To continue our conversation about Neosho street names and the people behind them, we find a real goodie bag in the area around Crowder College.
That’s because when Camp Crowder was built during World War II, the camp streets were named after famous people associated with Missouri in one fashion or another, as well as Southwest Missourians who had died during the First World War, and the families who were displaced when the camp was built.
The World War II camp, in its original form and purpose at least, is long gone, but the streets – many of which are abandoned and nearly overgrown with brush – yet exist.
Some are not abandoned at all but, to the contrary, are still busy thoroughfares. Pick almost any street at random in that area and you’ll find an interesting person there.
So let’s talk about Alexander William Doniphan.
Doniphan Drive is the road that runs north-south in front of Crowder College. It starts at Landis Road and continues south and southwest, merging with D Highway at the four-way stop near Crowder before continuing south another 3/4-mile or so to the T-intersection where D turns east.
Doniphan – lawyer, soldier, political figure – was born July 9, 1808, in Kentucky, where his father had been a friend of Daniel Boone. Shortly after admittance to the bar in 1830, Doniphan moved to Lexington, Mo., and opened a successful law practice, starting his lifelong career as a defense attorney.
Three years later he moved his practice to Liberty, Mo., and became friends with lawyer, soldier, politician David Rice Atchison (for whom Atchison, Kan., is named) and joined the local militia company.
When people of the Mormon faith were being expelled from Jackson County due to a general fear of their religious beliefs and growing control of local politics, the church hired Doniphan and Atchison, among others, to represent them in court. They lost.
Fast forward five years to 1838. Trouble breaks out again between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri. Doniphan was by this time a general in the Missouri Militia, a part-time position. He split his time between that, his law practice, and his service as a state representative, having been elected in 1836.
He belonged to the Whig Party, a more moderate precursor to the Republican Party. The year he was elected, Doniphan pushed through legislation that established Caldwell County as a Mormon settlement, where they could practice their faith in peace and not butt heads with their suspicious neighbors.
However, more and more Mormons began pouring into Missouri and they established religious settlements outside of Caldwell County, which Doniphan and others viewed as a violation of the compromise. Fighting inevitably broke out, with both sides doing violence to the other, including burning and pillaging and eventually armed conflict.
The state militia was initially called out to keep the peace by standing between both sides, but then Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an order to either exterminate the Mormons or drive them from the state. This resulted in the seige and surrender of the Mormon Church capital of Far West, in Caldwell County.
The state militia commander, Maj. General Samuel Lucas, ordered Doniphan to execute the Mormon leaders, including Joseph Smith, following a court martial. Doniphan refused.
“It is cold-blooded murder,” Doniphan told Lucas. “I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock, and if you execute those men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God!”
Smith and the other Mormon leaders were spared, though charged with treason and other criminal acts before a civilian court of inquiry, during which time Smith escaped. He owed his life to Doniphan. The other accused were aquitted, with Doniphan serving as their legal counsel. The Mormons were forced to evacuate Missouri for good within months, however.
Doniphan went on to serve as a colonel of Missouri volunteers during the American-Mexican War of 1846-48, leading troops in the Battle of El Brazito and the Battle of the Sacramento River.
After the war, Doniphan continued his successful law practice and helped establish William Jewell College in Liberty.
Just before the War Between the States, Doniphan did what he could to keep Missouri out of war, and to avoid war altogether, as a delegate to both the Missouri Secession Convention and the Washington Peace Conference.
Doniphan was a slave owner,and had no faith in newly elected U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, but was opposed to the break-up of the Union, and knew that war would be a calamity. After war came, he turned down appointments to both the pro-Southern Missouri State Guard and the Federal Army. He spent the war as a civilian in St. Louis.
After the war, he and his wife moved to Richmond, Mo., where he continued his law practice and established a bank, serving as its president.
Alexander William Doniphan died on August 8, 1887, in Richmond, Mo., where a statue now stands of him. And in Neosho, at least, one can find a street named for him.
(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)