Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

German-Americans During World War I

I have occasionally read about the prejudice that German-Americans encountered in this country during World War I (and World War II) because they were suspected of favoring their country of origin over their adopted country. The vast majority of German-Americans were, in fact, loyal to the U.S., but there was apparently just enough truth to the idea that they were disloyal to feed the prejudice. For instance, I know that some German-Americans did, indeed, resist or aid their sons in resisting military service because they did not want to fight or see their loved ones fight against their former homeland. (Of course, people who were not necessarily of German descent also sometimes resisted military service during World War I. See, for example, by blog post of several months ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War of 1918, which was precipitated by the resistance of Russellites to the Selective Service Act of 1917 based on their religious beliefs.)
One interesting incident of German-American opposition to America's involvement in World War I happened in Joplin in the early summer of 1918. A German man named Frank L. Misch was drinking in the St. Joe Saloon on the night of July 2 when he overheard a young man named Albert Thomas telling the barkeeper that he was getting ready to enlist in the army. Misch broke into the conversation to advise Thomas against enlisting, telling him that he was crazy to go to war and put himself up as a target for the Germans. Misch said that the Germans were too smart for us (i.e. Americans) and that if we did not leave them alone they might come over here and kill us all. He added that all his family except his immediate family were in Germany, that he sympathized with the Germans, and that America had no business getting involved in the war to begin with.
About midnight, Misch became so boisterous that the saloonkeeper sent for a police officer, who arrived and placed Misch under arrest. He was taken to the lockup and held overnight. The next day, an agent of the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) came to Joplin to investigate the case. The detective interviewed the young man, the barkeeper, and a taxi driver who was in the bar at the time of the incident, and all three told him essentially the same thing: that Misch said he had two sons in the U.S. Army but that he expressed himself repeatedly in favor of Germany, that he advised Thomas not to join the military, and that, although he had been drinking, he did not appear to be drunk.
The G-man also went to the jail and interviewed Misch himself. Misch said he had drunk about a dozen glasses of beer and one or two shots of whiskey. He claimed that he had been drunk and that his memory of the incident in the bar was hazy. He said he recalled having a conversation with the young man but didn't remember exactly what was said, only that it was something about the war. He admitted that he might have made the statements the witnesses against him said he made but he did not know. A judge heard the case that very day and fined Misch $100 and costs, and the Federal detective wrapped up his investigation.
Source: FBI files

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Springfield Athletes

I wrote a few weeks ago about people connected to Springfield who went on to become famous actors or entertainers. Springfield has also produced its share of well-known athletes.
One who was in the limelight fairly recently is Gracie Gold, who finished 4th in women's figure skating at the 2015 Winter Olympics. She was not born in Springfield but grew up there for the most part before moving to Illinois.
Steve Rogers was a Major League Baseball pitcher who played his entire career for the Montreal Expos (before they became the Washington Nationals) and is considered perhaps the best pitcher in Expos history. He was born in Jefferson City but grew up in Springfield and graduated, I think, from Glendale High.
Scott Bailes is another former Major League Baseball pitcher who was not born in Springfield but who grew up there. He graduated from Parkview High School and, unlike Rogers, also attended college in Springfield, playing baseball for SMSU (now MSU). He made his Major League debut with the Cleveland Indians in the mid to late 1980s and later played briefly for the Angels and Rangers. He now works for the Springfield Cardinals minor league team.
Speaking of people who played baseball for SMSU, perhaps the most famous is Ryan Howard, current first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. A former National League MVP, he grew up in St. Louis but attended SMSU and played baseball for the Bears from 1998 to 2001.
Another St. Louis native who played baseball for SMSU and went on to star in the Major Leagues was Bill Mueller. He played for the Cubs, Giants, and one or two other teams from 1996 to 2006.
There are several other former Bear baseball players who made it to the Major Leagues, but those are probably the two most famous ones. In addition there have been a number of former MLB players who became associated with Springfield mainly after their playing days were over. These include Jerry Lumpe and Sherm Lollar (after whom the Sherm Lollar Lanes bowling alley was named), both of whom died in Springfield, and Bill Virdon, who still lives there, I believe.
Jack Jewsbury is a current Major League Soccer player who grew up in Springfield and attended Kickapoo High. He was born in Joplin.
Jackie Stiles is perhaps the best known female athlete associated with Springfield. She starred for the Lady Bears from 1998 to 2001 and is still the all-time leading career scorer in women's major college basketball. She was named Rookie of the Year in the WNBA in 2001, but a series of injuries curtailed her pro career. She is now an assistant coach, I believe, for the Bears.
Speaking of basketball players, Anthony Tolliver is a current NBA player who graduated from Kickapoo and helped the Chiefs win the state championship in 2002-2003. All five starters on that team went on to play college ball, three of whom played major college ball. One of the non-starters, an underclassman, also went on to play major college basketball. To illustrate how good the team was, Tolliver was widely considered perhaps the fourth best player on the team. I remember watching the team play Joplin High in Joplin when Tolliver and his classmates were seniors, and I was one of those who felt he was no better than the fourth best player on the team. However, he went on to Creighton University and worked very hard to get better, and the work paid off.
When I wrote about people from Springfield who went on to become famous entertainers, I mentioned that I rubbed shoulders (figuratively speaking) with Tess Harper, when she and I did our student teaching at the same time at Greenwood Laboratory School in the spring of 1972. I also rubbed shoulders, so to speak, with a future famous athlete during my student teaching at Greenwood. Payne Stewart was a freshman at Greenwood at the time, and he was a student in one of my classes. I don't remember that much about him except that I remember he was in my freshman English class. Stewart, of course, went on to become a professional golfer who won eleven PGA events, including three majors, before dying in an airplane crash in 1999. A section of Interstate 44 that runs through the north edge of Springfield is now named after Stewart.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Execution of John F. Abshire

