The Civil War did not start on 12 April 1861. It started many years before with the debate over slavery and divided many citizens of the United States. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was designed to settle the dispute with Missouri entering the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The Homestead Act of 1862 was primarily responsible for the settlement of the west. But prior to that, in 1856, heads of families were allowed to enter 160 acres as a homestead from transferable government grants to veterans. By the end of 1857, nearly all grants were gone in Vernon County. ¹ The act of making Kansas a territory, in 1858, essentially repealed the Missouri Compromise. The border between Kansas and Missouri became a place of war with pro-slavery Bushwhackers in Missouri and the free-soil Jayhawkers warring with each other prior to the Civil war and lasting several years after. This is the environment that Augustus Baker and his family navigated.
Augustus Baker immigrated to the United States from Germany but nothing is known of his family origins.² His was born on 21 April 1827. At the age of twenty-one, he married Rebecca Pryor on 1 March 1849. They had three daughters, Emma Ann who was born about 1852, Mary Elizabeth who was born in 1854, and Laura Rebecca who was born in 1859. Their fourth daughter, Adaline, was born in 1862 and died in 1864 after the death of Augustus.
Over the course of his short life, Augustus amassed a little more than five-hundred and seventy-six acres of land in Bates County later to be Vernon County. The majority of the land was in township thirty-six, range thirty-three, sections thirty and thirty-one. A portion of this land would later be inherited by his daughter Mary Elizabeth Baker. In addition, he purchased four hundred and forty acres of land in Bourbon County, Kansas. Several of these tracts of land that he purchased were land grants given to veterans of the War of 1812 for their service. Many times veterans had no interest in moving west and instead sold their land grant to others. In total Augustus owned a little more than one-thousand and sixteen acres of land, some of which were purchased during the Civil War. He was an optimistic and opportunistic man.
In 1858, Ben Riggins, contracted Charles Goodlander to build a 16 x 20, two-story frame business building on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Bigler (now Market) Street in Fort Scott, Kansas.³ Sometime after, and possibly as early as September 1859, Augustus and Riggins formed a mercantile partnership, Riggins & Baker.
On 23 September 1861, a few months after the start of the Civil War, Riggins wrote to Augustus from Shawnee, Kansas. Because of the turmoil in the county, he traded some of his lands in Bourbon for a house in Shawnee. He never expected to move back to Fort Scott and asked Augustus to sell the building and settle up as best as he could. He and Augustus owed substantial amounts of money on accounts and others owed them a lot of money as well. Commerce at the time was done on credit and the good name of the individuals who had transactions with each other. The difficulties of the war made it almost impossible to do business. Riggins told Augustus that he would not pay out his last dollar toward his debts leaving his family to suffer. Shawnee would later be burned by Quantrill’s Raiders and Riggins and his family was forced to move to Kansas City.
“Guerilla warfare erupted on an unprecedented scale in 1862. Though nominally Union-held, much of Missouri remained a vast no-mans land tenuously controlled by small military outposts. The very conditions that created the need for more troops left many able-bodied potential fighting men unwilling to leave their homes and families for volunteer service elsewhere.”⁴ Needless to say life in Bourbon and Vernon Counties went from bad to worse causing martial law to be enacted in Missouri in August of that year.
In early 1863 Augustus was still running the Riggins & Baker Mercantile Store in Fort Scott. He and Ben Riggins continued to correspond with each other as creditors pressed them for money.
The Federal forces “occupying” Missouri, under martial law, were spread too thin to maintain regular law and order, let alone effectively suppress the Guerilla movement, characterized by military law experts as “rising of the people.” Seeking to tighten their hold on the state, they attempted to organize in each county a pro-Union militia, technically a state force but in practice a Federal force.⁵
It was under this backdrop that Augustus, along with about fifty others, attended a meeting of male citizens in Nevada for the purpose of organizing a company of enrolled militia under the leadership of Colonel Marvin’s 60th regiment. Augustus, a well-respected man, was chosen over C. C. Frizell, a citizen of the county who had served with the Cedar County militia. Frizell had been on a few raids with Kansas troops and had a bad reputation. Many were concerned that he would use his position to take land from people and feather his own nest. Frizell took his defeat very poorly.
