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Bushwhackers, Gangs and Nightrider Stories
Civil War era in Weakley County, Tennessee

by MaryCarol

"We Southerners would rather hear a good story than the truth any day."..MaryCarol 1998
Weakley County is geographically divided, North and South more or less by the town of Dresden, the County Seat of Weakley.  It has been told that there were Bushwhackers, Gangs, and Nightriders that terrorized Weakley during the Civil War and usually they were either in the North of Weakley - North of Dresden- or in the South of Weakley - South of Dresden.  The following are Stories that have been told by someone from the past who told a relative, who told a friend, who passed it on, and on and on. These are stories, some will be the gospel truth,  but others may have been embellished just a tad. 

Life in Weakley during the Civil War created many hardships for all, it was a divided county, Rebel and Union, often within the same family. Others were unsure which side to take, just wanted to grow their crops and raise their families in peace.  After the War, families tried to forget what happened during those four years, it was too painful to remember. Thus, not many stories survived.

It is our Weakley County History

It does not matter if your family was Confederate, Union, or didn't take sides, we would like to hear any Civil War stories you have on Bushwhackers, Gangs, and Nightriders of Weakley County, Tennessee.

Please submit them to MaryCarol


Southern Weakley County
In Southern Weakley County and Eastern Gibson County there was the Claiborne Gang who terrorized the local citizens. In the 1940's and 50's, Mr. C. Reid DOWLAND went around both Gibson and Southern Weakley doing interviews with its oldest citizens. His unpublished book was called  "The Last Tennesse Kingdom, Skulbonia TN." After his passing, Earnest Pounds used his material in another book.......MaryCarol

Click on photo to see a larger - Clipper Reid DOWLAND

Claiborne Gang Stories

This material was taken from the Skullbone book by Ernest POUNDS, a book on Gibson Co. 
Submitted by Joe Stout

The CLAIBORNE Gang of Weakley County, Tennessee was to the Southern part of Weakley County, very similar to that of Quantrell's Raiders in Kansas during the War Between the States.  This gang terrorized the residents, stealing and murdering far and near.  They were Southern sympathizers.

Jack CLAIBORNE was the leader of the gang which consisted of a dozen or so of the CLAIBORNE family and about 150 other men from Weakley and Gibson Counties. 

The CLAIBORNE’s lived in the Seminary Hill community near what is today Pillowville Community, about half way between today's Greenfield and McKenzie. If someone had a good mule they liked, they would simply bridle him and ride away with him. Nothing could be done about it most of the time because the big gang members were heavily armed and would shoot people for no real cause.

They reportedly killed one man near Trezevant and buried him near the road. Another man, who they "had it in for , ran away, but they overtook him. They made him get down on all fours like a horse. They straddled him and spurred him like they were riding a horse. They killed him and then they shot him just to make sure he was dead. His neighbors found him and buried him.

Another story tells how The Claiborne Gang came to the home of Luny FLIPPIN, the daddy of pill man Bill FLIPPIN, and took off a mule belonging to Luny. Luny's boys and several of their friends went to the CLAIBORNES one day to get the mule. They found the mule, but the gang was away on a raid. They took the mule and started home. In the meantime the CLAIBORNES returned home. Their women folk told them what had happened. The CLAIBORNES broke after them and overtook the FLIPPINS and began shooting. George FLIPPIN jumped from his horse and landed behind a rail fence. One of the CLAIBORNES shot him through a crack in the fence and killed him.

The residents of the area finally decided they could not stand this lawlessness any longer so they formed a posse of about 200 men and rode out to the CLAIBORNE home to kill them.  Elisha CLAIBORNE was killed, some were wounded and others were later hunted down and killed.  This ended the terror of the CLAIBORNE Gang.  Some were buried in the Seminary and Blooming Grove Cemeteries.

Mrs. "Sis” GALEY remembered well that in the afternoon word was passed around the neighborhood for all available men to meet at the Clairborne Headquarters to kill them. There was no law in the area in those days of the Civil War and the neighbors could stand the gang no more. Even though her home was a mile away, she could hear the shots and the awful yells of those suffering.

Early the next morning, Mrs. GALEY and some of the neighbors ventured over to the Claiborne home. They found Elisha CLAIBORNE dead. She said he was the biggest man she ever saw lying there in the hall of the house. 

