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Monday, December 24, 2018

Imagining the Christmases of the Past Through Food and Community

In 1843, the first printed Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in England and featured a group of people surrounding a dinner table. A simple message of “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” was painted on the bottom of the tablecloth.

The early pioneer traditions of Christmas, especially surrounding gift-giving and sharing food, show us how much the menu and the presents have changed over the years. On the western border of Missouri, starting as early as the 1840s, these customs seem unfamiliar today to our palate and our strained pocketbooks.

Isaac McCoy's homestead
While most people today embrace the message “Merry Christmas” when addressing people during the holiday season, early pioneer settlers on the Missouri-Kansas border, most with southern roots, would cheerfully rush toward neighbors and friends with a different message.

John C. McCoy’s daughter, Nelly McCoy Harris (1840-1926) was hailed as the first “white girl” born in Kansas City and known as one of the city’s first historians. Her grandfather was Rev. Isaac McCoy, Indian missionary whose home (known as "Locust Hill") stood where St. Luke's on the Plaza stands today.

In her manuscript, “Reminiscences of the Pioneer Days,” she describes Christmas traditions that she fondly remembered as a child. “We said ‘Christmas gift’ when meeting friends on [Christmas]. Now they say ‘Merry Christmas.’ I do not exactly understand the last expression.”

Nellie McCoy Harris (1840-1926)
As early as the 1840s, people hailing from the southern states would address people on Christmas day by exclaiming, “Christmas gift!” Even slaves would express this to their masters, expecting to receive a small gift in return. The first one to say it claimed the gift, usually a small present of a fruit, sweet treat or nuts would be given.

Christmas was usually a given free day for slaves, thus, according to Nelly, “All were happy except the mistress of the mansion, who had to continue all sorts of ways to get along without the usual quota of house servants.”


Although Kansas City was slowly growing before the Civil War, the area was quite isolated as compared to the northeastern cities. Spending Christmas with loved ones far away was usually not possible, so it was usual for neighbors to gather together to celebrate the holiday. In these simpler times, pioneers looked forward with joy to the festivities of the Christmas season.

“We went to frolics early and stayed late,” Nelly wrote, “especially if the entertainments were at the homes of the McGee families . . . where they were so hospitable.”

I have a personal fondness for the great-grandchildren of A.B.H. McGee. They are my friends that I have fortunately met through my research and writing. Nelly, over 100 years ago, gushed over her personal relationships with them, stating, “The hearts of these McGees seemed to be overflowing with good will to all.”
The McGee family cir. 1880 in front of the first brick home in all of Kansas City. Photo courtesy of the McGee family

Nelly had a way with words. I couldn’t have said it better myself as it pertains to my personal feelings about the McGees of Kansas City.

A candlelit tree at Wornall House
These early pioneer families would spend the holiday together in their homes lit only by the fireplaces' glow or the soft flicker of candles placed around the room.

Invitations to celebrate sometimes were verbal and others were written (yet never requiring an RSVP). In this area, some guests traveled by horse up to 20 miles away to attend parties. When festivities went all night long, “pallets were spread about the floor by good-natured colored servants” so makeshift beds could be utilized.

Tables were placed in larger residences wherever there was room, and in the center of each table was placed a large stack of pyramid cake, likely similar to what we see today at weddings. “No one was afraid of eating all they wanted for fear the cake would give out,” Nelly wrote, “The bottom section of the pyramid was generally a tin pan iced over, but that was no loss to anybody, for guests never got down to that [layer].” The next day, children would gather around those tin pans still iced over with frosting and eat the sugary substance until the pan was revealed underneath.

What was served on Christmas day generally depended on whether you lived in the city or the country. In the small town of Kansas City, menus would have been heavy in fruits and root vegetables.

Henrietta Harris
Nuts and spices roasted on an open fire would have created a familiar scent of the season in small homes. Sugar at the time would have been quite expensive, so sweet treats were not as common as dried fruits. Because of this and other ancient traditions, the fruitcake became a popular staple at the holiday table. Those of more comfortable means would have been more likely to have more sugary options for guests and family.

Foods such as turkey, hams, chickens, roast pig, saddle of mutton, and sometimes venison and buffalo were served to guests. Oysters in tins were expensive but popular additions to the menu.

In 1918, the great niece of Henrietta Harris (1804-1881), the wife of the famous proprietor of Harris House Hotel in Westport, shared her recipe for chess cakes, copied as it was written “nearly a hundred years ago.” Henrietta was well-known in the Westport area for her delicious chess cakes.

