Friday, November 13, 2009

Sweet Youth, Hot Lead, and Bitter Revenge - Part 1

While looking over snapshots of Ozark History, I am always amazed to see human passions replicated in every scenario. In searching old newspapers entailing forgotten history of the Ozarks, I stumbled upon an article which could be an everyday love story, but it dramatically morphs into a Hollywood plot of almost unbelievable circumstances. There have been other Ozark stories of love and tragedy published, such as Shepherd of the Hills, by Harold Bell Wright. Nevertheless, Shepherd of the Hills is mostly a fictional work. However, the story in this blog is not fictional, and it transpires in the heart of the Ozarks…Gainesville, Missouri, in Ozark County.

Apparently, this story caught someone’s attention somewhere, since the story made it to the East and West Coast newspapers. I found this story in New York’s, The Sun, and Portland, Oregon’s, Oregonian Morning, newspapers. The column transcribed in this blog is from the Oregonian Morning entitled, “Among The Ozarks.”

Before going to the story, I would like to deal with three aspects while looking at this column. These will be the plot, older vocabulary or terms, and colloquial speech.

The Plot…Spoiler Alert!
A young man named Horace "Hod" Miles moved to Ozark County from the North. (When I was a kid, we used the politically incorrect term for these people…”Yankees” or “Yanks.”) This young Yankee turns every eligible lady’s head in the county with his ingenuity, looks, and wealth. This also apparently catches the attention of the other young men in the area…especially the Gibson brothers. The next turn of events ensue with the dance, the standoff, the quick draw of pistols, and the untimely death of the first Gibson brother. As fate would have it, there is a marriage, a baby boy, a set of beautiful & fast wheels (carriage), and subsequently, more Gibson brothers have revenge on their mind. In the background, one can only surmise the undertaker will profit from the whole series of tragic events.

On a Personal Note
As I was reading this story, it was the name of Gibson that caught my attention. The Gibson and the Anderson family migrated from a small place in Jackson County, Tennessee, called Gainesboro in the 1870’s. Yes, I know, it still sounds funny to me…Gainesboro…Gainesville. These families settled in Howell & Ozark County, Missouri, and Baxter & Marion County, Arkansas. The marauding Gibson brothers in this story are distantly related to me. For that story, please go to this link on my blog.

Older Vocabulary or Terms
Here is a list of words or terms that are not in our everyday vocabulary. I have placed an explanation after each term; yet, some may be familiar.
Hitching-post- A fixed post with a ring to which a horse or mule can be tied to prevent it from straying.
Obliged – Thankful or grateful.
Row - A boisterous disturbance or quarrel; a brawl.
Stalwart – Rugged or muscular.
Tenderfoot – A novice or inexperienced person.
Toothpick– Bowie knife.
Trifle – A little bit.
Virginia Reel – A folk dance. The Reel was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1600’s. The Reel has its’ origins in Scottish country dance and the Highland Reel.
Waylaying – Intercept and ambush.
Yankee thrift – Resourceful person.

Colloquial Speech/ Quotes
Here is a list of quotes. Some of these quotes are old Ozark Colloquial speech. I have tried to render an explanation after each term.
Blow of a stalwart fist. – It was the hit of a muscular or powerful fist.
Didn’t have no call to be shootin’ the rest. – There was no reason to shoot innocent bystanders.
He resisted their arch looks. - He resisted their look for admiration or attention.
I haven’t got a toothpick. – I don’t have a bowie knife.
I ‘lowed he war dead. - I allowed/knew he was dead.
I reckon. - I suppose or guess so.
It was the prettiest thing ever seed afore or since. - It was the prettiest thing ever seen before or since.
Jest killed. – Just killed.
Lord, stranger, it was a sight. – This should be plainly understood. I just like the quote.
Lord, stranger! ye orter seed it. - Lord stranger, you ought to see it.
Mrs. Miles…had grown handsomer. – Mrs. Miles…had grown more beautiful.
Thank ye, John, I'm much obliged to you. - Thank you, John, I'm grateful to you.

Lastly, I would like to thank my wife, Michelle, in transcribing this long column. It is transcribed as it was printed in 1888; this includes the grammar & spelling. For example, some words were not capitalized in the 1880’s, as we would do today, such as Christmas “eve” or Ozark “county.” Additionally, West Pains, Missouri, was spelled as West “plains.” States were also abbreviated in an upper & lower case manner, such as Gainesville “Mo.”

