The Legend of Joe’s Cave: Murder, Medicine, Counterfeiting, and Vigilantism

Jim Vandergriff
Department of Teaching & Teacher Education
University of Arizona

(MFS Journal, vols. 15-16, 1993-94, pp. 29-50)

About the year 1836, this degenerate Negro, who was feared by his own race and held under suspicion by the whites, on account of his peculiar and seemingly malicious instincts made a criminal attack on a young lady, daughter of one of the Fulbrights, who was also master of the Negro. He had not only betrayed his master, but made a vicious criminal attack upon his daughter. The attack was made at the mansion house, while all other members of the family -- both white and colored -- were working in the fields or away from home. By some means she escaped from the black brute and ran out of the house, screaming toward the fields. The Negro -- "Joe" by name -- no doubt became scared and excited, knowing full well that he had violated the most sacred tenet of civilized society. He caught the young lady just before she could get out of the yard and stabbed her in the breast, perhaps to hush her cries for help. At any rate she expired soon after relating the facts to her father and brothers.

Thus begins the Legend of Joe’s Cave, handed down through my family for more than 150 years, as then State Representative from Pulaski County, MO, James W. ("Jim") Armstrong told it when he published a purportedly historical article in a Springfield, MO, newspaper in 1931. Vance Randolph called it, in his bibliography of Ozark folklore, a tale of murder and rape, and praised the article for its "impressive background material" (pp. 77-8). The story is essentially an etiological legend which explains how Joe’s Cave and Rafferty Hollow in Camden County, MO, got their names. It includes two murders, perhaps a rape, perhaps the vigilante execution of a Black man, perhaps two suicides and maybe the first murder ever tried in Pulaski county. (A verbatim transcription of Armstrong’s 1931 article is included as Appendix B.)

I first heard this story when I was a child, probably from my great-grandmother, with whom I used to spend a couple of weeks during the summer vacations. She often entertained me with stories of my ancestors, who were among the first settlers of the county, and of the "old days" in southeastern Camden County. However, I also heard the story from many different tellers in later years. It is, in short, a story I grew up on, and one which still lives in the oral traditions of the area.

As is perhaps typical, I initially approached this story as an essentially true one. It was usually told as true and I accepted it as truth. After all, Joe’s Cave was there, and I had no cause to disbelieve my grandmother. A few years ago, I set out to find the "truth" about the incidents, to locate a few of the places, and to learn and/or verify the names of a few of the people involved. I thought I could talk to some of the "old timers" who had lived along Wet Glaize creek and fairly quickly arrive at the truth of the story. Instead, I soon became convinced that it is an historical legend in the classic sense. That is, (1) it has its basis in historical fact; (2) it is generally heard and told as true; (3) it exists in several versions; (4) it is alive today in the oral tradition; (5) other legends and motifs have migrated to it; and (6) it serves a variety of functions for its listeners.

The first step in the research was to interview some of the older residents of the area associated with the story, and then some of the younger residents. [Appendix A is a map of the region.] The variety of places, names and events that surfaced in these interviews led me to seek maps of the region, both old and current. I visited what sites I could locate, such as the cave itself and several of the graveyards. While the maps cleared up some of the confusion, such as the relationship of the places to each other, they also show how much place name research and graveyard cataloging needs to be done. The next step was to consult the series of place name theses done under the supervision of Professor Ramsay at MU in the 1930s and 40s. While useful, those works are woefully inadequate and frequently wrong. Topographical features such as hills, hollows, caves, creeks, and springs are seldom covered in those studies. Furthermore, the Lake of the Ozarks has flooded much of the area, giving rise to a new set of coves and beaches and destroying many towns, streams and other features. I then searched everywhere I could think of for other place name information, but generally found that not much has been done, and certainly not enough, on the area.

I next turned to the histories of and other writings about the region, where, again, I found that much needs to be done. I learned, for instance, of a little known Civil War skirmish in Camden County, in which some 50 Confederates died. I found (thanks to the tireless efforts of my stepfather, Dr. Lewis Myers) the remains of Civil War fortifications, slave jails, and battlefields. I learned that the county had its equivalent of the better known Bald Knobbers, called the Slickers, who are mentioned in only two sources and then only briefly. I learned of other legends and stories that are virtually unknown outside the area, or recorded in some dusty volume and lost to the oral tradition. Unfortunately, little of value has been written about the area since the early 1900s, and even those works are full of glaring inaccuracies.

One thing led to another. Virtually every research route I pursued provided me with too little of the information I was seeking and suggested numerous other areas of research, both historical and folkloric, that need to be pursued.

