Slicker Wars of Missouri – 19th Century Frontier Justice

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1880
Missouri Ozarks

During the mid-1800s, conflicts between outlaws and local vigilante groups spread across the Missouri Ozarks and became known as the Slicker Wars.

The Missouri Ozarks is known for its bluffs, rivers, mountains, forests, and caves. During the 1840s, this made it an ideal location for the hideouts of counterfeiters, thieves, rustlers, and other outlaws. It also was a prime area where Vigilance Committees, referred to as Slickers, practiced their own version of justice.

Why Vigilance Committees Were Called Slickers

Vigilance committees formed throughout the Missouri Ozarks, and spread to several areas within the state. Their purpose was, originally, to punish or get rid of outlaws. They were called Slickers because of the way they administered justice. Some groups were so well organized that they had a captain for their leader, a constitution, and by-laws.

Once they determined that a man was guilty, they would tie him to a large oak tree and whip him with a tough, flexible twig or stem called a withe, usually from a hickory tree. These beatings were known as slickings, thus the name for the group became Slickers.

Outlaws and the Anti-Slicker Movement

Opposing forces of the Slickers formed Anti-Slicker organizations. These groups were made up of the outlaws that the Slickers were trying to oust: rustlers, thieves, and counterfeiters.

Anti-Slicker groups also formed because some of the outlaws became members of the Slickers and used the vigilante-style justice to achieve their own goals. When this happened, instead of the Slickers running the outlaws out of town, they were now aiding them. Anti-Slicker groups formed to counteract this.

19th Century Benton County Feud Spreads Throughout the Ozarks

Not all Slicker wars were contained within a localized area. On Election Day in 1840 near Warsaw, Missouri, a general store owned by a man named Hiram Turk was being used as a local polling place. Another man, named Andy Jones, walked in and got into an arguement with Hiram’s son. The situation escalated and soon the arguement became a full-blown fight involving Turk, his sons, Andy Jones, and his sons. One of the Turk sons, Tom Turk, pulled a knife. The Turks were charged with assault and accused of starting a riot.

One the day that the Turks were to go before the judge, one of the Turk sons threatened an eyewitness, named Abraham Newell, with a gun if he testified. A gun fight broke out and Jim Turk, the one who made the threats, died. Newell left the area.

The Turks knew that one of Andy Jones’ relatives was living in the area. They also knew this relative was a fugitive from Alabama and turned the man in to a bounty hunter who took him back to Alabama. Hiram Turk was charged with kidnapping but the charges didn’t stick because the fugitive was acquitted in Alabama and returned to Missouri. The Jones family vowed revenge so on July 17, 1841, Andy Jones shot and killed Hiram Turk. Andy Jones was charged with murder, but was acquitted. This made the ongoing feud erupt into war.

Residents of two counties chose sides. Those joining the Turk family went about slicking those who were aligned with the Jones family. The Jones group fought back with violence and soon, the vigilante-style frontier justice spread across the Missouri Ozarks. In 1842, the eyewitness to the 1840 fight that started this feud, Abraham Newell, returned to the area. He was arrested for the murder of Jim Turk, but was acquitted. He was killed by members of the Turk faction a few months later. The Turks went after Andy Jones but, instead, nearly killed an innocent farmer.

Missouri Governor Calls State Militia to Restore Order

The local Justice of the Peace in Benton County tried to restore order. He was in charge of a military-type group to stop the war. When that didn’t work, he contacted Missouri Governor Thomas Reynolds for help. Governor Reynolds ended up calling upon the informal state militia to stop the violence. 38 men from the Turk faction were arrested for the incident that nearly killed the farmer. Andy Jones went to Texas but was arrested, found guilty, and hanged for stealing horses. Nathan Turk had followed Jones to Texas and testified against him.

The feud between the Turk and Jones families was over but vigilante justice continued for several years. Slicker and Anti-Slicker groups eventually faded as communities became home to more settlers.

Sources:

  1. Moreland, Fern, editor, et al. Camden County Historian 1985-87: The History of Ha Ha Tonka, Camden County Historical Society
  2. Weiser, Kathy, Legends of America, revised 2009