Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part II

This is the second half of our brief history on the cyclones, tornadoes and twisters that Mother Nature has visited upon Joplin in the past.   You can find the first part by clicking here.

In the summer of 1908, a small “funnel-shaped cloud dipped down out of the sky” just southwest of Joplin in the early morning. The tornado swept across an area estimated at a quarter of a mile in diameter and destroyed four mining plants: the Ruth, Eden, and Haggerty plants, plus one unnamed plant. Mrs. Jack Armil, who lived in Joplin Heights, told a reporter that she thought she was going to lose her house to the tornado. Although she and her home escaped unscathed, her landscaping was badly damaged. The twister did not raise much alarm in Joplin proper as the Globe failed to report on the event, leaving the News-Herald to publish a brief article noting the tornado’s brief appearance.

The next few years were quiet until the spring of 1911. On a fine spring evening a powerful rainstorm with heavy winds hit the area between north Joplin and south Webb City. The storm, prior to its arrival in Joplin, had already left a trail of devastation across Oklahoma and Kansas. Fortunately, casualties were light. Mrs. Almedia Shelley was killed when her home on Smelter Hill was destroyed by what was described as a “high wind.” Others were injured, including: T.J. Walten, Charles Vancourt, Claude Hankins, and a man named Adkins.

Several decades passed before Joplin was once again in the path of a tornado. On the evening of May 5, 1971, Joplin experienced its first significant tornado. Tornado sirens reportedly did not go off in time until the funnel was on the ground, catching many residents by surprise. The twister tore through the city causing damage along thirty-seven city blocks and took the life of Missouri Southern student Rick Johnson. Johnson was killed at his residence at the Anderson Mobile Trailer Court on Newman Road. His wife miraculously survived. The event was memorialized in a booklet succinctly titled, The Joplin Tornado. You can view the entire booklet online courtesy of the Joplin Public Library here:  http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/digitized/joplin_tornado_booklet.php

Two years later, on the morning of May 11, 1973, another tornado hit Joplin with winds roared through the city at an estimated 70 to 100 miles an hour. Mrs. Lea Kungle, head of Jasper County’s civil defense, told a Globe reporter, “They say you can’t have a hurricane here, but it was like a hurricane.”

Three residents were killed, over one hundred were injured, an estimated one thousand trees blown over, and at least $20 million in property damage. The West Side Trailer Court on West Seventh Street sustained heavy losses. Mrs. Roger Wisdom, who lived at the trailer court, remarked that “The sky was so black, and it seemed to come to a point and looked like it was coming in on you…it was so big.” A ten year old girl, Chris Day, woke up flying through the air on her mattress. She survived without any serious injuries.

Just as sudden as it had arrived, the tornado quickly moved eastward, not to be surpassed in the history of the city until May 22, 2011.

 

Sources: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin News Herald, The Joplin Tornado.

The Age of Zinc: The Wright Lead & Zinc Company

An example of an investment letter, click on image to find larger versions.

The Wright Lead and Zinc Company of Chicago, Illinois, was one of hundreds of companies that sought shareholders to help finance its mining ventures in Joplin. The president of the company, Walter Sayler, was an ambitious Chicago lawyer. A.H. Wilson, treasurer, was partner in a large real estate company and John W. Wright, secretary, was a “mining expert.”

He, along with his fellow officers and directors of the company, sent out circular letters advertising the opportunity to purchase stock in the anticipation that the company would strike it rich in the lead and zinc mines of Southwest Missouri.

The company’s letter must have intrigued a few investors. The stock was said to be a “safe 12 per cent investment; a probable 3; a possible 48.”

The company owned over 500 acres of land divided between four properties. Wright Lead and Zinc planned to sink twenty shafts across its four properties, and expected to make an estimated $40,000 per month before payroll, royalties, material, and other costs, leaving a $20,000 profit.

In case one might have doubts about investing, the letter included a circular with endorsements from various politicians and businessmen, descriptions of Joplin and mining operations, and a selection of “Tales of Fortune.”

Joplin was described as “utterly unlike any other mining camp in the United States. It is a combination of the east and west, of the north and the south. It is at bottom an agricultural and commercial town, upon which has been superimposed a thick layer of American birth.”

