Joplin’s Gallant Irishman: Daniel Sheehan

One journalist described the early days of Joplin as nothing more than, “lead, whisky, and gambling.” He went on to elaborate that it was a time when “the faro table was the best piece of furniture and needed legs like a billiard table to stand up under the coin; when the ‘bad man’ was numerous and had a retinue; when the Indian gave daily street exhibitions or archery, and a shooting gallery was a better business proposition than a skating rink today.”

The citizens of Joplin depended upon a small contingent of law enforcement officials who relied upon their knowledge of the community, their instincts, and brute force when necessary to keep the peace. Among those who walked the muddy streets corralling prostitutes and breaking up drunken fights was Officer Daniel Sheehan.

Born in 1830 in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, Sheehan was a “very Irish Irishman” who spoke with the characteristic thick brogue of his home country. He had long served the city of Joplin as a night watchman and police officer. Commonly known as “Dad” to everyone who knew him, Sheehan was said to be “inoffensive as a child [and] always had a mirthful Hibernian salutation.” Despite his inoffensive manner, he allegedly never overlooked a dog that needed taxing at a time when residents still paid a dog tax.

During bad weather, Sheehan would stop by the offices of the Joplin Daily Herald and sit by the stove to keep warm. The paper’s founder, A.W. Carson, was fond of the old Irishman and the two men became good friends. It was said that “Carson got many a juicy morsel of ‘inside’ information that pleased in print – and much that was never printed.”

Carson made sure the Joplin’s gallant Irishman played a prominent role in the stories that he printed in the Joplin Daily Herald. Several of the stories cast Sheehan in a comical light, but provide insight into his daily duties, many of which would be familiar to a modern day police officer: Fights, rowdy prisoners, domestic violence calls, and careless and imprudent drivers.

Sheehan was once greatly offended when an “unruly prisoner” called him a “damned Dutchman.” The editor of the State Line Herald lightheartedly proclaimed, Sheehan was “the only Irish scholar in Joplin who thoroughly understands the language. He is also remarkably well drilled in English military tactics, and can handle a company of men as well as a West Pointer.”

In 1883, a young boy ran up to Sheehan and reported a fight taking place between four or five women. As Sheehan approached the residence, he heard “wailing [and the] gnashing of teeth.” Forcing the door open, he sprang inside, but found the house empty. Perplexed, Sheehan searched the house and stopped when he found “three pairs of plump legs” sticking out from underneath a bed. The newspaper reporter cheekily remarked: “A less courageous heart would have quailed confronted by such an array of hosiery, but faithful Dan proceeded to march them off” to police court. Other calls were, unfortunately, much more serious.

On another occasion, an individual’s “obnoxious” and “bellicose” behavior led to the Sheehan searching him. The officer confiscated: a billy club, two dirks, a self-cocking revolver, two flasks of whiskey, a bottle of sulphate of zinc, a vial of balsam copaiba, and a “toy India rubber shot-gun.” The veteran officer “is in a dilemma whether to start a gun shop or a drug store.”

Like veteran officers of the era who had to rely on their instincts and experience, Sheehan was often in the right place at the right time. When a “gilly from Arkansaw fired off a pistol in the alley near Botkins livery stable” Sergeant Sheehan was “as usual around and welcomed the artilleryman with open arms as he emerged from Fourth Street.” The Arkansawyer was promptly escorted to police court.

On a fall day, Sheehan arrested a visitor from Cherokee, Kansas, who was driving his buggy too fast through the streets of Joplin. The Kansan had come over from “his persecuted state for a little recreation on free soil, and very naturally tarried too long at the bowl wand was soon under the influence of ‘corn juice.’” He decided to hop in his buggy for a jaunt down Main Street. He had almost completed his circuit through town when Sheehan arrested him. The newspaper noted that while the man’s lodging cost him nothing, the city received a fine of $16.25 from him.

On other occasions, he found himself taking care of domestic matters: In the spring of 1881, Sheehan shot and killed a rabid dog on Pearl Street that had attempted to attack a family, and on another call, he arrested a man for beating his wife.