Helen Miller demonstrates cooking over an open fire
at the Wornall House Christmas candlelight tour
The recipe simply reads: One cup butter, two cups brown sugar (English golden); yolks of eight eggs. Flavor with nutmeg and vanilla or a little sherry wine. Work the butter and sugar until very creamy; add the well-beaten yolks of the eggs, and lastly the flavorings. Bake in small patty pans, in paste. Bake in a very slow oven.”

Confused? So am I.

Another early recipe printed in 1847 in The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge reads:

Bake the walls of thick standing crust, to any size you like, and ornamented as fancy directs. Lay at the bottom of the pie a beef steak. Bone a turkey, goose, fowl, duck, partridge, and place one over the other, so that, when cut, the white and brown meat may appear alternately. Put a large tongue by its side, and fill the vacancies with forcemeat balls and hard eggs, and add savory jelly. This last is better for being kept in a mould, and only taken out as required. Bacon, chopped or beat up with the forecemeat, is preferable to suet, as it is nicer when cold, and keeps better.

Boy, am I glad that our taste buds aren’t suffering anymore.

Today, piecing together the steps of these old recipes is quite difficult; setting your electric oven to a temperature and baking for a certain amount of time are vital parts of successful baking. But before the electric oven, women cooked on an open fire or on a cast iron stove.
Stirring Up History is available on

Modern cooking that we all do, including Christmas dinner, is usually based off a written recipe with clear directions. Cookbooks as we know them today were not commonplace in the 19th century. However, some women began featuring their favorite recipes in church cookbooks, usually arranged as a fundraiser for their community.

Cheryl McCann, author of Stirring up History: The Meals, Memoirs and Memories of Our Ladies of Clay County, has spent years reading old recipes and decoding them. The book is the recreation of the 1880 and then the 1903 Presbyterian ladies of Liberty Missouri’s Economy Cook Books. McCann was interested in trying to figure out more about the women behind the recipes as well as interpreting the recipes into today’s measurements and baking times.

“Cooking and cookbooks could be surprisingly liberating and bring women of different backgrounds together,” McCann explained.

As she researched the women who in the early additions were listed by only the name of their husband, she also had to learn how women in the 19th century cooked. “I started trying to find out who these ladies were, and many of them had remarkable stories of their own to tell.”  Therefore, Stirring up History, available on Amazon, includes the old recipes as they were typed, updated recipes in today’s measurements, and biographies about the women who supplied them.
Kansas City Times, 1895

Some recipes called for ingredients such as glycerin, glucose, ammonia, tartaric acid and carbolic acid that we wouldn’t dare ingest today. Directions such as “butter the size of an egg” needed to be given in acceptable measurements to ensure the best results. A “cold oven” in these old recipes actually means 325 degrees, showing us how many strides have been made over the years on the subject of accurate recipes.

“I think we can all be inspired from the lives of other people, past and present, but to know how these strong women from a variety of backgrounds came together to create this cookbook shows a sense of community,” McCann commented.

In a way, Stirring Up History brings the past alive through our current taste buds and opens our eyes to the lives these women led. “I also find that the biographies show great character traits such as endurance, faith, kindness, injunity, and the bravery. These ladies lived in a time before the vote, and some lived through the Civil War. They took on the challenges that were presented to them,” McCann said.
Cream puffs 

Sometimes tasting these foods made from the old recipes can be a bit different than what we are used to, as I have personally tried some of McCann’s own creations from these recipes. I’m a personal fan of the cream puffs. :)

We have advanced in our cooking and in our technology. We can now order food from our phones and have it hand-delivered to our doors. In some ways, the simplicity of the holidays have been lost to the rush of last-minute shopping and packing our Amazon shopping carts full of Christmas gifts.

I kind of wish we could return to these old times where the holiday was lit by fireplaces and candlelight- where a modest celebration didn’t overshadow the specialness of the season.

Today, we don’t shout “Christmas gift” at friends and generally don’t celebrate the holiday with neighbors. We are mobile; we have the ability to travel far distances to share with our families. But the pioneers of this area created their own versions of Christmas that best suited them. We can learn so much about how we celebrate from the foods that decorated the tables of the past and the labor of love that was exercised in order to execute delicious meals for the special occasion of Christmas day.

Merry Christmas Gift, Kansas City!

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Monday, November 19, 2018

The Curious Case of the Thanksgiving Date

Pilgrims with flat-topped hats adorned with fashionable gold buckles - Native Americans half-dressed and ready to shake hands with these newly-arrived white men- both groups sitting down at a perfectly dressed outdoor table to break bread. Those are the images that most people have of the beginnings of a holiday that now focuses on family and giving thanks for what fortunes we have.

This was only further enforced when we school children traced our little hands and fashioned the outline into turkeys. We then whipped out the Elmer’s glue and colorful construction paper to make headbands with limp “feathers” attached.

Oh, we all did it.

