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 ten nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Civil War Springfield, Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, and Murder and Mayhem in Missouri.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fremont's Brief Command in Springfield

In the 1840s, John C. Fremont led three or four expeditions to the American West, gained a reputation as something of a romantic adventurer, and was dubbed "the Pathfinder" in the press. He got wealthy during the California gold rush of 1849 and was later elected California's first governor. In 1856, he ran for president as the first candidate of the new Republican party and carried much of the North but lost the election because the Know Nothing Party took a lot of the anti-Democrat vote from the Republicans.
Near the outset of the Civil War, Fremont was appointed a Union general commanding the Department of the West headquartered at St. Louis. Frank P. Blair, Jr., a U.S. congressman from the St. Louis area, had supported his appointment, but it didn't take long for the two men to be at odds. Blair and others criticized Fremont for not reinforcing General Nathaniel Lyon prior to the Battle of Wilson's Creek fought on August 10, 1861, and Blair and Fremont also had some personal disagreements. Then in late August, Fremont angered President Lincoln when he issued his infamous decree emancipating Missouri's slaves and declaring martial law in the state. Lincoln ordered the edict rescinded, but the relation between the two men was already strained. Next, Fremont had Blair arrested for insubordination. (Blair was a military officer under Fremont's command as well a congressman.) This, of course, further strained the relations between Fremont and Blair, who had already been working for Fremont's removal. In fact, that's partly why Fremont had him arrested. Perhaps the last straw, though, was Fremont's failure to reinforce Colonel Mulligan prior to or during the Siege of Lexington, the same way he had failed to reinforce Lyon. After Mulligan was forced to surrender to General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard on September 20, Lincoln ordered Fremont to "repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time," but as far as Fremont's future as commanding general of the Department of the West was concerned, the damage had already been done.
Fremont did set out to try to atone for the Lexington defeat by personally taking to the field, amassing a large army, and forcing Price to evacuate Lexington. Fremont pursued Price into southern Missouri during October of 1861. On October 25, Fremont's body guard, led by Major Charles Zagonyi, chased a few hundred Missouri State Guard troops out of Springfield, and a few days later Fremont and his entire army occupied Springfield. Price and the large portion of his State Guard troops, were camped around Neosho, where Governor Claiborne F. Jackson's government-in-exile voted to secede from the Union. Near the end of October, Fremont and Price entered into negotiations concerning the treatment of prisoners and other matters. They signed an agreement on November 1 that said, among other things, that citizens would not be arrested or mistreated merely because of their political sentiments, as long as they were peaceable citizens who were minding their own business.
The very next day, however, Fremont received word that he had been relieved of duty by President Lincoln. At Springfield, Fremont issued a farewell address to his troops, many of whom were very loyal to him and very upset by his removal. In fact, some of the troops (Zagonyi's body guard, for example) were shortly afterwards mustered out of service because they were considered too personally loyal to Fremont instead of to the Union cause.
General David Hunter was appointed to take Fremont's place, and Hunter declared that he would not recognize the Fremont-Price agreement. That, too, hardly mattered, however, since Hunter and all the Federal troops were soon ordered to evacuate Springfield and fall back to Rolla and Sedalia (places that had rail service).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thirsty Teamsters at Cuba

On Friday, July 10, 1863, a Union wagon train, escorted by a detachment of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, was traveling along the Springfield Road between St. Louis and Rolla. It stopped at David Curtis's store in Cuba, Missouri, and the teamsters asked for whiskey. The clerk, Joseph Martin, told the men that he couldn't sell them any because the proprietor was not there. (Curtis had a special permit to sell liquor, but apparently only he could sell it.) The teamsters grew angry and told Martin they would have the whiskey one way or another.
After dark on the same day, someone cut a window sash out of the store, broke in, and took one or more kegs of whiskey, some tobacco, and a few other items. The entire haul was valued at about $30. The same evening some men also called at the home of a local man named Cundiff and took a gray mare.