It was in Joplin that one tenderfoot, along with his partner, was seemingly hoodwinked by two seasoned local miners when they purchased a piece of land long thought tapped out. But the two greenhorns, not knowing any better, worked their land and eventually struck a new vein of ore that allowed them to buy a new hoist and other mining equipment. Within a few months, they had cleared $33,000 in profits. Then there was the story of a young man from Kansas City who, with $150 in capital, began work on a modest claim. He found enough ore to build a mining plant which he then used to bring up $30,000 out of the mine.

Even Mrs. M.C. Allen, Joplin’s famous mining queen, was mentioned as one of the mining district’s success stories. Having failed to sell her land for $50 an acre, she leased it, and made a fortune. Intriguingly, after telling of Allen’s success, the circular added, “Among the mine operators of the district are several women, and almost without exception they have done well or have prospects of making large profits in the near future. Their lack of mining knowledge is more than offset by the gallantry of the land owners and promoters, who see to it that the ladies who so pluckily venture into mining are given the best locations and every assistance [sic] possible.”

As the circular noted, “One of the richest men in Joplin was once a bartender; another drove a brewery wagon; others labored in the mines or worked in stores or on farms, and had only their hands to work with. Riches came to the lucky ones.”

But the days of luck were over. Within a few decades the mines of Joplin would stand still, only to fade away, leavening behind faint memories of a proud mining history.

Moslers Legacy Not Lost

A couple weeks ago, we discussed the loss of Murwin Mosler’s work in the form of prints and negatives due to Mosler’s daughter’s home being hit by the May 22nd tornado.  At the time, it was thought that every aspect of Mosler’s legacy had been lost, scattered across the city and Southwest Missouri.  It was recently reported that this was not so.  In an oddly termed “rescue” it was discovered that over 25,000 negatives had not been lost, but instead were actually buried in the rubble of the home.   At present, the negatives  are in the possession of the Joplin Museum Complex for the purpose of being “saved” by the permission of Mosler’s daughter.

What the “saved” process entails is the sorting and categorizing of the negatives, which involves documenting the names of the individual in the photographs that date from 1939 to 1986.  This will be done by the Museum Complex’s volunteers, who museum director  Brad Belk notes in the article, “have never done anything like this…”  and will have to create a database to allow for easy search and distribution.  In the end, Joplin residents who lost photographs might be able to find replacement photographs within this collection.  Belk stated he hoped that the process would take only three months.  We expect this is an optimistic timeline given the lack of experience of the JMC staff, despite having an extensive collection of historic photographs of Joplin.  What the JMC should do is reach out to the State Archives staff that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has sent to Joplin.   The State Archives have extensive experience in the sorting,  cataloging, restoration and preservation of photographs, particularly those that have suffered damage.

We’re happy to know that the negatives were not lost and an effort will be made to catalog and document this important part of Joplin’s history.  We do hope that when the Mosler collection has been fully cataloged that it’s contents will be made available to the public at large.

A Brush with History

Senator Thomas Hennings via Biographical Directory of Congress

In 1952, as the machinery of war wound down after World War II, the status of Fort Crowder was uncertain. Area residents were anxious that Crowder’s closure would have a negative effect on the health of the local economy. Joplin businessmen and laborers were no exception. Herb Riddle, president of the Central Trades and Labor Assembly of Joplin, wrote to U.S. Senator Thomas C. Hennings regarding any possible plans the federal government might have in store for the city, as well as an idea of his own.

Riddle suggested to Hennings, “I note in the Joplin Sunday Globe, April 13, 1952, that the government had been looking over various sites in the United States to establish another atomic bomb plant. I believe that we have some very fine possibilities for such a plant in this area which I talked to you of when I was in Washington, D.C., especially near the Du Pont Powder Plant, just north of Joplin.”

Senator Hennings, like most members of Congress, sent a brief response. After thanking Riddle for his letter, Hennings stated, “For your information, I have requested Chairman [Gordon] Dean of the Atomic Energy Commission to give every possible consideration of Joplin as a site for the construction of an atom bomb plant. As you no doubt know, there are certain very definite requirements which a site must have before it can be seriously considered. As soon as I receive a report from the Commission I will let you hear from me.”

There was no follow-up letter.

Be Like The Mick

A photo of the Miners from some time around 1910, possibly at Cox Field.

Long an institution of Joplin, the Miners baseball team entertained Joplin crowds for more than half a century. Among one of their greatest, if not greatest, players to wear the name Joplin emblazoned across the chest, was Mickey Mantle. For the low price of nearly $200 (okay, not that low), you can own a replica of the 1950 jersey that the Mick wore courtesy of Ebbets.com.  It’s a bit of flannel history.

