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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Town by Any Other Name--Part 1

A quirky aspect of Ozarks history that I’ve been interested in for a long time is the large number of towns in the region that changed their names. I’m sure this phenomenon is not unique to the Ozarks, but I haven’t examined other regions.
There are at least three variations on this theme of towns changing their names.
Many communities adopted a name at the time of official formation or incorporation that differed from the name the settlement was previously known by. Some of these name changes were brought about when the town applied for a post office and learned that another town with the same or a similar name already existed.
Some towns, on the other hand, did not change their names until after they were officially formed. Many of these changes came soon after formation, but on occasion they might come years later. One of the most common reasons for such a change was to honor a prominent citizen.
A third variation on the theme of name changes involved a new town being established near an older one. If the new town began to outpace the original community, the general area, which had originally been known by the old town’s name, would gradually take on the name of the new town. Eventually the old town would be engulfed by or completely outstripped by the new one to the point that the original town would lose its identify and either die or become part of the new town.
Examples of all three phenomena occur in the naming history of Ozarks’ towns. Let’s look, in alphabetical order, at a sampling of towns in the southern Missouri Ozarks that are known today by a name that differs from the original.
Ava, the seat of Douglas County, did not change its name as such, but it had a forerunner named Militia Springs, a Civil War encampment with a government post office. When Ava was formed a mile or so to the south at the end of the war, the post office was moved to Ava.
Crane, located on Crane Creek in northern Stone County, was originally called Hickory Grove. About 1890, the town sought a post office and learned a Hickory Grove already existed in Missouri. The town changed its name to match the name of the creek it was on.
Dadeville in eastern Dade County was established before the Civil War as Melville. In 1865, the name was changed to Dadeville, supposedly because postal workers kept getting it confused with a town named Millville.
Doolittle in Phelps County was originally called Centertown because it was halfway between Rolla and Newburg. The town boomed during construction of nearby Fort Leonard Wood in the early 1940s, and it was incorporated and renamed in honor of World War II general Jimmy Doolittle.
Farmington was originally called Murphy’s Settlement after David Murphy, the first white settler, who arrived in the late 1790s. In 1822, Murphy donated land for the town as a prospective county seat for Francois County, and it was shortly afterwards named Farmington because of the fertile soil in the area.
Fremont was established along the railroad in Carter County in the late 1880s. It was originally going to be called McDonald after the man who laid out the town. However, the post office rejected the name, and the town was named Peggy instead, after the wife of an early settler. In 1907, the name was changed to Fremont.
Irondale in southeast Washington County was laid out in 1858. In 1906, the town changed its name to Savoy so that people wouldn’t confuse it with Ironton and Iron Mountain, but the name was changed back to Irondale the next year.
Jane, in southern McDonald County, was originally called White Rock Prairie, but when a post office was established in 1882, it was named Jane after the postmaster's daughter.
Lebanon, the seat of Laclede County, was originally called Wyota after the Wyota Indian village where it was established. It was renamed after Lebanon, Tennessee, which was the hometown of a respected local minister.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Great Blue Norther of 11-11-11

November has been mild so far this year, but that could change anytime. Let’s hope it doesn’t change quite as drastically at it did back in 1911. That was the year of the Great Blue Norther.
Blue northers are sudden cold snaps that occur when Arctic air plunges south, often under clear blue skies, to drive out warm humid air. The clash of the two systems creates strong storms, occasionally even blizzards or tornadoes. Blue northers usually occur in November and sometimes can come in February or March but rarely any other time.
The blue norther of 1911 was a doozie! Sometimes referred to simply as 11-11-11 to indicate the date it happened, the Great Blue Norther affected all of the central United States. The Ozarks was right in the middle of it.
Temperatures were unseasonably warm during the early to mid-afternoon of Saturday, November 11, 1911. Several places set record highs for the date. By late that night, some of the same places also experienced record lows. For many Midwest cities, it is the only time that record highs and record lows were broken on the same day.
In Springfield, Missouri, the temperature soared to a record-high 80 degrees in the early afternoon. Then the storm hit. High winds blew out windows, felled trees, and damaged houses across the city. For one minute the wind maintained a velocity of 74 miles an hour. A rate of 54 miles an hour was sustained for a full five minutes. The temperature dropped almost to freezing within a matter of minutes. When the wind let up, a terrific hail storm pelted the city. This was followed by heavy rain. The rain soon turned to sleet and snow, which fell the rest of the day.