The Irishman spent much of his time arresting Joplin’s sirens of sin as this story illustrates:

“The affable gallant Sergeant Sheehan created quite a sensation yesterday in back alley circles of society by escorting a flashily dressed woman along the somewhat contracted thoroughfare lying immediately west of Main Street,. The old veteran had far more opportunity to show his gallantry on this many scented alley than on Main Street. There were ash-heaps to circumnavigate, slop barrels to evade, and a devious way to as to be threated amongst beer bottles, empty oyster cans, and cast-away cat corpses that strew that delectable Golgotha. The Chesterfield of the force performed this difficult act of courtesy in the most satisfactory manner, although his handsome charge seemed faint and leaned heavily on his strong arm. At one or two difficult passages she even pressed heavily on his larboard quarter is as the wont of the gushing miss in her first overpowering attack of puppy love. The veteran officer was marble and evinced none of the weaknesses of frail flesh and blood. With the placid face of devotion to duty he made the passage and ushered his charge, silk-dress, perfumery, six button kids, and all, into the cooler. It was California Kate on her regular drunk.”

Many of the women were under the influence of drugs and alcohol. On a fall day, he “encountered a lewd woman in a beastly state of intoxication in the alley west of Main Street yesterday. She resisted arrested, fought, scratched, and shouted foul epithets known only to her ilk. In her struggle, she tore off the skirt of her dress, but was finally landed in the calaboose.”

Woe to any lawbreaker who angered the old copper after Pat Wynne of Columbus, Kansas, presented Sheehan with a “new official cane. It is of the substantial order of architecture and will be found of full regulation weight when it comes in contact with an obstreperous law breaker.” Sheehan may have well been carrying this cane when, in 1885, he made his final collar.

Over the years, the city newspapers carried varying accounts of what happened on that hot July afternoon in Joplin. The details, provided by eyewitnesses, fellow officers, and citizens who remembered the tragic events, have been gathered here and distilled into a narrative account that provides the reader with an overview of the events of that day, choosing to instead focus on his life, rather than his untimely death.

In the summer of 1884, Joe Thornton began selling whisky in a two room building that sat on the state line of Missouri and Kansas. Because it was illegal to sell liquor in Kansas, he reportedly sold his illicit liquor on the Missouri side of the line, and because gambling was prohibited in Missouri, he set up gaming tables on the Kansas side of his establishment to the annoyance of local officers.

Although he engaged in nefarious activities, Thornton had allegedly never killed anyone, though he had tried. Thornton had once stuck a .45 pistol into the stomach of Lewis Cass Hamilton, one of Joplin’s toughest law enforcement officers, and pulled the trigger twice. The gun fortunately misfired.

On the fateful day of July 18, 1885, Thornton was wanted on five warrants, and although officers had tried to arrest him for months, he had eluded capture. He generally only left his building once a day at noon to get water. Previously, officers had asked a nearby home owner, A.B. Carlin, if they could hide in his blackberry patch and ambush Thornton. Carlin gave his permission, but later changed his mind, fearing that Thornton would take revenge if the officers failed to arrest him. Thornton, unafraid, occasionally visited Joplin on business.

On July 18, 1885, Jasper County Julius C. Miller stepped out of the Joplin post office on the northeast corner at Second and Main and saw Deputy City Marshal Daniel Sheehan standing on the opposite corner. Sheehan alerted Miller that Thornton was in town and said if Miller wanted to arrest him, Sheehan and “Big George” McMurtry would help.

Miller was in a difficult position. He knew that Joplin City Marshal Cass Hamilton had ordered Sheehan to never attempt to apprehend Thornton because Thornton had threatened to kill Sheehan, claiming the old Irishman had once mistreated him. Miller, Sheehan, and McMurtry met at the northwest corner of Second and Main to discuss the matter. Sheehan was insistent that they arrest Thornton and added, “an’ sure all we’s have to do is kape him from gettin’ to his weapon.” The men noticed Thornton’s buggy tied up outside of Simon Schwartz’s dry goods store, Famous 144. The three officers headed toward to the store. Once inside, Sheehan pointed Thornton out to Miller, who had never seen Thornton before. Miller began advancing toward Thornton who had his back turned to the door. Miller tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was Thornton. Thornton replied that he was. When notified that Miller had a warrant for his arrest, Thornton remained calm, but when Miller said, “Sheehan, take hold of his other arm,” Thornton pulled out his gun and shot Sheehan.