I hope you enjoy the article.

The Trouble That an Immigrant Had With the Gibson Family
A Pretty Girl the Cause of the Row and Four 
Dead Gibsons the Result Thereof

One of the peculiarities of Ozark county, says Gainesville (Mo.) letter to the New York Sun, if one may believe what the people say, is that while from one to two men sometimes, more are shot to death every year, there never has been a murder. They are “jest killed.” According to Ozark mountain ideas there is but one sort of killing that could be construed as murder, and that would be the waylaying of a man for the purpose of robbery. If a commercial traveler were shot from the brush by one he had never offended and the simple grip were carried off, the murderer, if caught, would be hung.

The hanging would not cost the county a cent, either. A mob would do it.

The killings that occur are generally so much alike that when the story of one is written out one need only change the names of the parties to the fight to have the story of the next killing complete. There was a dispute, then a quarrel. Next time they met one made a motion as if he were going to draw; the other one was a trifle handier with his gun and shot him. One bullet did the job effectually.

An exception to the rule was the killing of the Gibson boys by Hod Miles. Horace Miles was a Massachusetts man, living just above Lowell when in his teens. At 21 he drifted down into Ozark county, Missouri, looking for a country where there was a game in plenty, a good climate, and where the necessaries of life could be had with little labor. He found what he wanted right here. He was somewhat surprised to find that one of the necessaries of life was a big revolver, but he took kindly to the condition of society, and, being a good fellow and a fair shot for a tenderfoot, and withal possessed of enough money to buy a farm, he was welcomed by the people.

Having Yankee thrift, his farm blossomed, and all the pretty girls of Ozark, of whom there are a plenty had their caps set for him, for he was unmarried. He resisted their arch looks and winning ways much longer than one would have supposed possible after seeing the Ozark girls, and it was not until the second winter of his sojourn here that he fell a victim. There is no telling whether he would have fallen even them but for the fact that another young man wanted her and undertook to run young Miles out of the county. Miles was not of the sort to run. He smiled when told of the threats, and said, having learned the ways of the country, to the friend who warned him:“You’ll swear to hearing those threats, won’t you, at the inquest?”

The inquest followed in due course. Miles rival was Dan Gibson. He belonged to one of the best families in the county, had money, as wealth goes in this county, was good-looking and companionable. But for the girl the young men would have continued good friends, as they had been all along.

On Christmas eve there was to be a dance at the hotel. Gibson invited the young lady to go with him and she declined. She knew Miles would ask her, and he did. Gibson sent word to her to order crape for her bonnet, and she sent the message to Miles. Both young men were at the dance, Gibson arriving first. When Miles came in he sent a friend to tell Gibson that he would rather go to the bar-room and have it settled by the word of a referee than to spoil the evening’s fun by watching for each other all the time. Gibson declined to fight.

So the dancing began, with Miles at one end of the room and Gibson at the other. It was a quadrille, and there was room for six sets in the room. The dance was uninterrupted. Then there was a call for the Virginia reel. Miles started across the room to seek a partner at the same moment that Gibson walked across his end of the room for the same purpose. Half-way across each looked at the other, and both stopped. They were about twenty-five feet apart, and no one near either. Gibson’s hand flew to the holster on his hip, Miles’ to the armhole of his vest. The spectators became dead silent in an instant. Gibson drew a heavy revolver, Miles a single-barreled target pistol. At that-his sweetheart screamed, frightened at what seemed his disadvantage.

Her scream was drowned in the crack of the target pistol. Gibson was knocked off his feet as if by the blow of a stalwart fist, and fell dead from the bullet that struck him square between the eyes. Miles put another cartridge in his weapon and replaced it. Then he walked back to the girls, who still trembled with fear, and, patting her on the shoulder, said as quietly as if nothing had happened: “You must not be frightened. One’s enough."

So it was. The target pistol being lighter than Gibson’s navy revolver had been handled a fraction of a second more quickly.

