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, December 30, 2013

The Murder of Vernon County Sheriff Joseph Bailey

A lot of notorious incidents happened in Missouri during the years after the Civil War. Many of them arose from resentment left over from the war or were at least related to the war in some way. One post-Civil War incident in southwest Missouri that I was not aware of until recently is the murder on March 26, 1867, of Joseph Bailey, the sheriff of Vernon County. Even though Bailey had been a general in the Union Army and the young men accused of his murder had reportedly been Confederate bushwhackers, the incident was apparently not directly related to the Civil War, or if so, the connection is not known.
Bailey was an engineer during the war who gained recognition for saving the Union's Army of the Gulf from almost certain capture and/or defeat on the Red River in the spring of 1864. A lieutenant-colonel at the time, Bailey was shortly afterwards promoted to colonel. Toward the end of the war, he was nominated for promotion to brigadier general, but the nomination expired without Senate confirmation. He was again nominated for brigadier general after the war was over and he had already left the service, and the promotion was confirmed to date from November of 1864.
In October of 1865, Bailey moved to Vernon County, and he was elected sheriff the following year. On March 25, 1867, he received a complaint that two brothers living northwest of Nevada, Perry and Lewis Pixley, had stolen a hog from a neighbor, and he went out to arrest the pair the next day. The brothers went with the sheriff freely at first, and he allowed them to keep their weapons. Part way back to Nevada, however, the desperate duo assassinated the sheriff and made their getaway. A $3,000 reward was offered locally for the capture of the pair, and the Missouri governor issued a proclamation offering another $300. The proclamation contained descriptions of the wanted men. Lewis Pixley was listed as about 25 or 26 years old, about 5' 11" and about 180 pounds. His brother was listed as about 22 years of age, about 5'10" and about 175 pounds. Both had light hair.
The Pixleys, who were never captured, were the sons of Plummer Pixley of Chariton County, Missouri. Plummer had been killed near the family home toward the end of the Civil War, but General Bailey had no connection to the murder, or at least none that anyone is apparently aware of. As far as the Pixleys having been Confederate bushwhackers, a Captain Pixley was a member of the Missouri State Guard in 1861, and this person could have been the older brother. In any case, the Pixley brothers were probably related to the captain, even if he was not one of them, because the captain is known to have come from the same general area where Plummer Pixley lived and Pixley is an uncommon name. There is no evidence that I am aware of, however, that Captain Pixley went on to become a notorious bushwhacker, as the brothers reputedly did.


Anonymous Greg Cherry said...

Lewis and Perry Pixley were never caught; they moved to Arkansas and Oklahoma and changed their names. Their young brother with whom I am related, was William Harrison Pixley. My family records indicate that Lewis and Perry Pixley sought revenge for the murder of their father Plummer. William H. Pixley went to live with his oldest brother, Daniel and later moved further south to Cedar Creek, Crawford County, Arkansas. Notes taken by Rev. Gilbert Pixley, grandson to W.H. Pixley cites that his grandfather said the brothers changed their names on account of the handbills issued for their arrest; some of them changed their names to Blevins (Bill and Jim) and moved to OK and the other moved to Clarksville, Arkansas near W.H. Pixley's home in Cedar Creek, Crawford Co., Arkansas. The brother that lived in Arkansas near W.H. assumed the name of Sam Moore and married to wife Lacey (Lacey McCurdy). It wasn't until much later that she learned of his real name. She lived in what is today, Alma Arkansas.

While I am not entirely sure why Gen. Bailey was murdered or whether Sheriff Bailey (Gen. Joseph Bailey) was in fact implicated in their father's death, I find the original account rather incredulous e.g. the prisoners being allowed to ride with their guns, behind the Sheriff as they were being escorted from their home back to Nevada, Mo. The reason he rode from behind (and supposedly without a gun). If these guys were so notorious and desperate, I think I would have been armed and I most definitely would have wanted them in my eyesight the entire ride back to Nevada. Let's just say there is much more to the story than what pro-Union papers printed and what history recalls...

January 19, 2014 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Very interesting. My hunch is that Bailey was probably not involved in Plummer's murder. Apparently Bailey just went out to arrest the brothers on the stealing charge. However, I agree that there was probably more to the story of Bailey's killing than was reported in the papers at the time. That was very often the case in events that happened in the wake of the Civil War. Not only did resentments left over from the war often lead to murderous events, but the reporting of such events was often colored by political sentiments left over from the war.

January 23, 2014 at 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.canteymyerscollection.com/index.php?action=gallery;sa=view&id=343...photos of Lewis and Perry Pixley

August 3, 2014 at 8:03 PM  

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