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