Elliot Raines Moffett

On a fall day six years after the end of the Civil War, two men began digging a shaft on a hill near Joplin Creek in southern Jasper County, Missouri. Lured to the location by stories of lead lying as shallow as the roots of the prairie grasses, the two men, Elliot Raines Moffett and John B. Sergeant struck figurative gold and from those first few spadefuls of dirt the city of Joplin was established, as well their riches.

A native Iowan, Moffett was forty-three years old when his prospecting brought him to Jasper County. He and Sergeant had initially setup in the area of Oronogo, then known as Minersville, and acquired a mining interest in the vicinity of land owned by John C. Cox, a Tennessean who had arrived in the area years earlier. The lead strike, forty feet down, quickly led Moffett and Sergeant to build the first lead smelting furnace north of present day Broadway and on the banks of Joplin Creek. The smelter was not the only “first” that Moffett and his partner brought to the mining camp and later the city. In 1873, when the cities of Joplin and Murphysburg joined together to form Joplin, Moffett was the first mayor. In addition to building stores in the fledgling camp, he and Sergeant also opened one of the first banks at 315 Main Street and founded the Joplin & Girard Railroad completed in 1876 to connect the growing lead furnaces of the city to the Kansas coal fields. A second railroad to Pittsburg, Kansas, was completed and celebrated on July 4, 1876 with a golden spike driven into the earth at the Joplin depot. Later, Moffett sold his interest in the railroad and its right-away southward to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, also known as the Frisco, for a hefty $350,000. Not long after, Sergeant and Moffett opened up the White Lead Works which later became known as the Picher Lead Works.

It was prospecting which brought Moffett to the Joplin area, it was also that which led him to leave for Northwest Arkansas. In the belief that more incredible lead veins were waiting to be discovered in Arkansas, he prospected the hills around Bear Mountain. He found some lead, but not enough to make a second fortune. Instead, Moffett purchased hundreds of acres of land and went into the business of fruits and grapes. It was as a shepherd of orchards that Moffett spent the last years of his life until he passed away in February, 1904, in Crystal Springs, Arkansas.

Upon his death, one Joplin newspaper wrote of him:

“The announcement of his death spread rapidly over the city yesterday evening and many sincere expressions of regret were voiced, and the utterances were of that sincere character that indicate true regret – the regret that is always felt at the demise of a truly good citizen. The reason of this is very apparent when it is known that he was instrumental in building the first schools and the first churches, and was a willing contributor to many movements for the city’s welfare.”

Lee Taylor: Joplin’s First Elected Mayor

Lee Taylor, Mayor of Joplin

Joplin's First Elected Mayor

The first elected mayor of Joplin was born an Englishman. His name was Lee Taylor and by the time he passed away on December 13, 1917, he had lived a very American life. Taylor was born in 1836 in Manchester, England, one of the world’s great industrial cities. At the age of four, his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in the Jasper County, Missouri. In the frontier state of Missouri, Taylor came of age and was reportedly among one of the first to notice the potential of mining in the region. After the commencement of the Civil War, Taylor traveled to Arkansas and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He served in the 34th Arkansas Infantry, fought at the Battle of Prairie Grove, and reportedly rose to the rank of captain by war’s end.

In Arkansas, Taylor met his wife, and together with a growing family, returned to Joplin around 1870, never to leave again. He became involved with mining and was a mine superintendent when talks began between the village of Joplin (where old East Joplin is now located) and Murphysburg to form a unified city. When Joplin was established in 1873, E.R. Moffett was appointed by the state as the first mayor, and Taylor was a councilman. Shortly thereafter, Taylor ran for the position of Mayor. Heavily supported by East Joplin residents, Taylor narrowly beat Moffett to become Joplin’s first elected mayor.

Taylor resigned before the end of his first term and was replaced by Councilman J.H. McCoy. The reason for his abrupt resignation was one of a business nature as apparently his duties as a mine superintendent were far more time consuming than he originally anticipated. By 1880, Taylor lived at 503 Byers Avenue and remained there until a few short years prior to his death, when the former mayor moved to a farm out in the county. Taylor remained involved with Joplin’s growth. He was one of the first Masons in Joplin and served on the city’s Board of Education in 1890 along with Charles Schifferdecker.

By 1900, Taylor listed himself as a grocery dealer in the U.S. Federal Census, but a decade later, he had moved to just north of Carthage to live the life of a grain farmer. A few weeks before December, 1917, the old veteran and pioneer fell ill. At the age of 80, it was generally believed that Taylor’s constitution was still strong enough to overcome illness. Instead, the old pioneer succumbed to kidney disease, and passed away.

A story from an earlier Joplinite

W.S. Gray, a machinery dealer located at 718 Jackson Avenue in Joplin, regaled a News-Herald reporter with stories of working for Moffet and Sergeant in the early 1870s.

Gray told the reporter, “I saw an article about the Cave Creek, Ark., zinc district in your Sunday issue,” he said. “it reminds me of the good days; it reminded me of the longest hike I ever undertook – a nice little 300-mile jaunt, all the way from Cave back to Joplin; and say, my friend, I always liked fish, but let me tell you I ate so many fish on that hike that I couldn’t even look a bottle of fish scale glue in the face for two years; and I snubbed one of my best old friends, John Finn, because the son of his name made me sick – but I’ve since recovered and can eat as many fish today as ever.”

He continued, “I was in the employ of the Moffet and Sergeant smelter here when I received an offer to be superintendent of construction at an air furnace that was to be built in the Cave Creek, Ark., district. It was my first job as supe and I was so proud of it. I broke the sweat band in my hat. It was about ’76 when we lined up for duty in the Arkansas wilds and began work on the new smeltery. Some time later things were running fine and we shipped a couple of carloads of lead – the pigs being carried overland in wagons to Russellville, Ark. When we came back to work again at the furnace the head bookkeeper drove over to a little place to get some drafts cashed. He sold the team and never came back – and not a cent of money did I get for my first job as superintendent. So the smelter closed down, and Lem Cassidy and myself – Cassidy is long since dead – started back afoot for Joplin. We knew the houses would be few and far between and that our grub must largely consist of fish. We laid in enough tackle to carry us through and started. Grasshoppers made the best bait imaginable and we had no trouble keeping our larder well stocked. We carried a little skillet, a coffee pot, and blankets with us. It was in the fall of the year, and walking was delightful. I have aways looked upon this jaunt as one long vacation. We took our time and enjoyed the beauties of the country. Sometimes we were fortunate in getting bread and vegetables from farmers, but such occasions were rare.”

According to the annual Report of the Geological Survey of Arkansas for 1905, lead mining began in the Cave Creek, Arkansas, mining district in 1876. “The pig lead was hauled by wagon to Russellville on the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway and thence shipped to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.”

Source: Joplin News-Herald