Volume 34, Number 2 - Fall 1994
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once mused that it was something of a miracle that after the dislocations of the American Civil War the national economy experienced only a doubling of prices. In the Ozarks, and elsewhere, the legacy of wartime conflict was much worse than rising prices. Loss of land and property destruction radically impacted the landscape and impaired agricultural production--the prospect of recovery amid spiraling debt taxed the resources and imagination of Missourians who looked toward a daunting future of inflation and escalating taxes.
The concept of Missouris "Border War" -- traditionally defined as depopulation and widespread social disintegration along the Kansas-Missouri corridor --should be extended to the Arkansas-Missouri border and adjacent counties to form an el-shaped state corridor whose wartime and post-war legacy is distinct from other Missouri regions. Post-war "Border Troubles" included numerous organizations involved in social conflict such as Greene Countys Law and Order League, 1866; the Sons of Liberty in Oregon and Shannon Counties in 1867; the Oregon County Scouts, a militia in 1868; state militias established the same year in Howell and Stoddard Counties to combat social unrest; the Ku Klux Klan or so-called "Dead Men," organized bands of outlaws in 1871 in Stoddard and Dunklin Counties; Klan movements in New Madrid, Butler and Ripley Counties in 1871; Cass Countys Gunn City massacre, 1872; Stone Countys Sons of Honor, 1875; guerilla raids and reprisals in Ripley County in conflict with northern Arkansas counties (Clay and Randolph) during 1876; statewide Anti-Horse Thief Association chapters, the largest concentration active in southwest Missouri; Taney Countys Citizens Committee for Law and Order in the mid1880s, more commonly termed the Baldknobbers, and neighboring Douglas and Christian county vigilantes of the same period. Most, if not all, of these disturbances had significant economic issues at the center of the local dispute.
Missouri historians support a generally rapid economic recovery during post-war years. Professor William Parrish, however, noted a significant 1870 demographic disparity along the Missouri-Arkansas border where population density was only five persons to the square mile or less. A review of 1860 and 1868 assessed wealth for Missouri counties suggests serious economic disruption in several border counties, including Butler, Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Ripley, Stoddard and Taney Counties. By 1868 none of these counties had assessed valuations equal to their prewar figures and all had postwar vigilante conflict.
The last and most famous episode in Missouri vigilantism, known through folklore and fictionalized history, is the Baldknobber era. The literature is but a storytelling competition conducted in the twentieth century represented in two books, used as major and minor themes in other books, written about in dozens of regional articles, and kept alive for tourists in the famous Shepherd of the Hills outdoor drama.
This essay will focus upon the wartime legacy and alleged corruption in Taney County local government. Traditional rhetoric asserts that two major problems propelled tax payers to form the Baldknobbers: One, there was fiscal corruption in county government over revenue bonds, and two, lawlessness infested the countryside. Local wisdom alleged that these continuing troubles were somehow tied to the Civil War.
The thesis of this writing is threefold: one, the two contending parties -- Baldknobbers and Anti-baldknobbers or the pro-militia group -- fit distinct categories. The expansionist Baldknobbers were eco-
nomic progressives who were usually Republicans and Unionists interested in capital formation, banks, railroads, businesses and rising real estate values. The Anti-baldknobbers were young cowboys who lived in the country on the open range, and were led by older independent stockmen farmers, Democrats and sympathizers with the Confederacy. This description parallels other Western events interpreted by Richard M. Brown in his No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American History and Society. Secondly, Mark W. Summers book, The Era of Good Stealings, places the Baldknobber events within the nadir of public ethics in government. Widespread national corruption in government bonds and revenues had a local chapter in Taney County. When Yankee immigrants realized the problem and corruption became public, ". . . it made issues far more bitter and differences between either side far less reconcilable." Third, the Baldknobber episode may represent the last gasp of Missouris Civil War as ex-Confederates schemed with their children and allies to defraud local Unionists and immigrant Yankees.
Local tradition reports fond memories of Taneys antebellum economic fortunes. Reminiscences record an "easy life" afforded by the richness of nature that allowed quick gains in possessions, large and small, and where ones livelihood flourished freely on a great open range. Market and subsistence hunting, stock-raising, and small grains were the norm. In 1855, settlers owned less than 5% of the land in fee simple and by 1860 private ownership climbed to less than 9%. This was the general level of private ownership until the mid-1870s when new immigration gradually increased it. And, unlike the postwar years, tax rates remained constant in antebellum Taney.
