The Bowers Mill Collection

The Bowers Mill Collections include two court cases brought by George, John and William Bowers after the burning of their grist mill in October 1863. Bowers Mill was located on the Spring River in the Oregon settlement of Lawrence County. The Bowers operated the grist mill and wool carding machinery, and maintained a storage facility for flour, wheat, corn, wool and assorted dry goods.

The civil suits stemmed from the destruction of the mill, machinery, stored goods, and the three homes owned by the Bowers. The importance of regional grist mills to rural Ozarks communities cannot be overstated. Mills served myriad functions to the regional economy, and their preservation and continued operation was important to maintain a sense of hopefulness and security in the Ozarks during the War.

The first Bowers suit began on January 23, 1864, with the plaintiffs asking for roughly $32,000 in damages from 47 defendants. Depositions failed to produce a confession, and instead served to absolve certain defendants of association with the alleged crime. Defendant, Jess Newton Gotcher, noted the importance of the mill to his family living in the area, as evidence of his innocence.

(I) had no hand in it and (am) not guilty of any participation in the same (I am) opposed as a soldier and officer the robbing of private citizens non combatants and destruction of private property (I) regretted to hear of the plaintiffs mill being destroyed by any one as (my) Father lived in the neighborhood and depended on the mill for his breadstuff and (I) had…lived near the mill and was acquainted with the plaintiffs and regarded them as (my) personal friends though differing politically and (I) had no inclination to injure the plffs had (I) been present (I) would prevented so far as lay in(my)s power and injury to the person as property of the plaintiffs…
Deposition of Jesse Newton Gotcher, Paris, Texas, October 25, 1866

On October 18, 1865, the Bowers brought suit against Henry “Harvey” T. McCune for the destruction of their property. McCune’s son, Thomas, was a defendant in the first trial. The second suit did not proceed quickly, but it did produce results. Despite McCune’s death during the trial, the deposition continued, and the Bowers finally received a confession in 1869.

(I) was in Benton County Arkansas in September, 1863, and in September about the last of September 1863 (I) left Benton County with Gen Shelby’s Command, and proceeded to the State of Missouri and reached Lawrence County in the State of Missouri on or about the fifth day of October 1863, and…(I) together with one John Nelson Set fire to and Burned the Mills and Other buildings On Spring River in a little town known by the Name of Oregon. …(The) burning was done as Gen Shelbys Command pased North from Benton County Arkansas And…(I) knew at the time that…(if I) Burned the Mills and other buildings that it was in violation of Gen Shelbys orders And (I) was not ordered persuaded nor hired to burn said buildings but done it with (my) own free will and accord…(I believed at the mill)and other buildings was that the Malitia of Lawrence County Missouri made their head quarters at said Mills and other buildings and that (I) wanted to broke up their nests…
James Barnes, Dallas, Arkansas, October 15, 1869

James Barnes also implicated his partner in crime, James Dixson. The men believed Bowers Mill was a nest for the Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM), and thus justified its destruction. The EMM stationed men around mills throughout the Ozarks to establish a safeguard for civilians and help alleviate fears of guerrilla attacks. The militia’s presence allowed for continued cultivation and provided a source of food for the men. The destruction of Bower’s mill hurt more than just George, John and William, as it impacted the lives of women, children and Union forces that depended on the mill for food.

Contributed by the Greene County Archives and Records Center

View this collection