Volume 3, Number 3-4 - Summer & Fall 1968

Joe of the Ozarks
Continued from ''Stories of the Pioneers"
by E. J. and L. S. Hoenshel

Continued from Spring Quarterly, 1968

"The Indians ran their horses over the top of the ridge, and started the plunge down. They were about forty feet from us when we opened fire-they hadn't seen us at all-were taken utterly by surprise-and we charged up the hill before they could stop and turn. We had some real fun for a few minutes then-it didn't last long, but was fast and furious while it lasted. There were thirty-three in the band, and only one Indian and one white man escaped. We never knew what became of them. Captain Hall and his men closed up the rear in the midst of the fight, and we practically exterminated the band. Captain Hall had killed several and taken three prisoners in the fight at Mercer's Gap, and one of his prisoners was the Comanche Chief. This is known in history as the last raid of the Comanches.

"After the fight was over we found on every Indian a bag of dried buffalo meat, they could carry enough on a horse to last a week, and they lived on this while raiding. It was the buffalo that made these raids possible, and enabled them to steal horses and to kill our women and children, and we decided right there and then to exterminate the buffalo-we would cut off the Indian's food supply.

"I went out with a bunch of thirteen cowboys; we made us a camp and we scattered over the plains to kill the buffalo. When we first went out, we often saw herds of 500 or more and we killed them by the thousands. I often killed fifteen or twenty a day and one day I got thirty-five. We skinned them and just left the meat lying on the plains, but we sent the skins to Ft. Graham and got a dollar a piece for them. Every little while the government would send out word that we must stop wasting the meat, and when one of these orders came, we would haul a lot of the fat buffalo in send out word to the settlers to come with their wagons and bring their own salt, and we often sent out one hundred wagon loads of salted meat at such times. Then we would go on shooting and skinning again, leaving the meat lie until another order would come from the government. This went on for three years, so you can see what numbers of animals were destroyed. We went all over that country, clear out through Callahan and Tom Greene counties. I have killed buffalo 150 miles from camp.

"When we disbanned as Minute Men, we organized selected men with a company we called the 'Anti-horse Thief Association'. There were lots of outlaws in that country, and our horses and cattle were being stolen. When a man whose business we didn't know came into the country, if he seemed suspicious at all, we would send out the word and would watch him. One man would get into conversation with him, or one would just happen to ride up along side of him, and ride along with him on his way, and by the time three of our men had interviewed him, we generally knew about what he was and what he was after, and we got rid of lots of worthless scamps in this way.

"I stayed there nine years-till 1881 when I returned to Taney County.

"On my return from Texas to Taney County, I found things in a bad way. The county was bankrupt and in the hands of a party clique. Many crimes were committed by lawless persons, and it was impossible to prosecute them even if they were arrested; and it was almost impossible for a sheriff to make an arrest at all. Criminals defied him. They said 'authority reaches only to the bluffs', and when they were once in the hills and brush, they defied the law-nothing and nobody were safe. It seemed impossible to enforce the law-a state of anarchy reigned.

"So we went to work to find some redress. We organized a body of men, property owners, similar to the organizations I had belonged to in Texas, the object being to aid the sheriff in making arrests, to see that the laws were enforced, and to bring about law and order in the community. This was the avowed purpose of the organization. It was so understood by all our band, and was so stated by our leaders in their speeches at the time of the organization and other meetings. All our rules and arrangements were verbal-there was never a scrap of writing, not a written record ever made. After we had been organized some time, there was strong opposition to us, of course, and it was claimed that we were a vigilance committee, and many misunderstandings arose about the organization.

"On the 4th of July, 1884, there was a celebration at the Oak Grove School House, about three miles from Branson, and people were there from all over the county. The buildings were decorated with United States flags, and the usual 4th of July speeches, picnic dinners, and merry making


were on the program. Many of our people were present, and some of them made talks to the crowd explaining what the objects of the organization were-that our intentions were to see that the law was enforced, and to bring about better conditions in the country. We wanted the people to know where we stood, and not to misjudge our motives. Captain Kinney, who had served seven years in the regular army, and Captain VanZandt, who served throughout the Civil War in the Union Army, were among those who made speeches that day, and I and many others who were in the Confederate army were there with our band; so you see that the organization had nothing to do with the differences of opinion engendered by the war, as has often been said about us; both sides were represented.