On July 13, James R. Coleman of Cuba wrote to the Union's district headquarters at Rolla outlining what had happened and saying that he was sure the teamsters were the ones who had broken into the store and stole the horse. Several other men attested to the facts as outlined in Coleman's letter and seconded his opinion that the teamsters were the guilty parties.
Brigadier General Thomas A. Davies, commanding the Rolla district, forwarded the complaint to the Department of the Missouri's headquarters at St. Louis. He included a statement vouching for David Curtis as an upright citizen and loyal Union man and suggesting that the matter warranted investigation.
Upon receipt of Davies's communication, Major General John M. Schofield, commanding the Department of the Missouri, ordered an investigation in late July. About a month later, Union authorities at Rolla reported back to Schofield that, after an inquiry into the matter, "nothing could be discovered" to substantiate the charges against the teamsters. The chief wagon master at Rolla had testified that none of his teamsters were engaged in the robbery of Mr. Curtis's store and that Mr. Cundiff's horse had been taken by the 2nd Wisconsin escort, not by the teamsters. He added, too, that the horse was found to have a "U.S." brand on it, suggesting that it was government property to begin with that had been unlawfully acquired by Cundiff. The chief quartermaster said the horse had later been "disposed of" by the escort "on the road." Thus the investigation into the theft of whiskey at Cuba was discontinued.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Melee at Quincy, Missouri

In the 1840s, the Quincy (Mo.) community, then called Judy's Gap, was the center of the so-called Slicker Wars, which started out mainly as a vigilante movement but soon disintegrated into what was basically a family feud between the families of the Slickers and the families of the anti-Slickers. Apparently the tendency toward both violence and vigilantism in the area carried over until at least sometime after the Civil War. Quincy, located in what became Hickory County in 1845, was the scene in the spring of 1869 of what the Bolivar (Mo.) Free Press called a "serious affray," during which the local citizens took the law into their own hands.
On Saturday night, May 2, two young men named Wilson and Hyatt, described by the newspaper as "desperate characters," came into town armed with revolvers and bowie knives and started raising hell. The men had been in the habit of coming into town armed, threatening local citizens, and "otherwise behaving in an outrageous manner." During their latest visit, they got drunk, became quarrelsome, and started threatening the lives of certain citizens. They then got into a heated argument with a young man and fired a couple of shots at him but failed to hit him.
"This so exasperated some of the citizens," according to the Free Press, "that they armed themselves and returned the fire." Hyatt was struck in the head by a bullet as he threatened one of the citizens with his bowie knife, and Wilson was hit on the head with a big rock, crushing his skull. Hyatt died on Monday, two days later, while Wilson was still clinging to life but was not expected to live.
It was reported that Hyatt and Wilson had emptied their revolvers except for one bullet before they fell and that 25 to 30 shots were fired altogether during the melee. According to the newspaper, "It seemed to be a matter of general congratulation among the people of Quincy that the desperadoes had been disposed of, and that the entire community would be safer in the future." Nothing was said about whether any of the local citizens who took the law into their own hands were held to account, but presumably not. Apparently, vigilantism still reigned in Quincy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thomas K. Young, Cedar County Guerrilla

Another military court martial case during the Civil War similar to the one I wrote about last week concerning Thomas Caldwell of Dade County, Missouri, was that of Thomas K. Young of Cedar County. Young, who was referred to in Union documents as "a notorious rebel," was charged with five counts, or specifications, of "Violating the laws of war," two counts of murder, and one count of robbery. He pled not guilty to all charges and specifications.
On the first charge, the first specification was that Young had jayhawked through Cedar County with a gang of guerrillas, plundering and committing various depredations. The second specification was that, after returning home from General Price's Missouri State Guard in the late fall of 1861, he had exerted himself during December of that year and January, February, and March of 1862 to "stir up rebellion" in Cedar County. Specifications 3 and 4 both had to do with Young's participation in Colonel James M. "Polk" Frazier's raid on Humansville in Polk County in late March. Specification 5 was that Young, at the head of a party of guerrillas, had led a jaunt from Montevallo in Vernon County to the Caplinger's Mill area of Cedar County, committing depredations along the way.