Miller, who was described as six foot tall and “no invalid,” jumped on Thornton and tried to wrestle the gun away from him. Unfortunately, Miller’s hands were near Thornton’s mouth, and bootlegger began savagely biting Miller’s fingers and wrists. Miller could “feel the membrane begin torn from the bone” by Thornton. One of his hands was caught up in the action of the gun and Thornton kept “snapping away and every fall of the hammer was cutting into shreds the skin and flesh between Miller’s thumb and forefinger.” Miller’s tattered hand was the only thing keeping the gun from firing. As one account put it, “Miller had to stand it or leave a widow at home.”

Sheehan, who had been caught up in the fight, realized he had been shot. He cried out, “Oh, I’m shot! Take me out! Take me out!” before he fell to the floor. Deputy City Marshal McMurtry was ordered by Miller to “do something and do it quick. He’s eating me up.” Sheehan, lying helplessly nearby, called out, “Take my club!” McMurtry grabbed the Irishman’s club and began beating Thornton as hard as he could over the head, but accidentally hit Miller with the second blow. Miller yelped, “Don’t kill me, Mac!”

Contractor Sol Wallace and coal dealer W.E. Johnson rushed into the fray and pulled the store’s twin merchandise counters apart so that they more easily help separate the two men. McMurtry continued to strike Thornton in the head which was a bloodied mess. Thornton bit Wallace, but Wallace managed to get a grip on the pistol. When Thornton would not let go, Wallace kicked him in the throat, but the blow did not seem to register. Finally, his adrenaline exhausted, Thornton surrendered.

The four men started Thornton to the door on the way to the jail and were followed by a weakened Daniel Sheehan. The Irishman collapsed in the doorway and was taken to Dr. Kelso’s office. An examination showed that the bullet had entered a little below to the left of the navel and ranged downward and presumably lodged in tissue near Sheehan’s spine. When it became clear that Sheehan had but a short time to live, he was taken to his home. Miller’s hands and wrists were “in ribbons” and he carried the scars of his encounter with Thornton for the rest of his life.

After Thornton was put in jail, a crowd gathered, trying to catch a glimpse of the man who had shot Daniel Sheehan. He talked freely, telling one questioner that he was raised in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and that “I am too lazy to work and too ornery to live. If you want to send me over the road, I’m ready.” When someone mentioned lynching, Thornton reportedly replied, “I deserve to die and if they will bring on the rope, I’ll march out and die game. I don’t want to be mutilated and abused. I’d rather die now than go to the pen.”

News of the shooting spread quickly and a mob began to gather. Shouts of “Hang him!” and “Joe Thornton must die!” could be heard on the streets of Joplin. At two o’clock in the morning, a group of men approached the city jail with a battering ram. With just a few blows, the door was forced open, and the men found Thornton sitting in the first cell. The mob threw a rope over his head and marched to the “Kennedy property” at Second and Main where there were several maple trees. A crowd gathered to watch, but the mob kept the curious onlookers from getting close until they had lynched Thornton. Only then could spectators approach and look at Thornton’s body. He was pronounced dead and the coroner declared he had died at the hands of parties unknown. The Joplin Daily Herald remarked, “Thornton has paid the penalty of crime with his life. A dozen such lives would be feeble atonement for his crimes. Mob law is to be deplored, but great emergencies require desperate remedies.”

Thornton’s mistress, May Ulery, arrived to claim his body. She dressed him in a new suit of clothes before a hearse from Galena arrived to transport his corpse to the residence of his brother in Galena. Thornton was then buried in the Galena City Cemetery. A few weeks later, the building that housed Thornton’s dive was moved from the state line to Galena, Kansas.

Daniel Sheehan died a short time later on July 19, 1885. The fifty-five year old Irishman left behind a widow, Kate, and five children at home, including the youngest, Cecilia, who was one. His family received a free plot from the city in Fairview Cemetery for his burial. The vacancy on the police force was not filled for a month after his death so that his family could receive a full month’s salary by the “kindly arrangement of his brother officers.” Fellow officer McMurtry kept the shell casing from the round that killed Sheehan. The remaining five shells were removed from pistol, a .38 Colt, and distributed as mementos.

