Pursuing the Phantoms of Potosi

By: Greg Myers - Paranormal Task Force


The phantoms of Potosi, Missouri got put to work when Paranormal Task Force invaded some of their historic abodes during one of their Ghost Hunting Workshops recently.  Greg Myers and other Paranormal Task Force crew teamed up with the Mine Au Breton Historical Society when they took their ghost hunting knowledge, skills and experiences south of St. Louis, Missouri about an hour drive down what many refer to as “Blood Alley” (Missouri State Highway 21) to the very haunted and historic town of Potosi.


With a sell out crowd of paranormal enthusiasts in attendance and a conference room bursting at the seems with only standing room left, Paranormal Task Force educated others with haunting classifications, theories, basics of ghost hunting, field equipment usage and even shared many of their eerie tales and evidence from some of their past encounters with the unknown.  Everyone was on the edge of their seats while learning about hunting ghost and being able to actually explore some of Potosi’s most haunted locations soon after and on the hunt themselves for their first time.


Potosi, Missouri is no stranger to ghostly residences with its rich history.  Originally called Mine Au Breton, it was actually founded by Francis Azor, aka "The Breton" a retired soldier from Ft. DeChartres, Illinoios.  He was called "The Breton" because of his birthplace in Brittany, France.  Francis Azor and his guide were hunting bear in this part of then Upper Louisiana around when he discovered large outcrops of lead at the grounds surface.  After this discovery, he soon received a land grant and built crude stone furnaces in the area for smelting the lead.  The primitive mining village of “Mine Au Breton” seemingly popped up overnight with many French miners and their slaves coming to the call. 


Around 1796 Moses Austin, a wealthy businessman from Virginia heard of the rich mining area and received a grant for a much larger tract of land in this same area.  He moved to this area in 1798 residing in his newly built home known as Durham Hall.  Moses sank the first mine shaft in Missouri and built the first reverbatory furnace west of the Mississippi River.  With such large scale operations, other businesses and improvements such as roads and bridges soon followed.  This soon became the first major industry in this area and in what was later to become the State of Missouri.


After the County of Washington formed in 1813, Moses donated 40 acres of his land for the county seat and public lots.  The town was named Potosi after a Bolivia silver mining town with the same name meaning “place of much noise”.  Even though Francis Azor may have been the original founder of the area, it was Moses’ large scale operations and donation of land that credits him as being the towns’ “founding father”. 


A little known fact about Moses Austin is that he traveled to San Antonio, Texas in 1821 and received the very first land grant for American colonization in Texas.  After receiving this grant he retuned to Missouri and passed away the same year.  It was his son Stephen Austin, who took this grant and moved 300 families to Texas and later becoming the famous “Father of Texas” and who Austin, Texas is named after.  Moses Austin is sometimes referred to at the “Grandfather of Texas”. 


Some of this town’s paranormal activity may stem from its founding father as Moses Austin was originally buried in Hazel Run Mines, Missouri in 1821.  Then in 1828 other individuals thought it would be proper to dissenter his remains from Hazel Run Mines and reenter them in Potosi, the town he was the founding father of.  Upon digging up his remains it was noted that his coffin was completely rotted and gone, but his body remained in an almost perfect stone like or petrified state with only his nose and some of his fingers missing.  After being reentered into the Potosi Cemetery, Moses grave was later found dug open with the new coffin lid open.  It seemed that some who heard of the possible petrifaction of his body did not believe it and they had to check it out on their own.  Moses was undamaged and again buried back into his resting place deeper in the ground and entombed this time.  Moses Austin seems to have had a hard time finding rest after his death. 


Then if that wasn’t enough, in 1938 a group of Texans equipped with their own undertaker and hearse came to Potosi with plans to steal Moses’ body and take the “Grandfather of Texas” back with them to bury him there.  Their body snatching attempt was foiled when they were caught chipping away at the tomb after a call was made to the local Marshall.  A few weeks later the Texas Governor sent his Secretary of State to Potosi to make a public apology.  With the deceased being treated this way no wonder why this historic town may have spirits not at rest.


