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…”

The Saloon at 402 Main Street

In our last post, we brought you the unfortunate fate of the owner of 402 Main Street, John Ferguson. Today we bring you the unfortunate fate of Ferguson’s Club Saloon located at 402 Main Street.

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

In the years that followed Ferguson’s death, the heirs to his estate, had promised to tear down the old saloon. It was an old saloon indeed, likely one of the oldest commercial buildings that remained in Joplin by 1916. Though considered by locals as the “Joplin Eyesore,” its history went back to the very founding years of the city when it was brought wholesale from nearby Baxter, Kansas, to the fledgling mining town. For over forty years, the saloon was the home to a bar on the first floor and a gambling hall on the second. As one old timer commented, “There’s where I used to play poker, myself, until I learned I didn’t know anything about the game.” The Club Saloon, a relic of the city’s wilder days, was finally razed in January, 1916, at the order of the city. It was, after all, worth thousands of dollars per square foot. The lot thereafter remained empty, but was used as a place to sell Liberty bonds during the First World War. It was this usage that gave the property the nickname, “The Liberty Lot.” Later, the building which was built and still stands today retained the liberty moniker, “The Liberty Building.”

The Man Who Owned 402 Main Street

The Club Saloon, the second front visible on the right side of the photograph stood at the valuable corner of Fourth and Main Street, across from the Old Joplin Hotel.

A brief note jotted down by a WPA worker in 1939, caught our attention:

“The Joplin National Bank building on 402 Main Street, is located on an interesting site that is associate with the early days of Joplin. Where this fine bank building now stands was in the early days a duck pond where some of the old pioneers found fine duck shooting in season. Later on a frame building was placed on part of this lot and a saloon, typical of the early days, was established there. At this saloon, as was customary in the older days, the miners were paid off on Saturday night after their weeks work was done. This old building became quite shaky and was abandoned and torn down at the beginning of the World War. One of the owners of this old saloon was on his way to Ireland to visit relatives and lost his life on the Lusitania when that ship was sunk by torpedoes. For several years the lot remained vacant and was known as [the] Liberty Lot, because sales of Liberty Bonds and other patriotic movements, as well as public speaking, were held on this lot. After the world war, a bank building was erected.”

The ill-fated RMS Lusitania via Wikipedia.


So who was this saloon owner who lost his life on May 7, 1915, when a German U-Boat U-20 torpedoed the RMS Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland?

John H. Ferguson, an Irish immigrant, arrived in Joplin sometime around 1889. He allegedly accumulated a large amount of real estate and was owner of both the Club Saloon (402 Main Street) and the Union Bar (120 West Sixth Street). Prior to his departure to New York City, where he would board the Lusitania, Ferguson spoke with his attorney J.H. Spurgeon of Joplin. The purpose of his trip abroad was to visit his father Comack Ferguson, who still lived in County Cavan, Ireland, about the construction of a new building at 402 Main. After arriving in New York, Ferguson sent a letter to Spurgeon:

“New York, May 1

Dear Mr. Spurgeon: I reached New York last night and have booked quarters on the Lusitania of the Cunard line. The boat sails at 10 o’clock this morning. It is an English ship, but I guess I can get through on it all right.

Respectfully,
John Ferguson”

As soon as news arrived of the ship’s sinking, Spurgeon immediately sent a cablegram to Ferguson’s father in an effort to find out if Ferguson was among the survivors. A few days later, Comack Ferguson sent a cablegram to Spurgeon stating, “Cannot get any account of John.” In the week that followed, it became clear that Ferguson had not survived. Spurgeon told the Joplin News-Herald that as Ferguson’s attorney he had never drawn up a will for his client, nor had he heard Ferguson discuss a will. The News-Herald surmised that if a will was not found in Ferguson’s personal papers, his estate would go to his father, three brothers, and two sisters. Spurgeon estimated the estate’s value at somewhere around $75,000.

