The Trail West
It was the spring of 1862 and the early morning fog was starting to rise and burn off in the valley so you could see the budding trees and other plants coming awake after the long winter. This was the valley where young Joshua Kelly lived and he was hiding at his father's orders; he would have rather been standing in front of his home with the rest of the family. Josh watched as the raiders know as "The Bushwhackers" sat on their horses and confronted Josh's father. "I should be down there with them," Josh thought; only his father's instructions kept him from coming down from the hilltop overlooking the farm house and joining his family.
If he couldn't be with his family he planned to help protect them from his hiding place. Josh had a Sharps rifle trained on the man talking with his father; that the man was the leader of the gang. It was a long shot to make with a carbine but he was an excellent marksman and if the raiders started trouble Josh would try and take out their leader.
The Bushwhackers operated as a guerilla force during the Civil War, raiding in Missouri and Kansas along the border and the interior of these Border States. They were almost as well known as "Quantrill's Raiders who were southern sympathizers and made famous, maybe infamous is a better term, by the newspapers of both the Union and the Confederacy.
This outlaw gang would burn, steal, rape and murder in the name of their cause. It seemed their cause was to benefit themselves because they attacked both Union and Confederate forces and followers. If a Union supply train could be attacked and the goods stolen, the Bushwhackers would do it. The following week they would attack a Confederate supply depot. They were a band of outlaws hiding behind the confusion and violence taking place in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas during the Civil War.
John Fogerty was the leader of the group and was trying to intimidate the Kelly family members facing him and his gang of cutthroats. Josh's father, William, and his mother Molly stood on the front porch of the farmhouse facing the raiders; both were armed. Josh's 13 year old brother Samuel was in a front facing open window with a shotgun pointed at Fogerty. It was expected that William would be ready to fight to protect his family and farm but Fogerty hadn't counted on the two extra guns in the hands of Molly and Samuel.
"Where's that oldest boy of your'n Kelly? We need to talk at him a bit," Fogerty question Josh's father. He wasn't aware that the boy in question had a gun aimed at his back.
"That's my business and none of yours Fogerty. I'm thinking it's time for y'all to leave," William replied as he cradled his rifle in the crook of his arm. The weapon wasn't exactly pointed at the bandit chief but it wasn't far off.
"I'll leave when I'm ready Kelly. We got you outgunned so just put down your weapons and tell me what I want to know," Fogerty ordered.
"Yep, you've got more guns than us, but when the shootin' starts y'all be the first one killed," William told him. "We'll probably all die but I'll make sure that you go first. When we meet in Hell we can continue the fight there." Molly turned so that the double barreled shotgun she was holding was aimed in Fogerty's direction. The noise of Molly and Samuel cocking the twin hammers of their shotguns was a clear warning.
He thought it was a bluff but when he noticed the move that Molly made and also saw the other shotgun pointed at him through the front window, he wasn't as sure. The thing that made him back down was the look in the eyes of both William and Molly; it was the death stare.
Fogerty had seen that stare before in the eyes of the people fighting his gang when they raided other towns and farms in southeastern Missouri. It was a look that said "I know I'm dead but I'm going to take as many of you with me as I can"; it was a look of desperation and acceptance.
"I don't want no trouble Kelly; we just want your boy to join us. We lost some men last week and I'm recruiting from the farms around these parts. Figured you would want to help out the cause but I know you have to stay and run the farm so that leaves your boy," Fogerty explained as he tried to smooth over the earlier confrontation. "He can make a right nice bit of change to help with the cost of running your farm."
"What cause is that, Fogerty?" William asked already knowing the answer.
"The Confederacy of course. We make raids on Union troops and camps to help the South in this here war."
"Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining Fogerty," William responded. "Just two weeks ago you attacked a Confederate supply wagon and killed six soldiers and the week before you robbed a Union payroll; y'all killed ten in that raid. Seems to me your cause is you and your killers getting rich off this war. Neither me nor my boy want your blood money." William stepped toward Fogerty a couple of steps and continued.
"Just so you know me and my family aren't in sympathy with either the Union or the Confederacy. My family and my brothers are what you would call neutral in this stupid war. We're going to go on faming and stay out of it, if we can. If we're forced to, we'll fight both sides. Now turn your horses around and get off my farm," William ordered as he pointed his rifle directly at Fogerty.
"You haven't heard the last from me Kelly, I'll be back," Fogerty blustered.
