John Newman Edwards was born Jan.4, 1839, in Virginia. He came to Missouri in the mid-1850s and began as a newspaper printer. Edwards worked his way up from printer to reporter and finally editor. He worked in many newspapers all around the state of Missouri.
When the Civil War broke out, one of Edwards’ hunting and fishing buddies, Joseph Shelby, put together a cavalry regiment in Lafayette County called the Iron Brigade. Edwards joined and was with Shelby at Wilson’s Creek. In late 1863, he was appointed brigade adjutant with the rank of major.
After Lee’s surrender to Grant in 1865, Shelby refused to surrender and headed for Mexico. Edwards and a thousand others were right beside him. There, they offered their services to Emperor Maximillan, but he declined their offer. The Emperor did grant them land for an American colony.
Two years later, Edwards returned to Missouri and back to work as a newspaper reporter. Again, he worked his way up to editor. Then he and John C. Moore founded the Kansas City Times. His goal was to denounce military occupation and convince ex-Confederates to get back into politics.
Then came Jesse James and the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Saving Association in Gallatin, Missouri. Edwards interviewed Jesse and Frank James and portrayed them as ex-Confederates fighting against corruption and oppression by a military which was backed by Republican rule in Missouri.
Edwards and Mary Virginia Plattenburg, a cousin, eloped and were married on Shelby’s farm on March 28, 1871. The couple had two sons and a daughter.
One of the last duels fought in Missouri happened on September 4, 1875, between Edwards, editor of “The Dispatch,” and Emory S. Foster, editor of the “St. Louis Journal,” who accused Edwards in print of lying. Neither man was wounded.
By 1880, Edwards stopped answering letters from Jesse. His goal had been accomplished. Reconstruction was over and ex-Confederates were back in politics. Although he suffered from alcoholism, he did write Jesse’s obituary and helped arrange Frank’s surrender to the authorities.
Edwards is remembered most as the reporter who almost single-handedly created a noble Southern Robin Hood out of a vicious bank robber.
John Newman Edwards died of heart disease May 4, 1889, in Jefferson City and is buried in Dover, Missouri.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. She has covered the War Between the States, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.