The initial stages of the research told me clearly that my task would be more difficult than I had anticipated because several significantly different versions of the story surfaced almost immediately and even in those that are similar there are important variations. For instance, many of the versions suggest, and some state explicitly, that rape was the motive that set off the whole chain of events. Some of these versions characterize Joe, the villain, as a light-skinned, handsome, ex-slave who was a talented fiddler much in demand at dances and quite popular with the young women. They say that he misconstrued the women’s attentions and made advances to one of them. She refused him, but he pressed her and she began to scream, so he killed her to silence the screams. My research has found no corroboration of that point at all and, in fact, convinces me that no rape was involved.

Many other elements of the story are in question, too. For instance, only those versions handed down through the victim’s family remember her name. One of the descendants of her father gave me a copy of a genealogical record from the LDS archives indicating that Amanda Fulbright, age 10, died July 10, 1837, in Pulaski County, MO. Furthermore, Goodspeed’s history of the area says of the father, Daniel Fulbright, that "[h]e was the owner of one negro, who afterward killed his eldest daughter" (p. 713). Though other Fulbright family versions say the victim survived the attack but was brain damaged by a stab wound to the head, Goodspeed and the genealogical record, as well as many versions of the story, make a pretty convincing case that 10 year-old Amanda was the victim and that she died shortly after the attack. Further, neither of the documents nor the Fulbright family legends mention rape, so that motif must be discounted. That detail was probably added as a result of the racial prejudices and preconceptions of some of the later tellers of the story. Or perhaps it is simply a migratory motif attached for artistic reasons.

There is little doubt that the murder happened, but when is not so certain. Rep. Armstrong’s version of the story says it occurred in 1836 and most agree on the 1830s (though one version puts it in the late 1800s, and another puts it in the early 1900s). Amanda’s death date and historical records regarding the Fulbright family’s settling in the area argue pretty strongly that it happened in 1836 or 37, though Leo Nyberg suggests that Daniel Fulbright did not migrate to the region until after 1840 (p. 19).

According to the stories, an unspecified number of days or weeks later, Joe was mortally wounded by the vigilantes who hunted him down, so a doctor, my great, great, great grandfather, William M. Dodson, was sent for. Here the story gathers one of its many legendary dimensions. Several of the stories characterize Dr. Dodson’s trip to the site as a sort of "miraculous ride," such as permeates much of western American folklore. In fact, Dr. Dodson rode only some 12 or 14 miles and there is little reason to believe that he would have been in any particular hurry. Neither is the terrain unusually harsh, nor is there any suggestion in the tales of adverse weather conditions, etc. In short, it would have been a "normal" emergency ride. I am inclined to believe that this particular element was added in by the later tellers for dramatic effect.

Some of the stories, including Armstrong’s, and many of the historical documents say that Dr. Dodson was the only doctor within 50 miles, which would mean that there were no doctors in Waynesville, Tuscumbia or Warsaw, all thriving population centers at the time. Even Goodspeed, for instance, says he was the only physician in the county for several years (p. 899). In fact, Dr. Dodson’s own brother, James, who lived at Linn Creek, was also a doctor, and it seems unlikely that there were not others in the region, though I have not yet found corroboration. Thus, I am inclined to believe that this detail, too, is an exaggeration added for dramatic effect, though it is an error repeated in many of the early histories of the region. Leo Nyberg, a long-time resident of Lebanon and its main historian, and who should have known better, says that Dr. Dodson practiced 40 miles from Lebanon (p. 20), an error repeated in many later histories (e.g., Missouri Miscellany, vol. 17). In fact, it was more like 16 or 18 miles.

Exactly where Joe died is also in question. Several of the stories locate the killing far from the Fulbright home; some place it near the cave which now bears Joe’s name. One version places it near the Roubidoux river in the Waynesville vicinity. Given the other details of the story, though, it seems most likely that Joe died near the scene of his own crime, as Armstrong says. I have found no confirmation of the site, however.

The man who shot Joe is referred to by Armstrong as having been named "Raffety" and the place where he himself was killed, "Raffety Hollow." Vance Randolph, among others, names him "Rafferty," and Conard spells the name "Raferty." So far, I have not learned the correct spelling of the name. I had similar problems in locating "Rafferty Hollow." Two of my uncles (and several other people) have told me the hollow was across the road from the house on what is locally called "the Old John Gibson place," a couple of miles from the cave, on Camden County Road 7-65, and some 10 or 12 miles from the Fulbright settlement. In fact, my uncles showed me a clump of trees in a hog lot that they identified as the exact spot. However, a 92-year-old lifetime resident of the area (and daughter-in-law, now deceased, of "old John Gibson") locates it much nearer the Fulbright settlement area, though I believe she has confused it with Goodwin Hollow. I have recently been told by my mother and stepfather, who got it from a resident of the area in question, that a hollow with that name lies just west of the old Pritchett School building, which is on Camden County road T. Because that particular hollow is also the site of a log cabin called the "Rafferty" cabin, near where Rep. Armstrong grew up, near enough (6 or 8 miles) to the location of the murder, and the only place so-named in the area, I accept it as the place referred to in the legend.

