Children on a Debauch

In today’s society one often hears, “Well, when I was kid we never…”

In the spring of 1900, Joplin police officers Grant Buzzard and John Chester found four young teenagers, two boys and two girls, engaged in a “drunken debauch” on Joplin Creek.  The two experienced officers were shocked by the sight of what the Joplin Globe called, “the most horrible story of youthful depravity yet recorded in Joplin.”  The two girls, Vida McElroy and May Sherman, reportedly the “daughters of women of shame and reared possibly in a brothel” were passed out in the muddy creek bed.  McElroy was fifteen, Sherman thirteen.  McElroy’s mother reportedly kept a “bawdy house in the North End” and Sherman’s mother allegedly worked at the “Red Onion” brothel.

Upon investigation the officers discovered that the two boys, Sam Belstine and George Littler, purchased at least two and half pint bottles of whiskey as well as some bottles of blackberry wine from Nick Christman’s saloon.  They met up with the two girls and headed out to Joplin Creek just off of East Seventh Street.   There they proceeded to split the liquor between them and have a roaring good time until the officers arrived on the scene.

The girls were put in the officer’s buggy while the boys were forced to walk back into Joplin in front of the horses.  The Globe commented, “Nurtured in shame and their minds poisoned from infancy by reason of the influences about them…both girls are wild and young.”  The two boys, Sam Belstine and George Littler both about fourteen, were described as, “men of low character.”  Littler’s father, Tom, was “well known to the police.”  Belstine, who worked as a newspaper boy, was the son of the owner of the Southern Bar at the corner of Twelfth and Main Streets.

Interestingly, while the authorities vowed to send both girls to the State Industrial School for Girls in Chillicothe, Missouri, they did not express their intent to send the boys to the Missouri Reform School for Boys in Boonville, Missouri.  W.A. Root, the bartender who sold the liquor to the boys, was expected to face prosecution for selling liquor to minors.

Image of Missouri State Industrial Home for Girls

Image of Missouri State Industrial Home for Girls from Missouri Digital Heritage

Source: The Joplin Globe, Missouri Digital Heritage


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2 Responses to “Children on a Debauch”


  • Comment from Becki

    Was the “red onion” brothel located near or where the Red Onion Cafe is currently?

  • Comment from Brown

    First thought is no, but we’re going to dig around and see if that’s so or otherwise.


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