Posts Tagged With: 1800’s

The Desperado’s Hidden Gun

1869 Smith and Wesson

Pond .32 Caliber Revolver

 

Manufactured by Lucius W. Pond – Worcester, Massachusetts.  This is a single action belt or pocket revolver made from 1861 to 1870.  It is a .32 caliber, six shot, rim fire cartridge gun.  Pond infringed on a patent owned by Smith and Wesson and lost a lawsuit over it.  He was forced to stamp on the barrels of the remaining inventory of pistols: “Manufactured for Smith and Wesson pat’s April 5, 1855.”  This gun is so marked.

 

One of the desperadoes in my latest book, The Shenandoah Sharpshooter, carried a hidden gun like this one.  On page 162, the criminal Canter goes for his hidden Pond revolver. In an instant Purcell meets the challenge. To read the exciting action surrounding this incident and others, order your copy today.

Set in the Civil war, this hero’s journey follows young Stephen Purcell as he takes to the Blue Ridge mountains to avoid the men who took away his entire life.  Armed only with a good horse under him and a will to live, Purcell is tried and tested many times as he heads towards the western frontier.  Action, mystery, romance, and surprising turns guide him to his final destination.

 

Available on Kindle and paperback here: The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Read the first chapter in its entirety here: The First Chapter of the Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

 

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Categories: American History, antique guns, Civil War, History | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Burning of Osceola, Missouri and The Battle of Clear Creek

In September of 1861, Kansas Senator Jim Lane, newly appointed a Union General by President Lincoln, entered Missouri at a point near Trading Post, Kansas. His orders were to lay waste to as much of western Missouri as he could. In Abraham Lincoln’s own words, he was to “put it through.” General Lane had a force of about 1,500 Kansas Red Leg Jayhawker troops to get the job done. Osceola, Missouri, the county seat of St. Clair County was to be his principle target. Osceola was the main riverboat terminal on the upper reaches of the Osage River. It was the jewel of commerce for all southwestern Missouri. The despotic, paranoid Lane would change that, forever.

Lane proceeded down the Marais des Cygnes River to the Osage. At Papansville in southern Bates County, Lane crossed the Osage and proceeded east along the south side of the Osage River through St. Clair County to Osceola. A Union militiaman from Cedar County named Obie Smith, guided Lane to Osceola… It has been said that Confederate Guerrilla, William Quantrell ran into Obie Smith two years later and killed him with his own gun.

The Jayhawkers pillaged and burned anything in their path. The path of 1,500 violent men would cut a large swath indeed. Confederate General Price had left Osceola with only a handful of Home Guard to protect it while he moved on Lexington. The small force retreated after a short engagement. Lane’s men pillaged and stole over a million dollars in goods and money. Lane himself stole a fine carriage and had a piano and some silk dresses loaded into a wagon for his wife. It is said that a Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, one of Lane’s chaplains, made off with the alter, pews, and pulpit of one of the churches. He used them to furnish a church he was building in Lawrence, Kansas.

The pillaging went on through September 22 and 23. By the 24th the town was burned to the ground. A once prosperous community was now left destitute. Only one house was left standing in Osceola. Speculation was that it was just overlooked. Many people left and never returned.

Lane’s army left with a long train of stolen wagons full of stolen goods and commodities. They took with them 350 horses and 400 head of cattle. According to Lane’s report to his superior officers, he returned to Kansas by way of Clinton, Pleasant Gap and Butler.

It is reported that there was so much political backlash over the infamous attack on Osceola that Lane was never given another command by the Union. The politicians finally figured out that Lane was unstable and unfit for command. In 1866 Lane took his own life while visiting his wife’s sister and her husband at their farm in eastern Kansas.

 

Here lies another bit of history: An orphan teenage boy from Iowa was staying with the sister’s family that winter and going to school. He did chores for his keep. The boy’s name was Billy Dixon. Billy said the family were the best and kindest people, and he held them in high esteem all his life. Billy was there when Lane went out to his buggy, got his gun and shot himself. Yes, frontier history enthusiast, he was the Billy Dixon of Adobe Walls fame: The Buffalo hunter marksman, later awarded the medal of honor for bravery in performance of his duties as a frontier army scout.

 

The immense hatred for Union General Lane and his Kansas Jayhawkers made St. Clair county a fertile place for recruitment of Confederate soldiers. Let us go forward to the Battle of Clear Creek, fought in St. Clair County. It was almost a year after Jim Lane’s infamous raid…

 

Campbell's New Atlas of Missouri

Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874 – shows the town of Eaton in Cedar County. A local historian once pointed out to me, the approximate location of Eaton. He indicated that it was closer to Clear Creek than this map shows. Keep in mind that maps of the time were not as accurate as modern maps. Many times the roads shown were just trails.

 

The battle occurred on the north bank of the creek about six or seven miles southwest of Taberville. Taberville is on the north bank of the Osage River. Clear Creek runs into the Osage a few miles east of Taberville. Local historians have said the battle location was one and one half miles up the creek west from Short’s Ford. There is a bridge at Short’s Ford now. That location would put the battle site almost to the St. Clair/Vernon County line and just north of the Cedar County line. That would be approximately a mile or two north of the frontier hamlet of Eaton in Cedar County. Eaton was destroyed during the civil war and never built back. In my research, I have never determined when the town was destroyed, but a good guess would be when Lane came through in 1861. Both an 1865 and an 1874 map show a trail through Eaton and in the vicinity of the battle site.

