Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Alf Bolin: Just the Facts, Part II

The amount of firsthand documentation about the activities of notorious guerrilla Alf Bolin while he was still alive is very scant. Contemporaneous sources of information about his death are also few and far between, but we can learn a little bit more from primary sources about his death than we know about his life.
Sometime around the beginning of 1862, the Federal army placed a bounty on the head of Alf Bolin because of his murdering and pillaging. According to Federals on the Frontier, the Civil War diary of Sergeant Benjamin F. McIntyre, a soldier of the 1st Iowa Cavalry named Zack Thomas set out to collect the reward by implementing a scheme hatched by Union officials. Dressed as a southern soldier or "butternut," Thomas made his way south from Springfield to southern Taney County near the Arkansas border, where Bolin was known to hide out. Here Thomas stopped about the first of February, 1863, at the home of a woman who knew Bolin and who had promised to help carry out the scheme. (Later accounts, which appear to have considerable merit, reveal that the woman was a Mrs. Foster, and that she agreed to cooperate in order to gain the freedom of her husband, a Confederate sympathizer who had been arrested by Union authorities.) The woman went to where Bolin was staying and asked him to come to her cabin the next morning. When Bolin arrived, Thomas, who was introduced as a southern soldier, bided his time while awaiting an opportunity to kill the desperado. Finally, as Bolin leaned down near the cabin's fireplace, Thomas clubbed him over the head with a broken plow coulter, causing his death. (Later versions of the story suggest that Bolin started to revive a short while after being struck in the head and had to be finished off with gunfire.)
McIntyre was present when Bolin's body was brought to Forsyth the next day, February 2, and he went to view the corpse. He described Bolin as a "large sinewey man" who "must have been of great strength and indurence." According to McIntyre, Bolin had boasted of killing forty Union men and had been a terror to several counties in southern Missouri. Another contemporaneous source, a letter written at Forsyth by Madison Day of the 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry on February 2, the day Bolin was brought in, also describes Bolin as a desperado--specifically a "highway robber and murderer."
The last sentence of McIntyre's February 2 diary entry tells us that plans called for Bolin's body to be sent to Springfield as proof of his death so that the reward could be collected by the appropriate parties. The next thing we know from contemporaneous sources is that Bolin's head, severed from his body, did arrive in Springfield on the evening of February 4. This we know from a brief piece written by a Springfield correspondent on February 5 that appeared in a St. Louis newspaper a week later. Exactly what happened between Forsyth and Springfield is less certain, but according to seemingly reliable accounts that were written later, the head was chopped off with an ax about a mile or so north of Forsyth and the body buried at the road side. The head was then placed in a wooden box and taken to Ozark where it was displayed on a pole. It was also supposedly displayed for public viewing after it reached Springfield on the evening of the 4th.
What we can fairly safely conclude from the available evidence is that Alf Bolin was, in fact, a notorious bushwhacker who operated in the Taney County area during the Civil War, but he almost certainly was not as notorious as his legend would lead one to believe. His claim to have killed 40 men, for instance, was almost surely an exaggeration, and some of the ones he did kill were probably not killed by him personally but by men associated with him. (We know from contemporaneous sources, for example, that Old Man Budd, who was supposedly one of Bolin's victims, was actually killed in the early fall of 1861 by a gang of men who had previously been part of Missouri State Guard captain David Jackson's command and who were now led by a man named Hilliard. Bolin may have been in the gang, but he wasn't the leader.)       


Anonymous Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Interesting that he was decapitated. Brings to mind the story that Bloody Bill received the same treatment. Were any other bushwhackers or Jayhawkers decapitated?
The war just kept getting nastier. . .

May 15, 2012 at 4:54 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Bolin is the only case of decapitation among bushwhackers/Jayhawkers that I know about, although there very well might have been others. As you're probably aware, there's no evidence to support the idea that Bloody Bill was decapitated.

May 15, 2012 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where exactly are the killing rocks located? aRE THEY ON PRIVATE PROPERTYRINNILES

May 31, 2012 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

The murder rocks are located on JJ Highway south of Kirbyville. Take Highway J south out of Kirbyville for about 3 or 4 miles and turn on JJ for about a mile or so. Rocks on the west side of the road 60 feet or so off the road. Unlike the original road, the current road is elevated so that it is as high as or higher than the rocks.

June 30, 2012 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My great great grandfather Absalom Deakins was present when Bolin's body was brought into Forsyth and was in fact one of the ones who buried the headless corpse. My great grandfather told the story to my father as Grandpap had related it to him. It differs somewhat from the account that Douglas Mahankey told (which is the one most folks seem to accept).

According to what Grandpa said Grandpap told him, it was a group of strangers who brought the body into town that day (I have no idea of how many). They seemed rather put out that they could not collect the reward there but would have to go to Ozark. That seems to put a little damper on the union soldier idea as they should have known. Anyway, they rolled the body out in the street, borrowed a broadaxe and lopped it off. Putting the head in a bag, they mounted horses and road off to Ozark leaving Alf lying in the street much to the disgust of the locals who then had the task of burying what was left back up Swan Creek. Grandpa had shown my father where the body was buried, and last summer (2014), I took my father back and tried to locate the place. Dad thinks we found it even though the road has changed (there was no lake when Grandpa showed him. If we didn't find the exact place, we were in a 1/4 mile of it anyway.

June 15, 2015 at 8:07 PM  

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