Sheriff Shelt Alsup Again
Recently I ran across a newspaper story about an incident involving Shelt Alsup that I was previously unaware of and, therefore, did not include in my Desperadoes book. It involves another shooting affray that occurred in 1876 when Shelt was still sheriff. Late on the night of September 4, 47-year-old John P. Stockton and Sheriff Alsup got into a dispute at the Berry Silvy place in the Arno neighborhood west of Ava. Exactly what the argument was about is unclear, but one report said they quarreled over a card game. Also, a constable said that a couple of weeks earlier he had encountered Stockton on a rural road as he was putting up a "notice to taxpayers" at the sheriff's direction and that Stockton had cursed him and drawn a revolver on him. In addition, Stockton was a fugitive from Dade County, where he was wanted on a charge of assaulting his brother, but Sheriff Alsup said he had no intent to make an arrest and had made no move to do so when Stockton attacked him. Finally, Stockton had reportedly been drinking on the night in question, and it's possible that both men had been imbibing.
Whatever the reason for the confrontation, Stockton yelled at the sheriff, "Damn you, you can't play off on me," pulled his gun, and started shooting. Shelt received several wounds, but he returned fire and, when he ran out of bullets, picked up a rock and knocked his assailant down with it. Stockton sprang up almost immediately, though, and retreated toward the house of Jesse McClain, his 66-year-old brother-in-law.
At the McClain residence, he roused the family and angrily demanded to see Margaret McClain, his 28-year-old niece, because she had supposedly spread some rumor about him. Jesse said his daughter was in bed and told Stockton he couldn't see her, but Stockton checked Margaret's bed for himself and found that she was not there. This angered him even more, and he began using threatening and violent language toward McClain. Stockton's sister, 48-year-old Lydia McClain, tried to calm her brother down and got between him and her husband. Stockton, however, pulled out his revolver, reached the weapon around Lydia, shot McClain, and ran from the house.
A couple of Jesse McClain's sons, including 16-year-old Newton McClain, gave chase, and Newt shot Stockton as he rose up on the far side of a fence. Following her sons outside, Lydia McClain told them, "Boys, don't shoot Uncle Jimmy any more." Seriously wounded but still on his feet, Jesse McClain appeared at the door and added, "Let him alone for he has killed me" and then collapsed in the doorway. Stockton, wounded but still very much alive, then made his getaway.
Meanwhile, Alsup, on his way to Ava to seek medical help, happened by the McClain place shortly after Stockton had arrived. The sheriff heard loud shouting, but he declined to intervene because of his wounded condition. When he reached town, a doctor treated him for two gunshot wounds to the upper left arm and one gunshot wound to the lower right arm. As soon as he was bandaged up, Shelt went back out "on the war-path," according to a report in the Douglas County Leader. Accompanied by a posse of three men, the sheriff set out after Stockton. At the McClain place, the posse found Jesse McClain dead, although he had lived about an hour after collapsing in the doorway. Continuing their pursuit, the posse split into two groups, with Shelt and his father (Lock Alsup) going to the left and Deputy Woods and Jesse Cox going right.
As Woods and Cox neared the Silvy place, where Stockton had assaulted Alsup, Stockton sprang up from behind a pile of brush, spooking Cox's horse, which became uncontrollable and went tearing off through some timber, leaving Woods to confront the fugitive alone. The deputy demanded Stockton's surrender, but Stockton declined the invitation to give himself up. Each man started shooting, and Stockton soon fell mortally wounded with three shots from Woods's rifle.
The next day, McClain and his murderous brother-in-law were buried near each other in the Ritter Cemetery.
Sources: Springfield Leader, Springfield Weekly Patriot, Find-A-Grave entry for Jesse Jasper Newton, census records.