Besides the defendant, Frank James, the chief point of attraction for nearly all those involved in the 1883 James trial held at Gallatin, MO, was Confederate Gen. Jo Shelby. His testimony given on behalf of Frank James was impaired by his intoxication on the stand — he was fined by the court. But his presence added greatly to the attention the trial garnered locally and throughout the nation.
An account published in the Feb. 9, 1912, edition of the Kansas City Times recalls the scene: “…Gen. Jo Shelby was introduced to a great many members, many of whom had fought him. At one time there could be seen at least a dozen Federal officers talking to him of old campaigns and old scenes of the past.
“It is the same Shelby, whether in the lobby or on the long march. He never sleeps. When other men tire, when other men faint and drop by the wayside, he has just begun to fight. He never forgets a face or loses a man. He knows everybody. About the man is a personal magnetism impossible to resist. Whether it is a fort or a vote that he wants, he goes straight at it. Baffled, he retreats a little, reforms his line, and returns to the attack again with redoubled effort. He does not understand defeat and he refuses to learn it. In one week he was at six meetings in Lafayette, he was in Kansas City, in Jefferson City, in Harrisonville, in Jefferson City, in Sedalia, in Chicago, and made 11 speeches, wrote 52 letters, sent 48 telegraphic dispatches, held nine caucuses and slept just 35 hours.”
According to an account published in the Kansas City Star on Oct. 2, 1938, the James boys had served only briefly in Shelby’s Brigade during one of his raids into Missouri, but Shelby always considered they were his men. Consequently, they could do no wrong. After Jesse James was killed in St. Joseph, Frank James was induced to surrender to Gov. Crittenden and eventually faced trial. Shelby was active in organizing the defense for Frank James.
When Shelby was called to the stand to testify on behalf of his friend, he was asked to point out Frank James. Shelby immediately rose and said: “May I, please the court, may I having recognized an old Confederate comrade, shake him by the hand?” This was denied. During questions posed by the prosecution, Shelby became indignant at the nature of the examination and, glowering upon William H. Wallace, the chief prosecutor, said “Mr. Wallace, if you want to make this a personal matter, you can!” Wallace was not intimidated, answering that he was not frightened and the court soon dismissed Shelby from the stand.
Word was sent to Wallace that Shelby was looking for him, and had made threats to shoot him. But that very evening when they met on opposite ends of a plank lying across a muddy road as a footboard, Shelby stepped courteously aside, bowed, and said “After you, Mr. Wallace.” That effectively laid the report of threats to rest, because if Shelby had made them nothing could have prevented his carrying them out.
Frank James was subsequently acquitted, and Shelby returned to his quiet life in Lafayette County. There cannot be much question that his forthright expression of friendship, and his dramatic introduction of the Confederate issue in the trial, did much to save James.
After efforts to establish a colony of unrepentant Confederates in Mexico, Shelby eventually returned to Missouri. His pre-war business raising hemp near Waverly, MO, was no longer practical. He was financially ruined and penniless. He sought opportunities in railroad development. When a business venture failed in scandal involving fraudulent public bonds, Shelby faced down a violent mob on a train stop after one other suspected of crime was shot. Shelby later was proven innocent and remained in high public esteem.
Gen. Jo Shelby died at his home near Merwin, MO, on Feb. 13, 1897, after spending many of his last years in Kansas City where he served as a U.S. marshal. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, surrounded by the graves of 71 of his followers, where a Confederate memorial also stands.
To understand Shelby’s popularity and notoriety among Confederate veterans of the Civil War, you must consider Shelby’s Raid originating in Arkansas and thrusting northward into Missouri as far as Waverly on the Missouri River. This was in September, 1863, after Vicksburg, MS, had fallen to the discouragement of the entire South. Union forces commanded by Gen. Frederick Steele were pressing an outnumbered Confederate army deeper into Arkansas, camping near Arkadelphia where rebel forces including a brigade of which Shelby was a part.
According to an account published by the Kansas City Star (Oct. 2, 1938), “it was a dreary position, upon the Ouachita River, almost dry, in front of a forest denuded of trees. The young officer — Shelby was only 33 — shared the discouragement of others but an idea occurred to him which for boldness equaled even his notions of what a bold idea should be. He thought it through and the more he thought the better it seemed to him — nothing less than a raid northward into Missouri with a picked force of his best men.
