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View From the Courthouse:
Abstracts of Lawrence County, Mo., Circuit Court Documents, 1858-1869
copyright 1997, Judith Johnson Reustle; Internet edition Dec 2000

Introduction and background
Through the Eyes of Blind Justice
On the Nature of Crime and "Attenuating Circumstances
The Majesty of the Court
"There Being No Jail In My Said County”
"It's a Water Hawl”

Introduction and background.

Abstracts are presented in numerical order, not date order. Arbitrary letters have been assigned to unnumbered bundles for reference purposes. It is unknown when the documents were organized by this numbering system. Bundles 1 through 8 include documents from the fall term, 1865, and spring term, 1866. Documents may have been reorganized at that time. Older documents are found scattered throughout the abstracts and were evidently numbered and filed as the clerk found time.

Resources for the background information include War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, The Ozark Region, Its History and Its People, and The Heritage of Missouri, A History, by Duane Meyer, all of which may be found at the Springfield-Greene County Libraries. The United States Biographical Dictionary, 1878, Missouri Volume, is located in the rare books collection in the Shepard Room at the main branch of Springfield-Greene County Libraries. Newspaper articles from the Spring River Fountain and the Fountain and Journal are from microfilm holdings of the Lawrence County Historical Society located at the McCanse Branch of the Barry-Lawrence County Library in Mt. Vernon, Mo. Other newspapers quoted are on microfilm at the Springfield-Greene County Library, Local History and Genealogy.

Just a couple of couple of quick notes for those who are new to legal records. (1) A nolle prosequi (in these records found as nole, nolli, nolle etc.) means the prosecutor, i.e the circuit attorney, decided not to prosecute the cause. Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Robert George explains that in bundles where this term is found, there is no “case.” You will find that in a couple of instances, a nolle was opened and the cause was filed again with the court. These cases proceeded based on the original indictment. (2) Warrants, subpoenas, and capias writs are “executed” meaning “served to the individual to whom the instrument is directed.” As a newbie to legalese, my own heart skipped a couple of beats when I read how many of the “defendants” were executed--until I finally figured out that it was the legal directive being executed and not the individual named! Last, “suggesting” the death of an individual does not mean requesting the death sentence. The phrase indicates that the individual “suggesting the death” has indicated that someone is, in fact, dead and will therefore not be attending court.

Through the Eyes of Blind Justice.

This book contains abstracts of Lawrence County Circuit Court document bundles from vault drawers labeled 1-97, 98-198, and 199-351. Most of the documents date from 1858 to 1870. Some bundles contain the entire process of a case. These begin with a plaintiff's affidavit, a grand jury indictment, or an information filed by the circuit attorney. They end with a verdict from the bench or a jury. Bundles in which the verdict is missing may include an "Execution of Costs" which, served on either the plaintiff or the defendant, reveals the final dispensation of the case. In many instances, however, the court dockets must be consulted to find the outcome.

Bundles marked "Nolle Prosequi" (also Nolla, Nolli) or "Quashed" do not exist as legal cases, nor do the bundles in which the defendants escaped or were shot while trying to escape. If there is no verdict, there is no case. An accusation is easy to make, but an accusation often reveals more about the plaintiff's attitudes and fears than about the defendant's character. Therefore, for the purpose of this introduction, documents are generally referenced by Bundle Number (XXX) rather than a case name. If a man accused of stealing a horse escapes custody, as in Bundle #73, that doesn't detract from the historical value of the testimony of Judge John C. Price in regard to Col. James McIntosh's encampment of 1,000 rebels one-quarter mile from the home of James M. White near Verona in 1861. Homes burned whether or not anyone was ever charged with or convicted of arson. Even though no legal case exists, the fragments of information are still of use to those interested in historical or genealogical research.

For genealogists, there are numerous names and dates of interest. Sheriffs' returns on warrants, notices and subpoenas usually give the date the document was served ("executed") thereby documenting an individual's presence in the county. Testimony may include reference to one's arrival in the county or to one's death. Clusters of names on a recognizance or subpoena can identify family groups. However, this book is more than a collection of dates and names and contains more than a look at the less-than-civil aspects of human behavior. Within the documents are brief representations of people, places and events "reduced to writing" by the men elected to interpret and enforce law. Using these with newspaper clippings, Civil War records, journals and biographical sketches, we catch a glimpse of the fabric of community life in Lawrence County during the Civil War period.

In Bundle #275 the reader may take a journey across Lawrence County in 1860 with Sheriff Thomas Hash and Oscar Wear as they follow tracks from the charred remains of Amelia Lambert's place through the oat stubble and across the fences. You loose the tracks in the raw prairie field; look for them in the timothy stubble to the south; pick them up again near Mr. Crawford's south string of fence. Take the road toward the southeast; turn again and follow the tracks to the main road that goes to Allens' old mill near Mrs. Crawford's place. Go past the Haley boys' farm on Honey Creek, cross Spring River on the mill road just below the mill and take the left fork when you get to Spring River bottom. Another left at the next fork, then follow the tracks to the road that runs by Aaron Winter's. Left on the road that runs by old man Chitwood's place, then go right, into Minden. Talk with the residents and see what information they might have regarding the matter.

