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Mike Shaw is our local historian and genealogist for the park group. He is an expert on John William "Blind" Boone and is available for speaking engagements. Contact us to have him come and speak at your next function!

Army Bugler is AWOL
Camp Grover, Warrensburg, Mo.

Col. T. T. Crittenden issued orders to affect the arrest of Pvt. Wm. S. Belcher, Bugler, Co I, 7th Missouri State Militia. Pvt. Belcher had been granted a two-week leave-of-absence on May 10, 1864, but failed to return to his post at Camp Grover. Capt. Hamblin of the 7th brings the specific charge that Belcher deserted from Miami, Saline Co., on or about the 15th day of June 1864.

Belcher’s situation was further complicated by his enlistment in the United States Army in St. Louis on May 18 1864. He was assigned to the 23rd Missouri Infantry, Army of the Cumberland and posted at McMinnville Tennessee. Pvt. Belcher writes (dictates, as he cannot write himself) a letter on Aug. 13th, to Capt. Squire Ballew, his commanding officer in Co I, from the Military Prison at Chattanooga, Tenn., that he was arrested on July 11 and has been confined ever since. He blames his predicament on being “…a little in liquer.” He had friends in the 23rd and says they pushed him into joining up with them and tells Ballew that if he can help in any way he, “will be a good boy the balance of my time.”

By September of 1864 Col. Crittenden is writing to Maj. Gen. Frank Blair, Commanding, Army of the Cumberland, asking that Belcher be forwarded to the Provost Marshal for his return to Camp Grover for court-martial proceedings. Pvt. Belcher is returned to Warrensburg in November, pleads guilty to desertion and is sentenced to two months confinement in the guardhouse. His pay had been stopped when he didn’t return from his leave and was not resumed until March of 1865. He was mustered out of service April 3, 1865, as was the entire 7th MSM.

I thought it curious that despite the many references to the father of J. W. Boone being a bugler in the U. S. Army, that no one apparently tried to find his name. From Melissa Fuell’s book of 1915, and various contemporary newspapers, we learn that the father was a bugler and Boone was been born in a camp of Co I, in Miami, Saline Co., on May 17 1864. Co I was indeed stationed there at the beginning of that month. The headquarters and nearly all companies of the 7th were moved from Marshall, Saline Co., to Sedalia, Pettis Co., and finally to Camp Grover in Warrensburg, Johnson Co., in May of 1864. I found another connection to Co I when I searched for Rachel, Boone’s mother.

She described herself as “contraband.” This word had a meaning peculiar to the Civil War. It meant she had been “freed” by members of the militia acting on Federal orders. As commander-in-chief, Pres. Lincoln had along with his Emancipation Proclamation, issued orders to the troops to relieve any Confederates or their sympathizers of their property. This of course, also meant slaves.

In Warsaw, Benton Co., Mo., October 1863 (eight months before Boone’s birth) Pvt. Belcher is promoted to Bugler, he is also reprimanded by Capt. Ballew for “mischief.” And he is fined twenty dollars for losing his bayonet and scabbard. Capt. Ballew’s morning reports say he has enlisted as undercooks two men of African descent (undoubtedly freed slaves). More significantly, some Missouri Militia units are investigated for the murder of civilian residents of Benton Co. One of the men killed was named Carpenter, and according to the 1860 Slave Schedule for Benton Co., Mo., he was a slave owner.

When John W. Boone died in 1927, in Warrensburg, his Death Certificate has information provided by Samuel Hendricks. Hendricks is Boone’s sole surviving stepbrother, and his home was where Boone died. Hendricks says Rachel’s maiden name was Carpenter.

~My sources are the Official Records on microfilm at Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, Mo., and at the Missouri State Archive in Jefferson City, Mo. I am a member of the West-Central Genealogical Society and the Johnson County Historical Society, both in Warrensburg, Mo.

Mike Shaw / March 6, 2008

Blind Boone Concert Company
(Notes on our CD recording of Boone's music)

John W. “Blind” Boone was one of the most prolific performers who has ever lived. His repertoire included, essentially, anything he had ever heard. His genius was manifested in the ability to repeat, after just one hearing, any music presented to him.

Seven piano rolls are the only known recordings of Boone, but reflect a typical Blind Boone Concert Company program, which was founded by, and originally managed by another genius, John B. Lange, Jr. Lange’s genius comes to us through his ability to present Boone to the public, in a manner acceptable to both black and white audiences. Although, Lange was a former slave, and Boone’s mother, Rachel, had escaped slavery, these entrepreneurs became the most financially successful African-Americans in Missouri, and possibly the whole of the country, by presenting a program, which was described as, “put before the public in first class style”, by a Ft. Wayne, Indiana, newspaper, in 1883.

