A Ten Cent Pork Chop

Hobos kicked out of Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out bums and hobos

 

Joplin’s newspaper reporters loved to write about the tramps and hoboes that often drifted through town. The lifestyle of the “weary willie” was one that reporters seemingly found colorful and romantic despite the hardships that many of the men and women who traveled the road faced on a daily basis. Long before the 1930s, and in a time when relief agencies were few and far between, hoboes and tramps often found themselves one meal away from starvation. On one occasion during an economic downtown, a News-Herald reporter sought out a hobo and asked him what the smallest amount of money was that he could live on.

The hobo, after thinking for a moment, responded, “It is possible for me to live on 25 cents a day. I have lived on that amount but I did not spend any on it for a place to sleep. Of mornings, I would eat two chilies and for dinner, a ten cent pork chop. For supper, I would eat another chili.” To get the occasional piece of meat, the hobo would visit butcher shops and obtain meat that was otherwise reserved for feeding dogs. He would sleep in the woods rather than in town, lest he be picked up by the police for vagrancy. If a tramp or hobo were fortunate, he would sleep in boxcars, barns, or on railroad platforms rather than in the open.

When asked if he ever became desperately hungry, the hobo told the reporter, “I have been so hungry that I was too weak to walk, but did not become desperate. I felt that I was near the place where I would not have to spend from twelve to eighteen hours per day being turned down by people, with the world against me and no pleasure whatever.” Instead, he confided, “I also knew that after I reached a certain stage, people would feed me, for fear I would die on their hands.”

Joplin had more than its fair share of the “knights of the road.” There were individuals that loved the lifestyle, but there were others who found themselves riding the rails because of sudden, severe economic downturns that cost them their livelihoods. Funny how some things never change.

A Town Is Born (The First and Nearly Last Nice Thing Carthage Said About Joplin)

Joplin, 1872

In 1871, the Carthage Weekly Banner had this to say:

“There is a new town in Jasper County. Its name is Joplyn. Location fourteen miles southwest of Carthage on the farm of our friend J.C. Cox. It is young, but thrifty. Has lead in unlimited quantities underneath it. Numerous miners are there going for the lead. The sound of the shovel and the pick is heard daily in the bowels of the earth. Board shanties have sprung up like mushrooms. There is a scene of business within its borders, and even in the region round about for a mile or two. The lead exists in richly paying quantities, and some of the miners are making small fortunes every week. The fame whereof has spread abroad even to Carthage.

In mining as in any other business, or profession, if one man succeeds, and does well, a dozen are ready to go into the same speculation. Hence men out of employment, from this city, invest a few dollars in a pick and shovel, fill a haversack with rations and go for the mines. We saw one of our neighbors ‘lighting out’ the other day for the front thus duly outfitted. We asked him if he was going to work on the railroad? ‘Railroad be hanged! I’m going to strike lead,’ was his ready response.”

Among those of our citizens who have struck lead, are Col. O.S. Picher, who has rich deposits – being worked – on his farm. Mr. D.H. Budlong has a farm in close proximity upon which lead blossoms like the rose, and the probabilities are that he will exhume a lead mine, that may make his everlasting fortune, which if it does we shall not begrudge him his luck, one iota, for he is a worthy man, and an excellent citizen, besides being an uncompromising Radical.

We also had a farm in that vicinity about a year ago, but fortunately we traded it off for Mr. Benham’s interest in the BANNER, or we, too, would be troubled with visions of fabulous wealth, and pass sleepless nights worrying about it.

Mr. T.G. Powers, from this place, has had excellent success in lead mining, and is on the highway to wealth.

There are others, but we cannot call them to mind. Joplyn is a lively place. Everybody out of employment ought to go there and dig. That is better than doing nothing, and it may lead to certain fortune. We shall not worry about it if some of our citizens make their hundreds of thousands by it – with which charitable sentence we will close this sentence.”

 

Worth Block … What if?

One can look at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main and wonder, what if?

What if?

The Good Ol’ Days?

Despite the trappings of a modern city, there were still some old fashion headaches in the way of Joplin's progress.

