White Man’s Heaven Website Live

A couple weeks ago, we announced the publication of White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894 – 1906, by Kimberly Harper.  Since that time, the official website for White Man’s Heaven has gone live.  In the future, you can check there for all the latest news and developments concerning the book.  Check it out at the following address: www.whitemansheaven.com .

White Man’s Heaven

Cover to White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

Interested in reading about local history? A new book this fall will offer the first comprehensive examination of five interconnected episodes of racial violence in the Ozarks.  We like it already because its cover art features the work of Joplin’s famed resident, Thomas Hart Benton.  Here are the details:

“Drawing on court records, newspaper accounts, penitentiary records, letters, and diaries, “White Man’s Heaven” is the first book to investigate the lynching and expulsion of African Americans in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Kimberly Harper explores events in the towns of Monett, Pierce City, Joplin, and Springfield, Missouri, and Harrison, Arkansas, to show how post–Civil War vigilantism, an established tradition of extralegal violence, and the rapid political, economic, and social change of the New South era combined to create an environment that resulted in interracial violence. Even though some whites, especially in Joplin and Springfield, tried to stop the violence and bring the lynchers to justice, many African Americans fled the Ozarks, leaving only a resilient few behind and forever changing the racial composition of the region.”

The book has received high praise from noted scholars Edward Ayers, Fitzhugh Brundage, and Brooks Blevins.

“Kimberly Harper has written a powerful, deeply researched, and persuasive account of the driving of entire communities of African Americans from their homes. These stories of the Ozarks speak of a larger tale of violence and subjugation we must understand if we are to understand the history of this country.”
Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond, and author of The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction

“An uncommonly sophisticated piece of local history that demonstrates why local / micro history is so valuable.”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Professor, University of North Carolina, and author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930

“A valuable contribution to the study of American race relations and the Ozarks.”
Brooks Blevins, Noel Boyd Associate Professor of Ozarks Studies, Missouri State University, and author of Arkansas / Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State

Keep an eye out for it in the fall. If you want to pre-order, you can purchase it on Amazon.com or through the University of Arkansas Press.   At the time of the book’s release, we’ll offer  more comprehensive coverage.

UPDATE:  Check out the White Man’s Heaven website at www.WhiteMansHeaven.com.

The Coal Pickers of Joplin

In the first few years of the new Twentieth Century, Joplin was a bustling and growing city.  New mines brought new wealth, and fortunes were made by men who operated businesses that serviced the mining industry.  The wealth did not reach all of Joplin’s residents.  Among the misfortunate were the coal pickers:

“The coal pickers of Joplin come from the classes of people who do not submit to the toll of the mines or mill, but depend upon chance employment…and live usually from day to day.”

Coal Pickers of Joplin, Missouri

Coverage of the entrepreneurial poor by a Joplin Globe reporter noted the existence of two types of coal pickers.  There were those who operated at night and those during the day, and primarily, a difference between honest and not so honest.  In Joplin, it was legal to pick up coal that had fallen from coal cars, but not to take coal directly from the cars.  Those who wanted more substantial hauls often climbed into the cars at night with sacks to fill for profit.  The reporter noted that the worse the weather, be it blizzard or thunderstorm, the more likely the devious coal pickers were to swarm into the rail yards in search of unguarded coal.  Accordingly, the yard watchmen were forced to go out into the night when the elements were at their worse to assure the safety of the coal laden cars.

The “night pickers” as they were described, usually emerged after midnight.  One described pair was a father and son.  While the father climbed into the car and helped himself to large sacks of coal, his son darted back and forth along the tracks with a wary eye and ear for a patrolling night watchman.  As the sun began to rise, other coal pickers arrived.

“Sometimes it is a small boy whose father has passed away, sometimes the girl who wants to help mother earn a livelihood either by providing fuel or by selling it and turning the money into the maternal treasury.  Sometimes it is an old man, aged, bent, long past the years of active labor, or, saddest of all, a woman whose life sun is nearing the western horizon.”

Coal Pickers of Joplin Missouri

The early hours of the day reportedly were the best for finding coal, often accidentally spilled from the cars by the “night pickers.”  The other coal came from the bumps in the track as the trains slowly made their way through the city.  Another source were the brakemen of the trains, who gazed upon the coal pickers with pity and on occasion walked across the top of the coal cars, and absently knocked off coal with their feet in the progress.  When questioned, one brakeman vehemently denied the act, but did so with a twinkle in his eye.

Of the coal pickers described by the reporter, two were an elderly couple.  The old man crawled about the cars to reach coal on the ground and handed them to his wife to place in a basket on her arm.  Another coal picker was a young boy who led a dog who pulled a small cart.  This boy was interviewed by the reporter and spoke of his Dickensian tale:

“You see, father’s dead and mamma’s been sick for a long time, so she couldn’t work.  Sister does the dishes for some of the neighbors, and runs errands, and makes about two dollars a week.  I make about four dollars picking coal, and that keeps us.”

Joplin Coal Pickers

Some coal pickers found customers on South Main Street amongst the restaurants.  One restaurant owner claimed that the difference between buying coal from a coal picker or one of the coal companies was purely sentiment. “My coal costs me as much as anyone in the city…paying it to the coal dealers or to these people who actually need the money.  I give mine to these needy people.”

The two most popular spots for the coal pickers were the switch tracks at the Kansas City Bottoms and Smelter Hill, the Tenth Street yards, and the freight yards south of Tenth Street and west of Main Street.  Coal cars still rumble through Joplin to points north and south. The less fortunate of Joplin’s residents no longer stalk the rail yards in search of coal as the day of coal in homes and restaurants has long since vanished.  The coal pickers of that time were considered part of the “other half,” the poor and the impoverished, whom the daily citizen barely gave a passing glimpse.  As the Joplin Globe chose not to ignore them, it’s just as important for our study of Joplin’s history to cover them as all residents of Joplin’s past, whatever their socio-economic status, deserve the chance to be remembered.

Source:  Joplin Globe

Joplin’s Flatiron Building Problem

When construction on New York’s iconic triangular Flatiron building was completed, pedestrians noticed that the shape and location of the building created strong, gusty winds. In 1907, Joplin residents experienced their own version of the Flatiron’s freak winds.

The intersection of Fourth and Main

The windy intersection of Fourth and Main

After the completion of the New Joplin Hotel (later known as the Connor Hotel) at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, strong winds wreaked havoc upon all who dared to pass by. As a reporter observed, on “calm, still days the wind blows in savage gusts around the corner of the new hotel at Fourth and Main and on windy days a veritable hurricane rages up and down Main street and the side streets that lead to Joplin’s ‘flatiron’ corner.”

He described the daily scenes as thus, “All the sights that are seen in New York on a windy day may be seen at the corner of Fourth and Main streets. The variegated display of hosiery, coattails flapping in the ungentle zephyrs, men chasing their hats, and everybody walking either like they were drawing a heavy loaded cart or if they chance to be going with the wind, moving with accelerate step, may be seen.”

On one day blustery day, the wind blew twenty wagon loads of dry sand up and down the nearby streets. The sand, which was to be used on the hotel site, was a total loss. “Flags and banners put up around the corner were whipped into threads by the blowing wind, and loosely nailed board signs were hurled to the street.” Women and girls held onto their skirts to keep them from blowing up and were forced to fix their hair after passing through the area. Men quickly learned to remove their hats, lest it be blown away, as with one man who watched as his prized hat was snatched by a young dog as the hat rolled down the street. One African American workman claimed that the wind was so fierce that he had been pinned up against the building.

The reporter remarked to a nearby workman about the wasted sand, but the workman just shook his head. “No; it isn’t that, but how do you think we can get men to pay strict attention to their work when there are so many funny sights in the street below?”

The wind held the advantage of surprise. It was not a steady, consistent wind. Instead, it gusted in sporadic bursts that caught pedestrians by surprise. “When the wind is from the south in most parts of town, it may be blowing from the north at Joplin’s ‘flatiron corner.’” In one case, a horse powered delivery wagon became unmanageable due to the wind. The young boy in charge of the wagon tried to hold on to both his hat and the horse, but as he did so, he accidentally backed the wagon into a buggy. This caused two street cars to stop, creating a traffic jam that took some time to straighten out. Unfortunately for the passengers in one of the street cars, the windows were down. Sand and dust blew in, creating a wall of blowing grit, sand, and dirt that stung their faces.