“There was great and numerous difficulties in the scheme. It meant a march of 500 miles through a country swarming with foes. But Shelby went to a friend — the rebel governor of Missouri, Thomas C. Reynolds, who was with Gen. Price in the camp (Shelby knew Steele to be a cautious general alarmed at any threat to his rear, and likely to disapprove his plan; a raid into Missouri would surely draw Union forces now on the other side of the Mississippi).
“Reynolds went to Gen. Kirby Smith. General Marmaduke, who personally disapproved of the expedition, gave it his recommendation for friendship’s sake, and so did General Price. Consent was given. On Sept. 22, 1863, Shelby with 800 men and two cannon rode northward from the Ouachita… the men were ill-armed and ill-mounted. They had no uniforms, only rags which would have shamed so many scarecrows. But there was something beneath the surface in this command which made it different from ordinary forces of soldiers. For one thing, Shelby had a group of superb subordinate commanders — Maj. David Shanks, Maj. Ben Elliott, Capt. George P. Gordon, Lt. Col. Hooper — all in command of battalions; and as hard-bitten a group of cavalry troop leaders as ever rode on a forlorn hope without fear. The advance of 40 chosen men was commanded by Capt. Tuck Thorp, Lt. David Harris commanded the two guns, and the 800 men, all volunteers, were lean, tough, and tried under fire…
“The fourth day out the first clash occurred against a combined force of Confederate deserters and Union Jayhawkers who were at Caddo Gap… the cavalry charge at sundown was a complete surprise…out of the 200 men, 79 were killed and 34 captured, including their leader Capt. McGinnis (described as a religious fanatic whom they executed for killing 20 non-combatant Confederate sympathizers in the vicinity)…
“Two miles from Roseville on the Arkansas River, Shelby’s advance guard encountered the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. When Shelby arrived the 300 federal cavalrymen were ridden down, killed, or captured… and the Confederates obtained some needed ammunition and supplies from this skirmish.
“The raiders forded a river near Ozark… Col. Cloud with the 6th Kansas Cavalry knew his force was inadequate and retreated… meanwhile, another Jayhawking band was surprised and destroyed in the Boston Mountains by Shank’s command… after a day’s rest the attack they went to Huntsville, AR, with the raiders taking much-needed overcoats. At Mud Town miles of telegraph wire were destroyed, then on through the fire-swept town of Bentonville, almost on the old battlefield of Pea Ridge… now the Confederate raiders were ready to actually enter Missouri.
“At Neosho was a garrison of 400 federal soldiers, with heavy supplies… Shelby could have avoided the town but needed the supplies, so he divided his command… before the battle each soldier stuck a plume of the red sumac in his hat — there was no uniforms except captured Union ones, and it was necessary to avoid mistakes… At dawn the Confederates attacked. The federal troops retreated to a large brick courthouse but Harris brought up his two guns and the first shells through the brick walls brought a white flag on the tower. The prisoners were paroled, but Shelby’s troops were rich. They had gained 400 fat troop horses, 400 new navy revolvers, 400 Sharp’s rifles, 400 fine war cavalry overcoats and complete outfits of boots, pantaloons, jackets and much ammunition…
“Bower’s Mill, a Union militia harbor, was passed and burned down… Greenfield, Stockton and Humansville were raided with fight at each place… Shelby captured Warsaw and his troops rested at Cole Camp where the German residents in the farm rich country mistook the rebels for Union soldiers due to their attire…
“The raiders advanced through Florence and on to Tipton where Major Williams of the U.S. Army was swept out of town without much of a fight (Col. Crittenden, who later was governor of Missouri, was not to be besmirched because his troops broke at Tipton; this same Crittenden later broke Marmaduke’s stubborn line at the Battle of Westport a year later)…
“In Cooper County the raiders quartered and rested… the next morning, however, every man in the raiding column had returned to the business of war. At dawn the rain ceased, and the advance on Boonville began. It had been Shelby’s intention to strike Jefferson City but the federal generals had thrown 8,000 men around the state capital. The march to Boonville, sloshing along the slippery yellow roads, was something of a triumphal parade. Southern sympathizers gathered along the highway, waved flags, showered flowers and refreshments on the soldiers and cried, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy!” It was about the last time that they had the opportunity for that cry.
