Hi-Ki, Joplin’s “Wild Man”

W.H. Evans

Over the years Joplin saw its share of curiosities. In her book, Tales from Joplin, Evelyn Milligan Jones recounted the story of the “Man Horse.” According to Jones, the Man Horse was an individual who believed he was a horse and could often be seen “charging down the street pulling his own buggy. He had his boots shod with horseshoes, and sometimes ate hay from the back of his wagon, or grass at the roadside.”

Just as a real horse would, the Man Horse would “shy at a blowing piece of paper and run wild for a few blocks.” Regrettably, Jones has little else to say about Man Horse, nor did she divulge his real name. Man Horse was only one of a handful of characters to roam the streets of Joplin.

Another colorful character that Jones recounted was “Nigger” Evans. Joplin composer Percy Weinrich remembered him as the “big man who used to roam the alleys and byways of Joplin in his trash wagon.” Mothers would tell their children, “If you don’t behave, Nigger Evans will get you!” Evans inspired such fear that the Joplin Elks “dressed him up in a leopard suit, and provided him with a whole haunch of meat which he flourished like a club, pausing only to gnaw at the raw meat now and then as he marched along. Children who saw this had wilder nightmares than TV can inspire.”

But there was more to “Nigger” Evans than just a crude racial caricature. His real name was W.H. Evans and he made his living in Joplin as a “city scavenger.” As he made his way through the streets of Joplin, Evans stood out due to his extreme size: He was six feet eight inches tall, weighed 350 pounds, and wore a size 15 shoe.

A native of Cairo, Illinois, Evans was born to slave parents. According to Evans, his father “stole his mother from Alabama and then ran off to sea.” As soon as he was grown, Evans joined the Ninth United States Cavalry, where he served for five years. He later worked as a railroad brakeman in Texas. It was during this time in his life that he killed a fellow African American with his fists, ending his ambition to become a prizefighter. Despite his past, Evans found employment with the Barnum and Wallace circuses as “Hi-Ki the Wild Man.”

Barnum circus barkers would cry out to curious crowds:

“Hi-Ki, the flesh-eating wild man. Species of Cuban negro. Captured forty-two miles south of Manila by a group of American soldiers. Cannot understand a word of English. The only one in captivity.” For those brave enough to view “Hi-Ki” they entered a tent and saw Evans seated in a cage chewing on a piece of raw beefsteak handed to him through the bars with a pitchfork.

When asked about his days in the circus, Evans opined, “Barnum was a little off when he said the American people like to be humbugged. It is not because they want to be humbugged that makes them pay out their money, but it is their desire to learn and see something they never saw before. The American people ain’t afraid to invest in anything if it’s new.”

After he left the circus, Evans settled in Joplin where he owned “several thousand dollars’ worth of property besides a farm of 120 acres in Texas and town lots in Palestine and Bremond.” In Joplin he was known as a “wonder of the people of his home town and the ‘bogy-man’ of the little children.”

Evans was enough of a local fixture in Joplin that in 1896, his name was put before the Republican county convention as candidate for coroner, but his name was withdrawn from voting, and he left the convention hall in disgust.

Evans claimed, “They hadn’t more’n got half way through voting when some Republican gets up and says that if they elect me as coroner and the sheriff dies, they’d have a nigger sheriff. Then he went on and talked about what he called ‘wisdom.’ and then they quit voting. Then I told them what I thought about the Republicans. There wasn’t no money in the job then anyway, just empty honors.” Evans later joined the Democratic Party.

He explained to a reporter, “If old Abraham Lincoln could come back to this country again he would say the same thing about the Republicans and would run them all out. The Republicans just use the negro as a tool to be held up and hammered and they are doing the negroes in the south more harm now than anybody else by arraying them against the best friends they’ve got down there. No, sir, I’m a Democrat, and I expect to help fight for the Democrats, even if I did go down to defeat twice with [William Jennings] Bryan.”

Evans believed “everybody ought to take part in politics. If a man is honest and his character unimpeached, he should have consideration. But it’s all a manipulating scheme, and the feller that gets elected goes off with the cream.”

At the time Evans made his statement, Democrats were considered the party of “wets,” which is to say those who were against prohibition. Curiously he declared:

“But some of these white folks around here ain’t much fitting to govern themselves. I has always been an anti-prohibitionist, though I never drank nor used tobacco, except I drank a little whisky for medicinal purposes but that don’t do much good. But I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this time. The other night I saw thirty-six men with buckets over their shoulders drinking beer in a saloon at one time. Then they do something and blame the other feller for it. Whisky in, wit out. I wouldn’t say a word if they was the only ones hurt, but more of them fellers had wives and children at home. Yes, I’m going to vote for the prohibitionists this year.”

