Maj. Samuel P. Cox — A County Legend

The adventures of Major S.P. Cox (1828-1913) read like a history of our nation including the westward movement, the Mexican War, the West’s early Indian wars, the California gold rush, the Civil War, and the exploits the notorious outlaws Frank & Jesse James.

The adventures of Major S.P. Cox (1828-1913) read like a history of our nation including the westward movement, the Mexican War, the West’s early Indian wars, the California gold rush, the Civil War, and the exploits the notorious outlaws Frank & Jesse James.

Samuel Cox was born on Dec. 16, 1828, at Williamsburg in Whitley County, KY. He moved to Daviess County, MO, in 1839 with his father, Franklin Cox. The family settled in the southeastern part of the county near the old Ames Saw Mill and Trosper Lake.

Enlisting in the U.S. Army at age 19, Cox was among the Missouri volunteers ordered to help develop the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail and to protect the Santa Fe Trail. In 1848 he helped complete Fort Kearney, located on the south side of the Platte River in what later became Nebraska.

Cox settled in Gallatin, MO, in 1850, married and worked four years in the mercantile business. Then, with oxen and cattle, he moved his family to Oroville, CA, to work as a teamster for gold diggers. The family prospered but yearned to return to Missouri. So, they sold out and went to San Francisco where they were attracted to a steam ship voyage, a route with Baltimore as a destination by way of Nicaraugua. The family survived a shipwreck near Key West, FL.

In 1859 Cox drew national newspaper publicity for an extraordinary feat. While delivering Army dispatches, Cox covered over 1200 miles in 30 days by mule! His trek from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Nebraska City, NE, included one leg of 125 miles without a stop to avoid hostile Sioux warriors led by Red Cloud. Cox’s feat compares favorably against horseback rides in relay — and he was a lone rider without companions or support, other than two good mules.

Cox was among the first to publicly declare for the Union soon after the start of the Civil War in 1861. He promptly recruited and commanded “Cox’s Battalion.” He fought guerrillas at Kirksville (Adair County), Lee’s Ford (Chariton County), and Union Mills (Platte County).

After the war, the infamous James Gang robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association occurred on Dec. 7, 1869. The murder of cashier John Sheets vaulted Frank and Jesse James onto the wanted list for the very first time and marked the beginning of an assault against law and order of international interest. Samuel P. Cox was a central player in the outlaws’ early plot.

Union Major Samuel P. Cox gained widespread fame when he was credited with the killing of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson on Oct. 27, 1864, near Richmond, MO. The City of St. Joseph presented Cox with a ceremonial sword for killing the notorious guerrilla chief (accused of killing 54 Union men). Few knew Major Cox was actually protecting a bugler under his command, Adolph Vogel, who in all probability pulled the trigger that sent Bloody Bill to his death. Vogel was a young family man, mindful of revenge sworn by Jesse James and other guerrillas against whomever killed their leader. So, as commanding officer, Major Cox assumed that personal risk for years after the Civil War …a risk that became bloody reality when the James brothers later robbed the savings association in Gallatin.

Jesse James swore he would avenge the death of Wm. “Bloody Bill” Anderson whenever he next saw Samuel P. Cox. Thus, during the 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association, John W. Sheets was an unfortunate victim of circumstance when Jesse James mistook him for Samuel Cox. A horse used during the robbery and murder linked Jesse James to the crime. The Governor of Missouri soon offered a bounty for the capture of the outlaw. This was the first time Jesse James was publicly wanted by the law, the start of a 12-year crime spree.

Ironically, a James Gang member, Clelland Miller, was a friend to Cox and actually saved the Major’s life during the Civil War.

The case can be made for Samuel Cox to top our list of military leaders from Daviess County. His escapades and achievements need no embellishment.

In 1862 Major Cox served the county as recorder and circuit clerk. In 1874 he was collector for Union Township.

If Cox wasn’t particularly interested in business, he certainly knew how to pick business partners. Local records show a mercantile business at the southeast corner of the Gallatin square called Ballinger, Cox & Kemper. It operated a little more than a year, long enough for the birth of William T. Kemper. The Kemper family fortune became one of Kansas City’s largest. The family controls one of Missouri’s largest financial institutions, United Missouri Bank of Kansas City, and the Kemper name is lavished on Kansas City’s civic arena. By the way, the real estate for the business in Gallatin was purchased by the three partners for $1,500. Evidently, business was good. Partner John Ballinger later purchased Kemper’s interest for $1,250.

Samuel P. Cox died on Aug. 21, 1913, a man who lived history in legendary fashion. He is buried at Brown Cemetery, on the north side of Gallatin.

— written by Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin North Missourian editor & publisher