"That would be a bad choice on your part. Listen carefully Fogerty, if I see you on my farm again I will shoot you where you stand like the mad dog you are. I won't tell you to leave or warn you again, I'll just kill you and leave you for the varmints. That goes for any of the scum that ride with you too. Now get!"
Fogerty looked at William's eyes and believed what the man had told him. He knew that if Kelly caught him on his property again, that he would die. He turned his horse and rode away from the farm house with his gang following him. I'll come back and bushwhack that son of a bitch, Fogerty thought as he rode away. He was more adept at shooting a man in the back than facing him in a fair fight.
Josh watched the riders as they left the farm; then mounted his horse and followed them until they climbed out of the valley onto the trail toward town. He turned his horse and rode back home feeling a lot of pride in his father; standing there like a big oak tree facing down those Bushwhackers. Josh wasn't really surprised at his mother either, standing beside her husband when danger threatened; she was a very strong woman and in a lot of ways was the back bone of the family.
William was 6' 2" with a big frame and Molly was 5' 8" which was tall for a woman. Josh had his mother's features with dark almost black hair and blue eyes but he took his size from his father; he was 6' 1" with the same frame as his father's; he just hadn't fill out yet. He arrived home as Samuel was going out to do the evening milking; Samuel was still carrying the double barrel shotgun that he had held out the window. Josh waved at him and went into the house.
His father was oiling his rifle and the double barrel shotgun that Josh's mother had held on the raiders. William's rifle was a .44 caliber 16 shot Henry Repeater; it cost more than two month's wages and was his pride and joy. The shotgun that Molly used was a Remington Coach gun, as was the one that Samuel still had with him. The two 12 gauge shotguns were ones that William had bought before the war while working as a stagecoach guard.
When the war started, William decided he didn't want to be a target for any of the outlaws running crazy along the Border States. Many claimed to be guerilla fighters for either the Union or the Confederacy but a lot of them, like Fogerty's Bushwhackers were common thieves and murderers. William figured dead was dead no matter which side pulled the trigger so he decided to stay on the farm until the war was over.
Josh sat at the table with his father and began to oil his own rifle; a .52 caliber Sharps breech loading carbine. He had worked for his Uncle Jake on weekends for almost six months to pay for his rifle. Jake had bought a Henry Repeater like William's and offered the Sharps to Josh at a very good price. His father had offered to buy the weapon for him but Josh wanted to earn it himself.
Josh looked at his father for a few seconds and finally spoke. "I should'a been down here with you Pa. You or Ma could have been hurt; I shouldn'a been here to help," he said.
"If you had been here someone would have been hurt. Fogerty would have tried to force you to join them and your momma wouldn't have allowed that," William said with a little smile. "Neither would I. Understand?"
Josh nodded his head but still didn't like that he had been sent to hide while his family protected him. He understood the logic but emotionally he didn't feel it was right. A man should stand up for himself, he thought.
At 17 Josh was considered a man as were most young men living in the hill country of southeastern Missouri. By the time a lad reached 17 he was expected to do a man's work and help his family survive. The young men would work side by side with his father on the family farm or hire out to someone like a blacksmith; all to make it a little easier for his family.
The youngsters would continue doing this for years; most times even after finding a wife they would stay on the family farm and the family just got a little bigger. That was good because it meant another helper for the family. Sometimes another cabin was built nearby but usually the existing house had a room added on if need be.
Josh was no exception; he worked almost every day with his father in the fields and with the livestock. But sometimes he worked for other people in the area; even though it left the farm shorthanded, the money Josh made working outside of the farm was a tremendous help to the family. He had a unique talent for breaking, gentling, and training horses.
Got a high spirited horse or mule that's giving you trouble; bring the animal to Josh or have him come to your place. Usually in a few days the animal would be as obedient as a heel hound. Got an animal that you couldn't train; have Josh work with it for a few days and the animal would bust its tail doing what it was trained to do. Got a wild horse that needs breaking; hire Josh and he would break and train the animal without breaking its spirit. This talent was a money maker in an area where most of the hard labor was done by horses or mules.
There were a couple of times a year that Josh wasn't available to work his magic with animals; during spring planting or autumn harvest he was busy on the family farm. The rest of the year he was always willing to take an animal in hand and turn it into a working partner for its owner.
Josh's rates depended on the horse or mule, depended on how wild or how much training you wanted, and depended on the time necessary to do the job. He usually got a dollar a day working the animals; if the animal was extremely wild or difficult he would sometimes add a little to the final tally.
