Alsup - Fleetwood Feud
The following story was faxed to me by my cousin Velma Wolken of Springfield, Missouri. It is from a book titled "Douglas County Missouri in 1860". She found the book in the Ava, Douglas County, Missouri library. The book was compiled in 1982 by Nancie Todd Weber and copyrighted in 1983. Nancie Todd Weber reprinted the story in her book with permission from Dr. James W. Goodrich, Associate Director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. The story originally appeared in the MISSOURI HISTORICAL REVIEW, Vol. XX (October 1925), pp. 105-109.
This particular story of the Alsup-Fleetwood Feud has a distinct Alsup Family slant. It mentions that when the feud ended there were not any living Fleetwood's in Douglas County. This is not the case for there are many Fleetwood Family descendants still living in that area of southwest Missouri today. It also mentions that the Fleetwood Family sided with the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Although some Fleetwood Family members did fight for the South, most of the Fleetwood's were in the Union Army.
The Alsup-Fleetwood Feud did take place and many of their respective allied families were involved, but this story should be viewed as more of a glorified story of the very turbulent times that Douglas County was going through at that time in history.
By A. M. Haswell
In 1873 my wife and I passed six honeymoons on Rippee Creek in the very center of the Alsup territory. I knew them all, big be-whiskered fellows, all except the sheriff, Shelt Alsup. He was not over five feet tall, but known all over the county as "The head devil of the Alsups!" I have this story as the foundation of an Ozark novel, "An Ozark Oligarchy," but I am not ready to publish it yet, and at all events it will do no harm to tell it in brief form "efsobe" you see fit to do so.
The original settlers of the Missouri Ozarks were nearly all natives of the mountains of East Tennessee, Anglo-Saxon stock of the purest strain on earth. And, outside of the larger towns, by far the greater number of the population are today the descendants of the original pioneers. It is a strange fact that while East Tennessee and the adjacent parts of Kentucky and southwest Virginia have for generations been the scene of long continued and bloody family and neighborhood feuds, their close kin in the Ozarks seem to have left the feud habit behind them when they migrated to Missouri.
So much is this the fact that in an intimate acquaintance with the Ozarks and Ozark people of more than half a century, the writer has heard of only one such contest worthy of the name of "feud." There have of course been sporadic neighborhood quarrels, some of them resulting in bloodshed, but they were strictly individual matters, of limited extant and short continuance.
But there was one inveterate quarrel which continued its bloody course for nearly forty years, held one of the largest counties in the Ozarks in deadly fear, cost scores of lives, and was at last drowned under the bloody waves of civil war. Now that all of the participants in the vendetta have long since passed away, and that their descendants are among the best citizens of Missouri, it would seem as if the story of that strange conflict is worthy of permanent record.
The Alsups were among the first, if not the very first, settlers in that part of the Ozarks now comprised in the counties of Ozark and Douglas. They were of the best East Tennessee stock, and moved to the Ozarks as early as 1820. Old Uncle Tom Alsup used to claim that the first of them landed at the mouth of the Big North Fork, on White river, in 1812, and that later they made their way up the Big North Fork to its junction with the Bryant Fork of White river and up the latter stream into Douglas County. Thomas Alsup was a small boy at the time of that migration, and a hale old man when he used to tell about it fifty years ago, and there is no reason to doubt the truth of his statement unless, perhaps, he may have made the date of the arrival a few years too early. Be that as it may it is certain the Alsups were in the region well over a century ago. Year after year with that clannish spirit, which is such a characteristic of these people, others of their kinship followed from Tennessee, until the little river bottom farms stretched fifty miles up stream from the White river.
But along with those of the Alsup connection, there were others of the same mountain race who came into this backwoods Eden. Probably the most numerous of these were the Fleetwoods. These were, I think, of Kentucky birth. For years this settlement in the remote wilds of the Ozarks lived in primitive simplicity, and with no more quarrels than usual in such communities. But at length an Alsup and a Fleetwood disagreed over something, and the quarrel ended by one of the pair shooting the other dead. What they quarreled about, or which man was the aggressor or did the killing, no one in later days seemed to have the least idea. Enough that one member of one of the clans was killed. As quickly as the news spread through the hills every man on either side made the quarrel his own and swore vengeance. Thus started the longest, fiercest and bloodiest feud in Ozark history.
