Carthage Points Out Joplin’s Wrongs

In years past, Carthage and Joplin have had an unspoken rivalry. Sometimes this rivalry would manifest itself in spirited jibes published in the papers, but more often than not it was the Carthage Evening Press that took swipes at Joplin, rather than the Globe or News-Herald that tried to besmirch Carthage’s reputation. The following article is one of hundreds of news items that the Evening Press ran over the years about incompetent, lawless, wicked Joplin.

“Lawless at Joplin. Many Robberies Occur Between the two towns – Police Protection Needed.

‘Kid’ Holden, who runs a gambling device in the Barbee building [Note to Readers: House of Lords] and lives on the corner of north Mineral and Hill streets, East Joplin, was robbed on Broadway, between East and West Joplin, Saturday night, while on his way home. The robbers were secreted behind the bill-boards on Broadway, between Virginia and Pennsylvania avenues, and as Holden approached he was clubbed into unconsciousness – the robbers taking a gold watch and pocketbook which contained $7. It is reliably reported that an attempt was made to ‘hold-up’ Holden some time ago, but he ran his assailants away with a revolver.

This audacious robbery has occasioned much talk in East Joplin, and has brought out the fact that there have been upward of a dozen attempts at ‘hold-up’ and robbery between the two towns within the past two or three weeks. A citizen of East Joplin says: ‘Crooks are to be seen almost nightly between Main street, on the west side and the bridge and its vicinity on the east side, where they are either skulking about the lumberyard, railway crossing, hiding about freight cars, the dives or shanties in the vicinity, or the bill boards.

‘Not long since,’ he continued, ‘an east town lady, while purchasing groceries on the west side, displayed a rather full pocket book in her rounds, she had not gone far on her way home before a robber approached her. But just then a car came gliding down the hill. She at once ran toward it, and the thief made a hurried break in the opposite direction, and was almost instantly out of sight.’

‘It would be a very easy job to ‘pull’ these ‘crooks’ and break up the robbers roost between the two towns, but no attempt has yet been made to afford any relief whatever. The crooks are actually safer between the two towns than any other part of the city.[Editor’s Note: The area between the two towns probably refers to the area known as the Kansas City Bottoms.] The police, or its chief, evidently consider it the duty of the force to remain about the crowded streets, and protect the saloons, and ‘pull’ those who patronize those institutions ‘too freely,’ and thus swell the city’s funds while leaving the various outlying thoroughfares of the city of Joplin utterly unprotected.’

‘It is claimed that if three picked men were taken off the police force, the remainder would not be worth a snap of the fingers. The force is the most incompetent in the history of the city. The recent east town shooting affair – when two policemen in attempting the arrest of an unarmed crippled boy over a twenty-five cent game of cards in a saloon, shot him down at close range – is an illustration.”

Source: Carthage Evening Press

S.B. Corn Returns to Joplin

After having left Joplin 35 years earlier, S.B. Corn returned to the city in 1910, amazed by the city that had replaced the small hamlet he once knew. Upon his arrival, he inquired after several old-timers, including attorneys Clark Claycroft and Leonidas “Lon” P. Cunningham. Corn was saddened to find that both men had passed away. The only men still alive in Joplin that he knew from the 1870s were D.K. Wenrich and E.B. McCollum.
 
Corn was also disappointed to find that the spot where his smelting plant once stood in East Joplin could not longer be ascertained. He did, however, find the old building that once housed the Senate saloon. Unfortunately, the reporter accompanying Corn failed to report its location.
 
At one time, Corn allegedly owned several hundreds, if not thousands of acres in the Joplin area that extended south into Newton County. Over the years he sold the land off, most of it purchased by Joplin capitalist John H. Taylor. He built his first lead smelting plant in 1870 near the village of Cornwall (now called Saginaw). He built his next smelter closer to Joplin. It used air furnance fueled by wood. As Corn described it, “Hot blast, rushing over the ore, converted it into a molten mass which drained off into kettles. From these kettles it was ladeled out into moulds, and pigs, ranging in weight from 8/0 to 100 pounds, were formed. The metal was hauled over land to Baxter [Springs], Kansas, and shipped by railroad to St. Louis.”
 
According to the reporter, “Much of the ore smelted was produced from Mr. Corn’s land in the Kansas City Bottoms and was purchased from the lessees. The story is told that the smelting company sometimes paid for one load of lead five or six times, the operators being clever enough to have the same product weighed any number of times.” When this was discovered, duplicate sales were “abolished.” Corn eventually left Joplin and headed east to Pennsylvania where he engaged in the gas and coal business, but on a return trip west felt the urge to see Joplin once more.
 