For a man who wore a leopard suit, Evans viewed the world with a far more serious perspective than many whites may have assumed and refused to acquiesce to the image of a mere wild man.

The Joplin Advance

Over the years, Joplin was home to many newspapers: The Advance, the Evening Times, the Free Press, the Globe, the News-Herald, the Labor Record, the Missouri Trade Unionist, the Morning Tribune, the Daily News, the Southwestern, and the State Line-Herald. These are just the ones that survived for posterity. There were other papers published in Joplin that, due to neglect, the ravages of time, and lack of interest, did not survive. Editors and owners may have thrown the bound volumes in the rubbish bin, fires may have destroyed them, or they simply crumbled away over time, printed on poor quality paper. There are, for example, no known surviving copies of the Joplin American, the paper that Thomas Hart Benton worked for when he lived in Joplin. There were also many local papers, such as the intriguingly named Carterville Rocket, that did not survive, either.

Of the papers that did survive and are captured for all time on microfilm, only one Joplin paper represented the interests of the city’s African-American population, the Joplin Advance. The Kansas State Historical Society collected and preserved the sole surviving issue of the Advance, allowing us a very limited look at the sole African-American newspaper in Joplin.

The first issue of the Joplin Advance was published on Friday, May 10, 1895. It was four pages in length. The first page bore the following greeting:

“Salutatory:

We have come among you to stay and assume a part of the responsibilities of the citizens of Joplin and vicinity. We will say that we have to profess to make except to do all the good we can and the least harm possible, advocate nothing but [missing word] Republican principles, for the promotion of the general welfare of the Negro race and his friends.

In order for the colored people of Joplin and the surrounding towns to maintain and keep the ADVANCE from going to the walls, it is necessary for them to read every advertisement of the merchants very carefully and patronize only those. The fact is, that no business man wants to advertise in any paper unless he expects to be benefited thereby. The advertisements [sic] is the back bone of a newspaper and, unless a merchant is benefited by advertising in a colored paper, as a matter of fact, he will not advertise. We regret to say, that our people cannot afford to maintain their press, and if we expect to have a newspaper in our midst, we must patronize the merchants who advertise in, and extend a friendly hand to our enterprizes [sic].

In looking over the broad field in this county with an eye singular to the prosperity of our people, we can see a great chance for an improvement, political, socially, and otherwise, and we firmly believe that, if we can bring about the state of things by the publication of a first class patriotic Negro newspaper, dedicated to the purpose of bringing the two races closer together, linking the Negro race in a better union, concentrate our forces, morally, socially, politically, intellectually, and otherwise, we will accomplish a great good, especially among the more ignorant whites as well as the blacks, if they will only read our paper.

W.L. Yancey.”

The rest of the paper was what we would consider today to be AP wire reports, save for one page which mentioned local events, and had a few paid ads for Joplin businesses such as Mack the Tailor, Jones Confectionary, and the Golden Eagle Clothing House. Notably, the ad for Jones Confectionary stated, “Dealer in Candies, all kinds of Fruit, Nuts, and Soft Drinks. It is the only place where colored people can be accommodated to an Ice Cream Parlor. 519 Main Street.” [Emphasis added]

African-Americans in Joplin could find out when services were being held at the M.E. church, the A.M.E. church, and St. John’s Baptist church. Those interested in fraternal organizations could find meeting information for the Masonic Myrtle Lodge No. 149, the Guiding Star Court, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 11.

Most importantly, though, due to segregation, blacks were often at a loss with regard to knowing which businesses they could and could not patronize. The Advance pointed out which businesses catered to African-American clientele, and although we cannot be sure, would surmise that most of the businesses they recommended were owned by fellow African-Americans.

James Mason, driver of general job wagon no. 57, was recommended for one’s moving and delivery needs and one could visit any of three barber shops for a shave: the I.X.L. Shaving Parlor [516 Main Street], the Imperial Shaving Parlor [320 Main Street], and G.W. Potter’s [106 Main Street]. Laundresses Miss Mary Edwards [First Street], Mrs. Graton [620 Joplin Street] Miss Eva Door specialized in laundried collars, cuffs, and shirts. Should you want a new dress, Mrs. Brisco McLerore could be found at 120 Pearl Street. For boarding, Mrs. Lou Barnett offered lodging on Seventh Street “between Kentucky on Penn. Ave.”