 

It was the morning of August 2, 1862. A Captain Hancock was in St. Clair County recruiting soldiers for the Confederate army. He had recruited about 200 men. Only 70 had arms which consisted of shotguns and squirrel rifles. Hancock had only one keg of black powder. Hancock figured that the Federals were aware that he was in the area, so on the morning of August 2, he called his men together and announced that they would march to Greenfield in Dade County, Missouri and then on into Arkansas. Greenfield had recently fell into Confederate hands.

Indeed a detachment of 135 men belonging to the Command of Col. Fitz Henry Warren, First Iowa Cavalry, was in the immediate area. The detachment was commanded by captains Caldwell and Heath. The Federal advance found five of Hancock’s men eating breakfast at a local farm. They captured four of the men, but were soon put to rout by the fifth man when he charged them with a six shooter in each hand. The federal advance skirmishers raced back to report and the breakfasting rebels raced back to their camp to warn Hancock.

Hancock began immediately to deploy his men for an ambush. Almost all the Confederates were inexperienced local recruits. A road ran along Gordon’s Farm to Clear Creek. A deep ravine followed one side of the road. Fences and heavy brush on each side made the road on the banks of Clear Creek a perfect ambush site. Hancock positioned his 70 men with weapons along the ravine. Horses were secreted further back into the woods and brush, out of sight and out of harm’s way. The unarmed men were interspersed among the armed, so they could pick up the arms of fallen comrades or those of the downed enemy. Powder from the keg was rationed out to each armed man. A decoy squad on horseback was to go back up on the prairie and induce the Federals to chase them down the road into the timber. One of the squad would hang back using the ‘crippled bird’ trick in case they hesitated to follow. They were to lead the Federals through and in front of the hidden ambushers. Then the squad would wheel into the the cover of the timber and provide flanking fire on the enemy.

The Federals, thinking they had an easy kill, rode right into the trap. A Confederate broadside of withering fire at thirty yards was bound to take a toll. Even if it was from shotguns and squirrel rifles. One story has it that the Confederates were able to reload their muzzleloaders twice and fire three volleys before the confused Federals could take cover and protect themselves.

 

Now we find one of the ambiguities we often find in civil war history. Let us first review excerpts from the Federal commander, Col. Warren’s report to his superiors as found in the The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

 

“I have the honor to report that a detachment of my command under Capts. J.W. Caldwell and Heath, consisting of 135 men, made an attack on a body of from 400 t0 500 guerrillas, near Gordon’s farm, on Clear Creek, corner of St. Clair County.-”

“-Heath took fire on his flank and fearing for his horses fell back. When he was assured of the safety of his rear, he moved up for a second attack and found the enemy had disappeared. -4 men killed and 9 men wounded including Captain Heath.”

 

The informal Confederate report:

“Out of 200 Federals that came down the valley of Clear Creek, only about 120 escaped unhurt. Nearly 80 fell dead in their tracks. Captain Hancock lost one man killed and two wounded. The dead man’s name was Lee Bradley, of Bates County. He was buried there, near Clear Creek, before Hancock’s men moved on to Greenfield. Local tradition has it that Bradley’s family retrieved the body from the grave near Clear Creek and reburied Bradley in Bates County.”

 

 

In 1950 my parents purchased a farm in Vernon County near Clear Creek. It was two miles or less, as the crow flies, southwest of the battle site. I spent many happy hours in the early 1950’s hunting and fishing on Clear Creek. I mostly hunted the upper reaches of the creek. I can remember following coon hounds to the Short’s Ford vicinity twice. Usually we went down one side of the creek and up the other. I am sure I have walked over the Clear Creek Battlefield and maybe even the site of Eaton. I have hunted ducks on the creek and later along the sloughs of the Osage River. I have shot Quail in St. Clair County.

Again, we have touched history along the Sundown Trail.

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, Military, Missouri, soldiers | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Roscoe Gun Battle

I had just finished delivering some farm tractor fuel to a customer. The farm was located along an old country road in the Osage River bottoms just north of Roscoe in St. Clair County Missouri. I was making my way back to the highway when I noticed a large stone in the fence row. It is not unusual to see a rock in the fence rows of St. Clair County, but this one appeared to have lettering on it. I was interested in the things most young guys would be interested in, but I also had a keen interest in things historical.

I stopped my truck and walked back to have a look. The message carved in capitals read: “A BATTLE BETWEEN THE YOUNGERS AND DETECTIVES OCCURRED HERE, MAR. 17, 1874. KILLED JOHN YOUNGER, E. B. DANIELS AND CAPT. LULL – CWA 1934”.

Stone

For many decades this stone in the fence row alongside an old country road was the only marker of the Pinkerton -Younger gun battle.

I was aware that the James-Younger gang had family connections to the Monegaw Springs and Chalk Level area. As a teenager I had even visited Monegaw Springs and explored the nearby cave.