In 1855 state representative Jesse Jennings (Radical Republican state representative, 1866-1870) submitted a bill to the Missouri general assembly asking permission for the county court to finance a new courthouse. The assembly approved the request and a modest three-story brick courthouse replaced the former log building. The act gave the county court authority to levy a special tax to pay for the $3,600 structure. County business, including payment of officials and warrants, continued with 90% of Taneys land untaxed. The county debt for the courthouse,
however, did not prove onerous. County payments proceeded in due course and in early 1861 the general assembly passed another act that donated internal improvement monies to Taney to complete the courthouse and eliminated the assessment to pay for the building. Thus, Taney County entered the Civil War unencumbered by capital debt.
The war in Taney County was characterized by guerrilla conflict prosecuted by both Union and Confederate regulars and independent guerrillas. Geography, however, played a special role. The Great Bend of White River flows downriver from the southwest into central Taney where Forsyth, the county seat, is located, and south, southeastward back into Arkansas. The geographic result was that White River bounded a large quadrant of land in southwest Taney.
North of the river became predominately Union in sympathy, and south of the river was Confederate. The county seat was a village of Virginia immigrants that included families from Kentucky and Tennessee. The Forsyth cemetery north of the river, and the Snapp cemetery south of the river, reinforce this division today as veterans, sympathizers and descendants of the North and South are buried in their respective grounds.
North of White River was Ozark and Springfield, early Union strongholds of Radical Republicanism in southwest Missouri. South of White River lay a broad expanse of an overland gateway to the Arkansas Ozarks including Yellville, a recruitment center for Marion and Taney County Confederates. A corridor from Springfield - Ozark - Forsyth - Dubuque - Yellville was commonly used by armed men of both sides seeking to wreak havoc with the other. The corridor from Forsyth to Dubuque, Arkansas, at the state line ran through the neighborhoods of a small slaveholding elite of Taney County.
By spring 1862 Union companies at Springfield positioned themselves at Ozark and on Beaver Creek, Taney County, and began raids along White River and beyond. Arkansas Loyalists congregated in Springfield and formed nine cavalry and infantry regiments used primarily to "garrison isolated outposts and to chase Confederate guerrillas." Federal retribution upon suspected Southern sympathizers and their families was harsh and the Confederates retaliated.
Union officers reacted to the reports of guerrilla actions in the White River region. In December 1862, federal Brig. Gen. F. J. Herron instructed subordinates heading for White River, "Dont take any of them prisoners.. .destroy the bands infesting that country and show no mercy to bushwhackers." In early 1863, Col. William Weer of the Army of the Frontier similarly ordered troops to "destroy every house and farm owned by secessionists, together with their property ... kill every bushwhacker you find." Confederate rhetoric, reported in Iowa newspapers by Spring 1863, offered tit for tat as Confederates ordered Union sympathizers to leave the country and "not stop south of White River on penalty of death."
Guerrilla-hunting Union cavalry came to play a role beyond the military one in local history. A nucleus of leadership in the future Baldknobbers had roles as junior officers and infantry in these units while Anti-Baldknobber participants had connections to ex-Confederate settlements in southwest Taney. In 1862 Missouri Unionists began enforcing the controversial assessments of Confederate sympathizers statewide. The state government lacked the resources to pay for the militia, so county boards established penalties for local southerners in an attempt to defeat bushwhacking. The system became "an excuse for outright plundering and intimidation" on both sides as southerners, too, began confiscating Unionist properties. In southwest Missouri Union "assessments" were taken at the point of a gun. From September 1862 to January 1863 Union companies stationed at Ozark made several raids into Taney County and across the state line. They killed at least two dozen men and took more than a hundred prisoners. By the end of October, Capt. Milton Burch of the 14th Missouri State Militia (M.S.M.), popularly known as the Mountain Rangers,
reported that his company had "been continually on the scout driving out the bushwhackers and has succeeded well in cleaning the country of them from here [Ozark] to the Arkansas line."
Capt. Milton Burch and his second in command, Lieut. John Kelso, became known throughout southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas for their daring exploits in the Ozarks. Kelso, in particular, relished each mission and made a reputation for himself as a virtual assassin working under the cover of a Union uniform. The Official Records recorded one scout to White River in November 1862 when the 14th "feasted on Dixies best," killed four rebels and took twenty-five prisoners back to Ozark. Significantly, this report recorded a stop where the soldiers fed and rested with the help of "a man by the name of Yandell, who was very willing to aid in assembling the provost guards." Slaveholder William Yandell was elected presiding county judge just prior to the war and appears on the
14th M.S.M. muster roll as sergeant in early 1862. Yandell later received a Radical Republican appointment as county judge in 1864, and amid local disputes in 1865, the Missouri legislature passed an act to confirm and legalize the administration of Yandell in Taney County. Moreover, Capt. Burch lauded the efforts of Lieut. Madison Day "who aided me in all my undertakings," but Madison Day became known in Taney County history as a bushwhacking villain. Madison Day later became a Baldknobber leader, serving as coroner and temporary county sheriff.