This isn’t very PC today, but we all wore those proud crowns topped with unfortunate stereotypes.

History tells us that the first Thanksgiving, an autumn harvest festival, occurred in the fall of 1621 among about 50 Pilgrims and around 90 Wampanoag Indians. But our history books in high school- and our teachers in grade school- really got the whole thing wrong. The real origin of Thanksgiving is up for interpretation.

Yes, what we credit with the first Thanksgiving was originally a three-day celebration attended by men. No, not families. Men. We think of Plymouth (correctly spelled “Plimoth”) and Pilgrims. We think of them inviting a Native American tribe to dine with them. And of course, we think of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberries.

And pie. Lots of pie.

Truth be told, feasts of thanks celebrating the autumn harvest had been celebrated for centuries. There is even record that the Spaniards in North America held a small autumn feast well before these Pilgrims in Plimoth. That’s why Virginia, Texas, Florida and Maine affirm they are the birthplace of the “first” Thanksgiving.

"First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)

Confusing, right?

What we do know is that these fresh-off-the-boat men in 1621 did dine with the Wampanoag Indians; the tribe even brought four deer to the celebration. We also do know that cranberries, native to New England, were served. But there is no evidence that turkey made it to the table.

No pie, guys. There was no pie. Pumpkin and squash were in the diet, but a traditional pumpkin pie wasn’t prepared nor had it really been created yet.

Unlike other holidays, the date of Thanksgiving moves on the calendar every year. And have you ever thought it odd that a nationally-declared holiday is on a Thursday? Just like the controversial birth of our Thanksgiving, the significance of the holiday and the date it is celebrated has morphed over the years.

The first “official” Thanksgiving holiday proclamation was declared by George Washington. He called for a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” to be observed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789. But the meaning of this date wasn’t attached to Pilgrims at all. Washington was simply wishing for Americans to pay homage to a fledgling nation after the Revolutionary War was won. And, at the time, Thanksgiving was more of a religious holiday than a turkey and gravy one.

It would take 75 years exactly for another national declaration of Thanksgiving to be added to the calendar. During this period of time, individual states and territories would decide when to designate a day of thanks. Sometimes this day of thanks didn’t even fall in November. For example, in 1857, Missouri’s governor Robert Stewart “fixed upon Thursday, the 31st day of December, as a day of Thanksgiving throughout the State of Missouri.”

Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 1863

To no surprise, the next time there was a national declaration of giving thanks on a specific date didn’t happen until our nation was at war again. After the victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Oct. 3, 1863 that we “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving.”  

The country was severed in half during the Civil War. Locally in the Kansas City area, the state line was a battleground between the North and South. Another battle less critical was brewing. In 1864, president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis threw a curveball and appointed Wednesday, Nov. 16th as the day of “rebel thanksgiving.”

Jefferson Davis invited people of the Confederate states “to assemble on the day aforesaid, in their place of public worship . . . [and] that He restore peace to our beloved country, healing its bleeding wounds and securing to us the continued right of self-government and independence.” This put the Confederate turkey day the day before the date suggested by President Lincoln.

Liberty Tribune, Nov. 11, 1864
Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

Northern newspapers responded to the announcement of a rebel Thanksgiving with a stiff opinion of the makeshift holiday for the South. The Cleveland Daily Leader wrote, “We fear that Mr. Jefferson Davis has mistaken the inspiration of the devil for that from above, and mistakes the amount of strength and inspiration which yet animate the people of the South.”

Roosevelt on Thanksgiving
Courtesy of Library of Congress
It went on to suggest that the South “can then give thanks for the reelection of Abraham Lincoln.”


More confusion on the official date of Thanksgiving occurred in 1939. The Depression era had depleted the nation’s economy, and just like today, the sales during the holiday season was a make-or-break for many merchants.

Traditionally, the fourth Thursday in November was the default date across the country as appointed annually by the president since 1863; however, the fourth Thursday would land Thanksgiving Nov. 30, 1939.

The concern was that losing extra shopping days between turkey day and Christmas would be harmful to the economy. In response, President Theodore Roosevelt was pressured to issue a proclamation declaring the third Thursday the “official” Thanksgiving, moving the date to Nov. 23rd.

Kansas City Star, Oct. 31, 1893
The response nationwide was one of havoc and confusion. In addition, it threw a bombshell on football schedules set a year in advance. Locally, one tradition was in danger of being lost and had Missouri and Kansas up in arms- again.

Traditionally at the time, the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas played their rival football game on Thanksgiving day each year- the most celebrated rivalry west of the Mississippi.

The Border Wars were far from over, and some would argue that they've never really ended.

