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, July 26, 2015

The Osage War

The so-called Osage War was a bloodless confrontation between Osage Indians and a company of Greene County (Missouri) militia under Colonel Charles Yancey in the winter of 1836-1837. The Osage had been removed to reservations in Kansas and Indian Territory through a series of treaties in the early 1800s, but some of them persisted in drifting back into their former homeland. Their presence in southwest Missouri, according to R.I. Holcombe's 1883 History of Greene County, was "distasteful to the settlers," and Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered them removed.
Yancey, who was also presiding judge of the county court, decided to go out and negotiate personally with the Indians and only call out his troops if it should prove necessary. Two other men, Chesley Cannefax and Henry Fulbright, accompanied him on his mission. Taking along a young black man, who had been raised among the Delaware and spoke several Indian dialects, as an interpreter, the trio set out to the south and southwest of Springfield and, after a couple of days travel, met a party of Osage Indians mounted on ponies near Flat Creek in what later became Stone County. Yancey was dressed in full military regalia, with plumes and epaulets, and the white men hoped that his "imposing appearance" would make a favorable impression on "the display-loving savages." The Indians were impressed enough to let out a shrill yell and gallop away without speaking a word.
Their fear somewhat aroused by the reaction of the Indians, the white men followed uneasily and soon came upon an Indian camp of about 100 men and an equal number of women and children. Apparently assuming Yancey was some sort of "great chief," the Indians met the white men with beads and other Indian finery as tokens of their goodwill, and the Osage chief, Nawpawiter, sat down with Yancey and his party to talk. Newpawiter agreed to remove from the area but asked, because of the inclement weather and the condition of some of his people, that he not have to do so until the weather got better. Yancey granted the request, issuing a written permission for the Indians to stay where they were for a few days until the weather improved, and then he and his small party continued on their way, looking for other Indians in the region.
About 35 miles south Springfield in Barry County, Yancey and his men came upon a large assemblage of Indians that they thought might be a war council, as one brave reportedly rode out brandishing a tomahawk and making indecent gestures toward the white men. Although Yancey and Fulbright thought they could parley with the Indians as they had done with Newpawiter and induce them to leave, Cannefax argued for a stronger course of action. His advice finally prevailed, and the white men returned to Springfield to call out the militia.
More than a hundred men were soon armed and mounted, and the militia met the Indians again in present-day Christian County, on the Finley River. The Indians greatly outnumbered the whites, but they were poorly armed, mainly with just bows and arrows. The Indians retreated, and Yancey pursued them to the west side of the James River, where the two sides drew up facing each other. The Indians at first refused Yancey's demand that they give up their arms and remove across the state line, but they soon acquiesced, although a few young braves continued to grumble as they laid down their weapons. According to Holcombe, some of the white men "behaved very rudely" toward the Indian women, but Yancey supposedly put a quick stop to the misbehavior. Over the next couple of days, which were bitterly cold, the militia escorted the Indians to the state line, where they were admonished not to come back into Missouri.
When the militia got back to Springfield, they found the townspeople almost in a panic because of rumors they had heard that a general Indian uprising had begun. No hostilities ensued, however, and thus ended the so-called Osage War.
As a footnote to this story, it might be interesting to mention that later in 1837 Judge Yancey killed a man on the square in Springfield. The first person to be put on trial for murder in Greene County, he was acquitted and later was appointed a circuit judge.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Belle Starr's 35-Mile Dash

