Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice

Why did I write the book?

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First, I started working on this book in the beginning of 2008 because it is one of the many chronicles that originated from the Ozarks.  Growing up in Ozark County, Missouri, the events of the Bald Knobbers had always held my fascination.

There is one book out currently that was written in 1988 by Elmo Ingenthron and Mary Hartman called Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier.  This is a classic book that I have read many times, and I am not trying to imitate it.  These authors actually inspired me to cull out the articles that the people actually read in their local newspapers reporting the saga, piece by piece.  Therefore, over the past five years, I have read and compiled over six hundred old newspaper articles concerning the Bald Knobbers.  Many were repeated in similar wording and fashion.  During my research, I have distilled the Bald Knobber saga into forty-nine chapters. Many chapters are a compilation of two to five articles. 

Wichita Eagle, “Bungling Work,” May 11, 1889.

The purpose of this book is to present the original understanding from the newspaper articles that covered the 1880s and ’90s perspectives of the Bald Knobbers.  Additionally, these stories are for the readers to glean for themselves the facts & fancies as people from that era did.

Atchison Daily Globe, “Grieved in Spirit,” March 18, 1887.

Some of the sources I used for research are:
  • Chronicling America Newspaper Collection
  • California Digital Newspaper Collection
  • Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection
  • Library of Congress
  • Missouri Digital Newspaper Collection
  • Oklahoma Digital Newspaper Collection
The crimes and punishments are documented in graphic detail.
  • Lynchings
  • Hangings
  • Shootouts
Contains interviews, letters, confessions & testimonies:
  • Charlie Graves
  • C. O. Simmons
  • Joe Inman Interviewed
  • Dave Walker
Contains the anthropology of everyday life in the Ozarks:
  • Chapter:   An Ozark Bald Knobber’s cabin & what it contained inside.
Preserves the local Ozark vernacular & statements:
  • “Hold up yer hands,” they yelled at Will Edens. 
  • “Now pop it to him.”
  • “Shet up yer damn head!”
  • "Ef’er’s bin murder done, ‘twzn’t done by God-fearin’ people, ‘n them Sherriffs  ‘n people’e jes’ token off Bapsises ‘n Christianses, ‘n even poo’ Parson Simmons, ‘s wuz’s powful a preacher’s ever wuz heard yereabouts."
o   Translation: If there’s been murder done, it wasn’t done by God fearing people.  And them sheriffs and people are just taking off Baptists and Christians and even poor Parson Simmons, who’s a powerful a preacher there ever was heard hereabouts.

  • "Them ‘ere homesteaders comin’ down yereabouts just want to run out us old settlers as’s lived yere for years, ‘n’s homes’ ‘n bin a-grwn’ of us up jes’ like them ‘ere trees."

o   Translation: Them there homesteaders coming down hereabouts just want to run out us old settlers as we’ve lived here for years, and their homes have been growing among us just like them there trees.

Maintains the spelling integrity of original letters by Bald Knobbers:

 C. O. Simmons quote-
“I want to say this to the people that the god of heaven noes who done that bloody deed and he noes that I, C. O. Simmons, is more ennocent of that crime than Pilate was of the blood of our savier.”

  Bald Knobber’s wife quote –
Ef’er’s bin murder done, ‘twzn’t done by God-fearin’ people, ‘n them Sherriffs  ‘n people’e jes’ token off Bapsises ‘n Christianses, ‘n even poo’ Parson Simmons, ‘s wuz’s powful a preacher’s ever wuz heard yereabouts.

Retains the 19th Century Period Spelling:
        19th Century            20th Century
  • Taney county             Taney County
  • Any one                      Anyone
  • Some one                   Someone
  • To-day                        Today
  • To-morrow                Tomorrow
  • Can not                       Cannot

Retains unique newsprint format concurrent with the 1880’s – 90’s:

                  Green and Eden immediately went out, and as they passed the gate, a single
                 Pistol Shot Was Heard
                 and out into the moonlight, from the bushes rode about 200 Bald Knobbers.
                                                   At that time there was 
                                                  No Jail In Ozark, 
and the prisoners were taken to Springfield, Mo., for safekeeping.

Provides graphic details of crimes & punishments:
  • Lynching & Murder Scenes & Details
  • Confession Statements Unedited
  • Execution Scenes & Details
Documents the Perceptions of the “Hillbilly” Ignorance & Prejudice from the North:
Newspaper excerpt- St. Louis Globe-Democrat [St. Louis, MO] 26 Mar. 1887.
  •         “The men in this country are long, and lean, and lank unusually.  As a general thing they are long-haired as they are long-legged.  When seen walking on the hills and contrasted with their little cramped houses, the wonder is how these latter can accommodate the former unless, as their shapes would indicate, they double up like jack-knives when they repose.  Some of them must certainly sleep with their feet out of doors.  The crouching in the little houses has given them a stoop which adds the impression of their height.  Their skins vary between about the color of the black coffee they drink and the iron stains on the rocks in the mountain roads.  Some there are so hairy that it is impossible to tell where scalp leaves off and beard begins, or vice versa, and their clothing is generally patched to such extent that the patches have completely taken the place of the original material, and a man thinks he’s wearing an entirely new pair of very variegated color, pattern and texture.  The patches overlap each other like geologic strata, but has not been estimated, the age of these clothes can’t be approximated nearly as close as the age of these everlasting hills.  The native is so use to crowding up at home that he crowds his ribs in with his arms in the open air as if he was afraid of expansion, and hurries his hands away down in his pockets.” 

  •       Most of these men are poor, as shown, and ignorant, … or else the new Democratic Postmaster at Chadwick wouldn’t post in his place of notification that “leters unclad for” will be sent to the “ded leter offis.”   

Furnishes biographical & genealogical information of prominent Bald Knobbers: 

  • Captain Nathaniel N. Kinney
  • William “Billy” Walker
  • John Mathews

 Though many of these events spanned mostly Taney and Christian County, I found many stories in the surrounding Ozark region and counties showing divided hearts concerning the issues of that time. 
 Double Click to for larger view.
Galbraith’s railway mail service maps, Missouri. 1898.
Lastly, to the defense of the Bald Knobbers, many started out with good intentions. They had the determination for their freedom to practice their religion, christian morals, and the longing to see justice in the law & court system.  As we look at these historical characters, not only will we discover the prejudice and terror once endured, but we may also discover the darker side of our natures. 

Even in this darker side, may you enjoy your Ozarks' History.

Future Posts:

  • I'd Been Born Again
  • Captain Nathaniel N. Kinney
  • David Walker aka "Bull Creek Dave" 
  • Douglas, Howell & Ozark County, Missouri, Connections
  • Baxter County: One Bald Knobber Hideaway
Anderson, Vincent S., Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice. (Charleston, SC, The History Press, 2013) 9.

Galbraith, Frank H. Galbraith’s railway mail service maps, Missouri. 1898, Chicago. www.loc.gov (accessed April 20, 2012).

Wichita Eagle, “Bungling Work,” May 11, 1889.