By shortly after dark, the thermometer read 21 degrees. By midnight, it stood at 13, giving Springfield a record low and record high on the same day. The record low set in 1911 still stands. The record high has been tied but not surpassed.
The sudden shift in the weather was just as dramatic in the eastern Ozarks, although the storm hit a couple of hours later so that few, if any, record highs and record lows were set on the same day. The Potosi Journal reported that the turn in the weather was “the most sudden and extreme in variation of temperatures this section has experienced in several years, and the coldest since 1838 for so early in November.”
The newspaper went on to say that warm temperatures and a strong south wind had prevailed for several days prior to the 11th. The mercury almost touched 80 on Saturday. Then came the storm. “Between five and six in the evening, the sky took on a threatening, stormy cast, with little whips of rain. About 6:20, the wind suddenly veered around to the west, and the storm broke with a fury. A deluge of rain swept on before the gale, and the quicksilver made a hurried retreat down the tube.”
By nine o’clock, it was almost freezing, and by early Sunday morning the temperature was “down pretty close to zero.” There was also a skiff on snow on the ground. Between Saturday afternoon and sunrise Sunday morning the temperature had dropped 70-75 degrees.
My grandmother was a teenage girl growing up in Texas County in November of 1911. I remember her talking about this storm. She said the temperatures dropped so fast that most of her family’s potato crop, which had been stored in a shed, froze before she and her siblings could move the potatoes to the cellar.
Let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of the Great Blue Norther in 2015. Although some folks could use a little rain.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making Way for War--Part 2

Fort Leonard Wood was not the only large U.S. Army base built in southern Missouri as World War II loomed. On May 15, 1941, while Fort Wood was nearing completion, the Army announced plans to construct another training center 150 miles away in Newton County. The installation would encompass about 43,000 acres south of Neosho and cost about $22 million.
As was the case with construction of Fort Leonard Wood, many local residents were displaced from their homes, although no sizeable communities were wiped entirely off the face of the map, as was the case with Bloodland in Pulaski County. In Newton County, the main complaint came from farmers who felt they were not paid enough for their land. A parade planned in connection with the groundbreaking ceremony in August of 1941 was canceled partly because of rumors of a counter-demonstration to be staged by dissatisfied farmers.
The groundbreaking ceremony itself had to be rescheduled several times because of an inability of the Army Quartermaster Corps, the engineering and constructions firms in charge of the project, and the Neosho Ad Club and other civic groups to agree on a date. Part of the holdup involved a futile effort to recruit U.S. senator Harry S Truman as a guest speaker for the event. The Neosho civic groups finally pulled out of the ceremony altogether, and the groundbreaking was held August 30, 1941, without Senator Truman.
Original plans called for the Newton County installation to be used as an infantry training center. An urgent need for Signal Corps personnel and the fact that a Shell Oil pipeline cut across a proposed artillery area turned it into a Signal Corp Replacement Training Center. It was expected to house about 18,000 soldiers, but at its peak during the war, the base was home to over 45,000 service members. Over 350 buildings went up during initial construction; another 1,200 to 1,300 were eventually added.
About 20,000 workers took part in the construction. The population of Neosho, about 5,000 at the time, more than doubled or, according to some estimates, even quadrupled. There were no rooms to be found, and in some cases workers resorted to living in chicken coops.
Colonel George W. Teachout, the post’s first commander, arrived on September 30, 1941. The camp was still under construction, and there were only two roads on the entire post. On October 3, Teachout issued orders activating the post. The installation still had no name when Teachout arrived, but it was later christened Camp Crowder (sometimes called Fort Crowder) in honor of General Enoch H. Crowder, a Missourian who gained fame as the author of the Selective Service Act of World War I. Colonel Teachout’s headquarters was initially located in Neosho but was moved onto the base about the first of January 1942.
The first troops arrived on December 2, 1941, just five days before the Pearl Harbor attack. America’s entry into World War II spurred rapid construction, and Camp Crowder was dedicated on April 12, 1942.
Among the thousands of soldiers stationed at Camp Crowder during the war were several who went on to post-war fame. Cartoonist Mort Walker used his time at Camp Crowder as inspiration for “Beetle Bailey” and Camp Swampy. Actor Dick Van Dyke’s experience at Camp Crowder during the war inspired the fictional events portrayed in Episode Number 6 of the Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on November 6, 1961. Actor and producer Carl Reiner also served at Camp Crowder during World War II.