On May 19, Spurgeon, acting as the administrator of Ferguson’s estate, closed the Club Saloon and the Union Bar. Because the liquor and business licenses were in Ferguson’s name, the businesses could not operate after an administrator was appointed.

The Club Saloon was quickly overshadowed on the west side of the intersection of 4th and Main by the Connor Hotel.

After the Lusitania disaster, family members sued the German government, and it was not until after World War One that these claims were settled. The family of John Ferguson apparently filed a claim, but as the record below indicates, his family was denied restitution.

Docket No. 2481.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
on behalf of
J. H. Spurgeon, as Administrator of the Estate of John Ferguson, et al.,
Claimant,

v.

GERMANY.

BY THE COMMISSION: –

John Ferguson, a naturalized American citizen, 43 years of age, was a passenger on and went down with the Lusitania. He had never married. He left him surviving as his sole heirs-at-law a father, three brothers, and two sisters, all of whom were at that time British subjects. He died intestate. J. H. Spurgeon was appointed, qualified, and is the acting administrator of the decedent’s estate. While the value of this estate is not disclosed by the record it was evidently substantial. All liabilities of the estate have been discharged. The record fails to disclose any damages resulting from the death of the deceased, or from the loss of his property, and suffered by one possessing American nationality at that time.

Applying the rules announced in the Lusitania Opinion, in Administrative Decision No. V, and in the other decisions of this Commission to the facts as disclosed by this record, the Commission decrees that under the Treaty of Berlin of August 25, 1921, and in accordance with its terms the Government of Germany is not obligated to pay to the Government of the United States any amount on behalf of any of the claimants herein.

Done at Washington January 7, 1925.

EDWIN B. PARKER,
Umpire.

CHANDLER P. ANDERSON,
American Commissioner.

W. KIESSELBACH,
German Commissioner.

The Arcade Saloon

Above is a glimpse inside one of Joplin’s Arcade Saloon. The saloon was located at 124 S. Main Street, which put it just a short walk away from city hall and the Joplin Police Department. At the time of the photograph, the saloon was owned by William L. Bigelows from at least 1915 until 1920. Prior to his purchase of the bar, it was home to Schweikert and Sons Saloon. Bigelows’ business came to an abrupt end, like many in Joplin, in 1920 with the passage of Prohibition. The Arcade was in good company, as it was joined in closure by the House of Lords, only two blocks south down the street. A grocery store later moved into the store front, which probably had cleaner floors but much less entertaining stories.

The former home of the Aracade Saloon - the dark green building with white trim at the end of the block.

We would like to thank the current owner of the photo, a great-grandson of Bigelows.

The House of Lords: The Place of Quality

House of Lords Bar in Joplin Missouri

For the early shining decades of Joplin’s history, there was one place to have a drink and a meal. It was the House of Lords. It was an attitude cultivated by the establishment, as shown in the advertisement below from the first decade of the 1900′s. Also below is a glimpse inside the famed locale, a view of the cafe area and above, the bar.

House of Lords advertisement
House of Lords Restaurant in Joplin

House of Lords

This photograph comes to Historic Joplin courtesy the great-grandson of Joseph “Joe” Dorizzi. Dorizzi is the man standing in the center of the photo flanked by two unknown men. He was one of the last to own the famed House of Lords. Notice the large, vertical House of Lords Budweiser sign – it replaced a smaller sign that hung outside the establishment years earlier. Although we’ve come to know the Budweiser Clydesdales and even the Budweiser frogs, you’ll see that in this case it’s a Budweiser mule team in front of the House of Lords. Perhaps it was a tip of the hat to the noble Missouri mule. We thank the owner of the photo for sharing this incredible treasure.

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.”

The Newberry Law

In 1889, a law commonly known as the “Newberry Law” was passed by the Missouri General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor David Francis. The man behind the law, Dr. Frank R. Newberry, was a physician and Democratic legislator from Fredericktown, Missouri. Concerned by the “moral status” of the liquor trade, Newberry came up with a law that he felt would clean up the saloons of Missouri.
 