"In the evening, after the celebration was over, our band met on the top of that big bald near the Oak Grove School house, to transact private business. We placed guards to keep out all who were not members of the organization. Some individuals determined to know what we were discussing, and tried to force their way through the line of guards, but they were not permitted to enter. One man in particular swore that it was a free country, and that he would go where he pleased, but he didn't. This is where the organization got its name, 'Bald Knobbers'. We were called that after the meeting that Fourth of July night on the big bald.

"There was one gang of lawless fellows, known as the Taylor gang, because three Taylor brothers belonged to it. They had been in trouble again and again, but never convicted and had cost the county about $1500 a piece already. They went to Old John Dickinson's store at Taney City, and bought goods on credit, promising to pay at a certain time, but failed to do so. Some months afterwards, Frank Taylor went to the store and wanted more goods on credit, and Dickinson told him he could not let them have any more till they paid for what they had gotten before. Taylor picked up a pair of shoes, saying that Dickinson could charge them or not, as he pleased-that he intended having the shoes-and he abused Dickinson in terrible language. Circuit court was in session at Forsyth, and Dickinson went before the grand jury. They found a bill against Taylor and the sheriff arrested him. He gave bond at once and went direct across the street from the court house to a store and bought a blacksnake whip, and swore he would wear it out on old John Dickinson. The Taylors and one of their gang went to the Dickinson's that night (they lived in the back of the store) and demanded goods from the store. It was late and dark and Dickinson had gone to bed. He got up, lit a light, and they insisted he come out of doors with them. He was suspicious and refused, and they grabbed him and tried to pull him out. His wife heard the scuffle and ran in grabbing the poker tried to free her husband by beating their hands. Then the Taylors began shooting. They shot both Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson and left them for dead and they left the blacksnake whip at the door. They were hunted by our gang and they hid out in the brush for three days. On the evening of the third day they went to Forsyth and surrendered themselves to the sheriff, and were put in jail, thinking they would be protected. They were taken from the jail and hung on an oak tree on the bank of Swan Creek just above where the Forsyth mill is, after being tried by twelve citizens of the county who belonged to our band.

"The Bald Knobbers did many things they thought were right. There were lots of things for which they were blamed but did not do.

"Another organization sprang up calling themselves the Militia or Anti-Bald Knobbers. Things went on from bad to worse till in the spring of 1886. Some of the opposition claimed they were authorized to organize against us as a militia, and tried to get the State Militia here. There was excitement all over the state about our trouble, all over the country; in fact Taney County got a bad name.

"Then the attorney general came down from Jefferson City to investigate. Between 300 and 500 met him at the court house in Forsyth the next day to discuss the trouble, and our band took the tax books and showed the attorney general that we were property owners, and our taxes were paid. We told him we were only trying to enforce the laws. He said he thought we were honest and our motives good, but that we were an unlawful organization. I myself, talked with him: I said we didn't intend to be law breaking citizens, our intention was to be law-abiding, our object was to aid the enforcement of the law, and to bring about law and order. Then the attorney general took up the statute books and read us the law on the subject - 'any organization without state chater was unlawful'- He said, 'I find two unlawful organizations here' but he said if we would disband, go home and go to work, the state would make no more trouble about it- just let it all drop - but if we did not, the state would be compelled to send the militia at our expense, to bring about peace and order. We disbanded that day and my company was never called together again. I had given my word of honor to the attorney general to that effect. There were twenty-seven in my company at Forsyth that day. The original organization that was called the Bald Knobbers disbanded that day at the request of the attorney general, and never met afterwards, though I learned that some who had been members of the original organization did meet, and they were called by the old name, Bald



"I had a grist mill at that time at the big spring on White River, a mile below Moore's ferry. I had the misfortune to have this mill burned soon after this, and being discouraged, I decided to leave Taney County, and went to 'No Man's Land', just after it became a part of Oklahoma Territory, and was sectionized and opened to settlement.

"When the government brought the Cherokee Indians from their native territory in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and settled them in part of the Indian Territory, the Cherokees complained that they had not room enough, and the government added to their lands the Cherokee Outlet, as it was called. Then they complained again and said, 'We cannot go to and from our hunting grounds west in the Rocky Mountains on account of the white settlements lying between'. So the government again said, 'We will remedy that- and again set off a strip of the country, thirty-four and a half mile wide, by sixty-eight miles long, stretching from the Cherokee outlet on the east to the foohills of the Rocky Mountains on the west. This strip of land was bounded on the north by Kansas and Colorado, on the west by New Mexico, on the south by the Texas Panhandle, and on the east by the Cherokee outlet.

