The adventures of Major Samuel P. Cox (1828-1913) of Gallatin, MO, reads like a history of his time including the Westward Movement, the Mexican War, the West’s early Indian wars, the California gold rush, and the Civil War. He also chased outlaws Frank & Jesse James but only after Jesse James murdered a man during an 1869 bank robbery in Gallatin, MO, when James mistakenly thought he was shooting Cox to avenge the death of his bushwhacker friend “Bloody Bill” Anderson. Cox gives his account of the ambush of “Bloody Bill” below.
Samuel P. 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.
At age 19 Samuel enlisted at St. Joseph in the spring of 1847. He served under Capt. William H. Rogers in Company D of the Oregon Battalion. Cox was ordered down the Santa Fe trail. But order changes took him and other Missouri volunteers to develop the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and to protect the Santa Fe Trail from waring Sioux as far north as Yankton, S.D., where the unit was delayed by bad weather and low provisions.
In 1848 Cox helped complete Fort Kearney in south central Nebraska. The fort was built on the south bank of the Platte River where the Oregon Trail first came to the river from the southeast. The fort was named for General Stephen Watts Kearny soon after his death.
California Gold Rush
Cox moved to Gallatin where in 1850 he married and entered into the mercantile business with George Poage. In 1854 Cox and family, with oxen and cattle, moved to Oroville, CA. There he worked as a teamster for the gold diggers and later as a dairyman.
The family was soon prosperous but longed again for home. Cox sold out and with the family went to San Francisco and embarked with them by steamer. They returned by way of Nicaragua and Baltimore. They were shipwrecked near Key West, adding another adventure to their lives.
During the Mexican War, the western forces were not well supplied by the army’s system of wagon trains. The army contracted the supply of western forts to private companies. The largest of these contractors in the west was the company of Russell, Majors and Waddell, delivering north and west out of Fort Leavenworth. Samuel Cox joined this firm in 1856 as a wagon master.
In 1859 Cox carried important dispatches to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston near Salt Lake City. Cox made the trip by himself, 1200 miles by mule. He claimed to have befriended Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Sioux, having seen him several times in the 1847 to 1860 period.
Service During the Civil War
Cox was one of the few county people that declared openly in favor of the Union side after the start of the war in 1861. He had been serving for some time as a Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff James T. Minor.
In September 1861, Cox formed the Cox Battalion and commanded Company A and Company B of that unit for six months. Major Cox then joined the First Missouri State Militia under Col. McNeil. They entered the Battle of Kirksville on Aug. 6, 1862, under Col. McFerran. A few days later Cox again bottled Porter’s forces at Lee’s Ford on the Chariton River.
In 1864 the country was overrun by guerilla bands and Major Cox was given command of some militia troops because guerillas under Thrailkill and Thornton and pillaged Kingston and Mirabile. They were threatening Plattsburg where a Capt. Turner had been killed. Major Cox overtook them at Union Mills in Platte County, and “dispersed them after a sharp fight.”
The Ambush of “Bloody Bill” Anderson
Probably the greatest service rendered by Major Cox during his active service in the Civil War which gained him the greatest fame was the shooting of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson on Oct. 27, 1864. Anderson was a notorious guerilla chief who claimed he had killed 54 men. Major Cox gave the following account in his own words:
“When I left my home in Gallatin, I learned that Price’s men had crossed the river (Missouri River at Lexington), I got to Hamilton and met Major McDonald retreating with his cavalry. He sent me to St. Joseph to see General Craig as to what to do, but when I reached there McDonald had telegraphed for me to be sent back to take charge of the men.
“I was not a member of that company, but Gen. James Craig telegraphed Gov. Hall to commission me a Lt. Colonel of the 33rd M.E.M.; this he did and I went back to Hamilton and took charge of the men.”
