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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

A Much Maligned Man: Sidney Washington Creek

Born: 13 January 1832 in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Died: 12 September 1892 in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Chapter 5 in the Life of the Much Maligned Man

1 October 2017

      For those of you who have been following the story of Sidney Washington Creek through four prior installments, this is the conclusion of the saga of his fascinating life. Following his imprisonment in Gratiot Prison in St. Louis charged as a Confederate spy caught behind enemy lines, Sid was finally paroled on 26 Aug 1863 and began his long trek from St. Louis in the southernmost part of the state to his home in the far northwest corner of Missouri. Official records documenting his life following the Civil War are sparse, relating to Census enumerations, birth records for the children born upon his return, and, sadly, the various newspaper articles reporting his untimely death.

      As a family member, your author has the advantage of being the beneficiary of various stories handed down through the generations. These tales have, unvaryingly, reported Sid as being a courageous, and kind man who loved his family and his country and who remained fiercely loyal to both. Following the War, he returned to his home and resumed his life, farming his land in Clay County, Missouri.

      It could not have been easy for Sid, as the culture of his home in Missouri had changed dramatically. Carpetbaggers had moved in from the North, taking over the banks and making laws that punished those who had fought for secession. His father Jacob “Howdyshell” (Haudenscheldt) Creek, for instance, was listed as one of the Old Men of Clay County when the Liberty Tribune sought to identify those who had been unfairly penalized for their loyalties during the War. Many were “disfranchised” or denied the right to vote. The atrocities dealt to Jacob Creek were unconscionable. Ill treatment to a man whose family moved to the land that would become Clay County before Missouri achieved statehood, whose father fought in the War of 1812, helped to civilize the county itself, served on juries where fellow jurors, judges, and counsel for both plaintiffs and defendants were populated by the kinfolk of such legendary American families as Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. In fact Abraham Creek worked with the uncle of Abraham Lincoln to design the roadways of Clay County early in its infancy. Jacob Creek was among good company, as reflected by these extracts from the lists of the Liberty Tribune appearing below:

Liberty Weekly Tribune; Date: 1870 Jul 22,
We desire to publish a list of all the old men in Clay county over 60 years of age, and would be glad if our old patriarchs would send us their names, age, where born, how long in Missouri, and Clay county, disfranchised or not, and any other time of early history they may be in possession of. We will publish as fast as received. Send in your names.

Liberty Weekly Tribune; Date: 1870 Jul 29,
We last week requested every citizen in Clay county, over sixty years of age, to send us his name, age, place and date of birth, disfranchised or not, and any prominent circumstances connected with his life. Only a few persons have complied so far. We trust the parties to whom our request was made will comply as soon as practicable. The notices will be useful in the future as matters of reference, &c. We being the publication of notices this week:

    Jacob Creek, born in Barren co., Ky., August 16th, 1805. Has lived in Clay County 48 years. Disfranchised.
    Rice B. Davenport, born in Fayette County, Ky., Jan. 10, 1797. Served in the Black Hawk War, and against the Indians in Iowa, and in the Mormon War. Has lived in Clay county forty-five years. Disfranchised.
    Charles McGee; born in Wake county, N. Carolina, in 1794; fought in Major Russell’s command in Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army in the British War of 1812. Thinks he is entitled to a pension. Has lived in Clay county fifty-three years. Of course his disfranchised!
    James Vermillion, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, May 2nd, 1788. Emigrated to America in 1794 and settled in Rhode Island. Removed to Loudon County, Virginia, in 1810. Served in the War of 1812, was at the battles of Chippewa, Lundy’s Lane and Queenstown Heights. Was taken prisoner at Queenstown Heights. Removed to Missouri in 1849 and settled in Clay County. Was always a Whig and is one yet. Is disfranchised.
    Elder Francis R. Palmer, was born in Fairfield District, South Carolina, August 30th, 1789. Removed with his father to Sumner County, Tennessee, about the year 1795. Became a member of the Church in 1809. Was in the War of 1812 under Jackson at Pensacola and New Orleans. Was a member of a spy company. Fired on the British on the 23d, December 1814 below New Orleans. Was at the Battle of New Orleans and witnessed the entire charge of the British army. Was at his post of observation between the armies when the action began. Removed to Kentucky in 1816. Became a minister of the Gospel in 1812. Removed to Missouri in 1836 and to Clay County in 1866. So far as political action is concerned was always and still is a Democrat. At his age is still deemed unworthy to vote in a country he helped to save in 1812.

