Civil War: A Small Death
The Civil War in Missouri was fought primarily as a partisan, no-holds-barred, guerrilla style of combat. No house or family was safe from either side. Each side raided, robbed and destroyed indiscriminately, regardless of the allegiance of the people affected. It was ‘war with the knife and the knife to the hilt.’ Fighting occurred in virtually every part of our state, but some of the roughest and wildest was here in our own backyard.
As an illustration, there is a solitary marker located on private property three miles north of the old town of Four Mile, Missouri, in the woods on the old Crowley’s Ridge road. On it is inscribed these words:
BILLIE DEMINT, JR.
AGED ABOUT 10 YEARS
ING CIVIL WAR NOV.1863.BECAU-
SE HE WOULD NOT TELL WHERE
HIS FATHER WAS. ERECTED BY HIS
In Elmo Ingenthron’s book, Borderland Rebellion, published in 1980 by The Ozarks Mountaineer Press of Branson, Missouri, there is a hand-drawn picture of the monument on page 202 in the chapter entitled, “internecine warfare.” That is all there is to commemorate the life and death of a small boy.
The caption under the picture tells the story of Billie DeMint, Jr., who was hanged by three Union militiamen because he wouldn’t tell them where his father was. Apparently, these ruffians had heard that Mr. DeMint had sold a plot of land and had a sack of gold from the sale. As Billie was riding home from an errand, he was stopped by the outlaws. During the course of trying to find out where the senior DeMint was, Billie was threatened with death and, when he wouldn’t divulge his father’s whereabouts, they executed him and left him hanging in the tree. When Billie didn’t come home, Mr. DeMint and friends searched for and found his son where the so-called Union men had left him. Reading between the lines of the brief description of the incident in the book, tells me that someone either witnessed the incident, and was unable to save Billie, or had seen the men riding off and found Billie as they left him. Billie’s father and friends, having gotten the identities of the soldiers and a description of one of their horses, tracked them to a local tavern.
Imagine the surprise of the culprits when the outraged and sorrowing father and his friends burst in on them, accusing them of a horrible crime and demanding their surrender. Guns were drawn; shots fired, and when it was over, two of the perpetrators lay dead. The one remaining culprit confessed to the crime in all its details. What was his fate? We don’t know for certain, but justice was probably meted out in the same fashion as was dealt to Billie.
John Donne (1572-1631) once said, “No man is an island, entire of itself… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind….” The death of a small boy during the Civil War probably did not mean much in the stream of history, but it left a heritage of bitterness and hatred that echoes through-out today in many parts of Missouri and the South.
No, Billie DeMint’s death was not “a small death” to his family, his friends, and his community; but none of us should ever forget the example of the bravery of a small boy.