Sheriff Hash's testimony provides a nice hike down the old roads without the inconvenience of dealing with the ticks and chiggers of August. The testimony of J. S. Spear in Bundle #261 lists some of the shops on a main street in Mt. Vernon in 1860: (from north to south) J. S. Spear, cobbler; A. J. Durnil, blacksmith; Mr. Bobo's Shop; Stubblefield's Grocery. From the subpoenas in Bundle #155 we can create a list of students attending Mr. Joseph Green's school on Ozark Prairie in 1867. Studying Lawrence County as represented in these records is appropriate because the Court greatly influenced the way the people saw themselves. Law made its official appearance early, arriving with many of the original settlers who brought knowledge of and respect for law with them. For example, the Linthicum family may be traced from Linthicum Heights, Maryland, where most of the men of the family were judges and attorneys dating back to that area's settlement in the late sixteenth century. For Lawrence County, and perhaps many other areas in America's frontier, law was not the product of uneducated "yokels" as it has sometimes been represented. The county, of course, had its share of those who had moved to the frontier to escape the intrusion of law.

During the Civil War period law significantly impacted the lives of Lawrence County citizens for two major reasons. First, the increase in crime pressed many citizens into service as deputies, guards or boarders. The original county jail burned in December, 1858, and the second jail didn't "open for business" until ten years later, January 1869. Residents frequently boarded prisoners and their guards in their homes during this period. Secondly, during the Civil War the processes of the court were frequently interrupted by, or dependent upon, military intervention. The political chaos preceding the Civil War affected the judicial process, the war created a climate which made seating a court difficult when not dangerous, and some aspects of law were changed by the outcome of the war.

County residents were intrigued by the processes of law and even those who weren't personally involved with the proceedings kept themselves informed of the events at court. These events occasionally served as time markers. "The day Charles Toliver was arrested" was a marker for Mr. J. S. Spear, a cobbler, called to testify about the number of screws in the heels of D. H. Lambert's boots in 1860. (#261) The events at court functioned as time markers when holidays were nearly unknown. On 25 Dec 1865 at least eight people testified in Missouri vs McCanse and Williams. (#93) The trial directly involved 101 individuals as grand jurors, witnesses, jury members, court officials, defendants and a dead man, "Henshaw whose Christian name to the grand jurors is unknown." It was this trial and acquittal, not Christmas, that marked the month for local residents.

Before television, radio and web sites people looked to the Court to provide them with vicarious entertainment. When not in use by the Court, the first courthouse, being the only public building in town, staged speakers, performers, politicians and evangelists for crowds eager to listen, argue or sing. (The first term of Lawrence County Circuit Court, October 1845, convened at the home of George White. The second term also convened at White's in April 1846, but the first item of business was to adjourn and "meet instanter" at the courthouse.)

The focus of most communities was the town square, and in county seats the courthouse frequently commanded one's attention from its prominent location. Lawrence County's first courthouse was built on donated land north of the original town of Mt. Vernon and businesses quickly moved to the area surrounding the courthouse to take advantage of the traffic drawn by the county offices. The courthouse became a hub of activity for the county and a primary force in the way residents organized their lives. The first settlers didn't arrive in Lawrence County until the 1830s and by that time Missouri was already in the middle of regional and political disputes. A quarter of a century before John Williams arrived with his family and slaves, Sam Austin's wife had made the claim that the Austins could bring thousands of settlers to Texas from the crowded communities in Missouri and Kentucky. Although "The West" had moved beyond Missouri's border, the western and southern portions of the state remained largely "unsettled" until the Kickapoo, Delaware, Osage and Kansas Indian tribes “withdrew their claims” to lands granted by treaties. Missouri's Indian removal was completed in 1825. When Williams arrived on this patch of earth, Missouri had enjoyed the privileges of statehood for a decade.

Missouri's first bid for statehood was rejected because the northern and southern senators divided over the issue of slavery in the territories. The Missouri Compromise and Maine's admission to the Union as a "free state" provided a short term fix for the festering issue. The issue had been debated by the framers of the Constitution, but the delegates to the Constitutional Convention failed to resolve the problem because many delegates believed the United States could not exist as a viable force against the colonial empires of the period without full participation by the southern states. In the mid-nineteenth century, Americans on both sides of the issue began demanding resolution on the question of slavery. Missouri attempted to take the dangerous middle ground on an issue for which there would be no more compromises.

Lawrence County was born in the middle; neither east nor west, nor north nor south; but with ties in all directions. As the nation approached a crossroad, Lawrence County was a youngster in the middle of the road.