One of the more troubling problems with the story is the question of whether Rafferty’s death was even connected with the story of Joe at all. Two references, one apparently based on the other, refer to a man named Rafferty as being one of the counterfeiters in the "Bank of Niangua" ring in the 1830s. It is stated that Rafferty and a man named James Nobles were killed by Slickers in the "Slicker Wars," near Bank Branch, which is several miles from Rafferty Hollow and the Fulbright area. No first name is given for Rafferty, but, according to Goodspeed, "The Slickers in Camden County were first organized about the year 1836, when it was discovered that a number of counterfeiters and horse-thieves infested the country. The counterfeiters, John Abee, _______ Rafferty [sic], James Nobles and others, lived upon and in the vicinity of Bank Branch . . ." (p. 327; see also Conard, 5: 606-7). A third source, J. W. Vincent, long-time editor of the Linn Creek Reveille, wrote in 1898: "There was no longer any doubt that the cause of the ‘Bankers’ was doomed. Avy . . . betrayed one of his accomplices, who was killed in his own house as he emerged from concealment at a signal from his chief. One of Avy's lieutenants, named Rafferty, was also killed" (p. 143). It seems likely that Vincent's "Avy" and Goodspeed's "Abee" are the same person. Vincent doesn't precisely date the events, but says the counterfeiting operation was known as early as 1832; Wetmore's Gazetteer of Missouri, published in 1837, also mentions it (pp. 152-54), though he indicates the operation had already been shut down. (I have an imprint made from one of the counterfeit plates; the plate was dug up in a field along the Osage River some 50 years later. My great, great grandfather John W. Armstrong, father of Jim Armstrong, published the imprint in his newspaper, The Lebanon Rustic. Though the imprint does help establish the fact of the counterfeiting ring, it doesn’t help to date it.) Vincent also suggests that the better researched Hickory County "Slicker Wars" were an outgrowth of this one. That war, according to Thomas and Glendenning’s book, really began in January of 1842, but had its roots in the Camden County counterfeiting problem of the late 1830s (p. 6).

Since Amanda Fulbright’s murder apparently occurred in mid-1837 and the Slickers’ killing of Rafferty and Nobles about the same time, and since both incidents occurred in, or are at least associated with, the vicinity of Dry Glaize creek, and since my uncle would probably have known both from oral tradition, it seems reasonable to conclude that the folk transmission process has connected two incidents that were actually not related. On the other hand, there is a problem with the dates. Conard's Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri states that "The first murder case [in Pulaski County] was tried in 1839. William Grizzett was the defendant, and his victim was a man named ‘Raferty’ [sic], whom he shot on account of some family affair" (5: 264). The History of Pulaski County, which appears to be based on Conard’s accounts, similarly states that William Grizzell was the first person so tried and his victim was one "Rafferty" (I: 17). Armstrong says that "Raffety" was killed by a man named "Grizzle."

The likelihood that there were three different men in Pulaski county in 1836-7 with such similar names who were all shot, two of them by men with equally similar names, fractures believability. They have to be the same person. The available historical evidence substantiates a Rafferty’s murder by Grizzell and a Rafferty’s death at the hands of the Slickers. The "Counterfeiters’ Cave" story is as well known in the area as the story of Joe’s Cave and it is likely that time and the oral transmission process have simply connected the two exciting events. So, without additional information, which does not appear to be forthcoming, I have to conclude that the death of Rafferty has migrated (a) to a "lover’s triangle" legend and (b) to the story of Joe. Thus, the detail of Rafferty’s having killed Joe is probably not true and Rafferty Hollow is more likely named for Rafferty’s residence there than because he died there.

Another troubling detail of the story is that, according to Armstrong, Rafferty was killed "some months later" with the very gun with which he killed Joe. His wife, who was having an affair with "Grizzle," not only gave Grizzle her husband’s gun, she also sent Rafferty on an unnecessary errand which took him through a lonely valley where Grizzle ambushed him. He and Mrs. Rafferty were found out and, Armstrong says, taken to the Warsaw jail where, in a lovers’ death pact, they killed themselves.

None of the sources which mention Grizzell or Grizzett indicate that he suicided in jail. To the contrary, The History of Pulaski County says that citizens got up a successful petition to free him (II: 124). After that, he disappears from Pulaski county history. Conard, too, says that "apparently Grizzett was not punished" (5: 264). Goodspeed, who gives both spelling variants -- Grizzell and Grizzett -- says "The results of the verdict are not obtainable," and dates the trial in 1839: "The first murder case [in Pulaski County] was against William Grizzell . . . in 1839" (p. 124).