Wiley Britton recorded the most lengthy remembrance about John Kelso. Kelso had attended school in Ozark, and became a Methodist preacher and school teacher in Dallas County. He was considered a fanatic on diet and exercise, abstained from tobacco and alcohol, and exhibited a habit of reading the classics while engaged on his scouts in the backwoods. In disguise he visited the southern camps in southwest Missouri,
hunted secesh alone at night while his comrades slept, and in Taney County murdered southerners as they slept. He originally enrolled with Col. S. H. Boyd in Springfield, and by 1864 with the soldiers vote, defeated his former colonel in the Radical Congressional race in southwest Missouri.
By January 1863 Unionists had decimated southern properties in Taney County, destroyed Forsyth, and were in general military control. Local Confederates were seriously outmanned and outgunned. On February 1, 1863, a Yankee ruse led to a Kelso-like assassination of the last of the well-known southern guerrillas, Alf Bolin. But, in December 1863, the Union side suffered loss, too. Guerrillas killed officer William C. Gideon, former member of the 14th M.S.M., at his Christian County home. Rebels may have killed Gideon for a number of reasons including his work in the 14th M.S.M, his current role as a recruitment officer in Springfield, or for the fact that his brother Francis M. Gideon (also a 14th M.S.M. soldier) was the new Radical state representative for Taney County. Francis Gideon won reelection as the Republican candidate in 1864 with only 29 votes -- votes from the Unionists in the 73rd Missouri Infantry stationed on Beaver Creek. In 1865 the late William C. Gideons son, Thomas J. Gideon who had served with his father in the 14th M.S.M., organized a local militia "to rid the country of bushwhackers" and later became a multiple term post-war Christian County clerk and recorder. The Gideons represent southern Democrats who became local Unionists with ties to the military companies whose primary mission was to punish Confederate White River guerrillas and who later became important Republican leaders in local government.
Several of the Gideon men belonged both to the 14th M.S.M. and another cavalry unit stationed at
Ozark and in Taney County, the 73rd Missouri Infantry. Like the 14th, the 73rd played an important role in Taney. Since Spring 1862 a Union detachment had garrisoned themselves southeast of Forsyth on Beaver Creek to raid secesh properties and to protect the only mill in a fifty-mile radius that survived the war. The 73rd included a large number of Taney County Unionists and two brothers who held positions of leadership-- Capt. Alexander C. Kissee and Lieut. Willis Kissee. Their captain, William L. Fenex, bought the mill and became the Radical appointee as county clerk at the end of the war. The Kissees then purchased the site and managed the new Kissee Mills.
The military repositioned John Kelso further west in early 1863; Kelso biographers credited him with twenty-six wartime killings. In Taney, Willis Kissee took up where Kelso left off and became known as a feared killer of Confederate sympathizers, claiming to have slain thirty-two. A.C. Kissee became a wealthy promoter of Taney County and a staunch Baldknobber leader. Some of their comrades in the 73rd were A.C.s wifes brothers, Andrew and Simon McHaffie. By the mid-1880s, their father, James P.K. McHaffie, was the wealthiest man in Taney County, county sheriff, and a leading Baldknobber. J.J. Brown, co-organizer of the 1880s vigilantes, was sergeant of the same militia.
For the rest of the war, Union military men in Taney County, like Lieuts. Madison Day and Willis Kissee, prosecuted violence against southern sympathizers and became known among southern descendants as nothing more than jayhawking murderers. By Spring 1864, Brig. Gen. John Sanborn, commanding southwest Missouri, reported that all the bands of marauders had been driven south of White River and that every effort should be made to keep "all guerrillas and rebels in Northern Arkansas across the river." During the remainder of the war, other locals joined federal units that originated in Ozark and Springfield. When the war ended, prominent figures in the Union cavalry subjugation of Taney County held political power--Yandell was presiding county judge, Kelso was their Congressman, and Francis Gideon represented them in Jefferson City. On the ground in Taney County lived several veterans of the guerrilla-hunting cavalry units.
Letters from the David Jackson family reflect southern feelings at the end and immediately after the war. Confederate David Jackson lost his life at Forsyth in July 1861 during the hostilities, but several of his extended family lived on both sides of the Taney County, Missouri, --Marion County, Arkansas, border before and after the war. Near the end of the war, Davids widow, Mrs. Penina Jackson, wrote her two sons to tell them how the feds have treated us. They have robbed our house, drove off our cattle, took our last horse, and said if we didnt leave they would burn us up. [Grand]mother told them to burn away. They could not burn her land nor confiscate it either, for the South would whip them yet. There is more natives a goin federal than ever you heard of. They said [grand]mother was too strong a rebel to stay here.
