The Joplin American

Joplin is home to Thomas Hart Benton’s gorgeous mural, “Joplin at the Turn of the Century.” It’s rare to find someone in Joplin, or even the Tri-State region, who does not know of Benton’s affiliation with Joplin. Born April 15, 1889 in Neosho, Missouri, he spent his youth in Southwest Missouri. As a young man in his late teens, he arrived in Joplin and soon found work as a cartoonist at the Joplin American newspaper. Unfortunately for Benton, the Joplin American was a short lived enterprise. Financed by A.H. Rogers, the founder of the Southwest Missouri Railway, the paper folded. It later moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where it continued on under a different name.

 Although his motives are unclear, Rogers, a Republican, most likely wanted to create a paper to counter his Democratic rival, Gilbert Barbee, who controlled the Joplin Globe. The two were political and business foes until Rogers quietly purchased the Joplin Globe out from under Barbee’s in 1910, silencing his rival for a short time. Barbee, never one to rest on his laurels, tried to launch a second paper after he lost the Globe. His second paper, the Joplin Morning Tribune, ran from 1911-1913, and often made sharp jabs at Rogers and the Globe.

However, the heyday of Barbee’s political and journalistic power was over. The Morning Tribune was shut down and Barbee went into retirement, spending time at health resorts across the country, and only periodically returning to Joplin. Upon his death in 1924, he left a generous bequest to the citizens of Joplin.

Today the name Gilbert Barbee is little remembered, save for his time as owner of both the Joplin Globe and the House of Lords, but he may have helped spark the birth of a short-lived newspaper that employed an aspiring artist who went on to become one of Missouri’s most famous sons. Ironically, no issues of the Joplin American newspaper are known to exist, but should you know of one – let us know.

Dutch Pete

Peter R. “Dutch Pete” Ensminger was one of the many colorful figures who walked the streets of Joplin. He roamed the mining district between Joplin and the Kansas state line during the early 1870s until 1890. One person recalled, “His feats of strength were proverbial, and not to know of ‘Dutch Pete’ was to expose one’s ignorance of the traditions of the locality.” Unfortunately, like many of the individuals who called the Tri-State mining district home, Dutch Pete left little in the historical record, save for one account left by someone who apparently witnessed his exploits.
 
He was described as, “not a large man, weight about 175 pounds and being about five feet eight or nine inches in height. In his street clothes he would only attract attention by his breadth of shoulder, but no one would suspect his strength. He was very heavy boned, had long arms and unusually large and shapely hands and feet. His features were pleasing and intelligent…sparkling black eyes, dark hair, and complexion.”
 
It was only when he was at work at a smelter that one realized just how powerful Pete was. It was recalled that “The sinews then reminded one of the tendons in the leg of a horse, and muscles played about under the skin like live things.”
 
Among the feats of strength Pete could perform were taking a pig of lead in each hand, (each pig of lead reportedly weighed 90 pounds), holding them out, and then bring them together over his head; lift a 500 pound barrel of white lead into a wagon; and once “wheeled 24 pigs of lead 18 feet in an iron wheelbarrow on a dirt floor.”
 
About every six months, it was said, Pete would “drink enough to submerge his natural good nature and consideration for the proprieties.” Given his strength and size, he presented a challenge to local law enforcement, and it “was as entertaining as a circus to see the ‘law’ perspire in landing Pete in the lock-up, and the task was never finished without the force being badly ‘messed up.’”
 
Apparently the only way that Joplin’s police force could get Pete to jail was to tie him up and drag him, but it often took officers an hour to exhaust Pete, and only then could he be bound and hauled off. Given that Pete was a good natured fellow, officers seemingly chose not to billy club him into submission, as “there was not a man on the force who would strike him with a mace or see him struck.” Pete, for his part, was never known to hit or strike an officer.
 
Pete put the Joplin police force to the test one summer day in the 1870s “between Second and Third on the west side of the street.” Joplin’s beloved L.C. “Cass” Hamilton was city marshal. Together Hamilton and two of his deputies, one of whom was Joe Reeder, went after Pete for a minor offense. Hamilton and his men were described as “large men” with Hamilton roughly 250 pounds and the deputies roughly 200 pounds each. The three officers tackled Pete and the fight was on, but not for long.
 
“Before the dust had a chance to settle, it was seen that Hamilton was down, Reeder down beside him, and the other deputy lying across the two. Someone in the crowd yelled, ‘Dogfall! Try it over!’ and the fun continued until justice was vindicated.”
 
Pete was also known for the odd habit of “taking the conceit out of bulldogs barehanded.” He would “aggravate such an animal until it attacked him, when he would slap the dog and spin him around until he was exhausted or quit.” On one occasion, he tormented a bulldog until he grew tired, then viciously struck the animal, knocking it back against a wagon axle where it lay, unable to get up. Joplin attorney W.B. McAntire remembered that on at least one occasion Pete had suffered a few dog bites during one such occasion.
 
It was said that Pete eventually married, bought a farm, and moved to a Kansas county on the state line. He was reportedly killed in a train wreck between Joplin and Springfield.

Globe Coverage of Powers Museum Lee Grant Exhibit

We previously mentioned the impending opening of the traveling Lee – Grant Exhibit, but wanted to bring to attention some coverage of it by the Joplin Globe.   The article includes a nice list of events happening in relation to the exhibit such as lectures, and reminds us, the exhibit is only around until the 20th of this month!  Also touched upon is Amanda Shurlds, the wife of General Grant’s brother-in-law.  With the impending 150th anniversary of the Civil War about to begin next year, now is the time to refresh yourself with the generals who helped brought about the war’s end.