A Knot Of Blue & Gray: Conflict And Loyalty During The Civil War In Ozark County, Missouri


Embark on a journey with a story that goes back in time to transport you to the heart of the Missouri Ozarks during the Civil War. Hear of the storyteller’s Hawkins ancestors, whose lives were forever changed in a tale of conflict and loyalty.

Every man in this tale, including Washington Hawkins and his cousins, B. F. and Calvin Hawkins, and William Monks grew up together near the North Fork of the White River in Ozark County, MO,  forging bonds that would be tested in the chaos and tragedy of war.

At the outbreak of the war, all the men had to make decisions that would impact their lives for generations to come. William Monks, now a Union Captain, becomes the master of the Hawkin’s family’s fate when his boyhood friendship with the nephews turns to hatred. While Monks and Washington (Wash) enlist and wear the Union blue, his cousins join a group of Confederate guerillas who terrorize Ozark and Howell Counties. Monks’ obsession with B. F. and Calvin Hawkins intensifies when he is given the assignment to eradicate all Confederate “traitors” in the area. Lines between loyalty, kinship, and duty blur when Wash encounters his cousins deep in the woods and hills of Ozark County.

This story of survival and sacrifice unfolds against the backdrop of a nation divided. It is a life-and-death tale of friendships forged and broken, family bonds sorely tested, and definitive actions with harsh consequences that would impact a family forever.

Join us at 2 pm on Saturday, January 27th, at Harlin Museum (405 Worcester, West Plains, MO 65775) to hear Danette House spin the tale of her family’s history–a legacy forged during our country’s greatest divide, deep in the hills of this Ozarks wilderness.

Before the Catron, there was the Grand #OperaHouse…..

Original Opening Ball Invitation; Grand Opera House, West Plains, MO, November 1885

DISCOVER YOUR OZARKS: West Plains Grand Opera House

August 3, 2020

Written & Photographed by V. Warren-Martin

In its illustrious history, West Plains, Missouri has seen many of its citizens come and go—and with every departure, tokens of this notorious Ozarks town have gone along for the journey. As luck would have it, one extremely rare such token found its way back to where it’s origin story began.

It showed up in the museum’s mailbox with a postmark from San Bernadino, CA, where it had ended up in the hands of the Needles Regional Museum in Needles, California, a mere 1,452 miles away from its’ Southern Missouri home. Inside, tucked between two vintage postcards, was an original invitation to an Opening Ball at the Grand Opera House, West Plains, Missouri, dated Friday Evening, November 6, 1885.

In 1885, West Plains was well on its way to becoming one of the storied boomtowns that developed out of the transcontinental US railroad construction of the late 19th Century. The Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railway Company arrived in West Plains in 1883 and brought with it, over the next several years, a deluge of people looking for opportunity and community in the now more readily-accessible midwest.

While many of us who grew up in West Plains are aware of the beautifully restored building widely known as the Catron Opera House, built in 1893 for O.H.P. Catron & Thomas Johnson, there is little knowledge to be found regarding the Grand Opera House.

It is recalled to have been located on the 200 Block of E. Main St., approximately in the current location of the Historic Post Office’s eastside parking lot. During its time, it is said that the building was occupied by a machine shop on the first floor, with the theater-like Opera House space upstairs—later, McFarland’s Undertaking would occupy space in the same building. While it’s highly unlikely that the Grand ever hosted an actual opera performance, as the term opera house was a common name in those days for any large theater-like space where the citizens could gather, it is likely that with the population hub West Plains became in that era, such a space would have been the setting for many a community event, performance, dance, meeting, and celebration as the first such space of its kind in West Plains, MO.

The front cover of the once folded 4 ¾” x 3 ½” ivory invitation, now in two separate pages that both still feature the finest line of gold-gilded splendor along the outside edges of the paper, announces in a red and black mixture of plain font and occasionally elaborate script,

Front Cover of Grand Opera House Opening Ball Invitation













Closeup of front cover shows the printer’s mark for Gazette Steam Print

Below the decorative typeface, in the bottom lefthand corner of the invitation’s cover page in tiny, plain type is the faded printer’s mark:

Gazette Steam Print






Inside Front Cover of Grand Opera House Opening Ball Invitation

The inside pages of the invitation feature, on one side, the names of the multiple committee members who played a part in organizing the ball that November night. Many prominent and long-standing Howell County family names appear on the function’s Committee List of those who came together to provide their neighbors, family, and friends with a night of music, dancing, and merriment:

R.G. Green, J.W. Arbogast, J.W. Simms, J.H. Chandler, J.H. McFarland, J.P. Harlin, J.B. Tillman, W.K.Davis, O.A. Shuttee, T. F. Drew, W.T. Smith, J. Hirsh, JNO. Smith, F.G. Whitney, JAS Lewis, G. Humphreys, Bert Cremeens, W.B. Green, W.T. Harlin, M.B. Chandler, T.P. Woodworth, C.H. Humphreys, F.E. Parker, & J.H. Fredrick.




Inside Back Page of Grand Opera House Opening Ball Invitation

Also included, on the facing inside page, can be found the order in which the many different types of dances planned for the evening would be played:

  1. Quadrille
  2.  Schottische
  3. Quadrille
  4. Varsovienne
  5. Quadrille
  6. Waltz
  7. Schottische
  8. Quadrille
  9. Polka
  10. Quadrille
  11. Waltz
  12. Quadrille
  13. Schottische
  14. Quadrille
  15. Opera Reel
  16. Quadrille
  17. Waltz
  18. Polka
  19. Waltz
  20. Quadrille
  21. Waltz
  22. Quadrille
  23. Schottische
  24. Varsovienne
  25. Quadrille
  26. Home Waltz

A truly intriguing artifact whose overall good condition certainly belies the many years that have passed between the time it was originally printed and now!  And, while we have yet to find any additional records pertaining to the era of activity regarding the Grand Opera House of West Plains, we know there are likely some out there—and we encourage you to let us know what you find!!.

We are certainly grateful for this long-kept and well-preserved piece of history that gives us a glimpse into our town during one of its most abundant periods of growth, promise, and hope. May the West Plains spirit of community that those citizens celebrated 135 years ago remain alive in our hearts, today and always.


Post-publication note:

With the assistance of Sarah Wittenauer over at FGS-Surveyors / Riggs & Associates, Inc., we have found the location of the Grand Opera House platted on a June 1893 map of downtown West Plains, MO, located in the University of Missouri’s Digital Library archive. It shows the building to be located due east of the spring (now located beneath the Historic Post Office building) with a machine shop on the 1st floor and the opera house on the 2nd, across the street, and up from the Commercial Hotel.