Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991 / Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991

Margaret Gilmore Kelso

A Memory Story, Part II

Bushwhackers and Wilson's Creek

When we moved back to the old home on Clear Creek, (northwest Greene County, Missouri) at the beginning of the War, in 1861, my father joined the "Home Guard" and was a staunch Union man. We suffered from the raiding of what we called the"Secesh". I remember one time when father was away, there was a forage train of I don't remember how many wagons. They took all the corn we had in the crib and all the hay we had. They also went into the smoke house and filled one wagon box full of meat. Everybody cured their own meat, then sold the bacon. The foragemaster paid mother in Confederate money. It was perfectly worthless, he knew, but he put up a good show of being honest.

While General Price occupied Springfield, after the Battle of Wilson's Creek, two men came to our place, went to the barn lot, and caught a horse we all loved. He was a fine dapple gray that we called Old Jim. The horse seemed to sense something was wrong and snorted and ran around the lot several times before they finally caught him. How we children hated to see Old Jim go. He was a fine looking, gentle horse, and a very fine saddle horse.


The bushwhackers also raided our house. They were men who did not belong to either army, and kept themselves hid away in caves and in the deep woods, and were mostly Union sympathizers. They went on parties when they knew the women would be at home alone. They had their lookouts and their get-together signals, and we could hear their whistles, and their horns when they were planning a raid. They usually disguised themselves and dressed in Union uniforms. One evening, in the fall, we were at the barn lot milking. Four men came riding up to the gate, dressed in blue uniforms of the Union soldiers. We thought they were soldiers coming to spend the night, until one of them jerked the gate off its hinges and rode right over it. Three of them rode in and one kept watch at the gate. Mother stopped milking, and when we reached the house they were tearing up the beds, emptying trunks and boxes on the floor and taking everything they happened to want. One of them said to mother, "Where is your money...where is it?" Father had just returned from St. Louis, where he had sold some wheat. Mother answered, "There is no money in the house." Then one of them cocked his pistol in mother's face and shoved her about the room, saying, "Tell me where your money is!" But mother kept insisting there was no money in the house. One of them threw a shovel of fire from the fireplace onto the floor, scattering it all over. Mother very carefully swept it up. They scattered another shovelful, which she swept back into the fireplace. She was so mad at the scattered fire she would not let them see that she was badly frightened. When they had gone she began to tremble and was so weak she could not stand. By that time the man at the gate was getting nervous and kept calling them to "come on boys, hurry up!" She always thought she knew who they were, but of course she couldn't be sure.

They took their plunder, stopped at the door and cursed mother and told her if she reported them before morning they "would come back and burn the damn house down over our damn heads." They said they didn't care what she did the next morning as they would be in Arkansas by then.

Sister Melissa was crying and one of the men stuck his head back into the house and said, "What you crying about, Sissie?" She said, "! want my new shoes back." All of the shoes had been hanging on the wall, and they had taken every pair of them. He said he couldn't give them back to her as number fourteens would just fit his wife in Arkansas.

They had gone no further than the gate when mother had a big lump of brown sugar about the size of a teacup in each hand, holding it out to my brother Jimmie and myself, telling us she would give them to us if we would go by the path, the short way over the hill, to our nearest neighbors and tell them the "Bushwhackers" were coming. Money was scarce then, and sugar was high. Scared as we were, the BIG lump of sugar was great temptation to us, so we took it and ran through the dark as fast as we could go to warn our neighbors. We followed the footpath through the timber, and we could get there ahead of the bushwhackers. It was misting rain, but we reached there and told our story. Mr. Thomas, Cass, and Uncle Jim were home on furlough. They began loading their pistols, and the women began to hide things, and we started on our way home.

We crossed the lot, and were just about to climb the fence into the road when we heard the robbers coming. They were riding slow and talking low. We dropped down into the fence comer and hardly breathed until they had passed. They went a little ways past us, then stopped and talked low for quite a while, then rode on and passed the comer, turned toward the house and stopped and talked again. They turned back past the place where we were hiding. At the corner, they took another road and went to Aunt Lucinda Gilmore's home and robbed her. She was alone. Uncle John had not been dead very long, and she kept his clothes in a little side room. They were taking his clothing, his hat and his gun. She clung to his gun and begged them to let her keep her husband' s things. They knocked her down and kicked her, breaking her ribs, and beat her over the head with the butt of the gun.

When Aunt Lucinda heard the bushwhackers had been to our place, she came over to see us. I can see her yet, as she sat there in the chimney corner, crying and telling us how they abused her, and how bruised and battered she was. How black her poor face was! It was just as black as flesh can be. She died a few days after she visited me, from the terrible beating they had given her.