And to add more insults to the stereotypes, the winner of this "Turkey Day Battle" was rewarded with an "Indian War drum traveling trophy." Starting in 1937, MU's Kansas City Alumni Association with the help of Kansas University Letterman's Association presented an authentic Indian drum each Thanksgiving to the winner.
Top photo: 1893 KU football team
Bottom photo: 1893 MU football team
Courtesy of KU/MU Archives

They wanted to keep it "real," so they commissioned the Osage Indian tribe to make it... since they were the original "landowners" in Missouri and Kansas.

How appropriate.

On a side note, the trophy allegedly disappeared only to resurface in the 1980s in a Columbia, Mo. basement, tucked away forgotten in midst storage boxes.

The first matchup between football teams happened October 31, 1891 in Kansas City at Exposition Park at 15th and Montgall. According to the Kansas City Star, “Society was represented by many of its best known devotees.”  The beginning of the modern-day “border wars,” the Jayhawks were able to secure a 22-10 win over the Tigers.

The Thanksgiving date was used for the Border Wars game starting on November 30, 1893 at Exposition Park in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star reported, "Out at Exposition Park this afternoon there will be a wondrous blending of college colors and college yells. . . The pretty girls and the girls not so pretty will be there in force."

Kansas City Journal, Nov. 24, 1898 

To add insult to injury, the article continues, "To be sure [the women] don't understand the game, but there will be plenty of men on hand to instruct them in foot ball ethics and tell them when to applaud."

Well, it was a different era. Let's just be glad we have made strides in the past 125 years - I know plenty of women that know more about football than most!

3,000 people packed the small stadium, a record crowd for the day, and Mizzou was able to secure a 12-4 win over the Jayhawks.

A weird score, right? Well, touchdowns at the time were worth four points and the extra point was worth two.

Border War football games continued to be played in Kansas City (once in St. Joe) until 1910 where each team took turns hosting the other on turkey day.

Leavenworth Standard, Dec. 1, 1893
In 1939, it was KU’s turn to host the Tigers in Lawrence, but the confusion over the date had things on hold.

Because President Roosevelt’s proclamation truly only affected the the District of Columbia and territories belonging to the United States, it was up to the governors of each state to decide when to celebrate the day.

The MU-KU game was scheduled to be held on Nov. 30 on the date everyone assumed would be Thanksgiving.

This had the governors of each state deciding whether to follow President Roosevelt or hold to the generally-accepted fourth Thursday in November. And just like the Border Wars, Missouri and Kansas chose two different sides.

Governor Payne H. Ratner of Kansas declared, “The Thanksgiving day of November 30, 1939, which is fixed in the calendar and upon which so many people have made definite plans will be retained in Kansas.”

The cover of Time Magazine in 1939
Missouri governor Lloyd C. Stark signed his declaration in August and announced, “We will have only one Thanksgiving day in Missouri. That will be the date set by the President of the United States.”  

This created a pretty serious headache for the two states’s largest universities. If the Thanksgiving Border Wars game between MU and KU was played on Nov. 23, KU would have to change its class schedules. If Mizzou had to play the Thursday after their holiday vacation, they would miss class and attendance at the game would be affected.

A solution was reached; the game, traditionally held on Thanksgiving day, was moved to Sat., Nov. 25 “because of the two conflicting turkey dates in the two states.”

Mizzou won 20-0.

The Tigers and the Jayhawks continued their matchup on Thanksgiving day until the early 1950s.

Due to the chaos leading up to the 1939 Thanksgiving, President Roosevelt gave advanced notice when he designated Thurs., Nov. 21st (the third Thursday in Nov.) the official Thanksgiving for 1940. He declared the date in October 1939.

Congress passed a law Dec. 26, 1941 giving us a “unified Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.” Thankfully since then, there has been no confusion as to when we gather to give our thanks across the nation.

This piece is dedicated to my friends, Mizzou Tiger Cristin Blunt and Kansas Jayhawk Tim Reidy :)

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Time Magazine 1893 comic shows the nation's new love of Thanksgiving day football

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

First Robbery, Then Murder: Martin City's Bank the Scene of Heists in the 20s

Martin City, once a small town in southern Jackson County that was annexed to Kansas City in 1963,  was founded in 1887 due to its location to the railroads. Anyone who has been through this small nest egg of early 20th century charm knows all about those railroad tracks that cross in three different places, oftentimes stalling our progress to our next destination. But those railroad tracks are the very reason that the area was settled. By the turn of the century, businesses moved in to take advantage of what could be a bustling little town.
Martin City, circa 1906
One of the most important advancements for a town was the establishment of a bank so that their finances and their transactions could stay local. In September 1909, residents pooled their money and opened the Martin City State Bank. They held a capital stock of $10,000 and erected a building at current-day 510 E. 135th St.
Adding the Martin City Bank was a central piece to the business district and to the growth of a town. However, banks also were magnets for criminals looking for some quick cash. The little bank in Martin City was host to three bank robberies early in its history that tell an interesting story of early 20th century criminal activity. . . and all involve an unsuspecting cashier named Samuel J. Roberts.