 

Baseball, Not Just For The Adults

While we’ve discovered the baseball in Joplin played by men who were paid, and by those who weren’t, the sport wasn’t limited to adults. In the below photograph, we’ve a team of boys, perhaps a high school team, who had banded together to form a formidable looking team. Who knows, perhaps one of them eventually found himself donning a Miners’ uniform.

Perhaps a high school baseball team from Joplin's earlier days.

 

 

 

 

Source: Historic Joplin Collection

Life in a Railroad Camp


In the fall of 1910, should one have passed through northwest Joplin in the area between Smelter Hill and Chitwood, they would have noticed a large encampment. At first glance one might assume it was a Gypsy caravan, but closer scrutiny would reveal that instead of wagons, the group was made up of railroad cars, including: three bunk cars, two dining cars, one kitchen car, one tool car, one office car, one private car, thirty dump cars, a seventy ton Bucyrus steam shovel, a grade spreader, and four drill rigs. It was described by a reporter as a, “moving city supplied with electric lights and city water.”

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, commonly known as the “Katy,” was building a line through northwest Joplin. The Walsh-List-Gifford Construction Company of Davenport, Iowa, was responsible for the completion of the new line. The company had previously been engaged in Stillwater, Minnesota, after completing a railroad grading project. One hundred and twenty-five men were employed, most of whom were Belgians. They were required to work ten hours a day, seven days a week. Very few of the men had their wives with them, save for William M. List, who was head of the outfit.

List, described as a “heavy built young man of 34, with a world of power in his massive shoulders and fog-horn voice that thunders past the long lines of his faithful employees with an astonishing effect.” List yelled at his workers, “Here you —- —— —– lazy devils, get a move on; you’re too slow to catch a cold. Get busy there, damn you; don’t you go to loafing on me or I’ll take you to a cleaning!”

If Mrs. List had any objections to the way her husband talked to his work crew, the reporter did not notice. She traveled with her husband on his work assignments, although they had a home in Davenport, Iowa. The Lists were joined by John O’Callahan, superintendent; J.J. Hallett, engineer; and C.H. Swartz, stenographer. F.C Ringer of Parsons, Kansas, oversaw the operation of the steam shovel, F.R. Johnson served as trestle foreman, Leo Purcell was the official timekeeper, and D. Degal was dump foreman.

The crew was grading a three and one-fourth mile section of road that stretched into a wide curve from a point on the main line of the Katy to the new Union Depot. The reporter who visited the site remarked, “Although seven working days constitute a week’s toll, the laborers seem to like the steady grind. In the evening, they gather in groups and gossip, or visit the commissary car for tobacco or new toggery. Any needed work garment may be purchased at the camp.” Work took its toll as the reporter could see that more than one laborer was “wearing a bandage about his head or his hand.”

To carry out their work, workers had break the ground using power and dynamite. The drill rigs were used to bore holes into the roadbed to ensure the ground was soft enough. Some of the drill holes ranged from five to thirty feet deep in places. When the holes were finished, they were “squibbed,” which meant that light blasts of powder were placed in the holes to open up the ground even further. After setting off the light blasts, large kegs of black powder and entire cases of dynamite were placed into the holes and set off. After the ground was properly softened up, the seventy ton steam shovel was brought in to scoop up rocks and dirt at four scoops a minute. It was estimated that the steam shovel could remove 2,500 cubic yards of dirt in a day. The shovel would then dump the dirt and rocks into cars situated on a sidetrack built alongside what would become the main rail line. When the cars were filled, they were pushed by a locomotive to a spot where spots needed to be filled in with dirt. The spreader would then be brought in to smooth the dirt in place.

The crew estimated that the project would be completed by January, 1911. After that, their next assignment was unknown, but they could expect to travel anywhere from Maine to California.

Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part I

The tornado of May 22 was the worst to strike Joplin, but it was not the first.

