Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Shooting Of Colonel John L. Owen.


The following is from the Hannibal (Mo.) Hearld of June 10:

Information was brought into camp at Palmyra on Saturday last that Colonel John L. Owen, a notorious rebel who has made himself conspicuous in burning bridges, cars and depots, firing into passenger trains, last summer and fall, was secreted at or near his farm in Monroe. A detachment from Company A, Eleventh Regiment Missouri State Militia (Colonel Lipscomb), under command of Lieutenant Donahoo, was immediately sent out from Palmyar to hunt the outlaw. On approaching the farm of Colonel Owen on Sunday about 12 m. the squad discovered a negro running rapidly from the house toward a piece of brush. The lieutenant and his company immediately started for the brush and going into it discovered the game and soon bagged it. At first the colonel showed a determination to resist his capture, but finding such a proceeding useless he yielded. Preparations were made for his execution. He begged the soldiers to take him prisoner. They informed him that "Taking prisoners" was played out. They then placed him upon a stump in front of a file of soldiers and at the word of command eight bullets pierced the body of the rebel, killing him instantly. Thus has ended the career of a notorious bushwacker and outlaw. He has met the just retribution of his damning crimes.

Statement of facts, plain and truthful, concerning the capture and murder of Major John L. Owen, written by his wife, Mary A. Owen, and certified to by his mother, Nancy Owen:

About the 1st of September my husband, John L. Owen, then captain of a company of six-months' men (sworn into the State service about the middle of June), started to General Price. He was promoted to major and returned home the 6th of December. Since that time to my certain knowledge he has had no company nor part of company; neither has he been connected in any way with a company. And I do know and can say with truth that he never either before or since his return from the arms has been engaged in what is termed bushwhacking and that he has never shot into the cars. On the contrary I known he was always opposed to that kind of warfare. I have frequently heard him speak on the subject, therefore I know his opinion.

And I can assert with truth that I have known his whereabouts ever since his return from the army and that he has never borne arms since, but merely tried to keep out of the way of the Federal, and that for months he never left his mother's house by night or day. But they had their spies busy, who watched him and found out by some means that he never left the house, and these same spies were two men whom he had especially befriended. Then came the troops to search for him but failed at that time to get him. After the first searching (which took place just seven weeks before they succeeded in getting him) he never slept in the house, but slept on his own and his mother's premises. He had his own provisions and I cooked them, and a part of the time he came for them, and when he did not I conveyed them to him myself. It was my wish as well as a pleasure to do so, and I would continue to feed him if they by their cruelty had not deprived me of the blessed privilege.

And now to the capture: On the 8th day of June before we had risen in the morning we were surrounded by Federal troops knocking at the doors for admittance. My mother, her two sons who live with her, Amsley and William, myself and child were all who were in the house. The soldiers came in, searched the house, took both Amsley and William prisoners and took them away, while others came and surrounded the place. Persons who saw them estimated their numbers at about 300. They had their pilots with them. They dashed through the fields like so many fiends, and into the meadow where my husband had slept the night before (and no doubt he had been watched to his sleeping place), and oh, they found him in a little cluster of bushes not more than 200 or 300 yards from the house and in plain view of the house. They found him alone, unarmed and defenseless; one poor man, without any resistance at all, gave himself up to his savage captors. Resistance would have been vain and he knew it. Oh, the savage yells they sent up when they found him; they ret.

They brought him to the house. We saw them coming. I was greatly troubled to think they had him prisoner; but oh, I could not conceive that persons calling themselves men and Christian men could have hearts cruel enough to murder him in the brutal manner in which they did. They all halted at the fence and got water. While here they questioned him as to who stayed with him, and several other questions, among the rest where was his company. He told them he had no company. His mother and myself told them the same. They called us all liars and said they knew he had a company for they had been told so, and that he had to tell where it was. We all assured them that he told the truth, but they would not believe us. They said, "Take him away from these women, and if he does not tell us we will hang him. " He said just as they started from the house if they would treat him as a prisoner of war and according to the honors of war he had no fears.

I feared from their savage appearance that they might abuse him or do him some harm, and I followed them about a quarter of a mile entreating them to spare his life; that he was innocent of the charges they had against him, and not to take an innocent man's life. They assured me they would not kill him, and told me to go back home now and come down to Palmyra the next day and see him. That satisfied me. I turned and came home.

They did not go over half a mile farther till they killed him. From the best information I can get they made him sit down on a log which lay close to a fence, tied his hands across his breast and tied his elbows back to the fence, so that he could not move; tied him with hickory bark and there took the life of an innocent, unresisting man. They left him there on the public road, shot down like a wild beast, then went on to one of the neighbors and told them what they had done, and told them if he had any friends they might dig a hole and throw him in, and sent me word that they had shot my husband and where I could find him; also sent me a cartridge with the word that they had put eight like that in him. They also thrust him through the breast with a bayonet. One ball entered his face just at the left side of his nose and passed through his head; one near his collar bone; two through his breast, not more than two or three inches apart, passing entirely through his body and lodged in the fence behind him. His left arm was all shattered to pieces from the elbow down. The murderers stood so near him that his clothes were scorched by the powder.

