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History Early Settlers in Douglas County Law & Lawlessness

Law & Lawlessness

Stories of mean & violent people; how one family ran Douglas County; how law-abiding people finally prevailed.

One feud started as a result of a horse race and a following gunfight. This feud was between the Alsups and the Sheltons. Many different versions of how this feud started were prevalent but the most authentic version is that during a race a Shelton hit an Alsup horse across the nose with his quirt to prevent it from passing. The Alsup retaliated by hitting the Shelton across the face with his quirt. When the race was finished the Shelton called Alsup and killed him by shooting him through the heart. One of the older Alsups immediately killed Shelton and this Alsup almost immediately fell dead riddled with Shelton bullets. The Alsups were badly outnumbered at this race so they left the field to the Sheltons. There were several more Sheltons killed before the Sheltons left the country.

After the Civil War the Alsups dominated Douglas County through fear and coercion. If any one man opposed them he usually died suddenly of bullet wounds. Many of these men were shot down while unarmed or if armed were shot from ambush. Two killings stand out as being unnecessary and brutal. One was the killing of a seventeen-year-old boy, the other the killing of a man named Hatfield. The boy's name was Bill Fleetwood. The boy was courting Nan Alsup who was the daughter of Bill Alsup. Bill Fleetwood was considered one of the nicest boys in the county, but for some reason Bill Alsup disliked him exceedingly. One day Bill Alsup told his stepson Drew Upshaw to pick a fight with the Fleetwood boy and run him off. He picked the fight but the Fleetwood boy whipped him. He came to Bill Alsup to borrow a pistol to shoot the Fleetwood boy with. Bill Alsup told him to remain at home and he would go take care of that matter himself. Bill strapped on his pistol, mounted his horse and rode to the Fleetwood place. He found the Fleetwood boy in the yard with a small rifle in his hands awaiting the coming of Drew Upshaw. Bill Alsup dismounted, spoke to the boy and started toward the house. As soon as the Fleetwood boy looked away Bill Alsup drew his gun and shot the boy, killing him instantly. Eph Fleetwood, the boy’s father saw the whole affair. He immediately grabbed his pistol and came out shooting. Bill Alsup shot his remaining five shots at Fleetwood then mounted his horse and fled. Fleetwood shot six times at Bill Alsup and scored three hits, one in the left arm, one through the lungs, and one through the abdomen near the side. Fleetwood was unhit probably because the impact of his bullets spoiled Alsup's aim and because a severely wounded man cannot shoot well. Alsup recovered from his wounds after several months illness. Interview: June 7, 1938, Celia Spurlock, wife of one of the party who entrenched themselves at Kennel’s Mill, at her home at Blanche, Mo.

The other unnecessary and brutal killing was that of a man named Hatfield. Hatfield was not a high moral type of citizen. He came out of Arkansas just one jump ahead of a posse who were trying to catch and hang him for horse stealing. If he had not stolen the best horse in northern Arkansas the posse would probably have caught him. He came to Douglas County where the Alsups welcomed him with open arms. Hatfield doubtless scared by his narrow escape decided crime did not pay and broke connections with the Alsups. He married a well to do widow named Davis who lived on Fox Creek and settled down to a life of peace and prosperity. The Alsup faction was greatly provoked over Hatfield's good intentions and prosperity. To aggravate this jealousy and discontent was the fact that one of the Alsups was a rejected suitor of the widow Davis. Hatfield continued in his peaceful existence while the jealousy and envy of the Alsups grew greater. Finally the Alsups decided to have the farm by fair means or foul. They made Hatfield an offer of three hundred dollars for the farm. Hatfield referred them to his wife who told them three thousand dollars would not buy the farm. The next morning Mrs. Hatfield went out to gather eggs and saw a number of armed Alsup men surrounding the house. She went back and gave the alarm to Hatfield. He cut portholes in the house and prepared to defend himself. There were about sixty of the Alsups opposing Hatfield. The fight started about seven o'clock in the morning and continued until noon. Hatfield saw he was badly outnumbered and as his ammunition was running low he agreed under conditions to surrender to Brown Wyatt who was an honest constable. The Alsups agreed to the conditions of his surrender and promised him safe conduct to Marshfield. Brown Wyatt was sent for and when he arrived Hatfield surrendered to him. He was supposed to stand trial for the killing of three of the Alsups and the wounding of two others during the raid on Hatfield's house. Hatfield was placed on a horse with his hands bound to the saddlehorn and his feet tied together underneath the horse and he started for Marshfield with two of the Alsups and Brown Wyatt riding with him. Just two miles north of his home he was ambushed by the rest of the Alsups and riddled with bullets. Twenty-eight bullets, any one of which would have killed him, passed through his body and head in addition to several other bullets, from which he may have recovered. At the time all the county officers were Alsups or Alsup sympathizers. Hatfield's widow appeared before the grand jury to give testimony but Locke Alsup, who was presiding judge of the county court led her to the door and kicked her down the steps. A short time later Shelt Alsup gave her a wagon and team and ran her out of the county. Ben Alsup then moved in and took possession of the place. Interview: June 8, 1938, Myron Pease, former county judge and National Peoples Party delegate, at his home at West Plains, Mo.