The text of the law is as follows:
 
An ACT to prevent any dramshop-keeper from keeping or permitting to be kept in or about his dramshop certain musical instruments, any billiard, pool, or other gaming table, bowling or ten-pin alley, cards, dice, or other device for gaming or amusement.
 
A dramshop-keeper shall not keep, exhibit, use, or suffer to be kept, exhibited, or used, in his dramshop, any piano, organ or other musical instrument whatever, for the purpose of performing upon or having the same performed upon in such dramshop, nor shall he permit any sparring, boxing, wrestling or other exhibition or contest or cock fight in his dram shop; and it shall be unlawful for any dramshop-keeper to set up, keep, use, or permit to be kept or used in or about the premises of his dramshop by any other person, or run or to be run in connection with such dramshop, in any manner, or form whatever, any billiard table, pool table or other gaming table, bowling or ten-pin aley, cards, dice, or other device for gaming or playing any game of chance;

and the keeper of such dramshop shall not permit any person in or about his dramshop to play upon any such table or alley, or with cards, dice, or any gaming device of any kind. Every person violating the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not less than ten nor more than fifty dollars, and in addition to such fine shall forfeit his license, and shall not again be allowed to obtain a license to keep a dramshop for the term of two years next thereafter.
 
Approved June 17, 1889.

 
Legal jargon aside, the Newberry Law prohibited saloon keepers from operating pool and billiard tables, card and dice games, or any other device that might be used to gamble. Even musical instruments were prohibited and the only furniture a dram shop could have were “bar fixtures and chairs.”
 
Joplin, like many cities during this time period, had more than its fair share of saloons. A bold News-Herald reporter set off to interview some of the bar owners and saloon keepers about their opinion of the new law (and no doubt imbibe a few drinks).
 
At Chester Parker’s saloon, the reporter found that Chester was out, but his employee was of the opinion that the law “would not cut any great figure” of business. Ol Boucher, who was standing outside his saloon at 518 Main Street when the reporter ambled up, felt that “the enforcement of the law would make no material difference to the saloon difference.”
 
Major John D. Mefford of the Mefford and Klotz Saloon, however, was fighting mad. He declared the law “was a gross disregard of the rights of property.” Mefford allegedly had a $1,000 invested in new billiard tables and moaned that they would be a “total loss.” To him, the law was “unjust and a further prosecution of saloon keepers.” John Ferguson of the J. Ferguson & Co. Saloon agreed he would lose money on billard tables, but was happy to see craps and other dice games go, as they “did not belong to the saloon business.” William Teets, of Teets and Company Saloon at 318 Main Street, proclaimed he had always obeyed the law and would not grumble, but noted he would have replace many of the fixtures and furniture in his business in order to be in compliance.
 
Henry Sapp, whose business was located at 214 Main Street, was furious at Newberry and the new law. The reporter had to use multiple dashes to indicate the numerous expletives that Sapp hurled at Newberry. Sapp then said of Missouri Govenor David Francis, “Dave, he promised he wouldn’t sign that —— —— bill. He slaughters the rest of us to get revenge on the —– —– —— St. Louis saloon men. Dave is trying to cater to the —- —– country element. He wants to be United States Senator, but he is a dead rabbit now, henceforth and forever.” Sapp continued on his tirade, but the reporter must have felt it unnecessary to record the rest of his statement, due to the numer of unprintable words Sapp used.
 
Incidentally, Governor Francis became the US Secretary of the Interior shortly after he left office as governor, and then later served as US Ambassador to Russia, but he never served as a U.S. Senator.
 
Sources: p. 104 Laws of Missouri, passed at the Session of the 35th General Assembly, 1889; History of Southeast Missouri by Douglass; Joplin News Herald; 1889-1890 Missouri State Gazeteer.
 