A Cool and Deliberate Criminal

On April 26, 1920, a young man wearing a fashionable blue suit, flannel shirt and hat casually walked into the Martin City State Bank around 1:00pm. 30 year-old Sam Roberts (1890-1960), a well-known resident of Martin City who was reared in Belton, was the cashier at the bank. Alone and busy when the young man entered, Sam glanced up and saw a pistol pointed directly at him.
Martin City State Bank, cir. 1920. Photo courtesy of the Klapmeyer family

“Stick em’ up!” the robber yelled.

Seriously. That’s what he said.

Sam Roberts told the Kansas City Star, “He drew a revolver and demanded money. He took only currency, and then locked me in the vault.”  

The robber jumped over a three foot railing separating them and jammed the pistol into the cashier’s stomach. The bandit screamed for the cashier to lock the front door. The robber took $1000, locked Sam into the vault and escaped through the back door. On the edge of town, the criminal asked Albert Phillips, a driver of a farm wagon, for a ride. The unsuspecting farmer casually carted him a half mile west and sent the young man on his way.

Sam Roberts was able to escape the bank vault by prying the door open with a screwdriver kept inside. Authorities were immediately alerted, and Sam described the man as being about 30 years old, 5’9” tall and about 165 pounds. His demeanor, according to Sam, was “cool and deliberate.”

News spread through the little town like wildfire, and area residents gathered to take in the latest gossip. William Simpson, a farmer near the hamlet, said he saw a man matching Sam’s description at a Missouri Pacific train leaving in Kansas City.
Spring Hill, Ks., courtesy of Miami Co. Historical Museum

Bennett Rector, president of the Martin City Bank, stood nearby and relayed that he had seen the bandit from across the street. Unfortunately, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and went about his business.

Johnnie Lawson saw the criminal loafing around outside his business on Main St. within an eyeshot of the bank, and County Marshal Harvey Hoffman believed that the bank robber was likely hiding in Kansas City.

As it turned out, no one knew much of anything.

An arrest of this cool criminal wasn’t immediate. About five weeks later on June 9th, the bank at Spring Hill, Ks. was being cased. A gentleman in “an expensive brown suit” was seen lurking outside the bank around noon that day. Two hours later, he made his swift move. The story was eerily similar; a man entered the bank and produced a pistol from his pocket. He held up the cashier and an assistant, forcing them into the bank’s vault in the back. He was able to score around $1000.

But Spring Hill’s bank was a little more prepared than Martin City. A $5,000 standing reward sponsored by the Kansas Bankers Association for the capture of bank robbers had citizens ready for a financial windfall. When the alarm sounded and alerted quick-drawing citizens to the call, the robber, stunned, escaped from the back and ran down the road. A posse from the Anti-Horse Thief Association was hot on his tracks, following him to the edge of town.

He ran a half mile from the scene of the crime with citizens seconds behind him. He approached a Studebaker driven by an unsuspecting resident and tried to hijack the car.

As the robber realized he couldn’t successfully steal the car, he threw himself in a ditch and aimed his gun toward the mob chasing him, narrowly missing Ralph Hines. Ralph fired a warning shot into the air; the bandit tried to seek shelter in a muddy corn field. He turned around one last time and took aim at Ralph Hines.  One bullet from Hines’s gun allegedly traveled 125 yards, hit the robber square in the heart and killed him.

When the posse approached the body, they found he had one gun in his hand, and in his pocket were 50 cartridges and another gun fully loaded. Under his brown suit, he had layered himself in additional clothing, including a blue suit and overalls so he could make a quick costume change.

The robber was 27 year-old Alfred Gantert. He was positively identified by Sam Roberts, the cashier, John Lawson, storekeeper and Jim Phillips, farmer as the man who robbed the Martin City State Bank. Gantert’s mother, Susan was a well-respected citizen living in Olathe; her husband, allegedly a “drunk,”  had left her years earlier with young children to raise. As a child, Alfred served four months in county jail for going to the Bonita School while class was in session and throwing a brick through one of the windows.

Olathe Mirror
The sheriff traveled to South Keeler St. in Olathe to deliver the news in person to Alfred’s mother, Susan. She reported that Alfred “had been wayward and wild recently.” Grief-stricken and shaky, she exclaimed, “He hasn’t been home in years, and he never treated me as he should!”  

With tears in her eyes, she asked to see her son. The sheriff drove her to see the body. It was reported that she “did not show the emotion which one would have thought under the circumstances.”

