Volume 1, Number 3 - Spring 1962

The Alsups of Douglas County
By Claude Hibbard.
Ava, Missouri

Many families still prominent in Douglas County, Missouri, had members who fought in the Civil War. Since it would be impossible to tell of them all this account will deal only with one family, the Alsups.

The earliest Alsup of record in this country -John- came to Virginia from Scotland. His son, John II, moving westward, first settled in Eastern Tennessee. Still restless as the frontiers expanded, he with his brothers Bill and Moses L. (Locke) and other men made several horse back rides into Western and Southwestern Missouri, beginning in 1823, in a search for likely land. In the early 1830's four Alsup brothers brought their families to Greene County. Two of them settled there. Moses L. and Bill moved on to Douglas County in 1835 and took up lands near the present Twin Bridges on State Highway 14. These men were lovers of spirited horseflesh; and Moses L., especially was not satisfied until he had located a tract on Fox Creek with broad level fields suitable for a race track. Here he fathered a large family and bred race horses famed over a wide area.

The Alsup men were large, handsome, intelligent - and very restless - people. They were impatient of the law's slow delays and usually settled their controversies according to their own ideas of right and wrong. They were also a public-spirited clan. Bessie I. Selleck, in her Early Settlers of Douglas County, says that Ben Alsup served two terms as an early associate county judge in Howell County, and later represented Douglas County in the state legislature. Locke Alsup was one of the commissioners appointed to establish a Douglas County seat, located at Ava. Shelt Alsup served as Douglas County sheriff one term, 1874- 1878. His nephew, Charles N. Alsup, grandson of Tom Alsup, was clerk of the Douglas County court for two terms in the 1920's.

Mrs. Selleck historical account states that Moses L. "Locke" was chosen captain of Co. H, 46th Missouri Infrantry, in the Union army. Also in this company were three other Al sups: Lt. W. M. N., and infrantrymen Thomas A. and James S. Other Alsups served in different Union outfits.

A few small military engagements took place in Douglas County, along with much destructive 'bushwhacking" activity. A few of these involving the Alsups will be mentioned.

At one Christmas season Capt. Alsup and his men were having breakfast at a home in the village of Buckhart when the house was suddenly surrounded by a party of Confederates. Alsup and his men came out shooting and the Confederates took to their heels, leaving several casualties behind.

On Bryant Creek, near Vera Cruz, Locke Alsup's company in his absence found and drove in the pickets of a Confederate force of unknown size. Finding themselves facing a large force the Unionists gave ground. States J. B. Curry in his History of Douglas County: "The net result of this fighting was that six of Alsup's men were killed and a number wounded; eight head of horses were killed or crippled; and one horse was captured." (Logan Alsup, eldest member of the family still living in Douglas County, informed the writer that this horse was named "White Lightning" and became one of their best racehorses.) On the Confederate side, six men and a number of horses were killed.

On the following day Capt. Alsup stationed his men on the bluffs along Bryant and more Confederates were picked off sniper - fashion as they proceeded down the creek.


In connection with this fight the bravery of a woman named Mrs. Owen Bell should be recounted. Hearing that a relative, named Owens, had been killed in the action, Mrs. Bell, living alone on her farm, hitched her ox-team to a wagon and drove to the battlefield. She recovered the body of Owens, also that of a friend named Spence Collins. These she loaded in the wagon and took back to the farm and buried there. It was a two-day trip and would have been an ordeal even for robust men.

(This farm now belongs to Hugh Stout, Mrs. Bell's great grandson. He say the bodies were later removed to a proper cemetery.)

Locke Alsup's farm was near Cold Springs. One day when he chanced to be at home the road in front suddenly filled with men - rebels. Capt. Alsup escaped through the back way and hastened to round up some of his men

Meanwhile the rebels in bushwhacker fashion proceeded to loot the home over the protests of the Alsup women. They ate whatever was cooked, carried off anything portable and valuable, then set fire to the house. John Locke Alsup, aged nine, was permitted to take his smaller sisters, Patsy and Polly Anne, out into the road. The grown women at tempted to salvage their bedding, but the bushwhackers seized it and threw in into the fire.

About this time the rebels saw Alsup and a mounted contingent of his men galloping across a nearby field toward them. They ran for their own horses and galloped away, leaving behind a few dead or badly wounded men. Two of the older Alsup girls, Martha and Liza, heard moans coming from the woods near at hand. Investigating, they found a badly wounded rebel, who before he died asked them to notify his mother in Arkansas. This they did.