The early settlers of this area have also been subjected to savage attacks in which some settlers were killed and their wives were taken away by Native Americans.  Ironically, it was also a stop along the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830’s and even later visited by Confederate Rebels during the General Sterling Price raids during the Civil War in Missouri. This town even hosted what is referred to as the “Battle of Potosi” by some which occurred on September 27, 1864 when some troops of Confederate General Joseph Shelby came to ransack and claim the town.  While most of the town got word and took their worthy possessions and fled, John Meyers a resident and Veteran of the War of 1812 decided to defend his town.  Equipped with three rifles he took his position upon his porch and fired upon the advancing Confederate Rebels.  After wounding one of them, the Confederates then shot this lone defender dead on his own porch then filled his lifeless body with several more bullets before trampling it and ransacking his home. 


John was not the only one planning to defend the town as 26 Union Soldiers and 130 citizens attempted to hold off the Confederate advances.  However, they all were forced to yield the white flag after having to retreat into the old Court House subjected to cannon fire.  Some were then taken outside and shot dead for being obnoxious towards the Confederate Rebels.  The Rebel flag was then hoisted high above the town while its women and children were robbed of even their clothing.  The town was then ransacked and looted for its goods while nearby mining facilities and its branch of the railroad were destroyed. 


To further add to its tragedies, the town awoke to one of the most brutal slayings in Missouri history on Monday, November 21, 1870.  A local French Creole family, David and Louisa Lapine along with their children and Mrs. Lapine’s sister with her child were found brutally murdered in their log cabin.  On the night of November 19, 1870 Leon and Charley Jolly along with John Armstrong went to the Lapine cabin while intoxicated from whiskey.  While the family was sound asleep, John Armstrong kicked in the front door with an axe in hand.  Charley Jolly then entered and mercilessly shot the startled adults dead where they stood.  John Armstrong then chopped Mr. Lapines head off and killed the children with the axe and then mutilated the bodies into several pieces.  They then set fire to the cabin before returning home to have breakfast while still wearing their blood covered clothes. 


What could be gathered of the Lapine family was placed into a box and buried in the Potosi Cemetery.  Charley Jolly  and John Armstrong were soon arrested and placed in the town’s jail, but before their trial a mob gathered outside the jail on November 26, 1870 wanting to deal their own kind of justice to the murderers.  Before all was said and done six citizens were wounded and one killed by the Sheriff and his deputies defending the jail and prisoners.  The trial finally came on December 21, 1870 and after deliberating for only 10 minutes the Jury came back with a “Guilty” verdict.  With the Judges final words of “May God have mercy on your soul” Charley and John were sentenced to death by hanging.  Leon did not participate in the murders and testified against his own brother at the trial.


On January 27, 1871 the day of reckoning arrived and it was proudly advertised in all surrounding newspaper as “The Day for a Double Hanging”.  Families came from afar adorned in their best Sunday clothes as eager spectators for this event and at 1:40 p.m. the two condemned murderers were placed on the gallows with nooses secured around their necks.  When the jaws of justice below them finally opened Charley’s head was almost ripped from his body while John’s toes scraped the ground and he slowly strangled to death.  Justice was finally dealt!


With tragic events such as these one would find it more amazing if this historic town was “not” haunted! 


After the presentation, the enthusiastic attendees were then able to explore the three very historic and haunted buildings of the Mine Au Breton Historical society.  Lead by Paranormal Task Force and Mine Au Breton Historical Society members they were able to search for their own ghostly encounter and learn more about the history and hauntings of the Long-Banta Home, Austin-Milam Store and the Old Presbyterian Church with its adjacent cemeteries. 


The first stop on the trip for some was the well known and haunted Long-Banta home which was built by James Long, a very prominent business man, around 1865 not too long after his father was taken by Confederate Rebels and executed in a wooded area in Union Township.  This beautiful and charming Victorian vernacular building has been home to generations of the Long Family.  It has also been the building where several of them breathed their last breath as James Long, his wife Betty and all three of their daughters passed away within its walls.  This home has also hosted the passing of Parke Banta who was the husband of a female descendent of the Long family and who also served in the United States Congress. 


It was actually James Long’s descendents who first experienced ghostly encounters within this historic home as they told others that they believed their ancestor James was still there watching over them and haunting the home.  Later reports came from those who witnessed seeing ghostly figures looking out at them from the windows when this building was absent of any human inhabitants.  Some even reported hearing strange unexplainable noises and voices while inside.   This led to the paranormal investigations conducted by Paranormal Task Force.  It was during these investigations that investigators outside the home witnessed a ghostly shadow walking past windows on the inside, experienced unexplainable moving areas of electromagnetic fields coupled with temperature drops on the inside, had questions answered by piano notes played by the unseen and even captured the disembodied voices or what is referred to as Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) on their audio recordings. 


