Trail of Tears, Wild Bill Hickok Among Springfield Stories Captured During C-SPAN Filming

Nov 10, 2017

Neal Lopinot is pointing to artifacts associated with Delaware Indian Village, often called Delaware Town, that date back to the 1820s. 

“These are British gun flints, pipe fragments, square nails, scissors.  This is probably part of a stove; from a stove. This is probably part of a utensil; spoon/knife,” he says.

Through a treaty, a group of Delaware moved from Indiana to southwest Missouri and for a short time occupied land along the James River Basin and part of what would later become Springfield.  

“Basically a lot of these ceramics are what you would find on a Euro-American site. And the Delaware had been in contact with Euro-Americans for 200 plus years by the time they got to the Springfield area.”

Lopinot holds up a map of Delaware Town
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

Lopinot is director of Missouri State University’s Center for Archaeological Research (CAR). 12 years ago, the center concluded its fifth and final dig session at the Delaware site that produced these artifacts. Today, they’re on display within a series of picture-style frames behind thin glass walls. One by one, Lopinot picks up a frame and holds it up to a video camera operated by Scott Hummelsheim, a producer/video journalist with the C-SPAN Cities Tour. He’s part of the team that traveled to Springfield this week to document the region’s history, including early settlers like the Delaware.

While the Delaware occupied parts of this land, Lopinot says many Cherokee are known to have passed through the area in the late 1930s along the northern route of the Trail of Tears.

“They camped outside of Springfield and the groups that came through probably averaged around a thousand to twelve hundred Cherokee, and I believe there were 12 groups that came through on the northern route,” says Lopinot.

Lopinot’s interview, along with that of other local historians, will be featured across two segments; authors and literary programming on Book TV (C-SPAN2) and Springfield history programming on American History TV (C-SPAN3) on January 6 and 7.

The C-SPAN Cities Tour was created in 2011, according to Coordinating Producer Debbie Lamb, who spoke at a kickoff reception in Springfield Monday.

Deborah Lamb, C-SPAN Cities Tour coordinating producer, speaking at Monday's kickoff event.
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

“The goal of the Cities Tour is really to embed ourselves in a city and the city gets to tell its story to our national audience,” says Lamb. 

She added, “Those that we interview are telling your story, it’s not us. So we think that’s really valuable for our national audience. So we stay out of the way, just like C-SPAN does.”

The Cities Tour programming is a weekend compliment to the hours of political coverage C-SPAN offers during the week. The private, nonprofit channel, which debuted in 1979, archives all of its content. According to Lamb, the network’s website now holds over 200,000 hours of content.

“He was known as the proverbial Wild West lawman but still had the hint of being a criminal himself which is a pretty predominant theme,” explains archivist Jami Lewis with the State Historical Society of Missouri on a separate shoot this week.

She's describing James Butler Hickok, known as Wild Bill Hickok, a former Union officer who resided in Springfield for a time after the Civil War. Had it not been for a Harper’s Monthly publication in 1867 detailing his killing of Davis Tutt, few would have ever learned about Hickok, according to Lewis.

Story has it that Tutt, an ex-Confederate, was shot just off the downtown square for wearing a watch he had won off of Hickok in a poker game.

“Tutt came walking up College Street, came out of a livery stable, and had the watch on and – then again various version of the story – some say that Hickok yelled at Tutt – “I don’t you not to come out with my watch on,” – some of the depositions state that he just drew and fired,” said Lewis.

Hummelsheim and Lewis reviewing Wild Bill Hickock case files in the Greene County Archives.
Credit Bailey Vassalli / KSMU

The Harper’s Monthly article lays claim that the incident was the first quick draw shootout, although it’s unclear if Tutt actually reached for or fired a weapon.  

“You could argue that the dime novel phenomenon came out of these type of publications. Because within a few years everybody’s all over Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill and others, so this little article right here is what tipped the scales.”

Seeing as there were several witnesses to the shooting, Hickok turned himself in. But the court would acquit him of murder about a week later. According to Lewis, it’s likely to have been an unfair trial, as the judge, jury and defense attorney were all former Unionists. In post-Civil War times, she says, ex-Confederates were forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the government. If not, they were essentially stripped of any rights, such as voting or serving on a jury. Lewis says during Hickok’s trial, officials were unable to find any ex-Confederates who had signed an oath to serve as a juror.

Hickok was not viewed favorably in town after the shooting, and would later lose by a landslide in his quest to become city marshal. At that point, According to Lewis, he ventured west.

For the filming with C-SPAN, Lewis shared numerous documents detailing the court proceeding, including the original indictment charging Hickok.

Producers also this week learned about Route 66, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, visited the NRA Sporting Arms Museum and took a driving tour of Springfield. Upon airing, the episodes will be archived through C-SPAN’s Cities Tour page.

Through cable provider Mediacom, C-SPAN is available in Springfield on channel 97 or 82-3, C-SPAN2 on 87 or 82-21, and C-SPAN3 on 88 or 82-13.

Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu