Weather permitting, May 10 should be an enjoyable as well as a historically significant occasion for those who participate. And all interested folks are invited.
The Col. John T. Coffee Camp No. 1934 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (incidentally, the largest camp in the state) has won an award for finding and marking more lost Confederate graves than any other camp. Compatriot Eldon Steward won a personal award for the same reason, having marked many of the graves singlehandedly.
On May 10, for the first time, three such new markers will be dedicated and the persons under them commemorated, with the usual solemn ceremonials. In between, Camp members and guests will enjoy a picnic at the old schoolhouse in Montevallo.
Plans call for the day to begin at 10:30 at the Sandstone Cemetery, located just five miles east of Milo on Highway E. The turnoff to the cemetery will be marked with a flag.
Here, a marker was erected last June over the grave of Lt. Joseph Monroe Wood, a Montevallo resident who played a notable part in the Civil War by serving as guide to Gen. Sterling Price during the Rebel retreat through western Vernon County in 1864.
Wood was a Montevallo livery stable operator amd prosperous farmer when the big war broke out in the spring of 1861. When fellow Montevalloan (and Vernon County Sheriff) Henry Taylor raised a company for the 6th Cavalry Regiment of the 8th Division, Missouri State Guard, the 30-year-old Wood was elected its second-in-command. Taylor's capture in April 1862 left Wood in full charge of the company's some 70 men.
Over Wood's advice, some of the men joined Montevallo civilians in a night siege of the Montevallo hotel a Federal unit had occupied. Two Federals were killed, but the insignificant action only provoked the Federals into burning the town before withdrawing.
Later captured himself, Wood was held in Springfield until formally "exchanged," after which he went right back to war. October 1864 found him with Price's 10,000 men retreating from their defeat at Mine Creek, in Kansas. When Price left after spending the night of the 25th in Deerfield, Joe Wood served as his guide. Despite knowing the country well, in the dark he managed to lose the way to the Adamson Ford. Unable to get his buggy across Big Dry Wood, the 300-pound Price mounted a horse and splashed across after Wood.
From Sandstone, the day's events will move to the old Montevallo Cemetery, located in dense timber west of the town. This turnoff too will be flagged.
While researching Joe Wood's family last year, Vernon County Historical Society members stumbled on the grave of the well-known "lady Bushwhacker" Eliza Gabbert. Her grave had been duly marked, but the old stone was in pieces and barely legible.
Since Eliza, despite her zeal, wasn't a soldier, a veteran's marker couldn't be obtained for her. But generous private donations paid for an exact copy of such markers.
Like her friends and inlaws the Mayfield sisters, after the early loss of their brothers and other menfolk, Eliza carried on the fight undaunted. Her father, William "Old Man" Gabbert, was the leader of a band of some 25 Bushwhackers in southeast Vernon County. On May 26, 1863, Eliza watched her family home go up in flames at the hands of the same Federal militiamen who'd just burned Nevada. After the war she married Dr. John Lipscomb and lived in Montevallo. Her sister Martha married Jesse Van Buren Thomas, great-uncle of the present writer, in whose grandmother's album a tintype of Eliza was found.
From there, likely around noon, it will be a short hop to Montevallo and a brief business meeting, followed by the picnic.
Nonmembers are welcome. If they wish, they may contribute something of their choice to the picnic. For advice, they can consult Ruth Ann Ayres, (417) 754-8397.
Bellies well filled, participants will move on to the Brasher Cemetery, just over the line in Cedar County. Here, Eldon Steward tracked down the grave of a character noted (or notorious?) for his wartime exploits and as an unforgettable "character" of the Sheldon-Montevallo area. Some of his descendants, from far and wide, plan to be present.
John Brown (no, not that really notorious one!) settled with his family 30 miles northeast of Lamar, and went on the warpath after Kansas Jayhawkers murdered his father and mutilated his body, a misfortune soon followed by the similar slaying of Brown's brother Bill.
Brown had been in regular MSG service, but the double tragedy sent him rushing to the camp of none other than leading Bushwhacker Quantrill, then camped on Drywood Creek.
He took part in all the notable exploits of the Quantrill band, including the famed raid on Lawrence, Kansas, and the "massacre" at Baxter Springs. In 1940, just before his death, True Magazine carried a first-person account of his ferocious wartime experiences.
Back in civilian life, Brown prospered even while boasting he never worked a day in his life. He owned land near Montevallo and also owned or operated a livery stable in Sheldon. He was well known to be a hot-tempered, dangerous man to cross.
Enjoying a mischievous sense of humor, he "adopted" one Bill Hadley, "about halfcracked," as more or less his personal court jester.
Once, when he was entertaining some county notables on his Montevallo farm, he noticed a lady trying to reach walnuts off a tree. He told her he had a better way.
"Bill," he said, "back up there a few steps, and butt a few walnuts off that tree for that woman."
"This old boy backed up," reported a witness, "and he hit that tree, and when he did it knocked him out." "John," a county judge admonished, "if he's dead, you're in trouble!" But "half-cracked" Bill was no worse-cracked than ever, and lived to suffer other Brown shenanigans.
Brown himself died quietly in Sheldon in 1940, aged 97.
A veteran's marker for his unmarked grave arrived and was installed earlier this spring. Its dedication will bring the May 10 obsequies to a close.
Vernon County's history is an infinitely fascinating study, combining easily with enjoyment of the great outdoors on a day in May. It should be a day to remember.