Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ozark County Bald Knobbers - Part 1

The Genesis of the Story

The prominent stories concerning the Bald Knobbers are generally known to come from the two Southern Missouri counties of Christian & Taney.  These confrontations with the Bald Knobbers are not insular to these two counties alone.  The Bald Knobbers in Taney & Christian Counties in Missouri have held quite a bit of notoriety to this day; yet, there were other branches that had their own leaders, scuffs & tribulations.  What is not commonly known are some of the other occurrences in surrounding counties that add volume to the Bald Knobber Saga.

The Bald Knobbers were not organized nor functioned as a one unit peace society.  Each county in Southern Missouri had their own league of Peace & Order Societies aka the Bald Knobbers, and they functioned autonomously.  We are going to delve into the league of Bald Knobbers native to Ozark County, Missouri.

After reviewing the following story, we will look at the families involved in this story over the next few posts.

According to the book Ozark County, Missouri: Records & Pioneer Families complied by William A. Yates in 1973 from Sparta, Missouri, Ozark County had their own league of the infamous peace society.

Mr. Williams chronicles the diary of Harry Nelson Force in which he narrates when the family of Benjamin & Augusta Force made their trek to Ozark County in the 1885.  Their son, Harry Force, was only 11 years old when he made his week-long journey from Indiana.  The land they purchased was along the banks of Lick Creek in the western part of Ozark County. (There are two Lick Creeks in Ozark County.) 
Map of Township 22-N, R16-W, 5th PM Meridian, in Ozark County, Missouri.
Family Maps of Ozark County, Missouri - Courtesy of
Gregory A. Boyd, 
 Arphax Publishing Co., Norman, OK.
Silas Claiborne “S. C.” Turnbo also mentions Lick Creek in this region of Ozark County in his Ozark vignette, Dangerous Encounters between Wounded Bucks and Hunters and Their Dogs.

Just over the line in Ozark County, Mo., from Taney County, is a small stream that flows into Big Creek on the east side known as Lick Creek.  This valley was once noted for game and hunters of old visited there to kill deer... Lick Creek has its source among the Bald Hills which divide the head of this prong of Big Creek and part of the hollow of Lower Turkey Creek.  This part of Ozark County has not been settled many years.  The people are pushing and enterprising and we see a good number of nice little farms indicating that this section is improving some.  There is also a good school and church house in that settlement, known as the Tannihill house.

The Force family moved within a half a mile away from their nearest neighbor, Newton "Newt" Tannehill.

Platt Map Showing Acreage of Benjamin Force & Newt Tannehill in Close Proximity.
 Family Maps of Ozark County, Missouri - Courtesy of Gregory A. Boyd, 
 Arphax Publishing Co., Norman, OK.
Harry Force describes Newt Tannehill in the most colorful of terms:
Newt was one of the most vainest men I ever saw.  He belonged to the old school of Westerners who disappeared with the pigeons.  His hair hung in perfect curls down on his shoulders.  His high topped boots were expensive and ornate.  He was seldom seen without his spurs, and he always owned a good saddle horse and a fancy saddle and bridle.  He evidently tried to look like the pictures of Buffalo Bill, and he succeeded wonderfully well.

Buffalo Bill Cody by Burke, 1892. 
Wikimedia Commons.
The Force family homesteaded in a one room log cabin built with oak logs for the walls, and they were chinked & dabbed with clay & chunks of wood in the gaps in order to prevent the winters draft seeping through.  A load of pine lumber was brought in from a Rockbridge, Missouri, sawmill to supplement its construction.

According to Harry’s narrative, the Force family moved in about the same time as seven other families.  Nevertheless, these families began to move away due to the threats of the Bald Knobbers.  Intimidation was made by leaving notes, throwing rooks on the cabin’s roof at night, or throwing a bundle of fags/switches on the door’s threshold.  Harry Force believed Mr. Tannehill was selling land to families, and the Bald Knobbers were intimidating the new settlers.  Eventually, Newt Tannehill was buying back the land and making a profit each time.

Newt Tannehill’s current wife, Louisa, once made the comment to Mrs. Augusta Force that the Bald Knobbers were relentlessly making threats in the local area, and the Force family should be wary.  Louisa said she was afraid that the Bald Knobbers would run the Force family out of county as the other families were.  Mrs. Force quickly responded:
Well, Mr. Force went through the Civil War.  He and the boys are well armed and have plenty of ammunition.  If the Bald Knobbers make a raid on us, they will meet with a warm reception.

For several years afterward, Newt Tannehill rarely spoke to Mr. Force.  The Reason?  Mr. Force did not consult Newt in homesteading a claim so close to his own land. 

Years after the Bald Knobber incident transpired, it was discovered that Newt Tannehill was the leader of the local band of Bald Knobbers in Ozark County.  Though no list of this vigilante group has been rendered, it is usually presumed to be numbered by close friends and family members.

In the next 2 posts, we will look at Force, Tannehill & McKenney families involved in this story.

Source Citations:

Anderson, Vincent S. Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice. The History Press,Charleston, SC. 2013.

Boyd, Gregory A. Family Maps of Ozark County, Missouri, Township 22-N, R16-W, 5th PM Meridian. Arphax Publishing Co., Norman OK. 2004.

Turnbo, Silas Claiborne, Campfire Stories: Hunting Series. Editor: Blevins, Bill Dwayne. 2006.

Yates, William A.  Ozark County, Missouri: Records & Pioneer Families, Sparta, Missouri. 1973.

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