In the darkness of a summer night in August, 1932, Orville Robinson and Elmer Martin drove into Dent County headed for the Bank of Lenox. The Missouri State Highway Commission map of the State Road System only shows one state road into Lenox- a narrow gravel road connecting the community to Salem, 12 miles to the east. The men didn’t escape the attention of Jack Johnson, who became suspicious of their intentions when they parked about 200 yards from the Bank of Lenox. Johnson awoke the bank cashier, Fount Carney, who at once summoned neighbors. When Carney and his posse approached the bank they interrupted Robinson & Martin who were drilling the safe. The bandits made a break for the back door and sped away towards Salem in their automobile with the posse on their heels. Carney and crew were armed with shotguns and pistols and fired a number of shots, three of which hit the escaping auto. The posse may have been surprised when the bandits tossed a stick of dynamite to the side of the road but it didn’t shake them off the trail of their prey. The chase ended with the capture and arrest of Robinson and Martin in Salem, the county seat. That night’s events are not the most interesting happening in the Bank of Lenox’s history.
The brick building on the side of the road as you approach the C Highway junction at Lenox first caught my eye in 2014. In a hurried rush, I made a mental note to return to take pictures of the building. I made that same mental note the next few times that I passed through, always in a hurry, and a little leery of the large “junction” dogs who patrol the area, reminiscent of Jack Johnson who protected his territory all those years ago. The building shot up to the top half of my priority list August, 2016 (84 years after the bandits visited) when I came across documentation of the building in a historic inventory survey. The document revealed that the building was the former Bank of Lenox and that its entrance originally faced west. A change in the road alignment during the building’s history prompted the proprietor to change the main entrance to the east side of the building facing the new road. The surveyor had further described important features of the building: “There is a list of directors and stockholders in a cement plaque along the front of the building; one name has been chiseled out.” The description continued: “A local resident told the researchers that the obliterated individual was an embezzler, who had a great deal to do with some monetary troubles that plagued the bank in the 1930’s.” A picture accompanied the narrative.
I was hooked from the second that I saw that picture. If I could have ran out the door to make a “flying trip” (as my grandmother and rural newspaper editors used to say) to Lenox I would have. Instead, the curious plaque took up residence in my head and I couldn’t seem to shake it- much like Robinson and Martin’s failed attempts to shake their posse. On a glorious late summer Saturday in September, I returned to the Bank of Lenox. As I got out my car to cross the highway to what is now the rear of the bank building I realized that I had been holding my breath- hoping that the plaque was still there and had not succumbed to vandalism since it had been photographed in 1980. I fought my way through Mother Nature’s thick growth and carefully picked my footing as I approached the original front of the structure. As I turned the corner, onto a buckled concrete sidewalk that fronted the former bank, I saw the plaque. Then I saw another, and yet another. Gray cinder blocks filled in two windows and the doorway- a sharp contrast to the red fired brick. Centered above the doorway, partially obscured by a scrub growth tree, I could make out the words “Bank of Lenox”. My historic treasure hunt had been a success! But, what did the additional plaques document?
Closer examination revealed the names of members of the building committee and original stock holders. Only one name had been stamped into all three pieces of the concrete tributes- and it had been chiseled out of each and every one of them. The initials were hard to make out, but the chisel had not erased Mr. Young’s last name.
Who is Mr. Young and why did at least one individual in Lenox try to erase him from the history of the bank?
Newspaper archives reveal that for at least five years, 1909-1914, Mr. E.E. (Elbert Edwin) Young was a railroad promoter and the impetus of the Missouri, Inland & Southern Railroad. March, 1909 Young met with the Rolla Commercial Club to pitch an electric railroad line from Rolla to Cabool, via Licking and Houston. He relayed that the northwest company that he represented would outlay $250,000 and he himself would match that amount, provided that the four towns and territories in between put in an additional $250,000. An article on page 5 of the Rolla Herald dated March 11, 1909 states:
“…his [E.E. Young] heart and his hope has never slackened for the opening up and development of his old home county of Texas.”
The proposed M, I & S electric short line would have connected Lecoma, Victor, Lenox, and Maples before continuing south to Raymondville and Houston after passing through Licking. These communities and their citizens pinned their hopes and dreams on Young and his promise of their towns becoming railroad towns. Subscriptions (donations and promises of funding) rolled in. Licking and Houston both had celebrations of their upcoming future glory days- businesses and school closed early, musicians paraded, and Young delivered rousing speeches. The first hint of trouble came later that year, in August. After promising that on the condition of subscriptions a team would leave Licking July 10th to extend the survey to Raymondville, the Rolla Times reported that they had received a letter from Young stating that the road had not been abandoned and the delay was because of an illness. He planned to push forward as soon as he recovered.