Josh seldom got less than 3 dollars per animal and sometimes he made as much as 15 dollars if the animal was hard headed. It was an unheard of amount of money for a youngster like Josh to make but his clients swore he was worth every penny.
William could see that his son wasn't happy about being forced to hide in the hills and knew what his boy was feeling. If Josh didn't like the hiding he was going to hate what I want him to do now, William thought.
"Josh, I want you to leave the farm and head west. Get away before this war drags you into it. If it isn't Fogerty it will be some other band that will try and force you to join them; or maybe Union soldiers will "draft" you. At your age as long as you're here you're in danger. You need to head west, son," William told him.
Before Josh could respond Molly came to the table and said, "You men clean off the table it's time to eat. This talk bout leaving can wait till after supper. Josh go help Samuel finish the milking and then wash up."
"Okay Ma. Be right back," Josh answered. He thought about what his father had said as he helped Samuel. He knew that his Pa was right; but he didn't have to like the idea. After supper, it was Josh's turn to help his mother clean up and as they worked Josh asked, "What do you think I should do, Ma?"
Molly put her hand on his cheek and said, "I think your father is a smart man and knows what he's talking about. I hate for you to leave but I think it's for the best; at least until the war is over."
William, Molly, and Josh sat at the table and talked about Josh leaving. Samuel was at the table too but this was a decision for the grownups and he wasn't quite there yet. It had been pretty much decided by William and Molly that Josh would head west; all that was left was the planning for the trip. But Josh had one last suggestion before he agreed to his parent's wishes.
"Why don't we all move west Pa? I hear there's land available out there for next to nothing; just a filing fee. The family could get a new start with a bigger place. Maybe we could get Uncle Simon and Uncle Jake to go with us. That way the whole family would still be together." Josh was grasping at straws, trying to find a way to stay with his family.
"Trying anything you can, aren't you son." William smiled at his boy. "You're great, great, grandpa settled this farm a long time back and it's been in the family all this time. I won't let a bunch of politicians or scum like the Bushwhackers run me off. Simon, Jake, and I talked about that very thing when the war started and they feel the same way I do. Sorry boy, but you're going to have to go it alone, and soon."
Josh would obey his father's order to move west, at least until the war was over. He could have just moved into town but that wouldn't solve the problem because he would still be a target to be drafted into one of the armies or one of the guerilla groups.
The next week Josh and his parents started getting things ready for him to leave. Clothes had to be sorted through and mended if need be, the saddle and tack for the horses Josh was taking was checked out, and the trail food he would carry had to be organized.
Josh was sitting on the front porch one evening after supper with his father and mother just watching the fireflies make pretty little points of light in the night. After about an hour, Molly stood up, kissed her husband, patted Josh on the shoulder, and went to bed. Josh started to get up too but his dad wanted to talk a bit.
"How many horses are you going to take with you son?"
One of the extra benefits about training horses is that every once in a while Josh had a customer with a really tough horse or mule that would require more than a week or two to break and train. Sometimes the customer didn't want to spend the money on the animal saying that they didn't want to throw good money after bad and would sell them to Josh cheap; a few times they just gave Josh the animals to be done with them.
Josh would spend extra time with those animals; sometimes it took a month to bring the animal around but he was able to sell the horse for a large profit. One of the mules working on their farm had been just such an example. Consequently, Josh ended up with a string of four horses that were some of the best in the county.
"I thought I would take two with me and leave the other two for you and Ma. That bay gelding is the gentlest saddle horse around and the black is big and strong enough to be a good mount for you Pa. I'm taking Sunny, the big buckskin and Joey the sorrel with the blaze. Neither of them is extremely fast but they're both strong and run at a lope almost all day. I'll switch off every day to keep them as fresh as possible," Josh answered.
"Good choice, we'll take good care of the two you leave behind so you'll have them when you come home again," William said with a catch in his voice. "See ya in the morning son."
The scheduled departure date was still ten days away when they got some news that changed their plans. The Bushwhackers attacked and killed three men and wounded one in the next county. James Chilton, his two sons, and his son-in-law were melting lead and making rifle balls for their guns. Fogerty rode into their valley and shot Chilton and his sons; the son-in-law tried to escape on his horse but he was shot and left for dead.
Fogerty claimed that the men were making rifle balls for a group of Union sympathizers and that's why they were attacked. According to the son-in-law the Bushwhackers came in shooting and stole everything of value after killing the Chiltons. Obviously it wasn't a military operation but murder and robbery.