The man behind the paper was African-American W.L. Yancey. In addition to being the editor and owner of the Advance, he was also an attorney. In his first “salutatory” message to readers, Yancey asked his fellow African-Americans to support the paper, lest it fail. He knew that whites would not subscribe to his paper; instead, they would read the “white” papers in Joplin. He also knew that advertising was crucial to the newspaper’s success. But advertising in a black newspaper, particularly for white businesses in a city with a small black community, was not advantageous or attractive. Even neighboring Springfield, with a sizable black population, could not sustain its own African-American newspaper.

Curiously, the 1895 Kansas State census lists William L. Yancey and his wife Clara as living in Pittsburg, Kansas. The census itself was taken in March, 1895, just two months before the Advance was first published. It also explains why there is a small smattering of Pittsburg, Kansas, news on the front page. Yancey may have been trying to bridge the gap between the black communities in Joplin and Pittsburg with his paper. He listed his occupation as “newspaperman” while wife Clara was a “housekeeper.” They lived in the midst of white families.

The 1900 Federal census tells us that William L. Yancey lived in Joplin [south of Broadway on Central Avenue] at that time. His occupation was listed as attorney and his wife, Clara, had “printer” as her occupation. Were they still publishing the Advance? Or did Clara just work as a printer? Because only one single issue of the Advance survived, we cannot be sure how long the paper lasted. If you check the city directory, however, Yancey is not listed which shows that one must always check every source available. Still, we are left with questions: Where did Yancey attend law school? There were African-American lawyers in Springfield who attended Howard University. Did Yancey go to Howard? Why did he move to Joplin?

Yancey did not remain in Joplin. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of opportunity, he moved on, and eventually divorced Clara. She later died in 1963 in Michigan.

Sometimes searching the census can be a challenge, as with Yancey and the 1910 census. He may or may not appear in the 1910 Federal census for Yakima, Washington. If it is him, the census taker wrote down the wrong middle initial and identified him as a “white” “lawyer.” Yancey was listed in previous censuses as either black or mulatto. Is it possible he tried to pass for white? Or is he just hiding out in the census and this is a different William Yancey? Census takers could and would make mistakes.

At any rate, we do know that by 1920, he appears to have remarried, and settled in Yakima, Washington. Fifty-one years old, both Yancey and his wife were working as “janitors” in a “business building.” In 1930, he is missing from the census, but his wife Hannah is listed as divorced.  Yancey may have passed away, or may have simply eluded the census taker where he lived.

His story is illustrative of the challenges African-Americans faced in American society in the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Yancey, once an attorney and newspaper editor, spent his later years working as a janitor. Were it not for the Kansas State Historical Society preserving the single surviving issue of his paper, we would have never known his story, nor the fact that once upon a time Joplin had its own African-American newspaper.

If you ever come across an old Missouri newspaper, you may want to call the State Historical Society in Columbia and ask if they have it. If not, by allowing them to microfilm the paper, you could help preserve Missouri’s history. Who knows – maybe someone has a copy of the Joplin American featuring one of Thomas Hart Benton’s cartoons waiting to be found!

Joplin Lynching featured in Missouri Historical Review

The Missouri Historical Review, an award winning scholarly publication of the State Historical Society of Missouri, just published its January quarterly edition. Prominently featured in this edition is an article covering the 1903 Joplin lynching. The article is an adaptation of the chapters about the lynching from the book White Man’s Heaven by Kimberly Harper. If you are a member of the State Historical Society, you will receive a copy of the Missouri Historical Review in the mail. If not, you can find a copy to read at the Joplin Public Library on their current magazine shelves. Unfortunately, the library has not yet bought a copy of the book, which is definitely recommended, even if you get the chance to read the article in the Review.

The Elks’ Present Their Imperial Minstrels

A Joplin newspaper cartoon referring to the Elks' Minstrel Show.

A Joplin newspaper cartoon referring to the Elks' Minstrel Show (click to access larger version)

“Business men in blackface can be more amusing than professionals, especially when they strike a happy medium between the elite and the ridiculous.”

So began a review of the minstrel show put on by Joplin’s Elks Lodge, No. 501, in mid-January, 1909.  Since the 19th Century, the minstrel show had been a steadfast form of entertainment based upon humiliating and stereotypical depictions of African Americans, often by white men with black makeup on their face.  Generally, the performers adopted comical dialects exaggerated to effect laughter and ridicule.  Entertainment in the shows ranged from comedy skits to song and dance.