Years passed on, each seeing the bloody fruit of the feud. Occasionally some of the older and cooler heads on either side made efforts to end the trouble, and sometimes there would be an armed truce for a little time but it was a truce filled with suspicion and hatred, and sooner or later some trifling disagreement would spring up, the lie would be passed, the ready revolvers would be drawn, one or both of the disputants would drop dead, and the feud fires would blaze with redoubled violence. Probably in the forty years prior to 1860 two hundred lives were offered up on the altar of the bloody Moloch.
Then came a phase of the conflict which is probably unique in the history of such struggles. By mutual agreement the men of the two clans, now including many of the inhabitants of the region who were not related to either of the original sides, met on a day in October, 1860, to fight out their quarrel to the death, with the tacit understanding that the losers would leave the county to the undisturbed possession of the victors. The chosen battleground was a level plateau between Bryant Fork, and Fox creek. The place was a typical "Post oak flat," with scattering large post oak trees, but free of underbrush, one of those natural parks common to the Ozarks.
Here the Alsups and Fleetwoods met probably a hundred men to the side, and all that beautiful Indian summer day fought a bloody battle. They fought in the fashion which their forefathers had learned from the Indians, using the trees as shelters, slipping around for a shot at their foes from the rear, using every trick of savage warfare to win. As the day drew to a close a score of men lay dead and as many more wounded. A truce was called while each side carried off their dead and wounded. As might have been expected the fight was a draw. Neither side would admit defeat, and the feud raged more furiously than ever.
This last outbreak was of such an outrageous nature, that the small minority who were not partisans of either side called for an end to be put to the feud. A brave circuit judge and a prosecuting attorney brought the matter before a special grand jury, and some fifty men on each side were indicted for murder. The cases were due to come to trial at the session of the circuit court in the spring of 1861. But before the court met something happened fifteen hundred miles away to the eastward that put a period to any trial. The Confederate batteries had bombarded Fort Sumpter, the whole land was swept into the vortex of civil war, and the indictments in the Ozark woods were most effectually quashed.
At the first breath of war the Fleetwoods declared for the Confederacy; the Alsups as promptly came out for the Union. Then followed four years of the worst possible civil war, war which in these Ozark hills often flung to the winds every restraint of civilization or humanity, which slew old men sitting at their firesides, which called non-combatants to the doors of their cabins in the night, and shot them down from the darkness outside. Nearly every man, even to those not yet of man's age, was in one army or the other. But discipline was slack, leave of absence was easily had, or taken without leave, and while many were brave and honorable soldiers, there was an element who took advantage of the conflict to get revenge for old injuries, or to wipe out in blood the old time feud. So it was that when the war ended it was boastfully said; "There is nary a living Fleetwood in Douglas county," and the statement was true. The feud was ended.
Then the Alsups entered into their own. The machinery of county government had been destroyed by the war, but was now reorganized. A convention was held for nominating county officers. Aided by the drastic laws which shut out from the franchise all who had taken part with or sympathized with the confederacy, the strong and victorious Alsup connection had no difficulty in dictating the nominations and entered on a reign which was to last nearly a score of years. They made good officers, too, and the county prospered under their control.
But in the course of time many new settlers came into Douglas County. Opposition to the long rule of the Alsups arose, and at length an election drew near wherein party names were discarded and the tickets were spoken of simply as "Alsup" or "anti-Alsup." That was undoubtedly one of the strangest campaigns in Missouri history. There were threats of bloodshed on every hand, and there were many fistfights, but no actual killing. On Election Day every man went to the polls heavily armed, and expecting trouble, but miraculously the day passed without a serious fight. When the ballot boxes were closed the news spread to every corner of Douglas County that the oligarchy which had so long held sway had not elected a single candidate.
There was an aftermath of that election, when one of the old officers, the sheriff, was indicted for murder. He was a man of almost dwarfish size, and old Union soldier, and as nearly absolutely fearless as ever a man was. Whether the indictment was the move of some enemy seeking revenge, or not, (a few words missing in my copy) in all events when the newly elected sheriff went with a posse to take the indicted man prisoner, there was a shot from the little one-room house and the sheriff dropped dead. The cruel murder enraged the posse and they poured a volley from their Winchesters into the house, which killed the man they had come to arrest and his little daughter as well.
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