll be having a book signing for my latest book, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Ozarks at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 at Half Price Books of the Ozarks in Springfield.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Henry Starr's Pryor Creek Holdup

My Desperadoes of the Ozarks book contains accounts of Henry Starr's bank robbery at Bentonville in June of 1893 and his attempted robbery of a bank in Harrison in 1921, an action during which he was killed. The main reason the two events are separated by so many years is that Starr did a long stretch of prison time in between. However, Starr, nephew by marriage of the notorious Belle Starr, was already infamous for a number of crimes committed before he pulled off the Bentonville job, one of which was the robbery of a train at Pryor Creek (i.e. Pryor) in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) at the western edge of the Ozarks on May 2, 1893. And he was already wanted at the time for allegedly murdering U.S. deputy marshal Floyd Wilson in December of 1892, for a couple of other robberies committed in Indian Territory in early 1893, and for holding up a bank at Caney, Kansas, in late March of the same year.
In the Pryor Creek caper, two outlaws presented their rifles at the train's engine and ordered the engineer and fireman to escort them to the express car as soon as the train, a passenger train of the KATY Railroad, pulled into the Pryor Creek depot about 8 o'clock on the night of the 2nd. Four other bandits immediately took charge of the rest of the train, the depot, and the surrounding grounds. During the entire operation, which lasted over an hour, an estimated fifty shots were fired for the purpose of intimidation and warning. The gang's estimated take was small, because the express messenger managed to convince the crooks that he could not open the main safe and the "local" safe contained little loot. In addition, by the time the outlaws got around to turning their attention to the passengers, they had had time to hide most of their valuables.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Murder of Austin Blankenship

During the Civil War, Missouri was such a lawless place that it was often difficult to bring offenders to justice for criminal behavior that, during normal times, would surely have resulted in arrest and prosecution. Indeed, in many places throughout the state, civil law basically ceased to exist, at least for long stretches of the war, and martial law was often a poor substitute, especially when the crimes were politically motivated and the victim happened to be on the opposite side of the military tribunal called to investigate the crime, which was many times the case. Specifically, it was hard for a Southern sympathizer to get justice in a system run by Union military officials. (The Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard instituted its own version of martial law early in the war in places like Springfield, but the South’s control of southern Missouri proved brief. For most of the war, when we talk about martial law in Missouri, we’re talking about Union military law.) Besides, the state was so overrun by roving bands of ruffians that, regardless of political considerations, citizens were often afraid to testify about a crime for fear that they might be the next target of the brigands. Of course, the roving bands were often affiliated, at least loosely, with one side or the other in the war, but my point is that it wasn’t always a distrust of the justice system that made people reluctant to testify. Often it was a very realistic fear for their own safety.
The case of Austin Blankenship, who was murdered near Cole Camp in Benton County in the summer or fall of 1863, serves as an example. After receiving complaints about this and other outrages, including two other murders, committed in Benton County about the same time, Union officials appointed a board of officers to investigate the alleged crimes, which were said to have been perpetrated by Federal officers, soldiers, and citizens (presumably against Southern sympathizers). The board began its investigation on November 9 and filed its report with General Egbert B. Brown, commanding the Central District of Missouri, which encompassed Benton County, on December 14. The officers said they had interviewed nearly every prospective witness that might have knowledge of Blankenship’s murder or any of the other crimes and that they had been unable to find even one person who was willing to testify, because everyone was “terrified by the bloodthirsty deeds so recently committed.” The witnesses told the board that they had reason to believe that, if they testified about the outrages, they would be shot and their buildings burned. Some of them said that they were even afraid to ask questions of their fellow citizens about the crimes and were glad to remain ignorant, feeling that the less they knew about the outrages, the better off they would be.
The only people willing to testify were Blankenship’s wife and a small boy, who were present when Blankenship was killed. However, all the wife could say with certainty was that the members of the gang were wearing Federal uniforms and that there were about eight or ten of them, although only three entered the house. The boy was so frightened by the experience that he was unable to offer any valuable evidence.
There seemed to be a general feeling that the killers of Blankenship were four members of the 8th Regiment, Missouri State Militia, who were known to have been in the Blankenship neighborhood on the night he was killed, and because the other two men were killed on the same night as Blankenship, it was supposed that they were killed by the same four men. However, the investigating board felt they did not have enough specific evidence to get a conviction; so they did not recommend charges be brought against the four men, one of whom was Jasper Mitchell.
Despite the recommendation of the board, General Brown forwarded the report to the Department of Missouri headquarters at St. Louis with a suggestion that the investigation be continued and that the prospective witnesses be called to St. Louis, where they might feel freer to give testimony than they would at home. The report was promptly returned to Brown, however, with a request for additional information. Specifically, officials in St. Louis wanted to know the date on which Blankenship was killed.
What happened after that is unknown, but apparently the four suspected killers were never brought to trial.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pressed Into Service