Cave

Local tradition has it that this cave had a secret passage used by the James-Younger Gang to access the Osage River. Trust me, it does not have a secret passage. I explored it several times as a teenager.
Monegaw Springs Cave, a blend of myth and reality, a fun memory along the Sundown Trail.

Back then, I was not aware of the Roscoe Gun battle. Finding that marker years later made me happier than if I had found a twenty dollar bill at the side of the road. I have continued researching the gun battle over the years…

 

The year was 1874. After the Gads Hill train robbery in January, Frank and Jesse James returned to their home area near Kearney, in Clay County, Missouri. James and John Younger were miles away in the Monegaw-Roscoe vicinity in St. Clair County, Missouri area by March. A Pinkerton detective, operating covertly as a farmhand seeking employment, was set upon and killed on a Jackson County road by parties unknown. Allen Pinkerton blamed Frank and Jesse James, and the Pinkerton Agency was desperate to capture or kill members of the James-Younger gang. Two men were assigned to pursue the Younger brothers: Louis J. Lull, a former Chicago police Captain turned Pinkerton detective; and another Pinkerton detective, James Wright.

After several weeks the detectives were directed to refocus on St. Clair County and the Monegaw Springs area. Arriving in Osceola, the St. Clair County seat, the detectives took rooms at the Commercial Hotel and began to visit with locals. The detectives pretended to be cattle buyers. They enlisted the guide services of 23-year-old Ed Daniels, a part time deputy sheriff. Captain Lull used an alias of “W. J. Allen.” Wright was a former Confederate soldier and decided to use his real name in case he ran into an old acquaintance.

Just thirteen years before, Osceola had been ravished, looted, and burned to the ground by the Kansas Jay Hawker Federalist force led by General Jim Lane. The townspeople were polite, but strangers in their midst were met with silence and suspicion. After a few days the detectives and their guide traveled twelve miles southwest of Osceola to Roscoe and took rooms in the Roscoe House Hotel. The owner of the hotel was Oliver Burch. Local historians believe that Burch rode with Quantrill during the war.

On the evening of March 16, 26-year-old James Younger and 23-year-old John Younger attended a dance at the Monegaw Springs hotel, a large log and frame three-story building. They danced, drank, and had a good time. After the dance, the brothers rode about three miles southeast to the Negro Settlement and stayed overnight with long time family friends John and Hannah McFerrin. The McFerrins were a much respected family at the settlement and were long time friends of the Younger family. Aunt Hannah, as she was affectionately called, was known for the Persimmon beer she made. The boys slept late and after visiting with the McFerrins, proceeded on down the road in a southeasterly direction to the Theodrick Snuffer home. They tied their horses out of sight behind the chicken house and loosened the cinches. Theodrick Snufffer was a close friend to the boys grandfather, Charles Younger, who lived in the Chalk Level area. To avoid capture, the Younger brothers were following a regimen of visiting family and friends briefly and moving on.

 

Meanwhile, back at Roscoe, Lull, Wright, and Daniels left the hotel just after noon. The trio crossed the Osage River on the ferry and proceeded north on the Chalk Level road. After a short distance they turned east on a narrow road, passed the Benton Green schoolhouse, and headed for the Theodrick Snuffer farm. It is believed they had a tip from an undisclosed source. Lull, using his alias of Allen the cattle buyer, would look the place over.

Inquiring at the hotel, Lull learned that a Widow Sims might have some cattle for sale. He also learned she lived on down the road north of Snuffers. Nearing the Snuffer farm, Wright decided to drop behind because he feared that he might be recognized. After all, Snuffer’s son had fought on the Confederate side too.

The Younger brothers were just sitting down to late dinner with the Snuffers when they heard the sound of horses approaching. Jim and John climbed a ladder into the attic and peered out at the riders through a crack between the logs. Wright rode on past the house and on into a wooded patch up the road. From astride his horse Lull hailed the house.

Snuffer opened the door cautiously and stepped outside. Lull dismounted and asked, “Sir can you direct me to the Sims place?”

Snuffer asked, “Do you mean Col. Sims over by Monegaw Springs?”

“We were told that a Mrs. Sims had some stock for sale and that is the place we would like to find,” Lull replied.

As John and Jim watched the two men below they noted that both men were well-armed. Lull just did not look like he belonged to the area. They also noticed that Daniels was visibly nervous.

Snuffer gave the riders directions to Widow Sims farm and returned to the house as Lull remounted his horse. It was a few minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon. Lull and Daniels rode off at a leisurely gait. Jim and John returned from the attic.

Jim asked, “What do you make of that, Theodrick?”

“I dunno, they didn’t go the direction that I gave them,” Snuffer replied.

The riders had joined Wright and turned left onto a wagon road and proceeded in a northwest direction. The road taken would go by the McFerrin home and come out near the forks of the Monegaw and Chalk Level roads. The Sims’ farm was in the opposite direction almost a mile straight north of Snuffers.

The Younger brothers were at once very suspicious of the strangers.

“Jim, let’s go see who they are,” John said.

Jim the older of the two, said, “No, let them go on. There is no use in asking for trouble.” John kept insisting that the strangers should be checked out. Jim gave in. They went to their concealed horses, jerked the cinches tight, mounted up, and left in fast pursuit of the detectives. About a quarter of a mile from the McFerrin house the two detectives and their guide rode through a grove of smaller trees. Hearing hoof beats they turned to find the Youngers coming fast upon them.

