Go ahead, call me a history nerd. It’s okay, I often refer to myself that way. You see, I have a real love for history. Yes, I do possess an ability to recall names and dates, but mostly I think about history in terms of stories; stories of love, passion, murder, intrigue, war and sabotage. History is every movie you’ve ever watched.
With that said, I’ve recently read a couple of books about historical events that have Missouri connections. It’s always fun to see those and then to check out the associated sites and towns.
Last month, I read “Hellhound on his Trail,” a book examining the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It opens with James Earl Ray escaping from the Missouri State Penitentiary, which has been decommissioned and is open for tours.This prison, located in Jefferson City and the oldest West of the Mississippi, has housed many other famous names, including Sonny Liston, who learned to box in the prison, and the gangster known as “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
I just finished “The Assassin’s Accomplice,” the story of Mary Surratt’s involvement in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. So what does a plot hatched in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. have to do with Missouri? Well, it turns out that one of the defense attorneys at the conspiracy trial was none other than Union Gen. Thomas Ewing.
Ewing is best known for issuing Order No. 11 and evicting citizens from several counties along the Missouri border with Kansas. Troops under his command then burned the houses and farm buildings to prevent southern sympathizers from returning. George Caleb Bingham immortalized this event in a painting that hangs at the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia.What would possess Ewing to defend someone accused of murdering his commander-in-chief? Perhaps he just believed in the right to a fair trial for everyone no matter what.
Finally, I was flipping an issue of American Heritage magazine, and noted the burial at Arlington National Cemetery of the last surviving World War I veteran. Cpl. Frank Buckles was a Missouri native who lied about his age to join up. He is now buried about 50 yards from another Missourian, Gen. John Pershing, who commanded the American forces during that war.
You can learn about Gen Pershing at his boyhood home. But you can also learn about what Cpl. Buckles faced during the war at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City AND you’ll find that another prominent Missourian played a role in WWI, President Harry S. Truman. Visit his library and museum to learn more about his life.
My love of history will keep me on the road this summer. There’s an awful lot to check out. No matter what inspires you to get out and go, you can probably find it here.