THE SLICKER WAR


[The following article originally appeared as the June, 2006, installment of "Lake Stories by Michael Gillespie" in the Lake of the Ozarks Business Journal.]

Ozark traditions seemed to mirror those of Appalachia, whether in music, crafts, or...feuds. West Virginia had its Hatfields and McCoys; Benton County, Missouri, featured the Turks and the Joneses. Their feud, and its aftermath, lasted about twelve years. It started as a family affair, but soon drew in many others. It spread across county lines and became something akin to a vigilante movement. It was known, in fine Ozark style, as the Slicker War.

The Turks and the Joneses both came to Missouri from Tennessee and Kentucky. They families had settled in Benton County by the 1830s. The Turks owned a store and saloon south of Warsaw. Old Colonel Hiram Turk and his three boys were said to be well educated and courteous, but with a disposition to fight at the drop of a hat. The Jones boys, four of them, lived along the Pomme de Terre River, and were fond of horse racing, gambling, and counterfeiting - though not necessarily in that order.

The clash began, it is said, on election day of 1840. The polling place was the Turk store. Andy Jones and Jim Turk got into a fight at the store, started by a dispute over one or all of the Jones' family habits. The day's entertainment ended in a draw, though not before Hiram and all the Turk boys had entered the fray. Brother Tom had even introduced a knife into the contest. The Turks were charged with assault and starting a riot. A neighbor, Abraham Nowell, was to be a witness against them. That was Newell's first mistake.

On the day of the trial, Jim Turk stopped Newell at a creek ford and announced at gunpoint that he was going to take Newell down a notch and prevent him from testifying. But Newell got the drop on Turk and shot him dead. Newell wisely sought other horizons.

Sometime later, a bounty hunter came looking for a fugitive from Alabama. The fugitive, one James Morton, was indeed living in the area, married and peaceable. He had fled to Missouri because he was related to the Joneses. The Benton County sheriff wouldn't help the bounty hunter, but the Turk family was more than happy to put away any kin of the Jones family. Morton was abducted by the Turks and their bounty hunter friend and taken back to Alabama to face murder charges, for which he was acquitted.

For his part in the forcible extradition, old Hiram Turk was charged in Benton County with kidnapping, but the indictment was quashed. The vengeful Jones clan, together with Morton's friends, swore to do something about Colonel Turk. And they did. The old man was shot and killed, supposedly by Andy Jones, on July 17, 1841. Jones was charged, and acquitted. It was the beginning of many court actions against both sides. Nearly all of them ended in acquittals or dropped charges.

Now came the Turks' turn. They announced publicly that they and their friends were going to "drive out horse thieves, counterfeiters, and murderers from the country" - meaning, of course, the Joneses. Folks in Benton and surrounding counties began to take sides. Typically, the Turk riders - for these groups had escalated into vigilante posses - would pay an unwelcomed visit to a Jones ally. They'd tie him to a tree and proceed to whip him with hickory switches. These were bloody assaults known as "slickings." Sometimes the victim died of his wounds; more often he survived, but with a painful and passionate desire to leave the area for good. The Jones clan, and friends, responded in kind. Pretty soon the area was at the mercy of those allied with the Turks, the "Slickers," and those siding with the Joneses, the "anti-Slickers."

In April, 1842, Abraham Newell had returned to Benton County - his second mistake. He was tried for the murder of Jim Turk, and, of course, acquitted. But the Slickers had their own system of justice. They shot Newell in October, 1841. Then the Slickers went on a wild rampage to find Andy Jones. In their fury they nearly killed a hapless farmer named Samuel Yates. Finally, the governor called out the militia to put an end to the lawlessness. Thirty-eight Slickers, some of them quite prominent Warsaw men, were charged with the Yates beating. All but one was acquitted. The Turk boys were also charged, but the case never went to trial.

Slowly the situation unraveled. One of the Turk boys - big, strapping Tom Turk, the leader of the Slickers - was shot dead by one of his own vigilante members. Andy Jones fled to Texas, only to be hung for stealing horses. A key witness against him was Nathan Turk, who had followed Jones there. Nathan Turk was killed, in turn, in a Louisiana gunfight. Eventually all the Joneses fled the area. Ma Turk, said to be a grieving mother, took her youngest son and returned to Tennessee. (Other accounts paint her as vengeful matriarch who led some of the more violent Slicker raids, until she was killed by a fall from her horse.)

The wild, revenge-driven acts of frontier justice that had been triggered by the Slicker War spread across much of the Missouri Ozarks. Though the Turks and the Joneses were either dead or gone, hard feelings and occasional random acts of violence perpetrated by their former compatriots continued for more than a decade. Only the passage of time, and a new wave of settlers, put an end to the Slicker War.

© 2006 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.

Google