In recent months, Citizen columnist Bill Graham has written columns about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the impact the War had on Platte County both then and now. Following is another entry in the series.
Our grocery stores brim with produce this harvest season. Combines reap corn and soybeans. We’re confident food is plenty as frost turns the fields brown. But 150 years ago, if a farm had a grain harvest, there’s a good chance that a woman had walked behind the plow and planted the seeds. Children and the elderly likely helped pick the corn. A cow, horse or mule in the barn meant good luck had spared a household. At many farms, no one was home. Men from Platte County were away in the Civil War, or fleeing the War in the West, or riding with armed gangs in the brush or just trying to stay alive by pleading neutrality. “Toney Tinsley, having shown undue interest in behalf of the South, was hung by the Federal soldiers near Barry,” historian W.M. Paxton wrote of Sept. 18, 1863, in his Annals of Platte County. The War had already taken a deep toll on the County with fire and death. Residents feared more devastation. Most of western Missouri to the south was depopulated, robbed and scorched by Union General Thomas Ewing’s famous Order No. 11. That order followed southern bushwhacker William Quantrill’s guerillas burning and killing in Lawrence, Kan. Platte County at least still had towns and farm houses with smoke rising from chimneys. But who harvested the crops if a farm was still standing? A history book for Clay and Platte counties credited to W.W. Gatewood lists families residing in various townships in the 1880s. Their history submitted by families and edited by Gatewood often references the men’s Civil War years. Many in Gatewood’s history fight for the Confederacy from the War’s start until the end. A smaller number serve the Union. However, many men fought for only for a year or so after the war began. Enlistments ended and they headed West to work for the wagon freighters or in the mines. They stayed safely in the West until the War’s end. Other men don’t fight at all, but simply leave the County for all the war’s duration. Unfortunately, the women’s stories during the War are not told by Gatewood or Paxton. But many of them were undoubtedly caught in a War-torn County without the means to leave. The men that stayed in Platte County were trembling. The Red-Legs from Kansas had robbed and murdered. Union troops at Fort Leavenworth across the River brought no comfort. “Thieves and murderers were organized at Farley and Leavenworth and excursions in Platte were made about three nights in a week,” Paxton wrote. “No arms or ammunition were allowed the people. The law was powerless and the military was disinclined to give protection.” The mayor of Leavenworth and some Union officers from that City were invited to a Sept. 26, 1863 meeting in Platte City. The hope was that a “personal acquaintance” would reveal the County’s “peaceful disposition” and the authorities would halt the “marauding bands.” Paxton and two other men were chosen to meet the Leavenworth dignitaries and escort them into town. Only Paxton could muster a horse. Fighters from both sides had pillaged the County’s livestock. Also arriving in the City that day were local men enrolled in a newly-minted official state militia to keep order for the Union. The Leavenworth visitors were not impressed, as they rightfully thought some militia members to be former Confederates that had been hiding out in the pawpaws. Pawpaws are a small tree with oval fruits common in the County’s woodlands near streams. Had the guests been armed, Paxton said, there would have been trouble between them and the Pawpaws. That night, despite the meeting, “cut throats” hung one County resident until he was unconscious and then took John Rapp and Tip Green from their homes and hung them to death. Paxton, as Public Administrator, handled Rapp’s estate. “The only valuable I found in his house was a twenty dollar bill of Confederate money lying on the floor,” he wrote. “It was said that possession of this money was the excuse for hanging him. I did not inventory the $20.” The Pawpaws began patrolling, skirmishing with raiders and enforcing law. Paxton was in Capt. R.P. Clark’s company that was “called out occasionally to guard Platte City.” Pawpaws controlled the County by November’s end. Some businesses re-opened in Platte City. People would sleep safely for a time, until later in the War when some of the County’s Pawpaws would again ride openly for the South. “Their loyalty aside, there can be no doubt that the Pawpaws saved Platte County from thieves and murderers, who would have depopulated it,” Paxton wrote. “Hundreds of families had left and many more were preparing to go. Many went to the Southern Army for safety.” How very cold the early-winter winds must have felt to those who stayed.