The citizens of Joplin were grateful for Sheehan’s service. A subscription fund was started by Joplin Daily Herald editor A.W. Carson to pay for a handsome stone monument from True Brothers & Sansom. Among the more prominent names on the list were Thomas Connor (.50 cents), Thomas W. Cunningham ($1.00), Clark Claycroft (.25 cents), Charles Schifferdecker ($2.00), W.H. Picher ($1.00), and Edward Zelleken ($1.00). Fellow officer Lewis Cass Hamilton gave the most money with a $5.00 donation and Simon Schwartz, owner of the store where Sheehan was killed, donated $3.00.

The handsome marble monument still stands as a testament to an immigrant who made a new life for himself in the rough and tumble mining town of the old Southwest.

Where to Buy Your Indian Motorcycle

Cars were not the only means of travel in and about Joplin. For all their Indian Motorcycle needs, Joplinites could visit Hafer Auto Company on West Sixth Street for a finely crafted machine from a more elegant age.

A History Nugget: The Sinful Siren of Joplin

Who says reading old newspapers is a bore? Here’s an interesting quote from a 1882 Joplin paper:

“The first name on the register of the new calaboose was Jennie Hanford, a savagerous siren of sin, who in winding up a night’s debauch made a raid on the News office early Wednesday morning, having taken it for a saloon, and was about to jerk the hind sight off the [printer’s] devil because he was unable to furnish a whisky straight on order. There is no telling what would have been the fate of the innocent young rooster had not Officer Sackett interposed and placed the wandering wanton under lock and key.”

Happy Halloween – From 1906!

Thankfully, Halloween has for the most part shifted away from the “trick” to the “treat” over the last century. In the cartoon below, we catch a glimpse of some of the mischief that Joplin’s young men got up to one Halloween many years ago.

Our Man in Havana

Joplin’s dapper James H. “Jimmy” Worth, owner of Joplin’s famed Worth Block, traveled to Havana, Cuba, and wrote the following letter to his friend E.R. McCullum that was published in a Joplin newspaper:

“Friend Mack: I am well at the time and hope this will find you the same, although I am tired of seeing the prettiest country in the world. I have been most favorably impressed with the cleanliness of the city and the salubrity of its climate. Having visited nearly all the cities in the United States and Canada, I believe I am conversant with municipal conditions in all of them, but I have never see any place that would compare with Havana. I have been in every direction and found the sanitary conditions excellent. It has surprised because of its novelty.

The courteous conduct of the people is another eye-opener. I do not speak Spanish very well and expected to be embarrassed most of the time while I was here, but the innate helpfulness of the native population put me at my ease whenever a difficulty arose. I was dining at a Spanish restaurant the other night and would have had difficulty in ordering my meal had not a Cuban sitting at another table noticed my predicament and voluntarily came to my assistance.

The modern equipment of the financial institutions here are a revelation to all visitors from the states. They have a bright future. I went out and saw the old Spanish forts and visited the negro schools and attended the courts, and was greatly amazed at the thoroughness with which everything is being done here. I haven’t time to write more now, but will follow this with another. My regards to the boys.

JH Worth.”

Jimmy Worth

The Bars and Buffets of Joplin – The Working Man’s Preferred

Joplin was a city that at times was known for the number of its bars versus the number of its churches. The Missouri Trade Unionist, a weekly paper published in Joplin, opted to review the bars in Joplin in 1914, concerning where the “leading buffets” were located. In regard to the bars, the Missouri Trade Unionist, adamantly stated, “every liquor dealer in this Review Edition today conducts an absolutely orderly place, free from rowdyism or disgraceful scenes, and even though the boy under age escapes parental authority; and attempts to purchase a drink, he is not only denied the privilege by the saloon man, but often receives a moral lecture of more value to him than any emanating from any other source.” That the bars be virtuous was an important selling point, if not practice, due to a growing atmosphere of prohibition that had only a few years earlier sought to make Joplin a dry town, and had succeeded in drying up many neighboring counties and communities.

