The Bushwhacker, Part II of II

The first installment of this column ran in the Sept. 3 edition of the Van Alstyne Leader.

Whether or not this murdered man was in fact The Great Bushwhacker, Bill Wilson, we may never know, but someone was murdered nonetheless and the name of Wilson, from Missouri, was given as the identity of the man. It is hard to imagine that such a great man could have been gunned down in this manner; however authorities in Missouri had often remarked that they could get Bill Wilson if only he would leave the hills. Perhaps leaving the hills was his fatal mistake.

It is unknown what exactly happened to the body of this man. Some say the murderers buried him in a shallow grave near the trail (a quarter of a mile, according to the afore-mentioned article). Regardless of this, he was obviously not buried properly if the citizens of Mantua found him and created a search party. He was likely covered with brush and other debris to somewhat hide his remains. What the citizens did with his body it is not known. They could have buried him where he lay, or perhaps they took him back to Mantua and buried him in their city cemetery there. This cemetery is located at the northeast intersection of county roads 573 and 574; however, there is little evidence of its existence.

There is a rumor that the body was buried by the murderers near Highway 5 and Prong Creek, north of Van Alstyne. Roy F. Hall wrote an account of this historic event but there are several errors with his story. I have not been able to find any proof that the murder took place this far north. According to some accounts, William C. McKinney was hunting and heard the shots. McKinney’s land was near Mantua, almost due east of it near the Grayson-Collin County line. The afore-mentioned newspaper accounts also stated that the citizens of the community heard the shots… Mantua was too far away to have heard the shots had it occurred north of present day Van Alstyne. It seems more likely that it had occurred south of present day Van Alstyne between it and Mantua, but on the Grayson County side.

A fiftieth anniversary edition of The Sherman Courier, on August 15, 1917 retails the account and states that "the traveler left for the north and these men (Thompson and Blackmore) followed him, overtaking and murdering him at night in Grayson County, south of Van Alstyne."

It is also important to remember that in 1869, neither Van Alstyne nor the railroad were in existence. Prior to the Interurban’s creation in the early 1900s, Highway 5 did not exist. When traveling to Howe from Van Alstyne one would have taken what is now called Old Highway 6. When the interurban disbanded in later years towards the middle part of the 20th century, its remains were turned into Highway 5. Being a murder case, it is unlikely that the posse would have buried the body where they found it when they had a city cemetery in their community of Mantua. There were also several family cemeteries nearby, including the McKinney Cemetery which later became the Van Alstyne Cemetery.

Bushwhacker Bill Wilson’s widow, Mary, was remarried to John Jackson in Missouri in 1884. The following information is taken from the Rolla Herald in 1883 just prior to the marriage. It appears he had planned to marry Mrs. Wilson, but wanted to ensure that she was in fact a widow. "Mr. John Jackson returned last week from a trip to Texas. While at McKinney he learned the particulars of the death of William Wilson, a brother of the late Napoleon Wilson, who went to Texas soon after the war for the purpose of buying a home. Mr. Jackson showed us a McKinney paper, dated January 30, 1869, in which an account is given of a foul murder and robbery of a stranger from Missouri, and from the description given Mr. Jackson is satisfied that the murdered man was William Wilson. He had on his person at the time he was murdered about $3500. His widow and relatives in the county, so we are informed, have never believed him to be dead, but the description of the murdered man tallies exactly with that of Wilson, and Mr. Jackson investigated the matter while there and is satisfied beyond a doubt that William Wilson was murdered for his money and that the person spoken of in the paper was no other than William Wilson."

Ironically, in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, at the end his alias name is given as "Mr. Wilson." Coincidence? It is also said that the bar/saloon in which Josey Wales frequented in the movie and the place where his alias was given to the authorities was styled after James "Jim Crow" Chiles’ saloon which was located in Sherman during the Civil War and where Quantrill’s men were frequent customers.

The names of Bob Lee and Simp Dixon were also mentioned in the movie, both parties having been involved in the Pilot Grove Difficulty, just east of Van Alstyne. Whether or not the character of Josey Wales was in fact molded to reflect Bill Wilson may never truly be known as parties argue both sides of the matter. However, Josey Wales and Bill Wilson lived very similar lives as most Bushwhackers did at the time. For many in the Ozarks, Bill Wilson appeared to be something of a hero who could never be defeated… in the hills of Missouri, that is.

Even today many wonder if Bill Wilson was ever really killed. He never, in all his escapades, was injured by the authorities. Perhaps he took this as an advantage, that a man was murdered and Wilson somehow placed his name to the corpse to give himself a new start. Many old time folks in Missouri say that they saw Bill Wilson long after this and that he lived to an old age taking an assumed name. A similar story like this exist in the case of Jesse James.

With cases such as these, rumors seem to always spread that the dead are not really dead, perhaps it is a way to cope with the loss of a great hero who all thought could never be killed. Perhaps the Titanic is still afloat somewhere in the Atlantic? No matter, someone was murdered near Mantua and the two men convicted of the murder were the first two men to be legally hanged in Sherman in 1869. This story can be found in the next installment of Trails of Our Past titled, "To the Gallows."

Dusty Williams is a ninth generation Grayson County resident, author and local historian.

He can be reached at dustywilliams@live.com.