“Shelby led his men into Boonville on a Sunday morning, and the rector of the Episcopal church there dismissed his congregation to greet them. Boonville cheered the phalanx of bronzed fighters but the head of the column halted abruptly. A menace appeared suddenly ahead — on the other side of the Missouri River, a federal regiment in battle array… Shelby soon learned that Gen. E.B. Brown was also marching north from Jefferson City with 4,000 men intent on trapping the handful of Confederates against the river.
“Here was a tremendous emergency. Within sight of the steeples of Boonville, Shelby formed his raiders while the heavy masses of Brown’s brigade marched into view. There was no hope of overthrowing this force; it was a question of escape now. A small battalion of federal troops held the bridge across the Lamine River on the Marshall Road, the only way Shelby could retreat. He sent Col. Hunter charging at the bridge, and the defenders were driven back. Meantime, the main Confederate body started a stubborn rear-guard action against Brown. Slowly retreating turning to repulse charge after charge by the federal soldiers, Shelby traversed the 10 miles to the Lamine bridge. There, on the steep banks of the river, he prepared an ambush.
“Hunter’s battalion hid along the opposite bank of the river from Brown’s approach. The bridge was destroyed. The river banks were slippery. In plain view behind the hidden battalion was Capt. Lea’s company. When Brown’s advance came up, Lea’s men fired a volley and fled apparently in panic. With yells of triumph the Union cavalry charged into the river… a moment later the yells turned into screams… at that distance Hunter’s men could not miss. Their first volley made an abattoir of the little river. In the brief time the fight lasted, Brown lost 111 men while only one Confederate was wounded.
“A long range artillery duel ensued as Shelby continued northward, ending at sundown… Shelby marched until midnight, camping on a farm near Marshall. When renewing their march at dawn, the Confederates soon learned that ahead was Gen. Thomas Ewing’s brigade of about 4,000 Union soldiers. Shelby was caught between the jaws of a pincer — 4,000 men to his front and about an equal number in his rear, in all 8,000 men or 10 times his own force. Here was the moment which required genius. The young leader thought swiftly…
“Ewing’s troops were fresh to fight and would advance boldly. This Ewing was the author of the hated ‘Order No. 11′ which had all but depopulated Jackson, Lafayette and other Missouri counties, and Shelby knew that hatred would make his men fight all the more fiercely against this man. He therefore determined to leave Maj. David Shanks to hold back Brown, and attack Ewing, striving to break through.
“Rarely have military odds been so disproportionate. Shanks, with 200 men, awaited Brown’s brigade with Salt Fort Creek as a barrier between them. With less than 600 men, Shelby at the same time turned on Ewing.
“In addition to his 4,000 men, Ewing had 18 guns against Shelby’s two. This overwhelming artillery power soon disabled one of Harris’ guns. Far on each side, Ewing’s lines outflanked the little force ahead of him. The Confederates were failing fast, and Shelby saw that at last he was completely surrounded.
“Shanks had succeeded thus far in repulsing wave after wave of troops sent against the rear by Brown. An order now came to him to retreat from the creek bank and join the main command. Shelby had mounted his men, and had detailed six men to each supply wagon to whip the teams through the charge, and Shelby’s command somehow escaped. Later, at Crane Creek, he defeated a force sent from Springfield to cut him off, and reached the White River near Berryville, AR, where he finally could give his men a chance to rest. Union Gen. John McNeill, with a new brigade of federal troops, took up Shelby’s trail but for one weak rearguard fight made no serious effort to close with Shelby. On Oct. 28, 1863, Shelby marched into Washington, AR, and into Price’s lines on the Ouachita, marking the end of the unbelievable raid.”