He exclaimed, “When I was in there the seventies, there was no west Joplin. This part of the city was nothing but prairie. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, and can ahrdly realize that a city could have  grown so rapidly as this one.”

Source: Joplin News Herald, 1910.

Shredded Wheat

An early advertisement for Shredded Wheat from the Library of Congress

Joplin was a stopping point for many hoboes and railroad tramps and one can only assume that they hoped to find a square meal as they roamed its streets and alleys. On one occasion, hoboes were able to secure themselves a free meal, but probably not the feast they had hoped for.

Early one morning, young boys roamed the streets of Joplin with free samples of shredded wheat biscuits. At every doorstep the boys visited, they left a small box that contained two shredded wheat biscuits. It was not long, however, before a tramp caught on and began to trail behind the boys collecting the boxes of shredded wheat. Before noon “over two dozen tramps had been told the joyful tidings” and soon each tramp had at least “half a dozen boxes.”

Armed with plenty of shredded wheat, the tramps and hoboes fled to the safety of the Kansas City Bottoms, where “cans, old buckets, cups, and in fact anything that would hold liquid were pressed into use.” A nearby farmer was talked out of a “gallon or so of milk.”

The newspaper, which often frowned upon weary willies, declared that perhaps the boxes of shredded wheat “did more good to mankind” that day than if it had remained on the doorsteps of its intended recipients. One has to wonder if hoboes reminisced years later about the time they feasted on shredded wheat in Joplin.

No Rest for the Weary Willie

Today many Americans, unless they live in an urban metropolitan center, have little interaction with the country’s rail system.  Once in a while, one might find themselves stopped at a railroad crossing watching a train roll past, but gone are the days when the train would stop at the town depot to take on coal, passengers, mail, and freight before heading to its next destination.  Peruse an old Joplin newspaper and ads from the St.  Louis and San Francisco “Frisco” Railway touting summer excursions to Eureka Springs, St.  Louis, and Chicago spring from the pages.  Joplin was fortunate that it not only had an extensive interurban trolley system, but was home to a handful of rail lines that carried lead and zinc to industrial centers in the east.

With the trains came hoboes and tramps.  Just a few years after the turn of the century, the Joplin Daily Globe reported that local train crews were having problems with hoboes.  “According to trainmen,” the Globe recounted, “they are having more trouble with tramps this winter than for a great many years.  They are of the worst class and are exceedingly dangerous customers.  They are traveling around stealing rides when they can and endeavoring to find the most favorable places for looting stores or cracking safes.”

The trainmen claimed that the “harmless hoboes who would go out of their way rather than harm a human being are very much in the minority.” Instead, many trainmen told the Globe reporter that they had engaged in “hand to hand fights in an effort to rid the train of them.” Many of the fights broke out during the night when hoboes boldly roamed the rail yards in groups of four to six men.

Later that year, the Globe reported that the, “rail road yards have been especially infested with the merry willies of late.” Nels Milligan, a Joplin police officer detailed to keep an eye on the hoboes told a Globe reporter, “All up along the Kansas City Southern embankment from Broadway to Turkey Creek, you could see the bums lying stretched out in the warm afternoon air sunning themselves like alligators or mud turtles on a chilly afternoon, and here and there was a camp.”  According to Milligan, a hobo’s camp consisted of a “small fire that you could spit on and put out, between two or three blackened rocks, and a blackened old tin can, and an improvised pan or skillet made out of another tin can melted apart and flattened out.”

Hobo getting a free meal

Sometimes a hobo succeeded in getting a free meal.

The officer admitted there were too many hoboes and not enough room in the jail to house them.  He worried they would be “working the residence district for grub, hand-outs, punk, pie, panhandle, pellets, and any old thing they can get together.” Once they had food, Milligan claimed, the hoboes would “feed and gorge and lie around there like fat bears dormant in the winter time” until a bout of bad weather would send them on their way.

Five years later, the Joplin News Herald interviewed a railroad employee about the tramps who traveled through Joplin.  Watching a couple of hoboes jump off of a freight train in the Joplin rail yards, the railroad employee remarked, “See those fellows getting off up there? Now there is no telling where they got on, nor where they rode.” He shook his head.  “There’s another thing connected with this hauling of tramps.  Some of the most notorious criminals of the country have occupied places on the train and eluded the crew for hundreds of miles.”  According to the man, rail workers made every effort to assist law enforcement officers in locating wanted criminals who might be catching a ride on the trains.

Joplin was still struggling with hoboes eleven years later when Chief of Police Joseph Myers directed his officers to sweep the town for any weary willies.  Six men were arrested on charges of vagrancy, jailed, and then told to move on.  But as long as there were trains rolling into Joplin, there were always tramps and hoboes to contend with.