The following July, 1910, Young’s railroad company had raised at least $30,000 by selling lots along the proposed line in Licking. Young also planned to sell lots in Anutt and Lenox, and other points. The Houston Herald updated residents of progress in September and November:
“Mr. Young informed us that he was confidently sure that this railroad will be built, that he has about nine miles of the road graded and ready for the ties and steel between Rolla and Licking.”
“Work is progressing nicely, about twelve miles of roadbed is now ready for the ties, concrete culverts have been put in and a force of men are working every day in all departments pushing this enterprise to the front.”
The upbeat tone of Young’s progress took a turn in December of that year when the Salem Bulletin revealed that he had been convicted by a jury of forging a deed to 1,700 acres of Dent county land. The jury had sentenced him to ten months in county jail. The Bulletin also alluded to the fact that a witness had been threatened. Young’s attorney appealed the case and Young remained a free man.
Just days later, December 17, the St. Louis Star and Times reprinted a glowing mention of Young saying:
“Down at Rolla is the youngest railroad president in America. His name is E.E. Young and he is 27 years of age. He is president and general manager of an eighty-mile road now being built, and this is not his first whirl in matters of high finance. He is said to be an experienced promoter and has a faculty for “making good”- a mighty good habit to carry around.” -Carthage Press
1911 began with more promises, and stalling, from Young. In a letter to The Houston Herald he states that he is preparing for a rush of work once the “weather settles in the spring”. February found him promising in the Rolla Herald that grading of the road would start and that the road to either Raymondville or Houston would be completed before 1912. In March of that year Young and an associate Bode Payne were arrested on counterfeiting charges. Less than two weeks later Young is yet again promising that the road to Raymondville would be built. The end of March finds Young free on bond. By May, 1911 Young was rebranding his railroad, now officially the Missouri, Arkansas, & Gulf Railroad and intended to be a steam line instead of the first proposed electric line. The Houston Herald publishes an article from the Rolla Herald:
“The Missouri, Arkansas, & Gulf Ry. is to be nicknamed as the ‘Ozark Short Line.’ Not that the line is short, but it means a short line to southern Missouri.
A number of men with teams and graders have been busy since Monday last week laying out terminals on the eleven acre tract of land belonging to D.E. Cowan, west of Rolla. They have also graded a spur to Mr. Cowan’s fire clay mine. It is not a question any longer of the road going to be built, they are building it.”
Progress was visible, and celebrated September 14, 1911 in Houston. The Houston Herald published the following September 21:
“Last Thursday was a gala day for Houston. It was an epoch in the history of our town. It was the beginning of a great enterprise which our people earnestly hope will culminate in connecting our town with the outside world by rail, bringing us in touch with the market and causing great development of the resources of this splendid part of Missouri.
The first shovelful of dirt was thrown at the Houston end of the railroad, the Ozark Short Line, which is to connect Houston and Licking to the Frisco road at Rolla.”
The Houston Herald reported November 23 that Drs. Jno. L. Short and I.M. Owens had been appointed as “chief surgeons and physicians of the road” and that they would be soon scouting the line for a location to construct a hospital. They also purchased $2,000 of the company’s preferred stock. That very same issue also notes that Young and his attorneys had won his case at the Missouri Supreme Court. The charges of the forged deed had been reversed and Young was discharged. A week later, November 30, 1911, the Houston Herald republished that the counterfeiting charges against Young and Payne had been dismissed at the United States District Court in Saint Louis.
“The case of the United States vs. E.E. Young, Bode Payne, and C. H. Evers, charged with counterfeiting were dismissed by Judge Dyer in the U.S. District court in St. Louis Monday. Young, Payne, and Evers were charged with making and circulating $5 notes on the Beloit, Kan., National Bank. The case was dismissed on a demurrer filed by defendants’ attorneys.” —Rolla Times
Although I was unable to pin down the organization date of the Bank of Lenox, the Rolla Herald detailed the beginning of the Citizens Bank of Lecoma in the January 12, 1912 edition. The Board of Directors was listed as Dr. S.F. Arthur, E.G. Comstock, Frank Adam, T.J. Graham, D.K. Chamberlain, Karl Kimmel, and E.E. Young. The newspaper article attributed the bank organization as a result of the proposed railroad.
“With the Missouri, Arkansas & Gulf Railroad being built into Lecoma, the citizens of that neighborhood realize that Lecoma will have a great future before it.”