The Jacksons retreated into Marion County and kept moving ever closer to Yellville to be near Confederate families. They generated a correspondence of news about southern friends in Taney.
In 1866 Taney Radicals had a number of southern families in circuit court charged with various counts of stealing. Included were F. M. and W. D. Casey, Benjamin McKinney, Preston Haggard, Jimmie Ellison, and more. The court docket included Mrs. Penina Jackson for stealing a heifer and taking it to Arkansas. Mrs. Jackson bitterly denied the charge, but was ordered by the court to make restitution. John Haggard wrote Joseph Jackson that we have no more chance for to get justice in Taney County than a cat in hell without claws. If you was up here you would get so dam mad that you would burn your shirt to make a light to see how to curse them dam Radicals at Forsyth. They have swore everything but the truth, to keep us away from home. Lysander Jennings is sheriff; he is as dam a dog as the balance of the feds.
Wartime loyalties continued to segregate local families. The Jacksons wrote each other concerning the status of area southerners including the Berry, Cook, Estes, Grider, Haworth, Hoodenpyle, Layton, Mitchell, Stackhouse, Tutt, Warren, Wood and other neighbors. Some men of these families later took the side of the Anti-Baldknobbers.
At the end of the war, area towns and villages were completely leveled. Forsyth, and to the south, Dubuque, Yellville, and Harrison, Arkansas, were all charred ruins. An official in Stone County said the border counties, in fact, had to be essentially resettled. Surviving Union and Confederate families, however, remained in Taney County. In one list of wartime veterans (veterans, not just sympathizers) from Taney County, it is significant that not one Union family was listed as having suffered the death of a member while many are listed among the Confederates, including Layton, May, Moore, Snapp and others. These leading southern families, joined by ex-Confederates and others, later comprised the core of the Anti-Baldknobbers. Listed as a Union survivor and veteran of Taneys guerrilla-hunting cavalry, was James Everett, slain by Al Layton in Forsyth in 1884, an event that sparked the formation of the Republican-dominated vigilantes.
In 1865 legislators estimated that Missouri had lost up to one-third of its population, but in Taney County the dislocation was more dramatic. Not only did the county have to rebuild Forsyth, its only town, the county and the region in 1864-1865, on the heels of widespread guerrilla activity, experienced an exodus of settlers. Taney began the war with 3,500 people; by 1864, the government estimated that some 2,000 were left. But more continued to leave. E. W. Myers, Taney county assessor (who also served as sheriff and collector, 1865-1866), wrote that the wartime depopulation was so severe that there "was not a sufficient number of men in the county for the officers necessary to transact the business." In 1867 approximately 275 families immigrated to Taney bringing the population to 2,282. This meant, estimating an average of four members per family, that at wars end, there were less than 1,000 people in the county or one and one-half persons per square mile. Taney was one vast "empty quarter" while the legislature called for immigrants "to take the place of the wild beast and bushwhacker."
By the end of the war counties statewide had suffered extensive losses. In Taney, stock and farm implements were gone, fences were down or burned, and farms were in weeds. State and local governments, however, required taxes for general administration, schools, wartime debt, and sinking funds to pay the public debt. Local citizens noticed financial losses of
county monies on deposit. Statewide, the stealings of township school funds was common; Taneys balance at the end of the war was $1.89 in a county that had little to begin with. In 1863 Taney and other counties received legislative tax relief for 1861 and 1862 and the legislature implemented a statewide reduction in assessments for the rest of the war. In 1865 the legislature passed an act for the relief of loyal taxpayers for 1864 and 1865 -- the Confederate families were not exempt.
The legislature floated Union Military Bonds during the war to pay for Missouris expenses, but in 1865 with state debt mounting, exacerbated by railroad obligations, the legislature approved new Union Military bond issues and passed new taxes for 1866 and 1867 to redeem the war bonds. The legislature also published the dollars owed to the state by counties for service of the Enrolled Militia and Missouri Militia service (Taneys bill was $259.75.)
The postwar emphasis on new taxes to service war bonds and taxes for public schools in addition to the normal taxation for county business was particularly onerous for areas that had reduced resources to face inflation and rising prices. A neighboring official in Stone County wrote that "a goodly number of the citizens are opposed to the law as regards the levying and collection of [school] taxes. The wealthy have to pay the taxes of the poor." Citizens realized that depreciated assessments of property made it even more difficult for families and local governments to meet obligations. The immigration of new tax-payers in the late 1860s did not solve all the cash flow problems for local government.