John Younger was carrying a double barrel shotgun. In addition to the cocked shotgun, both men carried several pistols each. Wright, riding a considerable distance in front, could have turned left or right into the timber and flanked the Youngers using his two double action pistols to cover them in a crossfire if need be. Instead he put the spurs to his horse and ran. Jim Younger considered that as confirmation that he was a lawman and fired at the fleeing Wright. Even though he had a considerable lead, the pistol bullet took Wright’s hat off and only hurried the thoroughly scared detective along.

Lull and Daniels remained steady under the threatening muzzle of John’s shotgun. The Youngers ordered Lull and Daniels to drop their pistols on the ground and they complied. Jim dismounted and picked up the guns. Pinkerton’s detectives carried English-made Tranter revolvers. The guns are odd-looking but smooth-working double action guns. Lull carried two of these pistols on his belt. The Tranters were a dead giveaway that they were Pinkerton men. Jim commented, “John, these are fine guns. It is sure nice of these boys to make us a present of them.”

Tranter

The English made Tranter revolver was preferred by Allen Pinkerton and most of his detectives carried Tranters.
Side note: This image is on a mouse pad available for purchase here:
Amazon.com – Tranter Revolver Mouse Pad

“Where are you fellas from?” asked Jim.

“We are from Osceola,” Lull answered.

“What are you doing here?”

“Just rambling around.”

“Are you sure you are not detectives looking for someone? I believe I have seen you over at the Springs,” John said.

“No,” said Daniels. “My name is E. B. Daniels and I can prove who I am and where I am from.”

“Then why in the hell are you carrying all these side arms?” asked John.

“Good God,” pleaded Daniels. “Doesn’t every man traveling through the country carry guns, and don’t I have a right to carry a gun as anyone?”

“That is enough of that,” answered John. “Let’s not have any of that smart talk.” John raised the shotgun in a threatening manner. Then something distracted John, possibly his horse, and he slightly lowered the shotgun.

Lull took advantage of the distraction. He reached for a hidden 32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and shot John in the throat.

Smith and Wesson

This Smith and Wesson, Old Model two is the type of pistol Lull used to shoot John Younger. This is the six inch barrel version. Lull’s hidden gun probably was a four inch barrel model.

As Lull’s startled horse started to run, John fired the shotgun and hit Lull in the left shoulder and arm. Lull tried to change rein hands to control his horse as Jim also fired at him but missed. Jim then turned his weapon on Daniels and fired. Daniels fell from the saddle with a mortal wound in the throat, dying almost as soon as he hit the ground. Lull rode through some nearby trees, still trying to control his horse. His horse ran under a low branch and Lull was knocked from the saddle. Though wounded, John managed to stay in his saddle and follow Lull. John approached the fallen Lull and shot twice at him. One round missed and the second went through the left side of Lull’s chest. John turned his horse back towards Jim who was still back where the battle started. But John fell from the horse before he reached Jim and expired. As he fell he went over a hog pen fence just across the road from the McFerrin cabin.

The gunshots and battle commotion attracted the attention of neighbors including George “Speed” McDonald as he worked in his yard at the Negro Settlement a short distance away. Fifteen-year-old Ol Davis was cutting sprouts from a fence row nearby. He saw the last part of the battle. Jim ran to his fallen brother and found that he was dead. He quickly removed John’s pistols, watch, and other personal effects.

Hearing a noise, Jim looked up and saw that Speed McDonald had came to the scene. Jim threw a pistol to McDonald telling him to keep it. He asked McDonald to catch a horse, ride over to Snuffers and tell them what happened, and then return and guard John’s body. Jim then caught John’s horse and raced up the Chalk Level road to try and catch Wright. Not finding Wright, he returned to the Snuffers to ask them to take care of John’s body. Jim mounted his horse and headed south to a place in Arkansas where he knew his brothers Cole and Bob would eventually return to.

Ol Davis ran home and told his father John Davis that he had seen a wounded man fall from a horse. Davis ran to the site of the first gunshots and discovered the bodies of Ed Daniels and John Younger about one hundred feet apart. Walking on down the roadway, he saw Lull. Lull had crawled across the road and managed to pull himself up to a sitting position against a tree. Walking up to Lull, Davis said, “It looks like you have had some trouble.”

Lull replied, “I hope I have fallen into good hands, Sir”

“I can assure you that I will not harm a hair on your head,” Davis replied.

Others arrived on the scene and assisted Davis in tending to Lull the best he could. They carried him to the McFerrin’s porch where Hannah McFerrin fixed a pallet for him. After his wounds were seared, he was carried into the house and placed on a bed, in the same room with John Younger’s body. When it was determined that Lull could be moved he was loaded into a spring wagon and taken to Roscoe. He was placed in a room at the hotel and medical doctors were sent for. A rider was dispatched to Osceola to alert the sheriff. Lull was first attended by local doctors A. C. Marquis and L. Lewis. Later a prominent Osceola surgeon, Dr. D. C. McNeill, was called in to attend Lull. Daniels’ body was taken to Roscoe and then removed on to Osceola.

