On November 17, 1864 Alvis Sheppard filed a law suit against George W. Messick and Harvey T. McCune for false imprisonment and abuse. Sheppard asked for five thousand dollars in damages for his pain and suffering. Messick and McCune were very familiar with the judicial system as multiple lawsuits were filed against them during the War. With widespread guerrilla warfare across the country there was a surge in the number of law suits brought against individuals and groups for radical criminal acts. The Sheppard case demonstrates how courts tried to maintain justice, during a time of turmoil and conflict.
Collections in the Lawrence Category
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.
On August 17, 1861 Missouri Governor Hamilton R. Gamble ordered a proclamation establishing the Missouri State Militia for defense of the State against guerrilla activity. Gamble soon realized the need for additional troops, and on July 22, 1862 he issued General Order Number 29 organizing the Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM). General Colley B. Holland assumed command of the 4th Military district, consisting of the counties in southwest Missouri, on October 30, 1862. Based in Springfield, Missouri, roughly 2,500 men reported for duty, operating under the jurisdiction of the State of Missouri. Holland’s documented all activities related to his command in the enrolled Missouri Militia order book for the 4th Military District in Southwest Missouri, from November 1862 through May 1863. His reports cover the Battles of Springfield and Hartville and also include details about depredation in Southwest Missouri and the extensive guerrilla activity that took place in the region.
The Hunter-Hagler collection provides rare documentation on how women endured the War in the Ozarks. The letters are written by Elizabeth Hunter and her daughters, Priscilla A. Hunter and Charlotte Elizabeth (Hunter) Hagler. The Hunters write Margaret Hunter Newberry, who married and left the family farm. The letters describe how the Hunter family survived harsh winters, sold goods at the market, and provide graphic details of murder, theft and destruction caused by bushwhackers in Jasper and Lawrence Counties. Perpetual violence caused the Hunter family to leave their beloved homestead, and flee to Illinois in late 1864. Elizabeth wrote her daughter affectionately and often, and through these letters Elizabeth relates the brutal conditions in which the family endured.
On May 25, 1865 Joseph Degraftenried filed suit against Harvey T. McCune, George W. Messick, John Hagler, John Conley, Linsey Conley, and Gransom Holden for wrongful imprisonment and theft of a gun in August 1861. Degraftenried sought five thousand dollars in damages for the alleged transgression against him by the defendants. This was one of several law suits brought against McCune and Messick for crimes they allegedly committed during the Civil War. All of the cases involving McCune and Messick included imprisonment, destruction of property, false accusations of treason, theft, and abuse. McCune and Messick were Southern supporters and likely participated in guerilla warfare during the Civil War.
The Ozias Ruark collection contains correspondence and a diary detailing the service of a captain in the 8th Missouri State Militia Cavalry. Throughout his diary, Ruark comments on four underlying themes: the impact of the war on civilians, foraging, engagements with guerrillas and the daily routine of camp life. He also notes weather, towns and the Ozarks landscape. Ruark’s perspective as a soldier provides a valuable portrait of military life in the region.
Thomas Alexander was a resident of Jackson in Jasper County, Missouri in 1860 with his wife Mary and their large family. Alexander filed a law suit against Rice Challas and Hugh Challas on July 4, 1865 for burning and destroying his house and for contributing to the death of his daughter, who was burned to death in the fire. Alexander sought $3,000 in damages from the defendants. Alexander believed the defendants were guerrilla fighters, not from Missouri, and therefore the judge ordered that their summons to appear in court be published in the local paper for several weeks so that the defendants would know to appear in court. The results of case are unknown.
Jasper County’s location along the Missouri-Kansas border made guerrilla warfare a constant threat to its citizens. Bushwhackers or those who were not officially aligned with either side took advantage of the chaos for their benefit. These bands of men were responsible for huge amounts of violence and destruction in the county.