The story was told that Jack CLAIBORNE was killed by someone hiding under Shade's Bridge, shooting him as he passed over the bridge.

 Abner MANNS said that old Jack Claiborne, the head of the gang, was going across the creek when a fellow saw him coming and ran under the creek bridge [Shades Bridge] to lay low- until CLAIBORNE was well across the bridge. He then rushed out from under the bridge and shot CLAIBORNE. Claiborne fell from his horse and was carried to the home of Abner MANNS where CLAIBORNE died a short time later. The death of their leader wound down the gang, they did not amount to much after this. 

The Dock COX family took small pox, but friends "waiting on them” scattered like rats. The Claibornes were the only ones who were not afraid of the small pox. They "waited on” the Cox family. Mrs. COX refused for the CLAIBORNEs to "wait on” her and she died. The rest of the family survived because of the help of the CLAIBORNES. This showed that even the Claibornes had a bit of compassion in themselves at times.

Several years ago someone dug in the ground at one of the CLAIBORNE gangs' headquarters on the George FLECK farm. The farm was later called the old Spring Branch farm. They found money dated 1854. From all accounts, they took money, stock, clothing or just about anything they could lay their hands on. Much blood was spilled in their greediness.

The CLAIBORNES were the worst gang produced by the Civil War in this part of northwest Tennessee, yet no history has been written about them.


I read about Monroe GARRISON and his brother being killed by the CLAIBORNE Gang. It was from an interview given by my Grandfather, Calvin J. COOPER to C. Reid DOWLAND in 1960-61. His interviews were later published in a book, Gibson County Past and Present, which was the first general history of West Tennessee’s pivotal counties. I have a copy of the book that was sent to my grandfather. The interviews are at the Gordon Browning Library at McKenzie. 

Submitted by Gloria Cooper

This excerpt is from the book, "Search for My Self" by Barbara Elaine Clark.
Submitted by Peggy Miller Trevathan

"A certain John PATE, great-great-grandfather of "Candy" PATE, ran somehow afoul of the CLAIBONES  during or just after the Civil War. (I believe this to be Stephen S. PATE Sr.'s son John D.  Duncan's John D. had no children.)  He was about seventeen.  The cause of the quarrel has been forgotten as the story passed the generations, but the CLAIBORNES caught John one day and tied him to a young unbroken horse.  This seems to have been a favorite harassment.  Tying John's feet together beneath the horse's belly, they stripped the bridle and turned the horse loose.

Among the CLAIBONES was one named Jack.  John spoke directly to him, so it is said:  "Make damn sure this finishes me, Jack; for if it don't I'll kill you!"

John survived the ordeal (the version I heard doesn't include how) and later got word that Jack CLAIBORNE would be traveling the Clear Creek road.  John waited near the levee at a place called the Blue Hole and shot Jack CLAIBORNE.  (One of the horses supposedly spoiled his aim.)  Mortally wounded, Jack fled to the home of Doctor GWIN, his grandfather (Mrs. Gladys GWIN KELLY'S father), with John in close pursuit.  Not close enough, however, because Jack disappeared inside and the doctor met PATE on the porch.

"Get out of my way, Doc, and let me finish my job.  I'm gonna kill 'im, but I don't wanna hurt you."

"Let be, John.  He can't live," replied the doctor whose experience assured him of a dying man regardless how sketchy his examination.

"You're right!  He can't live while I draw breath.  I swore I'd kill 'im and I mean to finish the job.  Damned horse spooked or it'd be done.  I can't hang no higher for shootin' 'im twice."  Step aside."

"I mean it, John," insisted the doctor.  "I don't know how he stayed on his horse to get here.  Twenty minutes can't make any difference to you and I don't want your gun-play in my house.  The man's as good as dead--I swear it! Now let be!"

Apparently John let be and Jack died.  The story, at any rate seems to end here, its outcome as shrouded as it's beginning."

