Volume 5, Number 6, Winter 1974
Some years ago a stranger came to a farm home on Highway JJ South of Kirbyville in Taney County, Missouri. The stranger asked the farmer to board him for a few days. It was agreed and the stranger promised to be "no bother" to anyone. He was a very quiet turned person and gave no reason for wanting to live with the family for a spell. The farmer and his wife surmised that the old fellow might be looking for land or prospecting for lead or zinc in the hills.
Each morning the stranger left the house, carrying a lunch the farm wife had fixed for him. He carried no gun or tools on these trips in the hills. Late in the afternoon he would return, tired and worn from climbing the pine-clad hills. After two weeks of exploring in the pinery country the old man paid his board and keep and departed, still a mystery. He gave no name or any information of any kind, just bade them good-bye and was gone.
For several summers he returned and lived with this family. Always the same secretive hikes over the hills with never a word as to his quest. One evening, very late, he returned from one of these day-long hikes. After supper he told them he was leaving on the morrow and would not return again. "I am getting too old to make these long hikes, so I will have to give up." He then took a well-worn little map from his shirt pocket. "I have been searching for All Bolins buried treasure," he said. He then related that one of Alf Bolins gang had told the story that Bolin had buried the gold, silver and other valuables taken in his many robberies, and that the hidden treasure was somewhere in those Fox Creek Hills. The old man was looking for a cave in the Fox Creek country. The treasure was supposed to be near this cave. The cave he was looking for is farther east than he had searched. The cave is located in the vicinity of Section 20, Township 22, Range 20 in Taney County, Missouri. Most any native hill man could have guided the old man to the cave. It is about two miles Southwest of the Old Mincy Store and Mill site which is at the end of Highway J.
The old man related to the farmer that the treasure was not buried in the cave but according to legend, nearby, using the cave as a landmark.
It is highly probable that Bolins loot is buried in those hills. The activities of the Bolin gang centered around the "Murder Rocks" on Pine Mountain south of Kirbyville, Missouri. The "Murder Rocks", also known as the "Alf Bolin Rocks", are located on Highway JJ about 10 miles south of Forsyth, Missouri, the county seat of Taney County, Missouri. This is a rugged section of the Ozark Mountains in southwest Missouri. The present highway up the mountain is about 60 feet east of the old road. The old road passed within a few feet of these great limestone rocks. The location is near the south line of Section 25, in Township 22, Range 21, Taney County, Missouri.
The great limestone rocks stood beside the Springfield-Harrison Road near the top of the mountain. The outlaws hid behind these rocks with a perfect view of the road to the north and the south. Many travelers were held up and robbed here. Many were murdered by the
gang. Two of the victims are buried on the farm later owned by my grandfather, Charles Mahnkey (now the Junior Strahan place about one mile south of Kirbyville, Missouri on Highway J). Legend has it that Bolin killed fourteen persons, mostly old men and boys.
Joel Dunlap recently related a story given him by his great grandfather, John Plez Dunlap. John Plez Dunlap and another family were moving to the Ozarks in covered wagons and had camped for the night at Coal Pit Hollow Spring at the foot of Pine Mountain.
About dark a man came to the camp on foot. He was the U.S. mail carrier from Harrison to Forsyth and had just been robbed by Bolin at Murder Rocks, about a mile away. Bolin took the mail pouch and the horse. The poor mail carrier spent the night at the camp and no doubt all spent a restless night for fear of Bolin.
Alf Bolin grew to manhood near Spokane, Missouri, in Christian County. He was a great hunter and very skillful with guns and traps and as a woodsman.
Claude and Clarence Bilyeu told me some interesting things about Alf Bolin that I had never before heard. John Bilyeu, a merchant in the days before the Civil War, kept Alf Bolin and his sister in his home when they were young children. The Bilyeu boys recalled the story being handed down in their family from the days of old John Bilyeu who was known as Old Dad Bilyeu. Alf Bolin attended the school in the neighborhood and was the champion speller of the neighborhood. It seems that about the time the war broke out someone shot at Alf from ambush and this incident may have started him out on his wild career of vengeance and murder. It seems the two Bolin children were orphans.
There is little more known of his life until the Civil War opened. During the war he led a band of about 20 men on raids that extended from the northern part of Arkansas northward through Taney County and the southern part of Christian County, Missouri. During this time there were no men at the homes to defend the people from the band. Only old men, boys, and women and children were left. Alf Bolin seemed to wish to take vengeance against the relatives of Union soldiers. He killed and robbed without mercy. Times were very hard and food scarce. He kept women and children in constant fear with threats and wild rides through the country in the night.