Another stop in the pursuit of ghostly happenings was the very historic Austin-Milam Store.  The front portion of this building was first erected by Moses Austin from logs about 1797.  It has since been added to and built upon over time creating the building that stands today.  This is the same location that victims on the “Trail of Tears” bought supplies when passing through in the 1830’s, a place Confederate Rebels ransacked and raided during the Civil War and also the place in 1932 where Frank Flynn, a bank clerk, decided to take his own life with a self inflicted gunshot wound to his heart with a .38 caliber pistol.  Over time local residents have reported seeing a shadow person walking by or peering out the upstairs windows where Mr. Flynn took his own life.  When used for boarding and apartments in its later years, tenants reported odd electrical occurrences, unexplainable odors as well an anomalous floating lights inside.  During investigations by Paranormal Task Force interferences with electronic equipment were documented, unexplainable moving areas of temperature drops were recorded, disembodied voices were captured on recordings and a black floating ball like anomaly was captured on video.


The last stop of this adventure was the Old Presbyterian Church built in 1832.  This is the oldest Presbyterian Church still standing west of the Mississippi River.  The Church also had an upper gallery where slaves could attend church services with their owners.  The church relocated to a new building in 1907 and this building was later used as a Masonic Auditorium, a school gymnasium, a theatre where silent movies were shown during the 1920’s and finally a Boy Scout Hall.  Now it sits as a Museum and a reminder of the rich and significant past this area has endured.  There has really been no reports of paranormal encounters from this building except for those who may be a bit more sensitive than the rest of us and just have had “that feeling” over time that something was there inside watching them from the old upper gallery.  A feeling that some of Paranormal Task Force’s more sensitive investigators confirmed with their special inherited gifts and believe is more of a residual haunting presence and not interactive or intelligent.


However, this building also sits adjacent to three small cemeteries which hold a different tale.  The Old City, Presbyterian and Masonic Cemeteries sit adjacent to and behind this Old Presbyterian Church.  Much of the town’s history is buried within their boundaries.   Within the confines of these small cemeteries is final resting place of the Long Family right across the street from the home they once resided in, Moses Austin the founding father is also here along with the box containing the remains of the brutally murdered Lupine Family, the grave of John Meyers and many more. Past Paranormal Task Force investigations have captured the disembodied voices from some of the souls at unrest here along with unexplainable moving areas of electromagnetic fields coupled with temperature drops.  And, of course, the occasional experience of an investigator seeing something from the corner of their eye has occurred in these cemeteries many times as well. 


Everyone in attendance at this Ghost Hunting Workshop and its interactive investigative tour had a very positive and enlightening time.  Some even had that ghostly encounter they were or were not looking for.  At the Austin-Milam Store one paranormal enthusiast in attendance had her arm grabbed by the unseen, others encountered an unexplainable growl and a human sized shadow was observed as it walked by a second floor window by those outside the building when it was empty.


In the Long-Banta Home some newly trained hunters were able to physically chase around a moving anomalous area of increased electromagnetic fields coupled with a temperature drop.  Even the Old Presbyterian Church gave its first paranormal performance this night when several heard the sounds of footsteps walk across the upper gallery before descending the stairway to the floor they were on below.


Whether you are interested in history, hauntings or both then Potosi, Missouri is a “must see” addition to have on your ‘places to visit’ list.  To check on available tours or special events with the Mine Au Breton Historical Society and their properties you can call their President, Jerry Sansegraw, at 573-438-3093 or email him at - jerry090@centurytel.net


If you are interested in the paranormal, hauntings or future events conducted by Paranormal Task Force, then they can be found on the World Wide Web at WWW.CATCHMYGHOST.COM or you can email them at: admin@paranormaltaskforce.com


Future ghost hunting workshops will be conducted by Paranormal Task Force with the Mine Au Breton Historical Society in Potosi, Missouri.  In fact the next one is scheduled for November 8, 2008.  Come and learn more and possibly go home with your own ghostly encounter to share!


Thank you to Esther Carroll of Potosi for the weeks upon weeks of research to develop the historical facts and aspects used in this article.  Her website can be found at:  www.carrollscorner.net


This article (along with pictures) is also featured on the Haunted America Tours web site at: