Anderson's Warning

(Words & Music by Cathy Barton)

Capt. William AndersonOne of the best known and most feared of all Missouri Confederate guerrillas was William Anderson who, surprisingly, considered himself a Kansan. Born about 1840 in Randolph County, Mo., he spent his teenage years near Council Grove, Kan., where he was drawn into the Border War when his father, a Southern sympathizer, was shot to death by a prominent Unionist, some say for horse-stealing, others say for simply having pro-slavery views. Whatever the reason, Bill Anderson returned to Missouri and, desiring revenge, joined William Quantrill's guerrillas.

Up to a few days prior to the 1863 raid on Lawrence, Kan., Anderson seemed content to follow rather than lead. Then, in an attempt to curb the growing guerrilla problem in Missouri, Union soldiers imprisoned a number of the womenfolk of known bushwhackers in a deteriorated building in Kansas City. The building collapsed on August 14, killing some of these women, including Anderson's sister, Josephine. Another sister was maimed for life. This event, cited by many of the guerrillas as one of the primary reasons for the August 21 raid on Lawrence, intensified Anderson's hatred and turned him into a Federal soldier's nightmare.

Stories about Anderson's rage are legion. It is said he carried a silk cord on which knots were tied for every Yankee he killed. Some report that he cried and even frothed at the mouth during battle. By 1864 his quarrels with Quantrill led him to form a fierce guerrilla band of his own that included 16-year-old Jesse James.

Anderson's greatest fame came as a result of a massacre and battle with Union soldiers in and around the central Missouri town of Centralia. On Sept. 27, 1864, Anderson's men rode into Centralia, robbed many of the town's citizens, and were in the process of robbing a stagecoach from Columbia when they heard a distant train whistle. Racing into town they stopped the train, forced a number of Union soldiers, many of whom were on furlough, out of the cars, and brutally executed all but one of them. They were pursued by Maj. A.V.E. Johnson of the 38th Missouri (Federal) Infantry, but the guerrillas ambushed Johnson's men and killed nearly all of them. Jesse James is credited with firing the shot that killed Johnson.

Anderson once said he had killed so many Federals that he “grew sick of killing them.” He, himself, was killed in a Union ambush near the present day town of Orrick in the fall of 1864.

Songs such as “The Blackfoot Rangers” paint a romanticized picture of guerrilla warfare. Cathy's song presents a contrasting picture, sometimes using phrases from Anderson's own writings, that more accurately depict the type of guerrilla war waged on both sides by the last years of the war, when a “no quarter” policy was embraced by all, when mutilations became commonplace, and when the average Missouri citizen in the countryside lived in terror of marauding bands, be they Union or Confederate.

You sons of Missouri, in towns and on farms,
I hear you've been urged to go taking up arms,
To fight the guerrillas wherever they're found—
Take such a step and walk perilous ground.
Remember we hide in the bush all around.
I can't save you traitors from a terrible end,
Like wolves we will hunt you down both me and my men.
Fools that you are, you can't run and can't hide;
My eyes will be on you; watch how you decide.
Death will await those who choose the wrong side.
My name's Captain Anderson; I hunt and I kill.
I am a guerrilla; I'm a Devil from Hell.
For my dear sister's death I will kill till I'm killed,
Now there never can be enough Yankee blood spilled.
Jo was crushed as the walls of her prison caved in,
The Feds did it on purpose and they'll pay for that sin.
And they'll pay and they'll pay, boys, again and again.
'Round my waist I keep a cord of the finest of silk,
And I've tied a knot in it for each Yank that I've killed.
There's dozens of knots that I've put in the cord;
Each knot's one step closer to evenin' the score.
But it ain't never enough, boys, I only want more.
My name's Captain Anderson; I hunt and I kill.
I am a guerrilla; I'm a Devil from Hell.
One day we rode into Centralia town,
We broke into shops; we robbed the people we found.
Stole a barrel of whiskey from the local saloon,
And we drank and we had fun, boys, till just about noon.
When the real fun would be enterin' the town mighty soon.
As the sun was a-blazing high up in the sky,
The train from St. Louis was just passing by.
We threw ties on the rails and then we forced ourselves in,
And to our delight there sat Federal men,
unarmed and on furlough—right there in our hands.
We forced them all out; we lined 'em all in a row,
With our guns we'd put each damn Yank on parole.
I says to Arch Clements, “Go on, muster 'em out!”
Then that whole row of Feds fell with screams and with shouts.
We shot 'em till bodies lay littered about.
My name's Captain Anderson; more feared than Quantrill.
He may spare a Federal, but I never will.
More Feds soon pursued us, but we knew they would come,
We tore through their lines; we shot and killed every one.
Jesse James shot Major Johnson, sent him screaming to Hell.
For a beardless young boy, I believe he'll do well—
Someday that young Jess might make a name for himself.
So come all you Missouri boys, take warning by me,
No quarter will I give to any traitor I see.
I've already killed dozens. Dozens more will I kill,
And if you dare oppose me your fate it is sealed.
If at first I don't get you, the next time I will.
My name's Captain Anderson; I hunt and I kill.
I am a guerrilla; I'm a Devil from Hell.

© Big Canoe Records, 1995