In the late 1860s it is unclear whether or not officials collected enough local taxes to pay for Taney County administration. In this open-range society most settlers paid their taxes with stock sales. The war had wiped out all significant numbers, but like population, cattle and hogs were increasing. The Jackson family observed that if the stock traders did not resume their trips into the interior bringing money for settlers few cattle, people would not pay any taxes. Assessor E. W. Myers reported another difficulty.
It is almost impossible to gather the data from which to make a correct report, as the people are jealous of everything
tending to show the wealth of the county, believing it a scheme of government to ascertain their income preparatory to assessing a national revenue tax.
Myers thought the situation would improve soon as many old citizens had returned to Taney by 1868 and that significant Yankee immigration from Iowa and Illinois would soon help the county.
The state, realizing its severe economic condition and anticipating civil disruptions, enacted a procedure for counties to appeal to the governor for an armed militia. In such case, the county who made the appeal was liable for all militia expenses and was empowered to levy a special tax to collect the amount. In later years, this act forced the Missouri Adjutant Generals office and local governments to work toward compromises in local conflict as counties reconsidered their appeals for militia aid in the face of having to pay for them. This became an important issue in April 1886 in Taney County as the population turned out in force to quiet a request from a pro-militia, Anti-Baldknobber group for a state sanctioned militia.
In an environment of depleted resources and rising taxes, Radical Republicans in Taney were already fuming about incompetence in the courthouse. J.J. Brown, county and circuit clerk of 1865-1866, was especially blunt. The county justices of 1866-1868 "compose the most ignorant tribunal that ever occupied the judges seat in the State." Furthermore, county clerk Lysander Jennings (1866-1876) was "equally ignorant; being incompetent to make out the tax books, with anything like correctness...." Brown, future organizer of the Baldknobbers, concluded his comments with the observation that "it has too long been the practice in our border counties, to elect men to office, without regard to qualification." Clerk Lysander Jennings had now received criticism for his actions in public office by both the Jackson family Confederates and Brown, a Radical lawyer, real estate speculator and office holder for twenty years. Browns remark concerning "qualification" may also have been a reference to lax enforcement of the loyalty oath by election judges who allowed some Confederate sympathizers to vote.
In February 1869 T.A. Parker, state superintendent of public schools, addressed the general assembly on the lack of systematic fiscal controls and responsibility in county government. The Radical Missourians had emphasized public education and in 1867 established the State School Fund that augmented local revenues. Financial problems included counties that had lost the monies to guerrillas during the war, were using the school monies to make bad and uncollectible loans, banks failed losing the money, officials stole the funds, counties used it to pay general indebtedness and to build public improvements, county courts loaned monies to their friends, never collecting payment, and some said it was just plain "missing." The chaos in public school monies was symptomatic of widespread financial difficulties following the war. In Taney County the new state fund stood at $723.00, second lowest in Missouri, to help finance fourteen public schools "chiefly along the water courses."
Superintendent Parker called for special legislation to provide for someone "independent of county influence" to have the power to audit Missouris county books. By the end of 1869 more irregularities at the local level began to plague Missouri county governments. Fraud and mismanagement involving hundreds of thousands of dollars that implicated county courts and other local officials increasingly gained attention of the legislature.
The Taney County school commissioner reported that the "people are very poor. The qualifications of teachers are very poor, owing to the indifference of the people, who think a poor teacher will answer the purpose as well as a better one, and can be hired for less money." The following year, school commissioner W. R. Howard, echoed the sentiment and said that few schools were kept open for three months during the year. The relative poverty of White River counties was borne out in total taxable wealth. In 1869 Taney was third lowest in the state with neighboring Ozark County the lowest; Stone and Douglas ranked just above them.
Representative Jesse Jennings had Taneys deplorable economic condition in mind. In his eighth and final term, he proposed an act in 1869 to allow the Taney County court "to levy a special tax for paying indebtedness and completing certain county buildings." Since the war, Taney had done its administrative business across the river in the Harrison Snapp
house and in what few buildings remained near Forsyth. The brick courthouse stood in a damaged condition and county officials wanted to repair it. Apparently, the county could not even pay its warrants for normal administration. It is not clear whether the legislature passed this act and the county electorate approved a special tax or not. The county court, however, moved ahead to obtain funds. After a decade of local political turmoil, Taneys new state representative, S.W. Bunch, introduced a bill in late 1870 to "perfect the assessment of 1870 on real estate." Without knowing exactly what happened in Taneys fiscal administration, 1870-1872, there appears at the end of 1872 two very dramatic figures in state reports. One, the acreage entered in county ownership jumped from 8% to 87% of the county and real estate valuation ballooned 35 1%. This inflated property base for tax collection in Taney, obviously falsified, may have been the collateral for new county debt in the form of bonds floated for $17,650, payable to Springfield and St. Louis banks. Moreover, we do not know whether Taney incurred this debt prior to or after the November 1872 elections when significant numbers of Democrats and ex-Confederate sympathizers regained local political power. Given the disorganized nature of local government and complaints such as J.J. Browns, some ex-Confederate/Democrats may have been elected in 1870.