It appears Susan had run out of patience and pity. As she turned away from her son’s corpse, she said, “I wash my hands of him. He always did take after his father.” His mother refused to take control of his remains and walked away.

Ironically, the field where Alfred had been killed was steps away from where he had lived as a child. Because his mother would not take his body, Alfred was buried with no headstone in Spring Hill Cemetery in the pauper’s section where he rests unmarked today.

The Time Doesn’t Fit These Crimes
Sam Roberts

On June 7th1924, Sam Roberts was busy yet again at the Martin City State Bank as he conducted his regular duties. Two young men wearing dark glasses, caps and dark clothing stormed into the bank and met Sam at the cage. They forced Sam into the back room, tied him up and laid him face-down on the floor as they gathered $1700 in cash and change from the bank vault.

A third man waited in the driver’s seat of a flashy Cadillac stolen two days earlier at 60th and Brookside Blvd. As the two men inside rushed out to the car, they drew attention to themselves when they dropped a large amount of change on the ground. Locals watched suspiciously as the Cadillac sped off northbound. The Cadillac was abandoned in Dallas, Mo. (103rd and State Line)  and the three robbers escaped.

A woman entering the bank to do business found Sam Roberts bound in the back and released him.

Less than a month later on July 3rd, two men were charged with the robbery at Martin City after they had been spending frivolously in Kansas City. 28 year-old Theodore A. Russell and  34-year-old Clifford Dunford were held on $5000 bonds.

Both men had police records that tell quite an interesting story of repeat offenders of the era.

Topeka Daily Capital, July 10, 1915
Theodore A. Russell had been arrested for robbery and grand larceny in March 1921 of a drug store at 67th and Swope Pkwy. He was found drunk on either “perfume or spirits” nearby where he denied his involvement in the crime- even though he was found with money from the robbery on him. Theo was able to disappear without a trace; he didn't appear at his criminal court hearing. In June, he was found and charged with the crime. He served a whopping 14 months in the penitentiary until he was discharged in Sept. 1923- less than one year before he was charged for the robbery of the bank in Martin City.

His accomplice, Clifford Dunford (1890-1960), had an even longer rap sheet. On Dec. 11th, 1914, Cliff was engaged in a “quarrel over a girl” with 39-year-old druggist Thomas O. McCarty at a cafe at 303 W. 8th St. Thomas was struck over the head with a board used to hold the front door shut and died 13 days later on Christmas Eve. Cliff miraculously escaped prosecution, and in the meantime, he was shot through the foot in July 1916. The police found him in St. Mary’s Hospital and arrested him for the murder of McCarty.

Albert Dunford, Cliff's brother
In Feb. 1916, Cliff answered to the crime and was given two years in the state penitentiary for the murder (plead down to 4th degree manslaughter) of McCarty. He was discharged in August 1917, and to no surprise, was back at his old ways.

In August 1921, he was charged with second degree murder for shooting 23-year-old Arthur Hultzen in the stomach and killing him at a rooming house - a rooming house that Cliff was running.

Sentences continued to be short or not even given; I can find no record that Cliff ever served time for murder. The same goes for his involvement in the robbery of the bank in Martin City.

Crime seemed to run in Cliff’s family. Originally from the Topeka area, Clifford seems to have been one of the luckier of his siblings. His brother James served a long sentence in the Kansas Pen for killing a streetcar conductor; his brother Dennis was killed in a fight over a woman; and his brother, Albert, shot his sister in a fit of rage and then committed suicide in 1914 “after a wild night with a woman that was not his wife."

Cliff seemed to calm down a bit after the robbery in Martin City. . . minus being arrested multiple times in Kansas City for bootlegging during Prohibition. Cliff died of malnutrition at the age of 69 in 1960.

Robbery, Kidnapping, Murder… and Insanity

1913 wedding photo of Sam Roberts and wife, Mary
Photo courtesy of Jay Roberts 
On February 12, 1925, 32 year-old Charles Stultz was busy working as a mechanic in his garage on the Martin City-Olathe road (135th St.) just a few doors down from Martin City State Bank. Also the deputy sheriff in town, Stultz moved toward the ringing phone and picked the receiver up.

“This is Mr. Roberts,” the voice on the other end said, “I’ve been kidnapped by bandits who robbed the bank. They dumped me out of their car here in Kansas City. I wish you to go over and lock up the bank then come and get me.”

Stultz knew the man who called him as Sam Roberts, longtime cashier of the Martin City State Bank.

Earlier that same day, a man who drove for a local car service was summoned to 20th and Grand Ave. to pick up some passengers. When he arrived, two men got in the car, held him up and forced him to drive them to 48th and Troost Ave. to pick up two more men so they could drive south to a little town called Martin City.