Wright? During his flight up the Chalk road he worried that being without a hat would flag him for the Youngers. He came upon a farmer Thomas Rosbrough and his son splitting wood near the road. He asked if Rosbrough would sell his hat. The farmer said he would for a dollar. Wright bought the hat and kept running. He hid out for a day or so and then went into Osceola. He reported to the sheriff and then left town. Wright disappeared and was not seen again. One of several mysteries that occurred after the gun battle.

John Younger’s body was kept at the McFerrin cabin that night. An armed guard sat with the body. During the evening a young women appeared on the scene. She had a pistol belt around her waist. She paced back and forth in the room most of the night without saying a word to the guard. At daybreak she left, riding north over the Chalk road. Local belief is that she was Henrietta Younger, a sister to John and the brothers. The Snuffers were afraid that John Younger’s body might be stolen by strangers or desecrated by friends of the popular Daniels. At daybreak the body was buried in a shallow grave near the Snuffers home.

That night Speed McDonald and Snuffer moved the body under cover of darkness. They took it by wagon to the Yeater Cemetery which was on the south side of the Chalk Level to Osceola road. Members of the Negro Settlement took turns guarding the grave for over two weeks. Even Widow Sims took a turn standing guard. John Younger’s grave has lain undisturbed for well over a century.

When he was alive, Ed Daniels was well liked and had many friends. Daniels’ body was taken to Osceola the same day he died. A funeral was held and he was buried on the highest spot in the Osceola cemetery.

On March 18, a coroner’s jury was called. After hearing witnesses the verdict was reached. The verdict read: “We, the jury, find that John Younger came to his death by a pistol shot, supposed to be in the hands of W. J. Allen (Capt. Lull). We, the, jury also find that Edwin B. Daniels came to his death by pistol shot, supposed to been fired by the hand of James Younger.” Signed, A. Ray, foreman of the Jury.

Twenty-three days after the shoot out, it is reported Lull died. The newspapers stated that his body was placed in a coffin and hauled by wagon to the railroad depot in Clinton, Missouri. But did he die? There are those that believed the recuperating Lull was in danger and the only way to get him out of the area with out harm was to fake his death. That perhaps his wife and Pinkerton friends spirited him in a coffin to a Chicago-bound train. The shifty Allen Pinkerton would have not hesitated to make such a move. Historians cite an overheard discussion between Dr. McNeill and a lawyer friend named Frank Nesbit. The very reluctant and ethical Dr. McNeill had sought his lawyer friend’s council about falsifying Lulls death. There we have yet, another mystery in the real life story of the James-Younger gang…

 

About twenty years ago, I asked the Pinkerton Security Service to let me have access to the company archives on Detective Lull. I contacted them by telephone and by letter. My request was politely stonewalled…

Before we leave the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, I’d like to take a minute to explain a couple of things. In the narrative, the word dinner was used for the noon meal. Back then and even in my youth, in the rural areas the day’s meals were referred to as breakfast, dinner and supper. Also, the location of the Monegaw Springs cave was purposely not disclosed. Exploring caves is dangerous. It was dangerous when my friends and I did it and I do not recommend unsupervised exploration.

And so this ends the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, and we touch history again along the Sundown Trail.

 

Roscoe Gun Battle

In recent times this marker was placed on Highway E (formerly the Chalk Road) at the intersection of the old Monegaw Springs road and the gravel road on which the fight occurred. This junction was called the forks in the old days.

 

Suggested follow up reading:

The Roscoe Gun Battle
By Wilbur A. Zink
Democrat Publishing Inc.
(may be out of print)

A definite work by a local
historian. Good original
pictures. Booklet form.

 

The Burning of Osceola Missouri
Written and compiled by
Richard F. Sunderwirth

The author’s own research, plus
family histories and information
passed down through the years.
Three hundred seventy five pages
of good reading.

Available from: Richard F. Sunderwirth
P. O. Box 543
Osceola, Missouri 64776
417-646-5338

 

The Younger Brothers
By A. C. Appler
Published by Frederick Fell Inc.
(may be out of print)

Appler was the publisher of the
Osceola newspaper when the gun battle
happened in 1874. Critics fault him for
being too close to the Youngers and event
dates are a bit foggy. But, we must
remember that Appler was living at the time these events happened.

 

Historical Information for this blog gathered from the above books and these sources:

  • St. Clair County Historical Society
  • The Outlaw Youngers by Marty Brent
  • St. Clair County Courier, Remnants of the Past
  • The Pinkertons by James D. Horan
  • Desperate Men by James D. Horan

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Categories: American History, History, Missouri | Tags: , , , , , | 26 Comments

The Gads Hill Train Robbery

They came out of nowhere, five men on horseback, their pistols at the ready. The drivers of the stagecoach and the two accompanying freight wagons were not of a mind to resist.

The date was January 15, 1874.  The stagecoach passengers had departed the train at Malvern, Arkansas and boarded the coach for a twenty-five mile ride to Hot Springs. Mainly they were affluent people intending to spend a winter vacation enjoying the hot mineral water bathes and luxurious accommodations the town was famous for. They were rowed up beside the coach and systematically relieved of their money, watches, and jewelry by the polite but demanding highwaymen. The James-Younger gang took a little over two thousand dollars from that robbery. They were Jesse and Frank James, Arthur McCoy and two others. Later it was determined that the unidentified men were probably James and John Younger.