"Jack, I have a dread on my mind all the time. I'm afraid to leave the house in daytime for fear I will be robbed and afraid to lie down at night for fear I will be burnt up." (#275) That, according to Elizabeth Eaton's testimony, is what Amelia Lambert told Jack Toliver, in August 1860, the evening before Lambert and Eaton escaped from a burning house. At times boys avoided walking on the "big road," taking the fields when they went somewhere. Residents locked their doors and carried weapons if they had them. Recovering from the threat of raids by Kansan guerrillas, they now found themselves dealing with separatists and radical unionists who distrusted everyone, but especially government. And, of course, there was the disintegration of the family.

An unsigned note attached on a gatepost read: “Mr. William Hagerty this is to notify you that if you do not go and take care of your wife and child or leave the country within 36 hours the time to commence at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning things may not be so well with you this 4th day of January 1860." (#262) The unknown author felt strongly about the responsibilities of a husband and father. Amelia Lambert accused her husband, who lived 10 to 12 miles away, of burning her home. (#275) In this climate of stressed familial relations, distrust and volatile political debate the first generation of Euro-Americans bom in Lawrence County reached the age of majority. The county could now divide itself in "from heres" and "come heres" as if their section of the world had not been sliced thinly enough already.

Death and burial were common place. Malaria plagued the area every summer and fall. Advertisements in area newspapers announced each arrival of "400 doses of quinine" at local physician's drug stores. Whiskey, the leading medicinal substance of the time, provided no cure for measles, tuberculosis, small pox and fevers. The decomposing bodies of soldiers thrown into wells during the Civil War contaminated the ground water with E coli and salmonella. The war brought violent death as well.

During her examination Julia Ann Keton was asked how she knew that what she had smelled in the small wooden box was the smell of human. (#268) She answered, "During the war I had help to bury a good many person and could compare the smell to nothing else." The smell of death lingers long in memory.

After the war many former soldiers roamed the area stealing and fighting, as many had done during the war. Even though they failed to achieve the level of notoriety and mythology of the James and Youngers, gangs drifted in and out of towns, harassed inhabitants of outlying farms and occasionally exploded into violence.

On the Nature of Crime and "Attenuating Circumstances"

In The Heritage of Missouri, Duane Meyer, PhD, says that "much of the crime committed during the early years ... is similar in character to crime committed today." Thirty-four years later we can respond, yes, in fact, much of the crime committed anywhere, anytime is of the same character. Murder, infanticide, assault and larceny are found in the Circuit Court records for Lawrence County from 1858 to 1869 and these crimes continue to make the headlines today.

Indictments for disturbing the peace, selling liquor without a license or gaming were as plentiful as indictments for felonies. There's a case of "running his horses on a public road" on the docket for March, 1860, perhaps Lawrence County's first speeding ticket. This case is unique not only because it appears to be the first documented offense of this nature in the county, but also because the horses actually belonged to the defendant. Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine enough grazing room in the county for all the stolen horses reported. One individual, and the records are unclear on this, either A) had one horse stolen and prosecuted one man after another, or B) he simply couldn't keep a horse under him. His situation aside, horse theft was as common then as auto theft today.

Dr. Meyer states that the rampant violence in the young state was "facilitated by the weapon-toting of private citizens and encouraged by whiskey, pride and short-tempers..." (Meyer, p. 298) Circuit Court records indicate that two-pound rocks and three-foot blackjack sticks were as commonly used as guns. Other weapons were the well cover, axe, pitchfork, wheel spoke or bench. Rocks were the weapon of choice and eliminated the need for "weapon-toting" since a rock is nearly always within reach in the Ozarks. As far as guns were concerned, the majority of citizens of Southwest Missouri were poorly armed as became evident during the Civil War. Of the factors which Meyer claims exacerbated the violence of the period, whiskey is best documented in the records. Concurrent with indictments for felonious assault and disturbing the peace are numerous indictments for selling liquor without a license. There was a conflict of opinion regarding the nature and purpose of whiskey, which was alternately considered one of the greatest evils and a medicinal boon. The oath taken by anyone wanting to manufacture liquor included a pledge that one would not dilute the whiskey with any other substance. Perhaps this was intended to insure that the medicinal properties would not be diminished, but more likely, it was intended to control the number of charlatans peddling miracle tonics to desperate people.

The indictments for selling liquor without a license and for manufacturing liquor without taking the required oath seem to indicate the seeds had been planted for the concept of product liability, especially since these indictments appear along with the indictments for assault or disturbance and seem to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship. State witnesses subpoenaed to testify in cases involving sales of liquor are frequently the same individuals found named in indictments for assault or disturbing the peace of a family or disturbing religious worship. Occasionally a few of "the boys" would get liquored up and head into town for a little carousing.