The inclusion of “Dixie”, written by Daniel Decatur Emmet in 1859, and known as the Southern national anthem, is an example of the Boone Co.’s ability to play to it’s audiences. Emmet was the founder of the Virginia Minstrels, the first black-face minstrel company in America. Boone’s concerts always included hymns, and “Nearer, My God to Thee”, words by Sarah F. Adams, 1841, and music by Lowell Mason, 1856, was one of his favorites.

Boone was known to lend his own voice to this song, and it also has a connection to music history, as Lowell Mason was the first music teacher in a public school in America (Boston, 1833). Boone was an accomplished classically trained pianist. His compositions, “Gavotte Chromatics” and “Woodland Murmurs”, demonstrate his love of the classics. Lizst, Gottshalk, Wollenhaupt, and Chopin were well represented at a Boone concert. “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”, words by George W. Johnson and music by James A. Butterfield, pub. in 1866, by Butterfield, was a very popular piece in post-Civil War America. The most important recordings, however, are “Camp Medley No. I”, subtitled, “Strains From the Alleys, and “Rag Medley No. 2”, subtitled, “Strains From the Flat Branch”. These two Boone compositions represent much in the way of music history, in that they contain publishing “firsts”. “Strains from the Alleys” begins with these lyrics:
“I got a chicken on my back,
There’s a bulldog on my track,
But I’ll make it to my shack
‘Fore day.
Oh, Make me a pallet on your floor”

This theme, and even these same words are used extensively in later “blues” lyrics, and while Boone is not likely their originator, he was the first to have them published, by Allen Music Co., Columbia, Mo., 1908. “Strains from the Flat Branch”, which refers to Boone’s home neighborhood in Columbia, Mo., is said, by “The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz”, pub. by Grove Pub., New York, 2001, to be the first publication of a “boogie-woogie”, also pub. by Allen Music, 1909. These two compositions come from the part of a Boone Concert when he would announce he was “putting the cookies on a lower shelf for all to enjoy”, and are often referred to as “ragged-time” pieces.

Ragtime music is commonly recognized to be the beginning of modern popular music in America, and John W. Boone, classical pianist, ragtime pianist, composer, and performer of over 10,000 concerts during a 47-year career, must be considered one of the founding fathers of our modern popular music.

Mike Shaw
Sept. 9, 2006


Visit the State Historical Society of Missouri Website for more information on Boone.


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A note from Mike's desk

Just figured out that Fuell's book about Boone* was published twice. First in 1915 by Burton Pub., Kansas City. Then in 1918 it was published by the Evangel Pub. Society, Robbins, Tennessee.
I only have a copy of the Evangel book, but believe the only difference is the section concerning the death of John Lange, Jr., which occurred in July of 1916. I found two libraries that have copies of the Burton book, so may have to compare the two. The titles are identical, so there can't be much difference between the two books.

*BLIND BOONE, HIS EARLY LIFE AND HIS ACHIEVEMENTS ~ Author Miss Melissa Fuell, B.S.D., Burton Publishing Co., K.C., MO 1915 / Author Mrs. Melissa Fuell-Cuther, B.S.D., Evangel Publishing Co., Robbins, TN 1918

New York concert pianist John Davis's renditions of Boone's music won't be out until late winter or early spring 2008. Just in time though for Boone's 144th birthday anniversary celebration in May. Hopefully we will be able to convince Mr. Davis to come to the Park for the party.

It seems I am close to exhausting what is available about John Boone on the www. There is however a large amount of work by African American authors that was/is mostly ignored by the mainstream white press. I just finished a biography of African-American singer and social activist, E. Azalia Smith Hackley, 1867-1922, by Lisa Pertillar Brevard. Boone is not mentioned in this book, but there are many source materials quoted that should yield more about Boone's prominence. A very interesting book by Hackley is "The Colored Girl Beautiful", pub. 1915, by the Burton Co., Kansas City, Mo. The same company and time as the Fuell book, so they have known each other. Hackley did have many Boone items in her personal collection.

