Missouri and Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Murder of John Henry Boller

On July 15, 1864, 63-year-old John Henry Boller was driving his horse and buggy into Boonville, Missouri, from his residence west of town when he passed three young men resting under a shade tree at the side of the road. One of the three young men was notorious Johnson County guerrilla Bill Stewart, another one was Stewart's sidekick Al Carter, and the third was a local young hellion named Robert Sloan. Stewart and Carter asked Sloan who the passerby was, and after being informed of the man's identity, Stewart decided to rob him. (The fact that Boller was German-born might have had something to do with Stewart's decision, since Germans were usually very strong Union supporters and were almost universally despised by the Missouri guerrillas.)
Stewart and his two companions caught up with and waylaid Boller about a mile from Boonville. They demanded his money, and Stewart reached for a watch Boller was carrying. Instead, of turning over his money and valuables, though, Boller resisted and started to drive on. Stewart promptly opened fire, hitting Boller four or five times. The bushwhackers then robbed him and also robbed another old man who happened along.
After he was robbed, Boller managed to drive on into Boonville, where a resident noticed his weak, bloody condition and took him into his house. Boller, however, died almost as soon as he got inside. The local militia was notified of the incident and immediately started in pursuit of the three bushwhackers. They overtook Sloan, and one of the Union soldiers shot him in the side of the head. Taken into custody, Sloan did not die of the wound but was left blind by it.
Meanwhile, Stewart and Carter escaped, at least temporarily. Carter and four other guerrillas were killed by Federal soldiers in Howard County on September 12, and Stewart was finally killed by a cattle drover on November 11 at Old Franklin in Howard County just across the Missouri River from Boonville when Stewart attempted to rob the cattleman.
On December 5, 1864, Louisa A. Boller filed an affidavit with officials at Boonville swearing that she was the widow of John Henry Boller, stating that his death had left her destitute and without means of support, and asking that she be given an allowance as compensation for his death. She swore that she had never given aid to anybody in rebellion against the U.S. and had, to the contrary, always been a strong Union woman. Whether any aid was given to Mrs. Boller is unknown.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Civil War Murder in Springfield

As even casual students of the Civil War in Missouri know, the conflict in our state was characterized by bitter guerrilla fighting that spawned rampant lawlessness. Robberies, destruction of property, and even murders were not uncommon. Most of these criminal acts were related at least peripherally to military operations—either committed during the fight for control of the state early in the war or else during Confederate efforts to dislodge the occupying Federal Army after the Union secured Missouri in the spring of 1862. However, some crimes were personally motivated and had little or nothing to do with military operations. In the rural parts of the state, most such outrages were committed by partisans and freebooters who identified at least nominally with the Southern cause. However, crimes in the larger cities, which served as Union posts and headquarters, were also not uncommon, and these were often authored by the Federal soldiers themselves. An example is a shooting affray that occurred in Springfield in the spring of 1862, perhaps the city’s most notorious incident of the Civil War that did not directly involve military operations.
Union sympathizer Mrs. Mary Willis, having lost two sons at the hands of bushwhackers in her home territory of northern Arkansas, sought refuge at Springfield during the latter part of the winter of 1861-1862, and she and her family were placed in a vacant house in the east part of town. Because the house had previously been occupied by “a squad of accommodating girls,” two soldiers were placed as guards at the house to turn away unwelcome visitors. About sundown on the evening of May 21, 1862, duty officer John R. Clark and his orderly, A. J. Rice, both in a state of intoxication, called at the Willis home and demanded dinner. When Mrs. Willis declined to prepare the meal, Captain Clark and his companion grew irate, began cussing, pulled their pistols, and tried to force their way into the house. One of the guards shot Clark through the body, and he staggered back a few steps and fell dead. Rice promptly fired at the guard but missed and hit Mrs. Willis’s daughter, Miss Mary Willis, in the head, killing her instantly. The second guard then shot Rice and wounded him severely. The ball struck him in the breast and ranged up through the shoulder, which was badly shattered.
A Mexican War veteran, Clark was a member of Company B, Fifth Kansas Cavalry, but he and most of the men of his company had been recruited into Federal service from Mercer County, Missouri, where he had served four years as sheriff of the county and had been a delegate to the 1856 Democratic State Convention. Despite the circumstances of his death and despite the fact that he was considered by at least one member of his own regiment “a Pro-Slavery brute” who “ought to have joined the rebels instead of our side,” Clark was buried in Springfield the day after his death with both military and Masonic honors.
Upon initial examination, A.J. Rice’s wound was considered mortal, but he lived long enough to be indicted the following summer in Greene County Circuit Court for the murder of Miss Mary Willis. At the August 1862 term of court, he took a change of venue to Phelps County. He was tried at Rolla in late October and convicted on October 30 of first degree murder. The next day, he appealed and was granted a new trial on November 1. The following April the case was continued, but no record of it has been found after that. Rice might have died before the new trial began, because, according to Holcombe’s 1883 History of Greene County, Rice’s wound “eventually proved fatal.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Murder of Peter P. Keen