SUMMARIZING SHELBY’S RAID
In 40 days Shelby marched 1,500 miles through enemy territory, an average of about 37 miles a day; captured 20 garrisoned towns; burned 11 forts and blockhouses; destroyed one railroad depot, many miles of track, many cars, and thousands of yards of telegraph; killed, wounded or captured (by his adjutant, Maj. John Edwards) 3,000 federal soldiers; fought 37 battles and skirmishes; captured and destroyed one piece of artillery; captured and distributed among the Confederate 3,000 Sharp’s rifles and 3,000 navy revolvers; splendidly mounted every man in his command; clothed all his men in captured uniforms; enlisted and led safely back to Arkansas 1,000 new recruits. Most important, he gave a great lift to the morale of the entire Confederacy west of the Mississippi.
Shelby was promoted and became the youngest general officer in the Trans-Mississippi department. Long after one of his followers said: “You couldn’t ride with Jo Shelby, 50 miles a day, fighting at every crook of the road, living on what you could pick up by the wayside and doing without sleep for the length of time that raid took, and ever amount to much of anything afterwards.”
SHELBY REBELS — ANOTHER NATION
The following is taken from the 1957-58 Official Manual of Missouri (Walter H. Toberman, Secretary of State, pp. 28-29; written by Dan Saults):
June of 1865 lay hot on the thorny cover of mesquite and cactus blanketing an arid sweep of Rio Grande country where the in habitants of Eagle Pass peered from baked-mud homes across their boundary river toward the adobe buildings of Piedras Negres. Some of the stared off to the northeast where a cloud of dust stood up, heralding the movement of 600 Missourians. Dust marked the passage of everything here, but this was a tall cloud kicked up by many horses and the wheels of 10 brass cannon.
Under the cloud moved the last unsurrendered Confederates troops, each of them carrying two or more revolvers, a heavy saber and a new Sharps carbine. Dust made them identical but they looked alike anyway: young and lean, most of them came from the Iowa valley of the Missouri River. They were rebels against the Confederates states that had ordered them to surrender.
At their head road a man wearing a chestnut beard and a dashing campaign hat with a famous black plume nodding above it. He looked like somebody and his name was Joseph Orville Shelby of Waverly. He had been an amateur soldier during the Missouri-Kansas border strife, and four years of cavalry command had made him a professional soldier during the Civil War. He had been wealthy, with rich bottom lands and slaves to work his ropewalk that shipped cables around the world. But that was gone, burned by the “Red Legs” or seized by the government that he had rejected. He had been a major general commanding the Missouri Cavalry Division that spent much of its time fighting rear-guard actions to protect less efficient forces retreating under less able commanders.
And he had forced Lt. Gen. Kirby Smith from command of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi because Smith was ready to bow to inevitability. Shelby had put Simon Bolivar Buckner in command; when Buckner also obeyed the surrender order, the Missourian set up his own rebellion against rebellion. Now, with volunteers from his old division, he was riding to Mexico to put deposed President Benito Juarez back in Mexico City. French bayonets had conquered the land below the Rio Grande during the U.S. Civil War, an Austrian archduke sat “on the throne of Montezuma” — and here was a chance to build a new Confederate empire.
Shelby was 35 years old; he had tossed away two nations, his estate and the lives of a great many men. Now he dreamed of another nation as he led his Missourians, the last Confederate army in the field.
Old Jo was the stuff from which the Greeks made demi-gods, and he had his Homer with him: his long-time adjutant, John Edwards of Lexington. Major Edwards was almost as sweet a singer as Homer, though not as good at symbolism.
Lee made it easy on the winners in the end; he yielded gracefully and the whole bloody mess could be treated as an exercise in tactical skill. North could get as emotional over Marse Bob as South. But Shelby didn’t soldier by rules that modern warriors made up to save their reputation in case they lost. He meant what he said. So now he neared the border with what was left of his division.
Behind the dust cloud lay wrecked Missouri and chaotic Texas, where deserters and freebooters raided. The disciplined Shelbyites had decorated lampposts with grisly fruit in Houston, carbine-whipped a mob in Waxahatchie and saved a Confederate sub-treasury from guerrillas in Austin. When Texas Gov. Murrah tried to give Ol’ Jo $300,000 in gold and silver, the commander had waved it away. “We are the last of our race,” he said — according to chronicler Edwards — “but let us be the best as well.”