Note: 2003...I would like to point out that Jack Claiborne  was not the grandson of Dr. Robert D. Gwin, (Mrs. Gladys Gwin Kelley's father).  Dr. Gwin had only one daughter and that was Gladys Gwin.   Dr. Gwin's niece Margaret E. Gwin married Arthur Pate but that is the only connection I know of between any of these names.  Joyce Gwin Hornback


John A. Murrell died in 1844, so he wasn't part of the Civil War gangs and bushwhackers, but he was a notorious outlaw, headquartered in Madison County TN,  worked from TN down to LA.

Rev. Keith PENCE told this story one Sunday morning at Meridian Church in 2001.

Seems there was a man named John Murrell who was a notorious outlaw but also was a preaching man, which he used to his advantage.  He preached at Meridian Church a few times, and one Sunday,  he just preached up a storm, working the good folks into a religious lather, and when his men, who were waiting outside the church,  could hear him shouting his loudest, they stole all the best horses......and of course Murrell came out of Church innocent as an angel, acting in total outrage and shock over who would do such a thing!

Want to know more about this dastardly outlaw ???  Click on John A. MURRELL


This is from Annie Cole Hawkins War Leaflets on her eyewitness account of one of the events of the Claiborne Gang.

There are many living who yet remember the heavy rains and snows in February of 1865. Amid so much that was sorrowful was there ever such sorrowful weather. But the greatest sorrow, the sorrow above them all, the angel of death came to our home and chose our mother, the choicest, best, the brightest jewel there. Words are too weak to express the grief and sorrow when we saw the light, the life and comfort go out from our home leaving it cheerless forever. Oh' the heart breaking grief and sadness in the days that followed after we laid her in the cold wet earth.

How hollow and empty seemed the comforting words of our friends when they gathered round us in the most loving sympathy. And how sad and cheerless the evenings when the rain came weeping through the leafless trees and the February winds kept up a wailing and moaning against the eaves of the house that could be called home no more. 

Those were days of sorrow and suspense together. The robbers were keeping up their nightly work all over the country. We lived and breathed in dreadful fear and heart sorrow. And the winter was gliding by and spring approaching. It was in these sad sorrowful days that a very tragic incident happened under our eyes. 

One night the soldiers who were staying with us were sent for in all haste to go and arrest or stop a band of robbers who had gone to the homes of Mr. Frank Thomas and Mr. Edward Gwin and were using every kind of punishment to make them give up their gold. 

Several of our homemen were notified---most of them young boys. They got together, equipped themselves and commanded by Captain Newsom quickly galloped off to the scene of trouble. The young boys eager as any to join in the prey. By this time the robbers had done their work with Mr. Thomas and left him bruised, burnt and bleeding and had arrived at the house of Mr. Gwin and commenced to torture him in the most horrible manner. Twisting his head with the sash cord as it was called, burning his feet, dragging him about and using every conceivable way of making him give up his money and when Mrs. Gwin tried to brush the fire from his feet they shoved her back so  roughly and with such force she fell and struck her face making a scar that lasted her lifetime here.

In the midst of all this cruelty a mask fell from one of the men and Mr. Gwin recognized the face of an acquaintance who had often sat at his table and fireside. 

They had placed a sentinel at the gate. His dark outline was plainly marked by the pale moonlight that fell on a thin sheet of snow. In a moment of pain and indiscretion Mr. Gwin spoke the name of the one he had recognized and tried to shame him. 

This was enough for the robbers fearing publicity, they decided to hang him at once and had tied the knot and were in the act of drawing him up when the sentry at the gate fired a signal of danger. Our soldiers were nearing the scene. 

As they came galloping up, a Negro man belonging to Mr. Gwin ran up on the opposite side and commanded in a loud voice, "Close up, boys, here comes your reinforcements on this side." This was a ruse which frustrated the robbers and they sprang to their horses and started right through our little line of three soldiers, Captain Newsom, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Von Johnston and the home boys. 

Then the shooting commenced. Our home braves took fright and ran in every direction. Some lying flat on and fairly hugging their horses, others falling off and rolling in fence corners. Captain Newsom stood straight up in his stirrups and commanded, he yelled, "rally up boys, rally up, where are you." When he saw one of his men jump over into the old cotton field and take to his heels he called out, "Where are you going there, you feather headed scamp you." Only Captain Newsom, Mr. Wilson and Von of the attacking party stood their ground but they saw. the others had flown and Von’s horse was shot, he sprang to Captain Newsom's horse behind him and they fled; and the band of  robbers also flew tearing down the fences and making their escape through the fields to the woods. Von Johnson came near being killed or wounded, one of the band fired at him but his horse, throwing up its head at the moment, received the ball. 

