THE REIGN OF THE REGULATORS (1866)
During the spring and summer of this year there was much excitement throughout the country occasioned by the doings of the "Regulators". For some time there had been a great deal of lawlessness in this county and in Southwest Missouri generally. Robberies and horse stealings were so common as to be every day occurrences, and even murders were not rare. It seemed that there was an organized band responsible for these depredations, since there was something of method and system about their perpetration, indicating deliberation and much wise planning. Few of the rogues were caught; fewer still were punished. Courts of justice seemed powerless to afford relief; the law officers were unable to give protection.
At this crisis there was organized in this county, with headquarters at and about Walnut Grove, a band of men called the "Regulators," or "Honest Men's League," whose avowed object was the repression and punishment of crime of all sorts, and by any means. This organization was composed of men of both political parties and of all of the reputable classes. It may have contained some bad men, but it had many good men in it. Ex-Federal and ex-Confederate soldiers were numbered among its members, and, indeed, among its victims. Some of the best citizens of Boone, Cass, Robberson and Walnut Grove townships were "Regulators" and it was publicly and openly announced that the object of their organization was to rid the country of thieves and robbers, through the forms of law if possible, but if necessary to execute justice on the guilty in its own way, on the grounds of necessity and in self-defense.
About the last of May the "Regulators" began to move in earnest, taking the law in their own hands. Their first victim was Capt. Green B. Phillips, of Cass township. Capt. Phillips had been a prominent citizen of Greene, and had been in the Federal service during the war in this county. He was a captain in the 74th E. M. M., and did valiant and valuable service in the defense of Springfield, as is noted on other pages of this volume. But he incurred the suspicion and fell under the hand of the "Regulators" as a sympathizer with and an aider and abettor of crime and criminals, and was taken from his family and made to yield up his life as a penalty.
Capt. Phillips lived about two miles northeast of Cave Springs. Early one morning about the 23d of May, in this year (1866) he was at his corn-crib getting corn to feed his stock. A night or two before, the "Regulators" had met in secret conclave, passed sentence of death upon him and detailed three men to carry it out. The three men had come to the captain's premises about daylight and secreted themselves near the stable, where they knew he would come early to attend to his "chores."
About sunrise Capt. Phillips appeared, and, entering his crib, begin husking corn.- He was unarmed, and the first intimation he received of danger was when, on looking up, he saw three formidable looking revolvers covering him through the cracks between the logs of the crib. Two of the "destroying angels" kept him covered, while the third went to the crib door and ordered him out. He obeyed and was placed between two of' the men, each of whom held him by an arm, while the other followed in the rear. They had proceeded only about twenty feet toward the gate leading to the timber, whither they were carrying him, when Capt. Phillips, who was a man of great strength, jerked loose from his captors amid started to run. He ran about thirty feet and stumbled and fell over a hog that chanced to lie in his way. As he rose to his feet he was shot by two of the "Regulators," one of the bullets passing through his body, making three distinct bullet holes. As a stable stood between the crib and the house, none of the captain's family could see and identify the assassins.
There have always been those who asserted that Capt. Phillips was put to death without just cause or provocation; that through friendship he had befriended certain men accused of crime, but that he had never committed himself or induced others to commit a crime of which he even shared the profits. This may be true - it may be true.
But the "Regulators" were not yet satisfied. Other victims were demanded, and so a few days later, or on the 26th of May, they visited Walnut Grove, and made prisoners of two men named John Rush and Charlie Gorsuch, who, it was said, were among the thieves and robbers that had so long terrorized the country. The two accused were taken out and in less than an hour their dead bodies swung and swayed in the soft May breezes, and there were but few who cared to honor their memory or express regret either at the fact or the manner of their taking off.
From members of the "Regulators" willing to give information for the purposes of history, it has been learned that Rush and Gorsuch were ex-members of the Federal militia. Gorsuch had married Rush's daughter. A day or two after the killing of Capt. Phillips, they went to Walnut Grove and in denouncing the murder made threats against two of the "Regulators," who, they asserted, were the assassins.
It chanced that a meeting of the "Regulators" was being held on that day at the Rice school house, northeast of Walnut Grove. Some parties bore word to the meeting of the presence of the two men is Walnut Grove, and their threats were repeated. The "Regulators" immediately went into executive session passed a sentence of death on Rush and Gorsuch, amid straightway proceeded to Walnut Grove to carry it out. They entered the village from four different directions, found their victims in a store, made them prisoners, carried them about a mile southwest of town, and hung them to a red-bud tree.
Other work of the "Regulators" was the assisting of Deputy Sheriff Isaac Jones in the arrest of some parties near Walnut Grove, who were charged with stealing. Seven of those arrested were confined in jail. The names of all arrested were Joseph Mullinax, Jackson Smith, Samuel Richards, Jasper Fly, James Davis, John Perryman, Donnell Cochran, and Marion Fortune. These men were arrested about the 6th of June. Some of them were afterwards bailed out, whereupon the "Regulators" published the following card, being determined that the accused should he brought to trial, without any nonsense about change of venue, continuation, and other devices incident to the "law's delay." As published, the card read :
HEADQUARTERS REGULATORS, WALNUT Grove June 16, 1866.
To the Citizens of Southwest Missouri;
We, the Regulators, organized to assist in the enforcement of the civil law, and to put down an extensive thieving organization, known to exist in our midst, having succeeded in arresting and committing to jail a number of persons charged with grand larceny, robbing and general lawlessness, whom we believe to be bad men; and finding several of' them have been bailed out, thereby extending to them an opportunity of again putting into execution their diabolical purpose of robbing, plundering and murdering their neighbors: Therefore, we hereby give notice, that all persons bailing such parties out of jail will he regarded as in sympathy if not in full cooperation with such, and will be held strictly responsible for the conduct and personal appearance at court for trial, all persons thus bailed out of jail.
Emphatically by the REGULATORS.
After the hanging of Rush and Gorsuch the "Regulators" concluded to make a display of their force and an open defense of their action. About the 1st of June 280 of them rode into Springfield, formed in a hollow square, in front of the court-house, on the public square, and organized a meeting. Speeches were made by Rev. Mr. Brown, a Presbyterian minister; Major Downing, Col. James H. Baker, and Senator J. A. Mack, sympathizing with the purposes and justifying the action of the "Honest Men's League," or "Regulators," although deploring the necessity for such an organization. On the other hand Hon. John M. Richardson and Col. John S. Phelps spoke discountenancing the "League," amid condemning its action. They asserted that the civil law was all powerful for the prevention and punishment of whatever of lawlessness there was in the country, and that all that was needed was its vigorous enforcement. They added that if the laws were not enforced by those whose duty it was to enforce them, the remedy lay in electing men who would do their duty, and not in taking upon themselves the province of court, jury, and executioner.
The meeting adjourned, but the organization existed for some time, and it is claimed did far more good than harm, though in principle It may have been far wrong. Indeed, there are those who have since expressed a wish for the re-organization of the "Regulators."
(History of Greene County, Westerm Historical Company, 1883)