Kansas City Star, Aug. 7, 1925
Sam had been alone in the bank when two men pointed a gun at him and told him to throw his hands in the air. Two other conspirators waited in the Cadillac with the terrified driver. They stole $1200 from the bank.

Instead of leaving the cashier behind, the robbers kidnapped Sam, forced him into the car and shoved him to the floor as they sped off toward Kansas City. At 57th and Euclid, the criminals pushed Sam Roberts and the kidnapped driver out of the car and sped away.

Just two days later, 19 year-old Arthur Schofield confessed to being one of the bank robbers in Martin City and also of being part of a holdup at a drug store in Kansas City, Ks. where they kidnapped a man for use of his Studebaker. Arthur was suspected because he was “spending money freely and riding around in taxicabs.”

Arthur had already served time in Boonville for a robbery of a grocery store in 1923..

By August, Wilbur Schofield, Arthur’s 21 year-old brother, confessed to his involvement in the bank robbery. He stated he had a good job at the time but Art had laughed at “his slowness.” He explained that his brother called him up and told him he had an easy opportunity to make some cash if he would just drive a car to Martin City.

After Arthur was arrested, Wilbur ran away and went to small towns in Illinois and returned a few months later using the alias “William Kearns.”

Wilbur thought people wouldn’t recognize him, but in a short time, he was spotted on the streets of Kansas City. He signed a confession and made statements that revealed others involved.

One of the men that Wilbur Schofield stated was involved was a man he was introduced to as Ed Fuller. And, boy, did this Ed Fuller have a quick demise.

Just three months after the robbery in Martin City, Ed Fuller met his end.

On May 23rd, 1925, a 60 year-old woman named Christine Muder, the wife of “old time saloon man” Fritz Muder, was waiting for a streetcar in front of the Kansas City Power and Light offices. With her was a “negro guard” named Jesse Moore. Christine had just gone to the bank for their business and had $4500 in cash on her.

Wearing all black and clutching onto a brown bag full of cash, Mrs. Muder stood in the crowd at the 15th and Grand streetcar stop. A man stepped up to the side of her, held onto her arm and said, “Come with me. I’ve got a rod.” He pulled back his coat and revealed a revolver tucked into his belt.

Mrs. Muder screamed loudly, alerting her guard, Jesse. The robber ran toward an awaiting 7-passenger Buick touring car, but his escape was short-lived. “Negro guard” Jesse Moore drew out a gun and shot twice at the fleeing man, hitting him once in the chest.

The Buick, with two men inside, kept moving as the bandit tried grabbing a hold of the vehicle to get inside. His strength was weakened from the shot in the chest, and he was unable to hold on. Moore continued to pursue him and shot him a third time, hitting him again in the chest.

Mrs. Christine Muder, pictured above along with the crowd that gathered around the slain robber
Kansas City Star, May 25, 1925
When asked about his harrowing act of bravery, Mr. Jesse Moore smoked his corn cob pipe and casually stated, “I just beat him to the draw, that’s all.”

Jesse Moore “learned to be a crackshot while in the army” in World War I. Mr. Fritz Muder awarded him with $250 and other donations of admiring citizens were given to the hero. In fact, United Cemeteries Companies wanted to show their “thanks” and set aside a family burial plot in “the new Blue Ridge Lawn Cemetery,” which was “exclusively for negroes.”

Wow, what an interesting choice for a gift of appreciation.

The man Jesse Moore shot laid dead on the ground as hundreds of busy Kansas Citians crowded around his body.

Believe it or not, the body was on public display at the coroner’s office after the robbery-gone-wrong, and hundreds of Kansas Citians went by for a chance to file past the corpse and see the man for themselves. They had hoped to get a positive ID of the unidentified robber, but no one came forward with his name.
Kansas City Star, August 7, 1925

One of those that filed past the body was none other than Wilbur Schofield. He recognized him as one of the other man who held up the bank in Martin City. This display supposedly freaked Wilbur out so much that he swore he’d leave “banditry” and “go back to repairing motor cars for a living.”

Wilbur was given five years in prison and his brother, Arthur served part of his sentence.  Art was back on the streets and back at his old ways when he robbed a bank with two others in Odessa, Mo.

For the most part, Wilbur did keep his nose clean. . .  except for another little stint in the state pen in 1935 after he stole $400 from the garage where he worked.

Old habits die hard.

Arthur Schofield (1907-1980) had a record a mile long- after the robbery in Martin City, he was arrested under the alias Edward Diadore. In 1928, Arthur was arrested in Lexington, Mo. for burglary. While awaiting sentencing, he escaped custody. In May 1929, Arthur was arrested in St. Louis, Mo. for auto theft and carrying a concealed weapon.