SOURCE: File contributed for use in USGenWeb Archives by: Ronald J. Reid July 26, 2007, 1:16 pm

      “Disfranchisement” was not the only form of oppression visited upon the former Confederates, their family members, and any others who had “aided or abetted” their activities during the War. The term “carpetbaggers” was tagged on all those Northern opportunists who swept into the South after the War with their meager belongings in satchels fabricated of carpeting material and, under the guise of patriotism to the salvaged Union, continued the self-same activities that had so polarized the South and given impetus to the willingness to risk all to save their way of life. The meager possessions for many of these scalawags soon became vast fortunes. This article about Jesse James details the manner in which the Carpetbaggers perpetrated their post-War revenge:

Reconstruction in Missouri
With the defeat of the Confederates in 1865, the James boys were forced into an oppressive way of life. Being former Bushwhackers they couldn’t vote, own property, run their own businesses or even preach in their own local churches and, perhaps most galling of all, were forced to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union. Part of Reconstruction in Missouri involved repressing former Confederate fighters and their sympathizers and the increasing dominance of Northern “carpetbaggers” who began sweeping away old ideas and reshaping Missouri in the Northern image. The carpetbaggers began steadily pushing out long-held traditions, dominating commerce and business in the enforced absence of locals who ran things before the war and were often barred from doing so afterward for their Confederate sympathies. The pre-war way of life was being squeezed out of existence at the expense of many native Missourians and their former Northern enemies were squeezing by any means available.

      Among the stories handed down through the family’s archives is this story that vividly highlights the sort of reprisals that were daily occurrences for my 3rd Great-Grandfather Jacob Creek:

Story told by Virginia A. Creek Douglas, Jacobs daughter, to her granddaughter Louella Myers.

      She told how her father was such a kind man, and he helped the southern soldiers. They fed them and let them hide out there. (In one of the books on Cole Younger it says they stayed at the Creeks)
      She told how the Northerners came and killed chickens and forced them to cook for them. Some of the men wanted to kill her father. One of the men was a neighbor who liked her father and he said "Let the OLD @#$%#$@ be, he is too old to do any harm". She said she could still remember that her father did not say a word but sat quietly and looked very pale.
       She said she never did any work until the slaves were freed. She was born in 1848 and was 13 years old before she learned to do things. Some of the slaves stayed with the family after the war and taught them how to do the chores. SOURCE: Family archives of Dianne Creek Honstein and sister, Sharlynn Creek Wamsley

      Sid Creek had paid his dues. He had fought bravely, been imprisoned, forfeited his $1,500 bond (equivalent to $21,597.49 in 2017), and now faced the difficulties of resuming his life in an oppressive atmosphere. His insistence on putting that amount of money at risk and leaving his wife and children with her family as he set off to War had angered his father-in-law, Henry Harris Estes. The seeds of dissatisfaction had been sown. Estes would provide a deposition to the Union Provost Marshall that revealed the tension between the men. This would, undoubtedly, color the relationship between Sid and his wife as they worked to rebuild their life together. In the years following his return, five daughters were born to their union, from 1865 to 1873.

      Bits and pieces of information gleaned through the months of in-depth research by your author tell a story from two divergent viewpoints: that from a family whose memories of the man are filled with love, respect, and admiration and that from a community shattered by war trying to piece together a way of life under strained circumstances who viewed Sid as one of the ‘bushwhackers’ whose activities during the War were responsible for the hardships they now faced in reprisal.