There were many victims of his ruthless warfare. One was Dave Titsworth, a lad of sixteen years, living at what is now Walnut Shade in Taney County. He was shot in the breast by Alf Bolin near Day Past Office on Bear Creek. After he had shot the lad some women asked him if he was not ashamed, killing such a young boy. He replied, "Get into the house and shut your mouths if you want to save your scalps. That makes 19 Ive killed." He rode away. The women then attended to the boys wounds. Bettsey May and Susan Keithley bound up his wound and cared for him until he was well again.
Another to fall before Bolins wrath was Bill Willis, only 12 years old. The Willis lad was carrying corn from the field to feed a horse. This was on Roark Creek, just north of Garber, Missouri. As the boy climbed the rail fence with the corn in his arms Bolin shot him down. Those brave, sad-faced mountain women came and buried the poor boy in a shallow grave under a mulberry tree on Roark Creek. Several old timers can show the grave to this day.
James Johnson, uncle of Wood Johnson, the Presiding Judge of Christian County (W. T. Johnson) and a brother of Jep Johnson, one of the first settlers of Taney County, was killed on Camp Creek in Christian County by Alf Balm. Bob Edwards was killed near Bluff in Taney County.
One of the saddest stories of all is of an old man by the name of Budd who was about 80 years old. Mr. Budd drove a yoke of oxen into Taney County from Christian County to get a small amount of corn from someone on White River. The corn was to be used for making bread for the women and children of his neighborhood.
He got the load of corn and started back to his home. He reached White River and crossed it near the place that was later known as Hensleys Ferry. Just as he crossed the river and started on his way Bolin and his band halted him. They forced him to leave his wagon and wade back into the river. There he was shot down and fell into the water, his body being carried away by the stream.
Two Union soldiers had been to visit their homes on a furlough. As they returned to their
duties with the Army they were ambushed and killed at the Alf Bolin Rocks on Pine Mountain in Taney County on the old Springfield-Harrison Road. Uncle Joe McGill, then a young man, and two women of his family brought the bodies to a point about three miles south of Kirbyville where they buried them. This point is marked now by a cluster of timber in an open field on what is known as the Charley Mahnkey place.
After Alf became an outlaw he came to Old Dad Bilyeus place with his gang and demanded money and threatened to kill his former benefactor. The gang was about to kill Mr. Bilyeu. Mrs. Bilyeu went up into the loft of the house and brought down a big batch of maple sugar they had made and kept hidden for family use during the hard times of the War. She laid this out on the kitchen table and the gang and Alf ate all they wanted and took the remainder. Alf Bolin, while at the Bilyeu home, had a meal sack full of money and poured it all out and counted it. After counting the money and eating the maple candy, Alf took Bilyeus best saddle horse and they all rode away.
Clarence and Claude related this story of their grandfather, Hosea Bilyeu. Hosea and Big Ike Lewis were teenage boys at the time of the Civil War and the period of Alf Bolins raids. Hosea was only 14 and he and Ike Lewis had been digging a grave at Meadows Cemetery for old lady Lewallen. On their way home, bushwhackers rose from behind some big rocks along the creek. The boys ran for their lives. The bush-whackers were no doubt a part of Bolins gang and knew these lads both belonged to Union families. Hosea, although only 14, made his way to Springfield and joined the Union Army. This was about the only way a man or boy had any chance of survival so vicious were the bush-whackers such as Alf Bolin.
There are many other instances of Alf Bolins cruelty and raids but this is enough to show the character of the man. Old settlers tell us that he was the meanest looking man they ever had seen. (We can find no one alive now who saw him and can described him.)
Alf Bolin eluded the Union soldiers sent to capture him. He and his band were hard riders and good woodsmen. He knew all the trails, all the mountain passes or gaps, all the caves, every ford on White River. He knew how to elude the best of the cavalry sent to search for him. The officers, knowing that they could never surround him, decided to try to trap him. What a daring plan! Trapping the smartest woodsman of the South. Trapping him in his own hills.
A Southern soldier by the name of Foster was captured by the Union men and held prisoner in Springfield, Missouri. He was in danger of execution, so the story goes, for some offense. Fosters wife was a Union sympathizer, even though her husband wore the Gray. Mrs. Foster lived near the Arkansas-Missouri state line about three miles south of the Alf Bolin Rocks, near what is known as the Old Layton Mill. Alf Bolin and his band were camped near her home. The chief came to her home many times for his meals.