Back in 1897, much of Joplin was an open sewer. The sewer system at the time was “plagued” and the “city dads” decided to direct various sewer mains into Joplin Creek. This was when the city was “young and was comparatively unsettled north of A street.” But the city fathers did not foresee that Joplin Creek would be dammed in several spots. This caused the sewage to back up and grow even more fetid. After being exposed to the sun, the raw waste was enough “to sicken a maggot or act as an emetic on a jackal.”

According to the Globe, the stench alone had caused “an immense amount of sickness between B and D streets, and there is good reason to believe that one death resulted from it.” It was reported that at the corner of C and Main streets two families living in adjoining houses “had six people sick at the time, three in each home” with other families in the area similarly affected.

The paper declared, “It is the plain duty of the authorities to jerk those dams out of the creek and to keep them out. It is also their plain duty to see that the sand is removed that chokes the channel up to and to see that is kept clear.” If the creek were not kept clear of dams, then there “will be much loss of life…The city cannot afford to have its citizens killed off in this sort of a manner. Death comes all too soon without keeping a trap like this to stink people to death.”

The day after the Globe groused about the condition of Joplin Creek, Mayor Cunningham ordered Marshal Morgan to inspect the creek, and, if the conditions were as stated, to have the dams removed. When Morgan contacted the individuals responsible for the various dams, they complained that they owned the land that the dams were on, and that “they would like to see the color of the man’s hair who could make them take the obstructions out.”

Morgan would have none of it. He told the dam owners to remove their dams within twenty-four hours or else they would face arrest. The Globe proclaimed, “There must be no let up on the part of the authorities until the channel is as clear as a whistle, and it should be kept that way forever.”

Mayor Cunningham got his way and conditions improved. Sometimes the good old days weren’t so golden after all.

The Lady in the Window

If you have ever lived in  Joplin, you have undoubtedly heard about the House of Lords.  Usually one hears a story that goes like this: Bar on the bottom floor, gambling on the second floor, and a brothel on the third floor.  After reading years of Joplin newspapers, we can honestly say that yes, there is truth in the story. There were slot machines, there were countless rounds served at the bar, and yes, there were prostitutes working the building. This excerpt from a letter describes what one resident saw one day while working downtown:

Joplin Main Street

On the left, the House of Lords, on the right, the Joplin Hotel. Neither quite shared the same clientele.

“Two weeks ago last Saturday night, I, stood in front of the Joplin Hotel, and such a sight as was seen on the opposite side of the street cannot be forgotten.  A drunken, brazen, disgusting prostitute stood in front of a window in the third story of the House of Lords as naked as when she came into the world, in plain view of the hundreds of people walking up and down the street, and not an officer with the courage or decency to prevent it.  Ladies were obliged to turn their faces or leave the street; and I am told that the proprietor of the hotel cannot assign a lady a front room because of the character of the occupants in the building across the street.  Sodom and Gomorrah were never sunk as deep in the depths of infamy and vice as this, and the prayers of the wives and mothers of Joplin will be answered.”

Joplin Glee

A hundred years and two months ago, Joplin’s gleeks were promised what was said “to be the best musical production ever given by high school students.” Fair enough, the fans of the Joplin High School Glee Club probably never fathomed of the title “gleek”, a term fans of the television show Glee, have given themselves, but there appeared to be a strong following of the high school chorus group. An article which announced the May event noted that last year’s performance, “Julius Caesar” was a “decided success” and that the “house was crowded and interest never lagged.”

While it seems that Joplin High no longer has a dedicated Glee group (please let us know if this is otherwise!), the program in 1911 was a large one with 22 members. It was also considered the oldest organization in the school, established in 1905. The annual production planned for a May Thursday evening was a one act comedy, “Hector.” Preceding the play, the audience was to be treated to an all boy performance of  “solos, duets, quartets and choruses,” the product of several months of preparation.  Mr. L.S. Dewey was credited for preparing the singing, while Miss Edna Hazeltine was credited with the instruction and coaching for the play.

