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.”

The Would Be Lynching of William Boston in Galena, KS

Seven years after the successful lynching of Thomas Gilyard, a topic we will be giving considerable attention to in the near future, another lynching almost occurred in the neighboring community of Galena, Kansas, literally down the road from Joplin.

The would be victim of mob violence was an African-American resident, William Boston, or William Baldridge (as he was also sometimes called), had only recently been released from the state reformatory for cutting a street car conductor.  As of 1910, Boston was just 21 years old, could not read or write, and may have even been listed as “deaf  and dumb,” in the census.  He was a Kansas native, but lived with his widowed grandmother, originally from South Carolina.   The job William landed was at the Windle & Burr livery stable, and with it the coworker, Benjamin Jones, a foreman, born near Kansas City and approximately 51 years old.  The alleged events thereafter followed.  It came to Boston’s attention that Jones had a considerable amount of money upon him.  The not quite reformed liveryman waited until night fall and for the foreman to fall asleep.  To ensure a quick escape, he walked to another livery stable and telephoned for a carriage to wait him at the east side of town, his destination the depot of the Frisco Railroad.

At that point, Boston returned to work and to the sleeping Jones.  At this point, Jones had only hours to live, and of those hours, most of them spent dying at St. John’s Hospital.  A piece of wood in hand, described as a scantling, Boston clubbed Jones in the head, smashing his skull.  The killer took the money that Jones possessed and made for his escape.  Not long after, the dying Jones was discovered by a coworker and the police alerted.  It became a chase to catch the killer.

How the Galena police discerned that Boston would make for the train depot is unsaid, but there they found him with a believed intent to catch an eastward headed train.  At the point of three revolver barrels, Boston confessed to his identity in the early hours of the morning.  He was quickly taken into custody to the city jail of Galena, where to initial dismay, only $6 was found on his person.  The lack of the estimated sum taken from Jones was a mystery soon solved by the inquiry toward the “chewing tobacco” that Boston had in his mouth.  Forced to disgorge it, the tobacco proved to be $70.  To the Galena police, as well the natives of Galena, it seemed for certain that Boston was Jones’ attacker.  This was cemented by a supposed confession by Boston, locked behind the bars, that he was the only man involved and did attack Jones.

By sunrise, word has spread amongst the community of the attack and that the killer was in custody.  Men, and later boys, began to gather around the jail.  Hundreds, it was claimed, but by around 9 am, the number was said to be approximately 200.  “Summary justice” for Boston was the subject of nearly every conversation, but, as a reporter noted, there seemed no leader ready to guide the mob into action.  However, as time passed, the aggression of the mob began to rise.  Galena police officers were “hooted and hissed,” as they began to repeatedly refuse to turn over the keys to the jail within which Boston sat.

The Galena police chief, John Fitzgerald, the 44 year old son of Irish immigrants, grew alarmed as the intensity of the mob increased.  The police chief vowed not to allow his prisoner to fall into the hands of the ever more bold crowd and quickly made two orders.  First, he stationed a number of officers at the front of the city jail, and told them to act as if nervous about protecting the prisoner inside.  Second, he requested a car brought to the rear of the jail.  The plan worked.  As the mob watched the distraction out front, Fitzgerald with a handcuffed Boston climbed into the motorcar and swiftly sped away to the county jail at Columbus.  It was no time sooner, that a blood thirsty leader finally emerged and an organized the mob prepared to force their way into the jail, but only like a wave breaking upon the shore, to disperse upon the news that their prey had gotten away.

In a room at St. John’s hospital, Benjamin Jones, first generation American died of his wounds at approximately 2:30 pm on June 29, 1910.  In Columbus, Kansas, William Boston quietly awaited to be tried.  In Galena, Kansas, the Tri-State area narrowly avoided its next lynching following that in 1906 of Springfield, and the 1903 lynching in Joplin.  Were it not for the quick thinking of its chief of Police, John Fitzgerald, the murderous legacy might have continued.  For more on that legacy, either stay tuned in the near future for our posts on the 1903 Joplin lynching, or pick up a copy of White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, by Kimberly Harper.

Death certificate for Benjamin F. Jones

Source: 1910 United States Federal Census, Missouri Digital Heritage: Death Records, Joplin Daily Globe

A Hello Girl Finds Love

Turn on your television and you’re likely to be bombarded by advertisements for EHarmony, Match.Com, and OKCupid.  Love can now be found on the Internet, but finding love with someone you cannot see over lines of communication is nothing new.  Here is one story that happened over the telephone line, many years ago.

Miss Lillian Imogene Chittenden, a Hello Girl for the Home Telephone Company just over the state line in Galena, Kansas, found love over the wires.  When Alexander Morford, the mining editor for the Joplin Globe, discovered that the Galena line was down, he panicked.  He had to find a way to transmit a story from Galena to Joplin as quickly as possible.  Through the introduction of a friend he met Lillian Chittenden who helped him successfully transmit his story on time.

From that time forward Morford “demonstrated a great interest in the telephone business.  As time progressed, Morford was promoted and transferred to the Globe’s Joplin offices.  It was said of Morford, “as long as the Galena-Joplin toll service continued in operation, he hadn’t talked himself out of range and the romance of the telephone and The Globe went steadily forward.”

The two married at the Christian Church of Galena, Kansas, in December 1905.  Their marriage lasted until Alexander Morford’s death on February 9, 1953, in Joplin, Missouri.

Source: Joplin Globe