Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Death Threats in Southeast Missouri

During the Civil War, Missouri was a hotbed of Confederate guerilla activity. Bands of guerillas often retaliated against pro-Union citizens when one of their number was killed as a result of the fighting.

The following news article, published in the September 23, 1864, edition of the St. Louis Union[1], reports an incident of such activity and the death threat that was discovered afterward.


Washington, County, September 20, 1864
To the Editor of the
St. Louis Daily Union:

The guerrillas are still at work in Washington county. On last Thursday morning two of these armed villains attacked the house of Mr. Fred Will, whilst he was at breakfast with his family. One of them entered the house by the front door, and stepping, unperceived by the family, to the door of the dining room, asked Mr. Will to step into the hall. This done, he demanded Will's arms, stating that he was a United States detective, and that his captain was at the door waiting for him. Mrs. Will immediately ran into the hall and boldly told Mr. Detective that that game was played out; they succeeded in getting the villain out of the house, when his captain rose from behind a chicken coop with revolver in hand, evidently with the intention of shooting Mr. Will, so soon as they got him to the door, but they were foiled in their attempt at murder, and forthwith made a hasty retreat to their horses, which were tied in the brush, not more than one hundred and fifty yards from the house. They next visited the house of Thos. Blakewell, stole his rifle and put out. The neighborhood was soon aroused and gave chase to them, but owing to the dust in the roads and the woods being so very dry, they were unable to track them successfully. They next went to the house of Mr. Patterson and stole a rifle and revolver, and also some money and jewelry. When they decamped from Patterson's, they went to the house of Mr. M.A. Todd, late Sheriff of Washington county; they robbed him of a shot-gun, a revolver, money and jewelry. From Mr. Todd's they went to the farm of Mr. Nicholson and stole a fine horse belonging to George Towl, of Potosi. The troops in Potosi were soon out in pursuit of the thieves, and pressed them so hard that Mr. Towl's horse and one other were recovered from them; but the rascals made good their escape.

The country is full of bands of guerrillas. No Union man's life or property is safe, while rebels and rebel sympathizers feel perfectly safe and secure from any guerrilla depredation. They are fed and harbored by their friends, and get all the information they want from sneaking sympathisers who are permitted to live in our midst unmolested. Had Order No. 107 been faithfully carried out, and two full companies put into active service, I venture to say that guerrillas would be scarce.

On last Sunday morning a son of Rev. S. Brown found a dropped letter on the road, between Potosi and Hopewell, signed, O.A.K. It was evidently written by these desperadoes with a view to alarm Union men. The contents of the letter was a direct threat to have the lives of thirteen Union men in retaliation for their late chieftain, old John Hiley.

They commenced the work by the killing of Lieutenant H.C. Beckett; Captain Fred Will was to be the next victim, and there is no doubt but they intend to carry out their threat, unless they are speedily arrested in their career. The men whom they have selected as their victims are all unconditional Union men, now and forever. I give you a list of doomed: old John Evans, young John Evans, James Thompson, Elbert Thompson, F.R. Boyd, Captain W.H. Evans, Captain Fred Will, Lieut. John Hewey, old John Forshee, Marshall Ronjey, Captain A.R. Eaton, Captain John Jamison, Lieut. Wesley Yeargan. Lieut. H.C. Beckett, killed.



Two of the men on that list—old John Forshee and A. R. Eaton—were members of my paternal ancestral families. Old John was brother to James Forshee, my 2nd great grandfather; A. R. Eaton was the younger brother of Mary Elizabeth (Eaton) Martindale, my 2nd great-grandmother. It must have been a terrifying experience to have received such threats.

[1] Ross, Kirby, "Retaliatory death list for killing of John Highley," posted at The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board, 12 February 2011 (;read=16501#Responses : accessed 12 July 2011).

© 2011 Denise Spurlock

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