The Baker’s lived on Ball Town Road, west of Nevada, Missouri. On the evening of 6 May 1863, about 7:30 pm and while Augustus was out, two men approached their home. When Rebecca answered the door, they said they were Federals from Butler County and asked for some supper. Rebecca invited them in. When Augustus came home, he recognized the men and extended his hand to Frizell to shake. Frizell refused to shake hands with him. At that point, both men drew their pistols and demanded his arms and his money. Augustus stated his money was in Fort Scott. Rebecca had some money, about three or four dollars in silver and one and a half-dollar in paper money and offered to get it. One of the men went with Rebecca to their second floor where he took rifle molds, boxes of caps and bullets, and Augustus’ pocketbook. After they came downstairs Rebecca went to stand next to Augustus and put her hand on his shoulder. At that point, the tallest man stepped forward and shot Augustus in his head. Later at the trial of his murderers, Rebecca testified that the man who pulled the trigger was Frizell.⁶
The incidents that occurred after the trial led to the burning of Nevada, Missouri. On 24 May 1863, men from Frizell’s pro-Union St. Clair and Cedar County companies were returning home after testifying at his trial. They were recognized as Federals and attacked by Bushwhackers led by Captain Marchbanks and Captain Hill. During the attack two of the pro-Union men were killed. When word of the Bushwhacker attack reached the St. Clair and Cedar militia, cries of vengeance were made.
On 26 May 1863, Captain Anderson Morton led a hundred well-armed men from the Cedar and St. Clair Militia on a raid into Vernon County. They failed to find the Bushwhackers and systematically burned every building in Vernon. Citizens were told, “We are going to burn this house. Get your things out in twenty minutes. If you want help, we will help you, but the house must be burned. This damned Rebel den shall be destroyed.” ⁷ On Tuesday, 27 May 1863, C. C. Frizell was found guilty and hanged for his crime. John Upton, his accomplice, became a fugitive of the law and it is unknown if he was ever caught.
In 1865, Ben Riggins was still trying to get the accounts of the Riggins & Baker enterprise squared away. In November of the same year, Rebecca relinquished her right to administer the estate of her husband in favor of R. W. McNeil, Public Administrator. She signed an undated receipt which reads: Received from R. W. McNeil, Public Administrator having charge of the Estate of Augustus Baker deceased one bin of corn inventoried and appraised at the sum of two hundred ($200.) It being what the law allows me as the widow of the deceased. In December she bought 5 cows, 4 steers, 4 heifers, calves, and 1 two-horse plow for $264.50. Back then the widow was allowed to keep some of the estate of her husband. Everything else was inventoried and sold. Anything within the inventory that she wanted she had to buy like everyone else. Some of the lands purchased by Augustus were sold to pay taxes and raise cash for the family.
Augustus Baker is buried along a creek branch in view of where his homestead stood in Richards Township. The Coleman Cemetery grew up around his gravesite. We were there several years ago and found the cemetery in the woods next to the creek. It was shady and dry. Many of the headstones were broken or fallen over. Fortunately, Augustus’ headstone was still in good shape.
In 2004-5, a great-grandson of Augustus, William C. Coleman, attempted to have his remains disinterred and buried in the National Cemetery. The request was denied as military records indicated that Augustus was not, by current standards, eligible for burial in the National Cemetery as he had not been officially mustered into the military prior to his death.
Rebecca was left to raise their daughters and suffer the loss of two-year-old Adaline a year after Augustus died. She would marry Samuel L. Shackelford in 1866 and would bear him two sons, John and Augustus. She died of malaria at the age of fifty-five. She is likely buried in an unmarked grave next to Augustus and Adaline. In 2006, a stone was erected to mark her grave in Coleman Cemetery without knowing for sure that is where she is buried.
Augustus Baker (1827-1863) m. Rebecca Pryor (1830-1885)
Emma Ann Baker (Abt. 1852-?)
Mary Elizabeth Baker (1854-1940)
Laura Rebecca Baker (1859-1932)
Adaline Baker (1862-1864)
¹From the website, http://www.history.com/topics/missouri-compromise
²William C. Coleman, Search for Augustus C. Baker (1827-1863) & Rebecca (Pryor) Baker (1830-1885) Among the Jayhawkers and the Bushwhackers (Self-published)
³Ralph Richards, The Forts of Fort Scott and the Fateful Borderland (Kansas City, MO, Lowell Press, 1949 and reprint 1976) P. 155
⁴Mark Lause, A Brief History of the Enrolled Missouri Militia, http://www.geocities.com/CollegePrk/Quad/6460/CW/WMM/WMMhist.html. (Can no longer be found at this web address.)
⁵Patrick Brophy, Fire and Sword, A Missouri County in the Civil War (Nevada, Missouri Bushwacker Books, 2008) P. 147.
⁶Ibid, P. 146.
⁷1887 History of Vernon County, Missouri, P. 312-314.