My father's side of the family has operated a small farm near Warrensburg, MO, since they first moved to the area from Tennessee in the early 1830s. As such, the history of the Border War holds a unique place in my family identity.
This is a photo of my great grandfather (baby, on the lap of his paternal grandmother seated in the rocking chair) and his father (fourth fella from the left in the back row, light grey clothing) and five uncles. After the Civil War, when bad blood was still rampant in this part of the country, these six brothers helped defend some of the local homesteads when jayhawker sympathizers came looking for trouble. In fact, one of pre-Civil War houses in the area is still standing because they rode up one evening to keep it from being burnt by ruffians.
One of the more locally important stories regarding my family took place during the War itself, and I'll share it now. "Aunt Polly" Hill is my great-great-great-great grandmother Mary Carmichael Hill (the paternal grandmother of the six brothers pictured above), who was 58 at the outset of the war. This passage is an excerpt from the "History of Johnson County, Missouri", first published in 1881, about the hiding of the Johnson County records in order to keep them safe from the pillaging of military and guerrilla groups during the war.
When the civil war broke out Col. James McCown was recorder and circuit clerk of the county; he soon entered the rebel army under Gen. Sterling Price, and was in camp near the Osage river, when he conceived the idea of preserving the records, whose custodian the suffrages of the people had chosen him. Accordingly he sent A. M. Perry to Warrensburg, for the purpose of carrying out the project. Mr. Perry, who was deputy circuit clerk, under McCown, left the army and on arriving at the county seat, secretly made known to a few trusty friends, his intention. The plan agreed upon was that Mr. Perry should meet C. O. Silliman and another man still living in Warrensburg, at the court house, between ten and eleven o'clock one Sunday night, where they were to prepare the records for the wagon, which was to be driven out from Centerview township by Silas Cockrell and another man, who still resides in the township. A. Muron Perry and the other man met at the appointed time and place, and packed the county records in a large dry goods box, and the loose court records in two barrels, but Mr. Silliman did not put in an appearance. At midnight the two men from Centerview township drove up, the large box and two barrels were quickly deposited in the wagon and driven away. They first drove south, and passing through Cave hollow, continued a circuitous and zigzag course to prevent tracking, finally having driven twenty miles to reach the point nine miles distant, just as gray morning began to dawn, arrived at the house of Aunt Polly Hill and deposited the records in the attic. The records remained in Aunt Polly Hill's attic for two or three months, when she becoming alarmed for their safety, in consequence of the marauding bands that about this time commenced ravaging the rural districts, she instructed her boys to take the records from the house and cover them with boards in a dense running post oak thicket, about 150 rods northwest of her house.
In this thicket the records remained till July 20, 1865. Poles were laid down to keep the box and barrels from the ground, and boards were placed above to keep out the rain and snow. Very few persons knew where these books were. Some thought that a detachment of the rebel army had secretly carried them to Texas; others thought they were concealed in the vicinity, and would be brought to light in due time, after the war should close. Aunt Polly and Mrs. Matthias Houx watched over those records during the whole war, often making a tour of observation to see if they were suitably protected from the weather. At one time the covering was blown off and the papers considerably damaged by the rain, when these two women with true patriotic zeal in the cause they believed to be right, which characterized women of revolutionary fame, took out the wet papers and books and having dried them in the sun, made the covering more complete, thus preventing further damage except from small mice.
When the war had closed and Aunt Polly Hill thought the records would be no longer in danger from destructive military bands if returned to the civil authorities, also that settlers were coming in, the pursuits of peace again claiming attention of the people, the records were needed to make transfers in real estate complete and the titles good, took the following method of revealing their hiding place. Aunt Polly proceeded on horseback about four miles southeast to the house of Moses G. Mullins, with whom she frequently consulted regarding business transactions, and in whom she placed great confidence and told him: "On hearing a party of hunters and dogs in the thick woods northwest of my house, I became anxious about a young litter of pigs which I knew were running in the vicinity, proceeded to look them up, and while engaged in this search through the dense thickets and underbrush, suddenly stumbled upon a large dry goods box and two barrels with plank and quilts partly covering them, and on examination found them to contain what I believe to be the long lost and much sought after county records."
The timber of running post oak was so dense, that no team, and with difficulty a man could come nearer than a quarter of a mile of the concealed records. The soldiers wormed their way into the thicket, and one by one brought out the large index and record books to the wagon, whence they were brought to Warrensburg the same evening and deposited in the clerk's office where they have remained to this day.
It is due the memory of the patriotic women who watched and preserved the records, also the union soldiers who brought them to the county seat that they receive special commendation for their noble service.