The only officials, however, who had authority to negotiate the bonds were the county court and its clerk. The 1870-1872 Taney justices are "unknown" in local history, but the clerk was Lysander Jennings. In the 1872 elections, Jennings continued as clerk while Unionist Capt. C.C. Casey, joined two other "unknowns" as county administrators. Complicating the contemporary line of authority in Forsyth were two resignations on the county court in 1872-1874 (James Bryan and John Steely). These two resignations were followed by others over the next decade. Prosecutors Rufus Burns and J. H. Sanders resigned in 1878 and 1880 respectively; county judge James Oliver did the same in 1883 followed by Richard Robertson in 1885. Several other offices had resignations, too, indicating that there may have been continuing administrative unhappiness among several officials elected to office.
Regardless of who administered the county finances in the early 1870s when the $17,000 bond debt occurred, one has to wonder why did Taney County require that level of financing? Granted, local warrants for county services since the war may have circulated on credit and needed redeeming, but these would have amounted to a few thousand, at most. Certainly the courthouse, shelled by federal troops in 1861, needed repair, but, at the time, southern Missouri counties built new brick courthouses for $5-8,000. The courthouse was remodeled, but how was the rest of the money used? There is no record of significant public expenditures for buildings, schools, roads, ferries, bridges, or other capital improvements that would have required several thousand dollars. What local officials used approximately $10,000 for is a mystery, but giving them the benefit of the doubt does not remove questions for what soon appeared in state reports during the mid-1870s.
Taney elected a new county court in November 1874. J.J. Reynolds presided, joined by J.M. Haworth and C.C. Owen; Lysander Jennings continued as county clerk while Thomas Layton, as deputy clerk, began his first of several terms as circuit clerk; Reynolds, Haworth, and Layton would become strong Anti-Baldknobbers while Union veteran Capt. C.C. Owen (co-officer with Capt. Milton Burch in the 8th M.S.M.) would take the other side. In 1875, Taneys reported acreage for assessed valuation returned to its traditional level of the period -- 11.5%. But, for Taney tax-payers, debt and the future soon got worse.
In 1875, as a recent statute gave oversight authority to the state auditors office for county bonds, the Reynolds county court registered $23,732, up $5,400 in one year. Then, in 1876, J.J. Reynolds continued as presiding justice, and again increased county debt. By January 1878 Taneys bond debt soared to over $34,000, up over $10,000 in the three years that Reynolds was presiding judge. The Panic of 1873 caused economic stress nationwide, but did it result in the need to increase Taneys debt 70% in three years?
This increase in debt occurred when it should have decreased as counties sought retrenchment during the mid-1870s. Counties throughout Missouri reported numerous problems with local bond debt, including discrepancies in accounts, contradictory reports from officials, records destroyed by fire, rampant litigation,
repudiation of bonds, and more. The fiscal reports in Jefferson City picture local governments in complete economic disarray. The 1875 Missouri Constitution dictated major changes in procedures for county administration -- one was the role of state auditor in overseeing fiscal compliance in proper county tax levies to service debt. But, compliance in fiscal oversight did not come immediately, as these and other local government procedures were phased in during the late 1870s and beyond. But the state auditors power was limited, lacking the ability to require uniform systems of accounting and reporting, or periodic audits, until well into the twentieth century.
In November 1880 John McClary, Democrat and future Anti-Baldknobber, succeeded Reynolds as presiding county judge for two terms. Thomas Layton, who in 1877 had become both county and circuit clerk, continued. J.J. Reynolds stayed in Democratic circles as the probate judge, 1878-1882, school commissioner, 1883-1885, and may have served as deputy clerk to Thomas Layton in the mid-1880s. Among local Democrats, the only constant figures in the courthouse from 1874 into the mid-1880s, who would have had specific knowledge about Taneys financial business, were Democrats Reynolds and Layton, the two primary leaders of the Anti-Baldknobber faction.
From 1878 to 1883 the debt remained fairly constant, serviced by tax-payers who owned 15% of Taneys land in 1878 to 20% in 1884. In November 1883, the county court re-financed local bond obligations with Third National Bank, St. Louis, and taxpayers awoke with a staggering $42,662 debt, an increase of over $8,000 since 1878. State reports show that the county court refinanced $33,000 of this debt to a lower interest rate, probably from 10% to 6%. Immigration of newcomers increased the pool of tax-payers, but to property owners, the debt seemed to rise out of control. In ten years, the county debt rose from $17,000 to $42,000--a $25,000 increase while fee simple land filings, i.e., new tax-payers, doubled in numbers.
