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, October 23, 2016

Killing of Rube Sorrel and Arrest of His Sidekicks

Reuben Sorrel lived in the Canaan community of Gasconade County, Missouri, prior to the Civil War. When the war broke out, he evidently served as an officer in the Missouri State Guard for at least six months (although extant records do not confirm this). However, by the summer of 1863, he was back in his home territory of central Missouri, where he gained a reputation as a notorious bushwhacker. In late September he was killed, presumably by a detachment of Union soldiers, although this, too, is unclear. Word spread like a prairie fire, according to a Union report filed a few days later, and "rebels, secesh, and semi-rebels flocked in to the number of about 100 to see the corpse, which was not buried until the third day."
Shortly after her husband's death, Sorrel's widow, Martha, sent for a man named Matthews, whom she thought to be a Southern sympathizer. Among the things she told Matthews was that two men of the neighborhood, James M. Nelson and John D. Pope, had sworn that "four feds would have to pay for the killing of Rube."
Matthews, however, proved not to be a trustworthy friend. He reported what he had learned to the assistant provost marshal at Cuba, Ellis Evans, who in turn sent a letter on September 30 to his superior, a Captain Manning, describing Matthews's intelligence. Evans said both Nelson and Pope had been "noisy rebels" in Gasconade County. Nelson was described as "deformed," with a short arm and a head that drew to one side. He was fit enough, however, to have served in the rebel army under Sorrell for six months near the beginning of the war. (At the time of the 1860 census, Nelson was working on Sorrel's farm as a hired hand.) Evans thought that both Nelson and Pope should be banished outside Union lines or "else inside an inner line" (i.e. placed in jail) as other bushwhackers had been dealt with. He added that the Union men from the neighborhood between Canaan and Jake's Prairie, where Nelson, Pope, and the Sorrels lived, did not want Nelson and Pope arrested if they would only be turned loose shortly afterwards, because arresting them and not holding them would only make them worse when they came back. Evans concluded his letter by reminding Manning that the territory between Canaan and Jake's Prairie was "badly rebel."
An warrant for the arrest of Nelson, Pope, and the Sorrel family was issued, but precisely what action was taken has not been determined.
Sources: Union Provost Marshals' Papers, 1860 U.S. Census.

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