Area 7: Peculiar

This area was mostly open prairie during the Border War / Civil War era and sparsely populated. Today it lays south of Belton, a town not organized until the railroad made it was there in 1872. The land across northern Cass County was blue stem prairie with grass waist high. So heavy was the vegetation that the surface was dry only after fires consumed the grass. Prairie fires were a constant threat and moved quickly across the region.

Philip P. Fowler

A citizen of this area in 1860, he and wife Ama lived near Morristown, and he taught school. A New England abolitionist and Universalist minister, Fowler emigrated from New Hampshire to Kansas in 1854 ad was an ardent Free-State man. An associate of John Brown, Fowler was one of the few openly Republican men in Cass County. He was one of only 23 men to vote for Lincoln in the 1860 election.

Fowler wrote a serialized story, “the Jayhawker” for the Lawrence abolitionist newspaper, The Herald of Freedom and presumably was in Cass County to write a follow-up on the Border Ruffians. Fowler was known to champion and hide John Brown. “The Jayhawker” featured the intrigues of the Kansas leaders during the Border War, 1855-1859. His stories exposed the ugly under belly of the Kansas abolitionist movement. Fowler traveled the border area to research.

The last chapter was mailed to Lawrence from Harrisonville on May 1, 1859. The honesty of his assessment of Kansans goals and tactics may have led him to move to Missouri in 1860.

The summer of 1861, he fled across the state line to Paola, never to return to Missouri. (Caught Between Three Fires. pp. 98, 546-548.)

William H. Erwin

An ardent southerner. He, with the help of two slaves, farmed 400 acres five miles northeast of Morristown, about 1 ½ miles southwest of present-day Peculiar. A veteran of the Mexican War, when the 3rd Missouri Volunteer Cavalry organized June 3, 1861 as part of the Missouri State Guard’s 8th Division under Rains, Erwin was elected the company H Captain.

In August 1861, Erwin organized the Confederate 10th Cavalry regiment as Colonel. His troops were attacked September 17, 1861 as they were camped at Morristown recruiting men to serve with the Missouri State Guard to fight with Gen. Sterling Price at Lexington. At dawn, Union soldiers under the command of Col. Hampton Johnson attacked. Johnson was mortally wounded and the Confederates retreated east to Harrisonville. The Battle of Morristown was the first pitched battle fought between organized military units of the Union and south in Cass County.

Erwin’s wife Lucy gathered her children and headed south to Sherman Texas in late 1862 or 1863.

In September of 1863, Erwin was in Arkansas under the command of Confederate Col. Jo Shelby, one of the War’s premier cavalry officers. From Sept. 22 to Nov. 3, Erwin rode with Shelby on his 1,500 mile raid from Arkadelphia, Arkansas, throughout central and western Missouri and back to Arkansas. That December, Erwin was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

On October 22, 1864, Erwin was with Shelby’s Division during the Battle of Westport. Lt. Colonel Erwin commanded Shank’s former men, the 12th Missouri Cavalry. They saw action near Independence, at Byram’s Ford and served picket duty on the road into Westport. As Shelby covered the retreat down the state line, Erwin no doubt passed close by his farm.

As an officer he was called “gallant” and “brilliant”. After the war, he never returned to Cass County. In October, 1865, Sheriff Reason S. Judy sold the Erwin farm on the steps of the courthouse in Harrisonville. He settled in Sherman, Texas where Lucy had died and he soon died in 1869 at age 42. (Caught Between Three Fires.)