(John Atkinson was born in Kanawha County, West Virginia on 12 November 1815. He married Hannah Catterlin in 1840 in Ohio and moved to Bates County in 1860, settling in Pleasant Gap. He enlisted in Co. H, 7th Cavalry of the Missouri State Militia in 1862 where he served for one year until a disability forced him to resign. He was then appointed captain of a company of home guards for Bates County by Governor Fletcher. He was elected sheriff in 1864 but the aftermath of Order No. 11 prevented any county business from being conducted until 1866. He was elected again as sheriff and served in that capacity for a total of four years.
The following letter, written by Atkinson while sheriff, details a battle that took place in Bates Couny on April 14th of 1865. This battle is considered to be the last battle of the Civil War fought in Bates County. It took place five days after the surrender of Lee to Grant on 9 April 1865 at the Appomatox Courthouse. Although a Union man, Atkinson points out that the Kansas troops are “more dreaded here than the buschwhacker”. Special thanks to Wayne Schnetzer for providing the museum with a copy of this letter. All paragraph spacings, spellings and grammatical errors are those of Atkinson.)
Johnstown, Bates Co Mo April 27 1865
To His Excellency Thomas C. Fletcher Governor of the State of Missouri:
I desire to call your attention again to the situation of our County.
The bushwhackers are numerous in this County.
They are passing almost every day in bands of from six to thirty robbing as they go. A Band passed through about a week since and stole two horses from this neighborhood. I got the neighbors together as soon as possible and followed them. We overtook them the second day in the brush and demanded their surrender. They fired on us, killing on of our number. A fight ensued in which their loss was five killed and some wounded. We captured the stolen horses. The rebels got in a lake of water and each party fought until their ammunition was exhausted. Four out of eleven buschwhackers got out of the lake and got away.
Their Captains name was W.W. Brenton-lived in Buchanan County Mo. He surrendered after having been mortally wounded.
He says there are many more coming in. We captured some revolvers and some other spoils which I have reported to the General in command of this District.
I wish to call you attention to another class of the human species more to be dreaded here than the bushwhacker.
I refer to the” Kansas troops”. They have been here three or four times in the last month and have taken off more or less stock each time.
About two weeks ago there were five here, who took away four head of horses the property of loyal men one of them the property of a Justice of the peace in our County. In about four days the same party come back in company with ten more and drove off about thirty head of horses taking with them three side saddles and other property of value. A portion of this property belonged to union men that have true from the beginning who have served in the Militia since the organization and who voted for your Excellency at the last Election.
Yesterday three more of the same class of thieves came into the neighborhood and horses becoming scarce, they drove off two yoke of the oxen belonging to a widow who was ploughing them herself.
This womans husband was a Rebel and died in the rebel army three years ago and she has acquired this property since his death. She claims to be loyal and is a fine woman and is trying to make an honest living for herself and family but by the loss of her means of support will be reduced to a condition of suffering.
It certainly is a great outrage for these troops to be allowed to come into Missouri and move about at pleasure. There were no officers with these parties.
They belonged to Company __ Captain Smith of the 15th Kansas.
Something over one hundred bushwhackers have passed through this section this Spring.
They have taken about five or six head of horses about one hundred dollars in money and some revolvers.
There have been twenty three Kansas men here, who have taken about forty head of stock besides other property.
They threaten the life of any man who reports them.
How long Governor is this state of things to exist in our County? Is there no help for us?
We have been promised help for a long time, but it has not come. I have written several letters and it has done no good.
I went to Jefferson last Monday to see your Excellency about the matter, but did not find you at home, so I had my trip for nothing.
To arrest these parties and try them by military law would only add fuel to the flames. If they cannot be brought back to Jefferson and tried by the civil law, it is much better they should be let alone for if they are arrested and not confined they will not leave a horse, nor a man in the County except those who are accepting to their robberies. In make this (page cuts off) have. We have no means here of bringing these parties to justice. There is no Military organization in our County, nor has there been since the war except a few months at a time, which was worse, in effect than none at all, and we have not had a term of the Circuit Court since the war began. We have been trying all the time to keep up some show of a civil organization and have done so until the present time, but according to the Ordinance of Convention it will cease on next Monday. In making this plain statement of facts I have done nothing more than what I considered it my duty as a Civil Official to do.
Your Obedient Servant, John Atkinson Sheriff Bates Co