I still have the cartridge they sent me in such unfeeling manner, and when some kind friend sends it through one of their black treacherous hearts then it will have fulfilled its mission.
Oh, does not his innocent blood call for revenge? Will not his friends avenge his brutal, cruel death?

Editorial from the Quincy (Ill.) Herald, July 3, 1862.]


A communication appears in this morning's Herald from Mrs. Mary A. Owen, widow of the late John L. Owen, who was shot two or three weeks ago by some of the Federal troops in Missouri, giving her version in detail of his arrest and the manner of his death. We know nothing of the circumstances connected with the arrest and death of Owen or the cause or causes that led to his arrest further than what has been published in the newspapers; but whether guilty or not of any or all the crimes that have been alleged against him he should have undergone at least the forms of a trial, either by a court-martial or a civil tribunal, unless found in actual hostility with arms in his hands. If he came to his death in the manner related by Mrs. Owen the act was nothing less than cold-blooded murder. If he had been shot in the actual perpetration of any of the crimes alleged against him he would have received but his just desert.

At any rate we think the affair should be inquired into either by the civil or military authorities of Missouri, that the facts of Owen's career since the commencement of the rebellion to the time of his death may be known and the justice of his death properly vindicated.


PALMYRA, July 5, 1862.


SIR: I am led to thank you for your happy answer to a letter purporting to have emanated from Mrs. J. L. Owen describing the manner of the death of her husband. Whilst every person can sympathize with the wife in her affliction and regret she was so unfortunate in having so guilty a husband, still every loyal right-minded citizen must be satisfied with the merited punishment of so notorious a traitor as John L. Owen.

I wish to give points in the career of this "Major " John L. Owen which may expose the outrage of publishing such a letter as that in the Herald. J. L. Owen was the first man who inaugurated bushwhacking in this portion of the State of Missouri. His company by his orders burned some eight or ten passenger coaches on the Hannibal and Saint Joseph Railroad, burned a depot building at Monroe Station, tore up the railroad track, destroyed culverts and fired into passenger cars. On one occasion they met a man by the name of Hotchkiss who never had carried arms and was particularly inoffensive, being engaged in trading with the farmers in the vicinity of Monroe City for butter, eggs, &c., and in return delivering them coffee, sugar, cotton, &c. He had never committed any higher crime than that of voting for Abraham Lincoln, yet this man while watering his horses was deliberately shot down; eight balls were put into him and he was left for dead. The man, however, was taken care of by the Sixteenth Illinois' surgeon and I believe is now alive in Hannibal.

These outrages were committed by Owen so long ago as last July. I have the affidavits on hand of men belonging to his company of their being ordered to take the private property of peaceable citizens by this same J. L. Owen while acting as their captain in that neighborhood. This spring a man by the name of Preston, a worthy citizen, a husband and father, was seized and carried off and is undoubtedly murdered, although his body has not been found. Another worthy farmer, an old respected citizen named Carter, living in Ralls County but a few miles from this Owen's neighborhood, having been suspected of giving information which led to the apprehension of a notorious bridge-burner (who was tried and proven guilty, sentenced to be shot and the sentence approved by General Halleck) was visited by a party of some six or eight men, called out of his house and shot in his own dooryard and in the presence of his wife and children.

I could give you a long list of outrageous atrocities perpetrated by this John L. Owen and his brother outlaws, and for which he was probably more responsible than any other man in this section; all of which appears to have been overlooked by the Herald, for it cannot be supposed that any paper could publish so plain and palpable an attempt to incite to assassination as is the letter and comments alluded to in the Herald if apprised of the facts.

Again, John L. Owen has been hiding from justice since Christmas, lying concealed, sleeping in the brush, and was found in his bed in the brush, and armed.

General orders from headquarters are imperative that this class of men caught under arms in this part of the United States are to be shot on the spot. These orders have been published to the world. Mr. Owen was not shot in the presence of his family, he was not tied, he was not abused; but the general orders that commanded him to be shot were read to him, and he was regularly executed in accordance with military usage. John L. Owen was the first or about the first citizen against whom the grand jury of the U. S. circuit court and district courts for Missouri found a true bill of indictment for the high crime of treason.

I trust that you will arrange these facts in proper shape for publication and use them so that loyal Union men may be on their guard in reference to what they may see in the Herald, and thereby discharge to the full your duty as a patriotic journalist. As to the Quincy Herald I can assure you that it has either wittingly or unwittingly done more to keep alive rebellion in our midst here than all the rebel papers and rebel missionaries put together.
I remain, truly, &c.,
WM. R. STRACHAN Provost-Marshal, Palmyra, Mo.

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