War on the Harrisonville Square 1972 Part 3
I want to start this final entry in the series with a bit of a disclaimer. If you have read the book, Charlie Simpson Apocalypse, you know that 75% of the book covers what happened after the shooting. The newspaper accounts of the time cover mostly the shooting itself. This lack of coverage after the event by the local media is likely because the town as a whole did not trust reporters after feeling as if they were painted in a bad light by the article in the Rolling Stone Magazine. The lack of local information about events after the shooting means that history and the rest of the nation were left with the Rolling Stone’s writer’s version of the events.
If you follow this page, you know that in the past few days I had the opportunity to meet with some of the people that were there. To put it mildly, there are discrepancies between the historical account and what I heard this week. I have done my best to give an account of the events and I am still actively pursuing eye-witness accounts for a potential future project which I will discuss in part 4 of this series. I will talk more about this next time, but I cannot find any images of Charlie Simpson, if anyone has such a picture (maybe a yearbook photo), I would love to get a copy of it. In addition, I have been unable to find the Rolling Stone article which started the town’s distrust of the media. If anyone can take a picture or scan of the article and send it to me, I would love to include it in the images for this story. Make sure you look at the images that accompany this post. I have included some details of the story in the captions as the post was getting too long.
Now to the story:
An hour after Charlie Simpson stuck his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, G.M Allen, the fire chief had mobilized his volunteer firemen and they were actively patrolling the square, some carrying shotguns and axes. One fireman who participated in those patrols told me that he witnessed hippies who made the mistake of being on the square at that time being beaten by the men patrolling the square. In addition to the men on the ground, a sharpshooter had been placed in the tower of the courthouse to be ready just in case any more of the hippies showed up to avenge the death of their leader. The mayor had implemented a 6 pm – 6 am curfew in the town. Harrisonville was angry!
The firemen would continue to assist the police in patrolling the square for several days after the shootings. One of the policemen I spoke with told me that they had basically instituted “martial law” in town. If an officer saw a hippie going toward the square, they would stop them and give them the choice of being arrested or leaving town. The hippies had vacated the square because according to Eszterhas, they said that the “people in town had blood in their eyes”. After speaking to some of the residents, I think they were probably correct in that assessment. The police likely did any hippie coming to the square a favor as there are multiple stories of hippies that got too close to the square, being chased down and beaten.
After the daily foot patrols of the square stopped and daily life in Harrisonville went back to normal, the hippies returned to the square. Upon their return, I’m told that they continued their activities almost as if nothing had happened. Don Foster, manager of the Sears Store, told Eszterhas when the writer came to town for the first time, that Win Allen would show up for several days in a row and lay face down on the courthouse steps for hours at a time. Daily courthouse traffic had to step over or walk around him to get to the courthouse.
While I haven’t read it, locals say that the Rolling Stone article painted the town in a very backwoods, redneck sort of way. Much of the national media jumped on board and commented that it was not surprising this happened in Harrisonville due to the harsh treatment of the young people by the local authorities. This led to the general mistrust of all media.
I’m unclear as to the timing, but after things calmed down a little, the City Council attended a Youth Crime Conference at the University of Missouri. This led to the idea of creating the Youth-Adult Community Council (YACC). This group, which was meant to begin a dialogue between the city and the hippies, was going to be led by two men brought in for this purpose. Dr. Jan Roosa and Dr. Gene Watson, men that Eszterhas calls “eggheads” in his book. The YACC story is a complicated one, but to summarize, it didn’t work.
Colonel John Leach owned a gas station/hunting shop on the outskirts of town. (If anyone knows the exact location, please let me know) Leach had written a letter to the newspaper basically saying that the local town needed to take control. He became sort of an unofficial leader of a group of men in town who were going to do something about the hippies on the square. On Thursday, June 15th, Leach’s son, Bob, home on leave from Vietnam was accompanied to the square by Phil Young a local man who stood 6’6”, 280 pounds. According to Eszterhas, as Young was showing Leach the key locations of the shooting spree, they passed George Russell who was lounging on the courthouse steps. Words were exchanged and Young punched Russell in the mouth breaking several of his teeth. As the hippie was walking away bleeding from his mouth, he challenged Leach and Young to come back tomorrow and see who owned the square. Words he would regret.
The next night, after rumors swirled all day of an army of hippies coming to take back the square, there were over 150 men on the square. They arrived with various types of weapons ready to face the invading hippie army. An army that never showed up. These men were later referred to as the “Harrisonville Vigilantes”. Under John Leach’s direction, the group split up into groups and patrolled the square for the entire weekend. Any young person, or reporter, without a legitimate reason to be on the square, was told to leave or face a potential beating. It is said that one Kansas City reporter was told to leave and then followed out to the interstate to make sure he found his way out of town.
Win Allen, who had become a leader of the hippies since Simpson’s death, couldn’t help himself and went to the square to check out the situation. This was a mistake. One of the men patrolling the square spotted him and shouted, “There’s the N*****r! Get him”. A pack of men chased Win for several blocks most of them falling to the side as the hippie was too fast. According to Eszterhas’s book, one man got close enough to make a grab for Allen’s hair. The man grasped a handful of the hair and yanked. Instead of taking the hippie down, the man ended up pulling off the afro wig that Allen wore. Win kept running and escaped unharmed.
The Vigilantes decided to meet on the square again on Monday, June 19th. This time they wanted the merchants and town leaders to be there also. With John Leach doing the talking, they demanded that the town leaders and merchants do their part to bring law and order back to the square. The merchants, who greatly appreciated the efforts of the vigilantes, agreed to work with authorities to take quick action.
The next week the city council passed a series of ordinances that punished parents as well as young people if they were caught out of compliance with the new rules. A new curfew was enacted and loitering on the grounds of the courthouse was now punishable by large fines or jail time. This was the end of the hippies on the square. Tune in next time for the final entry in this series, where I will summarize some of the things I have learned while writing this series as well as discuss a potential upcoming project which I may need some reader’s help to complete.