Drunkenness was sometimes a viable defense as in the case of Pedinski, who was acquitted on the plea of being drunk when breaking into McNatt's store in Aurora. (Fountain and Journal, 9 Jul 1874) On other occasions, being under the influence provided little defense as in Missouri vs Patterson wherein the defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charge of stealing a pair of boots and "claimed as an attenuating circumstance that he was drunk at the time." (Spring River Fountain, 11 Feb 1869) To attenuate means to dilute: Note the journalist's subtle humor. Patterson was originally sentenced to six months in the county jail, but the sentence was reduced to one month at the suggestion of most of the attorneys present.

Although the character of many crimes has remained unchanged for centuries, there are changes in the "character" of crime for which we find corresponding changes in the "character" of law. Some indictments which would be prosecuted today were quashed in the 1860s because there was no law applicable to the act. For example, the man who dammed Hickory Creek causing the water to block a public highway broke no state law at that time. (#7) No one today could be prosecuted for "dealing with a slave" or for "teaching (preaching or conducting business as a corporate officer) without taking the oath of loyalty." Slavery was abolished and Missouri's test oath of 1865 was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, therefore, these crimes no longer exist.

Prior to emancipation, which occurred in Missouri on 11 Jan 1865, the legal status of American blacks was established (or reinforced) by the United States Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case (1857), i.e., blacks, free or slave, were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no rights or protection under the law. The Missouri Constitution did include the provision that slaves could not be beaten or executed by their owners, and there is a case in Greene County in which a slave is brought to trial by his owner for poisoning another slave. The Greene County case had nothing to do with the "rights" of the poisoned slave but everything to do with the rights of the property owner.

In November 1864, less than two months prior to emancipation in Missouri, a Lawrence County grand jury indicted Armenius Dobyns for using a stray before posting. Dobyns allegedly: did unlawfully and wilfully take up a stray; to wit a man, and failed to take the same before a justice of the peace ... and make oath that it was taken up on his plantation and that the marks and brands have not been altered ... and did use and work a stray to wit a man before having the same appraised." (#125)

Court records rarely supply the names of slaves. However, one docket entry lists "one negro woman named Becky of the value of five hundred dollars and one a Negro child named Emily of the value of two hundred dollars and one a negro girl named Susan of the value of three hundred dollars" in Yoakum vs Stump, 1850. Cuthbirth Stump, his wife, Paulina, and their infant son, Adam, were charged with taking and keeping these slaves from their owner, Riley Yoakum. (Book A, pp. 123,129,133) The Stumps appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

After January 1865, blacks found the "character" of the law suddenly and strictly applied. Black defendants spent months in custody awaiting trail. Elizabeth Wilks spent five months in custody prior to her acquittal. (#58) Black defendants were rarely released on recognizance since few had property or possessions with which to secure a bond. The exception found in these abstracts is Robert Crump, charged with felonious assault against the judge's son, John W. Price. His recognizance was secured by attorney, B. L. Hendrick, who would become the next Circuit Judge. In a Jasper County case transferred to Lawrence on a change of venue (#165), "Sarah, a lady of color" remained in custody of the Lawrence County sheriff for nine months while awaiting trial. Some aspects of the law, such as "speedy trial" or "jury of his peers," were subject to loose interpretation.

Euphemism regarding racial intolerance and ignorance is hardly appropriate except to illustrate how the understated expression characteristic of Ozark language functioned either to heal a wound or to pick at a scab. In an article in the 23 Sep 1869 Spring River Fountain, Anderson Starrett is quoted as referring to "the late unpleasantness" which can also be called the "Civil War." More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than the combined toll of all our wars since. Unpleasant indeed, Mr. Starrett. "Tussles," sometimes referred to as "difficulties," occasionally resulted in missing body parts, maiming, disfiguring or lingering death. A knife to the throat might be prefaced by such venomous warning as "Sir, you are being mean." Sometimes when an Ozarker speaks the more understated the language the more serious the message.

Euphemism and understatement frequently took the plunge into sarcasm, such as found in the following ad from the Missouri Intelligencer, 12 Oct 1826: "Notice is hereby given to all persons, That Christopher Carson, a boy about 16 years old, small, of his age, but thick set; light hair, ran away from the subscriber, living in Franklin, Howard County, Missouri, to whom he had been bound to learn the saddler's trade, on or about the first of September last ... One cent reward will be given to any person who will bring back the said boy. David Workman. (Meyer, p. 271) Mr. Workman was obviously not impressed with Kit Carson. Or the following story from Lawrence County: "A nuisance in the shape of a dead dog is one of the prominent features on the street in the southwest part of the public square. As this is rather a disagreeable thing to have in such close proximity, and one which cannot long be indured {sic}, we suggest to our citizens the necessity of determining at once whether we move the dog or the Town. (Spring River Fountain, 11 Feb 1869)

Given the changing nature of crime during this period, the sometimes unequal application of the law, and the tendency toward understatement by the witnesses, the process of untangling the judicial record is a complex undertaking, the difficulty compounded by missing documents and incomplete records. Therefore, as we are tempted to pass judgment on those we find "reduced to writing" within these records, our understanding can only be enhanced by remembering the context of these events. The first order of business is to pass judgment on our own progress or digression as civilized beings.

