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Miss Saunders and Lee McMurtry

Nov 28, 2017
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This appears on the Howard County history website. It is a remarkable story of how Miss Jennie Saunders and Bushwhacker Lee McMurtry ‘tricked’ the Federal authorities.

‘After a fight at Fayette in Howard County, Missouri on 24th September 1864 [with Captain Parks] ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson took his command of Bushwhackers to the hills on the Perche Creek in Boone county, dispersing it into small squads… Several [of these] squads of the guerrillas returned to Howard county-

“One of these squads, composed of six young men, (Bob Todd, Andy Idson, Plunk Murray, Thad Jackman, _ Smith and Lee McMurtry) , at the noon hour rode to the home of Capt Sebree, six miles southeast of Fayette. Their horses were fed, a bounteous dinner was served the guerrillas, Mrs. Sebree and her fair and accomplished sister, Miss Jennie Saunders, being the hostesses. After the meal, the horses were re-bridled and all preparation made for departure, but before mounting, they repaired in a body to the house to bid adieu to the ladies. These young men loved women and the women loved them. They were met at the front door by Miss Saunders who suggested that they enjoy some music before leave taking. Alas, in accepting her cordial invitation and entering the parlor in a body, the usual precaution of detailing one of their number for picket duty was overlooked and neglected. Eternal vigilance, to the guerrilla, was the price of safety. Being lured by the smiles of beauty, enraptured by sweetest strains of music, laughter and song held full possession. War was forgotten for the hour. They were at peace with all the world, oblivious that the grim monster DEATH, molded in the leaden musket-ball was stealthily approaching.

‘Murray, chancing to glance through the window, saw a body of 200 Federal troopers [from Putnam County under the command of Col. Catherwood] coming through the road gate, not more than 150 yards distant. He shouted loudly to his comrades, “FEDERALS”, at the same time rushing through the door for the rear of the house. His comrades, thinking Murray was playing a joke, only laughed and answered, ‘Where?’ The advancing troops seeing Murray rush from the house began firing upon him. Alarmed at hearing the fire from the troops, four of the remaining five rushed from the house, firing on the enemy as they attempted to escape. Todd was shot dead while running through the garden. Smith was killed in a pasture 300 yards south of the dwelling. Murray, Idson and Jackman succeeded in reaching a heavy growth of underbrush north of the house, making good their escape.

‘For presence of mind and coolness facing imminent danger of death, McMurtry’s quick action and successful ruse to evade detection and being killed was seldom if ever equaled during those perilous days. Realizing that all hope or means of escape from death by egress from the house was closed by the Federals, who had now surrounded the building, he quickly unclasped his belt of revolvers, and handing them to Miss Saunders, said to her, ‘buckle these around your waist, beneath your dress skirt, and when the Feds come in address me as brother.’ Speedily divesting his Over-shirt, secreting it under the piano lid, he rushed to the hall; an old straw hat on the wall, he donned it and then with no visible outward show of fear or tremor, calmly faced a squad of the enemy as they made excited inrush to the house. Both Miss Saunders and McMurtry were subjected to much questioning and severe scrutiny as to his identity, but they managed to retain their nerve and self-possession under the intense and trying ordeal. McMurtry helped to untie his captured horse and those of his five comrades and rushing in front and ahead of the Federal column, opened the gate for them on their departure. Hastily returning to the house securing his revolvers and with a ‘God bless’ for Miss Saunders, he lost no time in taking to the brush. The Federal authorities, hearing of the aid given McMurtry in making his escape, Miss Saunders was promptly banished south of the Mason and Dixon line.’
(Babe of the Company, Watts, pp, 12-14)

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