The many depredations the Alsups committed finally began to bear fruit. They were killed one by one until only two families of Alsups were left in Douglas County and they were families that had taken no part in the depredations. Some of them were killed in gun fights, some were killed from ambush and a few died in bed. Perhaps the most spectacular demise was made by Shelt Alsup. He went out with his boots on his feet and his gun hot. While Sheriff of Douglas County two years before his death Shelt Alsup had gone to Arkansas and murdered an enemy from ambush. Extradition papers had gone through but as the Alsups were in office they were never acted upon. The Alsups were defeated at the next election. Frank Kendell was elected representative and Hardin Victory was elected sheriff. The extradition papers were again sent to Jefferson City. Frank Kendell brought them to Sheriff Hardin Victory. Victory and Clarence Pease, his chief deputy went out to arrest Shelt Alsup. On the road they met Tom Dobbs who Victory deputized. About three miles from Shelt Alsup's house they sighted him riding his racing mare which was called Little Easter. He sighted the sheriff and posse about the same time they saw him. He whirled his horse and rode away as fast as his mare would run. The posse pursued but did not have horses fast enough to catch him. They went on to his house but he was not there. Victory returned to town. That evening he received word that Shelt would not be taken alive and the other Alsups would kill any posse that went after him. Victory quietly gathered together a posse. The posse consisted of Clarence and Lando Pease, Whit King, Bob Clinkingbeard, Tom and Jim Dobbs, Jim and Henry Tetrick, Eph Fleetwood and six others. They arrived at Shelt Alsup's house before dawn. When the people in the house arose Shelt sent a horse thief who was staying with him out after his Easter mare. He was captured and sent to jail by Clarence Pease. Victory walked out and asked Shelt to come out and surrender. Shelt invited the sheriff to come and get him. Victory was in favor of going in after him but his posse talked him out of the idea. He called to Mrs. Alsup and told her to get the children out of the house before shooting began. She refused to leave or to send the children out. About this time Shelt began shooting at the posse and the posse began shooting at him. A short time later Mrs. Alsup came to the door with her small baby. It had been shot and killed by some member of the posse. She reviled the posse bitterly for killing her baby. Sheriff Victory told her the child's death was on her head because she was given a chance to take the children to safety and refused. Shortly after this an argument arose among the posse as to whether the house was built of lumber or of logs which had been weatherboarded. This was an important point because if it was a log house the posse shots would do no damage while Alsup could pick them off at his leisure. Sheriff Victory volunteered to find out. He took a large rock and went up and hammered a board off the side of the house. Shelt Alsup shot and killed him through the opening thus created. The posse saw that only the weatherboarding separated them from Alsup and the missing board helped show them where to shoot. They all shot until their guns were empty, reloaded and emptied them again. In a short time Alsup began to scream, My God, My God, over and over again. The posse continued shooting until he became silent. The posse then charged the house but found Shelt Alsup dead. Bob Clinkingbeard and Whit King loaded sheriff Victory's body aboard an Alsup horse and brought him to town. The rest of the posse returned to their homes or their work. Lando Pease and Tom Dobbs were slightly wounded which were the only ones of the posse to receive a scratch. The Alsups gave the posse members notice that they would kill every man who was in the posse. The posse banded together and fortified themselves at Kendall's Mill. The Alsups sent a scout to the mill to view the preparations to meet them. Jim Tetrick told the scout, "You tell them Alsups we want peace and we aim to have peace if we have to kill every Alsup in Douglas County to get peace". The Alsups decided it would cost them too many men to kill the posse and there was a good chance the posse would kill all of them instead. They decided to forego revenge. So passed the Alsups. They lived hard and lawless lives and the greater part of them died with a gun in their hands and boots on their feet. Interview: June 7, 1938, Celia Spurlock, wife of one of the party who entrenched themselves at Kendall's Mill, at her home at Blanche, Mo.

Courtesy of the Douglas County Genealogical and Historical Society Journal, December 1984 and December 1986. The text is from “First White Settlers” in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, U.S. Work Projects Administration, 1935-42, Missouri Historical Records Survey-Douglas County.