James-Younger

The gang disappeared and efforts to find them turned up no clues. We now know they headed north. Twelve days later they showed up at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas near the Arkansas/Missouri border. They probably had holed up in nearby Greene County. The former Confederate guerillas would have found many friends in Greene County. At Chalk Bluff they had the local blacksmith re-shoe their horses. He wisely asked no questions. They paid him for his services and went on their way.

Back in July the gang robbed a train in Iowa, but their money was running low and somewhere along the way they devised a plan to rob a train in Missouri.  This was to be their first train robbery in Missouri.  They determined Gads Hill would be a good location to hit.  The village consisted of few houses, a store, a railroad loading platform, and siding switch.  Trains were sometimes switched off to pick up loads of logs or lumber or passengers.  Gads Hill was about ten miles north of  Piedmont.  While the robbed train was going south to Piedmont to report the hold up, the robbers would travel north lengthening the distance between them and any pursuers.  Then they would turn northwest into some of the roughest terrain in Missouri.

They followed a route from Arkansas into Missouri that many a Confederate raiding party had used a scant decade before. Much of the area was yet swampland. They entered Missouri near Chalk Bluff and traveled the high ground between the Black River and the St. Francis River.

They probably tarried just long enough to find two more local men to obtain the train schedules and act as guides and lookouts. The area and the people had been savaged terribly by Federal troops. To the west of the Current River a former Federal militia officer, the nefarious Colonel Billy Monks, still held control over Howell and adjoining counties, forcing former Confederate sympathizers to leave or face destruction and death by night riders. To the east in Stoddard County, night riders were active also. Along Crowleys Ridge several murders had occurred. In short the war, for some, had not ended in 1865. In 1874 the local newspaper often had whole pages of abandoned or repossessed property listed for Sheriff’s sale. It would not be difficult for the gang to find a couple of helpers.

About three o’clock in the afternoon on January 31st, 1874, seven masked well-armed men rode into the village of Gads Hill. The store owner was robbed and the rest of the village inhabitants were rounded up. Some accounts say they were placed in the store. Some say they were kept around a large bonfire. Others say a small station house was used to detain them. This writer believes that it is more likely they were held under guard in the store. A bonfire would attract unwanted attention and a crowded station house would have looked suspicious.

The James-Younger gang was well aware that the railroad owners and the bankers had hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to capture the gang and put a stop to the robberies. Pinkerton was becoming increasingly frustrated and was said to be riding some trains himself. They fully expected to find a Pinkerton man on this train.

The siding switch was opened and a red flag readied to warn the train to stop or face derailment on the siding. At about four-thirty in the afternoon the southbound St. Louis to Little Rock passenger train braked to a stop even though the man waving the red flag wore a mask. The conductor stepped off the train and was promptly relieved of his money and valuables. Four other outlaws appeared and boarded the train. They announced that they were there to rob the rich and would not take money from working men and the ladies. They checked the hands of the men for calluses and those with soft hands were promptly robbed. Those with fancy clothes and hats were given special attention. When one lady was found to have four hundred dollars in her purse they reneged on their promise to rob men only and took her money. They asked the male passengers their names and place of residence, checking them closely. They were looking for a Pinkerton detective. In the express car they broke open the safe with a sledge hammer and proceeded to take anything of value from it. The gang collected at least two thousand dollars. Some sources put the amount taken at five thousand.

Satisfied they had found all the money they could, the robbers called in their lookout, and released the train to go on to Piedmont. They stole three more horses from the residents to use as spare mounts. The seven robbers then mounted their horses and rode west into the night. Once out of sight the two mystery men rode in a different direction and faded into the landscape. The remaining five turned right and proceeded to the West Fork of the Black River, carefully concealing their trail. It was reported later that five mysterious riders were spotted near Lesterville about daylight the next morning.

A large posse left Piedmont the next morning after the robbery and picked up tracks near Lesterville. A light snow had fallen that night and aided the pursuers’ efforts. One of three horses stolen at Gads Hill was found and identified. It was in jaded condition.

In the breaks of the upper Current River the gang found a farm that offered food and an overnight rest stop which they paid for. The next morning they stole a fresh horse from their host and were on their way. The next report of strange riders came from near Phillipsburg. Then as time went on, suspicious looking men were seen at Boliver on the west side of the state. The Piedmont posse had stopped for rest at Licking and then gave up the chase. One gets the idea they may not have been too eager to have caught up with the desperadoes. Each of the five robbers openly carried four pistols and in addition several carried shotguns as well. A rifle and ammunition had been taken from the Gads Hill store. The posse gave it a good try. Perhaps after the first adrenalin rush some may have began to wonder just how much they owed the railroad magnates.

In those days it was customary for travelers to stop at farms for meals and lodging. They paid for the services much as we do at bed and breakfast accommodations today. The extra money was welcomed as well as a chance to catch up on current events. When the James-Younger gang took a horse it was almost always reported as stolen.