How well I remember hearing them tell how "War Eagle", the horse, spun round and round making a red circle on the snow from the bleeding wound in its head. It was a narrow escape and would have been sad indeed if after having gone through the war he had been killed by a band of robbers in the very last days of that long, awful cruel struggle. 

The community was all excitement for the next few days. 

A company of Guerrillas hurried to the scene to join in the search for the robbers. The company was commonly called "Captain Claiborns’ Home Guard" but Claiborn and some of his men were known to be a band of robbers. The commander, Jack Claiborn, was raised in our section and was as common, uneducated an individual as is possible to be. 

It happened that he with his company was the party to catch or arrest two of the supposed robbers. He brought them to our house for supper. The whole company came with the two young men under arrest and tied together with a rope. Their names were Joe McKenzie and James Luker from Paducah, Kentucky. They had been to our home with other soldiers and friends many times before and had been considered respectable soldiers. 

As I write of the incident I can almost feel the soft breezes of that spring like evening when they were marched in under the power of one who deserved the same treatment he was dealing out to them. They must have felt the humiliation keenly. 

Hopelessness was depicted on their faces and was pitiful to see. They knew that their fate lay in hands who would not hesitate at any thing, cruel or cowardly. 

When the guards marched them into the room where they had met and passed many pleasant hours with other soldiers and friends, they dropped down together and lay on the carpet with their hats drawn down covering the pale agonized faces that were so soon to be blanched and cold in death. I shudder yet at the recollections of their tragic death.. If they were among the ones who robbed and abused our neighbors they certainly deserved punishment of some kind. God will judge whether or not they should have received it at the hand of Jack Claiborn.

It was getting dark when Claiborn and others of his men left the supper table. He in a cold unfeeling tone gave orders to one of his men to go out and tell the Negroes to hunt up a couple of spades. My father asked them to let the boys come in to supper. Claiborn laughed and answered, "They won’t need no supper." Then father begged him not to kill them but wait and give them a trial. It was like pleading to a rock. 

I remember the orderly was sitting by the unfortunate young men and making a mock of reading the bible to them. He was very young. ( I know his name and have often wondered what kind of a man he made of himself). Claiborn commanded the miserable boys to rise and with his men carrying the couple of spades marched them out to the back of the stables and crossing a little belt of woods they stopped. 

The boys praying for a chance for life. When they asked not to be shot in the face, Claiborn made them comb their hair, roach it back to receive the balls. Then ordered his men to shoot them to death. When weapons were fired we could hear loud wails and cries. The Negroes told us that Claiborn's men yelled to keep us from hearing the prisoners cry out. One of them in a most piteous and frantic effort to escape sprang into a dense thicket of blackberry and thorn bushes and was ordered to tear himself out and walk back to the side of his comrade and to a fearful, horrible death. 

A few spades full of earth was hastily thrown over them. The men walked off and came back to the house and somebody's boys were left yet warm under the cold earth just back of the woods. When one of the men was asked where they had left them he waved his hand in the direction and answered over on the hill. 

A sad lone whippoorwill was singing at the back of the garden seeming to cry in plaintive notes, "Over on the hil1 over on the hill". The stars came out and twinkled and the world moved on. 

This was only one of many thousands of incidents equally as tragic that was enacted all over the South.

Claiborn seemed to take delight in the cruel things he did to keep order at home, such as murdering a little boy because he saw him riding with a company of homemade Yankees. The little fellow just wanted to ride a horse. Claiborn wanted to make an example of him and went and shot the innocent child down in the dust and left to be carried to his widowed mother a mangled corpse. He and many of his men fell by the hands of avengers within the few short weeks that passed between that time and peace. 

I could mention many other things of cruelty. The thieving and killing that was carried on in the last months of the war was terrible to think of and is awful to remember. Many poor, defenseless citizens and boys were killed for the slightest provocation. 

On the 9th of April 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant the remnants of a foot-sore and ragged, but grandest army the world has ever seen. 