For more on Sapp, see our blog article on Honest John McCloskey.

Joplin’s First Religious Services Were Held in a Saloon

Sometime in 1872, a group of citizens stood on Joplin’s muddy Main Street and discussed what measures could be taken to improve the community. Numerous suggestions were made when at last someone suggested that Joplin should have a church service.

Kit Bullock, half owner of the Bullock & Boucher saloon located on north Main Street jokingly suggested that, “they could hold church in his saloon.” What Bullock did not know is that one of the men standing in the group was a Methodist preacher. Upon hearing Bullock’s remark, the Methodist evangelist stepped forward and introduced himself as “Rev. Smith from St. Louis” and then told Bullock, “Now, sir, if you are as good as your word, I will conduct church services tomorrow and will be grateful for the use of your building.”

True to his word, Bullock cleaned up his saloon. Liquor bottles were taken from the shelves and candles put in their stead. Kegs that were not stowed out of sight were used to hold up pine boards as makeshift pews. When the next morning came, Rev. Smith found several earnest congregants gathered to listen to his sermon. The evangelist’s message went unrecorded, but according to the News-Herald, “From that first service who can tell what results have sprung up, for an interest was created, an ambition was awakened, that was never stilled until a house of worship was added to the other buildings that were spring up. The years have passed and the interest has never died, but has flowed on and on.” By 1902, Joplin was home to at least twenty-five churches.   Some of those churches still remain, others have replaced them, and while no longer a church meets in a saloon, one does meet in a movie theater.

Source: Joplin News-Herald

The Shooting of Ben Collier

In previous posts we’ve covered shootouts, robberies, and prostitutes.  Sometimes, however, officers of the law made the headlines – for the wrong reasons.

On a fall evening in 1906, Joplin Patrolman Johnson was standing outside the Mascot Saloon at the corner of Tenth and Main.  It was 9:30 at night.  The sun had set and it was a cool Friday night.  Johnson may have anticipated trouble, but not until Saturday night, which was when the miners were paid their weekly wages.  Special Officer Ben Collier swiftly walked past Johnson and entered the Mascot.

Shots rang out from inside the saloon.  Johnson dashed inside and saw Police Day Captain Will J.  Cofer standing with a gun in each hand.  One gun belonged to Special Officer Ben Collier; the other, still smoking, belonged to Cofer.  Cofer laid Collier’s gun down on a beer keg and then began to holster his pistol.  Patrolman Johnson, however, demanded, “Give me those guns.” Cofer obliged.  Johnson then noticed the motionless body of Ben Collier lying on the floor of the saloon.  Johnson checked for a pulse, but found Collier was dead.

Interior of the Mascot Saloon

Sketch of the interior of the Mascot Saloon

Johnson took Cofer into custody and headed for the city jail.  On the way Johnson was met by Assistant Chief of Police Jake Cofer, who was Will Cofer’s uncle (and was commonly known around Joplin as “Uncle Jake” as he had served for several years on the police force), who took charge of his nephew.  Upon arriving at the city jail, Jake Cofer asked Will to remove his police badge, and then locked him in a jail cell.

It appears that the difficulty between Will Cofer and Ben Collier began over a woman named Rose Proctor.  She was described as a “small and pretty blonde” who lived at 1216 Main Street.  Proctor was reportedly estranged from her husband who still lived in Illinois.  She may have come to Joplin due to the fact she “had several married sisters” living in Joplin.

Will “Rabbit” Cofer was a twenty-three year old married father of five year old son.  At the age of 17, he married a woman from Pierce City who was ten years his senior.  His father, Tom Cofer, served as Joplin Chief of Police before moving to Portland, Oregon.  Will stayed in Joplin and worked as a blacksmith and in the mines before joining the police force.  He had only been on the police force for a year, but was supposedly a satisfactory officer.