Before we leave the subject of the stolen horses, let us stop and think a moment. While the fields were plowed and worked by mules or oxen, a horse was a valuable transportation and light draft animal as well as essential in producing mules. The James-Younger gang was certainly foolish to take up a life of crime. They were not fools when it came to the value of the animals. Most likely they paid for the horses they “stole”. The farmer may not have been given a chance to say no but a generous payment bought his cooperation, as well as a poor memory and dim recollection of the direction taken by the unknown strangers. Jesse and Frank James eventually made it back to their home area around Kearney, Missouri. James and John Younger were in St Clair County by March. We will discuss brothers James and John in a later blog.

I was privileged to live for twelve years in southeast Missouri. I worked for Black River Electric Cooperative headquartered in Fredericktown with branch offices at Ellington and Marble Hill. My work took me by Gads Hill many times. I was already aware of the 1874 train robbery before I moved to the area, so I took note of Gads Hill when I passed by. There was not much there. A bar (closed I think) and a farmhouse or two down the road. I remember a huge aggregate pile and rock crusher. The railroad had been cut deeper into the south slope of the mountain than it probably was in 1874. Highway 49 took us southward down into the beautiful Piedmont Valley and to Clearwater Lake.

My great, great grandparents lived in Stoddard County during the 1870’s, a fact that was unknown to me at the time I lived in southeast Missouri. I became aware of that only in recent years. In my quest for more information I searched county newspaper files and legal records for information on my ancestors. I learned a great deal about Stoddard County at the state archives in Jefferson City. Much violence went on there during and after the war of the rebellion. The newspapers seldom reported it, choosing to report the violence and turmoil in other states. In fact the newspaper in Stoddard County extolled the virtues of the county continuously. They were trying hard to leave the sorrows of war behind. And they do have one of the best farming communities and best places to live in the country. I visited the county a few years ago searching for my roots. While there I met nice and helpful people.

My Irish immigrant great, great, grandfather Michael Ryan was set upon, robbed and murdered by highwaymen on the evening of November 19, 1874. The attack occurred near the southwest corner of the current city of Dexter, probably near the location of the golf course. An inquest was held and the murderer was identified. He was never brought to justice. I have yet to find my ancestors grave. My reason for being in America is there, somewhere in Stoddard County.

—Best wishes for the new year.

Gads Hill Sign

Sign along 49 highway marking the train robbery by the James/Younger gang.

Gads Hill

North and south views of the modern day railroad at Gads Hill.

Gads hill track fixed

Categories: American History, History, Missouri | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Kit Carson and Howard County Missouri

“I was born on December 24, 1809, in Madison County, Kentucky.  My parents moved to Missouri when I was one year old and settled in what is now Howard county. —-”  So begins Christopher (Kit) Carson’s autobiography.

Kit Carson

General Fremont was so impressed with his civilian scout Carson he recommended that Carson be commissioned a Lieutenant in the army. A haughty congress refused to commission the illiterate Carson. When America’s civil war started they were more than glad to give Kit Carson an officers commission. At the time of Kit’s death in 1868 he held the rank of General (brevet).

Indians harassed the Franklin and Boonslick community constantly in what was to become Howard County.  Carson notes that his family was forced to remain forted for two or three years, after moving to the Missouri frontier.  The settlers resorted to posting guards in the fields and spending the nights in Fort Hempstead for protection.  Fort Hempstead was located in the hills above the river bottoms just a short distance northwest of the current town of New Franklin.  Carson’s father and older brother took their turns standing guard against the Indians.

Kit Carson spent the next fifteen years in Howard county.  After his father was killed by a falling tree limb, he was apprenticed out to a saddle and harness maker, plying his trade in Franklin.

Franklin became the starting place of the Santa Fe trail when in 1821 a trader named William Becknell loaded up a few pack horses with trade goods and started west with four other men for the purpose of trading with the Indians.  Before reaching his original destination, Becknell ran into a troop of Mexican rangers that assured him that he could journey into the previous off limits New Mexico territory.  Becknell sold his trade goods in Santa Fe for Spanish silver.  The Santa Fe Trail route had been launched.  The rest is history.

The capricious Missouri River washed Franklin away a few years after Kit Carson left, but Howard County remains the birthplace of the the Santa Fe Trail.  Franklin was moved back to the foot of the bluff and then New Franklin was born on the bluff high above the flood waters.

The boring life of a leather worker became too much for the teenage Carson and he ran away to join a group of trappers and mountain men on the Santa Fe Trail.  This is really no surprise because his older half-brother Moses Carson was already a mountain man working in the fur trade.  It is a bit difficult for those of us with agricultural roots to understand why Kit would want to leave the fertile soil of Howard County for the cold of the mountains and sand of the desert.  But, picture a sixteen year old boy, sitting long hours, day after day, straddling a stitching horse, a needle and string in one hand and a leather awl in the other, sewing on harness and saddles. 

Stitching Horse

Stitching horses are sort of a work bench with a clamp to hold leather in place while being hand sewed. Similar versions are still used in modern saddle shops.

The Santa Fe traders coming into the shop were talking about the adventure, the mountains, the money to be made, and those pretty Spanish girls in Santa Fe.  In August of 1826 Kit Carson jumped ship, as they say.

He took a job driving oxen hooked to a wagon of trade goods.  According to Josiah Gregg in his book Commerce of the Prairies, a hitch of oxen consisted of eight animals hooked to a wagon in pairs.  The driver usually walked along side to control them.  Kit Carson says in his autobiography that he received one dollar per day in wages.