After fighting for four long years without even the necessary comforts of existence against the well equipped armies of the north, they laid down their arms and returned to the old homes with saddened hearts only to find destruction and the Negro advanced to master and under the dictation of Union scalawags making laws to degrade the already crushed southern people who in war were overpowered and defeated but today the greatest conquerors known in all history. 

It was sometime in May when our soldier friends bade us a last farewell and started to their homes and friends in the distance. Some of our neighbor boys came back home footsore and weary with nothing but the memory of the past and sympathy for the wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts, who mourned for the loved ones left behind scattered over the plains and battle fields. While the grass sprang up and wild vines grew and matted together on the shallow graves. 

These little leaflets were first written long years ago when life with its hopes lay mostly before me and many of the characters read and, laughed over the recollections my crude pen brought back to them. 

In writing these memories I saw all the dead past living in the present and seemed to hear the songs and words of lips long mute. The forms and faces of old friends rise up vividly before me and it is hard to realize that the winters of thirty years have rolled by since those lights and shadows were passing over us. 

There are so many of those loved and loving souls gone on to the other side and, Oh, the memory of it all!! To some of us life passed in sunshine, to others in shadow, alas! for the vanity of this life.

This article was written the first time with fictitious names soon after the Civil War, it was rewritten about 1895 with the real  names. Mrs. Annie Cole Hawkins was also an artist, the original copy has paintings on most every page. 


Cook like Claiborn was a bushwhacker. He lived on the east side of Bear Creek about 2 miles South East of present New Prospect Church. Like Claiborn he was killed shortly after close of the Civil War. He was killed while hiding in a Cane Break on Bear Creek near the tree where Davy Crockett had carved that he had killed a bear here.

The men searching party followed his brother as he took him food. One of the men, riding a mule bareback and in a dead run, whipping the mule with his black hat came by calling out "John Henry, we got him." 


Jack Claiborn lived near Seminary Church approximately 1 mile east of the, church, the next hill and on North side of the road on what later became known as the Shankle place. 

It was here shortly after the Civil War that he was killed. It was reported that be was trying to escape on horseback, his sister riding up behind him. He, like Jack Cook, pretended to help some people and at the same time was robbing other people. 

Once the war was over and veterans had returned, law and order was on their side and their numbers were sufficient to hunt down and kill these bushwhackers, as they were commonly called.

The above was told me by my grandmother and told her by her father John Henry Scates. (Author Unknown)

Northern Weakley County - bushwhackers

"One man's patriot is easily called another man's outlaw."
Submitted by Garry Brown

There is a story in my family that my great grandfather Robert Marion Clark had a brother who was killed on the Dukedom-Latham levee by "bushwhackers".  He was said to have been dragged to death.  Both sides in the war relied heavily on scavenging the countryside for provisions and for horses.  In these circumstances one man's patriot is easily called another man's outlaw.

Robert Marion Clark hid in the woods around his farm for much of the war.  He didn't want to get involved.  We (my dad and I) have always thought the Bushwhackers may have been Confederate guerrillas or outlaws. 

Submitted by Roy Killgore

Charles. H. KILGORE, son of Charles McCoy KILGORE, of Weakley Co. TN, was Bushwhacked in front of his mothers home by,  Nathen Beford FORREST'S men , because his father was a staunch Union sympathizer.  His five sons fought for the Union in the Civil war and one fought for the Confederacy.

Submitted by pj Thompson

Samuel Lee MORRISON b 1838 son of Robert D. MORRISON, married Lydia McCLURE and they had one daughter, Emily Elizabeth MORRISON b 1859, before the "bushwhacker" killed him in his front yard, after dragging him out of the door,  in the Dukedom area......  He was the great greatgrandfather of pj

Submitted by Pansy Nanney Baker

George RUCKER displeased some bushwhackers and was killed in the Obion River bottom.  He is buried at the Rucker Cemetery which is located just north of Richland Creek below Ruthville.  Few signs can be found that this was ever a cemetery, but about 100 graves were apparent at one time. 

Civil War Confederate Soldier, Orren Balaam VINCENT,  was wounded & captured at Perryville, exchanged and transferred to Forrest at Battle of Harrisburg, MS. Lost right arm near shoulder. Shot thru thigh by bushwhackers.



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