Heisinger Lake a place Jesse James would never forget

By Linda Emley

In 1937, the University of Missouri published a book titled, “Place Names Of Five West Central Counties Of Missouri,” by Anne Elizabeth Atchison. It has a list of long forgotten Ray County names that makes it a good reference to use when researching our history.
There are around 225 names listed in the Ray County section, so we have many more places to cover as we visit our past.
Some of the more interesting names are Ovid, Slipup, Vattie, Wakenda, Buck Snort, Crab Apple Creek, Fish Island, Fredonia, Frog Eye, Louella and Possum Bend.
One early Ray County town was named Lakeview and this 1937 book describes it as follows: “Lakeview, A post office from 1895 to 1904 on Lake Heisinger in northern Crooked River Township. The name is a descriptive one. (Postal Guide 1895-1902).”
I know that “Lakeview” does not sound very exciting, but Lake Heisinger played an important part in our history.
The first time I heard the name Lakeview was when my mother told me that she taught at Lakeview’s one- room schoolhouse in 1949, 1950 and part of 1951. She has fond memories of the students and the day-to-day life in her school.
I knew that Lakeview was northeast of Hardin on Highway DD, which goes to Norborne, but I didn’t know much more about it, so I started my search for Lakeview.
Virginia King McBee wrote an article titled “Gone But Not Entirely Forgotten,” and she remembered Lakeview.
“For over seventy years from (the) 1880s to 1952 when the last mine closed this mining village, located about 3 1/2 miles northeast of Hardin, was very active. Heisinger Lake, which once lay to the southeast of the town, was the source of the name. Coal that so richly underlies most of Ray County was the source of employment foremost of the people in the village, as it was in many other Ray County towns of that period. The last store closed in 1948, and when the remaining mine stopped when the demand for coal declined due to natural gas and electricity coming into easy supply, Lakeview’s reason for existing was gone and so was the town.”
The 1973 Ray County History book has a short history that tells more of the story. “Lakeview, so called because of Heisinger Lake which once lay to the southeast, was for over 70 years an active, bustling, mining village of homes, stores, a school, post office and a brick and tile factory.
“Among the first to open up mines in Lakeview were John Huston, James Edgar, Joseph Loeven and Robert King. Joseph Loeven bought 40 acres for $200 and hired miners for $1.25 and $1.50 for a 10-hour working day. In the later years, when the mines were at the height of production, there were 14 mines operating with an average of 12 men working each mine. The average digging per day was around 50 bushels.
“The mining industry also furnished employment for coal haulers. Before daylight, long lines of wagons formed at each mine. Fifteen hundred bushels of coal were required each morning just to get the fires going. During the threshing season, those who owned threshing machines would send as many as 10 wagons at a time to get fuel for the big steam engines which pulled the separators.”
Jeremiah Bryan had the first store in Lakeview and also built a brick and tile factory. Clay was dug from the bluffs at Lakeview and mixed with gumbo from the river bottoms to create the perfect consistency to make tiles and bricks. The factory was still open in 1902. The last coal mine shut down in 1952. Lakeview was a nice normal rural town but Heisinger Lake is a different story.
Heisinger Lake was named after George Heisinger, Sr. He and his wife, Elizabeth Laben, were born in Beririd, Prussia, which is now Germany. In 1850, they were living in Carroll County. They had a nine-year old son that was born in Missouri, so we can assume they had been living in Missouri at least since 1841. The 1860 Missouri Census shows them living in Ray County. The Heisingers had three sons born in Missouri – Frederick, William and Henry. All three of their sons served in the Civil War as Union soldiers.
The 1920 History of Clay County explains why George Heisinger Sr. will always be a legend in Ray County history.
“Jesse James remained at home during the year 1863, and with the assistance of a Negro man raised a considerable crop of tobacco. The next summer, in June, 1864, a year after he had been cruelly whipped by ‘the militia, he too ‘went to the brush’, joining Fletch Taylor’s band of bushwhackers, of which his brother Frank was a member. He was present when the Bigelow brothers were killed and took part in the capture of Platte City, where he and other bushwhackers had their ambrotype pictures taken. The original picture of Jesse James is yet in possession of his family, but copies have recently been made and sold throughout the country.
“While with Bill Anderson’s company on the way to Howard County, in August, 1864, Jesse was badly wounded by an old German Unionist named Heisinger, who lived in the southern part of Ray County, at Heisinger’s Lake. Three or four bushwhackers went to Heisinger’s and got something to eat and were looking about the premises when the old man fired upon them from a sorghum patch, put a bullet through Jesse James’ right lung and routed the party. This practically ended his career as a bushwhacker. His companions hid him away and one Nat Tigue nursed him for a considerable time. It was a long time until Jesse was able to be in the saddle again.
“The Heisinger family has a different version of what happened between Jesse James and George Heisinger. “Heisinger wounded Jesse James in the lung in 1865 when he and three other gang members of the ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson gang were raiding the family homestead.
“The family said that two different sources, The History of Clay County and a Civil War magazine identified George as the ‘ancient Heisinger’ or ‘old German’ who rose up out of the sorghum patch to fire his gun upon the raiding band and drive them off the Heisinger farm after wounding Jesse James.
“This confirms the verbal family history passed on by Lucy Mae Beman Hoftiezer, from her grandmother, Mary Isabela Heisinger King. They claim that Jesse raided the Heisinger farm and was burning items in a fire in front of the house. A woman family member was screaming and was thrown into the flames onto a burning mattress. Based on the documented genealogy of this family, the women was probably George’s wife Elizabeth, who survived the incident.”
Since I wasn’t at the Heisinger farm when Jesse got shot, I’ll never know what really happened. I’ll leave this debate for the Jesse James experts to solve. I do feel safe enough to say that history was changed forever when Jesse James was shot near Heisinger Lake in Ray County.
It’s hard to imagine how busy this countryside must have been in its earlier days.  Like much of Ray County, the past would be forgotten if our forefathers had not taken the time to record the stories of the people that once called these places home.

Want to help Linda document the stories of Ray County history? You can write to her at or look her up in person at Ray County Museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

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