The Chilton family was close cousins of the Kelly's and the attack worried William for more than just the loss of family members. He thought that Fogerty might come back to their valley looking for more recruits, including and especially Josh after their last run in with the Bushwhackers.
Josh was an early riser as were most people who lived on farms, but his father woke him before dawn.
"It's time for you to go Joshua; we can't wait any longer. Fogerty may come back this way now that he has supplies and you don't need to be here." All the while his Pa was hustling Josh along to hurry him up. "I got your saddle on the buckskin and a pack saddle and bags on the sorrel. You're all ready to go, so hurry up."
"Pa if Fogerty got to the Chiltons he can get to you and Ma. Let me stay and help fight them off," Josh didn't want to leave with his family in danger.
"The Chiltons were family but sometimes James didn't have sense enough to pour water out of a boot. He let himself get caught out in the middle of the field with no cover. They also had all of their rifles broken down for cleaning at the same time." William shook his head as he gave Josh the information.
"Don't worry Josh; the Chiltons lived all alone back up in that hollar with no one to warn them about incoming riders. We've got your Uncle Simon on one side and your Uncle Jake on the other. No one can come in over the hills so the only way into our place is past one of their farms. That will give us plenty of warning if Fogerty comes back."
Josh tied his bedroll and slicker behind the saddle and turned to say good bye to his folks. His mother came off the porch with a bundle of fried chicken and some other things that he could use on the first part of the trip. He put the bundle in the pack panniers and hugged her real hard. Josh had tears in his eyes as he said good bye to her.
"God bless you Joshua," his mother said as she pulled his head down so she could kiss him. "Take care of yourself and write and let us know where you end up." Molly had been a school teacher and had made sure that Samuel and Josh could read and write; she even taught William how to read although he had her do any writing that was necessary.
As Josh turned to say good bye to his father he saw him pull the Sharps rifle out of the saddle scabbard and it's cartridges from the saddlebags. William replaced it with his own Henry Repeater and several boxes of cartridges. He smiled and said "you might need the firepower where you're headed." His father also handed Josh a leather bag with a draw string.
"There's two hundred dollars in gold coins in there; you might need something along the way, don't you know." He smiled at the shocked look on his son's face.
"I can't take this Pa. I..." Josh tried to protest.
William interrupted and said, "It's the money you've been giving us from your horse training over the last couple of years. Ma and I saved it thinking it would a good start for you if you ever got married. Guess it will be have more use now rather than later." Josh had more tears in his eyes now and heard his father sniff a couple of times.
"Have any idea where you're going or what trail you're going to take?" Pa asked.
"I plan on cutting south through Arkansas and then take the trail west, I guess. Maybe I'll head up to Colorado; I hear there are cattle ranches from Pueblo all the way north to Wyoming. If there's cattle ranches then they'll need a horse trainer; but I can work cattle if need be," Josh explained his plan to his father.
Josh gave Samuel a hug and then a handshake, kissed his Ma one more time and turned to his father. They shook hands and then William grabbed Josh in a bear hug and held him for about ten seconds.
"Mind your Ma boy and be careful. You're your own man and trust your instincts. Take the trail west and get out of this mess," William said.
The boy mounted Sunny, waved to the family and rode south from the farm. As he topped the first hill he turned and looked down at his family home, the only home he had ever known; he wondered if he would ever see it again. Josh waved one last time to the family and turned his horse on the trail south.
The Bushwhackers were a guerilla band of supposedly Confederate sympathizers. They ran amok during the Civil War and afterward killing and stealing throughout southern Missouri, along the Mississippi River and down into northern Arkansas.
A note concerning the murder of the Chiltons mentioned in this story. I changed the names but "James Chilton" and two of his sons were murdered by the Bushwhackers. The son-in-law was also killed as he tried to ride for help.
The Bushwhackers claimed that "the Chiltons were Union sympathizers" when in truth they had tried to stay neutral during the Civil War. According to historical letters written by "Chilton" he didn't hold with slavery but he also didn't hold with the Federal government telling folks and states what to do
Although I have changed the names, these real life men were some of my ancestors. I have a copy of an old letter written by an eye witness to their murder describing the event.
In addition to the almost total decimation of that limb of my family tree, the aftermath of this raid had local historical significance. A group of relatives and neighbors of "the Chiltons" hunted down and dealt with "John Fogerty" and his Bushwhackers. The band of local vigilantes, who were neither Union or Confederate sympathizers, only interest was "justice" and to send a warning to other guerilla bands roaming through southern Missouri.
I hope this brings a little more life to this story. Thanks for reading my work.