Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stay Out of My Watermelon Patch

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lynching of Jacob Fleming

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Editor's First Visit to Joplin

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sarah Parkinson: Mother of Guerrilla Leader Tom Livingston

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lynching of Joe Woods

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mathew Ritchey and Newtonia

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Anti-War Sentiments During World War I

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

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