Today, I thought I would present a little collage of what I, at least, think are interesting tid-bits of mostly local history. This medley is taken from previous History Guy columns. Have a wonderful Sunday!
• There were once 110 known rural schools in Newton County. All but Westview have been consolidated into the four main school districts in Newton County (five if you count Joplin School District). Most were closed in the 1940s through the 1960s. We lost something special with the loss of the independent rural schools. I'll argue that with anyone.
• Making corn husk dolls is borrowed from the Native Americans. In Southwest Missouri, they even pre-date the Osage and Kickapoo peoples. There is a legend I read somewhere that the reason corn husk dolls traditionally have no face is because this little "corn person" once became so vain after seeing her reflection in a river that The Great Spirit punished her by taking away her face. Hmmm....Don't know about that one, but that's supposedly why we don't paint faces on corn husk dolls. Or so the story goes.
• Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 as a political move to assuage the blue collar citizenry still wielding symbolic pitchforks over the violent breakup of a railroad mega-strike a few days before.
• Neosho's water treatment plant was built for Camp Crowder in circa 1942. Yes, it's that old. But it IS in the process of getting some upgrades, thanks to a voter-approved, low-interest state loan.
• President Harry S Truman made a handful of "official" visits to Neosho during his political career. The first I can think of off the top of my head was for the dedication of the new Newton County courthouse in 1936, when he was a U.S. Senator. The second "official" time I know of offhand was in 1942 for the dedication of Camp Crowder, which had just been built. Truman was still a Senator then, too. As former President, Truman made a third official stop in Neosho in 1962 with artist and local native Thomas Hart Benton, for Benton's homecoming celebration. But Truman reportedly also liked to hang out in Neosho, as well, playing poker in a home on St. John Street, among other activities.
• Not long before he left Neosho for good, a young Thomas Hart Benton said farewell to his hometown by getting into a knock-down, drag-out street fight in front of what is Community Bank & Trust on the Neosho Square. He was arrested, spent the night in jail and paid a $1 fine the next day. Like many of Benton's youthful shenanigans, it made the local newspaper. Of course, when he came back to great fanfare in 1962, after making it to the big time in the art world, the signs in the crowd read, "Welcome Home, Tom."
Page 2 of 3 - • The beautiful First Christian Church was constructed in 1907 on the corner of Hickory and Jefferson Street in Neosho, and demolished in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It rivaled all other church buildings in architectural beauty.
n More than 3,000 people came to the very first Neosho Easter Sunrise Service in Big Spring Park, which was held April 20, 1924. The event was originally organized by the now defunct Neosho Community Club.
• Located northeast of Diamond, the community of Pepsin was settled around 1830. At one time Pepsin boasted three stores, a barber shop, a canning factory, a sorghum mill, blacksmith shop, post office, a school and a church. Pepsin was once called Kizerville but was later changed to Pepsin after the newest brand of chewing gum at the time. Er, maybe.
That sounds a little far-fetched to me, but who knows? Things like that do happen. Pepsin was also the home of an obscure, at least to me anyway, major league baseball player by the name of Marc Hall, who before he died from diabetes at age 27 in 1915, played for the St. Louis Browns.
• There is only one McDonald County in the entire United States. In contrast, there are at least eight "Newton County(s)" around the U.S. and the same number of counties named Jasper. Newton and Jasper counties are named for South Carolinians Sgt. John Newton and Sgt. William Jasper, both of whom served under Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion against the British (Marion, by the way, was largely the inspiration for Mel Gibson's character in the movie "The Patriot.") The story is that the two buddies learned of some men — either captured patriots or British deserters, depending on which source it comes from — were about to be executed. Subsequently, the duo supposedly ambushed and scattered the guard detail and freed the prisoners, earning Newton a promotion from corporal to sergeant. Jasper was already a sergeant, apparently. Jasper, by the way, was later killed during the 1779 siege of Savannah, Ga. There is a big monument of him in that city. After the city fell to the British, our Sgt. John Newton is said to have been thrown into a prison ship, where he died of small pox. McDonald County is named for Sgt. Alexander McDonald Jr. He survived the war and died in Georgia in 1844, according to genealogy records. One report has McDonald chasing down a Tory major (Tories were American loyalists, by the way) on horseback and bayoneting him in the back. No small achievement, to be sure. It isn't as big as ambushing a British patrol and freeing condemned prisoners, but certainly nothing to sneeze at if it's true.
Wes Franklin serves on the Newton County Historical Society Board of Directors. He is also public relations director and events coordinator for the City of Neosho. Contact him at 658-8443.
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