Because he had stolen the car in Gillespie, Ill. and had taken the car across state lines, he was charged in federal court under the Dyer Act (enacted in 1919 to curb motor vehicle theft and making it a federal crime). He was sentenced to two years in Leavenworth on June 8th, 1929.

Arthur Schofield's original penitentiary file is located at the National Archives, Kansas City
It didn’t take long to raise alarm bells at Leavenworth. Arthur’s irrational behavior had doctors at the penitentiary on high alert.

Almost immediately, he was under the observation of Dr. B. Landis Elliott, attending psychiatrist and Dr. C.A. Bennett, prison physician. They noted that on July 24th, Arthur was “highly nervous and irrational.”

In fact, he imagined that “someone stole his aeroplane” and complained of pains in his head.

By November, they noted in his official penitentiary file that Arthur appeared completely “normal,” but when they would mention his aeroplane, “he flares up and becomes irritable and excited. He is a little sullen in his demeanor” and “has delusional ideas, and has attacks of anger and crying at times.”

This odd behavior led to an official diagnosis of “psychosis with constitutional psychopathic inferiority,” and they recommended immediate transfer to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Oh, and the medical treatment he received during this time was “rest, tonic, and diet.”

On November 27th, 1929, his transfer was granted by the Department of the Interior.

Unfortunately, we aren’t quite finished with Arthur. It appears he was released from psychiatric care and returned to his hometown of Kansas City.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that he wasn’t going to keep his nose clean.

L-R: Arthur Schofield, Jack Babcock, and William Wiley's mugshots. Courtesy Moberly Monitor-Index Apr. 2, 1948
Arthur Schofield gathered together with a group of Kansas City criminals to organize a heist.

Accompanied by Jack Babcock, 23, and William Wiley, Jack’s brother-in-law, 33, Arthur arranged to drive to a filling station south of Moberly, Mo. where a dice game was reported to be happening the night of Dec. 7th, 1948. By 8:30 pm, the men drove from Kansas City to the site of the gambling with hopes of hitting the jackpot. They were informed that over $10,000 would be up for the taking.

Roy Eubanks, 40, and seven others gathered in the back with a deck of cards at hand. In a sworn statement, Jack Babcock admitted he guarded one of the three doors of the filling station with a shotgun while the other men entered.

Without much explanation, Arthur Schofield fired a .45 calibre pistol into Roy Eubanks’ left shoulder.
Roy Eubanks & wife
Printed in Moberly Monitor-Index
Schofield, Babcock and Wiley fled the filling station to the awaiting car driven by Herman Robinson, 39. They sped away, only stopping to let Arthur drop the gun used in a river along the way. They arrived at Arthur’s cabin in Kansas City, Ks. at 4 am and counted the $400 they got away with.

Roy died the next day at 10:25 am from the wound inflicted by Arthur’s gun.

It took five months of searching to track down the criminals. On April 2nd, 1948, the Moberly Monitor-Index reported that first degree murder charges were filed against three Kansas City men: Arthur Schofield, Jack Babcock and William Wiley. The driver of the getaway car, Herman Robinson, was charged a few days later.

The outcome of this is disturbing.

Both Babcock and Wiley were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life terms. The driver was sentenced to manslaughter and served one year.

Moberly Monitor-Index, Aug. 8, 1964
Arthur, the man who fired the gun that killed Roy Eubanks, was put under psychiatric observation in Springfield, Mo. and avoided prosecution for years. In 1956, eight years after the murder, a jury in Callaway Co. found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was placed in State Hospital Number 1 in Fulton, Mo.

His diagnosis in 1954 was that he was suffering from dementia praecox, commonly known today as schizophrenia.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Arthur “walked away” from the state mental hospital in Fulton, Mo. on August 5th, 1964 and authorities continued to look for him with no success.

Yes, he got away.

He died in 1980 in Joliet, Ill., the same town where his brother Wilbur lived.

Martin City Bank Stands As a Landmark Today

After years as the center of financial transactions in Martin City, the bank folded after the Great Depression damaged its assets. By 1940, the bank building was a business known as “Kelly Mercantile Co.,” complete with groceries and beverages at “cut-rate prices.”

Martin City Bank today, courtesy of Heartland KC
Today, people in Martin City can visit the site of several bank robberies and imagine these various men of criminal means walking up to the doors with hopes of a financial windfall. I can’t help but to think about how lucky Sam Roberts was to have survived three heists where men that callously murdered people pointed guns right at his face.

Sam was one lucky guy.
The Martin City Bank is one of the sole survivors of the old town, and it still stands as a reminder of Martin City’s colorful past. It is now the home of Fezziwig’s and Heartland KC and is open for business.

… just not the banking business.

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