Union authorities in Missouri usually considered all Southern fighters who were not in full Confederate uniform and acting in coordination with a large army to be guerrillas who should be treated as outlaws. The guerrillas themselves, however, usually did not see themselves as outlaws and, to the contrary, usually saw themselves as legitimate combatants. The case of John F. Abshire, who was executed at St. Louis in October of 1864, is instructive on this topic.
Originally from Arkansas, Abshire moved with his family to southeast Missouri not long before the Civil War broke out. He joined the Missouri State Guard near the outset of the war and served, according to his own later statement, about four and a half months in Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson's division. He then returned home for several months before enlisting in the Confederate Army, serving under a Captain Townsend in a regiment commanded by a Colonel Fielding. Apparently, however, the unit did not operate as a regular unit of the CSA, at least not during the whole time Abshire was a member of it, because, according to the Union side of the story, Abshire was operating in Wayne County in January of 1863 with a band of guerrillas led by one Captain Ellison. (Confederate service records show that an S. Ellison served in the same regiment, the consolidated 3rd and 5th Missouri Cavalry, as a Captain M. Townsend. So, this might have been the unit to which Abshire also belonged.) It's likely Ellison's men were already members of the Confederate Army in January of 1863 or at least that Ellison was recruiting them for the purpose of enlisting them in the CSA. At any rate, Abeshire and a large number of fellow Rebels were captured at Bloomfield in late January, taken to St. Louis as prisoners, on to the military prison at Alton, Illinois, and finally to City Point, Virginia, to be exchanged. After he was exchanged, he was sent from Richmond to Mississippi and was among the Confederate soldiers surrendered by General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg in early July of 1863.
After being taken prisoner a second time, Alshire, according to his own later story, decided he did not want to be exchanged again but instead wanted to get out of the Southern army and become a Union man (as was not uncommon during the Civil War in Missouri). He was taken to Camp Morton, Indiana, where he made arrangements to join the Union Army. The day before he was to be released from custody for the purpose of joining the Union Army, however, he was taken to St. Louis and locked up at Gratiot Street Prison but for what reason he did not know.
After his capture someone had recognized him as having been a member of Ellison's band, and he was charged with operating as a guerrilla against the rules of war and with killing a man named William Hayes in Wayne County the previous January. Alshire was tried by military commission at St. Louis in the late summer of 1863. The main witness against him was a man named Davidson, at whose home the murder of Hayes reportedly took place. The defendant pled guilty to the specification but not guilty to the charge. In other words, he essentially agreed that he had done what he was accused of doing, but he denied that what he had done was a crime. His story was that Hayes was among a group of Unionists who had been taken prisoner, that he (Abshire) was among those detailed to guard the prisoners, that Hayes was shot when he attempted to escape, but that he (Abshire) was not the guard who actually did the shooting. Abshire said he did not try to mount a defense when he was first informed of the charges against him because he did not take them seriously and did not think others would either. He was very surprised that Davidson testified against him, he said, because he had been acting as a legitimate Confederate soldier. Not surprisingly, the military commission saw otherwise. