Sunday, August 5, 2012

Black Sheep Sunday: Bushwacker Bill Wilson

               Copyright 2012, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

William Wilson, otherwise known as "Bushwacker Bill Wilson", was my great-grand-uncle.   During the Civil War era in Missouri, he became somewhat of a legendary folk hero to the locals.    He was half-brother to my maternal great-grandfather, Valentine Allen.  They shared the same mother, my great-great-grandmother Frances Hudgens Allen.  Below is a photo that has been circulated in recent years by descendants and is purported to be a photo of Bill Wilson:

Whether or not this is a true and authentic image of the infamous Bushwacker Bill Wilson has not yet been proven or disproven.   However, my guess is that he was probably an angry-looking young man similar to the one depicted in this photo.   He lost a lot during the war, and was said to be hell-bent on revenge.  I have touched on the life of Bill Wilson in a previous post on my great-grandfather Valentine Allen.  Below is a quote from my own earlier blog post:

"Valentine 'Tine' Allen's half-brother was 'Bushwacker' Bill Wilson, son of Frances Hudgens and her first husband Valentine Wilson.   For those of you who may have seen the old Clint Eastwood film "The Outlaw Josey Wales", you will be familiar with the story of my Great-Grandpa's half-brother Bushwacker Bill, on whom the film's story is loosely based.  The Outlaw Josey Wales character is actually a composite of several known Bushwackers who lived in the area during the Civil War.  While it is true that some Bushwackers during the war were vicious murderers, such as the one known as "Bloody Bill Anderson"; others were regular family men who banded together to try to protect their families and properties during the War. Bushwacker Bill Wilson, my great-grandfather's half-brother, was one of the more sympathetic figures who actually became a folk hero in Missouri.   There was a book written about him by George Clinton Arther, entiitled: "Bushwacker, Missouri's Most Infamous Desperado".   The book is based on first-hand accounts of those who knew Bill Wilson.   The story goes that Bill was simply avenging the harm and atrocities that befell his family and property at the hands of renegade soldiers. Whether the "bad guys" were Union or Confederate soldiers is not entirely clear.   There was some wrong-doing on both sides during the war.   Missouri was technically a neutral state, but sympathies were dividied among families....some were for the Confederate cause, and others supported the Union cause.  It was not unusual for brothers within the same family to join up and fight on opposing sides during the Civil War. This happened within my own family tree.  I have not found a record that Tine Allen served in the military during the Civil War, though several other ancestors and relatives living in the area at the time did serve." 

Here is a quote from Eastwood's character in the movie based loosely on the life of my ancestor.  
 Josey Wales:   "Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean.  I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. Cause if you lose your head and give up then you neither live nor win.  That's just the way it is".  

As far as I know thus far, it has never been proven where or when Bill Wilson died and is buried.  Similar to the character of Josey Wales portrayed in the Clint Eastwood movie, Bill Wilson did in fact take an Indian wife.   He married Mary Ann Noaks, who had native American ancestry.  Some of the stories have Bill Wilson being shot and killed in Texas, and buried there.   Other stories have him returning to his home area in Phelps County, Missouri after the war, and living in hiding in the same remote hill-country caves he used during the Civil War when going about his bushwacking business. Some believe that he faked his own death in Texas and sent a letter to his wife supposedly from a third party, advising of his own alleged demise, to throw his pursuers off the trail. The letter was to be used by Mary Ann to "prove" his death.     There is supposedly a document signed by Mary Ann Noaks Wilson on April 15, 1865; a copy of which has been posted and circulated on, in which Mary Ann gives her statements indicating that Bill Wilson enlisted in the Rebel Army when the war fist broke out, then returned in about a year and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States Government; (as locals were required to do or be subject to arrest by the Union Army), then came home again and "Staid for only one hour and she has not seen him since".   Mary Ann was apparently arrested by Union Soldiers as being suspected of hiding and aiding her husband, and the document was her recorded statement alleging that she knew nothing about the whereabouts of Bill Wilson at that time. 

Below are photos of Gourd Creek Cave in Phelps County, Missouri; where Bushwacker Bill Wilson was known to hide out during and after the Civil War.       Here is a photo of the cave as it looks today, taken by cousin and fellow genealogy family-tree researcher Terry Cadenbach on April 24, 2012: 

Below is a photo of some of the extended Allen-Wilson-Noaks clan descendants and kin posing in front of the same Gourd Creek Cave, some time after the Civl War (circa 1870-1880).  The below family photo was published in the book, "Bushwacker: Missouri's Most Infamous Desperado" written by descendant George Clinton Arthur in 1938.  The book and it's contents are now in the public domain, as the author has been dead for more than 50 years. 

Bill wilson's wife  Mary Ann Noaks Wilson remarried and is buried at Brookshire Cemetery in Spring Creek, Phelps County, Missouri. She is listed on the Find A Grave website at under Memorial# 40032604.  Below is a photo of Mary Ann in her later years, with her second husband John Jackson, that has been shared by WIlson-Noaks-Jackson descendants:

Below is a photo taken by my family tree cousin, Terry Cadenbach, in 2012 of the  memorial marker placed in recent years by descendants of Mary Ann Noaks and Bushwacker Bill Wilson at the cemetery in Phelps County,Missouri.   Some believe that Bill Wilson rests there too, nearby to Mary Ann and her 2nd husband, in an unmarked grave. There are several very old monuments and stones in this cemetery, with mostly now illegible inscriptions.  One of those stones is surrounded by an old wrought-iron fence.   Some believe that could be the original final resting place of either Mary Ann Noaks Wilson (Jackson) or of Bushwacker Bill Wilson.  In honor of their memory, the below depicted memorial stone has been placed nearby in more recent years by an unknown descendant(s):

I had ancestors who fought for both the north and the south, on both the maternal and paternal sides of my tree. In fact, a few of my ancestors and kin in Missouri spent time in military prisons during the Civil War, simply for being suspected of being Confederate sympathizers.   It truly was a brother-against-brother and kin-against-kin conflict in American history and in my own family tree.