Indeed, the weekly paper referred to a Liquor Dealers Association of Joplin, an organization which had the three stated goals: “1) To protect the legitimate liquor dealer from unjust and fanatical persecution by the enemies of the liquor business. 2) To educate its members in an honest endeavor to elevate the business to a higher standard and to divorce the saloon from all unlawful and criminal associations. 3) To protect the respectable, law abiding, saloonkeeper from law defying competitors and from the influence of the dive and disorderly saloon, which breed opposition to all saloons and lead to prohibition…” With an intent to hold up the finer examples of Joplin’s saloons, which also agreed with the paper’s political perspective, the weekly listed some of the following:

Brockman & Turner Buffet
“Messrs. Brockman & Turner enjoy a most excellent patronage of some of the very best people of our city. And they are friends of our cause in every sense of the word. Their place is stocked with every leading brand of imported and domestic wines, whiskies, brandies, beers and cigars. Their buffet is a very popular one with the people…Brockman & Turner are broad-minded, liberal men, who have aided the cause on more than one occasion, and they number a host of friends and patrons among the working people of Joplin.”

Clarketon Hotel Bar
“This saloon is located in the Hotel Building at 722 Main Street, and is one of the most popular and best equipped thirst parlors in the city….Mr. Mike Lawton, the proprietor, is highly respected and very popular…he carries a full line of choice cigars…”

Bartenders’ Union, No. 827
“Joplin Bartenders union, No. 827 was originally organized as a Cooks and Waiters’ local union, according to the charter on the wall at 417 Main Street…” It was affiliated with the “Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, with headquarters in Cincinnati. The bartenders soon became the majority members of the organization and the local now has a membership of about sixty, composed of many of the best bartenders of the city…the Union has a bar car card called the “Blue Label Bar Card” and those who desire to help the Bartenders elevate themselves re requested to patronize saloons where cards are displayed.”

The Galena Bar
“The Galena Bar is one of the extremely popular buffets in our city, owned and operated by Mr. Ross Adams, and located at 709 Main street….[he] is a friend of the cause of labor, and has always been first to aid any movement for the betterment of Joplin and her working people.”

Denton Saloon
Located at Sixth and Joplin, “Their place is patronized by the best class of people…It is our duty to patronize business men who are our friends, and we will make no mistake in giving our liberal cooperation to Messrs. Denton(s), who are public spirited, enterprising citizens and business men.”

Fehrenbach Wine and Liquor Company
Located at 111 West Sixth Street, “Among the progressive and well known business establishments mentioned in our columns of friends of labor, none are more worthy of attention…having been in business in Joplin at the same location for about eight years, during which time they have forged steadily to the foremost rank in business circles…This house is one of the largest of its kind in this section of the state, and they conduct a large business throughout the surrounding territory….they are distributors for the famous “Miller’s High Life Beer,” also other noted brands of products…Mr. Wm. Fehrenbach has been a Joplin resident for many years and bears the good will and esteem of the people.”

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

The Club Saloon
Located at 402 Main Street, “Mr. John Ferguson, the proprietor, is a warm friend of the cause of labor, and on many occasions has responded most liberally to our cause.

The Keystone Bar
Located at 107 East Fourth, “This buffet is conducted in such a manner that it is a pleasure to visit there…”

The Two Bills Bar
“We wish to direct special attention to the above named bar, which is located at 1056 Main Street…The place is always kept clean and orderly, and the most fastidious need feel no hesitation is making this their place…”

Hub Bar
Located at the “northeast corner of Fourth and Main streets…Stalwart men drink beer. The great middle class of intelligent, industrious workmen in the millions of workshops of the world find its cheer makes their work a pleasure and its strength feeds their muscles for the tasks they have to perform. You will find no better place to trade than the above named buffet. Their draught beer is always kept in good condition…”

Miners Exchange Bar
“Every wage earner and citizen of Joplin knows the Miners Exchange Bar as one of the most popular bars of the city. The proprietor, Andrew Fritach, is a popular host…at the establishment located at 610 Main Street, and is patronized by those who want the best wines, liquors and cigars.”

Brewery Workers, No. 193
“Brewery and Ice Workers’ Local union, No. 193, one of the strongest unions in the district, with a membership at present of seventy, was organized May 9, 1900….The Joplin local is affiliated with the International Union of United Brewery Workmen, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and all employees in breweries, agencies and ice plants are eligible to membership, with the exception of foremen who do not perform manual labor and hire and fire workmen. Those employed in the offices of a brewery are not entitled to membership.”

