Dutch Pete

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


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