Both specifications on the charge of murder had to do with the raid on Humansville, during which Benjamin Smith, a Union man, was killed. On the robbery charge, the only count was that Young had stolen 200 bushels of corn and 40 bushels of wheat from James M. Cooley, another "good and loyal citizen of the United States."
Young was found guilty on counts 1,2, and 5 of the first charge and not guilty on counts 3 and 4. On the most serious charge of murder, he was found not guilty of both specifications and not guilty of the charge. On the charge of robbery, he was found guilty of both the charge and the specification. He was sentenced to be shot to death. However, as in the case of Thomas Caldwell, the findings of the commission were forwarded to President Lincoln for review. Unlike in Caldwell's case, the president ruled in favor of the condemned man in Young's case. He said that the death sentence was "inoperative" because it had not been approved by the officer who had ordered the court martial, and he directed that Young be released.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thomas Caldwell, Guerrilla

In the 1860s census Thomas J. Caldwell was nineteen years old, living with his parents near the Kings Point community of southwest Dade County, Missouri. (A 42-year-old Thomas J. Caldwell, probably an uncle to the younger man, was living not far away in eastern Jasper County.)
The Caldwell family had migrated from Tennessee by way of Kentucky, and like a lot of young men of Southern sympathy in the border state of Missouri, young Thomas Caldwell turned to guerrilla warfare not long after the outbreak of the Civil War. Sometime in early 1862, he fell in with a guerrilla band (perhaps led by noted partisan leader Kinch West, although this is not clear), and on or about April 15 of that year, the guerrillas met a detachment of Federal soldiers and ended up killing a Captain Beard and another of the Union soldiers named Jacob Paris.
Caldwell may or may not have been the one who actually fired the shots that killed Beard and Paris, but he was evidently the only one of the guerrillas who was later captured by Federal authorities. He was charged with murder and tried, at a military commission convened in Springfield on January 24, 1863, on two specifications, one for killing Beard and one for killing Paris. He was found guilty of the charge and of both specifications and sentenced to be "shot to death with musketry."
The conviction was reviewed by President Lincoln, as such convictions often were. On August 3, 1863, he upheld the conviction and ordered that the sentence be carried out. Presumably it was, although I have found no proof of that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Legend of Sidney Wallace

Sidney Wallace was a legendary figure from Clarksville, Arkansas, during the state's Reconstruction period. Depending on which side you listen to, he was either a hero, avenging the murder of his father, or a coldblooded killer and a symbol of the lawlessness of the period.
In December of 1863, Wallace's father, Vincent, who was a Methodist minister, was killed by three or more men in front of the Wallace home near Clarksville. The men were wearing Union army coats, but reports differ as to whether they were actual Union soldiers or bushwhackers disguised as soldiers. Accounts also differ as to whether 12-year-old Sidney witnessed the murder. Some say he did, while others say he was shielded from the sight by the family servant, Missouri Blackard. Blackard supposedly recognized all the killers but did not reveal their identities until Sid Wallace reached his 21st birthday.
According to legend, Young Wallace then set out to avenge his father's murder, first traveling to Kansas to kill a man who had participated in the 1863 attack. In 1871, he shot (or shot at) Joseph Dickey on a road outside Clarksville and beat up Dickey's companion, Dud Turner. Turner filed charges of attempted murder against Wallace. Released on bond, Sid and his brother George went looking for Turner, and Turner killed George in the showdown. About the same time Sid Wallace also reportedly killed constable R.W. "Doc" Ward and a man named Davis.
Turner was arrested for George Wallace's killing, but Judge Elisha Mears discharged him, saying the shooting was a clear case of self defense. This infuriated Sid Wallace, who killed the judge and took to the woods to hide out. He was tracked down, however, and lodged in jail at Clarksville. He broke jail but was caught and returned to his cell. Then, in November of 1873, Sid killed Thomas Paine from his cell during another jailbreak attempt. According to Wallace's defenders, all or nearly all of these killings were somehow related to Sid's quest for revenge for his father's murder, and they held him up almost as a hero. In fact, the New York Times claimed that Arkansas, prior to Sid's latest crime, was a place where "murderers, instead of exciting horror, were set up by the young women as heroes, to be crowned with laurel wreaths and decked with roses."
