City Hall, including the police and fire stations, circa 1900.

Marshal Leonard Rich honored 120 years after he died in the line of duty

Webb City Police Chief Don Melton is placing a memorial to Marshal Leonard S. Rich, who died in the line of duty 120 years ago today, Aug. 10, 1902. He located the accompanying article, which tells how Rich was killed.

In the line of duty


This article, by Priscilla Brown, is reprinted from the Feb. 28, 2014, issue of the Webb City Sentinel.

Today Webb City is one of the most desirable places in Southwest Missouri to live. The kind of place where a family feels safe and can raise their children with a strong sense of community. But it hasn’t always been that way; like freedom doesn’t come free, neither does law and order.

After the Civil War and in the years following, Southwest Missouri was open country with few lawmen. Gangs like the James and Younger Brothers ran rampant. Roy Daugherty a member of the famed Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch robbed banks in Asbury and Neosho before being killed in a shootout with Joplin police. We were west of the Mississippi, and in those days anything west of the Mississippi was the Wild West.

By the turn of the 20th century, Webb City had gone from a mining camp to being part of the lead and zinc capital of the world. Along with the miners came their families and a need for schools and businesses. The old and rowdy ways no longer had a place among polite society. People wanted law and order.

Marshal Leonard S. Rich was a Webb City lawman dedicated to bringing law and order to his town. On the Saturday night of Aug. 10, 1902, he was responding to a disturbance inside Lizzie Reed’s Resort.

The trouble was between the owner, Lizzie, and Jim Gideon. The resort was a two-story building on Main Street, with a parlor and girls upstairs. It seems Gideon had been giving some of the girls a bad time. Lizzie wanted him to take his gang and go down stairs, but he refused.

The Gideon brothers, Joe and Jim, had moved in December 1901 to Webb City from Purcell, in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). They quickly became known as dangerous men, and this was not their first run in with Marshal Rich.

Both brothers had been bragging all evening about how they were going to get a guy and the deed was going to take place sometime around midnight. Joe would not stop talking about it, and kept showing off his gun until Jim finally told him to take the gun back to the hotel room. Only Joe didn’t do it, and he continued to drink.

Finally, Lizzie called Marshal Rich, Marshal James, and Sam Moon, a temporary police officer hired to serve during the street fair. At first, Marshal Rich tried to talk Jim down, and for a while it seemed to be working, until they got to the front door.

That’s when a scuffle between Jim and Marshal Rich broke out. At the same time, a fight was going on between Joe Gideon and Marshal James. Shots were fired, and when it was over, Joe Gideon had killed Marshal Rich, Sam Moon had killed Joe Gideon and Jim Gideon had been shot through the arm. Marshal James was badly beaten but survived.

Marshal Leonard Rich was a peace officer and a family man. He married Eve May Eulitle in July 1888. They had a 6-year-old daughter, Stella. Rich is buried in the Webb City Cemetery; his stone does not show he died in the line of duty.

We need to remember the heroes who gave so much to build the place that we call home.

This information came from newspaper microfilm of The Sentinel at the Webb City Area Genealogical Society.

Marshal James (seated) and other officers of the Webb City Police Department in 1905: William H. Hamilton, Ike Hess, Poter Curr and John Sales. (A moustache was apparently required for the job.)