      One of the more prevalent allegations against Sid was that he was an active member of Quantrell’s band that raided Lawrence, Kansas, in retaliation for the earlier atrocities visited upon Osceola and other towns in Missouri by Jim Lane’s Redlegs who were based in Lawrence. This raid was a particularly bloody and violent event, resulting in the slaughter of some 150 men and boys of Lawrence, whether armed or not. The raid, however, is known to have occurred on 21st August 1863 and our Sidney Washington Creek was still sitting in Gratiot Prison in St. Louis awaiting his parole. That parole did not occur until 26th August 1863, some five days after the Lawrence Kansas raid.

      Although we have confirmed that Sid could not possibly have taken part in the Lawrence raid, it is certain he did join with Quantrell in the early days of the border wars with Kansas. As with all his undertakings, Sid gave his all to the effort, as evidenced by the following:

      Asked afterward to name those who fought bravest and best, ... Quantrell's answer was: "They all fought. No one ever had men to exhibit more coolness and daring." When pressed further to single out a few, he named Tuck Hill… Jarrette, … Cole Younger, … Sid Creek, ...and a score of others who formed what might be called the Old Guard. SOURCE: "Noted Guerrillas" by John N. Edwards

      Sid’s great great granddaughter, Sharlynn Creek Wamsley, wrote in an email to your author, “As Louella points out in her book on p109 “Losers of the war are not heroes except to their family.” We are family. I have a strong feeling that the Mosby incident in 1860 had a lot to do with the sour reputation that Sid had to battle (and why his name has been vilified more than so many others in the same situation) He was a large (6’5” I saw somewhere) good looking successful man with strong ethics that he would not sell to the EMM. It was reading the ‘hate’ letter that has led me to some of this line of thinking.” This is further illustrated by an anecdote provided by Virginia A. Creek Wade, Sidney’s sister, who used to tell stories to her granddaughter, Louella Myers. Here is one that helps to describe not only his courage but also illustrates his size (which might also have been an element that engendered fear or dislike):

      She told how brave Sidney was. They use to get behind anything to fight during the unrest of the Civil War. A group were lying down and fighting and he saw a wagon. He pulled it over to them and turned it over so they all could get behind it to shoot. So he did fight.

      Another possible source of the stigma that seemed to cling to Sid was the issue of his son Beau.

      Ellen Craig, daughter of Lee Reynolds, niece of Emma Reynolds Creek (Emma was Sid’s daughter-in-law): “Sid was often time there too, with Beau in some of his escapades.”

      Ongoing research has revealed that Beau Creek’s activities ultimately resulted in his imprisonment in the Illinois State Prison at Joliet. Per records, he was received at Joliet on 13 Jul 1894, register number 3476, under identification of S B Creek, age 32 years, from Kane County, Illinois, charged with murder. He was transferred from Kane County, but was found guilty of murder in April 1894 in DuPage County, Illinois. His sentence was commuted by Governor Edward Fitzsimmons Dunne 29 Sep 1913 (effective 1 Oct 1913) due to severe health issues. Beau was tubercular and partially paralyzed, with a myriad of horrific medical complications. The Governor announced he had released him to “die outside of the penitentiary.”

      This close alliance with a son whose “escapades” escalated to murder – as foreshadowed by the history of Sid’s own killing of Bernard Mosby years earlier – certainly led to whispers and contempt from many. Gossip seldom sticks to the facts but tends to shade them, a practice that has ruined more than one person’s reputation. Interestingly, the fight that resulted in Mosby’s death, took place in 1860. Only a couple of years earlier in 1858, another incident occurred which is indicative of some type of ongoing feud. A researcher with the Clay County Library archives, Mr. John Perney, in correspondence with your author supplied this tidbit:

      I have one last anecdote on Mr. Creek. In 1858, Mr. Creek filed a civil suit for damages against a livery stable in Liberty, Missouri. Mr. Creek claims in his filing that he stabled his mule with the livery stable and, when he returned later on, found that his mule had been killed. The filing states that the mule only had one wound, a deep, killing wound to the center of the forehead, such as would be inflicted by an ax. Unfortunately, the files do not include the defendant Stable owner's reply to the charge and this is another case where the court's ruling cannot be found.

