Bushwhacker Belles: The Sisters, Wives and Girlfriends of the Missouri Guerrillas, by Larry Wood, Pelican Publishing Co., Gretna, La., 2016, $24.95
During the Civil War sympathetic Missourians referred to Confederate irregulars as “The Boys,” and most histories of those bloody years in Kansas and Missouri focus on such “boys” as William Quantrill, “Bloody Bill” Anderson and the James and Younger brothers. Ozarks historian Larry Wood takes a different tack in Bushwhacker Belles with a look at the women who supported the male border raiders.
Relying heavily on Union provost marshals’ papers from the National Archives, Wood provides sketches of the wives and mothers, daughters and sisters, female friends and lovers, and, finally, “aiders and abettors of the Missouri guerrillas.” Some are relatively well known, others wholly obscure. Some might have been spies, while others were simply women who stood by their men.
Union justice seldom discriminated, banishing many such women from Missouri and sending several to prison. Sarah Jane Smith was even sentenced to death, although officials ultimately released her due to failing health.
Wood includes heartrending stories from a savage war. Consider Sallie Mayfield: After Union troops killed her husband in battle and left his body to rot for days before burying it, she exhumed the body herself and carted it to a cemetery for reburial.
As Wood sums up: “Bushwhacker belles suffered cruelties of war just like their men.”
—Johnny D. Boggs