Stationary Engineers, No. 3
“Zinc Belt Local Lodge, No. 3, association of Engineers, entitled Engineers and Enlightened Mechanics, was formed May 31, 1900. The organization devotes a large part of its time to discussing problems which confront engineers, and pays no attention to strikes or boycotts, but has maintained a good organization the city for the last eleven years.”

House of Lords Bar in Joplin Missouri

House of Lords
“Peregoy & McCullough, Proprietors…These gentlemen conduct the well-known café and buffet at 319 Main street….These gentlemen have the hearty good will of hundreds of working people, a sincere advocate of good and intelligent organization and well-wishers to the wage earners….They are the type of men who believe in the motto of “Live and let live.”

Exchange Bar
“One of the extremely popular buffets of the city is that conducted by Mr. Wm. Fahrman and located at 112 West Fifth street….This is one of the really pleasant and well conducted bars of our city, and everything known in an up to date bar will be found there. The stock of goods include the best of imported goods, besides the domestic makes of the recognized manufacturers, and a fine supply of the best of bottled and keg beers…”

The Palace Bar
Located at 828 Main street,”[Warner Rowe] carries a finely selected stock of whiskies, beers and union-made cigars….Our working people are always sure of a cordial welcome when they pay a visit to this popular buffet…”

Home Brewing and Ice Co.
“Nothing in the history of American enterprise is more remarkable than the perfection to which brewing has been brought. The Home Brewing and Ice Company is producing beer quite the equal in purity, flavor and quality to the best brews of the old countries. The bottles beer, known as the “Middle West” is the most popular of any beer sold throughout this section, and for which absolute purity and nourishing qualities are unsurpassed.

The plant of this company is one of the most important enterprises of Joplin and furnishes steady employment to a large force of workmen, who are treated with the most fairness and consideration…the choicest hops and malt alone are handled in such a scientific manner as to result in a perfect beer, which for purity, flavor and uniform excellence is unequaled by few American breweries. The sanitary features of this brewery are above the average. All bottles, kegs and casks receive a thorough sterilizing and the bottling of the products is immediate after this sanitary precaution…. The beer of the Home Brewing and Ice Company is a standard of purity, much desired by the families of Joplin people….”

The Turf Bar
“Mr. Pete Braden, the proprietor of the Turf Bar, whose location is 123 Main Street, is a gentleman…He conducts one of our first class buffets and has always transacted all business on fair and just principles…”

The Irish Village
Located at 931 Main Street, “One may rest assured of getting the best when patronizing this place. The manager, Mr. R.G. Fordham, is broad-minded and liberal on the view of the labor question…”

The Ninth Street Bar
“Among the business men of our city, none have shown a more friendly feeling for the wage earners than Mr. Henry Paulson, proprietor of the Ninth Street Bar, located at 901 Main Street. There is no establishment in this section which holds a more esteemed and popular position…”

The Mayflower Bar
Located at 832, owned by Oscar Pfotenhauer, “This gentleman strives at all times to give his patrons the best of treatment and service, and he has always manifested a friendly attitude toward the men who toil, in fact, he numbers many of our members among his customers…”

Joplin Ice and Cold Storage Company
“No industry in Joplin has grown to be a more important factor in the growth and prosperity of the city, nor caters more directly to the comfort and happiness of the people than has the Joplin Ice and Cold Storage Company, with office and plant located at Tenth street and Byers avenue….The wide practical experience of the management enables this company to handle all business with dispatch and accuracy, and the ice manufactured is absolutely pure and wholesome, and most carefully and hygienically made from the purest of distilled water, and is not touched by human hands until places in the refrigerator…

This company are sole agents and distributers in Joplin for the famous “Falstaff Bottled Beer” made in the brewery of Lemp, is known the world over as the choicest product of the brewer’s art, which is known to every union man throughout this district as a product made by a brewery that is true to union labor. The gentlemen composing this company are representative business men, and they have the highest standing in the business world. The management is fair and just with labor, and they well merit our hearty co-operation and patronage.”

The Broadway Street Bar
“Among the popular saloon men of Joplin who have built up a large business in their line and who are known to be friendly toward the working men is Mr. Frank McCammon, proprietor [of the bar]…which is located at 101 Main street….”

