SHOOTOUT CLIMAXED CIVIL WAR FEUD IN IBERIA
by Peggy Smith Hake
Iberia is an average, small American town, quietly progressing through the late 20th century. Once called Rocktown, she sits upon the rolling hills of southern Miller County trying to project the image that her streets, businesses, and citizens are cast in a mold of peaceful contentment in this age of modern technology. There are ghosts from the past under that peaceful facade. Those haunting ghosts are riding roughshod over my mind as I write this story......the blacksmith's white-hot forge steaming; saloon doors swinging; horse hoofs echoing over the dirt streets of the town; fists flying; blazing guns.....that was the scenario of peaceful Rocktown/Iberia on Christmas Day, 1865.
The Civil War had officially ended only a few months earlier, but in Miller County the hatreds were still raging fiercely across the countryside. Neighbors suspected each other of supporting the opposite side of the war faction. An old-timer once said, "Miller County was the roughest place on earth!" He was referring to the fighting, suspicions, hatreds, and bushwhacking that continued on for more than a decade after the close of the war. The old saying, 'sleeping dogs would not lie down' described the situation perfectly.
For some reason, which I have not bee able to determine, a group of Southern sympathizers spent much of their time and energy harassing the Long family of southern Richwoods Township. The Longs were certainly not the only family in the Big Richwoods who favored the Northern ideology of that day. Even more confusing is the fact that the Long family immigrated from the southern states and owned slaves......They lived in the vicinity of the Madden/Pleasant Hill community and some of their neighbors were the Maddens with whom they fought on Christmas Day 1865, on the streets of Iberia.
During the Civil War, a Union fort was built in Iberia and was under the command of Capt. William Long, son of James and Harriett Long. This old fort stood where the Farnham and Sons Lumber Co. once existed in the 1940s and 50s when I was a child growing up in Iberia. Capt. Long was killed during the Civil War at his parent's farm home a few miles southwest of Iberia. While visiting his family, a group of bushwhackers rode up to the Long homestead and ordered Capt. Long outside. He helped his father, mother, and an old slave gentleman to escape from these marauders, but they set the house on fire and as Capt. Long fled from the flames, he was gunned down in the yard, killed instantly. Perhaps this was the beginning of the harassment the Long family endured over the next few years.
Christmas Day 1865, while families should have been together celebrating the birth of their Lord, blood was spilled on the streets of Iberia. Over one of the southern hills surrounding the town, horse hooves were echoing on the cold ground as several men rode into town with guns on their hips and fire in their eyes. They were shouting, "Death to all the Longs and their friends". According to old court records, eye witnesses related what they saw and heard during this day of tragedy. Some of the men and women who appear in the court records giving testimony were William H. Madden, Anderson Chappel, Ruel Elsey, John Smith, George Long, John Arnold, Joshua D. Cochran, John Long, William Harrison Smith, Julius Bailey, John B. Stone, Cornelius Lowe, James Madden, William H. Melton, William Madden, Francis M. Elsey, Peter Mashburn, Thomas Hickman, Calvin Elsey, Polly Ann Elsey, Elisha Strutton, James Boren, Louisa Jane Shelton, Caroline Hickman, Joseph Melton, James Runnels, Henry Carroll, John Carroll, Dr. James Carter, John Ferguson, and Ed. Spearman.
I am going to try to reconstruct the story the best I can as I try to fully understand what actually happened.....The trouble did not begin on Christmas Day, but earlier before the Christmas holiday. William Harrison Smith stated he had been at a 'house raising' at Mr. and Mrs. Stone's (John B. & Samantha Bailey Stone) in the Big Richwoods, northwest of Iberia. About 10 p.m. that night Anderson Chappel, Ruel Elsey and several other men rode up on their horses. There was a lively party going on because the work was finished and the folks were having a dance to celebrate the 'house raising'. Ruel Elsey sent word into the house for the Long boys to send their slave outside to fight him, but the Longs went out instead and gun shots rang out. One of the men shot that night was a son of William H. Melton who lived over near the Pulaski County line. William rode out the next day to get his son to haul him home and he enlisted the aid of the Madden boys to help him. I am presuming that the Melton boy was killed. The fight set the stage for the Christmas Day shoot-out in Rocktown!
When the crowd of gunmen rode into Iberia on Christmas Day, John Arnold was at Thompson's blacksmith shop. William Madden came there with Ruel Elsey and several other men. Elsey took a gun from George Long. Joshua D. Cochran said he was talking to George Long when 15 or 16 men came riding up. George Long was asked by Elsey where young Johnnie Long was, but George did not know. George had told Joshua Cochran that he feared of being killed.
William Harrison Smith was in Rocktown on Christmas Day when Madden and the others rode into town. Julius Bailey cornered Smith and told him to steer clear of the group because they considered him a friend to the Longs. Bailey suggested he stay out of the way. Smith said, "A few day before, some of the Longs told me they were afraid in Rocktown". Evidently he was one of their comrades from the war. Smith was a former Union soldier (he was also my great grandfather, born in Pulaski Co., MO in 1841 to John Wesley and Nancy (Stinnett) Smith, natives of Tennessee...psh).
