A Man From the Lead Diggin’s – A letter from Boston

The Joplin that Martin Left Behind for Cultured Boston

In the spring of 1908, a Joplinite ventured far from home and landed in “cultured Boston.” The gentleman, E.F. Martin, sent a letter back to his friend, John P. Frank in Joplin, and offered in colorful terms his feelings on visiting the historic town. In the process, we’re offered a glimpse not only in the words Joplinites chose to represent their feelings, but also what they felt was proper from low heel shoes on women to modern day Yankees.

“Boston, Mass, April 28, 1908.

I have had so little to do today that I am awfully lonesome and thought possibly I might work some of it off on you. Boston is an older town than Joplin. You can tell that by the dates on the head-stones at the burying grounds.

I went in to the ‘Arm and Bella,’ an old hold-out and had a drink of real musty ale sitting in the same place where Nathaniel Hawthorne used to sit and tell stories. Sunday I visited the Old South Burying Ground and while walking about in there found the grave of Paul Revere. You remember Paul. He became excited one night when he saw a light in the old South meeting house and got on his horse and rode out into the country giving the alarm that the Britishers were about to get them. If the average Yankee was then as he is now it is a durned pity that the Britishers didn’t get them all.

Boston is a real nice place, though, for a day or two — not for a whole month. I would much rather be down in Stone county, Missouri, catching speckled bass. Talk about fish, they sure have it here in plenty. I have sampled everything in the fish line since coming, except an octopus. I think I shall order planked octopus net. I spend some of my leisure time on the Commons. This is the place spoken of in Saint Matthew where the British soldiers broke the ice in the ponds and the school boys went and told on them for it. Served them right, eh? I was in New Haven, Conn., the first of the month and tried to buy some wooden nutmegs, but could find none. I will try and get you some postals showing pieces of interest — ancient interest. The old state house is still here and is used for a depot for the subway. Faneuil Hall — the Cradle of Liberty — is here down on State street. Armour Packing company have the first floor rented and there is a large sign out telling the people that Armour’s dressed lambs are the best. I think that is simply awful.

I wish I had someone with me to walk around with and kill time. I am stopping at the “Tavern.” Tolerably good place. There are no large department stores, but many shops. There are no Jews here here that I have seen and but very few negroes.

I was down on the wharf last week and saw an ocean vessel come in from the South loaded with bananas. I was there again this morning and they are still unloading bananas. The vessel will carry about 100 car loads.

From things here in general I don’t wonder that our forefathers wanted to go west. I have that same feeling, and it makes me glad to think that I can start Saturday noon. Doggone me if I hadn’t rather live in Carl Junction, Saginaw or Carthage, than in cultured Boston. The ladies here all wear low heel shoes like a man. The men all smoke pipes. I wonder why until I tried some of their cigars.

Of course there are plenty of places of interest, but one grows tired of looking at sights highly valuable because of their age and historic surroundings.

Well I will be down this summer when bass are ripe and we will make up for all this tomfoolery. By the way, I saw a sturgeon brought in that weighed more than 300 pounds. It was caught in a net far out at sea.”

A Business Man at the Connor

The gift of a donor, below you will find a letter written by a traveling business man from the Peerless Bread Machine Company of Sidney, Ohio.  The letter, presumably written on a portable typewriter, was typed on Connor Hotel letterhead in 1923.  As the premier hotel in the region, or as some might argue, the entire Southwest, the Connor was a customary stop over for business men like the writer of the letter.

Click on the Image for a larger version

Click on the Image for a Larger Version

Click on Image for Larger Version

Letters to the Joplin Police Chief

In 1907, the Joplin Police Chief Myers shared some of the letters he received on a daily basis with the Joplin Globe.  The letters offer a glimpse of life in Joplin and the surrounding areas.  Some the letters he received were mundane, such as the following letter:

“Cherryvale, Kan., Oct., 21, 1907.
Joplin City Marshal, Joplin, Mo.

Will you please see and inform me if there are any girls wanted to attend to lunch counters.  If so, I can send an experienced one, and please give me the number and the price of wages.  Let me hear soon.  Respectfully,


The Globe jauntily remarked, “The chief of police has not answered the above letter because of the fact that he is not running an employment agency.  In fact, if the chief answered all of the letters of this nature he receives he would have to hire a private secretary.”

Another letter that Chief Myers received read,

“Cassville, Mo.  Oct.  22, 1907.
Chief of Police, Joplin, Mo.

Dear Sir — Will you please inform me by enclosed card if a woman by the name of Ella Hailey is in your city.  She may be working in one of your hotels.  Please phone hotels and see if she is there.  Oblige, A.C.H.”

The Globe noted that the “last letter is somewhat out of the ordinary as he addresses  the chief as ‘dear sir’ and actually says ‘oblige’ in ending his letter.  The majority of the letters simply tell the chief of what they desire him to do and let the matter pass.”