Mascott Bar
“Among the popular and successful business men in Joplin in their particular line is Mr. E.H. Faulstich…His success can be counted in no small measure to the fact that he has treated labor with a fair consideration at all times and we have every reason to wish him continued success…”

Michael A. Donahue Bar
Located at 1802 Main street, “Mr. Donahue handles none but the best in his line of merchandize and his place of business is always kept neat, clean and sanitary…”

The WoodBine Bar
Located at 417 Main Street, “Here you will find a large and select stock of choice wines, liquors and cigars….The management of this buffet is progressive and public spirited, and has always manifested a friendly feeling toward the cause of labor, and we would ask our members and readers to give this buffet their liberal and hearty cooperation at all times…”

Men and Dust

In a previous post, we covered Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ visit to Joplin in 1940. The reason for Perkins’ visit was to participate in the Tri-State Silicosis Conference, a gathering of industry and labor leaders to investigate and highlight the danger of silicosis. At the conclusion of the conference, a brief documentary film simply titled Men and Dust was shown in the Connor Hotel. The film was produced by the noted Great Depression era photographer Sheldon Dick. Only sixteen minutes long, the film focused on the the danger posed by silicosis generated by the dust created by lead and zinc mining. Dick’s film is surprisingly experimental with a unsettling score and a dramatic narration that has a jarring effect on the viewer.  It is an important piece of Joplin’s history because of its haunting advocacy for the welfare of the region’s miners and their families and its stark images of  the men who worked the Tri-State Mining District during the Depression era.

We encourage everyone to view it who has a chance.

More on the Early Joplin Black Community

In 1915, Theodore Baughman, a correspondent with the African-American newspaper Topeka Plaindealer, wrote a brief, but detailed account of Joplin’s black community. Baughman observed that although there were less than a thousand African-Americans in Joplin, there were four black churches, and a number of fraternal organizations, though, he noted, none of them had their own meeting hall.

Baughman disappointedly observed that the black community in Joplin was not “given very much to commercialism.” Still, in the paragraphs that followed, he wrote about a few entrepreneurial souls who sought to make a

P. Fred Romare, the “harness king” of Joplin, was born December 8, 1858 (according to a 1920 passport application) or in 1860 (according to his Missouri death certificate), in Chester, South Carolina.* His father, Paul Romare, was a native of Sweden who worked as a bank clerk in Chester. It was there that he fathered Fred with an African-American woman named Esther. When the Civil War broke out, Paul Romare enlisted in the Confederate Army, and served the duration of the war. After the war ended, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, married a white woman, and eventually became the president of the Atlanta National Bank. He left his mulatto son, P. Fred Romare, behind in South Carolina.

Between 1880 and 1910, P. Fred Romare and his wife Rosa moved to Joplin, Missouri, from South Carolina for reasons still unknown. As a youth, he worked as a carriage maker, and he continued this trade in Joplin. Romare became well known for his wide selection of carriages, buggies, and harnesses. He housed his business in a handsome two story brick building located at 818 Main Street and employed three white men as harness makers. Romare lived at 1826 Pearl until his death on October 20, 1934.

Baughman also called on the Reverend J.N. Brownlee at his real estate office at 521 ½ Virginia Avenue. Brownlee was fortunate to still be alive after he became embroiled in a scandal in 1912 that raised the ire of Joplin’s white community, and led to threats of lynching. According to one newspaper account, young white girls allegedly would meet at Brownlee’s office to drink brandy, beer, and wine. One young white woman, Pearl Nugent, a seventeen-year-old stenographer employed by Brownlee, was found dead in Brownlee’s office. The coroner’s jury ruled she committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid.

Fortunately for Brownlee, attorney John Castillo produced letters that showed Nugent had allegedly been assaulted by a married white man named Walter Bishop from Chitwood, and that she may have committed suicide as a result. The coroner’s jury, in the course of its investigation of Nugent’s death, raised questions about Brownlee’s habit of employing young white women in his office, his lewd treatment of his employees, and his alleged attempt to blackmail the man accused of assaulting Pearl Nugent. Scared of a repeat of the events of 1903, when Thomas Gilyard was lynched in downtown Joplin, many black residents began leaving the city, though one paper noted it was mainly the “shiftless class” that left. The paper added, “No mob plays will be tolerated by the police, however, and the blacks will be protected if there is any hint of uprising.” Joplin Police Chief Joseph Myers warned it was against the law to incite mob violence and that he would not hesitate to stop talk of lynching Brownlee with force.