Unfortunately, with the demolition of the Keystone Hotel, the Connor Hotel, and the Worth Block, we modern day residents and visitors to downtown Joplin will never have the same blustery experience as the folks who traveled the streets of post-1907 Joplin.

Bad Boys at Byersville

A letter published in the Joplin News Herald offers a hint to some of the problems that arose in Southwest Joplin:

EDITORS-HERALD: – Will you please give a little space in your columns in the interest of the quiet and law-abiding of the district known as Byersville in southwest Joplin. The good people of this part of the city pay taxes to keep up a police force, and think that they are entitled to at least some little protection. It is a fact, although I am almost ashamed to acknowledge it, that we have some very bad boys. They have been warned many times, but it seems that the warning has no effect on them. They often disturb the peace by loud and unnecessary noises, throwing rocks, and have gone so far as to egg houses that are occupied by quiet families. We ask the city authorities to see that quiet is kept in this part of the town. The boys gather on the store porches at late hours and make such noises that break the rest of peaceful citizens. They even go so far as to make fun of and tantalize citizens on the streets or in their own enclosures. There are a half-dozen or more of them. While many of us would just like to see our neighbor’s boys in trouble, we must have the nuisances stopped: And it will be better for the boys, for if allowed to continued, some day they will receive sentence for a grave crime, then they will say: “If the better citizens had arrested me for some small offense it would have saved me from this everlasting disgrace.” Now, boys, take warning, be good boys and grow up to be good men and you will an honor to the community, and if you do not you will have to face the police court and take the consequences.

A Quiet Citizen.

Source: Joplin Morning Herald, 1892

Matt Miller’s Treasure

In the early spring of 1897, Matt Miller of Joplin was the recipient of what may have been the first armadillo in Southwest Missouri.  Miller’s friend F.D.  Bancroft of Von Ormy, Texas, sent Miller the armadillo as a gift.


Image of an armadillo via the Library of Congress

The Globe reported that the armadillo was, “eighteen inches long and a foot tall.  It is covered with a shell something like a turtle, has four legs long enough to reach to the ground, at the bottom of which are four feet that look something like a cross between a hoof and a cat’s paw.”

Miller described it as a, “land bird, strictly omnivorous and carnivorous.  It eats mice, snakes, lizards, ants, and other beasts and vermin.” He added, “The ladies are invited to call at my office and see it.  Sleeps by day and runs around hunting something to eat at night.” Miller, already proud of his gift, boasted, “It will dig into the ground faster than a man can with a spade, and when he gets in he spreads his armor out against the sides of the hole s o that a team of mules can’t haul him out.  All are urged to come and see him and it won’t cost anyone a cent.”

Source: Joplin Globe, Library of Congress

Cornbread Wilson

Why some women turned to prostitution, be it from circumstance or drug addiction, it might be never known.  Unfortunately at times, caught up with them in the tragic whirlwind by no choice of their own were children.  This is one story.

How Pearl Wilson received the nickname Cornbread is unknown, but what is known from contemporary accounts is that she bore a “bad reputation and was bringing her little five year old daughter up in the very blackest of sin.” It was not surprising, then, to officers when they arrested her in 1903 on a charge of street walking with her daughter in tow.

After she was arrested, Wilson was escorted to the city jail, and when the “iron doors closed between the woman and her child, she began to cry” because the police “refused to lock up her little girl.” Deputy Marshal Frank Sowder contacted the Children’s Home and asked that someone come take charge of the child.

When Mrs.  Barr, matron of the Children’s Home, arrived to take Pearl Wilson’s daughter to the home, a “most pathetic scene” ensued.  Wilson begged to kiss her child goodbye and when the doors of the cell were opened, she “bounded out and clasped the little girl to her bosom, and the tears of mother and daughter mingled.” But Mrs.  Barr could not tarry long and soon the “tender, loving mother, [fought] the battle of her life to prevent the officers from separating her from little one.” Her appeal to keep her child with her in the jail cell tugged at the heartstrings of the officers.  Both Deputy Marshal Sowder and Night Captain Loughlin could not “keep back the tears.” Neither man wanted to separate mother and child, but with the assistance of Mrs.  Barr, the two were separated.

