John Dryden Letter

John Dryden wrote his wife while on a cattle drive on the Miami Indian Reserve in Linn County, Kansas in July 1863.  He reports in his letter “that there is 1200 sesesh at Harrisonville. The Platte Country is said to be full of them.  There is some fighting going on there with the usual amount of burning and stealing.”  Attacks by Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers were common occurrences along the Missouri-Kansas border from 1854 through 1865.  Dryden’s letter expressed hopes to return to his family soon and cursed the “villains” who drove him from his him.  Dryden was possibly forced to drive his cattle in Kansas, because it was not safe for him and his live stock in Missouri.

Farmers prized their livestock, the most common being horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens. Milking the family cows provided not only milk, a favorite beverage, but also cream for butter. Horses and oxen were vital for transportation or plowing fields. Whereas cattle and hogs were consumed, cattle, horses, and mules were livestock in high demand and were some of the few farm products that could travel overland on the hoof to distant markets.  As the war progressed, livestock had a similar demand with the military.   Horses and mules were needed by soldiers and bushwhackers to travel across the Ozark terrain, and hogs were butchered for food.  Soldiers from both sides foraged crops and livestock from civilians in order to survive, leaving many civilian family to starve.

As violence and depredation increased throughout the region, the Union army took a tough approach to decreasing bushwhacker activity along the Missouri / Kansas border.   Union General Thomas Ewing issued General Order Number 11, on August 25, 1863. Aimed at those who supported the guerrillas, it ordered all residents living in the border counties of Bates, Jackson, Cass and the northern half of Vernon to leave their homes. Those families were required to give oaths of loyalty to the Union, and their evacuation was demanded within two weeks.  Militia regiments were organized throughout Missouri to provide additional protection to civilians.  General Thomas J. Mckean, commander of the Northeast District of Missouri, Jan. 29 to June 1, 1863, planned an expedition into Missouri to stop guerrillas who had terrorized the citizens along the Missouri-Kansas border.   Mckean called “on all loyal men to rally,” but Dryden expressed no desire to join the campaign. His primary focus seemed to be providing for his family under the difficult conditions placed upon all civilians by both the military and bushwhackers.

Dryden and the men accompanying him were paranoid of Missouri Bushwhackers stating, “We had a scare here night before last some one fired off a gun in the neighborhood and away the men lumbered was a sight worthy of our Missouri scare.” Dryden’s letter to his wife is representative of the fears many civilians faced living in the region; as they attempted to continue their lives amidst the war, while soldiers and bushwhackers raiding their means of surviving.

Contributed by the Bushwhacker Museum and Jail

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  1. John Dryden Letter to his wife, July 29, 1863. Bushwhacker Museum, Nevada, Missouri.
  2. Wiley Britton, Pioneer Life in Southwest Missouri, revised and enlarged edition (Kansas City, MO: Smith-Grieves Co., Publishers, 1929), 111, 113-114, 123.
  3. Thomas J. Mckean, Register of Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy Class of 1831, accessed 9 November 2010,*.html
  4. John Dryden Letter to his wife, July 29, 1863. Bushwhacker Museum, Nevada, Missouri.