Part I of II
One cannot mention the term "western" and not think within the first few seconds, "Josey Wales." A classic film starring the legendary Clint Eastwood, "Josey Wales" createa a legacy in the media market that will continue to speak to people, especially those of the south. However, the tale of Josey Wales connects more with the North Texas area, Van Alstyne in particular, than many of us may know.
Some sources state that the story of Josey Wales was written and based upon the life of Bushwhacker William "Bill" Wilson. He was referred to as "The Bushwhacker" or "The Great Bushwhacker." He was most probably the most notorious of all other men like him. Some say he ran with men like Quantrill, Jesse James, The Younger Gang, Dick Kitchen and Anthony Wright and it is said that when he was with them he was in charge, leading all of Quantrill’s men on several occasions, this according to a 1938 biography written about him.
Born around the year 1830, he was a native to Phelps County, Missouri, an area deep within the Ozarks. Before the war he had been married and throughout his life, no matter what he was doing, he remained a family man to his four children and wife. He stood 6-2 and weighed 185 pounds with thick locks of black curly hair. Light skinned with light blue eyes, he normally wore a short beard. Wilson was charismatic and enjoyed playing the violin at local get-togethers. He remarked that his three best friends were his two 44s and his horse.
A classic countryman, Wilson had two known horses. The first was named Dime because it had a dime shape on its forehead. When the horse went lame, The Bushwhacker set him free to the hills where he could be seen from time to time. The other faithful companion was a horse named Bullet for his incredible speed. He was a well-trained horse, as all of Wilson’s horses were, and would come to Wilson the moment he whistled.
Wilson and his three friends roamed the Ozarks throughout the Civil War, making terror for the Union and Red Legs whenever they could. Originally Wilson, like his home state of Missouri, was neutral and chose neither the Union nor Confederate.
However, after Wilson was wrongly accused of horse theft, his family was thrown from its house while he was away and the structure was set afire. From this moment on, Wilson made it his goal to make hell for the government and Union forces. Keeping to the hills he would see his family and friends when he was able and did what he could to help them, all the while leaving the bodies of Unionist and spies strewn across the countryside. So good a marksman was Wilson that it is said he would draw out his double 44s while amount and charge toward a tree, firing at it as he went around it. When he was done, there was a perfect ring around the tree from his target practice. These rings were found around trees long after his disappearance.
After the war, Missouri was still full of unrest and bodies continued to turn up throughout the area. The great cleanup of Bushwhackers came in 1868. Wilson moved his family to a new piece of land nearby and bid them farewell as he headed for Texas. There are not many accounts as to what he did over the next year; however, if Wilson had rode with Quantrill and his men at other times it is likely he came to Sherman where some of these men were known to have resided. Grayson County was full of Missouri migrants, especially during this time period.
Recently, a story has emerged that Bill Wilson was murdered near Van Alsyne and buried in a shallow grave somewhere nearby. The McKinney Examiner reported to the Galveston Flakes Daily Bulletin on February 7, 1869 as follows: "Horrible murder and robbery of a Missourian-One of the foulest murders and robberies in the annals of crime was committed on last Sunday evening in the southern portion of Grayson County, a few miles north of Mantua in this county, a stranger from North Missouri, entirely unknown in this section, being the victim, whose name is yet a mystery." The Georgetown Watchman reported on April 17, 1869 that "On the discovery of the body of the murdered Wilson, great excitement prevailed on the suspicion falling on the two men, Blackmore and Thompson."
Accounts state that Wilson was driving to McKinney with a wagon load of apples which he sold. At the drug store of Foote & Herndon, he exchanged gold for currency, a total of $600. It was revealed later in some newspaper accounts that Blackmore and Thompson were preparing to rob the drug store but when they witnessed the afore-mentioned transaction they decided to take their chances in robbing Wilson.
Wilson headed back north and stayed the night with Col. Wilmeth. The next day he continued north and was gunned down by the two men north of Mantua near present day Van Alstyne. Some reports state that Wilson had seven bullet holes, supposedly all that entered him through his back, while other accounts state there were only two gunshot wounds, one in the head and one in the right side.
The Galveston Flakes continued by reporting: "The firing, which occurred between two and three o’clock in the afternoon was heard throughout the neighborhood, and the body of the murdered man was found off the main road about a quarter of a mile, just before sundown. His saddle-bags, memoranda book and all his money had been carried off by the murderers. Citizens to the number of two or three hundred were summoned to the spot, and everyone was required under oath to prove his whereabouts on Sunday, at the hour of the shooting was heard, but this thorough investigation failed to throw any light on the track of the murderers. Determined to bring the perpetrators of so foul a murder to justice, scouts were sent in various directions. Two young men named Wm. Blackmore, formerly of Carroll County, Mo., and John Thompson, formerly of Barry County, Mo., were arrested and they are now lodged in jail at this place (McKinney), awaiting an examination on the charge of murdering the traveler. The murdered man is supposed to have had with him between $2500 and $3500 in gold and currency."
Look for Part II of Bushwhacker Bill Wilson’s story in next week’s edition.
Dusty Williams is a ninth generation Grayson County resident, author and local historian.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org