More On “Jayhawkers” & “Bushwhackers”

Captain William Leeper 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union)

In a previous post I noted that the term “Bushwhacker” seemed to be used interchangeably to describe partisans of either Southern or Northern sympathies in Southeast Missouri.

This also seems to be true with the term “Jayhawker”. Captain William Leeper of the 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) seemed to do this often.

In a dispatch dated October 12, 1863 Leeper writes:

“Captain, Commanding Expedition.

COLONEL: In obedience to your orders, I left Pilot Knob September 28, 1863, with Companies D, M, and L, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, numbering 150 men, with instructions to go to Pocahontas, Ark., or any other point in that vicinity that seemed to demand attention. We reached Doniphan on the 30th ultimo. Company L having been sent by another road (somewhat to the right), killed 2 men en route. Also, on the 1st of October, Captain [R.] McElroy, with 30 men, was ordered forward, via “Buck Scull,” where he found 6 men, who ran, and were fired upon by the party. Four of the men were killed and another wounded. Captain [W. T.] Hunter, with a detachment, went via Current River, where he captured 2 soldiers and some Government property.

The several detachments arrived at Pocahontas on the 2nd of October, and remained until October 6th (a squad captured 2 notorious jayhawkers in the mean time), when we moved to Smithville, Ark., and on October 7th opposite to Powhatan, on the east side of Black River.”

In his book: “A History of the Ozarks Vol. II: The Conflicted Ozarks”, author Brooks Blevin writes:

“The Union military’s transition to a harsher brand of warfare after the war’s first year, exempted civilians from their traditional safeguards as noncombatants. Those suspected of having rebel sympathies and of aiding the Confederate cause found themselves targeted by troops hunting down guerrillas. “Launched to either find the partisans or punish the local community for harboring them”, according to historian Robert R. Mackey, these “punitive expeditions” became a common occurrence in no-man’s land. Pursuing Southern guerrillas from an MSM post at Patterson, in Wayne County, Missouri, in 1864, Captain William T. Leeper determined to take the fight to the civilians in the countryside. “I think I will be able to stop Jayhawking by making their friends responsible for their acts.”, Leeper assured his superiors in St. Louis. “Those who feed or conceal them are as mean as they are , and I will kill them if this thing does not stop. If Union men are robbed, I will take their property to pay for it. If they kill a loyal man, I will kill five of them.”

History has not ignored Leeper’s methods or actions. In an account published in the Wayne County Journal Banner and shared on the Wayne County Historical Society’s social media page on August 1, 2018 , Captain William Leeper’s actions while he was in the 12’th Missouri Militia Cavalry (the 3’rd’s predecessor ) so much so that Leeper is labeled the “Chief Jayhawker” himself.

“Captain Leeper, I have no doubt, is wishing to merit and obtain a higher command than he now holds”. This was sent from Greenville and dated February 27, 1862, eleven days after the [Greenville] raid. A telegraph to General Gray at Pilot Knob was sent from Patterson soon thereafter. It read; “I have ordered Captain Leeper of CO B to Pilot Knob. Keep him and learn him to be a soldier”. One historian previously wrote about Leeper: “Captain Leeper’s methods of ferreting out and interrogating men to determine their loyalties were direct and brutal. He was known to shoot anything that moved and burn anything that would light. In February 1863 (almost exactly a year since the Greenville raid), Leeper and the 12th Missouri Militia participated in what was called by some “The Battle of Mingo Swamp” and by others as the “Mingo Swamp Massacre.” The McGee boys had just left the confederate army and returned home; ironically, to protect their home from Captain Leeper’s reign of terror. The McGee’s and their friends, the Cato’s sat unarmed at their camp at the McGee home when they were set upon in the early hours of February 4, 1863 by Captain Leeper and his “militia”. All 29 men were mercilessly gunned down in a barrage of gunfire. Captain Leeper’s report differs somewhat in that he reports “engaging a Union camp” on this date”.

After the raid on Greenville there was a giant exodus of local men that joined the Confederate forces. Among them was Oliver D. Dalton (1833-1898), who’s mercantile business was raided and burned at Greenville; Lafayette Rubottom (1824-1903), who nearly escaped death in the raid; and James M. Bollinger (1821-1868), brother to Philip. (A daughter of J.M. Bollinger, was Lavinia (Bollinger) Twidwell, wife of Madison Twidwell.

Among their descendants locally today are; Mrs. Mary Lou McEwen of Silva, Jim Shearrer and son Dennis of Patterson and local members of the Deering families). Captain Leeper seems to have done more harm locally than good. Bitterness abounded for many generations thereafter toward him. He became known locally as the chief “Jayhawker.”

  • Clint Lacy is the author of ” Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition” which can be purchased in paperback ($15) and Kindle ($2.99) editions. Click Here to purchase.
Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition

Using the Term “Bushwhacker” to Deflect Blame

Missouri “Bushwhackers” firing on a Union steamboat.