      Legal affairs often lead to continuing animosity as well. The Liberty Tribune published the following notice on Aug 22, 1873 - Liberty Tribune provides no clue as to the reason nor the potential disagreements but, clearly, some legal matter triggered this:

      Sheriff’s sale in partition – Jackson and Jefferson Estes, Wm. H. Pence, Lucinda and Sidney Creek, John and Emaline Corum – against – Elaine Courtney, Archibald Courtney, Jefferson, William H. Jr., Josiah, Lucinda, America, Robert Y., Emeline E., Harris E., and Adam Pence.

      And, so, we turn to the most heartbreaking aspect of this story: the end of the marriage between Sid and Lucinda Estes Creek. For Lucinda filed for divorce against Sid in 1883. They were married in 1852, lived through so many difficult times, yet showed an incredible fortitude and a sincere desire to honor their vows for all those many years. Thirty-one years, ten children born, establishing a farm, enduring the trials and tribulations of War and the post-War indignities only to have their marriage dissolve. It is truly known that lawyers are “hired guns” and have the obligation to do what they can to obtain the desires and needs of their clients. And that may well answer to the harsh slant of the petition for divorce filed on Lucinda’s behalf. Sid was, apparently, out of state at the time. The petition claims abusive behavior and pleads for the sole custody of their minor children. This was granted. Lucinda and the girls remained in Clay County, Lucinda having been a lifelong resident.

      In 1891, Lucinda passed away. She was buried next to the plot set aside for Sid in the family plot at Old Liberty Cemetery and her headstone reads “wife of S W Creek.”

Lucinda Estes Creek

      The minor daughters were, by then, of age and most had married or were being courted by the young men who would become their husbands. One of those marriages would not bode well for the bride nor for her family.

      Sidney had a daughter named Jennie, married to a man named Joseph Hamilton. Her husband used to beat her. Sid told him "If you ever lay a hand on her again I will beat you within an inch of your life." The son-in-law didn't doubt for a minute that he meant what he said. Grandma said he was a huge man and brave. Well, the old boy beat the daughter and Sidney started for him and told him what he was going to do. The son-in-law pulled a gun and said, "If you come closer I will shoot." Sid did, and so did the son-in-law. Grandma said the bullet went through his heart and he went to the ceiling and dropped dead. Jennie stayed with her husband during the trial and divorced him while he was serving prison time.

      I am sure this is a true story and sure that my Grandmother thought she was telling it to a little girl that would never remember it. SOURCE: Letter from Lou Myers in 1985, text provided by Sharlynn Creek Wamsley

      Word of mouth is much like that old party game called “Rumors” where details become fuzzy and are transmitted with slight variations, but the family lore in this instance is very clear on the important issue: Joe Hamilton was a drunk and when he drank he beat his wife. Details vary, but the salient facts are that Sid’s daughters and their significant others joined him, his lady friend Mrs. Davis and her friend at the annual Democratic picnic. Rain concluded the festivities. Sid and the two ladies had tickets to board a train for the ladies’ hometown of Kansas City. Some time between the pleasant picnic and family time together, and before Sid and the ladies could board the train, word got back to Sid that Joe was drunk and was beating on Jennie again. Sid detoured from the train to make sure his daughter was okay. The confrontation that ensued resulted in his death. Contrary to the statement above that the “bullet entered his heart”, the coroner’s report is that the bullet entered Sid’s left lip and angled slightly upward, exiting through the back of his head. His death was instantaneous – a blessing for all of us who have come to love, honor, and respect the man.

      Versions of this tragic event have been shared with your author. Included is an article from the Liberty Tribune, generously shared by John Perney (see photo attached to read that version). From the newspaper article it would appear that Sid had succumbed to partaking of too much drink in his later years, another issue that must have led to the ‘numerous incidents’ over the years necessitating the witness testimony that “Pa had not been drinking” also included in the newspaper article.