There are always at least two sides to a story, whether recorded or not. On the first day of the first term of Circuit Court held "in and for the County of Lawrence State of Missouri," 20 Oct 1845, an interesting pair of causes is recorded on the docket. Page 1: first cause; Robert B Perkins vs Patrick and James Finesty; plaintiff by attorney suggests the death of Patrick Finesty, one of the said defendants. Page 2: Patrick and James Finesty vs Robert B Perkins; comes this day James Finesty, one of the said plaintiffs by his attorney and suggests the death of Patrick Finesty, one of the said plaintiffs. Mr. Patrick Finesty, having no suggestions for the court, may be assumed to have been dead by October 1845. We have no record of the nature of the crime, but according to Goodspeed, this case later became known as Finesty vs Perkins.

The Majesty and Dignity of the Court

The early court sessions may have occurred with less "majesty and dignity" than we observe in courtrooms today. On one occasion the judge ordered the arrest of a man who was yelling outside the courthouse. The man, who had been called as a jury panelist, was charged with disturbing the peace, fined, and remanded into custody of the sheriff until the fine could be paid. It was probably fortunate for someone that he wasn't selected to serve on the jury. (Book A, p. 40)

The curator of Greene County Archives remarked that they had a great deal of information about Lawrence County in their deposits because, he said, there was no law down there. In reality, in 1845 the 13th Judicial Circuit included Lawrence, Greene, Taney, Dade, Jasper, Newton and Barry Counties. Lawrence County had the same judge, the same circuit attorney, and the same group of defense attorneys riding the circuit that are found in the Greene County records during that period. Lawrence County had the same law.

Prior to the War, Charles S. Yancy, William C. Price and John R. Chenault presided over the sessions of the 13th Circuit Court. William C. Price, of Greene County, was appointed to the bench in 1857 to fill the remainder of Yancy's term during the latter's illness and at his death. Price had served on a Lawrence County grand jury in October 1850 so he was, at one time, a local boy. In 1860, he was appointed United States Treasury Secretary, a post he held until Lincoln's inauguration. He then returned to Missouri to join his relative, Sterling Price, in what the latter claimed was a struggle to keep white Missourians free of enslavement by the North.

The reputation of the southwestern counties as a lawless haven for rebels and thieves persists. Granted, justice was sporadic in the western counties during the Civil War. In September 1861, three weeks after the Battle of Wilson Creek near Springfield, the rebels from Col. McIntosh's camp shot up the courthouse in Mt. Vernon and stole Mr. Kellogg's gold watch within the halls of justice itself. The Lawrence County courthouse was captured by rebels in February 1862, and members of the Third Iowa Cavalry were sent from Springfield to regain the courthouse and remove the Confederate flag from the roof. In September, 1863, Brigadier-General John McNeil sent "a mounted force of 150 men to Neosho, Newton County, to remain there during the sitting of your court ... With this force I am inclined to think your court can be held and the majesty of the law properly asserted." (War, 1,22,p.570) In February 1864, Brigadier-General John B. Sanborn requested word from Circuit Judge John C. Price about whether the spring term would be held, indicating there must have been some doubt.

After the Confederate victory at Wilson Creek, 10 Aug 1861, Union forces were pulled back from Southwest Missouri, leaving the area at the mercy of Confederate troops who had no more affection for Missourians than did the Union's General Lyon. Lyon had said early in the war that rather than lose Missouri to the Confederates he would prefer to see every "man, woman and child in the state, dead, dead, dead." His distrust of area residents is exemplified by his refusal to accept a company of men from Lawrence County who rode to Springfield to aid at Wilson Creek. Whether or not those men could have made any significant difference against the overwhelming number of rebels is a moot point.

After the battle, residents were equally distrusted and abused by the conquering Confederate troops. In November 1861, a committee of citizens in Southwest Missouri presented their preamble and resolutions to Major-General Halleck in St. Louis, pleading for protection by Union forces. They specifically requested Seigle's presence. In their presentation the committee described "rebel troops ... laying waste the whole country and subjecting women and children to destitution and starvation ... movement of our army from Springfield has been the cause of from 3,000 to 5,000 men, women and children leaving their homes, without money and many in a suffering condition." (War, 1,8,pp. 370-1)

John T. Coffee, the Dade County confederate who frequently rode with Joe Shelby during the Civil War, was Circuit Attorney from 1847 until 1854. E. B. Boone, of Newton County and a relative of the legendary Daniel, served three years as Circuit Attorney and the illusive A. T. Haun served two years. (Try to find A. T. Haun on a Missouri census.) Joseph Cravens served nearly two years and then William Cravens served at the February 1861 term.

Shelby, Coffee and their troops destroyed the courthouse in Neosho, Newton County, in September 1863, and left wearing Union blue, riding fresh horses and better armed than ever thanks to the supplies sent with the 150 men intended to insure the majesty of the law. Shelby and Coffee sanctified the community of Bowers' Mill in Lawrence County with fire, burned the courthouse in Dade County and continued their raid to Florissant on the outskirts of St. Louis. Over a hundred references to John T. Coffee appear in the official Civil War records.