Furthermore, while Warsaw existed at the time, it was considerably farther away than was Waynesville and, furthermore, since Pulaski county had not yet been divided into Laclede and Camden counties, Waynesville was the county seat and, therefore, the appropriate place to deal with such crimes; Warsaw is in Benton County. So, not only did the lovers probably not commit romantic suicide, they probably didn’t do it in Warsaw.

Finally, I don’t know for certain who killed whom when or where or why. The available source are sketchy, contradictory, and unreliable. And turn of the century courthouse fires in Camden and Pulaski counties have made official records unavailable. Logic, though, and the few sources I have, lead me to believe that Rafferty probably didn’t kill Joe and, in fact, probably had nothing to do with the incident at all. Rather, I am inclined to believe that the stories are two separate events tied together by a chance connection of time and terrain, and to which a number of traditional folklore motifs have attached themselves.

Not only has it proven difficult to determine and verify the facts underlying this story, the different versions of the story make it virtually impossible to determine what I originally set out to determine: that is, what is the base form of the story? As I have looked at the variants, I have decided that they are all legitimate versions because all serve a purpose for their tellers and hearers.

For instance, one version characterizes Joe as a fiddler and concludes that one can hear ghostly fiddle music emanating from the cave. That particular element of the story, even if one ignores the supernatural part of it, and even if one ignores the fact that such motifs get attached to virtually all cave legends (see, for instance, "Fiddler’s Cave" in Vance Randolph’s Talking Turtle, pp. 77-9), can rather easily be refuted: in the 1830s, that region was so sparsely settled that there would not have been enough people to have many dances and, therefore, the circumstances under which the young women could have become infatuated with Joe would have been few, to say nothing of the fact that neither the Fulbrights nor Joe had been in the area long enough to attend many dances. (The family settled in the area a couple of years prior to the incident, but the men and their slaves went on to Springfield, where they remained for same time, coming back to settle the Fulbright place in late 1836 or early 1837. Joe simply was not in the area long enough to establish himself as a fiddler of note.) Furthermore, the names of other well-known fiddlers from a time not too much later have been preserved and Joe's is not among them.

Most probably, Joe has been confused with Ike Vernon, slave of Col. Miles Vernon. Francis Gleason says in The First Hundred Years: A History of Lebanon, Missouri, "The names of Rube Brown, John Robinson and John Aaron Benton have come down through different periods but everyone agrees that Ike Vernon, slave of Colonel Miles [Vernon], was the best of them all. He played for many generations of dancers. . ." (p. 12). It stands to reason that if Joe had been a well-known fiddler his name, too, would have been remembered in other sources than this grisly legend. Why, then, if it is so easy to show its lack of truth, does this element of the tale, which has obviously migrated to it from other legends, persist?

Similarly, some tellers mentioned that petrified parts of Joe’s body, specifically the tongue and the heart, may be found deep in the cave. My reaction was to go look for them, supposing that I would find limestone formations which sort of resembled those body parts. Rather, what I found was that one cannot go "deep in the cave" because, about 75 or a hundred feet in, the opening narrows down to a hole 10 or 12 inches in diameter -- too small for a human body to even squeeze through, an obvious, concrete, physical fact. (Though some local people still insist that there is another opening that I just can't see!) Why does that element of the legend, which has also migrated from other cave legends, persist, too?

Still another version says that Joe's body was thrown back in the cave and "people from the University of Missouri medical school came and got the body, boiled the bones and took them to Columbia to make a skeleton to study." This same version adds the odd detail that the vigilantes "threw his clothes on top of the cave and they lay there for years until they finally all rotted away."

The explanation that seems most likely to me is that these details serve particular functions for the tellers. They make the stories exciting, scary, exotic stories of a heroic past, a golden age, as it were. This particular corner of the cosmos has changed much in the last few decades. Many towns are completely gone and, as the Ozarks Fisheries bought up the old homesteads, even the graveyards were moved, the forests cleared and the fields bulldozed away. Nearby, the Lake of the Ozarks has covered over the counterfeiters’ cave and the old county seat. The mills and the schools and the country churches are gone, too. So are many of the old family names, including Dr. Dodson’s. But Joe’s Cave still stands. The chance occurrence of the two memorable events -- the murder of a little girl and the counterfeiting ring -- provides a place to hang those other motifs -- the talented slave fiddler, the ghost fiddler, the lovers’ suicide, the miraculous ride, and the lynching -- that people seem to need to believe. And these enhanced stories fill the void, perhaps, that is left by the destruction of the place by time and technology. ". . .[P]eople would not continue to tell such stories if they did not convey some kind of truth" (Allen, p. 95).

