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 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.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Civil War Pension Application

In July of 1862, the U.S. Congress passed an act authorizing pensions for soldiers wounded and disabled during the war and for widows of soldiers killed during the war. It wasn't always easy to get a pension application approved, however, as the case of Maria Kansteiner of Benton County, Missouri, shows.
Her husband, Wilhelm Kansteiner, had served in the German Regiment of Benton County (also called the Benton County Home Guards), which had been authorized by General Nathaniel Lyon in early June of 1861. Kansteiner was mustered into service on June 13 and took part six days later in the Battle of Cole Camp.
The battle, which could more accurately be described as a skirmish, occurred when the Benton County Home Guards gathered at two adjoining farms near Cole Camp to try to impede Governor Claiborne Jackson's Missouri State Guard troops, who were on their way south after their defeat at Boonville on June 17. Two groups of local Southern troops, called the Warsaw Grays and the Warsaw Blues, attacked the home guards on the early morning of June 19, surprising and overrunning the sleepy Union camp and thus clearing the way for Jackson's Missouri State Guard to march south. Casualties were high, considering the relatively small number of troops involved (about 450 home guards and about 350 Rebels). A reported 34 Union troops were either killed or mortally wounded and another 60 less seriously wounded. Only 7 Southerners were reportedly killed, while 25 were wounded. Wilhelm Kansteiner was among the home guards killed.
In April of 1864, his widow applied for a pension under terms of the pension act, but the applications was not immediately granted. In support of her application, she obtained notarized statements from a couple of men who had known Wilhelm Kansteiner and who testified that they had been in the German Regiment of Benton County with him and that he had been killed at Cole Camp. She herself had to submit a state a statement swearing that she had never in any way supported the rebellion. She also had so offer proof of her marriage to the deceased, and she produced a statement from a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Morgan County that he had married Wilhelm Kansteiner and Maria Schumacher of Benton County on October 1, 1860. Maria's application process dragged on for over a year. In June of 1865, the Missouri adjutant general's office verified that Wilhelm Kansteiner had, indeed, been a member of the German Regiment and had been killed at Cole Camp. However, the following month the United States adjutant general's office said that it could find no record that such an organization as the German Regiment of Benton County had ever existed. Maria or someone working on her behalf then appealed to the Treasury Department, saying that a record of Kansteiner's service was contained in a report of the Hawkins-Taylor Committee. The Treasury Department, however, said it could not locate any such report.
Despite all the obstacles, Maria's application was finally approved, or so it seems, shortly after this time.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gordon Kahl Shootout

Gordon Kahl was an anti-government tax protester who was killed in Lawrence County, Arkansas, in 1983, in a showdown with law officers. Reared in North Dakota, Kahl was a World War II veteran who owned a farm in North Dakota after the war and later worked in the Texas oil fields. In the 1960s he became a tax protester, writing a letter to the I.R.S. stating that he would no longer pay taxes to what he considered the communist federal government. In the 1970s, he organized a Texas chapter of the Posse Comitatus, a right-wing, anti-government and anti-Semitic group. In the mid seventies, he was convicted of willful refusal to pay taxes and was sentenced to two years in prison. Released on parole after less than a year in prison, Kahl became involved in the township movement, a version of the "sovereign citizenship" belief that citizens are not answerable to county, state, and especially federal authority but only to common law administered at the most fundamental level. On February 13, 1983, as law officers attempted to arrest Kahl for violation of his probation while he was leaving a township meeting near Medina, South Dakota, he and his son became involved in a shootout with the officers, leaving two of the officers dead and Kahl's son wounded. Taking the vehicle of a Medina law officer, Kahl fled to Texas and then to Arkansas.
About the first of June 1983, authorities received a tip that Kahl was holed up near Smithville in northwest Lawrence County on property where fellow tax protester Leonard Ginter and his wife were living. On June 3, law officers surrounded the Ginter house, and when Lawrence County sheriff Gene Matthews approached the house, shots were exchanged. The FBI SWAT team accompanying Matthews then opened fire, pouring hundreds of rounds of lead into the house. The house was then set on fire. Kahl was later found dead in the rubble, reportedly killed by a single shot before being burned. Matthews was mortally wounded by Kahl and later died on the operating table.
Right-wing extremists still today insist that Kahl was killed in cold blood by government thugs and that the house was set on fire to cover up the murder. Some maintain that Sheriff Matthews was also a victim of the government officers rather than being killed by Kahl as officially reported.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Murder of Jack Burris