Sheriffs’ returns indicate that many subpoenas issued for execution during May 1861 were not served because Judge Chenault refused to hold the June term of Court. Court would not convene again in Lawrence County until May 1862. justice took a back seat and, for a time, Lady Justice was not only blind, she was bound and gagged. Political chaos reigned throughout the state.

The election prior to the May 1862 term must have been interesting. The race for judge of the 13th Circuit pitted John C. Price, a slave-holding former Whig and resident of Mt. Vernon, against Nathan Bray, a "liberal" Democrat from Barton County. Politics was so factional by 1861 that within one party alone, the Unionist, there were four major divisions with colorful names: the "Charcoals" who demanded immediate emancipation; the "Claybanks" who wished to effect emancipation in an orderly manner with compensation to slave-owners; the "Chocolates" who opposed emancipation; and the "Snowflakes" who didn't concern themselves with the issue of slavery but were interested in legislation affecting the white people of the state. (Meyer, p. 384)

Mr. Bray was nominated in 1861 without his consent by the Unionist party and during the election was in Kansas where he had taken his family for safety. John C. Price won the election by 15 votes. Bray is found listed as Circuit Attorney Pro tem in Lawrence County records during the May 1862 term and on several other occasions during the 1860s.

An entry in the Biographical Dictionary of the United States, published in 1878, states that Bray removed his family from Missouri during the war but he remained in the state "working for the government most of the time." The same biographical sketch says Bray was the first Democrat allowed to give a political speech in Southwest Missouri after the Civil War, opening the 1866 campaign for his party in Springfield. One of only four Democrats in Southwest Missouri who could pass the test oath of 1865, Bray ran against Price again in 1866. Price won more handily the second time since the test oath had eliminated the votes of any Democrats who hadn't fled the state after the Battle of Pea Ridge.

The Brays are listed on the 1870 Lawrence County census. Court records indicate they made their home in Mt. Vernon after the war, since Mrs. Nathan (Martha) Bray gave information against Judge Price's son for disturbing religious worship in November, 1867. (#170) At least one of the Bray's children was buried in Mt. Vernon, but was later exhumed and moved to Springfield. It's likely that the only child of eight who survived to adulthood, Vinton, was born in Mt. Vernon. Vinton buried both of his children in their infancy, so there are no direct descendants of Nathan and Martha Bray. It seems odd there is no mention in Bray's biography that he and his family ever resided in Lawrence County, but those were the lean years. In Barton County, 1860, the Bray's closest neighbors had been men whose estates were valued at $70,000 to $120,000 dollars. In Springfield, during the 1870's the Brays lived in "one of the finest homes on East Walnut Street" now an historic district of the period's fashionable homes. However, in Mt. Vernon they lived in the low-rent district, the majority of their neighbors being the only ten black households found within the city limits in 1870

This author has chosen to give greater detail to the life and times of Nathan Bray because there are no descendants to collect and save the information about a man who is an example of the diversity of opinion that existed in Lawrence County during a period when much opinion was silenced by the test oath.

Bray, as secretary of the citizens' committee in 1861, wrote the preamble and resolutions presented to Major-General Halleck pleading for the return of Union troops to Southwest Missouri. He delivered a letter to Kansas requesting assistance from troops there and in May 1864 he sent a report to Brigadier-General Sanborn regarding the destruction of Lamar in which he wrote, "All the books and records of the county were again burnt ... I care not for the amount of property destroyed; the great damage is that the county cannot again be organized in two years. The people will be compelled to go to Kansas or elsewhere where they can have the protection that loyal citizens deserve." (War, 1,34, pp. 954-5).

George W. Randolph, of McDonald County, held the official post of Circuit Attorney during the Civil War. The circuit then included Dade, Lawrence, Barry, Jasper, Newton and McDonald Counties. The case loads in these counties demanded more than one man riding the circuit could handle and there were many Circuit Attorneys Pro tem during the 1860s.

In 1866, James F. Hardin, son-in-law of the Honorable John C. Price, served as Circuit Attorney. Hardin undoubtedly brought some excitement into the proceedings. Following Hardin's murder in Carthage in 1876, his obituary in a Springfield paper defended his character by stating "he was a better man than his sneaking cowardly assassins because whenever he had an enemy who needed to be injured, he met them face to face in public." It was Hardin who shot William H. Phelps in the courthouse at Carthage in 1875.

Benjamin Littleberry Hendrick, another Lawrence County man, was elected to the office of Circuit Judge in 1868, replacing Price who returned to private law practice.

