The Killing of "Devil Dick" Boze
Fri, 07/08/2022 - 1:08pm admin
Each year around this time, my thoughts return to an event 157 years ago at an idyllic place on the Eleven Point River. Symbolic of the violence permeating this part of the Ozarks during the Civil War and a decade afterward, the killing of Richard Boze occurred in the early dawn hours of June 15, 1865. The war had ended in April 1865. Radical Republican government was in charge in Jefferson City, and slavery was abolished on January 11, 1865. But, the guerrilla war that had depopulated Howell and Oregon Counties during the last two years of the conflict was still raging here. Richard "Devil Dick" Boze was part of that problem. He had been a major thorn in the side of Union commanders during and after the end of the war, committing depredations upon anyone supporting a return to civil government.
Boze and his small band of partisan warriors, comprised mostly of his relatives and local friends, continued to attack and kill Union soldiers passing through Oregon and Howell Counties months after the war ended. They threatened with death any Confederate soldier and their former civilian friends if they cooperated with the restored United States government, and all property in the region was subject to confiscation by them. Prominent local Confederate leaders like Captain Samuel Greer and Captain Peter Rhine Simpson turned their backs on Boze when he openly stole horses and livestock from them and their neighbors because they had surrendered. The civil government had not been adequately restored to cope with the lawless bands roaming the countryside, and stealing had become a profitable enterprise. Something had to be done.
There are always two sides to a story like this. Boze declared that it was his ox that was first gored when Union forces appeared at his watermill on the Upper Eleven Point River in the early part of the Civil War, killed his brother, and burned their mill. The Boze family were millwrights. Today many of my readers are familiar with a Boze Mill, located on the lower river and one of the most scenic springs in Missouri. Equally beautiful is Roaring Spring on the upper Eleven Point on land that Richard owned. From research, our Civil War Roundtable years ago surmised that the watermill at Roaring Spring is where the events occurred that earned the eternal hatred of Richard Boze and his followers.
In 1864, Ripley County resident Richard Hudson, fleeing his home to the safety of the Union stronghold of Ironton, wrote federal authorities complaining that guerrillas, including Boze, had forced him and his neighbors to leave. He wrote:
"The barbarous and insufferable treatment the Union men and families get from those bands, at their discretion, in the records of history hardly has a parallel. The Union men are hunted and, if found, are shot or killed in some other way, and often their families are shamefully and grossly insulted by these desperate bloody-handed bushwhackers. Nor is this the worst. We, not having the liberty to make a crop last year, and our property and provisions being taken away from us by these bands, there are many families without relief who shortly will be reduced to starvation."
He goes on to write that the areas west of him, namely Oregon and Howell counties, were the worst, and though federal scouts had killed or captured a significant number of guerrillas, they returned as soon as the troops left to continue depredations. Hudson begged for the stationing of Union troops in these areas, which never came.
When the war started in 1861, Richard Boze lived in one of the most isolated parts of the Eleven Point, below Thomasville, near Spring Creek, with his wife Elizabeth and two small children. At the start of the war, he was twenty-three years old, and his wife was twenty-four. They had a son James, age four, and a daughter nearly two years of age. Boze's brother Josiah, his brothers-in-law Huddleston, and other relatives lived nearby. His widowed mother-in-law, Elizabeth "Peggy" Huddleston, made her home at Braswell Spring in the same neighborhood, and the events of June 15, 1865, occurred there.
In June 1865, a special task force of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry was sent to Pilot Knob to eradicate those who would not surrender. The Seventh Kansas had origins at the start of the war as Jennison's Jayhawkers, and this particular squad was a seasoned assassination squad. The guerrilla Sam Hildebrand, marauding in Southeast Missouri, and Boze were singled out for elimination. We know the rest of the story through diaries, federal reports, and reports filed with the Provost Marshal.
Boze and a portion of his band were staying the night of June 14, 1865, at the log cabin of his mother-in-law located along the river. A dance was held that night. As they arrived in the river country, the Seventh Kansas paid a local woman to allow her daughters to guide them closer to Boze's location. They were trailing Boze's band following the theft of some horses at Lesterville earlier in the week.
Before leaving, the girls told the troopers that they would never get Devil Dick as he was a dead shot and carried four revolvers. Nearer to the cabin, a black man they encountered gave them further information, and just before daybreak, they were on the road leading to the Huddleston cabin. There they met some bleary-eyed men and women on the road leaving the dance. They took the group into custody and planned an attack on the double pen dog-trot log cabin, which the soldiers described as "an exceptionally good one for those parts." A dash on horseback was made for the house, where three women were observed sitting on the doorsteps. The plan was to ride up to a high five-rail fence surrounding the home, springing from their saddles over the fence and into the house.
But as they arrived, the women sounded the alarm, and men bailed from the home in all directions. As he neared the fence, one trooper stated a man ran in his direction from the other side wearing nothing but a shirt and drawers, bearing a large revolver in his hand. Then, as the two men closed on the fence and each other in an instant, the trooper fired, and with a horrible yell, the man on the other side fell.