Undoubtedly, for one night in May, Joplin had a glee ol’ time.

Source: Joplin News Herald

Have a Safe and Sane Fourth of July!

Have A Sane Fourth of July

A century ago, Joplin adopted the idea of promoting a Fourth of July that was both safe and sane.  The illustration above offers a glimpse at this campaign and below, a familiar company advertising in Joplin on the Fourth.  The idea of promoting a safe Fourth was supported by an article noting the harm already received by the dangerous fireworks.  One case involved a boy, whose friends involved in a fight, found his hand badly burned when the firework he was getting ready to throw went off prematurely (the boys quickly made peace after this casualty).  Another boy, it was reported, suffered terribly burns on the neck and hands while shooting off “fire crackers” and two men, Roy Loving was shot in the hand by a blank gun cartridge and another, Earl Van Hoose severely burned by a “cannon cracker” which went off as he was throwing it.

Needless to say, have a fun, safe, and “sane” Fourth of July!

The Way It Was

Once in a while we find a wonderful glimpse into life in early Joplin. One of these is the article, “’Twas Only a Joke” by Robert S. Thurman of the University of Tennessee. Thurman recounts the practical jokes that people played on one another in Joplin at the turn of the century.

Although miners worked long hours in hazardous conditions, they found time to play jokes on one another. Those who suffered the brunt of the jokes were often greenhorns, who Joplin miners dubbed “dummies,” and other outsiders who decided to try their hand at mining.

Thurman recounted the story of two men who went into the mining business together at Duenweg. Their mine operation consisted of a pick, shovel, a windlass and can, some drills, blasting powder, and a dummy to help them. The two partners hired a man from Platte County, Missouri, to work as their dummy. Unbeknownst to them, the dummy was an out-of-work miner with plenty of experience under his belt.

The two partners would explain the dummy’s tasks to him in the simplest terms because “a dummy wasn’t expected to know anything, especially if he came from Platte River.” The dummy would listen intently, nod his head that he understood, and carry out his tasks as instructed.

One day the two men were down in the mine shaft prepping a drill hole for blasting. Instead of returning to the surface, they called out, “Hey, Dummy! Do you see that wooden box over by the wagon, the one with a tarp pulled over it?” The dummy replied, “You mean the one with some red writing on it?” The miners yelled back, “That’s it. Now go over to it and get two of those sticks wrapped in brown paper and be careful. Then in the box next to it, get two of those shiny metal sticks and about four feet of the string in the same box. Bring them over here and let them down to us! But be careful with that stuff!”

The dummy, already well acquainted with dynamite from his days as a miner, was fed up with his bosses’ attitude. Having earned enough money to strike out on his own, he decided to have a little fun. He found two corn cobs and wrapped them in brown paper, then stuck a short fuse into each one. The dummy walked back to the mouth of the mine and called down to the two miners, “Are these the two sticks that you want?” The miners replied, “Yeah, that’s them. Did you get the shiny metal sticks and the string?” “Why, shore. What do you think I be? And I decided to be right helpful to you, too. I fixed them up so you can use them right now.”

With that, the dummy lit the fuses, dropped the corn cobs disguised as dynamite into the can, and quickly lowered it down the shaft to the two miners below. Chaos ensued and the dummy had his revenge.

Another trick that miners often played on dummies was to send them after a “mythical tool” called a “skyhook.” One such case occurred at the Old Athletic Mine. The mine had hired a dummy from Arkansas. Unfortunately for Arkansawyers, they were viewed as both inferior and gullible by Joplin mining men. On the dummy’s first day at work, the miners told him, “Dummy, go up to the toolshed and get a skyhook and hurry up with it.”

The dummy nodded his head and headed for the surface. But when he reached the top, instead of going to the company’s toolshed, he headed for town. Upon reaching a blacksmith’s shop, he went inside and asked, “Mister, can you make a skyhook?” The smithy looked at the dummy in surprise, “What do you want?” The dummy repeated, “A skyhook. Can you make one?” “Son,” the blacksmith responded, “someone is pulling your leg. There ain’t no such thing.” “Sure there is,” the dummy insisted, “Now here is how you make it.”