"There Being No Jail In My Said County"

There seems to be a slightly sarcastic tone on the certificate of commitment when the sheriff transported a prisoner to another county for confinement "there being no jail in my said county." The statement is typical of the language used on all returns. The sheriff and an additional guard were paid $1.25 per day and $.08 per mile for transporting a prisoner for commitment. The two-day, 66 mile round trip to Springfield netted a guard $7.78, a decent sum in days when a family's entire estate excluding clothing might amount to no more than $131.00. (#55) Seven dollars for two days was a good wage when 22 men could draw an indictment for betting a large amount of property, to wit, four drinks of whiskey and fifteen cents worth of candy. (#29)

Lawrence County's first jail was destroyed in December 1858 by a prisoner trying to bum his way to freedom through walls three-logs thick. The only openings were two heavily grated vent holes, one-foot square each, and a trap door through which a ladder could be lowered from the second floor. According to an article in the Democrat printed in Warsaw, Missouri, the two prisoners, Price and Finley (no first names given), were transferred to the Dade County jail. Several months later the same newspaper reported the acquittal of Price (no first name) by a Greene County jury on a Lawrence County indictment for the murder of Kimmons in Mt. Vernon in the fall of 1858.

The loss of Lawrence County's documents from 1845 to 1858 corresponds more closely to the burning of the first jail than to the Civil War. It is possible that documents from completed cases were stored on the second floor of the jail rather than in the courthouse and may have burned with the jail. It's doubtful that the rebels who overran the courthouse during the war would have selectively destroyed only records prior to 1858, and it is equally doubtful that a circuit clerk in a fit of housecleaning decided to toss the old records.

There were many escapes and several recorded incidents of "shot while trying to escape" during the decade between jails. Not even transfer to the jail in Greene County provided assurance that the prisoner would be available for trial. Three men awaiting trial on grand larceny charges in Lawrence County escaped from the Greene County jail in September 1866. An article in the Missouri Patriot published in Springfield on Tuesday, 11 Sep 1866, reported as follows: “BROKE JAIL -- On Monday morning about 3 o'clock A.M. the door of one of the cells in our county jail was unlocked and seven out of nine prisoners confined in it made their escape. The other two concluded to remain and notified the jailor of the escape of the others as soon as they felt safe in doing so. How the door was unlocked and by whom is a mystery. The original set of keys to the door was stolen by the rebels in 1861, since which time they have not been heard of. It is possible that these keys may have been used Sunday night in releasing the prisoners. The following is a list of the names of those who escaped: A. J. Smith, Bedford Scott, Marian Fortune, Stephen Hicks, Perry Nolton, George Craig and John Estes. We understand the Sheriff will pay a reward of twenty-five dollars each for the apprehension and delivery to him of any and all of the prisoners.”

Nolton {Knowlton} (#56), Craig (#B) and Estes (#89) were Lawrence County defendants. William S. Literel, who had been arrested with Craig, was shot and killed during an earlier escape attempt while the two men were under private guard in Lawrence County. Craig had been shot in the thigh, recaptured, and according to the sheriff's report of commitment, was transferred to the Greene County jail "subject to the order of the governor."

Defendants who could not obtain security for recognizance were guarded by men such as: Stephen Brown, George Ward, F. M. White, Alferd White, Samuel Smith, Robert Bradford, J. W. Price, the sheriff, a deputy or a constable. Guards were paid at $.60 per day during the first part of this period, but toward the latter part of the decade the rate had risen to $1.00 per day. Payments for boarding prisoners and guards are recorded in the documents for George Whaley, J. W. Leathers, George Haley and A. J. Durnil. Those boarding the prisoners received $.60 per day per prisoner and per guard.

Citizens were concerned about the lack of facilities in Lawrence County. The 12 Sep 1867 issue of Mt. Vernon's Spring River Fountain stated "The people of Barry County, with more enterprise than we, as yet, in Lawrence, are building a substantial Jail" and "the militia should be held in readiness or a regulating committee should be organized at once to protect the people." Two weeks later the same newspaper reported that Dade County had issued bonds to erect a new courthouse and jail and warned that all the bad elements from Dade County would soon be coming to Lawrence to avoid enforcement. Both articles chastised the County Court for dragging their feet on the issue of a new jail. In 1867, the City of Mt. Vernon built a small frame jail. Its location is unknown. {Note: according to descendants of William Sigel Smith the city jail was located behind the 1868 county jail. Billy Smith used the structure for his mules and horses 1905-1925. It was a long, low wooden building with a series of “rooms” which easily converted to stalls for stock.} In 1868, the county built a brick jail which still stands on West Water Street. {Note: Billy and Maggie Smith ran a boarding house on Water Street in which the 1868 jail served as the kitchen. Several of my cousins were born and raised in the former jail when my Uncle Raymond Smith lived there.}The new county facility, which served as a jail for only five years, accepted its first prisoner in January 1869. “On Friday, the 15th instant, a colored man was committed to jail on a charge of stealing a pair of boots from Jno. Weir; so it appears that the colored race in this locality have the notoriety of furnishing the first representative to the new jail house. This circumstance may admonish the colored population that it is a much better plan to buy boots and pay for them than to undertake to get them by slight of hand, this thing of stealing has been tried so often with such bad consequences that it would seem that everybody ought to know better by this time.” Spring River Fountain, 21 Jan 1869. The affidavit filed by John G. Wear {signature found as Weir and Wear in court records} charges one Charles Wilson {named marked out}, Felix Wilson {name marked out} Joe Patterson with stealing a pair of boots of the value of five dollars and fifty cents. (#174)

