EXCITEMENT OVER A DUMMY
By S. C. Turnbo
Johnstown in Bates County, Mo. is situated near Stewards Creek a tributary of the crooked fork of Grand River. The town is not far from the dividing line between Bates and Henry Counties. Just pryor to the breaking out of the Civil War a stage coach was put on the road that lead through Johnstown to Butler. It passed through daily and when the coach would reach the suberbs of the village either way the driver would blow the bugle and blow it again just before stopping at the station and blow it again a few minutes before leaving the town. The citizens were as much interested in the arrival and departure of the stage then as people are now who live at a town where there is railroad facilities. During the summer of 1860 a destructive drouth prevailed in Western Missouri which withered the crops and the Osage River went nearly dry in places. During that year Christopher C. Owen and his brother W. W. (Wilson) Owen or "Vint" Owen as he was commonly known, Sam Wagoner and Sam Sliger lived in Johnstown. Wagoner lived in his father in laws house whose name was Tanner. Christopher Owen and his brother "Vint" owned and run a black smith shop and they hired Wagoner to assist them, the latter doing all the horse shoeing. One day in the early spring of 1860 these four men conceived the idea of preparing a dummy man and hang it up in town some night to create an excitement among the inhabitants of the town and country. The men worked at it of nights at Sam Sligers. The material used for the body and limbs was cloth and straw the latter was used for stuffing. The men in malting it was very cautious and their plans was known only to themselves. The coat used was made of brown home made jeans and belonged to Christopher own but he had never wore it since he lived in Johnstown. A big box was used to keep the dummy in during day time and the same box was used by Sligers family for a dining table. The men worked at this a few hours each night for a week before it was ready for business. One morning just before day break excitement ran high among the people of the town for a man had been found hanging by the neck. A preacher who was leaving town at an early hour to hold a meeting at Red Dirt made the first discovery of it and gave the alarm and a crowd soon collected around the supposed dead man. On investigation it was found that the man was hung to the end of a pole that the other end was nailed to the side of a store house. It hung directly over the side walk with the feet near 5 feet above the walk way. A message was dispatched to Butler the county seat of Bates for the sheriff and he hurried to Johnstown with two deputies and several other men. Before their arrival a crowd of 100 or more men had collected at the scene and discussed the subject of the hanging and who could have dared to commit such a crime as hanging a man in the midst of the town without its being known sooner. The Owen brothers and Sliger and Wagoner were present too but they dare not reveal who was authors of the trouble for they would have been arrested and punished for creating a disturbance. But they took an active part in the discussions and sentiments expressed as to the black crime of the murderers hanging a man in the dead hours of night right under their nose. Soon after day light while excitement was running high, a Negro man who was turning sod out in the prairie come along by driving several yoke of oxen that was used in pulling the sod plow and he stopped and looked carefully at the farm as it hung from the end of the pole and says "White folks dat no real fellow. He no fleshly man." And reaching up he struck it with his whip lasher. And they all heard the shucks rattle in the dummy and the Negro exclaimed with delight "I tole you it was no man dat pole too slender to hole up denuine man. Somebody done dat to fool somebody. Ha. Ha. Ha." And the Negro passed on. A large number of the crowd were now almost dumb with amazement for they had been fooled sure enough. This was followed by cheers and laughing for the spell was broken. "Who put up this job on us" said one. "We would like to know who they are" said another. But no one answered, "I am" or "I help do it" and it rested at this. The four men that did the work were among the crowd and heard all that was said but they were silent as to telling who the makers were. Finally they took the fake man down and turned it over to the school boys who after taking off the clothing dug a hole in the ground outside of town and buried it and that evening when the old Negro man returned from work they gave him the clothes for the boys said he deserved them for making the discovery that it was a bogus man. Christopher C. Owen as we have stated in Book Part One of Fireside Stories is dead and is buried in the cemetery at Protem, Taney County, Mo. "Vint" Owen served in the Federal Army as a Lieutenant and was killed before the war closed and was buried in the soldiers grave yard at Jefferson City. Sam Wagoner was born in Madison County Ohio September 1st 1819. He and Elmira Hetherly daughter of William Hetherly were married in Carroll County, Mo. February 8th 1840. She was born in the state of Tennessee December 8, 1820. Her mothers maiden name was Jemima Owensby. Sam Wagoner belonged to the Confederate Army and was killed at the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862. He was wounded the third time before the death angel came to his relief. He had a brother Henry Wagoner who fought in the Federal Army. The foregoing narrative was given me by Mrs. Wagoner herself and three of Capt. Christopher C. Owens children Frank (H. F.) who was born in 1852 and Isabel wife of Almus Clark who was born in 1853 and George who was born in 1855. The recollections of these four relating to the dummy are combined together.
Springfield-Greene County Library