Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Too much politics corrupts both the mind and the soul. So, for a moment, I will step back into the past and reflect on a favorite subject and reference, The Outlaw Josey Wales.
As many of you may already know, the Clint Eastwood film is based on a novel that began life as The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales and was republished as Gone to Texas. The author was listed as Forrest Carter or Bedford Forrest Carter.
Carter also wrote The Education of Little Tree which supposedly was based on the author’s childhood as a Cherokee learning the white man’s ways while facing racism and clinging to his love of nature. But as it turns out the author’s real name was probably Asa Earl Carter, a former KKK member who at one time had an Alabama radio show in the 50s and later wrote speeches for George Wallace (maybe) and ran for governor against Wallace in 1970 under the flag of the Segregation Party. He is one of two men who occasionally get “credited” with writing the Wallace line: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. Carter had moved to Texas and then to Florida to begin a writing career and always tried to disclaim his past.
But Carter was no less a shadowy figure than this first fictional subject, Josey Wales. Many contend that the Wales character was based in part on the real-life bushwhacker Bill Wilson of Phelp County, Missouri. There was a short 1939 book written about Wilson which was mostly a collection of Ozark stories about him. Some indications are that Wilson didn’t actually ride with Quantrill or Bloody Bill but did kill several Union soldiers and sympathizers and sold their horses to the raiders. He was certainly within their circle.
The records put Wilson’s birth as 1830 and the stories put his adult size as a handsome 6’2”, 185 pounds. He was said to be a dead shot and a fine violin player. 1861 saw him married with a family when Union soldiers questioned him about some stolen horses. The Union men later returned when Wilson was not at home, looted his house, and burned all of the buildings. As in any good story of revenge, he moved his family into a single room cabin on his mother’s farm and began to take a toll on those who had wronged him.
If the Ozark stories are to be believed (and who am I to dispute a sincere, well-armed mountaineer) Wilson’s ability to drop Yankee soldiers with a brace of handguns could only be approached by Clint Eastwood himself. There are multiple tales of at least four falling before his pistols. He once laid a false trail for three that led them into the quicksand of Little Piney River. I will admit, however, that often a little serious research into such frontier fighting will show ambush to be the preferred method when facing several opponents at once, just sayin’.
The end of the Civil War saw a $300 reward on the head of Wilson and several others of the bushwhacker trade. Before 1865 was over, he had resettled near Sherman, Texas.
Sherman sat just south of the Red River along the beginnings of the Blackland prairies and during two different winters had served as a cold-weather refuse for Quantrill’s boys and other Missouri raider bands during the War. They would normally be strung out between three or four different camps between Sherman and Bonham to the east. In 1864, state militia under James Throckmorton converged on the camps and “encouraged” them to return to their home state “at once”.
After the war, several of the former “Partisan Rangers”, as they were often called back home, collected around the Sherman area since it was familiar ground. The likes of Dave Poole, Arch Clement, and Jim Anderson made Sherman their home for a couple of years. Alan Palmer and his bride Susan, sister to Frank and Jesse James, lived there for five years. Frank was a guest of the Collin County jail for a night 30 miles to the south in McKinney. Some reports claim that as many as 144 former Missouri bushwhackers lived in the area at one time. How that exact number was arrived at is unclear.
In any case, Wilson married Mary Ann Noaks, a member of the Choctaw Nation, in late 1865 in Sherman. In early 1869, he was in McKinney with a wagon of apples to sell. As he completed his business there were two other ex-bushwhackers close by (is anyone ever an EX-bushwhacker?), William Blackmore and John Thompson. The two men saw the exchange of money and took note.
Wilson spent that night in the home of J.B. Wilmeth which was only about two miles north of McKinney square. The next morning, he struck out for Sherman with both wagon and money. Along the way, he was ambushed, shot, robbed, and buried in a shallow grave by Blackmore and Thompson.
An area collector of tales records that Wilson was ambushed just north of the “pioneer town of Van Alstyne”. This is the same source as the 144 number. The only problem with that information is that Van Alstyne didn’t exist at the time. It would be four years later before the railroad came through the area and created that town. However, about a mile and a half from the future home of Van Alstyne sat a reasonable-sized settlement known as Mantu which dried up when the rails came through.
The two killers were caught and confessed but the grave holding Bill Wilson’s last remains was never found. They said it was along “Prong Creek” which the Missouri men probably didn’t know the proper name for. By the description given it was probably the West Fork of Sister Grove Creek. That would mean if you headed due east from our family cattle pens you would probably strike Wilson’s path to Sherman in about 4 ½ miles and be within a few hundred yards of the “grave”. In any case, on March 26, 1869, Blackmore and Thompson were taken to the stand of oak trees three blocks north of the Sherman courthouse and hanged.
In 1979 Asa Earl Carter died in Florida from a heart attack supposedly caused by a fistfight with his son. His body was returned to Alabama for burial with still many details of his life missing or at least cloudy. And it appears to some that “the real Josey Wales” didn’t really find a Texas paradise to comfort him into old age. But he did find a shorted-lived haven among his own kind and in the end, it was his own kind who left him short of his 40th birthday, for the price of a few apples.