The government really allowed no white people here-it was free road for the Indians to and from the Rockies. Any man could camp here, but no man could own land, so it came to be called 'No Man's Land'. As there were no laws governing this strip, it became a harbour for all kinds of desperadoes, so that when it became a part of Oklahoma Territory, and lands were alloted to the Indians and opened up to settlement, and they undertook to enforce the law, it was found to be a pretty hard thing to do.

"Beaver County is in this strip of land, and Beaver City is the county seat, and it was here that I located, in the west end of the county. I lived the life of a cowboy here, and I soon had a few cattle of my own; but in order to hold them I had to work for a big company on part pay, and then by being their representative at the round-up, had the privilege of looking after my own stock. This was the only way a man who had only a few cattle could be protected. I was deputy sheriff under Frank Healy, sheriff, and he sent me out to arrest some horse thieves, which I did. They had been 'burning' horses, putting on new brands to cover old ones.

"Among the men I arrested was a young fellow named Sam Smith. I asked him who helped him brand his horses (he had about ten) and he said, no body helped him. Then I asked, 'What corrall did you put them in to brand them?' and he said, 'Arch Brite's'. 'And nobody helped you?' I asked. 'Well, Arch did hold one for me', he said. Now I knew personnally that Brite was not guilty for he had been with me nearly one hundred miles away on the day the horses were branded, but a warrant was sworn out for him, and I had to serve the papers. It was the time of the general round-up.

"Near Brite's house was a little low, round mountain, where we were in the habit of going and taking field glasses, looking out for miles over the plains to locate lost stock or anything; and as I rode up to Brite' to serve the papers on him, I saw a man going up on this mountain, and thought it was Brite looking for stock. So I called him to come on, that I had a warrant for him, and the man on the mountain began shooting. The first shot cut a lane through my beard, then he slipped behind a rock, and I ran my horse a little way around the mountain where I could see him and see it was not Brite, but a desperado named Hill, one of the worst in the country and I had a warrant for him in my pocket right then. I jumped from my horse and raised my gun to shoot, at that he opened fire and sent a 40-80 Winchester ball thru my right arm - and I've been crippled ever since. Mr. Nelson, now of Branson, was in the county at that time, and he came to me after I was shot. He is a nephew of Kit Carson, the famous scout, and Kit Carson's ranch was near there. One of old Kit's boys, Charley Carson, took his horse and ran Hill three miles on the dead run after he shot me, but Hill escaped. He met a man on a good horse and ordered him to get off. Hill took the fresh horse and Charley Carson was unable to overtake him, though he tried hard.

"Charley Carson was a great scout himself. His mother was a Spanish woman, who was the great scout's last wife. Yes, I've been on Kit Carson's ranch. I've worked from the Arkansas River south to the Panhandle.

"You see in the fall and winter we just let the cattle go, and they drifted before the cold and the blizzards, down from the northwest to ward the southeast, to Texas. Then in the spring, about the middle of May, came the general round up, when we gathered up the cattle and brought them north again. We always started for the roundup at Point of Rocks, in Southwestern Kansas, just east of the Cherokee Strip. There were great numbers of cowboys on their horses, and every big ranch had a mess wagon along with supplies, and the driver of the wagon cooked for the boys of his mess. We scattered out along the southern line and drove the cattle back to the ranches in Beaver County and along the Arkansas River in Colorado. There were cattle on the range eight and 10 years old, that never had a bite to eat but what they picked up on the range.

"A part of the work of rounding up was branding the calves, or maverick as an unmarked animal is called, and a man or company not represented


in the roundup got no calves, and so did not increase his number of head stock. There were always cattle thieves on the look-out for unbranded animals. They would go into the herds and burn their own brands on all they could find. Many a man got his start this way; many of them were caught and many were not. It was this class that we were trying to rid the country of when I was shot. I had 18 warrants in my pocket on that day. I was deputy sheriff under Sheriff Wilson when I left there in the fall of '99. I decided I'd just come back to Taney and stay near mother until she died or I did. I have been in Taney ever since, and expect to stay right here the rest of my life and do no more roaming. I am planning to live to be hundred or die trying."



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