The Times reporter applauded the fact that Arkansas seemed determined to finally bring Wallace to justice and said that such determination to bring murderers to justice might "eventually result in making the state a desirable place of residence."
Wallace was convicted of murder in the killing of Judge Mears and sentenced to hang. He was held for safekeeping at the state pen in Little Rock from February 18 to March 9, 1874, when he was brought back to Clarksville to face the gallows. He was hanged four days later in front of hundreds of spectators. A contemporaneous newspaper account reported, "The notorious desperado Sidney Wallace, defied the crowd and said clearly, 'I have no confession to make to man, but whatever I have to confess must be to God. I die in defense of myself and friends, and I regret not having a dozen deaths to die.'"
Legends arose years later that Sid Wallace had survived the execution attempt and that the casket buried by the family was actually filled with nothing but sand bags. The New York Times, on the other hand, in reporting the execution, claimed that Mrs. Wallace "rather gloried in" her son's crimes "than condemned them." The Times, citing the Little Rock Republican newspaper, said Mrs. Wallace had urged Sid's brothers to follow in his footsteps. She supposedly wanted them to "go the same road he had gone and when they were dead, she would come in." Such sensational reporting is about as believable as the legendary claims that Sid Wallace survived his execution.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Murder of the Newlands & Hanging of Charles Waller

About the first of May, 1867, 28-year-old William Newland (name sometimes given as William Newton), his wife, and their 18-month old son left their home in Washington County, Indiana, with the idea of settling somewhere in the Southwest. They stopped over for a few months in Illinois, where they made the acquaintance of 42-year-old Charles Waller, his 34-year-old wife (Hannah), their 18-year-old son (Zachariah), and four younger children. Newland, whose father was a well-to-do farmer in Washington County, had a pretty good sum of money with him with which he planned to buy land. He gave Waller some work, and when he (Newland) decided to resume his family's journey to the Southwest, he asked Waller and his family to accompany them, promising Waller a job when they reached their destination. He even provided Waller with a team and a wagon with which to make the trip.
Sometime during the fall of 1867, the two families reached Dade County, Missouri, where they visited with Samuel A. Harshbarger, a relative by marriage of William Newland. After a short while, they set off again, heading southeast toward Ozark County. About November 1, they camped in Webster County a few miles east of Marshfield, where Newland and Zach Waller went hunting together. Young Waller came back to his family's wagon alone and told his father "Well, it's done," or words to that effect. When Waller asked for clarification, Zach told him that he had killed Newland. (Reports conflict on whether the father or the son killed Newland, but, in either case, the "Well, it's done" statement suggests they were both in on the conspiracy.) Charles Waller determined that, in order to cover up the crime, they had to get rid of Newland's wife and child. He or his son slit Mrs. Newland's throat and presumably also killed the child, Samuel Lincoln Newland, although the child's body was never found.
William Newland's body was found not long after he was killed about six to eight miles from Marshfield, but law enforcement and the citizenry did not become particularly aroused at first. After a lapse of some weeks or months, however, relatives of the Newlands back in Indiana became concerned for the well-being of the family, since they had not heard from them. Newland's father asked Harshbarger to initiate an investigation, and he learned of the discovery of William Newland's body near the same time that the remains of Mrs. Newland's body was found along the Hartville Road (approximating present-day Highway 38) near Cantrell Creek in the spring of 1868 a few miles to the southeast from where her husband had been found. According to at least one report, Mrs. Newland's head was detached from her body. (Reports conflict as to which body was found where, but the evidence suggests that Newland's body was found nearer to Marshfield than his wife's. Mrs. Newland was apparently not killed where her body was found. More likely she was killed near the same spot as her husband and her body then hauled a few miles and dumped, because it seems unlikely she would have willingly continued the journey with the Wallers after her husband went missing.)
