A FOUL MURDER
By S. C. Turnbo
On the east side of Big Creek in Ozark County, Mo. is a noted hill known as McVeys Bald Knob. Though not a lofty eminence neither are the surrounding hills very high. Yet this mound like formation is so situated that a view from its summit is wide and extended. The prairie hills of less prominence, numberous hollows and wooded hills and ridges form a fine landscape. McVeys Hollow which was once a prairie valley runs at the foot of the knob. At the head of the McVey Hollow is the dividing ridge between the source of this hollow and the head of Cedar Creek which flows into Big Creek and lower Turkey Creek which empties into Little North Fork. This range of hills is known locally as the chain link mountains. Looking across McVey hollow to the top of the ridge where the Pro-tem and Dugginsville Road leads we find the quick (Fairview) School House where there is a small grave yard among those who rest in this silent village of the dead is Mr. Daniel L. Quick who was born December 23, 1822 and died June 23, 1900. Between this knob and White River is the beautiful stream of Big Creek with its pure limpid water and fertile lands and busy farmers. McVeys Bald Knob and the hollow which bears the same name took their names from Jim McVey who lived in a small hut at the base of the hill on the east side of the mouth of McVeys Hollow. McVey went there in 1851, but Billy Kelly was the first settler on this land which is known now as the Aaron Quick Place.
On the night of the 14th of February 1856, a dastardly murder was committed at McVeys Cabin, which aroused an intense excitement and indignation among the citizens who lived on Big Creek, Little North Fork and White River. A ruffian by the name of Harris stabbed Rufus White in the region of the heart and killed him. Mr. White lived at the lower end of the Quick Place where Billy Howard settled. Howard sold his improvements to the Crawford boys - Jim Joe and John and they sold it to Rufe White. Mr. Whites wifes name was Nancy and they had one child which was a boy and they called him James Rufus. When Harris who was a large robust man with red complexion and of an over bearing disposition struck his victim with the knife the murdered man turned around quickly and walked nine steps and fell face forward in the snow which lay 4 inches deep on the ground. Harris had been arrested for violating the civil law and Mr. White was guarding him in a small log smoke house which stood in a few feet of McVeys hut. Mr. White while guarding the prisnor stood just on the outside at the door. Some one who was a friend to Harris had slipped the knife to him through a crack in the smoke house unobserved by White. It was now that Harris become very quiet and submissive and White relaxed his vigilance in watching the prisnor and while the unsuspecting man was standing with gun in hand just in front of the door way. Harris sprang at White like a tiger and grabbed the muzzle of Whites gun and tried to take it away from him and during the scuffle Harris did his murderous work then fled into the cold snowy hills on foot. The knife which was a long bladed and keen edged butcher knife was said to be the property of McVeys wife. As soon as Mr. White was killed the alarm was given and when a few persons had gathered there the body of the murdered man was picked up and carried into McVeys hut and layed down on the naked floor between the two doors and a saddle blanket was spread over it which did not conceal the face and feet from view.
Two days before the death of Rufe White Bob Magness son of Joe Magness married Miss Susan Lantz daughter of Mose Lantz who lived on Brattons Spring Creek. On the following day after his marriage he brought his pretty bride to his home in the Magness Bottom on White River. Bob Magness had invited the settlers who lived 5 and 6 miles up and down the river to come and take dinner with him and wife and enjoy a social play together that night and the result was a large number of men women and children had gathered there to extend congratulations to Mr. Magness and his lovely bride and to partake of a sumptuous dinner and enjoy an old time play that night. This was the night of the murder. The author was among the number of people that had collected at the Magness residence that night. I was 11 years old and I well remember that just as the clock struck 12 midnight Mr. Robert Casebolt who lived on Big Creek on what is now the Ben Quick farm and was a justice of the peace rode up to Mr. Magnesses house and announced the sad news of the murder of White. Every one in the house was almost stupefied with sorrow on hearing the news of the murder. Mr. Casebolt said that he wanted all the men he could get to go in pursuit of the villain. On the following morning twenty infuriated men well mounted and armed to the teeth collected at the scene of the crime. Among the number was my father J. C. Turnbo, Martin Johnson, Isaac Mahan, John Morris, John Friend, Arch Tabor and Bob Casebolt. They lost no time in taking up the trail of the fugitive and following it which was easily done in the snow. While the posse of men are pursuing the fleeing culprit, and in the meantime no one had ventured to notify Mrs. White of the death of her husband and it devolved and Wilshire Magness and his wife whose name was Nancy Elizabeth to do this sad duty. Mr. Magness lived on Big Creek at the mouth of Little Cedar Creek. When Mr. Magness and wife found that they were requested to go to the wife of Mr. White and break the awful news to her they mounted a horse each and rode up the creek to where she lived and announced the sorrowful tidings to her as gentle as they could. After the tearful scene had subsided a little, the almost heart broken woman ask Mr. Magness and his wife to take her to her dead husband and Mrs. Magness told Mrs. White to get up behind her husband and they would take her to him and they did. When they arrived there they taken her into the hut where her murdered man lay cold in death from the hands of the cruel assassin. It was hard for the poor distracted woman to bear up against the great burden of sorrow and affliction at the lose of her dear companion who was so quickly snatched away from her. We will now return to the black hearted scoundrel and the determined men who were in pursuit of him. The men soon found that Harris had made a desperate effort to baffle them by wading through the icy water in Big Creek for a few hundred yards then he would go out of the water and walk backward in the snow some distance until finally he left the creek near where the mouth of Lick Creek is and struck out into the hills toward Little North Fork and traveled until his feet and ankles were so benumbed with cold that he stopped under a shelving rock which afforded him some shelter. Here the angry man captured him. When they discovered him crouching down under the rock shivering with cold he was too nigh frozen to resist arrest. A majority of the men wanted to riddle him with bullets and leave his body under the jetting rock for the wild beast to devour and the buzzards to pick but through the influence of the more conservative men better order prevailed and they brought him back to the scene of the murder and then taken him down to the residence of Mr. Casebolts where he was given a preliminary examination. Harris wore tanned buck hide breeches and while he was having his preliminary trial John Friend says, "Boys do you want a whip cracker if you do let us kill Harris and divide his leather breeches into strings and each of us take a piece of it and use it for a whip lasher". Soon after his examination was over with they sent him to jail to await the action of circuit court, but his trial was delayed term after term until the war broke out when he was set at liberty and in this way justice was foiled and the perpetrator of this cowardly deed escaped the gallows.
Mr. White had come to this country from the state of Tennessee with Marten Johnson in the fall of 1854 and was an inoffensive man. His remains were given burial in the grave yard in the old Joe Magness Bottom on the north bank of White River.
Springfield-Greene County Library