During the Civil War, especially during the early stages of the war, most military service was voluntary. However, both sides instituted drafts later in the war, the Confederacy in 1862 and the Union in 1863. In Missouri, Union service became mandatory with the formation of the Enrolled Missouri Militia in 1862. This, of course, resulted in a number of reluctant warriors (sometimes called Pawpaw Militia) who might have nursed Southern leanings but who joined the EMM in order to comply with the law. Occasionally, too, men of fighting age were simply compelled to serve, under a threat of violence, without being formally conscripted. This was the case with Martin V. Hammonds, or so he claimed.
Hammonds took his team and wagon and traveled from his home in Barton County, Missouri, to Elm Springs, Arkansas, in the summer of 1862 to move his brother and his brother’s family north. His brother, Hammonds said, was a Union man and wanted to get away from Confederate Arkansas. While at Elm Springs, Hammonds was arrested by some Rebels and told that he must enter Rebel service or they would kill him.
Hammonds joined the Rebels but, according to his story, deserted at his first opportunity, which occurred after about two months of service. On or about October 1, he was arrested by Union authorities on suspicion of being in arms against the United States and taken to Springfield, Missouri, where he gave a statement on October 22. He said he was a Union man and always had been, that he had not taken an oath, but that he was willing to do so at any time and was also willing to enlist in the Union army and “fight for the Government of the United States.”
Hammonds’s story is partially confirmed by Confederate records, which show that he joined Colonel Lewis’s 16th Missouri Infantry Volunteers, CSA on August 10, 1862. However, his date of desertion is given as October 21st, not October 1. We also learn from his Confederate service record that his place of desertion was Benton County, Missouri.
Hammonds’s case was turned over to the Springfield provost marshal at the time he gave his statement, but apparently no formal charges were ever filed against him.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Killing of Eli Baker

Twenty-four-year old Eli Baker was killed on October 1, 1861, in Stone County, Missouri, by a band of men that included James Huddleston and Isaac Bledsoe. Although details of the incident are sketchy, apparently it had political overtones, as most such incidents did during the Civil War, and the subsequent prosecution of Huddleston and Bledsoe for the crime definitely had personal overtones.
Huddleston was finally arrested in connection with this incident in mid-1863. (Whether Bledsoe was arrested is not known for sure.) Huddleston, however, was quickly paroled to Greene County. The parole was soon extended to Lawrence County. Before long Huddleston absconded to St. Louis, but he was apprehended there and placed in Union custody. In September a grand jury met in Stone County and indicted both Huddleston and Bledsoe for second degree murder.
The indictment, full of legalese, declared that "James Huddleston and Isaac H. Bledsoe and divers other persons to the jurors unknown on the 1st day of October...not having the fear of God before their eyes but being moved, seduced and instigated by the devil, did willfully, premeditatively, feloniously and of their malice aforethought with a gun, which gun was loaded and charged with gunpowder and a leaden bullet, which said gun was loaded as aforesaid, they the said James Huddleston and Isaac H. Bledsoe and divers other persons to the jurors unknown had and in their hand in and upon the body of one Ali Baker in the face of God and the State...did discharge and shoot off upon and against the body of said Ali Baker, giving to the said Ali Baker one mortal wound in the thigh of him the said Ali Baker of the depth of two inches and the breath of one-half inch, of which wound the said Ali Baker did languish and did die."
The fascinating thing about this indictment is that the foreman of the grand jury was Bowling Baker, father of Eli Baker (the victim of the shooting). Huddleston retained John S. Phelps (Union colonel, U.S. congressman, and future governor of Missouri) as his attorney. Huddleston had served under Phelps, probably even at the time of Baker's killing. Phelps quickly gained Huddleston's freedom on parole and bond of $2,000. A month or two later Huddleston was re-enlisted into the Union army. An new effort was made in 1864 to revive the case against Huddleston, but he served in the arny until the end of the war.
So I don't know the final outcome of this case, but apparently Huddleston was never tried for the crime he supposedly committed. Whatever the final outcome, I find the case interesting because of the political and personal overtones. Huddleston was a Union soldier, and Baker and his father were probably Southern sympathizers or at least conservative Union men, plus Bowling Baker served as foreman of the grand jury that was investigating his own son's death.

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