The following is from, "Who's who of the Colored Race, A General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent", Vol. 1, 1915, Edited by Frank Lincoln Mather, Memento Edition, half-Century Anniversary of Negro Freedom in the U. S., Chicago, 1915, p. 71:

"Coffin, Alfred Oscar, contracting agent Blind Boone Concert Co.; born at Pontotoc, Miss., May 14, 1861; son of Samuel and Josephine Maria(Drake) Coffin; prep. edu. Rust Univ., Holly Springs, Miss.; A. B., Fisk Univ., 1885; A. M., Illinois Weslayen Univ., 1888, Ph. D., 1889; one child; Lillian Viola. Professor in Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, Miss., 1887-89; professor of mathematics and modern languages, Wiley Univ., Marshall, Texas, 1889-95; secretary and disbursement agent, Alcorn A & M, 1895-8; principal public schools, San Antonio, Tex., 1898-1901, Kansas City, 1902-09; advance agent for Blind Boone Concert Co., since 1910. Methodist. 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason. Author; 'Origin of the Moundbuilders, " 1889; 'Native Plants of Marshall, Texas,' 1896; 'A Land Without Chimneys, or the Byways of Mexico,' 1897. Address; 1704 E. 10th St., Kansas City, Mo."

As you can see Mr. Coffin was a very educated man, and his employment in the Concert Co., is evidence of the high regard of Lange's management skills. Life on the road seemed to wear everyone out but Boone. By 1920, according to the Federal Census, A. O. Coffin is back teaching school in Texas.

Mike / Mon, 26 Nov 2007

Rachel Gets a New Stone

At the 2004 Blind Boone Music and Cultural Festival in Warrensburg, I met author Madge Harrah. She was in attendance because part of this festival included a book fair and Madge’s book about Mr. Boone had just been published. In the course of our conversation Madge mentioned that she had tried to find the grave of Rachel Hendrick, John W. Boone’s mother.

Image of "Mrs. Rachel Hendrix", from Melissa Fuell's book entitled "Blind Boone, His Early Life and His Achievements".

Rachel Hendrick died in Warrensburg in January of 1901 and her body interred at Warrensburg’s Sunset Hill Cemetery. When Madge asked the caretaker at Sunset Hill about the location of the Hendrick family plot, #847, she was told those graves were washed away in a flood. It occurred to me a few weeks later that, true to its name, Sunset Hill Cemetery is on top of a hill and I wondered how could such a grave-robbing flood occur on top of that hill?

The city of Warrensburg has owned this cemetery for several years, decades in fact. In 1956 the city government had a survey done of the cemetery. This survey resulted in a large map, copies of which are at the caretakers office and the Johnson County Historical Society’s Mary Miller Smiser Library. I decided to try to find the Hendrick family plot by looking for Lot #847 on this map. To my surprise that number does not appear on this official map. In fact, several numbered plots containing eight graves each do not appear on the map. Sunset Hill Cemetery was until the 1960's a segregated cemetery, so it has a “colored” section.

The missing grave numbers are all from this part of the cemetery. I have no explanation for this and genealogists don’t make guesses or assumptions. The Register of Graves for Sunset Hill says eight members of the Hendrick family were buried in Lot #847 over the course of a few years. Rachel was the first in 1901 followed by her widowed husband Harrison in 1904. He had been severely burned in a house fire in 1903. This fire also destroyed much in the way of Boone’s personal memorabilia that he had given to his mother. The other six burials are Rachel’s other son, Edward/Wyatt, and her Hendrick stepchildren. The only gravestones evident are for Rachel and Commodore Hendrick.

Yes, although the people who take care of Sunset Hill will say the graves are not there, they maintain those same graves. Sunset Hill is by the way a very well maintained cemetery. The flood story does have some credence. The “colored” section is down the hill to the south where the cemetery meets what is known as Cave Hollow Park in Warrensburg. This Park begins as a steep sandstone walled ravine covered in brush and heavily wooded. The very southern edge of the cemetery contains small ravines that run into the Cave Hollow ravine. The Hendrick family plot sits at the very edge of one of these cuts into the cemetery, so it may be possible that some part of that plot was lost into the ravine.

When I found Rachel’s gravestone the lettering was rather faint and there was a crack at the top of the stone. In the four years since I first saw the stone the crack has grown considerably. I decided to try to raise enough money to place a new stone at her grave. My mentor at the West Central Genealogical Society in Warrensburg, eminent genealogist Betty Williams, upon hearing of this idea immediately wrote a check. At John Boone’s 144th birthday celebration at Blind Boone Park in May of 2008, donations were made by the attendees. Sandy and Mark Irle made a sizable donation and my wife, Nancy, and I made up the remainder required to have a new stone lettered and set at Rachel’s grave.