“Anderson and his gang had been terrorizing North Missouri for some time, and the people lived in perfect awe of them. Only a few days before they had visited Glasgow, took one of its wealthy citizens (Ben Lewis) a prisoner, and placed a price of $5,000 as a bounty for his release. This the women of Glasgow raised and paid to save Lewis’ life.
“I decided to hunt down Anderson, known then to be somewhere in north central Missouri, and put a stop to his depredations.
“The next day I took my command to Knoxville, MO. I heard next morning of rebels at Millville having horses shod, I went after them but they had gone. I took the blacksmith back to Richmond and obtained some information from him.
“That day Bill Anderson and his guerillas killed old man Elliott within three miles of Richmond. So terrorized were the people that they would give no information of the movements of the band for fear they would meet death if they did.
“But one brave woman, whose name I do not remember, came to me with the information as to where the guerrilla chieftain and his gang were in camp and what they would be found doing and directed me as to the best way to reach them. She said we would know the place by a deep ravine crossed only by a wooden bridge.
“I found things just as she had told me and decided to bring on the fight in the timber near this bridge. I had only about 300 men under my command and gave the the word to stand their ground — this fight must be victory or death — and not a man faltered. We dismounted at the wooden bridge leaving our horses in charge of the men with the commissary wagons.
“Crossing the bridge I stationed my men in the timber and gave explicit instructions not to begin shooting until I gave the command. Lt. Baker was sent ahead to reconnoiter and bring on the fight with instructions to retreat through our line.
“Cas. Morton, now a retired brigadier general, of Washington, D.C., was sent to Baker with the word to start the fight. Baker dashed up to where Anderson and his men were having meal ground and getting provisions, and opened fire. Instantly Anderson and his men were in their saddles and gave chase to Baker, who retreated under instructions and came dashing through our line. Anderson and some 20 of his men came in their historic manner, with their bridle reins in their teeth and revolver in each hand.
“When my men opened fire, many of Anderson’s command went down. Others turned and fled, but the grim old chieftain and two of his men went right through the line, shooting and yelling, and it was as Anderson and one of his men turned and came back that both of them were killed.
“The celebrated (Capt.) Arch Clemens, who had gone through our line with Anderson, kept right on across the bridge and stampeded my wagon train and its guards boy yelling to them to fly as the command was cut to pieces, and thinking it was one of their men, they ran and kept it up until I was a day or two getting them together again. In the hubbub, Clemens escaped.
“Clell Miller, afterwards a noted bank robber and a desperate character, was wounded in this fight and taken prisoner. It was with difficulty I restrained my men and the citizens from lynching him. Miller was afterwards killed in a bank robbery in Northfield, MN.
“When Bill Anderson fell from his horse, took one of his pistols and Adolph Vogel, now living near Jameson, who was a bugler of my command, I took a brace of six pistols from around his body. We also took $600 in money, one gold and one silver watch from his clothing, and one of these watches, two of the pistols and the fine gray mare Anderson rode were afterwards given me by the Brigadier Gen. James Craig.
“A letter I had written to Col. Pace at Liberty, to meet me the next day with what men he could muster, was also found on Anderson’s body, showing that he had captured and rifled the mail.
“Anderson’s body was taken to Richmond and buried in the cemetery north of town. A guard had to be placed over the body to keep the enraged citizens from tearing it to pieces. The place where Major Cox killed Anderson was near a small town in Ray County called Albany, but has since merged into Orrick.”
Capt. N.B. Brown of Gallatin and Marion Township was with Major Cox in the fight and Corp’l James Mulican of Salem Township was killed in the fight. Mulican was wounded in 13 places, most of which were inflicted by Anderson himself. Lt. Baker was from Knoxville, MO.
In 1862 Major Cox served the county as recorder and circuit clerk. In 1874 he was collector for Union Township. He died on Aug. 21, 1913 and is buried at Brown Cemetery at Gallatin.
— researched by David Stark, Gallatin;
written by Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin North Missourian, 1983