Legends serve a variety of functions, different ones for different people; thus, the motifs, change though they may to suit different purposes, orbit around a core that remains relatively constant. I will continue to pursue this elusive legend because it becomes more and more evident that it has grown over the years and generations to include a capsulized history of the region, the region in which I have my roots, and also because, as I research this one bit of local history, I uncover more and more details about the history of the region and of my ancestors.

Though ultimately I did not learn what I set out to find, I uncovered much else. As Barbara Allen points out, such stories are good sources of other valuable information. I learned, for instance, in one man’s telling of the story that wolves were once a problem in the early Ozarks (that’s why Dr. Dodson stayed with the body the whole time he was deflenscing the skeleton). I learned a little more about the availability of medical services, about the nature of early entertainment, about burial customs, about slavery in the Ozarks, about the custom of establishing post offices in individual’s homes. In short, this legend gave me some new perspectives on "ordinary people" and their "ordinary things" (Allen, p. 61). So it no longer matters much that I didn’t find "the truth" about Joe’s murder of Amanda Fulbright.

Works Cited

Allen, Barbara, and Lynwood Montell. From Memory to History: Using Oral Sources in Local Historical Research. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1981.

Armstrong, James W. "Some Early History of Camden and Laclede Counties." Springfield, Mo. Press. 24 March 1931. p. 3.

Barkley, Sammy Jo (Goss). Personal conversation with Beverly Burd; recorded with pad and pen. Stoutland, MO, September 19, 1990. Mrs. Burd is my sister; she reported this conversation to me verbally. Mrs. Barkley is a descendant of the Fulbrights and a life-long resident of the Fulbright homestead area.

Conard, Howard L., ed. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, vols. 1 and 5. New York: The Southern History Co., 1901.

Gibson, Elsie. Personal conversation; recorded with pad and pen. Alton, IL, Mar. 5, 1988. Mrs. Gibson is my great aunt. I have chosen not to identify my informants individually in the text. Some did not want to be specifically identified, so I thought it fairest to identify none.

Gibson, L. E. Personal interview by Tina Powell; recorded with pad and pen. Richland, MO, Feb. 6,1988.

Gibson, Thelma. (Deceased) Personal conversation with Mary V. Myers; not recorded; reported verbally. Richland, MO, September 12, 1990.

Gleason, Francis. The First Hundred Years: A History of Lebanon, Missouri. Lebanon, MO.: The Lebanon Publishing Co., 1949.

Harrill, Vera. Personal conversation; recorded with pad and pen. Lebanon, MO, October 16, 1989. Vera is a descendant of Daniel Fulbright.

History of Pulaski County. Vol. 1. Waynesville, MO: Pulaski County Historical Society, 1982.

History of Pulaski County. Vol 2. Waynesville, MO: Pulaski County Historical Society, 1987.

History of Laclede, Camden, . . . Counties. Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889 (rpt. 1974).

Metzger, Frances Shepherd. Telephone interview by Tina Powell; recorded with pad and pen. Feb. 25, 1988. Ms. Metzger has done considerable research on the southeastern Camden County area. She wrote the official centennial history of Stoutland, MO, in 1969.

Missouri Miscellany, vol. 17, 1984.

Mottaz, Mabel. Lest We Forget: A History of Pulaski County, Missouri, And Fort Leonard Wood. Springfield, MO: Cain Printing Co., 1960, pp. 72-3.

Myers, Dr. Lewis G. Personal conversations over several years. Dr. Myers is my step-father. He was, for nearly 50 years, virtually the only doctor in the area and is extremely knowledgeable about the local history, geography and genealogy. He showed me around the countryside and talked to me about the history of the region countless times before, during and after my research on this legend. It would be impossible to specify the dates. Some of the conversations were recorded with pad and pen. Other details are recorded only in my memory.

Myers, Mary V. (neé Perkins). Personal conversations, summer of 1989; some conversations recorded with pad and pen. Since she is my mother, I have spoken with her many times about this story. It would be both impossible and pointless to list all the dates. The detail of the petrified heart, though, she told me March 5, 1988, after we had been to visit my great aunt, Elsie Gibson, who told of the petrified tongue. Mrs. Myers is also a descendant of Dr. Dodson.

Nyberg, Leo. A History of Laclede County, Missouri: From 1820 - 1926. Lebanon, MO: The Rustic Printers, 1926. p. 20.

Parker, Sue. Personal conversation; recorded with pad and pen. Richland, MO, Mar. 6, 1989. Mrs. Parker is a life-long resident of the area.