As an explorer, trapper and Indian fighter, Kit Carson became as they say “a legend in his own time.”  The skills gained in the Boonslick country and a liberal helping of Howard county grit served him well on the western frontier.

Hawken Rifle

I snapped this picture of Kit Carson’s Hawken plains rifle several years ago. It was on temporary display at the Palace of the Governor’s on the Plaza in Santa Fe, NM. The Hawken shops were located on Washington Street in St. Louis MO. The first shop was just off the west end of the modern day Eads Bridge. Percussion caplock guns such as this one were first produced and marketed in St. Louis in the 1830’s. Prior to that flintlocks were used. By the time Kit owned this rifle he had probably worn out several hunting rifles. Note the worn finish on this one.

On a trip through the western states the traveler sees a myriad of commercial enterprises using the Kit Carson name to capitalize on the fame and heritage of the renown frontiersman.

New Mexico has its Carson National Forest.  Colorado and Texas have counties named Carson.  The states of Washington, Colorado, Nevada, California and North Dakota, have towns named for Carson.  Yet, in Howard County, Missouri where it all began, the only marking of Kit Carson’s passage, for many years, was a neon sign in front of the rustic little Kit Carson motel along old highway 40. Even the motel and sign are gone now.  They were torn down in the 1990’s to make way for the north end ramp of the new highway bridge.

On a recent drive through Howard County I was pleasantly surprised to see the growth in southern Howard County.  New road construction and two new Missouri River bridges have helped spur new home and business construction.  The first settlement on the frontier west of St. Louis and the Mother of Counties is growing.  Mother of counties you ask?  Twenty-nine counties and parts of nine others came from the vast area which was once Howard County.

For years, there was no marker at Old Franklin at all, but recently its place and importance to the Santa Fe trail has been marked quite well.  Where it stood is marked by a flag pole in a bottom field.  The flag pole marks the exact center of the old town square.

Several sign boards and markers now tell the story.  A new building nearby and directly across the river from Boonville  is privately owned by the estate of the late Robert Biesemeyer.  Howard County native Chris Rolphing told me that Mr. Biesemeyer had intended to establish a river history museum there, but he was struck down by cancer before he could finish the project.  Hopefully someone will finish it, the history should be told.

Many historically famous people have lived or visited in Howard County.  I could not leave the subject of famous people without mentioning the beautiful and talented country music star, Sara Evans.  Her home town is New Franklin.

I lived and worked in Howard County for nine years.  I managed the consumer owned electrical distribution cooperative. The people there are friendly, wonderful people to know and work with.  Howard Countians are some of the nicest people I have met on my journey along The Sundown Trail.

Some places to visit along the Santa Fe Trail:

Howard County: Old Franklin site and Fayette
New Franklin, MO
Fayette, MO


Boonslick: Nathan Boone and his brother Daniel Morgan Boone extracted salt from the salt spring there. Old Daniel himself lived in a cabin near there for a short time.
Boonslick State Park


Arrow Rock: Lewis and Clark named it.  The Santa Fe Trail put it on the map.  A restored frontier town.  A must see if you are in the area.
Arrow Rock, MO

Fort Osage: in Missouri near the Missouri river.
Fort Osage


Council Grove, Kansas: in the beautiful Flint Hills area of Kansas.  An Indian treaty made there played an important part in Trail history.  One of my ancestral cousins, Mahlon Stubbs, was an Indian Agent there, appointed by then President Grant.  Stubbs was a Quaker.  Quakers were chosen by Grant for their honesty.
Council Grove, KS


Pawnee Rock: an interesting place out in the middle of the Kansas plains.  Josiah Gregg climbed the rock and counted three thousand buffalo on the surrounding plains before he stopped counting.  The grave on top is listed as Kit Carson.  It may be a Carson, but it is not Kit.  He is buried in Taos, New Mexico.
Pawnee Rock, KS


Bent’s Old Fort: Near La Junta, Colorado. Another must see.  Great for children. Completely restored on theoriginal foundations.  A fabulous bit of history.  Kit Carson worked there as their hunter, meat provider.  When I visited during the summer months they had re-enactors working at the daily fort activities.  National Park Service operates it.
Bent’s Old Fort


Taos, New Mexico: Visit Kit and Josepha Jaramillo Carson’s humble home, now a museum.  Don’t miss the Rio Grande gorge just west of town on 64 hwy.
Taos, NM


Santa Fe: It is just a dandy place to visit.  Check out The Governor’s Palace museum on the Square.  Native Americans sell their jewelry crafts on the sidewalk.  Traders brought their wagons loaded with trade goods into town on the street in front of the La Fonda Hotel.  That is where the trail ended.
Santa Fe, NM


Santa Fe Trail links:
Santa Fe Trail – National Park Service
Santa Fe Trail Association
Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned, KS

Recommended reading:

The Commerce of the Prairies
By Josiah Gregg
buy at Amazon.com


Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico
By Susan Shelby Magoffin
First woman over the trail,  her diary.
A young woman newly married to a Santa Fe
trader.  A woman’s perception is keener than a mans.  A good read.
buy at Amazon.com

Categories: American History, History, Missouri, travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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