In May, 1883, a tornado swept through Joplin and the news accounts of the event appear to echo recent events. Just this past week, a story about Laverne the cat, who was rescued after being trapped in the rubble after sixteen days aired on local news stations. In 1883, Charley Elliott’s dog was “in his store building when it fell. He was dug out next morning pretty badly bruised, but after a few hours he was alright. There were acts of generosity. E.R. Moffett, who would later die impoverished, walked up to an “old friend who he had worked with before he became a millionaire. ‘Crit, I’m damned sorry, I’m sorry $500,” and then gave a five hundred dollar check to the relief fund. Citizens scrambled to help each other. Judge Byers was “constantly busy distributing supplies to the needy who lost their all by the wild winds.” Doctors Fannie Williams and Mrs. Creech did “good work for the suffering ladies who were injured” during the storm. Miss Fannie Hall of Carthage gave her all to assist the suffering at the hospital. Oronogo, also hard hit by the storm, was the focus of a relief committee made up of some of Joplin’s leading socialites: Mrs. L.P. Cunningham, Mrs. J.B. Sergeant, Mrs. J.C. Gaston, and Mrs. Thomas Heathwood. Together these women sought to collect food, clothing, and bedding for those effected by the storm.

For others, the tornado brought excitement and curiosity. The Daily Herald remarked, “Some of the visitors Monday night seemed to regard the occasion in the light of a picnic. Frivolities and flirtations were engaged in that would have been regarded impudent at a circus. No apparent sympathy was exhibited for the crippled, bereaved, and homeless, while silly children took the place of sober sense.” Sightseers came to stare at a “bushel basket that lodged in the top of a large tree near the railroad track.” Telegraph poles at the train depot reportedly looked like “they had passed through a storm of musketry.”

And then there were those that lost their lives. Preliminary reports reported that the bodies of a Mr. Goodwin and his daughter were killed by the tornado. It is unknown how many others lost their lives.

The next significant tornado to hit Joplin was in April, 1902. The News-Herald proclaimed it was, “[The] Worst That Joplin Has Known.” A wind, hail, and rain storm converged upon Joplin around 4:25 p.m. in the afternoon in an area described as covering “Seventh Street on the north and as far as Seventeenth Street on the south” with the worst areas at Moffett and Bird streets from Thirteenth to Sixteenth streets and at Moonshine Hill. Property along Main and Ninth streets received substantial damage.

The News-Herald reporter must have not known about the Tornado of 1883 as they declared, “As Joplin has never experienced a real tornado, the people were unprepared and as it came upon them so unexpectedly, it as a wonder that more fatalities are not recorded.” Telephone and trolley poles were twisted beyond recognition making communication with neighboring communities impossible. Streetcars were unable to run due to the lack of electricity and piles of debris covering the tracks. One car caught at Twelfth and Main, Car Number 41, was struck by a telephone pole. Passengers inside were “thoroughly frightened and several actually said their prayers.” Strong wind was not the only threat to human lives. The pole was described as having fifteen double cross arms with three large cables and several hundred telephone wires. Workers roped off the street to prevent traffic and pedestrians from going near the car. Passengers shakily disembarked and walked home on foot.

Illustration of the damage from the tornado.

A “solid sheet of water, besides some hail” fell, causing people to hide inside their homes. Willow Branch, the Tenth Street branch, and other small streams in and around Joplin began to flood, leaving many to seek dry ground as the streams became “turbulent torrent[s] of water, mud, and wreckage.”

The storm indiscriminately took human lives and property. It was reported that the two room house of William Hunter, who lived on the east side of Moonshine Hill, was carried for a long distance before it shattered. Mrs. Hunter, holding her baby Esther in her arms, was about to flee the house when the storm hit. A plank of wood flew past and hit her child in the head, mortally wounding it, while Mrs. Hunter sustained serious injuries. Her husband, a miner, was at work at the Dividend Mine when the storm rolled through Joplin. A neighbor, Charley Whitehead, came to Mrs. Hunter’s rescue. Other residents of Moonshine Hill suffered the same fate. Will Douglass’ home was obliterated. Lee Whitehead [perhaps related to Charley] and family also lost their home. The Methodist church on Moonshine Hill was a complete loss.

Arthur Cox, owner of Cox Baseball Park, was one of the “heaviest losers.” The storm destroyed the baseball park’s fence, the grand stand’s roof ripped off, and sustained overall heavy damage. The losses were estimated at $1,000. Cox, however, was not one to stand idly by. Within a day, W.J. Wagy was hired to rebuild the park in time for a game just a day after the tornado struck.

The Joplin Miners

The Joplin Miners of 1902 who temporarily lost their home.

At the corner of West Ninth and Tenth streets, several homes were damaged, if not utterly ruined. An African-American family named Smith lost their house and P.B. Moser’s home was demolished. A.J. Stockton was fortunate – he only lost his kitchen.