Crowder served not just as a training facility for U.S. soldiers but also as a prisoner-of-war camp. It housed about 2,000 Axis POWs, the first arriving on October 6, 1943. In addition, about 500 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) worked at Crowder performing clerical duties and operating machinery.
Senator Truman finally made it to Camp Crowder for an inspection on August 30, 1944, exactly three years after missing the groundbreaking ceremony.
When World War II ended in 1945, activities at Camp Crowder began to wind down. In 1947, much of the land was declared excess property and sold back to the public for agricultural use. The now-smaller camp served various purposes until 1958, when it was deactivated. Most of it was declared surplus property in 1962.
Crowder College was formed in 1963 and moved onto a portion of the land where the Army had moved out. The Missouri National Guard retained over 4,000 acres for a training area, which is still used today.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Making Way for War--Part 1

When plans were announced in the fall of 1940 to build a large U.S. military base in rural Pulaski County, Missouri, residents of the area were in shock and disbelief. They knew little of the fighting that raged across Europe and threatened to involve America, but the rumblings of war were about to change their lives in ways they could never have foreseen.
Construction of the U.S. Army’s Seventh Corps Area Training Center began in early December of 1940. The camp was to encompass 65,000 acres. It would include 55 miles of road and 1,500 buildings. It was projected to employ about 13,000 workers during construction and cost about $10 million. About 25,000 soldiers would be billeted there when the project was complete in the spring of 1941.
The initial figures were quickly revised upward. The training center, which would come to be known as Fort Leonard Wood, ended up taking 93,000 acres out of southern Pulaski County. It employed about 15,000 workers, cost about $30 million, and was not completed until the late summer of 1941. About 37,000 Army personnel were eventually quartered there.
The immensity of the project overwhelmed local residents. “Everybody was stunned that something so big could happen around here,” one former resident of the area told this writer for a 1998 Ozarks Mountaineer article. “We were just backwoods country people.”
The local people were not just stunned. Some of them were angry. They would have to vacate land that, in many cases, had been in their families for a hundred years. The uprooted property owners were paid, on average, about $25 an acre for unimproved land, which was a fair price 75 years ago in the Ozarks. The catch was that they wouldn’t get their money immediately because of government red tape, and many of them didn’t have the ready cash for a down payment on a new home. Besides, some of them just didn’t want to move.
Most, however, eventually accepted the idea as their patriotic duty.
Work continued on the fort at a feverish pace throughout the winter and spring of 1941. Pearl Harbor was still almost a year away, but rumors of war infused the project with a sense of urgency. Work went on around the clock, seven days a week. Five hundred applicants a day passed through the Missouri State Employment Service for referral to contractors in charge of the project. The mostly unionized workers earned, counting overtime, as much as $75 a week, an excellent wage in 1941.
The tremendous influx of workers caused housing shortages as far away as Lebanon and Rolla. The population of Waynesville ballooned from about 400 to about 3,500. New businesses sprang up overnight.
In the immediate area of the fort, some workers rented rooms from local residents. Some stayed in barns. Others slept in tents or makeshift shelters fashioned from cardboard and other materials.
An unusually wet winter and early spring turned the area into a quagmire and hampered work on the army base. Truck after truck got buried to their axles in the mud, and loads of plywood had to be brought in just so workers would have a place to walk without sinking to their knees.
Construction of Fort Leonard Wood wiped villages like Bloodland, Cookville, Palace, Tribune, and Wharton off the face of the map. The largest of these was Bloodland, with a population of about 100. When construction of the fort began, the town had two general stores, three filling stations, a post office, a couple of churches, and a high school.