Other letters were in response to an earlier missive from a Joplin man, C.T.  Plimer, who was hunting a wife.  One woman from Platt City, Missouri, declared, “Now please understand I am not a man hunter, for I never gave this subject much thought.  I think that I will fill the bill and the description, except having the several thousand dollars.  I have some nice property here.  I have visited in Joplin and like your city very much.”

The “most amusing letter” that Chief Meyers received, according to the Globe was one from an African American man in Fort Scott, Kansas, who wrote,

City marshal, be on the lookout for a young colored woman by the name of Leatha B—-.  She is a brown skin, good looker, good hair, a pair of earrings with blue sets, and a finger ring with a blue set in it.  She might go by the name of Leatha C.  She wears a long black coat, a black hat turned up on the side with a band with a red stripe in it, a nice black dress, and a changeable silk underskirt.  I just bought them for her.  There is a young brown skin man by the name of Will Julien.  If you catch them arrest them both and lock them up until you hear from Butler or Mr.  George Julien.  If she is there and ain’t working and running the streets, make her leave town.  Yours truly, Andy B.

P.S.  — Make her come home; she ain’t got no business down there.  I have got a good home for her and she don’t want for nothing.  Make her leave town.  She left this afternoon at 3 o’clock.  Telephone back at my expense.” — Andy B.

We’re not sure if Leatha returned to Andy B.  in Fort Scott or not, but it was probably not the last time that Chief Myers received a letter from the hopeful and the lovelorn.

Source: The Joplin Globe

Death of a Soiled Dove

Joplin’s North End was riddled with “immoral resorts” filled with young women.  Mamie Johnson was one of many who walked the streets of Joplin.  Her life tragically came to an end at the age of thirty-three after she abandoned her husband of four years and two children and took up the profession of a scarlet woman.  But her life as a lady of the night must have worn her down, for in the end Mamie’s life was cut short by her own hand.

Mamie, whose real name was allegedly Minerva Rickey, was the daughter of a “well-to-do” farmer from the Kansas City.  At a young age she eloped with John Gordon, a young farmer, and settled down.  After four years and two children, however, Mamie left her family and strolled into Joplin and a life of vice.  Shortly before her death, she had confided to an aunt who lived in Joplin that her husband had mistreated her.  The two had reportedly divorced.

One day life was too much for Mamie to bear and she overdosed on ten cent dose of morphine.  She was discovered in her room by Frank Wilsey, a laundryman for the Empire Steam Laundry, when he dropped off a bundle of clothes at her room.  Word quickly spread throughout Joplin’s tenderloin district and “many touching scenes were witnessed as the unfortunate creatures crowded about and gazed upon the face of their dead sister.” A letter was found in her room addressed to Bessie Blair.

The text of the letter read,

Joplin, Mo.  July, 27, 1898.

Dear Friend Bessie:

I will write this for you and leave it for you.  I may not get to talk to you or see you anymore.  But my bedroom suit you can have for that fine, but give my clothes to my aunt.  That is all I want, but would like for you to come as I want to send word home.  I would like for you to see them as soon as possible, for my clothes, my trunk, and things is all I ask of you to let them have.  Well, I am satisfied and hope you will be.  Tell them to go down to the wash woman’s and give up three dollars for clothes there.  I would like to have my aunt come as soon as you get this note.

Do not think nothing as you know what caused it.  You will not be out nothing as my folks will take care of me.  I suppose you will be satisfied when you see, anyway.  You have been a friend to me and not a friend.  And I hope when the girls see this they will take warning by me.  Bessie, it is hard to do, but I cannot help it.  I hope you will be satisfied with Minnie [Mamie’s roommate] as she is a good girl, and will treat you right.  I send my love and best regards and hope you will not take a foolish idea like I have took.  Kiss them all for me.  Tell Pearl she is all right.  Time is drawing near and will have to close.

Good bye.
from your Mamie Gordon to my dear friend Bess, 1,000 kisses to all you I will go to hell tonight.

Interestingly, the letter was dictated by Mamie to her lover, Ernest Boruff, who testified at the coroner’s inquest that the two had quarreled a few weeks earlier after some of his clothes went missing.  They quarreled again after he wrote the letter for her and he subsequently left.  He claimed that he did not suspect Mamie had suicidal intent and swore that she “was not in the habit of using morphine.” Bessie Blair also testified at the coroner’s inquest and stated that Mamie had threatened suicide several times during the past month.

After Mamie Gordon’s funeral, the coroner’s jury issued the following verdict:

“We, the jury, find that Mamie Gordon came to her death form an overdose of drugs, taken by herself presumably with suicidal intent.”

W.M.  Whiteley, Coroner
Dave K.  Weir
Samuel Cox
A.C.  James
J.M.  Graham
Ed Trimble
A.  Malang

Life as a prostitute was not a happy one, and more likely than not, one that women simply fell into due to misfortune and bad circumstance.  At least some had addictions to cocaine or morphine, and as Mamie Gordon’s letter warned, one that could easily end in the death of a soiled dove.

Source:  Joplin Globe