Perkins, Clarence M. ("Nig"). Personal interview by Tina Powell; recorded with pad and pen. Wet Glaize, MO, Jan. 27, 1988. Mr. Perkins is my great uncle. He has lived near Joe’s Cave for all of his 94 years and is quite knowledgeable about local history and genealogy. I also talked informally with Uncle Nig numerous times during the course of my research.

Perkins, George W. Personal conversation; recorded with pad and pen. Richland, MO, Mar. 6, 1989. Mr. Perkins is my mother’s brother. He grew up in the area around Joe’s Cave.

Perkins, Roy Joe. (Deceased) Personal conversation. Richland, MO, Mar. 6, 1989. Mr. Perkins is my mother’s brother. He grew up in the area around Joe’s Cave.

Powell, Christine. "Joe’s Legend: The Story Then, The Legend Now." Typescript. March 8, 1988. My most recent impetus to research this subject came in the academic year 1987/88 when Tina interviewed me about it for this paper, which she was writing for a composition class at SMSU. Tina is the grand-daughter-in-law of Clarence M. Perkins.

Randolph, Vance. Ozark Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography. Volume I. Bloomington: Indiana University Research Center for the Language Sciences, 1972. Pp. 77-8.

-- . "Fiddler’s Cave." The Talking Turtle: And Other Ozark Folk Tales. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957. Pp. 27-9.

Thomas, Clarke, and Jack Glendenning. The Slicker War. Aldrich, MO: Bona Publishing Co., 1984.

Vandergriff, Jerry D. Telephone conversation; recorded with pad and pen. June 26, 1989. Jerry is my brother. His remembered version of the story differs considerably from mine.

Vincent, J. W. "The ‘Slicker War’ and Its Consequences." Missouri Historical Review 7 (April 1913); 138-145.

Wetmore. Gazetteer of State of Missouri. St. Louis: C. Keemle, 1837.

Winfrey, Herma. Undated typescript, received from Vera Harrill, September 19,1989. Mrs. Winfrey is a life-long resident of the Wet Glaize area.


Appendix A

Map of Southeastern Camden & Northeastern Laclede Counties in Missouri

Appendix B

The following story, written by State Representative James W. Armstrong, my great, great, great uncle, in 1931, appeared in the Springfield, MO, Press on March 24 of that year. Jim Armstrong’s mother was the daughter of the Dr. Dodson who is a main actor in the story. His brother, Kavanagh Armstrong, supposedly owned the skeleton until his house burned, the skeleton with it, in 1944. The last person that I know of who claimed to have actually seen the skeleton, James Armstrong, son of Rep. Armstrong, the writer, died in September of 1990.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Every state, county and community has its history -- much of it unwritten and unrecorded. Names were given to streams, valleys and hills long before society was sufficiently organized to leave a written record.

Of the particular section of south central Missouri of which I shall write, at that time, it must be truly recorded that the very earliest settlers in this section lived in five different counties without changing their physical residences. Gasconade county in 1820, when Missouri was admitted into the Union, embraced a great portion of south Missouri. Sometime later Crawford county was organized to take over much of this territory, and in 1833 Pulaski county was organized out of territory, much of which was taken from Crawford county.

No Township Lines

It was about this time that township and range lines had been established, but before townships had been subdivided into sections. In the act of the legislature establishing Pulaski county, no township or range lines are mentioned, except in describing its eastern boundary, which seems to indicate that the range lines had not yet been located west of range 10.

In 1841 Kinderhook was organized from territory largely taken from Pulaski county: at least all of what is now Camden county south of the Osage and Niangua rivers and east of Bennett's spring, which is described in the act of the legislature as the "Big spring." This is now known as Niangua state park. In 1843 the name of Kinderhook county was changed to Camden. Thus in 23 years -- from 1820 to 1843 -- the same territory was embraced in five different counties besides having passed from a territorial form of government to that of a sovreign state. Laclede county was later formed of territory taken from Camden county.

Many descendants of the pioneers of that period still occupy the land held by their forefathers as squatters before the country was sectionized, only after which they could file application to homestead or cash enter the land upon which they had established homes.

Ha Ha Tonka spring on the Niangua was called "Gunter spring," named for an early settler there, and it was only about 1900 that it was given its Indian name by non-resident owners who had acquired the property.

During all the changes in political sub-divisions in both name and government, many of the old appelations [sic] survive, but the cause or reason is sometimes forgotten. Tradition tells us that Gun Lock Hollow was given its name on account of the fact that an old hunter lost the lock from his flint-lock gun while hunting in this hollow. Dance Yard Hollow was so named because the earliest settlers had reported and pointed out the place where the native Indians held their big dances. Almost every county has its Bear creek, along which stream some pioneer had found and killed bear and called it "Bear creek," as also Elk creek derived its name from the large herds of elk that frequented its banks.