According to legend, sixteen-year-old Myra Maybelle Shirley (later known as Belle Starr) was out on a scout from Carthage on behalf of her brother Bud and his guerrilla buddies in early 1862 when she was captured at Newtonia on February 3, which happened to be her sixteenth birthday, by Major Edwin Eno, who was stationed there in command of Union forces, and held in the Ritchey mansion because Eno had sent out a detachment in pursuit of Bud Shirley and his guerrilla band and he knew that Myra would warn her brother if she were not detained. Personally guarded by Eno, Myra paced the floor cursing and ranting against the major or pounded out songs on the piano to release her pent up emotions, but he merely laughed at her anger and frustration, further incensing the young woman and finally driving her to tears.
After a suitable elapse of time, Eno became satisfied that his men had an ample head start on Myra and that he could safely release her. She rushed through the door, cut several switches from a cherry bush to use as riding whips, and sprang into the saddle of her trusty steed. Plying the cherry switches with vigor, she sped away and, a short distance from the house, left the road and cut across fields, leaping over ditches and fences and making a bee line for Carthage thirty-five miles away aboard her speedy horse. Major Eno pulled out his field glass and climbed to an upper room of the Ritchey mansion to watch as Myra raced away like the wind. "I'll be damned," he said with a hint of admiration. "If she doesn't reach Carthage ahead of my troopers, I'm a fool."
Sure enough, Myra reached her hometown in time to warn her brother of the Federal troops sent out to capture him, and when the soldiers reached Carthage shortly afterwards, she was there to greet them and inform them with a smirk that Bud Shirley and his men had left town half an hour ago and were probably in Lawrence County by now.
The problem with this story is that it almost certainly didn't happen. The legend was first propagated by S.W. Harman in his book Hell on the Border, published in 1898, almost ten years after Belle Starr's death. The story, as related by Harman, was full of errors. Myra Shirley would have turned fourteen in 1862, not sixteen, and in addition the idea that the incident supposedly happened on her birthday seems like a bit of romantic nonsense. Harman misspelled the major's name as Enos instead of Eno and misspelled the name of Mathew Ritchey as Ritchery. Also, Eno was not stationed at Newtonia until 1863. These factual errors, the fantastic notion of a fifteen or sixteen-year-old girl off on a scout by herself 35 miles from home, and the fact that the story was not heard of until almost ten years after Belle's death make one suspect that the whole incident was probably manufactured or at least highly fictionalized to embellish the infamous reputation she had gained long after she had left Carthage.
A different version of the legend holds that Myra was not detained by Eno but instead came to the Ritchey home of her own accord as a spy to try to gather information for her brother and his guerrilla friends. Mr. Ritchey, a strong Union man, knew the Shirley family and did not like them, but out of courtesy he admitted the girl and let her spend the night. While she was there, Myra made herself very agreeable and entertained her hosts and the other guests, including Major Eno, by playing the piano. The next morning, having obtained vital information about Union forces in Newtonia, Myra cut some cherry switches and rode off side-saddle toward Carthage, but she had ridden only a couple of miles when Confederate forces launched a surprise attack on the Union troops at Newtonia. The cutting of the switches had been a signal that the place was vulnerable to attack.
While this second version of Belle's visit to Newtonia is somewhat more believable than the first, it, too, probably has very little basis in fact.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tri-State Tornado

I've written on this blog about the 2011 Joplin tornado and the 1880 Marshfield tornado, but I don't think I've ever written about the 1925 Tri-State tornado, other than perhaps just to mention it in passing.
The Tri-State tornado was first sighted in Shannon County, Missouri, about 12:40 p.m. on March 18, 1925, and the first fatality occurred about twenty minutes later north-northwest of Ellington. The storm virtually annihilated the town of Annapolis in Iron County, killing two people there. Two more people were killed at the small community of Leadanna, also in Iron County. The twister then crossed Bollinger County and entered Perry County, where it struck the town of Biehle, destroying many homes and killing four people. At least eleven people were killed in Missouri before the tornado continued its deadly path through Illinois and into Indiana.
The storm cut a swath 235 miles long and about 1,200 yards wide on average. Altogether it killed 695 people, making it by far the deadliest single tornado in U.S. history. Although not officially rated at the time, it is considered an EF5 tornado.
The Tri State tornado was part of a whole series of tornadoes that broke out on the same day, and the total number of deaths for all the storms that day was 747.

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 getting 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.

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