Who Murdered the Patterson Family?

Brochure published by The Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission.

In my book “Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition” I devoted a chapter to personal stories of Civil War atrocities. In this chapter I included the murder of Confederate officer William Patterson and his entire family. I used a pamphlet published by the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission as my source for this particular incident. The brochure states:

“The story of the Patterson family who lived four miles south of Marble Hill, is a vivid reminder of the savagery of the war. Here, along what was once the main trail to Zalma, William Patterson, a Confederate officer, his wife, and their four young children were murdered, and their bodies weighted with rocks and thrown into the deep spring on their farm. The family’s house was burned and it was several weeks before the bodies were found. They were buried on a hill near the spring. After the murders, late travelers on the old trail told of seeing a blue light that seemed to float above the spring on dark, stormy nights, and the spring came to be thought of as haunted. Visitors often spent the night in Marble Hill rather than traveling past the spring at night.”

Though the story doesn’t state exactly who was to blame for this incident, the book “Gone But Not Forgotten” by LaDonna James points the finger at Confederate soldiers. This however, doesn’t quite make sense considering Patterson was a Confederate officer.

Personally I believe the confusion revolves around the term “bushwhacker”. In most history books the term “bushwhacker” refers to Southern partisan fighters on Missouri’s western border. Often these Southern partisans formed into “irregular”, “independent” companies of men. That being said, many people relate the term “bushwhacker” to “Southerner” and “Confederate”.

Through my research I have found that in this area of Southeast Missouri the term “bushwhacker” was used indiscriminately to describe Union or Confederate independent units. Cochran’s 90 Day (Independent) Militia was not attached to any other units, nor was it beholden to any other units, which qualifies he and his unit as “bushwhackers”.

In the Vol. 1, October 1978 issue of “Echo” the Bollinger County Historical Society magazine author Clyde Willis writes that the Patterson family was murdered by “bushwhackers”.

The June 28, 1866 issue of the Daily Union and American newspaper (Nashville, TN) reported:

A clipping from the June 28, 1866 Daily Union and American newspaper reporting Bollinger County Sheriff James Rogers was appointed by Missouri Governor Fletcher and that he was being charged with murder for acts he committed during the Civil War.

“General J.R. McCormack, who is a candidate for the Conservative nomination for Congress in the third district, delivered a speech in Dallas, Webster County [Editors note: mistake by newspaper, Dallas present day Marble Hill, Missouri is in Bollinger County] on the 14th inst. , and he was attentively listened to. Shortly afterward a squad of five or six ruffians surrounded him, when one of them, named James Rogers, without provocation, knocked the Doctor down, the blow for a time rendering him speechless.

On recovering , he found the ruffians had left. Rogers is Sheriff of Bollinger county, an officer of the peace, appointed by Governor Fletcher. He is also charged with committing murder during the troubles in Southeast Missouri, and to have been guilty of swindling the Government in some lead and beef contracts down there.”

By all accounts Sheriff James Rogers was a criminal but what of the murder he committed during the war?

Through some additional research I found a post made by John Russell on the Missouri in the Civil War Message Board that sheds some additional light on James Rogers war-time activity in Bollinger County:

“This all came up as I was trying to catch up on the info re George Rufus Zimmerman who by family lore was killed by James Rogers August 24 1864 in a rather despicable way. Seems that Rogers was a Sargent in the afore -mentioned 6 month militia before becoming a Leut. in Cochran’s VMM (a GO #3 unit maybe????) as of April 1865. Rogers was in charge in Fredericktown in May 1865 when Pete Smith ambushed a supply and pay train at Bessville. He later became Sheriff of Bollinger county in 1866 but fled back to home state Michigan in early 1870’s about the time pre war Democrats started to get elected to office.

Zimmerman may have been in cahoots with Smith and Hilderbrand ala your note about Steakley and 3rd MSM in Autobiography Sam Hilderbrand pg 223, No 6. At the time of that incident July 20th ’64 per Steakley, Cochran’s unit was just getting organized with Rogers, Limbaugh, Lincoln’s etc mustering in on July 24 and 29. About one month later is when Zimmerman was murdered in front of family on the farm on Castor River just a couple miles south of the Peterson farm[ Ed. note: did he mean Patterson?]. Apparently this group of militia caught up with and killed several Southern sympathizers in the same couple days in the area. Zimmerman’s wife related that she continued to raise nine kids in a community where at least 3 who were involved in her husband’s death continued to live. Sure the war ended in 1865 but I’m not sure its anywhere near forgotten by some of these families. I was just trying to get a feel for what Cochran’s Company was doing and what authority it had to do what it was doing. Sounds a bit loose to me.


John R.”

William Patterson and his family lived the Zalma road four miles outside of Dallas (present day Marble Hill) this would have been the most likely route that Rogers and other members of Cochran’s Independent Militia took on their way to murder George Zimmerman and other Southern families in the Castor River area.

James Rogers served as Bollinger County Sheriff from 1866-1868 and returned to Michigan (presumably to avoid the murder charges). Everything points to he and other members of Cochran’s Independent Cavalry Union Militia as the murderers of William Patterson and his family.

One other interesting note is that after James Rogers returned to Michigan, Missouri Governor Fletcher appointed Erich Pape Sheriff of Bollinger County. Pape served in the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) and is blamed for the burning of Doniphan during the war.

Post- Civil War Missouri was governed by Radical Republicans , it only makes sense that Governor Fletcher would appoint radicals to prominent positions. This was during the time that former Confederates could not hold political office following the war.

  • Clint Lacy is author of “Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition”
Available in Paperback ($15) and Kindle ($2.99)


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