That winter, in November, Young was arrested at Saint Louis and charged with forging Karl Kimmel’s name on a $100 note. Young’s troubles deepened midway through December when a temporary injunction against assignment or collection of a $28,000 note that Young had sold was granted. The signers of the note protested on the allegation of fraud. A week after the injunction was granted Young was convicted of forgery in the Kimmel case and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary at Jefferson City. He was transferred to the prison May, 1913. In September 1914, after serving his sentence he was transferred to Dent county to await charges on the $28,000 fraud. The Pulaski County Democrat republished a surprising twist, and a new company name, September 10, 1914:
“E.E. Young, promoter of the Missouri Southern Railroad from Rolla to Houston, broke jail here a short time after midnight Tuesday night. Young just recently served a term in the penitentiary from Phelps county on a charge of forgery and when his time was out a short time ago he was brought to Salem on a charge of forgery in three different indictments and was being held here for trial. While Young was promoting his railroad three years ago he forged three notes aggregating about $22,000 to J.J. Cope of this city, using the name of various parties along the right of way of the proposed road. Young admitted the forgeries and had sought vainly to get a parole and became desperate when turned down and broke jail as a last resort. Sheriff Gibbs has as yet received no clew as to his whereabouts.” – Salem Monitor
I was unable to definitively track Young’s movements after escaping county lockup. It appears that he may also served time in the Ohio State Penitentiary. No matter his location, in March 1917, his story takes yet another unexpected turn. The Houston Herald reprinted a news item from the West Plains Gazette:
“The Supreme Court of Missouri has handed down a decision in the case of F.W. Webb, J. Ellis Walker, E.W. Walker, B.H. Rucker, Gilbert Lay, E.C. Comstock, J.A. Frank, Carl Kemmel, Wm. Romstedt and T.J. Graham, against J.J. Cope, reversing the judgment of the trial court and deciding in favor of the plaintiffs.
This case was an injunction suit brought by the plaintiffs against J.J. Cope to enjoin him from selling or collecting a note signed by said plaintiffs for the sum of $28,000. The note had been signed by F.W. Webb, a Rolla banker, B.H. Rucker, postmaster of Rolla, and the other parties for the purpose of financing the Missouri, Arkansas and Gulf railroad, better known as the Ozark Short Line.
E.E. Young, promoter of the road, in some way secured the possession of this note. He sold the note to J.J. Cope, an attorney of Salem, Mo. The note originally was attached to a contract for which the money should be used. When the signers learned Young had sold the note they brought the suit against Cope and asked a court injunction enjoining the sale or collection of the note. Cope claimed he was an innocent purchaser.
The suit was originally was filed in the Phelps county circuit court at Rolla, but a change of venue was asked and the case sent to Howell county on a change of venue. A judgment was rendered by Judge Evans in favor of Cope and against the backers of the railroad. From this judgment an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which has reversed the verdict of the trial court and remanded the case with directions.
With these legal entanglements out of the way, the promoters of the Ozark Short Line will be in position to resume the work of building the road through Phelps, Dent and Texas counties to a junction with the Frisco at some point in Howell county.
The road originally was promoted by E.E. Young, a young man of Salem, Mo., with an unlimited amount of nerve and a shady reputation. Young made things hum. He secured all the right of way from Rolla to Licking, graded eight or ten miles of the road, and put down a part of the track. It began to look as through the iron horse soon would be wending its way down into Texas county.
But the bubble bursted when Young was arrested for forgery. He was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary. He was also charged with passing counterfeit money and troubles came thick and fast. Then Attorney Cope turned up with the note given by the backers of the road and there was more trouble.”
It appears that this brought an end to Young’s legal problems in the vicinity of his proposed railroad line. He moved to Saint Louis and returned to Licking for a visit later that same year, September, 1917. The Houston Herald printed an item from the Licking News:
“E.E. Young came out from St. Louis last Monday to renew old acquaintances and attend to business matters here. Elbert is looking fine and dandy and we are glad to see him again. He left Tuesday, visiting near Maples and Lenox.”
Elbert Edwin Young died May 15th, 1957 in Pasadena, Texas, a railroad town.
The majority of communities on the proposed line never realized a prosperous future and most barely register on the map today, many being listed as “populated places” or “unincorporated communities”.
Young’s proposed short line exists to this day in the street names of Rolla. Just below 18th Street, the next three roads to the south are Missouri, Ozark, and Gulf Avenues.
Planning to explore the communities along Young’s proposed railroad? I recommend lodging in Rolla (Phelps County) or either Licking or Houston (Texas County). If staying in Rolla don’t miss a chance to eat at local favorite Alex’s Pizza in the historic downtown. While in Texas County, plan time to trout fish at nearby Montauk State Park and ride in a Model A at Bo’s Hollow, just outside of Montauk. If you are near Houston add a trip to Piney River Brewing Company to your list of things to do and catch a movie at the Drive-In.