In 1884 Taney citizens began to hotly debate alleged corruption in the courthouse; after elections in November 1884 Republicans replaced several Democrats in Forsyth. Local leaders filed a motion in circuit court to have the bond debt repudiated, but the judge declared the bonds legally binding. Meanwhile, ruffians assaulted a merchant couple in Taneyville and the sheriff jailed the accused Taylor brothers. Angered by the corruption they suspected, outraged by Democrat officeholders who had not prosecuted lawlessness, most significantly over the killing of James Everett by Al Layton (who was acquitted of murder), a number of taxpayers formed the Citizens Committee for Law and Order. They had warned their opponents that they would not tolerate further outlawry in Taney County. The Baldknobbers closed ranks, broke the Taylors out of jail, and hung them in April 1885. Then, Republican critics reputedly hired an outside auditor to survey the county records, but before that could take place, the courthouse, and with it most of the countys records, burned under mysterious circumstances in December 1885.
The Republicans, former Unionists, lawyers, merchants and small businessmen, agricultural progressives, and independent farmers captured all courthouse offices in 1886; the Confederate sympathizers and Democrats never regained political influence. For the next couple of years, hostilities resulted in gunfights that only ended with the killing of notorious Baldknobber. leader Nat Kinney by the hand of Billy Miles in 1888.
During the mid-1880s J.J. Reynolds, Thomas Layton, and their allies had their reputations impugned. They were greatly outnumbered by an opposition and witnessed a ground swell of support for Republican candidates. In a last ditch effort by the few remaining Democrats in the 1884-1886 administration to combat the Republican modernizers, Reynolds attempted to form a state sanctioned militia. Instead, during March 1886, Reynolds and Layton created an extra-legal militia. Reynolds, claiming that he wanted to suppress lawlessness, informed the Missouri adjutant general James Jamison that he had enrolled sixty-three men. Reynolds falsely claimed that no one opposed his organization except the Baldknobbers, many of whom were leaving the county, and concluded that a fully-equipped militia would completely demoralize "this lawless band of men."
Meanwhile, the adjutant general received a deposition from the Citizens Committee. The unsigned document charged that Reynolds was the ringleader of
the "Layton-Burdette-Slocum-Hill band of counterfeiters and outlaws." The Grants, Billy and Emanuel Miles, and others were killing the livestock of their opposition. Deputy sheriff William Miles, Sr., named as illegal militia captain, sheriff John Moseley, and prosecutor T. C. Spellings, kept the crimes from being prosecuted. The outlaw militia had the additional leadership of "militia lieutenants" William Wright and William Mayden. Their accuser claimed that the rank-and-file of the militia was made up of misguided youths that the older leadership had brainwashed. The Ozarkian cowboys participated in all kinds of stock theft and boasted that "as soon as the timber is dressed in green foliage they would shoot the best citizens at their plow handles." The indictment denounced Thomas Layton for his drunkenness and "raising the devil generally." The Baldknobber petition concluded that the Reynolds-Layton group wanted the militia officially sanctioned by Governor John Marmaduke to give their killings the authority of the state. The militia movement lasted only two months, but it created great anxiety.
Jamison appeared personally in Forsyth to present the states position and to arbitrate the dispute. In April 1886 some 235 men signed a petition opposing the Reynolds-Layton militia, and Jamison concurred. The adjutant general told governor Marmaduke that "the condition of affairs was not so bad as represented in the public prints [newspapers] and by individuals." Furthermore, concerning the few lawless acts in the county since April 1886, Jamison declared, "I doubt extremely if they are traceable to the organization [Bald Knobbers], and comparative peace and order has prevailed in the county since." The irritated Reynolds wrote Jamison that "the people of the great State of Missouri will surely hold the gov. responsible for coming events." And, sure enough, four ensuing gun battles left five more dead, but mob actions ceased as the Baldknobber leadership agreed to disband.
At the time, tax-payers on the Baldknobber side still wanted to know, "where did all the money gor The tax rate on assessed valuation was over eight times the late antebellum rate and in excess of constitutional limits. Since 1880, Taney citizens noticed that their per capita tax dramatically exceeded surrounding counties--3 1/2 times that of Stone; 4 1/2 times that of Ozark; 2 1/2 times that of Douglas; and 11 times that of Christian County. If the Democrats, especially J.J. Reynolds and Thomas Layton, who were privy to the financial business offered any explanations, they are unavailable to us today. In fact, contemporary observers only saw Reynolds new mill on Swan Creek, and listened to heated debates about a debt that would endure for another fifty years.