Gov. Murrah, though dying of consumption, joined the procession. Other notables were riding with Shelby: Senator Trusten Polk, General Sterling Price, Governor Thomas Reynolds of Confederate Missouri, Governor Allen of Louisiana, generals with no government left to uphold their rank, a dozen “statesmen” who wanted to get out if someone would lead them. Shelby was ready to lead.
That was the brigade approaching Mexico two months after Appomattox: 600 to 1,000 men riding into the unknown because Jo Shelby wouldn’t surrender — and dreamed of empire. And maybe because there was a high-level blessing. “There’s historical suspicion that Washington was happy to see the Missourians going south. Someone had to run the French back to Napoleon III, if the Monroe Doctrine was to be more than a scrap of paper. Shelby might be a vengeful instrument for the very country he had repudiated.
…undoubtedly Shelby dreamed of empire, a sort of Latinized Missouri with himself as its strong man (there’s something about Mexico that calls out the conquistador in everyone). But there was a practicality in the plan. Most Mexicans still backed their refugee president, while Washington wanted to get rid of the French. Also, the surrendered Confederate troops were already something of a problem and keeping them busily occupied in Mexico might have appealed to the U.S. authorities.
A Confederate corps might have been organized and would have been the best fighting force the French troops ever faced. The leadership was excellent: Union General Alfred Pleasanton named Shelby “the best cavalry general of the South.” If Juarez had been returned to power by Shelby’s corps, a new culture might have risen on the soil where Toltecs, Aztecs, and Spaniards had ruled. But…
Ol’ Jo left the conference, assembled his men in camp and outlined the offer. He did not order; he asked the troops if they wanted to fight for the glory of an exiled Indian who was indomitable, brave — but unromantic. Every man in the command voted against it! Instead, they decided to offer their services to the usurper.
Shelby looked at his ragged Missourians and probably was glad they voted that way. He was one of them: He wanted plumes and plaudits, too; he was sick of hunger and tatters; the castle of Chapultepec had vastly more appeal than the city hall in Piedras Negra. So (per Edwards) he said: “If that is your answer, it is mine, too. Tomorrow we march for Monterrey. You have chosen the Empire; perhaps it is well but, good or bad, your fate is my fate and your fortune is my fortune.”
So, they fought their way down the road to Mexico City, a trail that led them through suffering and death to the palace of an Austrian seemed more romantic than they, though more deadly. Maximillan declined their services in a great anticlimax, rejecting a new Shelby proposal for recruiting 50,000 Confederates that would hold a kingdom for Maximillan when the French withdrew. It was poor judgment for the emperor; he paid for it two years later before Escobedo’s muskets on the Hill of Bells.
The Missourians, or some of them, stayed in Mexico those two years. Ol’ Jo freighted supplies, Price had a plantation near Vera Cruz, John Edwards edited a newspaper. In the end they came back to Missouri, the dream shattered. Shelby never got rich again, though he was something of a hero until too many Missourians forgot him. Edwards was a famous newspaperman in his day, but he belonged in an age when chivalry meant more than finance, bravery more than acumen.
And it is idle speculation to wonder what might have been if those Missourians had voted with Joseph Orville Shelby at the crossing of the Rio Grande, where only the people of Eagle Pass now know of the site called the Graveyard of the Confederacy.
The State of Missouri Official Manual for the Years 1959-1960 (Walter H. Toberman, Secretary of State) provides more insight on Jo Shelby’s character exposed during the “Bloody Bonds” of railroad fraud in Cass County (pp. 26-28):
One of the most sensational railroad faces in Missouri had to do with the promotion of the St. Louise and Santa Fe, which purportedly was to transvers Cass County and of which one R.S. Stevens was president. No less a personage than General Jo Shelby was the contractor on this project, along with partner James Lillis.
“Shelby’s connection with the St. Louis and Santa Fe was entirely innocent,” according to Daniel O’Flaherty’s General Jo Shelby, Undefeated Rebel, which adds that the road’s officials “were involved in one of the most celebrated swindles in the history of American railroading”….Stevens was dangling a big railroad project in front of the rustics of western Missouri counties… Large meetings were held along the proposed route and the enthusiastic counties went overboard… The company was organized, the contract let to Shelby and Lillis.