The Union officers made a plan with her whereby she was to help them capture Bolin dead or alive. If she would help them in this they would release her husband from the charge against him and set him free. To this the brave Mrs. Foster agreed and the plan was laid. She realized one small mistake and her life would be taken. One small error, one little suspicious move and the plan would fail. But with a great love for her husband and a desire to rid the county of this terrible raider, she agreed to the plan.
The Union officers, knowing the cunning of the man Bolin, realized what a task they had before them. They selected a man by the name of Thomas, a Union soldier who was a native of Missouri, and had enlisted in the army in Iowa. He was selected because of his coolness and bravery. Detailed to his difficult work he made his way southward (from it is supposed Springfield) disguised as a Southern soldier who had been captured and had either escaped or been discharged and was making his way homeward again. He made believe he was sick and very weak. Slowly he made his way through Christian and Taney County, going unarmed, knowing that if Bolin caught him armed he would kill him. Finally he reached his destination - the home of Mrs. Foster. Here he stayed for a few days, pretending to be sick and staying upstairs.
One day his chance came. Bolin camped near and came alone for his dinner: Thomas made a slight noise from his place in the attic. Bolin asked who it was. He made him come down and threatened to kill him; Mrs. Foster
explained that he was a poor Southern soldier making his way back home. (The story goes that Thomas wore an old Southern uniform.) Thomas appeared very weak and hardly able to move about. Mrs. Foster set the table for the meal. The table was placed near the fireplace. Balm and Thomas sat down to eat. Thomas sat next to the fireplace. There had been placed on this side of the fireplace a colter (a long steel blade, homemade, used to fasten to a beam of a plow to run ahead of the plow to cut the roots in breaking new ground.) Bolin saw this and became suspicious. Mrs. Foster explained that this was brought there by a fellow sometime before to be made into horse shoes, and that he had never come for it. She had been using it as a fire poker.
This seemed to satisfy Balm to some extent, but he was still suspicious and laid his pistol on the table by his hand as he ate his meal. No chance came during the meal. Thomas dared not have any arms so he must resort to some other trick. The meal was finished and Balm, growing less suspicous, leaned over the fire to rake a live coal into his pipe. As he leaned over, Thomas, like a flash seized the colter and struck Bolin. He fell, apparently dead. Mrs. Foster and Thomas dragged him into the back room.
In a few minutes they heard him struggling, and Thomas finished him with the colter. They could not use the pistol as Bolins band was near and a shot would bring them on the run. Mrs. Foster and Thomas, realizing the great danger they were now in, made the following plan. She would stay at the house and satisfy the curiosity of any of Bolins band that might come in search of him. Thomas would go to the Union camp and let them know what had taken place. The soldiers came and Mrs. Foster was conducted in safety to Ozark, Missouri. There, we learn, she lived after the death of her husband until the early 1900s.
Bolins body was brought to Forsyth, Missouri. His head was cut off with an ax by Colbert Hays and then taken to Ozark where it was placed on a pole. People tell me that there was a great rejoicing over the death of Alf Bolin. As the soldiers went to escort Mrs. Foster to the North they stopped at a house near Forsyth and told the people that Alf Bolin was dead.
The gruesome task of delivering the head to Ozark, in Christian County, was necessary in order to prove the death of Bolin so as to collect the reward.
Sam Boswell, one of the pioneers of the Forsyth area, and whose people had a trading post at the mouth of Swan Creek before the county was established, told me much of this story. After he was an old man and had almost lost his sight, he accompanied me to the spot where Alf Bolins body was interred. He could not locate the exact place. However, it is on the right hand side of the old Swan Creek Road, north and east of Old Forsyth about one mile. Mr. Boswell was about 12 years old at the time of Bolins death and remembered all the details.
The secret of Alf Bolins buried treasure died with him. There is no doubt that the outlaw had amassed a considerable fortune in gold, silver and other valuables. The scene of his many robberies was along the main road from Harrison, Arkansas to Springfield, Missouri. There were no railroads within several hundred miles, so all freight and the United States mail had to use the route between the two frontier cities. Bolin trusted no one. He dared not go to a bank to deposit his loot for safekeeping for there was a price on his head. So he buried his ill-gotten gold, silver, jewelry, watches, and other valuable near the cave on Fox Creek near the Missouri and Arkansas border and there it remains after nearly one hundred years.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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