(Or, Growing Up Being an Urchin In and Around Monegaw
A Little History of the Town of Monegaw Springs, MO
Monegaw Springs was the original home of a band of Osage Indians, whose chief had the name "Monegaw". It is situated in west central Missouri with the Osage River on one side, and miles and miles of timber, small lakes, and open meadows on the other three sides. Within it's circle of confluence were two creeks; Big Monegaw and Little Monegaw. Several natural springs were within its bounds, some being black sulphur water, some being white sulphur water, some iron water, some fresh water, and some unknown. There is a very impressive bluff with shallow caves along the river, and a deep, dark cave on the north side of town. All-in-all, a young boy's Heaven on Earth. I can remember the town had six hotels, four of them vacant, none operating as a hotel. It had a bakery, mortuary, three general stores, several churches, a tabernacle, most of which were vacant. Still in operation during these stories were one general store, one part-time post office, one grade school, one tavern and dance hall, and one house of ill repute. There were more deserted houses than those being lived in. We boasted of maybe 120 people in the whole town, and about 50 or 60 of those were kids.
Monegaw Springs had the reputation of being a rough town. It was, in some respects. In other respects, it was much more civilized than most towns today. There was no employment to be had. I think my parents, being school teachers, were the only people in town with a pay-check. Most scratched out a living by raising a few open range cows or pigs, some chickens, illegal fishing and hunting, and wood cutting. The wood cutting was not necessarily on their property. In fact, the houses they lived in were not necessarily theirs, either, and in many cases no one knew the rightful owners. The "law" rarely came to town, and when they did it was to just drive thru. We had our own forms of justice, settled our own disputes, and were left pretty much alone by outsiders. I think many outsiders were afraid to come to town, as we were regarded as "clannish" and rather hostile to strangers. We were not, really, but that was the perception, and we wanted to keep it that way. Us kids wore that reputation like a badge!
The Youngers, the James, and some said the Daltons.
This area was visited often by the Younger Boys, the James Brothers, and some said the Daltons. My very good friend's great grandmother hosted both the Youngers and the James Brothers in her hotel. The grandmother had many newspaper clippings describing the antics of these so-called outlaws. They also frequented the Club House, (another hotel) which was on a hill overlooking the famous black sulphur spring. Charles Younger lived about 5 miles from Monegaw Springs during the War Between the States. His will is still on file at the local Court House. He left his local farm to two black slave children , who he admitted were his children, and their descendants still lived on that farm during the times of these stories. Us kids used to walk thru the timber to their place to look at them - we thought that black people were a novelty. They were very nice people and also very tolerant of our ignorance.
Some thought the
Younger Brothers and the James Brothers were heroes, while others thought
they were outlaws.
In addition to the two hotels shown above, there
were four others, three of which I can remember. I can remember the
"Woodbine Hotel", which during my early years was being used as a used furniture
store. It was located a block south of the Main street, and burned down.
Other Businesses And Buildings
There were also several other businesses in the town, some still operating, some not. The town had a school (up to the 8th grade, which I attended), a bakery, a mortuary, a general store, two other grocery stores, a tavern and dance hall, a Post Office, a Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, an outdoor Tabernacle, a cemetery, a furniture store, a saw mill, a mechanic garage, an ice house, a house of ill repute (which I swear I did not frequent, being too young), a boat building place, and a 24 volt electric generating station. There were many vacant buildings and building foundations which I never knew what they were, nor inquired about, they only were mysterious places for us kids to play in and explore. There were dozens of empty houses in and near the town, which were in various stages of ruin, and these, too, made fine places to explore. The vacant houses made excellent places to hide out and practice our various vices, primarily smoking, when we had the tobacco. Of course, the famous Cleveland Cave, the Springs, and the Younger's Lookout Bluff, brought in a lot of tourists. The tourists also enjoyed marveling at our "hillbilly" ways and us kids played the part for all it's worth. To some of them, visiting Monegaw was to re-assure them how much better off and sophisticated they were, compared to us hicks.
Grudges Survived the War And the Town Survived the Grudges (But Not for Long)
This area was very active during the War Between the States (Civil War to some), and many of the older residents still bore grudges from that period. If the older folks were not directly involved in that war, their parents were. Some were Yankees, some were Rebels. Many were still hostile toward the Kansas Jayhawkers - Missouri and Kansas were fighting each other for a couple of years before the actual War Between the States began.
Monegaw Springs was one of the earliest resort towns in the Ozarks, located about nine or ten miles west of Osceola in St. Clair County, Missouri. It was established before the War Between the States. This town, and the County Seat, Osceola, was burned by Jim Lane and his Kansas Jayhawkers. It was after this event that Quantrell established a force, and burned and sacked Lawrence, Kansas in retaliation. Monegaw was rebuilt and began to flourish as a resort after the Civil War. The Younger Brothers, and the James Brothers became notorious after the war, and was visiting the town and it's many hotels and taverns after the war. Cole Younger distinguished himself as a fearless fighter for the Confederates and was a "hero" during the Loan Jack battle, respected by both sides for his bravery.
Monegaw Springs died, and its fate as a ghost town was sealed with the building of a power dam in Osceola on the Osage River which backed up water and flooded the park area, the springs area, and in general made life there more difficult. Many parts of the town itself became subject to frequent flooding after the dam was built. Plus, it was by-passed by railroads and good roads. The only roads in and out were dirt with occasional creek gravel in the worst spots. The Osage River, once navigable, was no longer navigable, due the power dam in Osceola. Today, Monegaw Springs is located in an out-of-the-way spot that few people visit, or even remember.