A few months ago, I wrote on this blog about the Girl Scout murders that occurred in Mayes County, Oklahoma, in 1977, and I mentioned that the crime is officially considered an unsolved case, although many observers, including many law enforcement officials, felt sure that the man arrested and tried for the crime, convicted rapist Gene Leroy Hart, was guilty, even though he was acquitted. However, the Girl Scout case was not the first notorious unsolved murder case in Mayes County history.
On the evening of June 7, 1952, county prosecutor Henry Lawrence "Jack" Burris was working on an air conditioning unit in his back yard in the small town of Locust Grove, using the lights of his tractor to illuminate his work area, when an assailant came out of the dark and shot him dead with a .12 gauge shotgun blast to the face. Several theories emerged as to the motive for the crime and several suspects were identified, including a cousin of Burris's second wife, who supposedly held a personal grudge against the man. The most prevalent theory, however, was that Burris had been killed by someone with underworld connections because of Burris's vigorous prosecution of liquor law violations in what was then a dry state. In pursuing this theory, law officers made at least one arrest and announced that others were imminent.
However, no one ever came to trial in the case, and Burris's murder is considered one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in Oklahoma history.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Five Horse Thieves Lynched

I mentioned not long ago that lynchings in the Old West were even more common than most people probably realize. Most people, I think, are familiar only with the notorious ones, but, as I said previously, there were so many lynchings that they were almost commonplace and, therefore, not widely reported unless remarkable circumstances attended them. Another example in the Ozarks occurred at Baxter Springs, Kansas, in early 1867, when that town was just getting started. (Baxter Springs existed as a trading post before the Civil War and during the war as a military outpost, but the town did not actually come into being until after the war.)
For several months prior to January of 1867, or so said the Carthage (Mo.) Banner, a gang of horse thieves had been operating all along the Kansas-Missouri border as far north as Nebraska and as far south as Indian Territory. Not only were horses being stolen, but other property was also being taken and murders were occasionally being committed by the "prowling scoundrels." So extensive were the outlaws' activities that no man who owned a horse, according to the Banner, felt safe.
Sometime during the summer of 1866, two men had arrived in the Baxter Springs area from Indiana, and one of them had promptly hooked up with the gang of outlaws. He tried to talk his partner into joining, too, plying him with tales of easy money, and the second man acted interested in joining. He was, however, only gathering information to use against the gang, and sometime around the first of the year, 1867, he reported what he knew to law enforcement authorities, who set out to round up the desperadoes.
On Saturday morning, January 26, one man was taken into custody, and, according to the Banner, an attempt was made to try him in a civil court. However, the effort proved fruitless, as he quickly showed himself to be innocent. A vigilante committee then took charge of the proceedings and, on Saturday evening, arrested three more of the gang. After receiving what the Banner considered a "fair trial," they were found guilty and strung up by the vigilantes. Monday morning two more gang members were apprehended and given similar trials as the other three. When the verdicts were announced, one of the men started running and was shot dead, while the other one was hanged like the previous three.
The Banner reported that three of the men executed were brothers named Mizer. One of the brothers, before being launched into eternity, supposedly confessed to helping kill 15 men during a recent trip to Texas and back. He reportedly said that he and his gang had killed every man they met that they thought might have any money. The Banner concluded, "Surely such wretches should die, and the sooner the better."
One of the leaders of the gang, a man named Bill Smith, was not arrested at the time his five sidekicks met their fate. However, the Banner held out hope that he would soon be apprehended and would get his "deserts at the end of a short rope."
The Banner headlined its story reporting the vigilante proceedings thus: "FIVE HORSE THIEVES HUNG AND SHOT. THEY MAKE STARTLING DISCLOSURES. JUDGE LYNCH PRESIDING." The newspaper allowed that, although there were still a few desperadoes like Smith on the loose, the recent actions of the vigilantes might "serve as a gentle damper" on the gang's crime spree.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Lynching of John Bright