Cemeteries such as the one at Bloodland are about all that remain within the bounds of Fort Leonard Wood to suggest the area was ever used for anything other than a military base. For many years, former residents returned to those cemeteries on Memorial Day to decorate the graves of deceased loved ones and to gather in reunion. Now, even that ritual has virtually died out, as very few former residents remain.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Communist Dream in Southern Missouri

I’ve written previously on this blog about Alcander Longley and his communist settlements in Jasper County near present-day Oronogo called the Reunion Community and in Dallas County just west of Buffalo called the Friendship Community. The former Community (Longley’s capitalization) existed from early 1868 to late 1870 and the latter from the spring of 1872 until the summer of 1877. However, Longley’s dream was far from over. He was nothing if not a true believer, and he spent the rest of his life trying to establish a successful communist settlement in Missouri. The son of a Universalist minister, Longley was born in Ohio in 1832 and was exposed to liberal views at an early age. As a young man he lived in several experimental settlements based on association and sharing. In his thirties, he embraced communism and came to St. Louis in 1867 to organize the Reunion Community. Longley thought of communism outside of politics and was not a fan of Karl Marx. He was, instead, an advocate of what he called practical communism, feeling that people should join together in mutual aid to form self-sustaining communes. Longley started publishing a newspaper called the Communist to promote his effort.
After the Reunion Community and the Friendship Community collapsed, Longley helped start a commune on forty acres near Lutesville in Bollinger County in May 1879. It was also called the Friendship Community, but it was even shorter lived than its like-named predecessor.
Longley lived in St. Louis at the time of the 1880 census, but by the spring of 1881 he was back living on the Dallas County property near Buffalo. On May 21, he and a few associates started the Principia Community in Polk County near present-day Halfway. Longley briefly joined the group but became disillusioned with way the community was being run and went back to Buffalo.
In July of 1883, Longley started another commune, called the Mutual Aid Society, on 160 acres about a mile north of the Glenallen railroad depot in Bollinger County. In June 1885, a woman left her home in Ohio in answer to a circular Longley sent out promoting the place. When she got to Glenallen, she found Longley the only person living on the farm. She left in anger, accusing him of trying to take her money.
Longley left Glenallen about April of 1885 and established yet another communist group, called the Altruist Community, at Sulphur Springs in Jefferson County. Longley himself stayed at the location only two months before once again going back to St. Louis.
But he never gave up on his dream. In the early to mid-1890s, he was involved in communist communities in Arkansas and northern Missouri. In late 1898 and early 1899 he helped organize a community called Altro about four miles northwest of Williamsville in Wayne County. He visited the place a few times but maintained his residence in St. Louis.
In 1901 Longley traded his land in Wayne County for an eight-acre plot at Sulphur Springs, where he once again proposed to start a new community. He spent the last seventeen years of his life promoting the Altruist Community, but his latest venture was hardly more successful than his earlier ones. He died at Chicago in 1918.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Gads Hill Train Robbery

Gads Hill, Missouri, was named after Gads Hill, England, which served as the summer home of Charles Dickens and had earlier been immortalized by Shakespeare as the place where Falstaff committed a robbery in the opening scene of Henry IV. Ironically, the namesake American village was also the scene of a notorious holdup, the first train robbery in Missouri. Although it was not the same Gads Hill, the “Missouri cutthroats,” according to one account, “were quite as audacious” as the Shakespeare characters.
About 3:30 p.m. January 31, 1874, just two years after Gads Hill had been established along the Iron Mountain Railroad in northwest Wayne County, five desperadoes rode into the village and took over the place. Gads Hill consisted only of a general store, a sawmill, and a platform that served as the train depot. The gang robbed the storeowner and rounded up all the other people in the small community, amounting to about a dozen individuals. Each of the outlaws carried at least two Navy revolvers, and three had double-barreled shotguns. Flourishing their weapons, they compelled the captives to stand on the platform while they relieved them of their money. Meanwhile, one of the gang threw a switch on the railroad so that the next train would be shunted to a siding and have to stop.
The Little Rock Express from St. Louis was delayed, forcing the bandits and their hostages to wait more than an hour. To ward off the January chill, they huddled around a bonfire near the platform until the train finally came into sight about 4:45 p.m. One of the gang grabbed a red flag and started waving it as a signal for the train to stop. The train consisted of a combination express/baggage/mail car, two passenger coaches, a sleeper, and the locomotive. As the engineer slowed the train to a crawl, the conductor stepped onto the platform, and a large masked man immediately shoved a pistol in his face. One of the robbers took the conductor’s gold watch but handed it back upon orders from his “captain.”
Two outlaws jumped onto the locomotive and made the engineer and fireman get down, while two others hauled a brakeman and the baggage man out of the baggage car. Returning to the baggage car, a couple of the bandits rummaged through the mail, stealing registered letters. Then they turned their attention to the express messenger, forcing him at gunpoint to turn over his keys to the safe, from which they took over $1,000 in cash.