In many cases where the name persists, the origin of the appelation [sic] is lost. There is usually a cause or reason for every name. It is to preserve the history that accounts for the name of a cave and a hollow or valley that this is written.

Just before and about the time this part of Missouri was being surveyed and sectionized, there was a large family from North Carolina, by the name of Fulbright, that took up residence in what is now called Dry Glaize creek, in what is now the northern part of Laclede county. They were David, Levi, Daniel, John and Martin Fulbright, but whether all were brothers I cannot say, but at any rate they were very closely related. About the same time a planter from East Tennessee settled on what is now Wet Glaize creek in what is now Camden county, about 13 or 14 miles north of the Fulbright settlement. This Tennesseean, whose name was Dr. James Dodson, died in 1832, leaving his wife and ten children -- three sons and seven daughters. Both the Fulbright and Dodson families held slaves, brought with them when they immigrated to Missouri. This last statement is important, on account of the fact that one of these slaves was the first and chief actor in a tragedy attempted to be recorded here.

Story of a Crime

In justice to the Negro race it should be stated that the villain of this story was the only Negro who, in this section, was ever guilty of such a heinous crime. Indeed tradition describes them as faithful and trustworthy, and many of them wished to stay with their old masters and families, even after they were set free and given the right of suffrage. But there are "black sheep" in every white flock, as well as degenerates in every race under the sun.

About the year 1836, this degenerate Negro, who was feared by his own race and held under suspicion by the whites, on account of his peculiar and seemingly malicious instincts made a criminal attack on a young lady, daughter of one of the Fulbrights, who was also master of the Negro. He had not only betrayed his master, but made a vicious criminal attack upon his daughter.

The attack was made at the mansion house, while all other members of the family -- both white and colored -- were working in the fields or away from home. By some means she escaped from the black brute and ran out of the house, screaming toward the fields. The Negro -- "Joe" by name -- no doubt became scared and excited, knowing full well that he had violated the most sacred tenet of civilized society. He caught the young lady just before she could get out of the yard and stabbed her in the breast, perhaps to hush her cries for help. At any rate she expired soon after relating the facts to her father and brothers.

Posses Start Pursuit

Excitement ran high. The country was only sparcely [sic] settled, but there was red blood in the veins of the men who rushed to the Fulbright homestead to offer consolation and help. Posses were organized to capture the criminal. Every man shouldered his gun under strict orders to not fire a shot at deer, bear, wolf, or anything whatever until the Negro was captured dead or alive. The firing of a shot was the agreed signal that Joe had surrendered, or was in sight making his escape. Several days were spent in fruitless search and watching. The posses were broken up, each man considering himself equal to any emergency that might arise. There were not enough to work in squads or pairs. Every likely avenue of escape or hiding had to be watched.

On account of the loyalty of the Negro slaves of the surrounding country it was known that the criminal was still in the vicinity of his crime, afraid to risk himself beyond the known hiding places. He had ventured up to members of his own race under cover of darkness and demanded, rather than begged for food. He declared that he would kill them unless provided with what he asked, and would kill any who informed on him. He seems to have really scared the Negroes into complete submission to his orders. They could not be blamed for giving him food under threat. Naturally superstitious and living in the shadow of a great crime, knowing the evil propensities of the man, who had already committed murder, they were easy to intimidate. Evidently they were harrassed between loyalty to their masters and fear of the dangerous criminal. At last in fear and much trembling a loyal slave imparted the information that Joe was near and making the Negroes furnish him food.

This information was valuable, as it assured the hunters that the hunted was still in the territory of the hunters. No human could forever escape the watchful diligence of keen-eyed pioneers.

Criminal is Shot Down

At last the Negro was discovered going to a wheat stack that was situated not far distant from a thick growth of timber and only a momentary exposure was necessary to make the cover and a point of vantage where he could see any one for a considerable distance. Many a deer, wolf and other animal had made the same fatal venture when the pioneer farmer and hunter was looking for game. This man -- Raffety by name -- commanded the Negro to halt and throw up his hands. Startled, for an instant he seemed about to obey the order, but only hesitated and started to run. Now came the one chance, so Raffety followed, with his eye on the fleeing Negro until he brought his big flint-lock rifle in range with his eye and the criminal. He pressed the trigger and the almost inevitable happened. The Negro fell, mortally wounded. The old pioneers did not often waste ammunition -- it was too precious.

The report of the gun brought other members of the posse to the scene. The Negro was not dead and humanity impelled that criminal, though he was, he was entitled to the benefit of medical treatment. The only physician within 50 miles was the eldest son of the deceased Tennessee pioneer, Dodson. This son, Dr. William M. Dodson, being well educated before their migration to Missouri, had gone back to an eastern college and graduated in medicine. A runner on a fleet horse was dispatched for him. Horses were plentiful and cheap and most of them had descended from the fastest race horses of Kentucky, Tennessee and the Old South.