Francis M. Elsey, called Bud, owned a grocery and saloon in Rocktown and it stood at the corner of Main and St. Louis Streets (site of the Roy Porter Store in the days of my childhood). Evidently several men had spent the better part of the day in and around the saloon. Had word gotten out that 'today is the day of reckoning?' Was old scores ready to be settled? The Smith boys, George and James, had tried to raise a fuss with Mr. McMillen all day, but each time they managed to get their problems silently settled. They also had tried to pick fights with Bud Elsey. Peter Mashburn was with the Smith boys and he was in the 'thick of it', too.
William Madden was among the riders who had come to town and was inside Elsey's store talking with Elsey. He opened the front door to leave and George Smith said something to him. Madden replied..."I want no fuss", but words continued between them. One called the other a 'cowardly rascal' and the other yelled 'you're a no-good Rebel'. The Smith boys threw off their coats and rushed toward Madden, who had been joined by Anderson Chappel. They yelled.."Go bold face against the world!" and began a fight that became vicious and finally ended in a cloud of smoke as a revolver was fired. James Smith fell dead. Francis/Bud Elsey had run from his store to his home nearby and got his revolver. Albina Elsey, his wife, had run out in the yard beside him to see what was happening. All of a sudden, Elsey jumped over the fence and fired his gun. Albina Elsey had a gun also and she fired it at George Smith. He fell, dying almost instantly as well. She turned and ran back toward her house but was shot as she tried to get to safety. She fell through her front door.
In the meantime, James Runnels had shot Francis Elsey. Four or five men began chasing Runnels and Calvin Elsey through the field toward Moreland's stable. Evidently they made it safely to the stable. Back at Francis Elsey's home, his sister, Polly Ann Elsey, had a revolver when she appeared at the front door and she fired it into the crowd of men outside. They scattered in all directions but the same man who had shot Albina, her sister-in-law, also shot Polly Ann. Her sister, Louisa Elsey Shelton, saw what happened and she started to run to Polly Ann, but the man told her to go back or "I'll shoot you, too."
In the meantime Peter Mashburn and James Runnels carried Bud Elsey in from the field where he had been shot down and threw him over the yard fence. Elsey was not dead and begged to be carried in the house, but some of the men told him to just lay outside with the other dead men in the street. Albina, his wife, was mortally wounded but did not die at the scene. Someone carried her to her Uncle Isaac Crismon's farm in Maries County and she died there. There is record that her young brother, Bob Page, age about 16 years, was sent back to Iberia to get medical help for her, but he was gunned down and killed also. Back at the horrendous scene of murder and mayhem, the bodies of two Smith brothers were carried from the public road to the home of Thomas and Caroline (Rowden) Hickman in Rocktown.
As the sun set over the western horizon on Christmas Day 1865, Rocktown was in a shambles. Three men and one woman lay dead; a woman and another man were severly wounded; and a few days earlier another man had been killed in a feud-type argument that continued through Christmas Day.
I have tried to research the various families involved in this story and found some interesting data...................The Long family, who became the target of southern sympathizers, came from East Tennessee quite a number of years prior to the Civil War. the family was originally from Culpepper Co., VA; had migrated into East Tennessee and then moved on west into Missouri in the late 1830s and 40s. There were several families in the Long clan and each had numerous children. Their allied families were the Stewarts and Castlemans who also settled in the Big Richwoods. They were a close-knit, early American family.
The Elsey family came from DeKalb Co., AL in the 1840s and first settled in Maries County, MO (then Osage Co.) near Mrs. Elsey's family, the Rowdens. John Elsey married Rachel Rowden, dau. of Asa and Margaret (Hannah) Rowden, in DeKalb Co., AL in 1839. Her family originated in Henry Co., VA; moved to East Tennessee; and then moved to DeKalb Co., AL where she met and married John. John and Rachel had a large family of 13 children. Between 1850-60, they moved from Maries County to southeastern Richwoods township and settled on a prairie which later was called Elsey's Prairie. During the Civil War, a battle was fought on their land and it was called the "Elsey Prairie Fight". My great, great grandfather, John Levi Whittle, a Union soldier, was killed in that fight and was buried near the battleground in what later became the Billingsley Cemetery. Many of the Elsey family members were involved in the Christmas Day fight at Iberia including, Francis M., Ruel, Calvin, Thomas, Louisa Jane Elsey-Shelton, Caroline Elsey-Hickman and Polly Ann Elsey. The Elsey family left Miller County and moved to Franklin Co., AR in the years following.
The two Smith brothers have been the missing link of the puzzle. I have searched in Miller and Pulaski County records trying to determine who these boys were, but I have not been able to identify them. I believe they were sons of John and Telitha Smith of Pulaski County, but have no definite proof. They were the only Smith family who had sons named George and James. If they are their sons, George died at the age of about 18 years and James was about 26 years old. William Harrison Smith, mentioned in this story, was my great grandfather and may have been a cousin to the two Smith brothers who were killed. Several others mentioned were residents of Pulaski County including Peter Mashburn, James Boren, James Runnels, Cornelius Lowe, and Mr. McMillen.
Francis (Bud) Elsey survived his gunshot wounds. He left Miller County with some of his brothers soon after the Christmas Day fight. He went to Franklin Co., AR and married his second wife, Mollie Berry. Calvin Elsey, Bud's brother, married Callie Painter in Franklin Co. also. By 1871, most of the Elsey family was gone from Miller County.