On or about March 26, 1862, thirty-seven-year-old Peter P. Keen was killed by a gang of bushwhackers in Johnson County, Missouri, in the vicinity of Holden. Members of the gang included Andrew J. Wallace, Joseph Ross, Jack Briscoe, George Smith, and William F. Smith, but nothing was done about the crime at the time because the alleged perpetrators could apparently not be located.
In late December of 1862, however, two and a half years after the crime, an investigation was undertaken after several letters passed through the Holden post office addressed to Andrew J. Wallace, giving his address as Frankford, Illinois. (This might have been a misspelling of Frankfort.) Three citizens of Johnson County, including Keen's widow, promptly offered their testimony about Wallace's involvement in the killing of Peter Keen.
Harriett Keen said she knew Wallace was one of those who had participated in the murder of her husband and that Wallace was known in the area at the time as a notorious bushwhacker.
Elijah Buchanan echoed Mrs. Keen's testimony, saying that, at the time of the murder, he was close enough to the scene of the crime to hear the gunfire, that he saw the gang of bushwhackers immediately afterward, and that Wallace was one of them.
Holden postmaster William Rose (who no doubt was the one who called attention to the letters addressed to Wallace) said that Wallace and his comrades had taken him prisoner on the same day Keen was killed and had threatened to kill him, too. Rose said the bushwhackers spared him only because his father-in-law pled with them to do so. Rose added that the bushwhackers said in his presence that they "would kill every damned Union man in the county" or any man who went among the Federal soldiers. Rose said that Wallace had been a schoolteacher before the war and that he thought he was also teaching school in Illinois.
Apparently Wallace was never brought back to central Missouri to answer the charge of killing Peter Keen, or if he was, he was not detained long. He spent most of his adult life in the Decatur, Illinois, area and died there in 1908.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Maria McKeehan, Another Bushwhacker Belle

Sometime in the fall of 1863, Union authorities in Johnson County, Missouri, arrested several young men, supposed to be members of what was called the Knob Noster Independent Company, as bushwhackers and as suspects in the murder of a man named William Dillingham. Twenty-four-year-old Maria McKeehan (spelled Mariah in Union records) was arrested near the same time for aiding and abetting them.
In December of 1863, Dr. James M. Mitchell of Knob Noster gave a statement to Union authorities against Maria. Presumably he was compelled to do so, since he himself was a Southern sympathizer.
Dr. Mitchell said that on the 9th of August, he was called to the home of Catherine Hart, Maria's married sister, located in the Bristle Ridge neighborhood about six miles southwest of Knob Noster, because a family named Jones who was staying there had a sick child. While Dr. Mitchell was at the Hart residence, Maria, whose parents lived about two miles east of Knob Noster but who was then staying with her sister, asked Dr. Mitchell for a bottle of medicine for her sick brother, who was in the bush with the bushwhackers. Maria informed the doctor that she had been to the bushwhackers' camp that very morning and that the guerrillas told her that they had killed Dillingham earlier the same morning about two miles from her sister's home. (Dillingham was indeed killed on the morning of August 9 at his home near Bristle Ridge and his body was found "shot into holes" about 30 yards from his house.)
Maria further stated that she regularly fed the bushwhackers and aided them with medicine and information. She told Dr. Mitchell that she had heard one of the bushwhackers, Sam Whitley, threaten to kill him (i.e. Dr. Mitchell) because he would not come into the bush to administer to the bushwhackers' medical needs, and she told the doctor which road to take back to Knob Noster to avoid the guerrillas. Dr. Mitchell said the reason he thought Maria had helped him was that he had been kind to her aged father and had been the family doctor for a number of years.
A Union official noted on Mitchell's deposition that the doctor was a truthful man, even though he was "secesh."
Apparently little more ever happened in Maria McKeehan's case, as I have been unable to find any record of her having been shipped to St. Louis for banishment or trial as many women arrested during the Civil War for helping Missouri's guerrillas were. And that's why I did not include her in my Bushwhacker Belles book published earlier this year.

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