In an indication of the limited opportunity for black men in Joplin at the time, many of Baughman’s “success” stories were men who worked as janitors at Joplin’s leading businesses. Benjamin Davis worked at Aldridge’s, Arthur Young and Frank Caldwell both worked as janitors at Miner’s Bank, and Joseph Stover was the head janitor at the Keystone Hotel. Although today many may not think that working as a postal carrier a prestigious job, Baughman considered it one for African-American men during this time and N.T. Green, one such gentleman, Baughman wrote, “is one of Uncle Sam’s trusty men.” There were also enough African-Americans in Joplin to keep Dr. J.T. Williams busy after he graduated in 1908 from Meharry Medical College, a historically black medical school in Tennessee.

The Turf Bar, which one will find mentioned in the pages of the Joplin newspapers, was possibly owned by George Lindsay. The Turf was located at 123 Main Street and served Budweiser, Middle West, and Falstaff beer. In 1914, under a different owner, it was considered one of the finest bars in Joplin. J.W. Brown’s People’s Café was located just down the way at 109 Main Street

While turn of the century Joplin was a bustling growing city, it was also a city that limited the many opportunities available to the color of one’s skin.  Joplin’s early African-American residents none the less persevered to the best of their abilities to build a life for themselves and their families in Southwest Missouri.

Afternote:
The African-American artist, Romare Bearden, was named after P. Fred Romare, who was a friend of his great-grandparents. He stated in an oral history that the name was pronounced, “ROAM-a-ree.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: The Joplin Casket Company Factory

The next photograph in the Alfred W. Rea portfolio series is the Joplin Casket Company Factory. Regrettably, we have not been able to find much on the Joplin Casket Company, but we can at least tell you that it built in 1907 at a cost of approximately $278,000 present day dollars. J.A. Wilson was president, B.W. Lyon, vice-president, J.H. Spencer, secretary, and it was located at 4th NW Cor RR (unfortunately, we’re unable to figure out where this address was exactly).

Update!

Thanks to the sharp eyes of Historic Joplin followers, Mike Sisk and Clark, we were delighted to learn that the former factory building still stands between Division and School streets on Fourth Street and is owned by the Empire District Electric Company.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Douthitt’s Grocery store building as it appears today via Google Streetview.

Driving along the streets of Joplin, one will occasionally recognize an old corner store standing forlornly in the midst of modest homes, a survivor of a simpler era. Though ragged and ramshackle, these sentinels of commerce were once lively, thriving cornerstones of many a neighborhood. As the era of chain grocery stores dawned, these mom and pop operations slowly faded from existence, leaving only memories.

One such store was owned by Curtis and Nancy Douthitt. The couple owned a small grocery store at 202 North Gray Avenue in Joplin that originally opened in 1903. Like most store owners, they lived above their store. When they bought the store in the 1940s, there were 139 neighborhood grocery stores in Joplin, including three others on the same block. The Douthitts sold staples like milk, bread, sugar, salt, and candy. In the early years, you could purchase two cookies for only a penny. At one time, the store employed five employees and a delivery boy. For a twenty-year period the couple worked seven days a week to meet their customers’ needs. The store’s willingness to extend credit to its patrons and quality service kept the Douthitts in business. Nancy Douthitt said that, “We could write a book about the three generations who’ve gone through the store. Grown men come back to Curtis now and say, ‘Do you remember me?’ and he does.”

But in the spring of 1987, Curtis and Nancy announced that they were closing up shop, and that their building would be for sale. Only one neighborhood grocery, Melin’s, reportedly remained open in Joplin after Douthitt’s grocery closed. Melin’s, it is worth noting, was run by Margery and Charles Melin. The Douthitts noted that they would be shopping in a new grocery store and, as Curtis remarked, “We’ve been in them before just to look, but they never had anything we didn’t – just more of it.”

The Douthitt store still stands at 202 North Gray Avenue, a reminder of a slower, more friendly time.