“So far, so good. Now comes the chicanery, in which Shelby had no part. Stevens knew that before the war the Missouri Pacific had been planning to build a road through Cass County, and that $100,000 in bonds had been voted for the purpose. He also knew that the bonds were long overdue, the war having prevented the building of the railroad, and that, since they represented a transaction which had never been fulfilled on either side, they were worthless unless revalidated by court order and their terms brought up to date.
“The bonds were still in existence, in the vaults of the Missouri Pacific up in St. Louis, and Stevens had a bold plan for getting hold of them, having them revalidated by court order, and transferred to the St. Louis and Santa Fe, without consulting the people of Cass County… The old railway charters empowered a county court to subscribe to such stock at its discretion, without holding an election. Here Stevens saw his chance, so he thought, to acquire $100,000 worth of negotiable securities by a simple piece of sleight of hand.
“To do this, of course, he had to have the connivance of the Cass County Court. This, he felt sure, he could obtain and, as events proved, he was right. What neither he nor the court reckoned on was the fury of an aroused populace in Cass County.
“In 1871 and 1872, the railroads were a burning issue in Missouri — along with the James boys and their gang, who robbed the railroads while the railroads robbed the people — and it was during these two ears that the final acts in the drama of the St. Louis and Santa Fe were performed. The climax of the melodrama had been long delayed by the tedious progress of litigation, but when it came, its blood and thunder were real.”
“Here I Am: Come and Get Me”
On March 1, 1871, the infamous order making the bonds negotiable were issued. The loot now amounted to $229,000 and the conspirators were anxious to cut the melon. “March 1,” O’Flaherty continues, “was on a Saturday and the bonds were made out the night before in the office of Cline and Hines, attorneys. J.H. Cline was the legal representative of the St. Louis and Santa Fe, and J.D. Hines was the county attorney. Judge Jehiel Stevenson acted for the court, normally composed of three judges, and by his order, the bonds were funded and became as good as cash when packed into a suitcase and taken to St. Louis or Kansas City.”
The conspirators sent their henchmen to St. Louis with the bonds by the first train. There the spoilsmen divided the loot, Judge Stevenson receiving $12,000 and Attorney Cline $55,000. Meanwhile, there was “hell to pay” back in Cass County. Judge Stevenson and Cline were arrested the following week, after a $1,000 reward for their capture had been posted. Stevenson had to post $15,000 bond and Cline $10,000. A city councilman, T.E. Dutroe, put up bond for Stevenson. This was a mistake.
Pubic indignation reached such a pitch that Stevenson Cline and Dutroe deemed it advisable, on April 24, 1871, to go to Kansas City for personal safety. Accordingly, they boarded a train at East Lynne at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and hid in the baggage car.
At Gunn City, fifty armed men were waiting for the train which they ha barricaded with logs rails, boulders and other debris. When the train stopped, 50 armed men boarded it and Stevenson, Cline and Dutroe were riddled by bullets in a matter of seconds.
General Shelby and Jim Lillis were on this train, en route in Kansas City on business. They were not with Stevenson-Cline-Dutroe and had not been in conversation with them. But someone yelled “Where’s Jo Shelby? Get Jo Shelby!”
“Shelby heard the cry,” says O’Flaherty. “He did not move from his seat as the masked Missourians, thirsting for blood, stood over him. The bearded lip curled, and in a voice that carried distinctly through the couch, he said ‘Well, here I am. Come and get me!’ Confronted with those gray eyes and that lions glare, the men’s pistols wavered and finally somebody mumbled something apologetic. ‘Get out before I recognize some of you,’ said Shelby, and suiting the action to the word himself, got up and with Jim Lillis stalked from the coach.”
Forty-one men were arrested for the Gunn City Massacre and brought to trial. None was convicted.
All the “Bloody Bonds” as they were called, were recovered by court order and all but two, the first an last, Numbers 1 an d 229, were burned. These two were framed and hung in the courthouse at Harrisonville “That the public servants of Old Cass may remember, when they trample upon the rights of the people and refuse to hear their prayers, that they will appeal to a higher power and serve an injunction that will stick.”
While the Cass County episode was a rather extreme case, fraud in railroad promotion was rampant all over the state and today there are visible old beds and fills of proposed railroads which never were completed and some of which never were intended to be.