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Saturday, Mar. 28, 2015

Death of a 'Notorious Bushwhacker'

Friday, June 24, 2011

By definition, Mr. Webster defines notorious as "being known widely and unfavorably." Therefore, during the Civil War and presently, if one was or is of the northern persuasion, this is a perfect word to describe the bushwhackers.

Perhaps the most famous Confederate guerrilla or partisan ranger west of the Mississippi River was William Clark Quantrill. However, there were many local and regional guerrillas/bushwhackers in western Missouri such as Henry Taylor, William Marchbanks, Thomas Livingston, Pony Hill, Brice Mayfield and Capt. Fay Price, just to name a few.

This column is about the death of Fay Price and his final resting place. Fay Price was captured by soldiers of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment in McDonald County, Mo., in the winter of 1862 -- 1863 and was incarcerated in the "Union" military prison in Fort Scott.

The following account of Price's attempted escape and death was described by wagon boss R.M. Peck in his column that was published in the Aug. 4, 1904, edition of the National Tribune Newspaper in Washington, D. C.

"One evening after dusk, as I was passing the guard house, I noticed that in addition to the regular sentry, "no. 1," who was walking his post as usual in front of the guard station, two extra guards were crouching in the dark shadows at either corner of the prison and the officer of the guard also stood conveniently near all of them with his revolver in hand. All except "no. 1" were still and motionless as statues -- evidently waiting for something to happen. It was easy to conjecture what that something was. Some prisoner was expected to make a break, and these men were ready to drop (kill) him.

Without seeming to notice what was going on, I walked on past, into the shadows of the next building -- the hospital -- and there concealed myself to await the results. I was disappointed, however. After a time as the expected did not seem to occur, the officer and the two extra guards withdrew and reentered the guardhouse.

I learned subsequently that the guards had discovered that "Capt. Price" had dug a hole through the wall of the prison room and that they had set a watch for him and tried to arrange things, encouraging and favorable, hoping that he would make an attempt to escape. But he "smelt a rat" and failed to come out of the hole he had dug.

Next day, while I was at the blacksmith shop getting some mules shod, an officer and file (squad) of guards brought Price to the shop and had fetters (shackles/iron bands) riveted on his ankles, with a short piece of chain between. All the time this was being done, he was putting in the time in his usual way, abusing the "_ Yankees!"

I could see from the looks of the Lieutenant and his guards that they would be delighted to get a pretext to kill him, but they did not find any justifiable opportunity yet!

The soldiers of the garrison had all become familiar with this blowhard bushwhacker, and I think they had all mentally passed the sentence of death on him and were anxiously awaiting for some reasonable excuse to put it into execution. The commanding officer had ordered the fetters put on him, but the officer of the guard told me that he would have preferred to let him remain footloose, so that he would be encouraged to make a break for freedom, as then the guard would be justified in killing him!

While the blacksmith was riveting the jewelry on him, he was getting off his stereotyped boast of the "_ abolitionists" he had killed; telling how he and his gang would ride around through the neighborhood where they ranged, hunting down "Union" men. How they would ride up to the houses of such men after dark, call them to their door and shoot them down.

I do not blame the soldiers for wanting to kill him. I felt as though I would like to do the job myself. It was a safe prophecy that his time in this world was limited and that the soldiers would soon find some way to "fix" him.

Shortly after this it was reported that Price had taken the smallpox, and he was accordingly relieved of the fetters and removed to the "pest-house" (a structure where infectious diseases were isolated) -- a tent located about a half mile southwest of town, where he was placed among other smallpox cases, the tent being guarded. But it proved to be no smallpox at all, and even with the fine opportunity given him by placing him between two cases of the disease, he failed to take it.

He seemed to conclude, however, that this was a good opportunity to get away and go back to resume his former cheerful occupation and, accordingly, one night when he thought the "sign (or moon) was right" he cut a slit in the back of the tent, crawled out and started! He didn't get far! The sentry who happened to be on post had the enviable satisfaction of sending him where all bushwhackers go!

And "Capt. Price" never more gloated over the death of a helpless, unarmed "Union" man begging for mercy or listened with delight to that "sweet music" he was so fond of -- the screams of the women and children whom he had rendered widows and orphans."

In his quarterly report, Col. W. Blair, the commanding officer of Fort Scott, stated that "unfortunately," the confederate bushwhacker by the name of Fay Price was shot and killed by the guard while attempting to escape from the "pest-house."

Now then, where did the prisoner "Price" manage to get a "knife" to "cut a slit" in the tent? Was it conveniently left for him to find with his fork and spoon? We will never know the answer to this, but what is known is that Price was shot and killed while trying to escape, and that appears to be exactly what the "blue bellied Billy Yanks" wanted to happen, and it did.

"Price's remains were buried in the "prisoners plot" in the Fort Scott National Cemetery, and today there is a headstone with just the name of Fay Price on it in the "confederate row" of said cemetery and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches