Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rev. Samuel S. Headlee Murder Again

I've written previously, both on this blog and in my Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents book, about the murder of Rev. Samuel S. Headlee that occurred on July 28, 1866, at the Pleasant View Church near present-day Elkland in Webster County, Missouri. I have mentioned that the incident was a product of the lingering bitterness between Northern sympathizers and Southern sympathizers in Missouri left over from the Civil War, but I probably did not adequately stress the depth of that rancor or how much this particular incident inflamed Southerners throughout the state, because I don't think I fully appreciated the level of resentment myself when I first wrote about the incident.
Before I get to the impassioned anger of Southern sympathizers in response to the murder, however, I should probably go back and briefly summarize the events and circumstances that led up to the crime. Although Missouri was dominated politically by Conservative Unionism during the time leading up to the Civil War and during the early part of the war, Radical Republicans, who eschewed compromise with Rebels and Rebel sympathizers, grew increasingly powerful as the war wore on, and they came to dominate politics in Missouri by the spring of 1865, when a new state constitution, called the Drake Constitution after its principal advocate, was adopted. The new constitution forbade anyone who had ever fought for the South or been a Southern sympathizer from voting, holding political office, or holding certain other jobs like lawyer, teacher, or preacher without first taking an oath of allegiance (which many of them, of course, could not do in good conscience).
Rev. Headlee was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had been an outspoken Southern sympathizer. He was one of those who refused to take the oath, but in the summer of 1866 he determined nonetheless to resume preaching of the gospel and announced his intention to preach at Pleasant View on July 28. Headlee's Southern wing of the church still held title to the church building, but the Northern contingent, which had taken over the building during the war, told Headlee not to try to preach there on the 28th and threatened him with violence if he tried.
When Headlee showed up on the 28th, he was met by armed members of the Northern faction. Headlee agreed not to preach at the church and started toward some land he owned nearby, where he had been told he would be able to preach unmolested. However, four members of the Northern contingent followed and shot him dead before he could reach his property.
The words of the editor of the California Central Missourian, in reporting the news of the murder about two weeks later, will give you an idea of how Southerners viewed the crime and the Drake Constitution that laid the groundwork for the crime to be committed: "To its long and damning list of outrages the dominant party of Missouri have added another, as horrible and inexcusable as any of its predecessors.-- A minister of the gospel, the Rev. Samuel S. Headlee is murdered in cold blood--brutally and cowardly murdered by one of Drake's 'avenging angels,' a self appointed champion of an infamous law."
After giving a few more details of the crime, the editor went on the say, "It would insult the intelligence of the reader to inform him that the murderer is still at large. It is equally superfluous to declare that in all probability he will never be brought to justice as long as the present dominant party holds sway in Missouri. That party is the protector of murderers, in league with them, and the justifier of their crimes."
Strong language, to say the least! However, I have read very similar reactions published in other Southern-leaning newspapers of Missouri in the wake of Headlee's death.

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