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Abshire was originally scheduled to hang in March of 1864, but the sentence was temporarily suspended after the condemned man appealed to Union authorities that he had not seen his wife nor his parents in seventeen months and asked that his life be spared long enough to allow them to travel from St. Genevieve and St. Francois counties to visit him before his execution. His father and his wife arrived shortly after the stay of execution was granted, and his wife remained in St. Louis during the time he awaited execution. I have thus far seen no evidence to indicate whether his mother also came to see him. In May of 1864, the execution was suspended again after Abshire's friends and family submitted a petition on his behalf asking that the case be referred to President Lincoln for his review.
Lincoln approved the sentence about September or early October of 1864, and a new execution date was set for October 14. A few days prior to the execution date, Abshire was moved from the Alton Military Prison (where he had been imprisoned after his conviction) back to Gratiot Street Prison to await the fateful hour. At about half past one p.m. on the 14th, the condemned man was taken to the city jail yard where a scaffold awaited him. According to a report in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat the following day, Abshire walked to the gallows "with a firm step" and betrayed no sign of fear or other visible emotion. He stared calmly at the officer in charge of the execution as the officer read the charges against him and the findings of the military commission, and he also watched calmly as the noose was prepared. Then he stood and addressed those assembled to witness the execution. He repeated that he was innocent of the charges against him and said he had "never been nothing more than a Confederate soldier." After kneeling for a prayer beside a minister of the Christian Church who was acting as his spiritual advisor, he again stood and spoke a second time, this time with more emotion, saying that he regretted dying only on account of his wife and other family members who were "weeping and moaning" for him. He said it was through his ignorance that he failed to get witnesses to testify on his behalf and repeated that he had not thought Davidson would testify against him. "I hope to meet you all in a better world," he concluded as he motioned to the executioner that he was ready. He stepped firmly upon the trap door and a cap was drawn over his head. "Tie it so it will kill me quick," he said as the noose was adjusted. The door was then sprung, and Abshire fell about five feet to his death. His struggle was brief, and he died within a few minutes.
"His faithful young wife," said the Democrat, "who had frequently visited him in prison, took charge of the body, and the earthly career of John F. Abshire was terminated." The newspaperman, who had visited Abshire in prison the day before, described the wife, to whom Abshire had been married about two and half years, as a "very respectable, handsome and tidy young woman." The reporter also said the mother and father were respectable, hard-working people who were well thought of in the New Tennessee settlement of St. Genevieve County. The reporter said Abshire himself, although not well educated, did not appear to have any maliciousness to him, and he felt the young man had probably been misled by others for whom he was not paying the price. Abshire was described as strongly built, about 5'9" tall, with blue eyes, fair hair, a prominent nose, and a ruddy complexion.
By the way, I am participating in a multiple author book signing this coming Saturday from 1-4 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. The owner is billing the event as Wordstock, in commemoration of Woodstock, which occurred 45 years ago this month. Besides me, at least four other local or regional authors are scheduled to be there.
And since I'm doing a shameless plug, let me also invite any readers of this blog who are so inclined to like my author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryWood.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

General Rosecrans's General Orders No. 107

On June 28, 1864, General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, issued General Orders No. 107 in response to what he called the "plundering, robbery and arson" that prevailed throughout Missouri, despite the fact that no significant battle had occurred in the state in well over a year. The general's aim was to eradicate "those who, in violation to any law of war and humanity, under the title of Confederate soldiers, guerrillas and bushwhackers, invade, plunder and murder the peaceful inhabitants" of the state. The order called for all citizens throughout the state who desired peace, regardless of political sentiment, to unite for this purpose. The citizens were to call township and county meetings to elect committees of loyal men who would work directly with Union authorities in giving information and advice to help Union soldiers combat the guerrillas. The order also called for the creation of militia companies made up of men specially selected from the already existing Enrolled Missouri Militia. (This force was shortly afterwards given the name Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia.)
Citizens throughout Missouri promptly answered Rosecrans's call, as meetings were held in virtually every county, if not every county. Some of the meetings, however, were not without controversy. For instance, on July 16 a Radical Republican wrote to a St. Louis newspaper from Springfield complaining that the Radicals had been virtually excluded from the Greene County meeting held earlier that day. The letter writer, who signed himself "Pro Bono Publico," called the meeting a fraud that had been perpetuated upon the loyal people of the county by Copperheads, Peace Democrats (who favored McClellan in the upcoming election), and other conservative Union men such as John S. Phelps, who had called the meeting and acted as its chairman. The correspondent said that despite the fact that the meeting was supposedly a countywide meeting, only a few hours' notice of it had been given and that it had been packed by men who regarded Radicals "as worse than rebels." It was strictly a partisan meeting, the letter writer said, which was exactly what General Rosecrans had suggested it should not be.
The correspondent concluded, "The meeting was not, I think, participated in by more than thirty or forty persons. All we ask is to give us timely notice and fair play, and if our Pawpaw friends in this county can out vote us at a public meeting, then we will let them have the benefit of the victory, and not until then."
Radical Republicanism, of course, was on the upswing in Missouri (and elsewhere) by this stage of the Civil War and would soon come to dominate politics in the state. So, the angry letter writer probably had the last laugh after all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Murder of Jesse Brown

The Civil War was dangerous not just for soldiers but also for civilians, and probably in no other state was this more true than Missouri, where sentiments were strongly divided and the war quickly degenerated into a partisan conflict characterized by raids and personal vendettas. People had to be careful what they said and to whom they said it. Being perceived as helping the wrong side could get you killed. Although guerrilla warfare in the state did not peak until the middle part the war, murderous incidents involving private citizens were not uncommon even during 1861.
One such incident was the murder of 70-year-old Jesse Brown of Hickory County. Late on the night of October 13, 1861, a squad of Southern men that included 23-year-old John P. Claybrook of Moniteau County called at Brown's home in the Elkton vicinity. Brown answered Claybrook's halloo and, opening the door, asked the caller what he wanted. According to the later testimony of Brown's wife, Nancy, Claybrook replied that he wanted to stay all night, and Mr. Brown said okay. At that moment, though, Nancy heard shots ring out, and her husband stumbled back into the house and fell dead. Rushing to the door, Nancy recognized the shooter and demanded, "John what did you do that for?" She got no reply, as Claybrook simply wheeled his horse around and rode off. Nancy later said she thought her husband had been killed simply for being a Union man.
A neighbor of the Browns who also later testified against Claybrook said that he hurried outside after hearing the shots and saw a squad of men ride by his house but recognized only Claybrook. The next day he saw Claybrook with a squad of men whom he took to be the same ones he'd seen the night before, and he asked Claybrook what the shooting had been about the evening before. Claybrook replied that he had shot a dog. One of the other men asked Claybrook, apparently jokingly, whether he had killed it, and Claybrook replied that he thought he had. The neighbor expressed his opinion that Claybrook was, in fact, the person who had killed Brown.
Another neighbor stated that he had also asked Claybrook about the shots he had heard in the middle of the night, and Claybrook supposedly replied that it must have been a dog he had killed "from the way it howled." Nancy was largely correct that her husband had been killed because he was a Union man, but there was a little more to the story than that. Apparently Jesse Brown had been instrumental in organizing a local company of home guards, with which Claybrook's men had skirmished shortly before Brown was killed.
Claybrook was arrested on charges of disloyalty back in his home territory of Moniteau County in January of 1862 and taken to Tipton, where he was paroled upon taking an oath of allegiance. When word of his killing of Brown several months earlier reached Moniteau County, however, Claybrook was re-arrested in April and charged with murder. In provost marshal records at the time, Claybrook was listed as 23 years old, standing 5' 8" tall, having brown eyes and black hair, and living in California (Mo.) Although I've thus far found no record of the final disposition of his case, Claybrook was apparently executed on July 28, 1862, because it is known for sure that he died on that date. A few days after his death, the local Masonic lodge published a brief tribute to Claybrook, their fellow lodge member, in a California newspaper.
Sources: California (MO) Weekly News, 1862; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Two or More Civilians; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Individual Citizens.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Famous Springfield Entertainers