Ben Collier, who, at age 55, was older than Cofer, arrived in Joplin in the mid-1880s.  He worked as a butcher for several years before became involved in mining.  Collier eventually served on the police force, but left to become a private watchman.  He was still working as a private watchman when he tangled with Cofer.  Collier’s first wife had died and was allegedly estranged from his second wife who lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Cofer and Collier had quarreled in the past.  A Joplin Globe reporter had been standing on the street with Cofer the previous Wednesday when Cofer reportedly pointed to Collier and remarked, “There stands a fellow who has sworn he will kill me and I am afraid that he will try to do it before long.  If he would only come to me and tell me about it, it would be a different matter and we might get things straightened up, but he always talks behind my back.”

Members of the Joplin police force knew that the two men disliked one another and did their best to keep them apart.  Upon learning the Will Cofer was in the Mascot Saloon with Rose Proctor, Uncle Jake Cofer had sent word to his nephew that if he [Will] had any respect for him, Will would leave both the saloon and Rose.  Will Cofer, however, ignored his uncle.

Later that night, around 8 o’clock, Ben Collier appeared at the boarding house room that Rose Proctor called home, but was told she was not home.  Collier then spent an hour visiting with Proctor’s next door neighbor, May Stout, who told Collier that Rose was out with Will Cofer.  When he learned that Rose was with Will, Collier allegedly remarked, “I’ll kill him if I can find him tonight.” He then stalked out of the boarding house.  May Stout tried to call the Mascot Saloon to warn Will and Rose, but failed to reach them in time.  That’s when Ben Collier strode past Patrolman Johnson, entered the saloon, and a series of shots rang out.

There were only a few witnesses: “Red” Murphy, a cook at the Sapphire restaurant; Fred Palmer, bartender at the Mascot Saloon; and Rose Proctor.  In her statement to the police, Rose said she and Will Cofer were drinking a bottle of beer when Collier came in.  Collier called out, “Rose, come to me.” Rose coyly asked, “What do I want to come to you for?” Cofer, looking at Collier, offered to take Rose home.

Collier, enraged by Cofer’s interference, growled, “I have been looking for you and I have got you now!” The two men were standing roughly six feet apart when Collier drew his .44 caliber revolver but Cofer beat him to the draw.  Cofer managed to hit Ben Collier three times above the heart with his .38 caliber revolver.  Collier fell to the floor dead.

Will Cofer

A sketch of Will Cofer

Rose Proctor’s testimony was verified by the two other witnesses.   Upon examination, Collier’s revolver was half-cocked and had not been fired before Collier fell dead.  Jasper County Sheriff John Marrs arrived and ordered Collier’s body be sent to the Joplin Undertaking Company.

At the coroner’s inquest the next day, Rose Proctor and Fred Palmer, the bartender, testified that Collier pulled his gun on Cofer the minute he entered the saloon.  Proctor also testified she had attended “the races at Carthage” earlier in the week with Cofer.  After Collier found out, he waved his revolver at her and threatened to pull the trigger.

Patrolman Henry Burns testified that Collier had told him that morning that he would “get” Cofer “before night.” Joplin Police Night Captain Ogburn testified Collier had made threats against Cofer earlier in the year.  After the coroner’s jury made a trip to the Mascot Saloon to see the scene of the crime, the members made their decision: Cofer killed Collier in self-defense and was free to go.  Cofer shook hands with his friends and then resigned from the Joplin police force.

By 1910, Will Cofer and his wife Amelia were living in Portland, Oregon, where he shoed horses for a living.  According to the federal census, their son died between 1906 and 1910.  The couple was childless.

Curiously, in 1920, Will’s wife is listed as Rose.  His first wife, Amelia, either passed away or the couple divorced.  It seems unlikely, however, that this was Rose Proctor as this Rose listed her birth place as Oregon.  What is certain, though, is that a shooting took place in a Joplin saloon on a crisp fall night and Ben Collier lost much more than his heart.

Sources: Joplin Globe; 1900, 1910, 1920 federal census