In an incredibly short time the young doctor had arrived, but to no avail. Raffety’s aim had been too true and the Negro had, at least escaped the gallows.

Doctor Gets Body

When the Negro died, the question at once arose as to what disposition was to be made of the body. Objection was made to burying him in the same plot [where] honorable and trustworthy Negroes were buried, which was only a part of a common graveyard for both whites and blacks. The members of his own race declared they would not look at him "for anything in the world." They declared they would be "hanted" by his spirit all their lives.

The young doctor listened attentively and then told them that if they would consent to turn the body over to him it would need no burial and consecrated ground need not be polluted by his ashes -- that he was really in need of a skeleton of a human body, and that in dissecting the Negro he would be able to refresh his college training and make the body, at last, an instrument for good to the living. The proposition was readily assented to and the body, a fine physical specimen, was at once conveyed a distance of about 12 miles to a cave in a bluff on Wet Glaize creek, about six miles below what is now Wet Glaize post-office in Camden county.

This cave was about a mile from the home of the young doctor, where he still lived with his widowed mother. It was surrounded by large timber and thick undergrowth -- as wild a place as could well be imagined. The cave had a large entrance, which afforded considerable light for some distance toward its interior. The cave was cool, as he knew, and would well preserve the body in its even temperature. Parts of the body could be brought to the light and dissected with some degree of leisure. Some four-foot boards, split from a large burr oak for other purposes were fashioned into a table and the student doctor was ready for his post graduate course in anatomy.

Prepares the Skeleton

No one else was sufficiently interested in anatomy to keep the doctor company, and so for more than two weeks he kept lone vigil with the body of this Negro, Joe, the criminal. His mother and sisters sent him some bed clothes and every day a basket of provisions. These were usually sent by Negroes who went only about noon, and never approached near enough to see the mouth of the cave. They would set the basket at an agreed spot, make a loud noise and run home.

Dr. Dodson, during these two weeks or more of isolation and study made many written as well as mental notes, on anatomy, and by the use of a large iron kettle, boiled all the bones, and by the use of awls and crude instruments, placed every bone in its proper place and joined them in place with wire, and came home with a skeleton he used in his study for many years.

He did not work much at night, but it was necessary for him to stay at the cave at night and keep up a fire in the mouth of the cave to keep out wolves and other carniverous [sic] animals that collected near and howled a serenade in his ears. He explained that they were attracted by the scent of flesh, sometimes perhaps made more appetizing by steam from the boiling flesh, which could not be entirely separated from the bones.

Known as ‘Joe’s Cave’

The heavy timber about the mouth of this cave has been felled to give place to fine corn fields, and a county road has been dug and blasted just below the mouth and all superstition has vanished from the minds of the present generation, but is still, and perhaps will always be called "Joe’s cave."

The Fulbright homestead in Laclede county, was on the south side of Dry Glaize creek, where the Ozark Trail crosses it about two miles east of Dry Glaize post office. Thousands of tourist have passed the spot without dreaming of the tragedy enacted there.

Some months after the events recorded herein, Raffety, who killed the Negro, Joe, came to an equally tragic death, being killed by a rifle shot, fired from ambush. This was another matter that aroused much excitement. No professional detectives were available, but the pioneers busied themselves to bring the culprits to justice. Raffety had been killed, and that he was killed [by] someone with a motive was taken for granted. The only one who could be suspected was a man by the name of Grizzle. Gossip had connected the names of Grizzle and Raffety’s wife, and some had suspected an undue intimacy. Here was the clue. The "eternal triangle" in a frontier settlement is much more sure to bring sensational results than among the "four hundred" in what is termed cultured society.

The self-appointed citizen detectives checked up the movements and actions of Grizzle and Raffety’s wife, and placed together, they made a strong chain of circumstantial evidence, to the effect that Mrs. Raffety had induced her husband to go on an unnecessary mission, that caused him to travel down one of the lonely valleys leading to the Wet Glaize creek, that in a dense hazel thicket Grizzle was secreted and shot Raffety with his own gun -- the one with which he had killed the Negro, Joe; and that the gun had been given to Grizzle by Mrs. Raffety, for this express purpose.

They were both arrested, charged with murder and placed in the Warsaw jail, that being the nearest jail to the scene of the crime. While in jail and awaiting trial, the accused, being no doubt conscious of their guilt and having some knowledge of the evidence that would be presented; supposedly by compact to die together, both committed suicide by taking poison; thus completing the chain of violent deaths, without the aid of court or jury.

The valley in which Raffety was killed has been cleared of hazel and larger timber, and is now being farmed with modern machinery, but it is still called "Raffety Hollow."