(Submitted by Harry Soltysiak)
Jack Taylor tackled his Eagle Scout project like he sacks the Tigers’ opposition on the gridiron.
With permission from trustee Jimmy Dykes of Dykes Construction, the 15-year-old son of Jack and Margo Taylor “called out the scouts” of Troop 309, hosted by First United Methodist Church of Excelsior Springs, to help clean up brush and repair broken headstones in the Oakland/Haynesville Cemetery near Holt.
“I felt proud to be doing the work for my community,” said Taylor.
On Friday, July 19, a contingent of scouts and leaders started prepping the cemetery for the work—and they discovered evidence of a kind of mystery. The volunteers cleared soil and grass off two fallen stones near the crest of the graveyard. The names of John G. and Salmon G. Bigelow emerged. These brothers apparently died on the same day, June 24, 1864.
Work resumed on Saturday, July 20, under a gray drizzly sky. About 25 volunteers huddled during a break beneath a small, dripping canopy. Handed a copy of John N. Edwards’ “Noted Guerrillas,” published in 1877, Jack Taylor Sr. revealed the fate of the Unionist brothers—ironically at the hands of rebels led by his own namesake, Charles F. Taylor.
“Huh,” Jack Sr. said to Jack Jr. “I wonder if we killed them?” But shown a post-Civil War photograph of the guerrilla fighter, he answered his own question: “No, this guy’s too short to be related to us.”
Stumbling a little over Edwards’ 19th-century prose, Taylor recounted how the guerrilla band had surrounded the militiamen in their home and demanded their surrender: “Peremptorily refusing this, a fight began immediately. The brothers—unsupported and outnumbered—fought to the death.”
The Bigelows, originally from Ohio, moved to Missouri prior to the Civil War. They were both schoolteachers and family men. In 1962, both men served in Company H, 48th Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM). So many of the men enlisted in the 13th Missouri Infantry, however, that the company was disbanded in 1863. Salmon Bigelow, who had been captain of Company H, joined Company C of Clinton County’s 89th EMM as a private in December of that year.
“The Bigelow brothers were killed only after a desperate resistance,” according to “The History of Clay and Platte Counties” (1885). “When their guns were empty they seized pieces of furniture and struck at their assailants until shot down.”
Jim Cummings, one of Taylor’s men, knew the Bigelows. “I was an eyewitness to the killing of these men,” he wrote in 1903, “and…remember a little 12-year-old daughter (Elizabeth) following us bewailing the death of her papa. This little girl, with her grief and tears, often comes most vividly to my mind…Yet these same people shot down in cold blood a very dear uncle of mine.”
This savage episode aroused the country. From Liberty, Capt. Church J. White wired district commander Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk: “Two good Union citizens were murdered in our county last night at their own house by bushwhackers—Captain Bigelow and his brother. The guerrillas are traveling around in broad daylight, and it appears that there is no one to make them afraid…Another Union man, by the name of Baily is missing…What shall we do?”
In reply, the general commanded “that the military must exterminate the whole gang of villains who infest Clay County, and that right speedily, or the whole country will go down into a common ruin.”
The “villains,” including Frank and Jesse James, had killed Bishop Baily on the road south of Smithville. They then rode toward Platte City, where they continued their campaign of assassination.
As the much-needed rain stopped, the scout volunteers fanned out over the old cemetery with pruners, shovels and buckets of mortar to repair leaning headstones and clean up the graveyard.
“It’s great to see kids getting interested in history,” said Marcy Miller, a scout mom and tour guide at Watkins Mill. “They are doing such great work. We hope the cemetery gets a lot of donations.”
By Standard Staff • StandardStaff@leaderpress.com