In an example of the acceptability of racism at the time in American and Joplin society, the minstrel show was produced by the Elks Lodge, a social organization of Joplin’s businessmen and reputable members of the city’s society.  One advertisement for the minstrel show specifically noted the participation of Edward Zelleken, a member of one of Joplin’s most distinguished and wealthy families.

A cartoon of Prof. Edward Zelleken's anticipated black face appearance.

A cartoon of Prof. Edward Zelleken's anticipated black face appearance.

A small article that ran before the show promised an entertaining show and an opening which “should not be missed.”  Tickets, the article claimed, were going fast, but good ones could still be reserved.  An advertisement that ran near the article promised, “Ten Dollars’ Worth of Enjoyment For the Price of One.”  The “Imperial Minstrels” as the Elks called their cast performed in the Club Theater.  A follow up article the day after headlined, “Elks’ Minstrel Creates Furor Among Society” with the subtitle, “Business Men In Blackface Score Tremendous Hit.”

An advertisement for the Elks' Minstrel Show

An advertisement for the Elks' Minstrel Show (click for larger version)

The jokes in the show ranged from the plain comedic to pokes and jabs at local businessmen, like the owner of Donehoo’s pharmacy, which was located at the busy intersection of 4th and Main.  Other jokes were political in nature such as one about William Jennings Bryan recalled by a minstrel who claimed he had just stepped into an elevator in Chicago when he saw, “Mrs. William Jennings Bryan come running down the corridor waving her hand for the elevator operator to hold the car until she arrived. ‘You need not have hurried to catch the car,’ the elevator operator is said to have informed Mrs. Bryan, ‘I’d have waited for you.’  ‘Oh,’ replied the Commoner’s wife as she breathed heavily. ‘ I just wanted to show you that there was one member of the Bryan family who could keep in the running.’”

Another sign of the acceptability of the lampoon was the audience that turned out for the event.  A reporter from the Joplin Globe described them, “Society turned out in all its finery to see something rich and rare…”  Indeed, as the reporter noted, “And to a thousand, auditors giggled, laughed and te-heed until their faces ached while Joplin Lodge, No. 501. B.P.O. Elks, presented their Imperial Minstrels at the Club Theater last night.”

Source: Joplin Globe, 1909

The Unfortunate Life of Jung Ling

Life was not easy in Joplin for a Chinese immigrant. The Chinese community was minuscule in the midst of a city whose population was overwhelming white.  In previous posts, we covered the lives and affairs of Joplin’s immigrant community, and found that their lives were fraught with hardship and hostility. Jung Ling, sometimes referred to Lo Jung Sing or just Jung Sing, was one of those immigrants. During his time in Joplin he had to deal with his American wife absconding with his life savings and was forced to defend his business with a pistol.

In June of 1907, Jung attempted to gain legal entry for his son into America. During an interview with a government investigator, Jung claimed his son was born in the United States. When the boy was four, Jung took him to China to live with Jung’s Chinese wife. Now that his son was older, Jung wanted the boy to return to the United States to pursue an education. The government investigator, identified only as Mr. Tape, was a Chinese-American reportedly renowned for his ability to uncover and expose illegal Chinese immigrants. Mr. Tape rarely ventured into Southwest Missouri as few Chinese immigrants made the area their home. Reportedly at this time Joplin was home to only five Chinese residents and Carthage had only one Chinese resident. We do not know whether or not Jung was successful in his attempt to bring his son to the United States, but we do know that he was living alone four years later.

The same year, Jung, who owned both the Troy Laundry (located at 109 West Fifth Street) and a restaurant (in a 1909 Joplin city directory it is simply called “Chinese Restaurant” located at 117 East Fifth and 624 ½ Main Streets – Google Maps indicates the laundry was located roughly where Columbia Traders is today and that both businesses were across the street from each other) found himself in trouble once again. Jung was working late at his restaurant on a Wednesday evening when four strange men entered. The men sat down as if they were going to order a meal. Jung walked over to take their order. Without warning, the men jumped to their feet and attacked Jung with a blackjack. Frantically, Jung tried to escape out the back door, only to be beaten and choked into unconsciousness by his attackers.

Twenty-one hours passed before friends of Jung aroused him with loud knocks on his door.  The thieves had locked him inside, perhaps to create the illusion that the restaurant was closed for business and to prevent a sooner discovery of their victim. Jung managed to unlock the door before he fell back into unconsciousness. A broken blackjack club, the metal shot used to give the weapon its heft spilled across the floor, illustrated the brutality of the attack. Once again, Jung’s savings had been stolen.