Ben Alsup was captured by a Confederate and held at his place near Jonesboro, Arkansas. The captor owned a shingle mill powered by an old blind mule. The Confederate contemptously hitched Ben alongside the mule and worked him until his hands were ruined for life. After the war Ben returned to Arkansas, sought out his captor, and killed him.

After the close of the Civil War, before his election as sheriff, Shelt Alsup moved to Arkansas. Then one day, having imbibed too freely of Arkansas moonshine, he tried to live over the Civil War with some of his old enemies, possibly in a gloating boastful manner. One of the former rebels took advantage of his condition to give him a bad beating up. In the melee Shelt was hit on the head with a rock, suffering a concussion which partially paralyzed the muscles of his face. He was left for dead, but his relatives nursed him back to health, and eventually Shelt and his family moved back to Douglas County. Later, accompanied by his brother-in law, less Cox, Shelt made a vengeance pilgrimage back to his old Arkansas home. He found his enemy, the rock- wielder; and one can imagine the fear in the face of the Arkansawyer when Shelt faced him and said: "Stand and take your medicine."

At any rate, Shelt killed him, and a warrant for Shelt's arrest followed his return to Douglas County. At this time Shelt was elected sheriff and no warrant was served until his successor, a man named Victory, took over the office.

The story as the writer heard it from the Alsups is that Shelt promised to give up peacefully if he were assured of being tried in Missouri, and if no posse composed of his enemies was formed to capture him. They said that Sheriff Victory did return with a posse composed in large part of Shelt's enemies, and in the resulting fight both the new and former sheriffs were killed, with Shelt's five-year-old son becoming an incidental victim of the shooting.

Many of the Alsup stories, both factual and legendary, center about Shelt, who from all accounts was a remarkable character.

According to one legendary account, Shelt while serving as sheriff and ex-officio county collector walked into the room where the county court was in session. Some of his collections and his reporting of same had been put in question. The story is that Shelt pulled out his revolver, fired one shot into the ceiling and one into the floor, and stated: "The third shot is saved for anyone who objects to my report."

John M. Bragg Ava attorney, says he heard his father tell this story:

"Shelt when he was sheriff often rode into Ava with his friends, all heavily armed and mounted on good horses; and many people were afraid of him, including members of the county court. His final settlement had been delayed; and the court called upon him to make his report. Meanwhile, fearing trouble, they arranged for a thick table to be placed in the room, one which could stop bullets. They sat behind this table, heavily armed, and ready to upend the table and crouch behind it if shooting started. Their attorney, Gus Kice, sat in an open window whence he could roll to the grass outside if trouble erupted. When Shelt appeared at their request and asked what it was they wanted, they informed him that his final settlement had not been made.

"All right, gentlemen, I'm ready," said Shelt, and turning to two of his men said, "Bring in my saddlebags."

From the saddlebags he counted out the money due the court, in gold. His accounts and those of the court jibed and no trouble ensued.


With such a large and vigorous clan spreading its active influence into all parts of Douglas County, it is understandable that for many years the county was not divided politically under the labels of "Republican" and "Democrat" so much as under those known as "pro-Alsup" and "anti-Alsup."

John Douglas, in a letter to the Douglas County Herald in November, 1940, said that he was "Douglas County's first Republican assessor" He said he was nominated and elected to the office on the first Republican ticket to be presented to the voters, in the election of 1884. Since the Alsup's supported the Republican ticket, many of their enemies, or those who feared them, became supporters of the Democrat party.

Incidentally, the only slaves known to have been brought into Douglas County were the property of Moses L. Alsup. Several of the restless Alsup's had taken their families in ox-wagons and the long trek across the continent in the gold-rush of the 1850's. On this trip Cynthia Ann Alsup was born in the family wagon just after the train crossed the California border from Nevada. (Cynthia Ann later became Mrs. Henry Burns of Douglas County.)

After spending some time in the Santa Rosa area near San Francisco, during which the Alsups mode more from racing their horses than from panning for gold, the Alsups sold all their livestock except some horses and headed back for Missouri. J. E. Curry's history says the men rode their mounts overland, but sent their families home by steamer around the Horn to New Orleans and St. Louis.

It was in New Orleans, where he had gone to meet his family, that Alsup purchased a woman negro slave at auction. When she began crying be cause of separation from her child, Moses bought the child also and brought them both back to the strange environs of Douglas County.


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