For the impoverished residents who lived in “shanties” north of the Missouri Pacific roundhouse between Grand Avenue and the Frisco and Kansas City Southern tracks, their impermanent residences were blown away.

White and black churches were not left untouched. The First Baptist Church was “badly wrecked.” The Methodist Episcopal Church’s South Mission location at Tenth and Grand was “completely wiped away.” The African Methodist Episcopal Church on East Seventh street was also destroyed. Despite being a substantial frame structure, the roof was torn off and the walls subsequently caved in.

St. John's Hospital

The nuns at St. John’s Hospital were “buffeted and blown about by the wind as they strove in vain to keep out the sheets of water thrown against the west end south of the building which stands high and unprotected.”

Property damage was estimated at $50,000 and an estimated fifty to sixty houses destroyed. As soon as the storm passed, “ambulances and relief crews found work to do for many hours.” Mayor John C. Trigg released a proclamation that read:

“To the Citizens of Joplin – Authentic information having been received that the cyclone which visited the city of Joplin on yesterday, caused incalculable damage to many of our citizens and has been especially destructive to the poorer classes of our citizens in many instances to the extent of destroying everything they owned, leaving them destitute, houseless and homeless.

Therefore, for the purpose of alleviating the distress which prevails in the city and vicinity and to devise ways and means by the organization of relief corps, or by such practicable methods as may be suggested and agreed upon at a meeting of the citizens is hereby called to be held at the Commercial Club rooms, on the 25 inst., at the hour of 3 o’clock p.m. to consider the premises and take such appropriate action as may be deemed necessary therein.”

Mayor John C. Trigg

Joplin has always taken care of its own in times of need. When the committee met, it was agreed that many of those effected by the storm were impoverished miners who were in badly need of assistance, and a relief fund was created. Thomas W. Cunningham reported that when he checked on his rental properties in the damaged section of town he found that one of the families renting from him had been forced to cut their way out of the house. He decided that they “deserved the house” and “made them a deed for it.” His act of kindness was heartily applauded. It was thought that the family was that of I.W. Reynolds who lived at Thirteenth and Ivy. Mr. Wolfarth of Junge Baking Company pledged free bread to those in need. Arthur Cox and Don Stuart pledged the proceeds of the next baseball game to the relief fund. The Wilbur-Kirwin Opera Company decided to give a benefit performance for Joplin’s tornado victims.

Joplin rebuilt only to face another tornado six years later in 1908. That story and more in our next installment.

[Conclusion of Part I]

Guest Piece: Chapters Erased from Joplin’s Architectural History – Leslie Simpson

CHAPTERS ERASED FROM JOPLIN’S ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY

By Leslie Simpson

caption for photo: Carl Owen house at 2431 Porter. Built ca. 1911. Destroyed by tornado May 22, 2011 via Post Memorial Art Reference Library

I am having a difficult time knowing what to say.  In fact, I hesitate to even write anything about brick and mortar, when human life, hopes, and dreams are what really matter.  However, since I have written so much about Joplin’s architecture through the years, I feel compelled to say something.  I have had several CNN reporters contact me for interviews, but I have not wanted to talk to them.  First of all, I had not personally seen all the damage.  It is impossible to get around, and I did not want to get in the way of emergency workers nor be a voyeur.  Secondly, I just did not think I could articulate what has happened to my beloved Joplin.  So now I will attempt some general (and unofficial) impressions of Joplin’s historic identity and how this incomprehensible tragedy has affected it.  Also, rather than catalog specific buildings that have been lost, I will focus on three historic residential areas.

I begin with the historic town of Blendville in southwest Joplin, which was established in 1876 as “Cox Diggings.”  The prosperous little community incorporated as Blendville, so-named because of the huge amounts of zinc blende in the ground.  Thomas Cunningham owned the residential area, which he divided into lots and sold at low rates so that miners could afford their own homes.  The city of Joplin extended its streetcar line to Blendville, with lines going south on Main to 19th Street, west to Byers, south to 21st Street, west to Murphy, then south to 26th.  In 1892, Joplin annexed the village.  Thomas Cunningham donated “Cunningham Grove” as Joplin’s first city park.  The tornado took out most of the original Blendville area, including Cunningham Park and the historic water plant with some of the original equipment preserved inside.