Dan Cast of Cast & Son Funeral Home in Holden, Mo., set Rachel’s new stone in September of 2008, just in time for her inclusion in the Genealogical Society’s annual Cemetery Walk. It’s not easy to make an old construction worker cry, but Dan almost got the job done. After giving us a sizable discount he asked if we weren’t going to put on the stone that Rachel was the mother of the famous Blind Boone. I told him we hadn’t raised enough money for that so he replied that he would do that at his expense.

Thanks and much gratitude to Dan Cast. At the Oct. 12th, 2008 Cemetery Walk a young local woman of color portrayed Rachel Hendrick and for the first time in several decades gave voice to her story. A loving mother who saw hope in blindness.

Mike Shaw
November 27, 2008


Boone Theater Visit, Nov. 14, 2008

Although John W.(Willie) Boone lived as a child in Warrensburg, Mo., his adult life (when not on the road) was spent in Columbia, Mo. His wife Eugenia Lange, was born there in 1868. John and Eugenia married in Columbia in1889 and moved into a house at 10 North Fourth Street that had been built by Eugenia’s brother, Thaddeus Lange. This was the Boone’s home for the remainder of their lives.

Click on this photo to link to John Davis's website!

In 2000, about the same time Sandy Irle was voicing her ideas about renovating a park in Warrensburg, the City of Columbia became the owner of the John and Eugenia Boone home. The house of course is in need of repair and Columbia civic leaders are committed to that project. They have set aside about $250,000.00 as seed money with the intention of creating a museum in the house. The house has a new roof, but termite eradication has (along with the termites) caused much damage to the interior. There is a private fund-raising effort spearheaded by Lucille Salerno of the Blind Boone Early Jazz and Ragtime Festival.

On Nov. 14th, 2008, concert pianist John Davis was invited to Columbia to perform his masterful renditions of Blind Boone compositions at a concert at Jesse Hall on the campus of the University of Missouri. The proceeds of this concert are to benefit the Boone home. I volunteered to meet John at the Kansas City airport and give him a ride to Columbia, but first we had something to do in Kansas City.

In 1929 the Rialto Theater building (also known as the Highland Gardens) was being converted to a “talking picture house.” This building at the southeast cornaer18th Street & Highland Avenue, is located in the heart of Kansas City’s Jazz District and was formerly the home of Musicians Union Local #624. At that time Local #624 was the union for black musicians in KC and they were the owners of the building. The Sept. 14, 1929, edition of the Pittsburgh Courier contains an article, which says that a “Mrs. Christina Greer of Kansas City, Mo., made the winning suggestion to rename the building, Boone Theater, in honor of the late Blind Boone, a native Missourian who won national fame as a musician.” So Kansas City’s jazz musicians were inspired enough by Mr. Boone to name their former home in his honor. Local #624 included talents such as Walter Page, Bennie Moten and Bill “Count” Basie.

The Boone Theater is no longer in use, but according to Denise Gilmore, Director of the Jazz District Renovation Group, it is scheduled for renovation. As with the Boone home in Columbia, money is the main obstacle. On Friday, Nov. 14, John Davis and I were allowed to visit the interior of the Boone Theater. I don’t know why for sure, it just seemed like something that needed to be done. Ms. Gilmore made arrangements with a gentleman to open the door to the building. We expected someone with a key, but instead the man had two pry bars. After some tugging and coaxing the door sort of opened, but the entrance was blocked with debris of apparently various origins. We managed to climb over the stuff and looked around inside.

Ms. Gilmore had warned us that this building was in need of repair. The Boone home in Columbia will be a walk in the park compared to the issues facing that old building in Kansas City. Many of my working years were spent as a carpenter. I remember a man I was working for answered a question posed by the owner of a particular building by saying, “We can fix anything in the building. How much money do you have?” The roof not only leaks rain, but also leaks daylight. The tin ceiling is falling down, but some of the original plasterwork is still visible. Hanging by one corner, near the end of the building is a great white canvass sheet that was evidently used as the screen for the motion picture displays. There was no stage apparent, and no evidence of a stage, except a kind of balcony around the walls behind what is left of the canvass sheet.

Scattered among the debris are several rows of iron-framed wooden seats that are surely from the period of the 1920-30s. The floor of the building is concrete and the walls are masonry so there are no termite issues. However if the roof isn’t fixed soon the framing lumber that supports it will begin to fall and a whole new set of even more expensive repairs will have to be done. I don’t know how far down the list that building is concerning renovation, but its future seems very bleak at this time.

~A note from Sandy Irle: If anyone is interested in working toward renovation of this building or has a thought toward saving anything that might still be repairable inside (such as the seats), please call me at (660) 747-3268. I always hold the good thought!







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