Hobos kicked out of Joplin

Joplin Police kicking out bums and hobos

Hoboes were sometimes looked at in a humorous light.  A hobo celebration was held at the “hobo cave one mile and a half north of the union depot in the hills of Turkey Creek.  Twenty of the Ancient Sons of Leisure gathered there in the cool cave.” One of the hoboes stood up to deliver an impromptu address about the significance of the Fourth of July and said, “Fellow brothers, you all realize what this day means.  It was on this day in 1776 that George Washington crossed the Delaware, whipped fifty thousand Redcoats and whacked out the Declaration of Independence.  Since that time we have been independent.  We do not have to work.  I now propose a committee of three raid a [chicken] coop so we can have an elaborate dinner as befitting Washington’s birthday.”

By 1918, the day of the hobo in Joplin had begun to wane.  Despite Joplin remaining an “oasis  in the great American desert created by prohibition” it was no longer “possible for police to spread a drag net in the railroad yards and gather in anywhere from a dozen to fifty ‘Knights of the Open Road.’”
Tim Graney, a former Joplin police officer and station master at Union Depot, declared he had not seen more than half a dozen hoboes in the last year and not one in the past six months.  The camps where the tramps and hoboes once gathered were empty.  The Globe, unable to explain their absence, mused, “Maybe they have all gone to work…At any rate, they’re gone! The genus Hobo is no more!”

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher – Part I

In the early months of 1910, a Globe reporter stopped by the home of G.O. Boucher at the corner of Joplin and Twentieth Streets to interview him about historic Joplin.  Boucher gladly obliged him.  Here at Historic Joplin our philosophy is to allow the voices of the past speak for themselves in their own words with as little interference as possible, even if we abhor the usage of some of the language used.  For those sensitive to the use of racial slurs, it may be for the best to skip this entry as it does include some graphic language.   What follows are Boucher’s recollections in his own words as they appeared in the Joplin Globe.

“I came from Mineralville in the spring of 1871 in company with John Sergeant, at that time a partner of E.R. Moffet.  They were the first men to start the wheel rolling for the building of the present city of Joplin.  Among the men who were interested in this undertaking were Pat Murphy and W.P. Davis who laid out the first forty acres in town lots, on which the largest and most valuable buildings of the city now stand.

The first air furnace built in the Joplin mining district was constructed by Moffet and Sergeant.  T. Casady, a man from Wisconsin, handled the first pound of mineral which was smelted in this district in the mill erected by them.  The smelter was located in the Kansas City Bottoms between East and West Joplin.  A. Campbell, H. Campbell, A. McCollum, and myself were the first smelter employees in this district.  The fuel used in the smelter was cordwood and dry fence rails, which were hauled from the surrounding country.  The first men who handled rails and sold to the smelters were Warren Fine and Squire Coleman, the latter now living in Newton County.

The hotel accommodations at that time were poor and the first ‘beanery’ was a 24×16 foot shack erected by H. Campbell.  His family occupied the house and they boarded the smelter crew.  We found sleeping quarters wherever we could find room to pitch our tents. the boys would stretch their tents and then forage enough straw to make a bed and this was the only home known to them.  E.R. Moffet and myself slept in the smelter shed on a pile of straw and for some time we slept in the furnace room on the same kind of bed.  About the last of August of the same year Mr. Campbell erected what was then quite a building.  It was two stories high, four rooms on the ground floor, and two above.  This was at the southwest corner of Main and First Streets, now called Broadway.  Just about this time Davis and Murphy began the erection of a store building just across the street from the hotel.

Photograph of one of Joplin's first hotels, the Bateman Hotel

Another early hotel was the Bateman hotel, moved from Baxter, Kansas, to Joplin in 1872. It promptly burned down three years later.

Speaking of the first business building erected in Joplin, William Martin built a 16×16 box building on Main Street between First and Second Streets and put in about $125 worth of groceries and a small load of watermelons.  Soon after this, a man known as ‘Big Nigger Lee’ established a grocery store on the opposite side of the street from Martin.  He put in a larger stock but did not have as good a trade as Martin on account of having no watermelons.  Some of the older residents remember ‘Big Nigger’ Lee as he was in business here for several years.”

More to come from the reminiscences of G.O. Boucher and in the future, Historic Joplin will address the issue of racism in Joplin to provide a clearer picture of how hatred affected the city’s African American citizens.

Source: Joplin Globe, “A History of Jasper County, Missouri, and Its People,” by Joel T. Livingston.