The next area of historic significance is “Schifferdecker’s First Addition”, a residential area developed in south Joplin beginning in 1900.  The Joplin Globe referred to the area lying south of 20th Street and fronting on Wall, Joplin, and Main Street as “a beautiful new addition affording the most desirable building property” to be found anywhere in the city.  A second addition continued development south of 20th on Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania Avenues as well as along 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Streets to the east and west.  The residential district continued to expand to the south throughout the teens, twenties, thirties.  The homes in the region ranged from high Victorian styles to bungalows and eclectic Tudors, Colonial Revivals, Spanish mission, etc.  Tragically, this charming old neighborhood has been wiped out.

After World War II ended, Joplin families faced a housing shortage.  Some Camp Crowder buildings were moved to Joplin, while others were dismantled to provide construction materials.  Hundreds of small efficiency houses were mass-produced for veterans and financed through FHA.  Many of these were built in the Eastmoreland area.  As people prospered in the 1960s and 1970s, they built more substantial brick homes east and south of the new high school at 20th and Indiana.  Although most people do not think of these homes as historic, they do have their own place in Joplin’s architectural history, and their loss is devastating as well.

Entire chapters of Joplin’s history have been forever erased.  I have not even touched on the loss of churches, schools, medical buildings, and businesses.   Again, I am not relating the loss of our buildings to the loss of our people.   Joplin will rebuild.  It has already begun.   During the first week after the tornado, I saw a business being rebuilt in the midst of the war zone surrounding West 26th Street!

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and the soon to be released, Joplin: A Postcard History.

The Joplin Advance

Over the years, Joplin was home to many newspapers: The Advance, the Evening Times, the Free Press, the Globe, the News-Herald, the Labor Record, the Missouri Trade Unionist, the Morning Tribune, the Daily News, the Southwestern, and the State Line-Herald. These are just the ones that survived for posterity. There were other papers published in Joplin that, due to neglect, the ravages of time, and lack of interest, did not survive. Editors and owners may have thrown the bound volumes in the rubbish bin, fires may have destroyed them, or they simply crumbled away over time, printed on poor quality paper. There are, for example, no known surviving copies of the Joplin American, the paper that Thomas Hart Benton worked for when he lived in Joplin. There were also many local papers, such as the intriguingly named Carterville Rocket, that did not survive, either.

Of the papers that did survive and are captured for all time on microfilm, only one Joplin paper represented the interests of the city’s African-American population, the Joplin Advance. The Kansas State Historical Society collected and preserved the sole surviving issue of the Advance, allowing us a very limited look at the sole African-American newspaper in Joplin.

The first issue of the Joplin Advance was published on Friday, May 10, 1895. It was four pages in length. The first page bore the following greeting:

“Salutatory:

We have come among you to stay and assume a part of the responsibilities of the citizens of Joplin and vicinity. We will say that we have to profess to make except to do all the good we can and the least harm possible, advocate nothing but [missing word] Republican principles, for the promotion of the general welfare of the Negro race and his friends.

In order for the colored people of Joplin and the surrounding towns to maintain and keep the ADVANCE from going to the walls, it is necessary for them to read every advertisement of the merchants very carefully and patronize only those. The fact is, that no business man wants to advertise in any paper unless he expects to be benefited thereby. The advertisements [sic] is the back bone of a newspaper and, unless a merchant is benefited by advertising in a colored paper, as a matter of fact, he will not advertise. We regret to say, that our people cannot afford to maintain their press, and if we expect to have a newspaper in our midst, we must patronize the merchants who advertise in, and extend a friendly hand to our enterprizes [sic].

In looking over the broad field in this county with an eye singular to the prosperity of our people, we can see a great chance for an improvement, political, socially, and otherwise, and we firmly believe that, if we can bring about the state of things by the publication of a first class patriotic Negro newspaper, dedicated to the purpose of bringing the two races closer together, linking the Negro race in a better union, concentrate our forces, morally, socially, politically, intellectually, and otherwise, we will accomplish a great good, especially among the more ignorant whites as well as the blacks, if they will only read our paper.

W.L. Yancey.”