Two days went by and there was no sign of the dummy at the mine.  The miners laughed and figured he was too embarrassed to return. But toward the end of the second day, the mine whistle sounded two blasts, which meant everyone had to come to the surface. As the miners reached the top, they saw the mine superintendent, the dummy, and the biggest pair of ice tongs they had ever seen.

The superintendent called out to the one of the miners nicknamed Mockingbird. “Mockingbird, this man says you and the boys sent him after a skyhook. That right?” Mockingbird, so named because he whistled all the time, sheepishly responded, “Well, I guess we did something like that.”

The superintendent looked at the miners and said, “Well, he’s got it for you, but since I didn’t authorize it, I guess you boys will have to stand the charges for it. That will be two days’ wages for him, the bill for the blacksmith, and the cost of the dray for bringing it to the job. Now, three of you boys take that skyhook and hang it over by the office so you know where it is in case you ever need it again.”

Miners were not the only ones who played tricks. As was common in the Ozarks, newlyweds were often treated to shivarees. Sometimes the friends of the young couple would surround the house and ring cowbells and bang pots and pans all night long. Other times they would be taken to a nearby pond, stream, or horse trough for a dunking. Or, the couple would return home and find their furniture had been unceremoniously rearranged.

One couple, Dan and Frances, were determined to avoid any such foolishness. They decided they would stay in their house, lock the doors, and not come out. Their friends soon arrived and began yelling for them to come out. Dan and Frances, however, turned out the lights. Soon it dawned on the group of friends that the couple had no plans to come out. But one of the young men had an idea and promised he would return shortly with a solution.

Upon his return, the young man had a stick of blasting powder, a cap, some fuse, a drill, and a hammer. He and the others drilled a hole in the mortar of Dan and Frances’ stone house, put in powder, tamped it very lightly to avoid doing damage, and lit a match. Within seconds there was a small explosion that shook the whole house and made pieces of stone fly. Dan and Frances came flying out of the house to the sound of their friends laughing and yelling, “Treats! Treats” But to make sure there were no hard feelings, a collection was taken to repair the house, and given to the couple.

But not all jokes in Joplin ended on a happy note. There were two rival saloonkeepers, whom Thurman called Jack and Billy, who often fought with each other. A bunch of loafers in Jack’s saloon began to kid him that Billy was out to get him and that he was a crack shot. A few weeks passed and the loafers once again began to tell Jack that Billy was mad at him and was “going to take care of you.”  Jack, believing their lies, began to worry. He told the loafers that he could take care of himself.

The next day, around noon, Billy left his saloon carrying a bucket. He crossed the street and headed toward Jack’s saloon. The loafers at Jack’s saloon yelled, “Jack, better watch out!  Here comes Billy and he’s got something in his hand!”

Before anyone could stop Jack, he grabbed a pistol from underneath the bar, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and yelled “Billy you ——! Try to kill me, will you!” He then fired at Billy, killing him instantly. Jack, realizing what he had just done, slowly walked down to the railroad tracks and sat down, shaking his head in disbelief. He was eventually arrested, convicted, and served a ten year prison sentence. The loafers who had started the unfortunate affair went free.

Thurman noted that practical jokes were rarely carried out in Joplin after the 1930s. One woman told him, “You can’t joke strangers because they don’t know how to take it.” Another person observed, “We don’t have the gathering places anymore where we can think up devilment. When I was growing up, we’d loaf down at the general store and things would just sort of happen. You can’t do that down at the A & P Supermarket.”

Mockingbird, the miner who took part in his fair share of pranks, told Thurman, “People have a lot of ways of being entertained today. They keep busy either watching television or doing something. They don’t have the time to sit around and think of tricks. And I don’t think they would get by with pulling these jokes on the job. Bosses would not put up today with some of the things we did back forty years ago. Work is more business today; if a guy pulled some of these shenanigans on a job today, he’d get fired. But there’s probably a better reason. I think people are now more grown up today. That kind of humor is just out of place now.”