It was not until two weeks later, when the Joplin police had arrested a notorious robber, Arlie Smith, that Jung had the chance to identify one of his attackers.  The Chinese immigrant still bore the wounds inflicted upon him from a fortnight before, but was by no means fearful when he spied Smith in a cell.  The Joplin News-Herald reported that Jung leapt forward, prepared to attack Smith.  Smith, meanwhile, dismissed Jung with a slur, and laughed.  It’s unknown if Smith was tried for his robbery and assault of Jung, but already accused of other such thefts, it’s likely he was sent off to the penitentiary for one crime or another.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald

A Playground Not For All

Joplin swimming pool circa 1913

African Americans were generally not welcomed at swimming pools like this one at the Joplin Country Club.

In 1910, the total black population of Joplin was approximately 800 individuals out of a total population of approximately 32,000.  Thus, the African American community represented only about 2.5% of the city’s population.  Despite being such an insignificant portion of the population, the de facto laws of segregation were in strong effect in 1913.  The effect of the segregation struck one prominent Joplin businessman when he took his son to the local playground.  He recounted, “The other night I went to the playground with my son.  It made my heart ache to see the wistful faces of the negro children outside the fence, and know that they could not enter.”

It was not merely the denial of the playground to the black children that upset the businessman, but also that, “Unlike white children the negro kiddies cannot have the swimming privilege of the amusement parks of the district.”  Additionally, the businessman noted, “they are not allowed to attend many moving picture theaters, and are confined to a balcony in those places they are allowed to enter.  The streets and alleys are the only places they are welcome.  When they grow up they are unwelcome almost everyplace they visit.  It is not right.”

As a result of the segregation, the businessman pledged $250 to the establishment of a playground where black children, as well the general poor, could visit and play.  It would not be the first donation by a businessman to benefit the black community of Joplin, previously Thomas Connor had paid for the construction of four African American churches some years earlier.  Such sentiments were a start toward a better approach to a society of different races, but unfortunately along the reasoning of “separate but equal,” not equality for all.  The solution in 1913 Joplin was not to open the playground to children of all races, but to simply build another playground.

Source: Joplin News-Herald, 1910 United States Census

A Snapshot of Race Relations in Joplin

African Americans played an important role in Joplin’s history.  Although segregation prevailed in the local mining industry, African Americans worked backbreaking labor intensive jobs as hod carriers, day laborers, carpenters, washerwomen, and other less desirable occupations.

Joplin newspapers often echoed the narrow minded racial beliefs of the time by perpetuating common stereotypes of African Americans as criminal, subhuman individuals.  In comparison to some local papers, such as the Stotts City Sunbeam and the Springfield Leader (which was founded by fire-breathing former Confederate Daniel Curran Kennedy), the Joplin papers were fairly tame.  While African Americans were most often portrayed in a negative light by the papers, sometimes a positive story would appear.

It’s often easy to look back over the last century, even two centuries, of American history and fall prey to dangerous generalizations.  This story illustrates that while racism certainly did exist in Joplin, it was not pervasive.

In the early fall of 1906, a crippled black man drove his blind mule along the streets of Joplin.  He was a well known figure as he drove a wagon that carried advertising signs to drum up business for local merchants.  The old man was, “old, feeble, and helpless, and few would take advantage of the poor old man’s infirmities to make him the object of a stinging jest.”

As the man and his mule approached Sixth Street and Moffet Avenue, a group of three white boys in a delivery wagon spied them.  One of the boys shouted, “Whoa there, mule.  Ha ha ha, look at the blind mule.  Look at the nigger.” The other two began laughing which a Globe reporter said, “sound as near like the braying of an ass as anything else.”

The elderly black man sat quietly but onlookers could see that “his feelings were deeply hurt.”

One of the boys called out, “Why don’t you get an automobile?” The other two began to yell when a white miner named Fred Winchel came upon the scene.  Winchel, incensed at the abuse the boys were heaping on the old man, jumped into the delivery wagon and grabbed one of the delivery boys.  He jerked the boy out of his seat and out onto the street.

Winchel growled, “Do you want to fight?” The boy, frightened by the miner, stammered, “N-n-n-no.” Winchel, still angry, snarled, “Then take that you cowardly whelp!” before he slapped the boy viciously on the ear.  The boy’s two companions tried to drive away but Winchel ordered them to stop.  The two boys complied.

Once again Winchel jumped into the wagon and drug the remaining two boys out.  He asked, “Do you want to fight?” The boys, like their companion, replied that they did not.  Winchel boxed their ears and sent them on their way.  He was overheard to say, “I ought to be kicked for not cleanin’ every one of them.”

Source: Joplin Globe