Confinement in the jail didn't mean free room and board for the inmates. On 3 May 1869, Joe Patterson, duly sworn by justice James W Davis "says that he is now confined in the county jail ... and that he is a poor person and unable to procure the necessary provisions for his board." Curiously, other inmates "went out" to eat. The 5 Aug 1869 issue of Spring River Fountain reported that Charlie Young, arrested for felonious assault after a "difficulty" over a game of billiards, had been committed to jail by Sheriff Samuel. He remained overnight and "On the following morning being allowed to go the outskirts of town for his breakfast under guard of an irresponsible person, he of course escaped." The completion of the new facility didn't put a stop to the escapes in Lawrence County.

"It's a Water Hawl"

In 1867 Joshua Holt requested assistance from Constable A. W. Grammer in collecting for a gun which had been taken by rebels in September 1861. (#185) He advised Mr. Grammer to do his best because "it was a water hawl." To a friend of mine who said water came in underground pipes where she grew up, I had to explain that the expression signified that some loss was expected. Holt didn't expect to get his full asking price for the gun anymore than he would expect a 10-year-old boy to make it back up the hill from the creek with a full bucket of water. The testimonies in these abstracts include samples of the Ozark language, rich in colloquial expression and symbolism now lost in time.

Some of the testimony in Bundle #185 reveals that the belief that everyone in a community knows everybody else's business isn't entirely accurate. For at least six years Holt had lived about two and one-half miles from Newton Phariss, the man who paid $25 of the $50 asking price on Mr. Holt's gun. It wasn't until 1867, possibly after hearing through the grapevine that Phariss had been in the company with the men who had taken the gun, that Holt "recognized" Phariss as one of the men who had come to his house and "sceard" his wife very much. Phariss claimed he never came within 200 yards of Holt's house, but Holt said he had looked at the men very closely "so that I might know them if I should see them again."

Not everyone in "this country" was acquainted with everyone else. "This country" indicated a geographic region in which paths might cross. When Judge Price asked Bernard Norton if he was new to this country, Norton should have responded with a simple "yes." (#73) Instead, he said he had been here before and had met the judge under different circumstances, i.e., had helped take Price prisoner at the beginning of the war and stolen Price's horse. One has to be amazed at the audacity and arrogance involved in standing flat-footed on the town square and saying those things to the Circuit Court Judge. There were, apparently, a few conquering Union men who believed they held the world in their hands--even if they had started the war on the Confederate side of the fence. Judge Price didn't see things quite that way in his country. Norton claimed he was a Federal spy and he can be found in the official Civil War records as a scout in 1864. He can also be found as defendant in a grand larceny case in Judge Price's court in 1865. Things weren't so well for Norton in "this country."

Judge Price and Bernard Norton stepped away from the "crowd" to speak, but it's difficult to know whether the word "crowd" indicated a hundred people or a half-dozen. On one occasion in the records, the word "crowd" was used in referring to a half-dozen boys fishing at the creek. Equally difficult to determine is the application of the word "riot" in the records. There are no surviving copies of the local newspapers which may have reported the extent of the riots of the 1860s nor do the documents include any testimony, motions or instructions that shed any light on the situation. The Lawrence County "riots" of the 1860s have slipped into time as mere whispers.

After the Union's defeat at Wilson Creek and the withdrawal of federal troops from Southwest Missouri, thousands of Union supporters were forced to leave the area. Some returned. Many soldiers who served here returned after the war to make their homes in this area. During the latter part of the war thousands of southern sympathizers began their exodus from Missouri to places like Texas, Montana and the West Coast. Few returned. Among the names indexed in this book are many of those who came,, those who left, and some who were just passing through.

This book is not intended to be a study of the judicial system in Lawrence County during the period 1858-1869, but hopefully it supplies some of the history and circumstances. As with legal cases today, many cases required years to resolve and I anticipate finding more information about this period in later cases. Hopefully, this book will serve to make the information available with minimal disruption to the office of the Circuit Clerk and with minimal damage to the crumbling documents. The record books for 1845-1887 are available on microfilm at the State Archives.

The Circuit Clerk's office does not have staff available to research records for genealogists nor are these documents easily accessible. (Note: The documents from the circuit court records are being microfilmed through the Local Records Preservation program in the Office of the State Attorney General, jjr 1999)

I hope you find the introduction useful, but it's a water hawl. The records speak for themselves.

Judith Kay (Johnson) Reustle 7 July 1997; Revised 30 Dec 2000

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