‘Missing’ farm girl took off for thrill
When a teenage girl vanished 100 years ago, people feared the worst — just as they do today.
And just as they do today, such cases attracted attention far and wide. In summer 1917, the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock took notice of a teenager’s disappearance 155 miles away.
Suspect Held in Missing
Special to the Gazette. Paragould, July 24 — Daniel Burroughs, age 22, residing two miles east of Marmaduke, yesterday was brought here and lodged in jail, charged with having knowledge of the mysterious disappearance of Miss Flossie Smith, age 15. The girl disappeared about 10 days ago. She had made her home for the past several years with Burroughs’ parents. Neighbors inquired of the Burroughs as to the whereabouts of Miss Smith, but they said they did not know; that perhaps she was visiting relatives at Bard, six miles east of here. Inquiries by friends of the girl revealed that she had not been seen in the Bard neighborhood.
Suspicions of friends of the girl were communicated to county officials and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Bratton swore out a warrant for the arrest of Burroughs. He insists that he has no knowledge of the disappearance of the girl.
Marmaduke residents are making a thorough search for the girl. Drainage canals are being dragged. It is suspected that she has been murdered or met with an accident. Burroughs will be held until a complete investigation has been made.
The Arkansas Democrat, an afternoon city paper in 1917, didn’t follow the case. The Gazette had stringers all over the place, though. Here’s its report from a stringer July 28:
Sheriff R.L. Elmore has secured a photograph of Miss Flossie Trinnie Smith, who mysteriously disappeared July 10 from the the home of W.M. Burroughs, near Marmaduke, this county, and will send copies to officials throughout this section of Arkansas and southeast Missouri.
No trace of the girl has been found. George Crones of Senath, Mo., was here yesterday and said that he would give a reward of $50 for information concerning his ward, and that the reward would immediately be increased to $250.
Meanwhile Burroughs, who didn’t “seem to be worried,” insisted he had no knowledge of her disappearance.
His father, W.M. Burroughs, was here yesterday to see him, but the officers refused him admittance to the jail.
Another Suspect Held Paragould, Aug. 1 — Clint Burroughs, aged 17, was arrested last
night and placed in jail in this city. He is charged with having knowledge of the disappearance of Miss Flossie Trinnie Smith, the 15-year-old girl who made her home with the Burroughs family, near Marmaduke, north of here, and who has been missing since July 10. …
It is intimated there will be other arrests.
Missing Girl Is Found
Special to the Gazette. Paragould, Aug. 2 — Miss Flossie Smith is alive and probably happy. Wearing men’s clothing, she has been working in a cotton field in the northern part of the county, while officers and friends have been searching the woods and dragging the rivers for her body.
Constable Presse of Hurricane located her yesterday and ended the search that began with her mysterious disappearance on July 10. Discovery of the girl’s whereabouts also brought release from custody for David and Clay Burroughs, who were being held here suspected of having knowledge of the cause of her absence. Miss Smith lived at the Burroughs home, near Marmaduke.
The girl is said to have explained that the quiet life of the farm bored her and she set out to find adventure. She wanted to do something unusual, she said, so she secured some man’s clothing, put it on and left home to take a look at the outside world. She soon found work in a cotton field, where she remained until discovered.
If you’ve experienced the great joy that is working in a cotton field, you are wondering what part of this story Flossie or the sheriff or the reporter decided to withhold. Although (on several name-tracking websites) Flossie ranks No. 10,070 in the baby-naming hit parade today (down 263 places from 2016) it was an “extremely popular” nickname for girls named Florence in the early 20th century, according to Nameberry.com. The Social Security Administration’s database ranks Florence as the 14th most popular girl’s name in that decade.
A character in The Bobbsey Twins children’s book series, first published in 1904, was a Flossie.
So while it is tempting to imagine that straying child moving to Crossett where, in 1923, a Miss Flossie Smith was maid of honor at the wedding of Vennie Mae Maxwell and Jesse Bond Dooley, we have no idea.
By coincidence, the name also appeared in an amusing poem by a widely circulated newspaper versifier, James T. Montague. Montague (18731941) was a reporter for the New York Evening Journal in 1910 when the Gazette published this item from his syndicated column More Truth Than Poetry: Simplicity of Childhood
When Flossie Smith met Trixie Brown upon the street last week,
She threw her arms about her neck and kissed her on the cheek,
With simple, girlish friendliness that fond caress was fraught.
And this is what she said to her:
You dear old thing, you look too sweet,
That dress is simply swell. A stunning costume for the street,
And suits your style so well;
Do come and see me, darling, soon,
That hat’s just gorgeous! Hey!
Come up tomorrow afternoon!
Good-bye (smack! smack!) Good-bye!
And this is what she thought:
There’s two new wrinkles on her face!
She’s getting gross and fat! That dress is imitation lace —
Great heavens! What a hat! I know she pads, because she’s got
Such weird, outlandish curves.
I hope she doesn’t come! Great Scott!
But she gets on my nerves! Flossie leaves the poem at this point, and Montague introduces other, equally insincere characters, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Green. Green owes Jones money from a game of bridge, and Jones wants her cash. After effusive friendliness Jones thinks:
I simply won’t be fleeced by friends,
Still I can’t make a scene; And — well, the horrid thing pretends
She don’t know what I mean.
In the next stanza, a Mr. Tom meets a Mr. Bill upon the avenue. Into the nearest bar they go to hoist drinks and declare their manly admiration and brotherhood. Meanwhile, Tom thinks
I know he’s crooked to the
He’s just a common con
Is there no honesty in people? The poet leaves his readers with hope:
When Freddie White meets Willie Black behind the alley fence,
He utters no conventional and trite inconsequence;
He eyes the stranger for a while, he sets his teeth and blinks;
And this is what he says to him, and also what he thinks:
Hey, wot you lookin’ at you guy?
Suppose my hair is red? If you keep starin’ at me, why
I’ll come and punch your head.
You ain’t no brute, as I can see.
You’re too dressed up an’ fat;
I told yer not to look at me, Take that! (punch punch) an’ that! Lucy Turnipseed did a lot of research for today’s Old News.
James Jackson Montague’s syndicated poems were published by the Arkansas Gazette in the early 20th century.