Pearl Wilson was placed back in her cell while her daughter was taken the Children’s Home.  The following day, Wilson went before the police judge, where she claimed that she was not street walking; she was merely “on her way home from church when the officers placed her under arrest.” The Globe reporter remarked, “No one in the courtroom who is acquainted with her methods was inclined to believer her story and the court decided to continue her case until” the next morning when “her conduct will be thoroughly investigated.”

By the next day, however, Pearl Wilson was in trouble again.  This time it was for going to the Children’s Home at 10 o’clock at night on a Sunday to regain possession of her daughter.  After being denied entrance, she “raised a disturbance.  She disturbed the entire neighborhood and in a loud manner served notice that she would ‘clean out the roost’ if her wishes were not acceded to.” Pearl left empty-handed but returned the next day and through “a series of gigantic bluffs she endeavored to frighten the inmates and she succeeded in scaring the smaller inmates nearly out of their wits.  Perfect and harmonious bedlam reigned” until the police arrived and arrested her once again.

The Globe reporter observed, “Although ‘Cornbread’ has lost the principal attributes of a fond and affectionate mother, she has retained as strong love for the little waif as the matron of the most comfortable home in the city.  She has been known to shamefully neglect little Bonnie, but when she is pursued and corralled by the policemen she invariably takes Bonne with her to the jail.”

She must have failed to sway the mind of Mrs.  Barr as she and a young man were seen on Christmas eve “prowling about the Home by some of the attendants and were ordered away.” The Globe reported, “the Wilson woman has made the threat that she will have possession of her child if it costs her life.”

What happened to Pearl Wilson and her daughter Bonnie remains unknown.  Their story, however, is a common one as many women chose to pursue their livelihood as a member of the frail sisterhood.  For the children who were born to women who earned their living on the streets, life was far from easy.

Source: Joplin Globe

Jim Grassman, He Sold Hot Tamales

The men and women of Joplin have answered the call of duty for decades.  In 1917, Joplin resident James “Jim” Grassham attempted to enlist in the regular army but was turned away.  The government, however, had good reason to reject the eager recruit: he was eighty-one years old and was missing his left foot, having lost it to a Confederate bullet in Lancaster, South Carolina.

Jim Grassham was a colorful figure who may not have lingered long in Joplin long enough to appear in the census, but he left behind an interesting interview in the Joplin Globe.  Grassham was known for selling hot tamales out of a tin pail on the streets of Joplin.  He stood out in his white apron, little blue cap, and spectacles.  Most prized of all was his “twinkling, happy smile.” Perhaps that’s why many chose to call him “Dad.”

Main Street, Joplin

Jim Grassman wandered the streets of Joplin selling his hot tamales.

According to Jim, his father arrived in American in 1777 with the Marquis de Lafayette.  His father, described as a “mere boy,” was allegedly at Yorktown being treated in a field hospital for wounds when the British General Cornwallis surrendered.  The elder Grassham was unable to return to France due to his wounds.  A Jewish Virginia revolutionary soldier took Grassham in and nursed him back to health.  Grassham courted and married the man’s daughter.  Together the couple had several children, including eight boys.

Jim told the reporter his father lived to be 104, which might be attributed to the fact that he drank wine he imported from his relatives back in France.  He said, “Father didn’t talk much about the revolution.  There were many important things happening after the revolution that seemed more important to him than the revolution itself.  The development of the was his hobby and he advised all his boys to go west and get land and we all went to Kentucky and then to Tennessee and some of us to Arkansas after the war.”

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, four of the boys joined Union forces, while the remaining four signed up with the Confederacy.  At the age of 28, Jim left his wife and four children and joined Company I of the Third Kentucky Cavalry (US).