No one else was killed or injured in the little fight, though several were captured at the house. It was quickly determined that the dead man was none other than "the much dreaded Devil Dick Boze."
The Union Provost Marshal at Pilot Knob interviewed all Seventh Kansas Troopers after the incident. Private George Mowry's sworn testimony agrees with the other ten men on the scout. He stated, "On Tuesday, June 13, 1865, I was detailed to go with Sergeant Hewitt upon a scout. We marched to Eleven Point River. I was placed in the advance with three other men of my company about three miles from the Eleven Point River."
"About one-half mile from Eleven Point River, I saw two men riding with two ladies upon the road. One of the men had on a suit of federal uniform and federal overcoat. We charged upon the men soon as we saw them and surrounded them, and ordered them to surrender. They did so and delivered up their arms. They each had large revolvers, which they delivered up. Robert Roberts was dressed in Federal Uniform. George Myers had on a black coat which was recognized by Robert Ship as his property. Robert Roberts and George Myers were the names of the two men we captured."
"Myself and the three men in advance of the party then started on and charged onto the house of Mrs. Peggy Huddleston on Eleven Point River. I saw two men run out of the house. They each had a revolver in their hands. I dismounted and started in pursuit of them. I commenced firing at them. Just at that time, I heard Mrs. Bows (Boze) say, 'shoot them down.' I looked around and saw a man whom I found out afterwards was Dick Bows. He was running on my right to get to the brush. He had a Revolver in his hand. It was cocked. I fired at him, and he fell. I then went on to where Riley Huddleston was. He told me that he had given up his revolver. I saw him when he started from the house with a Revolver in his hand."
"We started out from Peggy Huddleston's and went to Widow Glasscock's on Spring Creek. A Corporal & two men were sent to the house of Peter Younger. They returned to the party in a short time with Peter Younger, a prisoner. The men had a revolver which they said they had taken from Younger. Younger said they had taken a good revolver from him. After leaving Widow Glasscock's Sergeant Hewitt and five men captured Wade de Parks. Sergeant Hewitt also told me they had taken a revolver from de Parks. The party under the command of Sergeant Hewitt then started back to Centreville."
A large amount of stolen property was recovered in the houses raided, including horses, saddles, and clothing. Guerrillas in possession of Union uniforms were routinely shot as prisoners during the war but were apparently spared because the war had ended. A lot of testimony included descriptions of weapons recovered from Boze and his men, as not all the guns made it back to headquarters, including an especially fine long-barreled dragoon revolver taken from Peter Younger.
Further reports indicated Boze's nine-year-old son was also at the house and witnessed Devil Dick's burial in the yard of Peggy Huddleston. He supplied the information leading to the hideouts of other Boze gang members mentioned in the reports living in the Spring Creek area nearby. While lauded as heroes at Pilot Knob, the violence of their activities when the war was supposed to be over seems to have gotten to some participants. In the general roundup, some of the soldiers often used the practice of dressing in civilian clothing to gain the advantage of surprise. In his diary, one trooper wrote:
"That night, I and one of my comrades knelt together and told the Lord how sad we felt about the way we had to do things, shooting men down in cold blood, and asked for wisdom and protection. Then, as we talked things over together, we decided that it was wrong to dress up in disguise to take advantage of men, to walk up to a man as a friend with the purpose of shooting him down as an enemy, and we refused to do so after this.”
Another trooper, writing home to his wife, included in his letter a $5 Confederate bill taken from the pocket of the nightshirt of "Devil Dick Boze, the most notorious of bushwhackers of South Central Missouri."
In the following years, the Boze story developed into legend, with several groups claiming to have been responsible for his killing at several locations. The truth was further complicated by the fact that Richard Boze had an elder uncle. The latter was involved in the Sons of Liberty movement, resisting the re-establishment of civil government after the war.
The cabin where Boze was killed survived well into the twentieth century, though the Eleven Point River finally claimed it in a flood. Local lore states that Devil Dick Boze's body was taken up and re-buried in the Spring Creek Cemetery. Instead of being buried facing east, Boze was allegedly buried looking south, signifying his allegiance to that cause. Other accounts state that he was interred that way to deny him a Christian burial.
I first heard the story of "Devil Dick" while floating on the Eleven Point River in the mid-1970s. I was intrigued and have collected enough information on the subject to make a small book. In 1987 I interviewed local historian Lewis Simpson at his home near Alton with the object of finding out more about Boze. He was reticent to discuss the matter, telling me, "a lot of things happened in the war that shouldn't have." Lewis' father fought on the Confederate side, as did several family members. The war continued to be fought in these hills for a decade after it supposedly ended. Some villainized Boze, and others regarded him as a hero. Eventually, to get along with neighbors, silence became the prudent option. I suppose it is time for me to go back to the scene and have another look!