A.J. Blackwell Strikes Again!

Drawing of A.J. "Bear Fighting" Blackwell

Drawing of A.J. "Bear Fighting" Blackwell in his later years.

In one of our previous posts, A.J. “Bear Fighting” Blackwell was mentioned. Blackwell, one of the earliest residents of Joplin, built the first opera house in Joplin. After serving a sentence for counterfeiting in the Missouri State Penitentiary, he left Missouri and founded the town of Blackwell, Oklahoma. He became a wealthy and well known figure who lived an interesting life.

According to an article from a Blackwell newspaper, Blackwell was accused of “periodical insanity and one of these spells is upon him.” For the last few days “he has been terrorizing the entire city and community with his threats, and being heavily armed continuously, it is a question as to what he might do.” Prior to his illness, he had Miss Effie Widick, a Blackwell school teacher, arrested for punishing one of his children. She was acquitted, but Blackwell was not satisfied. He traveled to Wichita, Kansas, in an attempt to have her indicted in U.S. federal court.

The news report claimed, “He once stood off a mob of negro haters with a Winchester and incurred the enmity of nearly the entire citizenship, which finally succeeded in ridding the town of the black race.”

Blackwell proclaimed that he was a member of every church in town and “has been dead twice and returned to life to warn the people to join as many churches as possible.” In the meantime, “he drives up and down the streets, hooting and yelling like an Indian, waving firearms and even defying the officers.”

Despite his insanity, Blackwell had somehow managed to invest in a coal company and direct coal to be shipped from Chelsea, Indian Territory to Blackwell.

When he died in 1903, his obituary failed to mention his bouts of “insanity.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher — Part IV

Historic Joplin believes in allowing the people of the past to speak for themselves.  As a result, the language they use may offend those sensitive to harmful words that are no longer acceptable in today’s present society.

The Story of Bear Fighting Blackwell

“The First dry goods store in West Joplin was started next to ‘Big Nigger’ Lee’s grocery store by a man the name of D.M.  Brazill, in the fall of 1871.

One old timer who arrived in Joplin about this time and who furnished considerable amusement was a man known as ‘Bear Fighting’ Blackwell.  He brought four big bears with him and for some time after he arrived he kept his business to himself.  Finally, after he had things ready, he advertised a dog and bear fight.  After all was ready he stretched a large canvas around a space which was filled on the day of the fight by the village sports.  In the center of the space he had a big grizzly chained to a stake and surrounding him were five or six youngsters holding their dogs.

Betting was at a high pitch and as well as I can remember it was about 2 to 3 to one on the bear.  When all was ready for the fight, Blackwell gave the bear a big plate of honey and after it had the plate he yelled, ‘Turn your dogs loose!’ The fur flew and it looked as if the dogs would soon use up the bear.  When it was all over the bear was uninjured while there were several dogs limping around.

The bears were turned over to the butcher and Mr.  Blackwell used the money which he had accumulated to build a nice brick building at the corner of Second and Main streets.  This was the first opera house in West Joplin, but the dog and bear fight or something else brought ‘Bear Fighting’ Blackwell bad luck, and the old man got into trouble and was sent to the penitentiary.  Several years after that he was turned out and went to Oklahoma, where he married a squaw who had a large tract of land and plenty of money.  He laid out the land in town lots and was the founder of the present city of Blackwell.”

Drawing of A.J. "Bear Fighting" Blackwell

Drawing of Henry "Bear Fighting" Blackwell in his later years.

This concludes G.O.  Boucher’s memories of early Joplin.

Source: Joplin Globe.