After serving four years, four months, and twenty-nine days without a scratch, Jim and his fellow cavalrymen were skirmishing with Confederate troops at Lancaster, South Carolina, when a bullet “stung” him in the ankle.  He said that the wound did not hurt, but his pride must have for he was taken prisoner after he was shot.  He was taken by Confederates “to Salisbury and later to Libby prison, and then was taken out on a prison ship off Annapolis and there he was when the war ended.” It was then that blood poisoning set in.  Because he did not receive proper medical attention, Jim’s foot had to be amputated.  According to Jim, he did not “allow the doctors to give him chloroform or any kind of ‘dope’ and the operation didn’t hurt until they ‘cut the leaders’ (tendons) and then he ‘just naturally raised hell with them.’”

After the end of the war, Jim received a fifty dollar pension from the government and a rubber foot.  He took the advice of his father, who had always advised his sons to go west, and settled in Arkansas.  Over the years, he married four times and had fourteen children.  His last wife, who was seventy-eight, had been blind for two years when the Globe reporter interviewed Jim.  He said he owned some farms in Arkansas, some Liberty Bonds, and sold the tamales “just to be doing something” as well as support his wife, tubercular son-in-law, daughter, and several grandchildren.  One of his daughters had eleven children; another had nine, all girls.  At least four of his grandsons had enlisted in the regular Army, two of whom were bound for France as part of Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force.

When asked about his long life, Jim said he didn’t use tobacco, although he used to before “the doctor made me cut it out several years ago and I never went back to the habit.” He still took a nip of whiskey, usually during rainy weather.  Jim claimed that he had suffered a bout of pneumonia but whiskey helped him pull through it “like a young colt.” Jim observed that a person should keep busy and be an optimist.

Jim reflected, “I’ve been busy ever since I was a kid.  Every member of my family has been the same way.  My father was a hard worker, a great ‘producer,’ as we used to call a man who succeeded.  My brother, who is 89 years old, works at blacksmithing and he stands at his anvil every day.  He lives in Tennessee now.  I think its hard work and a cheerful disposition that keeps anyone going.  I don’t feel that I’ve aged a bit in fifty years.  I don’t think much of fads about what you eat or drink to live long.”

He then told the reporter he wasn’t sure if he was going to stay in Joplin much longer due to the rainy weather as he “doesn’t like too much rain.” Although he lived in Chitwood, Jim could be seen walking the streets of Joplin any night “ready to exchange a witticism or a laugh with anyone.”

Source: Joplin Globe

Mining – Progress and Prosperity

An illustration from the Joplin Globe invoking the spirit of progress that pervaded much of Joplin’s history.

Mining - Progress and Prosperity

Source: Joplin Globe

The Demolition of the Joplin Hotel

Demolition of the Joplin Hotel

The demolition of the Joplin Hotel

Wooden sluice-like conduits extended from the windows of the storied Joplin Hotel like slides and ended on the packed dirt surface of the streets below. Considered one of the most popular hostelries in the city, it had been the home to many cigar smoke laden conversations and political planning. One corner of the hotel building had been dedicated for use by the Miners’ Bank, but it had recently relocated down Fourth Street to the intersection of Fourth and Joplin, several blocks away. Instead, the Joplin Hotel was fated for demolition. It was to be wiped away to make room for a new Joplin Hotel, one that would rise an additional five to six stories above Main Street to become the tallest structure in Joplin.

The demolition of the hotel which proceeded in June, 1906, attracted onlookers who made quick bets as to how fast the workmen could dismantle the venerable institution. The speed of which surprised many and likely cost a few unfortunate bettors their gambled money. For as quickly as the hotel was torn apart, care was not sacrificed during the process. The owners of the hotel, likely with the cost of the expensive new hotel in mind, did what could be done to salvage the bits and pieces of the hotel. Door and window lintels, fire escapes and iron railings, all were carefully lowered to the ground. The worth of which, the Joplin Globe speculated, was valued in the thousands. Everything else, torn from the structure with hammers, hatchets, and picks, was sent down the wooden sluices. The piles that accumulated were quickly lifted onto wagons by teamsters who drove the debris away to be dumped.

By the end of the summer, all traces of the Joplin Hotel were gone. In its stead, was the foundation of the hotel that was to become the Connor, an institution whose reputation and luxury outshone the building it replaced.

Source: The Joplin Globe