Last time I wrote about some of the people from Joplin who went on to become well known in the entertainment industry. So, this time I thought I might mention a few people or groups from Springfield who have likewise become famous as singers, actors, and so forth.
One well known singer associated with Springfield was Brenda Lee, who lived in Springfield for a few years in the 1950s when she made regular appearances on the Ozarks Jubilee and became a popular recording artist. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are country rock group from Springfield who gained their greatest fame in the early to mid 1970s with hits like "If You Want to Get to Heaven" and "Jackie Blue." Country singer Slim Wilson was very famous regionally and marginally famous nationally during the 1950s and 1960s, when he had his own TV show, which, I think, was broadcast nationwide for at least a year or two.
Bob Barker, who was host of the game show The Price Is Right for many years, was from Springfield and attended Drury University there.
Perhaps the most famous actor from Springfield is Brad Pitt, who graduated from Kickapoo High School in 1982. Another well-known actor from Springfield, one I was not aware of until recently, was William Garwood, who was a famous star in and director of silent films during the 1910s or thereabouts. Other actors associated with Springfield include John Goodman, who graduated from Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State) in 1975. One of his best known roles was opposite Roseanne Barr on the Roseanne TV show. He has also made numerous movies and is known for his guest appearances on Saturday Night Live. Kathleen Turner also attended Missouri State in the early to mid 1970s. In fact, she was born in Springfield but grew up mostly overseas, since her father worked for the Foreign Service. She became famous in the 1980s with roles in such movies as Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, and Prizzi's Honor.
Another well-known actress with Missouri State connections that I've always had a particular interest in is Tess Harper (photo below). She grew up in Mammouth Springs, Arkansas, and graduated in 1972 from Missouri State, where she was very active in theater. In the spring of 1972, she and I did our student teaching at the same time and under the same supervising teacher at Greenwood, the university's laboratory school, she in speech and drama and I in English. (I had previously taught a year on a temporary certificate, been to Vietnam, and was back in school finishing up my master's degree and my teaching accreditation, while she was just graduating.) I recall that she was very irregular in her attendance and didn't seem to care whether she did well in her student teaching or not. One day I said something to her about her missing a lot of days or made a similar observation, and her reply was that she didn't care if she made a poor grade in student teaching or not because she wasn't going to be a teacher, she was going to be an actress. I remember thinking at the time, "Yeah, sure," but I didn't say anything to dispute the notion. And sure enough, ten years later or so I saw her name in the Hollywood limelight when she starred opposite Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. Later, I believe, she received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her role in Crimes of the Heart, which starred Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, and Diane Keaton. One of her more recent roles was in No Country for Old Men.
John Goodman's time at Missouri State overlapped both Tess Harper's and Kathleen Turner's, and he worked with each of them at separate times, I think. However, I believe Tess Harper was already gone from MSU by the time Kathleen Turner arrived.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pauline Starke

I have known for a long time that several people who went on to become well known in the entertainment and film industry were born in or otherwise had connections to Joplin. Ones that come immediately to mind include Dennis Weaver (Chester on Gunsmoke), Robert "Bob" Cummings (who starred in movies and had his own TV show during the 1950s), and Percy Weinrich, a ragtime composer in the early 1900s known for such songs as "Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet"), and John Beal, a serious actor who played opposite famous actresses like Helen Hayes and Katharine Hepburn during the 1930s. One famous actress from Joplin that I, however, was not aware of until very recently was Pauline Starke (photo below). She was born in Joplin in 1901 and went on to star in silent films during the late 1910s when she was just a teenager. Her fame continued into the early and mid-1920s but began to peter out in the late 1920s. She lived until 1977, however, dying in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 76.
There might be one or two other lesser known people from Joplin who succeeded in show business or the entertainment business, but these, I think, are the main ones. Certainly there were other famous people, such as the poet Langston Hughes, but I don't really consider writing poetry show business, even though Hughes did, I think, sometimes give public readings of his poems.

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