Alvis C. Sheppard vs. George W. Messick and Harvey T. McCune – 1864

Alvis Sheppard was a farmer in Lawrence County, Missouri with his wife Elizabeth and their two daughters Sarah and Emily. The two defendants in the case of George W. Messick and Harvey T. McCune were also residents of Lawrence County, Missouri for a brief period of time. Throughout the war, both armies moved in and out of the county, taking crops and livestock. Many residents fled, and population estimates in 1865 were less than 4,000 people. Guerrilla warfare was a constant threat in the area. Their main tactic involved spreading “terror” among the civilians. Guerrillas conducted surprise assaults on civilians and military personal. They would ride through the dense woods, attack a military train or civilian establishment, gather what food and supplies they could and escape into the cover of the brush. This “hit and run” tactic was successful in contesting Union control over the region and thus kept Union men and supplies committed area when they were needed elsewhere.

Due to the nature of the warfare in region, many of the country court rooms were filled with civilian claims of restitution. On November 17, 1864 Alvis Sheppard filed a lawsuit against George Messick and Harvey McCune. He claimed that the men illegally imprisoned him for twenty four hours. According to Sheppard the men formed a “court” and tried him on the account of being disloyal to the Confederate States of America. Messick and McCune denounced Sheppard as a “black republican” and abused him will he was detained.

Messick and McCune were no strangers to the legal system as they had been sued several times before for similar crimes mentioned in the Sheppard Case.1 However, these gentlemen were very clever and knew how to manipulate the tattered legal system to their advantage, which is why they were able to evade prosecution numerous times. The first tactic they implored was requesting a change of venue, since they were not citizens of Missouri, but claimed to residents of Red River County, Texas. and therefore would not be able to receive a fair and unbiased trial. The case was moved to the Greene County 14th Judicial Circuit Court.2

Messick and McCune had a half a dozen witnesses submit depositions saying that they had not imprisoned Mr. Sheppard and that in fact, Mr. Sheppard himself had stated how lucky he was that he had not been captured. Messick’s brother testified that on “the latter part of August, 1861 him and his brother, the defendant had stopped at plaintiff, Shepherd’s house in Lawrence County, Missouri; and during the conversation something was said about our being lucky in not having been taken prisoner, when Shepherd went on to state that he had also never been a prisoner; but that he had been afraid one time that he would be imprisoned; and that it was when he went to see Capt. Baker to get his mare which had been captured some time before. He said thought that he was mistaken; that Captain Baker treated him like a gentleman, and that he was not imprisoned.”3

Nearly an identical story was given by several other witnesses, including the testimony of a woman, Mrs. Mary F. Bottom. Messick and McCune knew that the witnesses they had selected would support their defense because they were close friends who all supported the Southern cause. The actual transgressions brought to court were often just pretenses of a deeper source of resentment to a fellow neighbor who had a differing political view. Old animosities and resentments were not forgotten in the post-war years. The violent struggle between jayhawkers and bushwhackers left a bitter legacy throughout the Ozarks.

The results of the case are unknown and the credibility of all those involved in the case are questionable; which make deciphering the events that transpired in August of 1861 difficult to know with absolute certainty.

Contributed by the Greene County Archives and Records Center

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  1. McCune, Harvey T.; Hagler, John; Messick, George W, Missouri State Archives: Missouri Judicial Records, 1867, accessed on October 26, 2010,
  2. Alvis C. Sheppard vs. George W. Messick and Harvey T. McCune. CW 39, Greene County Archives and Records Center, Springfield, Missouri.
  3. Alvis C. Sheppard vs. George W. Messick and Harvey T. McCune. CW 39, Greene County Archives and Records Center, Springfield, Missouri.