The rest of the paper was what we would consider today to be AP wire reports, save for one page which mentioned local events, and had a few paid ads for Joplin businesses such as Mack the Tailor, Jones Confectionary, and the Golden Eagle Clothing House. Notably, the ad for Jones Confectionary stated, “Dealer in Candies, all kinds of Fruit, Nuts, and Soft Drinks. It is the only place where colored people can be accommodated to an Ice Cream Parlor. 519 Main Street.” [Emphasis added]

African-Americans in Joplin could find out when services were being held at the M.E. church, the A.M.E. church, and St. John’s Baptist church. Those interested in fraternal organizations could find meeting information for the Masonic Myrtle Lodge No. 149, the Guiding Star Court, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 11.

Most importantly, though, due to segregation, blacks were often at a loss with regard to knowing which businesses they could and could not patronize. The Advance pointed out which businesses catered to African-American clientele, and although we cannot be sure, would surmise that most of the businesses they recommended were owned by fellow African-Americans.

James Mason, driver of general job wagon no. 57, was recommended for one’s moving and delivery needs and one could visit any of three barber shops for a shave: the I.X.L. Shaving Parlor [516 Main Street], the Imperial Shaving Parlor [320 Main Street], and G.W. Potter’s [106 Main Street]. Laundresses Miss Mary Edwards [First Street], Mrs. Graton [620 Joplin Street] Miss Eva Door specialized in laundried collars, cuffs, and shirts. Should you want a new dress, Mrs. Brisco McLerore could be found at 120 Pearl Street. For boarding, Mrs. Lou Barnett offered lodging on Seventh Street “between Kentucky on Penn. Ave.”

The man behind the paper was African-American W.L. Yancey. In addition to being the editor and owner of the Advance, he was also an attorney. In his first “salutatory” message to readers, Yancey asked his fellow African-Americans to support the paper, lest it fail. He knew that whites would not subscribe to his paper; instead, they would read the “white” papers in Joplin. He also knew that advertising was crucial to the newspaper’s success. But advertising in a black newspaper, particularly for white businesses in a city with a small black community, was not advantageous or attractive. Even neighboring Springfield, with a sizable black population, could not sustain its own African-American newspaper.

Curiously, the 1895 Kansas State census lists William L. Yancey and his wife Clara as living in Pittsburg, Kansas. The census itself was taken in March, 1895, just two months before the Advance was first published. It also explains why there is a small smattering of Pittsburg, Kansas, news on the front page. Yancey may have been trying to bridge the gap between the black communities in Joplin and Pittsburg with his paper. He listed his occupation as “newspaperman” while wife Clara was a “housekeeper.” They lived in the midst of white families.

The 1900 Federal census tells us that William L. Yancey lived in Joplin [south of Broadway on Central Avenue] at that time. His occupation was listed as attorney and his wife, Clara, had “printer” as her occupation. Were they still publishing the Advance? Or did Clara just work as a printer? Because only one single issue of the Advance survived, we cannot be sure how long the paper lasted. If you check the city directory, however, Yancey is not listed which shows that one must always check every source available. Still, we are left with questions: Where did Yancey attend law school? There were African-American lawyers in Springfield who attended Howard University. Did Yancey go to Howard? Why did he move to Joplin?

Yancey did not remain in Joplin. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of opportunity, he moved on, and eventually divorced Clara. She later died in 1963 in Michigan.

Sometimes searching the census can be a challenge, as with Yancey and the 1910 census. He may or may not appear in the 1910 Federal census for Yakima, Washington. If it is him, the census taker wrote down the wrong middle initial and identified him as a “white” “lawyer.” Yancey was listed in previous censuses as either black or mulatto. Is it possible he tried to pass for white? Or is he just hiding out in the census and this is a different William Yancey? Census takers could and would make mistakes.

At any rate, we do know that by 1920, he appears to have remarried, and settled in Yakima, Washington. Fifty-one years old, both Yancey and his wife were working as “janitors” in a “business building.” In 1930, he is missing from the census, but his wife Hannah is listed as divorced.  Yancey may have passed away, or may have simply eluded the census taker where he lived.

His story is illustrative of the challenges African-Americans faced in American society in the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Yancey, once an attorney and newspaper editor, spent his later years working as a janitor. Were it not for the Kansas State Historical Society preserving the single surviving issue of his paper, we would have never known his story, nor the fact that once upon a time Joplin had its own African-American newspaper.

If you ever come across an old Missouri newspaper, you may want to call the State Historical Society in Columbia and ask if they have it. If not, by allowing them to microfilm the paper, you could help preserve Missouri’s history. Who knows – maybe someone has a copy of the Joplin American featuring one of Thomas Hart Benton’s cartoons waiting to be found!