After a mob lynched wife murderer John Wesley Bright in Taney County in March of 1892 and shot a deputy sheriff dead in the process, one newspaper account reported that the latest killings brought the total number of people killed in the Taney County area since the Civil War to 72. I have seen similar figures cited in accounts of the Bald Knobbers' activities. In fact, it was the lawlessness that pervaded the county in the post-war years that led to creation of the Bald Knobbers. However, I suspect that 72 is a highly exaggerated estimate of the actual number of people killed in Taney County from 1865 to 1892. Regardless of the actual number, though, Taney County was most assuredly a rough territory in the late 1800s, as the Bright incident attests. Although it is sometimes chronicled in accounts of Taney County's Bald Knobber era violence, the Bright episode actually came a few years later and had nothing to do with the Bald Knobbers.
On March 6, John Bright reportedly took a gun and followed his wife to a spring on the Bright property. The couple's children heard a gunshot, and a few minutes later the father came back alone and told them that their mother had been shot by someone at the spring and warned them not to go near the spring as they might get hurt. He then reportedly filled his pockets with eggs and left the house with his gun in hand. Soon afterwards, the children went to the spring, found their mother dead, and sounded an alarm. A posse of about fifty or sixty men quickly organized and went in search of Bright. A Springfield newspaper speculated that when they found the culprit, "Judge Lynch (would) preside."
Sure enough, the newspaper was right. Bright was apprehended on or about March 11 and transported to Forsyth, where a preliminary hearing was held on Saturday the 12th. That evening, a mob of about 30 to 40 men (one estimate said as many as 100) gathered, surrounded the jail, and demanded that Deputy George Williams, who met the group outside the jail, hand Bright over. When he refused and fired a shot into the air to show he meant to defend the prisoner, someone in the mob shot him down. The horde of vigilantes then broke into the jail and dragged the prisoner from his cell to an old graveyard near the edge of town, where they hanged him from a tree. The leader of the mob then reportedly fired a shot as a signal for the vigilantes to disperse, and everyone went his separate way. Supposedly no one in the mob was recognized and a coroner's inquest came back with the usual verdict in such cases, that Bright came to his death at the hand of "parties unknown."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Springfield Female College

The Springfield Female College was an institution of higher learning located in Springfield, Missouri, from 1848 to 1861. Sometimes called Carlton College after its president, Charles Carlton, it was located at the corner of College Street and Main Street just a few blocks west of the public square. It was affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After Carlton's wife died sometime around 1861 when Carlton was about 40 years old, he moved to Texas and started a new college there in 1866 with his new wife and his two daughters from his first marriage as the main instructors.
I recently ran across an ad in an August 1856 issue of the Springfield Mirror that gives an interesting glimpse of the school, as far as how much it cost to attend and so forth. The 1856-1857 school term was scheduled to start on the second Monday in September and run for ten months, with a week off between Christmas and New Year's. Cost for the basic preparatory course varied from $5.00 to $8.00 for five months (or a half-session), and cost of the collegiate course was $12.00 for a similar period. Including instruction in Greek, French, and Latin cost an extra $8.00, and other electives were also offered for an additional fee. For example, a course in painting and drawing cost $6.00. All students were charged an incidental fee of $1.00. These prices seem ridiculously cheap by modern standards. I'm not sure what the average cost of a semester of college is nowadays, because it's been so long since I or anyone I'm closely associated with has attended college, but I'm petty sure the cost of higher education has outpaced the inflation rate. I know it has in recent years, and I think it probably did in earlier years as well. Some things nowadays are not all that much more expensive than they were ten, fifteen, or even a hundred and fifty years ago. For instance, you can probably buy a bushel of corn for only five to ten times more than it cost during the Civil War era. Definitely not so with higher education.
Although I don't know how many students were normally enrolled in the Springfield Female College at any given time, the advertisement said that the school could accommodate over 100 pupils.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monte Ne

Monte Ne was a resort town developed in northwest Arkansas's Benton County in 1900 by lawyer, politician, author, businessman, and silver miner William Hope "Coin" Harvey. Harvey had gained fame during the 1890s promoting the free silver cause. In 1894, he published a book entitled Coin's Financial School, which presented his arguments in favor of silver and gave him his nickname. During the 1896 presidential campaign, he stumped throughout the U.S. for silver candidate William Jennings Bryan.
Located just east of Rogers, Monte Ne began as Silver Springs, but Harvey changed the name to Monte Ne (meaning "mountain water") after he purchased 320 acres that included Silver Springs. In 1913, Harvey started the Ozark Trails Association to promote a system of roads known as the Ozark Trails and to indirectly promote the resort. Featuring the world's largest log hotels, Monte Ne remained popular until the 1920s, when it began to decline. However, it was the site of the national convention of the Liberty Party in 1931, and Harvey was nominated for president at the event. Harvey died in 1936, and much of the resort was sold off in lots. For almost the next 30 years, part of the site was used as a summer camp for girls, called Camp Joyzelle. The camp closed in the early 1960s during construction of Beaver Lake, and most of what remained of Monte Ne was submerged by water when the lake was filled in 1964. However, parts of it are still visible, especially during times of low water. The accompanying photo shows the remains of the resort's partially submerged amphitheater.

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