Next, the thieves went through the coaches accosting the passengers. They took all the money they could get but were more selective with the valuables they appropriated. Besides returning the conductor’s watch, the outlaws passed over another gold watch and several silver watches. The conductor later remarked that the bandits “didn’t seem to care for watches.”
After stealing all the money they could lay their hands on and all the valuables they took a fancy to, the outlaws mounted up and rode off toward the northwest. Initial reports put their total take anywhere from $2,000 to over $20,000. The best estimate seems to be somewhere around $3,000.
Reports also differed regarding the number of bandits. Some said seven, but most said five. The best evidence suggests the lower number is correct. The identity of the thieves was unknown at first as well, although within a day or two, a man named McCoy and two Younger brothers had been tentatively named as being with the gang. It has since been established that Frank and Jesse James, John Younger, and either Cole or Jim Younger composed four of the gang. The fifth member might have been the other Younger brother, Arthur McCoy, or one of several other men.
Pinkerton agents trailed the robbers to western Missouri, and one of the officers was found dead on March 11, just after visiting the James home in Clay County. On March 17, another Pinkerton agent and a local deputy were killed in St. Clair County by Jim and John Younger. The shootout also left John Younger dead.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Barker Gang and the Murder of Sheriff Kelly

Landlords nowadays often require folks wishing to rent a house or apartment to fill out applications so they can do background checks on the applicants before letting strangers move onto their property. Such was not the case in 1931 when an older couple, giving their names as Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dunlop, showed up at Thayer, Missouri, about October 12 of that year and rented a farmhouse from Wellington McClelland in an out-of-the-way area about two miles east of town. The free-spending Dunlop, who let it be known that he was a retired farmer who’d made his money from oil lands in Oklahoma, just plunked down the cash and moved in. A day or two later, two young men, whom Dunlop introduced as his son and nephew, moved in with the couple. In an era before instant background checks, McClelland had no way of knowing that “Mrs. Dunlop” was actually Arizona Kate “Ma” Barker, that one of the young men was her murderous son Fred, and that the other was the notorious Alvin Karpis.
Over the next few weeks, Karpis and Fred Barker pulled off a string of crimes in the area, including the burglary of McCallon’s clothing store in West Plains on Thursday night, December 17. On Saturday morning the 19th, Karpis pulled his 1931 blue De Soto into Davidson’s garage in West Plains to have two flat tires repaired, with Fred Barker riding shotgun. The car matched the description of a vehicle seen near McCallon’s store on the night of the burglary, and garage owner Carac Davidson immediately relayed his suspicions to Howell County sheriff C.R. “Roy” Kelly. Still seated in the car when the sheriff showed up to investigate, Barker and Karpis immediately gunned the lawman down when he walked up to the driver’s side door of the De Soto. Accounts of the murder differ, but the best evidence suggests that Barker opened fire first with a .45 caliber automatic pistol and fired the fatal shots. He then jumped out of the vehicle and ran around to the other side to continue shooting as Kelly fell, while Karpis chimed in with a .38 caliber revolver.
After the shooting, Karpis roared out of the garage in the De Soto, and Barker escaped on foot through the streets of West Plains. Bloodhounds were put on Barker’s trail but to no avail. The De Soto was found later on Saturday a mile or so east of Thayer, where Karpis had abandoned it, and the gang was soon traced to the nearby McClelland farmhouse. Described as a four-room cottage on a high knoll back away from the road, the house reportedly offered a view of the surrounding countryside for miles around, and by the time authorities arrived, the birds had flown. In their haste to escape, the renters had left behind papers definitely identifying them as the Barker-Karpis gang, and photographs of most of the gang members, including Kate Barker, were also discovered. Much of the merchandise taken in the burglary of the McCallon store was recovered as well.
Funeral services for Sheriff Kelly were held on Monday, December 21. Shortly afterwards, his widow, Lulu Kelly, was selected to fill his unexpired term as sheriff of Howell County. One of her first actions was to offer, jointly with the West Plains police chief, rewards for the arrest and conviction of the Barker-Karpis gang members, including $100 for “Old Lady Arrie Barker, mother of Fred Barker.” This was apparently the first official notice by law enforcement of Ma Barker, who would go on to become infamous as a reputed leader of the gang, although she was, in fact, mostly just an overindulgent mother who felt her villainous sons could do no wrong.
Sources: FBI files, Howell County Gazette, West Plains Journal.

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