Miles married the girl within three months. Gibson had three brothers. They had declared that Miles should not live to marry her, but somehow neither of them ever “met up” with Miles during the time, and they were not of the sort to shoot from the bush. Inside of a year, however, two of them had had the misfortune to meet him, and both had been a trifle too slow. Both had made the mistake that cost their brother his life, for one had been armed with a shotgun and the other with a big revolver, while Miles had depended on the single barreled target pistol with signal success. The last of the brothers, Jerome Gibson, lived over in Howell county, near West plains. It was a good deal of bother for him to come over to Ozark, hunting for Miles, and the consequence was that he didn’t come very often. It was three year before they met. Mrs. Miles, in spite of the care of a big boy baby, had grown handsomer, as all well kept wives do, and the proudest man in Ozark county was Hod Miles. He had sent all the way back to Boston for a carriage for his wife to ride in, and it got to be a regular practice with him to hitch up on Saturday and drive to town, whether he had any trading to do or not. Gibson heard of the practice and straightway had business in Gainesville on a Saturday. When he reached town he found Miles’s carriage hitched in front and a short distance to the right of John Davidson’s store. Miles and his wife were inside buying something. Gibson walked over to the store and sopped at the doorway for a moment, looking at his man. Miles looked up and saw Gibson, and stepped to one side so as to be out of range of his wife. Then Gibson came in. There were other people in range, and he knew that Davidson would shoot him if any one save Miles were hurt. Besides, Gibson “didn’t have no call to be shootin’ the rest.”

Walking down past Miles, Gibson made a sneering remark about Mrs. Miles.

“Lord, stranger! ye orter seed it,” said Davidson. “Miles, he gathered that ‘ere twine-holder, and fetched him a rap on the temple that stretched him on the floor quicker’n you could flash your eye. I ‘lowed he war dead.”

But he wasn’t. The two clerks and one or two men carried Gibson out, and he revived in a few minutes. Miles made but one comment:

“That was a rather careless thing to do,” he said. “I haven’t even got a toothpick.”
By toothpick in the country is meant a pocket-knife with a 8 1/2 inch bowie-shaped blade. For the first time since the night when Dan Gibson was shot Miles had left home without a weapon. But he went on and finished purchases as coolly as he ever did in his life.
When Gibson recovered from the blow, he drew his revolver and walked out behind Miles’ horses. There he leveled the pistol at the door over the back of one of the horses, using his left forearm to support eh weapon. He might have got behind a big stump used as a hitching-post at the left of the door, but he chose the horses for an excellent reason. He was sure Miles would come out with a pistol in hand. If he (Gibson) were at the left of the door, Miles could shoot at him without exposing more than a head and arm. If Gibson were on the right, then Miles must jump clear out before shooting. But he was not thoroughly acquainted with Miles.
When the trading was done, Miles walked deliberately to the front of the store. Stopping by the door frame, facing the door frame, he slowly bent his body until he could nod his left eye beyond the door from and back, with a motion too quick to give Gibson time to shoot. That one glance enabled him to locate the enemy.

“John,” he said to Mr. Thompson, who was behind a desk just then, entering up an account, “lend me your gun a minute, please,” He was as deliberate as if asking the loan of a tack-hammer. Mr. Thompson passed over the ordinary weapon of the county, a first-class navy revolver.

“It’s all right is it John?” said Miles, and John nodded.

Once more Miles bent his body slowly out, this time holding the revolver in his left hand, with the muzzle up and the hammer cocked. Suddenly the muzzle dropped just outside the door-frame and a cartridge exploded. The weapon was withdrawn and passed back over the desk without even a tremor or a second look out the door.

“Thank ye, John; I’m much obliged to you. Now we’ll go home, “said Miles, in the same quiet tones.

“Lord, stranger, it was a sight,” said Thompson, with hearty admiration in his voice. “It was the prettiest thing ever seed afore or since. His wife was a sight, too. She just got in a cheer, and never did no more nor just blushed a bit when he was walkin’ to the door the first time. She ‘lowed he might not be going to shoot, I reckon.”

They went out and looked at the dead body of Gibson. The bullet had struck him just over the right eyes. The body was placed in Gibson’s wagon and driven away by Livery-Keeper Beals. There never was any inquest held.

“Among the Ozarks.” Morning Oregonian 28.8816 (27 Dec. 1888): 6. Access Newspaper Archive Access. Baxter County Library, Mountain Home, AR. 11 Nov. 2009 <>.

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