Local taxpayers and absentee owners speculated in land along railroad surveys expecting an increment in land values, but they soon realized that no corporation could invest in Taney County with the prospect of obtaining railroad bonds. By late 1884 speculators, their economic aspirations, predicated on rising land values and the growing prosperity in Kirbyville and Forsyth, felt thwarted. Rail extensions from Ozark and Chadwick through Taney County represented a gateway to newly discovered mines in Marion County, the potential of southern Taneys ore deposits, and all the Arkansas trade that moved along the Harrison-Springfield Road. A heavy county debt crushed the hope of offering corporations railroad bonds as inducements. Taney progressives concluded that their only option was strong, collective action and that took form in vigilantism and political militancy.
Had there, in fact, been a conspiracy to defraud the county taxpayers and subsequently to cover it up? While there is no specific evidence for individual blame, significant circumstantial data suggests that the county court and its clerks during the 1870s and early 1880s had a lot of explaining to do. The role of Lysander Jennings lingers mysteriously. Why did his name fail to appear on either side of the conflict in the mid-1880s? Did he make a bargain with Democrats of the early 1870s? He surely had some answers about the fiscal history of the county. Did J.J. Brown's complaint over unqualified officials imply that strict adherence to the Radical test oath was not in effect in Taney County and that ex-Confederates held office in the late 1860s? Democrats held some local offices in other southern Missouri and northern Arkansas counties during the late 1860s and maybe ex-Confederates, or at least sympathizers, were included in Taney. Did the resignations among county officials in the 1870s and 1880s have anything to do with conflict over
In the case of J.J. Reynolds and Thomas Layton, they appear responsible for some level of corruption in commission or conspiracy to coverup; if not, their explanations did not satisfy the majority of citizens. What accounted for the dramatic increases in bond debt during their tenure, and why, with an increasing tax base, wasnt the debt ever reduced in their tenure?
In the case of lawlessness, state records in the Adjutant Generals collection are entirely prejudiced against the Reynolds-Layton faction. Their militia was definitely illegal, and so was the earlier vigilance committee. It is curious that accusations by the Anti-Baldknobber faction never specifically name Baldknobber "outlaws" while the Baldknobbers do name members of the opposition. This lends credence to local folklore that accuses the Anti-Baldknobbers for lawlessness while acting as Baldknobber imposters.
The primary problem of violence in Taney County was not vigilante action, but a series of gunfights between Republican/ex-Unionist and Democrat/ex-Confederate supporters. The involvement of dozens of Anti-Baldknobbers vs. Baldknobbers suggests a choosing of sides based on relationships of extended southern families and their neighbors, while the Baldknobbers were a coalition of Republican victors in war and the new postwar immigration.
Finally, a cynical view might entertain that after Confederate families endured an unending death watch in Taney County while suffering defeat in war, they slowly recovered and nursed remorse; like elsewhere, they were not willing to forgive and forget. Then a voice of the old families, like well known orator Thomas Layton, was allowed to speak for them including the Coggburn, Ellison, Moseley, Moore, McClary, Snapp, and other families, who combined with collaborator J.J. Reynolds. These men "waved the bloody shirt" and concluded that local southerners had one last chance to best Yankee traitors like William Yandell and unwelcome Yankee immigrants -- let
them settle the land and pay taxes while Democrats in power defrauded them in faulty assessments and skimmed revenues from payments to local bonds. Perhaps the postwar Confederate sympathizers felt the Yankees owed a sort of indemnification for wartime losses. Reynolds did well during his years in office, purchasing land and building a new milling business north of the courthouse on Swan Creek -- a significant investment and one that he left for the West following the 1886 elections. Or, the insiders to Taneys administrative history -- Reynolds, Layton, et al--just kept the details among themselves and with their rhetoric rallied unreconstructed rebels, conquered but unconvinced, and Democratic faithful to oppose the Republican modernizers.
Whatever the fiscal circumstances were, Taney County presiding justices and their clerks in the 1870s and early 1880s never satisfactorily answered the fundamental question -- Where did all the money go?
Editors note: Numerous primary sources for local history reside in an array of state agency records in the state archives --these are particularly useful for counties such as Taney that have suffered major courthouse fires. For this writing, they include the Adjutant General Collection, administrative correspondence, 1880s, and military unit records, 1860s;
Report of the Adjutant General, 1886 (1887); Capitol Fire Documents for voter registration and election data; Civil Register [of local government officials], 1860s-1880s; House and Senate Journals and their various appendices, 1855-1870s, including School Commissioner Reports, Auditor Reports, Reports of Receipts and Expenditures, and Abstract of Valuations; Missouri Laws; the individual State Auditor Reports, 1870s-190l; and U.S. Dept. of Interior, Census Office, Report on Wealth, Debt, and Taxation, Part 1, Public Debt, 1892.
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