According to Civil War on the Western Border {.org} a “Bushwhacker” is defined as follows:

“The “bushwhackers” were Missourians who fled to the rugged backcountry and forests to live in hiding and resist the Union occupation of the border counties. They fought Union patrols, typically by ambush, in countless small skirmishes, and hit-and-run engagements. These guerrilla fighters harassed, robbed, and sometimes murdered loyal Unionist farmers on both sides of the state line. They interrupted the federal mail and telegraph communications, and (most troublesome to the Union command trying to quell the escalating violence in the border region) the bushwhackers held the popular support of many local farming families.”

In my January 31, 2020 post entitled “Who Murdered the Patterson Family” I noted that:

“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 post quoted above, I make the case that significant evidence exists to point the finger of blame for the murder of the Patterson family in Bollinger County, Missouri during the Civil War at one James Rogers, who was a member of Captain Cochran’s 90 militia.

After the war Rogers was appointed Sheriff of Bollinger County but later fled back to Michigan because, according to one newspaper account, he was charged for murders that were committed in the area during the war.

In my opinion using the term “Bushwhackers” to describe local Union militia units, seems to be intentional , not only to cause confusion in an attempt to deflect the blame from Union forces, but to point the finger of blame at Southern forces.

I have found another example of this. In the book “Revolution in America” author Don Higginbotham writes:

“My mother’s grandfather, Jonas Myers served in the Confederate Army and was killed in Northeast Arkansas after the conflict ended while on his way home to Bollinger County in Southeast Missouri. Some accounts say that he and several other local men on their return journey were robbed and then lined up and executed by so-called bushwhackers, lawless men who preyed on both sides. But the old tombstone that was erected after their bodies were exhumed and returned home says they were “murdered by Union soldiers.”

A Legendary Historian

Left: Dr. Frank Nickell was welcomed by Commander Clint Lacy Stoddard Rangers Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp # 2290

On Saturday January 25, 2020 the Stoddard Rangers Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp # 2290 welcomed Dr. Frank Nickell to the Stars & Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield , Missouri (the birthplace of the Armed Forces newspaper).

Dr. Nickell was a professor at Southeast Missouri State University for four decades and dare I say, the most respected historian in Southeast Missouri.

Dr. Nickell spoke to a capacity crowd about the causes of the Civil War and I must say the most impressive thing about his speech was his ability to engage the crowd and let them determine the causes of the Civil War on their own.

We were both happy and grateful that Dr. Nickell graciously accepted our invitation to address local citizens about the causes of the Civil War.

Special thanks to Dr. Nickell and to the Stars and Stripes Museum & Library in Bloomfield , Missouri for allowing us to host this event!

Below is a news article written by Nancy Nelson Vines for the Daily American Republic Newspaper.

Historian seeks to educate, offer dialogue on Civil War history

Friday, January 31, 2020By NANCY NELSON VINES, Contributing Writer

“I always enjoy speaking to an audience that is knowledgeable of the subject matter, and able to engage in meaningful dialogue,” Dr. Frank Nickell observed after his presentation on Saturday, January 25. Nickell, retired educator from Southeast Missouri State University and noted historian, was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Nickell addressed a capacity crowd in the library and research room at the National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield. In his discussion of Causes of the Civil War, Nickell revealed his belief that historians have no more of a definitive answer today, than when the war ended 155 years ago.

“Historians perpetuate their own views,” Nickell pointed out, “so there are as many explanations for the cause of the war, as there are authors who attempted to explain it.”

As he spoke, Nickell addressed the beliefs of numerous historians/authors, and shared brief overviews of their writings, as well as explanations of different phases of interpretation. He repeatedly sought opinions from those in attendance, and delighted in the thought-provoking conversations that ensued.

Nickell began his discussion by addressing two notable books that were published during and immediately following the Civil War.

“The first book to examine what caused the war,” Nickell explained, “was Horace Greeley’s The American Conflict, which was written in 1864 — before the war was even over.”

According to Nickell, Greeley, a renowned Northern journalist, blamed the war on the power held by the Confederate states. Greely viewed their collective power as a challenge to the Federal Government.

“Southerner Edward Pollard’s book The Lost Cause, published in 1866, presented the opinion that the only way the South could maintain their power, was to go to war,” Nickell observed.

As the discussion continued, Nickell sought input from the audience on their opinions as to the cause of the Civil War. Those responses were as varied as the authors’ opinions. Among ideas suggested by attendees were that causes of the war resulted from: the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, cotton growing, imbalance of tariffs, where people lived at that time, monetary issues, and the idea that slavery was only an excuse to go to war.

“So, in essence,” Nickell summarized, “there is no answer. Every interested person must study the Civil War for himself/herself and arrive at your own conclusions. It is the question that still haunts America.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a non-profit, patriotic, historical, civic and benevolent organization created to preserve the history and legacy of the Confederate soldier. The local organization Stoddard Rangers meets regularly at the Stars and Stripes Museum.