The discovery of Mrs. Newland's body caused much alarm. Already suspected of having killed William Newland, the Wallers now became the object of an intense manhunt, funded mainly by Richard Newland, William's father. The Wallers were tracked to Ozark County, where Zach Waller had gotten married, but the family had already taken off by the time authorities got there. Waller was then said to be in Arkansas, while Zach was thought to be in Texas. A deputy was dispatched to Texas to bring Zach back. When he got back to Missouri, he reported that he had captured the fugitive but that he had been forced to shoot and kill Waller when he tried to escape. He collected the $1,000 reward that had been offered ($500 from Richard Newland and $500 from Webster County) before authorities began to suspect that he had lied and that Zach Waller was still alive.
Meanwhile, Sam Harshbarger was hot on the trail of Zach's parents. He tracked them to Rock County, Wisconsin, and then to Beaver Creek in the same state. From there, he traced them to Faribault, Minnesota, where, in August of 1870, he finally caught up with them, still in possession of some of Newland's belongings. Harshbarger captured them and brought them back to Marshfield, where they were lodged in the Webster County jail. Charles Waller was indicted for first degree murder in 1871 and his wife, Hannah, was indicted as an accessory. Waller was tried at the March 1872 term of court, and on Friday, March 29, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. The next day, Waller was brought back into court, and Judge R. W. Fyan pronounced a sentence of death by hanging. The execution date was set for May 17. Cursing the verdict and those who had testified against him, especially Sam Harshbarger, Waller said he had been convicted by a pack of lies but that he was ready to die. Hannah, meanwhile, pled guilty to manslaughter and was given a three-year sentence in the state penitentiary.
From her cell in Jeff City, she wrote to Governor Gratz Brown on May 9 proclaiming her husband's innocence and pleading for mercy in his case as well as her own. Three weeks earlier, she had given birth, while in prison, to a new baby, and she asked to be released so she could raise her child. She enclosed a letter that her husband had written to her just days earlier in which he talked of meeting her in heaven and told her to follow the Lord's path. At least three other people wrote letters to Brown also pleading for leniency. One of them, Waller's court-appointed lawyer, did not claim, like Hannah, that Charles Waller was innocent of the crime, but he instead based his appeal wholly on his opposition to capital punishment. Gov. Brown, however, was unmoved by any of the letters, saying that he did not feel he should countermand a lawful verdict.
Waller had been receiving spiritual counsel since his conviction (and perhaps before the verdict), mainly from Rev. McCord Roberts, a well-known Baptist minister in Southwest Missouri. However, he continued steadfastly denying having committed the crime for which he was to pay the ultimate price, until just a day or two before the scheduled execution date, when, according to newspaper reports, he finally admitted the deed. He had been eating well, but on the morning of his execution, Friday, May 17, he refused breakfast, saying that he felt nauseous, and he reportedly wailed in agony. By early afternoon, however, when he was finally taken to the scaffold, which had been erected just east of Marshfield on what was known as Bald Hill, he had regained his composure and reportedly walked up the stairs to meet his fate with a firm step in front of a spellbound crowd, who were eager to witness the high drama.
Legal hangings during the 1800s and early 1900s were usually public spectacles attended by a picnic-like or carnival-like atmosphere, and Waller's execution was no exception. People had begun pouring into Marshfield on Thursday, the day before the event, and the crowd grew to a reported 5,000 to 7,000 people, who watched as Waller mounted the scaffold. The convict declined to make a statement when given the opportunity, and Rev. Roberts then said a prayer. Waller's face was covered with a mask and the noose adjusted around his neck. The sheriff then pulled the lever and dropped him into eternity. His neck was reportedly broken by the fall, and he died within two or three minutes but was allowed to hang for another ten minutes or so before his body was taken down and buried in a grave that had already been prepared very near the execution site. The crowd gradually began to break up.
Zach Waller continued on the lam, but Harshbarger proved to be a stubborn detective. He ran down a number of leads over the years and finally located the fugitive holed up in Minnesota (one report said Florida), where his parents had also taken refuge. He was brought back to Webster County and indicted in March of 1877. In September of the same year, he pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, an option he was given in hopes that he would tell what happened to the Newland child. He was sentenced to forty years in prison, but he never revealed anything about the fate or whereabouts of little Samuel Lincoln Newland.

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