Mother always thought she knew the hooded men who came to raid us time after time. She thought they were men who lived in the neighborhood, as we could hear unexplained signals and they were always just before raids. What they took from us on those occasions represented much hard work, and many times was the difference between us being able to eat, and starving.

They wanted money, but never did find any. The money was in a big, green, jug-shaped bottle with a large neck and mouth, and it was nearly full of gold and silver coins. Mother always told the raiders, "There is no money in the house," and that was true...there was no money in the house. It was hid in the ash-hopper. I saw the bottle, with the money in it, after the war was over. None of us had known anything about it, only pa and mother, at that time.

The day the Wilson's Creek Battle was fought, on August 10, 1861, my mother walked the floor all day, and wrung her hands and cried, until the noise of the big guns ceased. It must have been five o'clock in the evening before she got us anything to eat. We children were too young to understand, and followed her around and begged her to tell us why she cried. She would place her hands on our heads and say, "Oh, children! Oh, children!" My brother and I would lay our heads on the ground, and we could hear the guns and feel the earth tremble.

In later years we could understand mother's grief, as her relatives and friends were divided in ideals and politics, and many families had relatives fighting on both sides...some of them with the Union Army and others with the Confederate side. In some instances brothers were fighting against each other, in some of the battles.

We could hear the lamentations of neighbors when their husbands and sons were brought home dead. Cass Thomas was killed during the war, but not in the Battle of Wilson's Creek. He was a fine young man, not more than twenty-two or three-years-old. It was a sad day for all of us when his body was brought home and buried. As long as Grandma Thomas lived, she went to Mt. Pleasant Church and would go and weep over his grave. It was such a waste of human life.

The Civil War was a cruel, dreadful thing. Old men were called out and churches and school houses were burned to the ground, and houses destroyed wantonly. So many families moved into our neighborhood from Arkansas who had lost everything they had. We called them refugees. Father gave them work, let them have corn and wheat for bread, cows to milk, and a team to plow with. They were all honest and industrious, hard-working people. Some of them stayed on after the war was over. Some of them went back to Arkansas and rebuilt their homes on their own land.

After General Lyons was killed at Wilson's Creek, his soldiers passed the Uncle Hope Skeen place on a forced march. The neighborhood gathered to see them pass by, and to serve them coffee and a bit of something to eat. The weather was hot, and the poor, tired soldiers were black in the face with dust and sweat. They had carried their knapsacks on their backs, their guns in their arms, and their canteens swung under their arms at their side. Now and then one would drop out of the ranks and fall down under the shade of a big tree that stood in the yard near the road. The women would run with cups of coffee and pie or ginger cakes, or whatever they had, and the poor soldiers would rest on their elbows while they ate. After they rested a bit, they would fall in line again. They marched four abreast all day and were still going by when we went home about sundown. I never pass that place now but I think of those poor tired soldiers, black with dust and sweat.

I saw the army in camp before the battle. It was a city of tents in the open prairie. The guns were stacked, and looked like shocks of corn, only they had bayonets on the top. They were camped on what is now part of the old Renshaw place, but it was then open prairie that extended from near Cave Springs up to what we called Waterloo then, it was almost to Willard.

My mother baked ginger cakes and pies, a large box of them, and my father took us all to see the camp, and to sell the pies, etc. When we got to the camp grounds, I could see the soldiers drilling in companies. Their guns and bayonets flashed in the sunshine. It was frightening and I thought sure we would be killed. When we got onto the ground, Pa lifted me out of the wagon and gave me a pie and told me to go and sell it. He gave Melissa and Jimmie one, too. He went about among the soldiers, shaking hands. That frightened me, too.

I looked about for quite awhile before I could muster courage to go and sell the pie. Finally I saw one man, quite a bit away, walking to and fro, alt alone, so I went up to where he was, but crying when I got there. I held up the pie and said, "Do-you-want-to-buy-a-pie?" He took his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped away my tears and patted me on the head until I stopped crying. He then pointed to a tent where there were three or four soldiers sitting in front and said, "You go right over there, they will buy your pie." I went over, and they bought my pie. I went back to the wagon--Pa was not there, but Jimmie and Melissa were selling pies and cakes. We sold all we had. I did not venture out again.

Margaret Gilmore Kelso (1855-1949) was the daughter of Ozarks pioneers who, in her later years, was urged to write down some of her recollections. The result was an historically significant memoir which OzarksWatch began publishing in the Fall issue, 1990.
Margaret Kelso was only six years old when the Civil War began, but vivid memories of the suffering and hardships of that time remained with her throughout her long life.

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