      The testimony of the perpetrator given as defense reveals a tawdry aspect of the marriage between Joe and Jenny: They were wed 20 Jul 1889. Joe testifies:

      “I was married to a daughter of Creek’s in July 1889. Creek and I had some trouble shortly after I married over the building of a fence. He got after me with a shot gun. I went to Illinois and stayed two years, returning last December. We had some trouble last March and he has been imposing on me ever since, threatening to “fix me.”

      From this testimony, we see a miserable marriage for our poor Jenny. In three years, Joe has abandoned the marital abode for two of those years, and in the remaining part of one year has repeatedly abused Jenny and now murdered her father!

      Mr. Perney was kind enough to also share with me his transcription of the testimony of the key witness in the trial of Joseph Hamilton, Mrs. Geib. It should be noted that inclusion of this newspaper article found by my cousin Dianne Creek Honstein inspired her to provide a slightly different version of the shooting, still indicative of the slight contrasts between family lore and statements offered as testimony:

      Hi, Cousin. It's me, Dianne. I've had this article for quite a while now, but it makes me angry every time I read it. The media was so slanted even back then. Sid's sister Virginia was adamant about what really happened, and recounted it many times to her granddaughter, Louella Meyers, who told the story to my sister and me. Joe Hamilton beat his wife, Sid's daughter. Sid told him that if he did it again, he'd kill him. Joe got drunk at the fair and started beating on his wife. Two women attending the fair saw him hitting her and went to get Sid and brought him there to protect his daughter. When Joe saw him coming, the coward shot and killed him. Big difference from how the newspaper made it sound.

Sid Creek Death - Liberty Tribune - 1891

      I have attached a copy of a detailed article about the shooting from the Liberty, MO Tribune of 9/16/1892. (I apologize for the poor quality of the copy of the newspaper article, it comes off of an early microfilm spool and printed off an equally aged printing device!)

      The article contains a reporter's version of Mrs. Geib's testimony. Pasted below is my transcription of her testimony I found in the actual Coroner's Inquest file at the Clay County Archives. They're not exact, but, are pretty close.

Testimony of Mrs. Geib at the Inquest into the death of Sidney W. Creek

      Mrs. Hamilton came in (to the kitchen) and said that Joe and Pa were fussing and Jennie told me that her Pa was angry and will kill Joe if he says anything to him.
      I came into the room (where the men were). When I came in they were fussing at one another. I told them (Joe and Sidney) not to make noise or a fuss in my house or I would have them arrested. I pushed Joe down in a chair.
       Joe said: “Mrs. Geib, I would not raise a fuss here for nothing, but, the old man has made so much trouble. I can’t stand it.”
      Mr. Creek said to me: “I would not raise a fuss in your house for anything.”
      I said: “Mr. Creek you need not go. Sit down, I want to talk to you about the picnic and what you had good to eat there”. Then, Jennie said: “No Pa, don’t you go.” Mr. Creek said: “Well”.
      Jennie said to Mr. Creek: “Don’t pay any attention to Joe, he is drinking. Sit here and talk awhile.”
      All this time Mr. Creek was walking back and forth. I asked him to take a seat, Mr. Creek said: “No, it is close to train time when I should go.” He was going to Kansas City with a lady.
      Joe said: “Let him go.” I walked over to where Joe was sitting and said: “Now Joe, you just hush.”
      Mr. Creek said: “No, I will go.” I asked Mr. Creek not to go.
      Jennie said: “No, it is too early.”
      Joe said to the old man: “I don’t want you to bother me, you have bothered me so much. I am getting tired of it. You don’t scare me.”
      Mr. Creek walked near Joe with his back to me and said something to Joe that I didn’t catch.
      Joe then said: ”Let the old son of a bitch go”. Then the old man turned and stepped back one step. Joe then raised up out of his chair and the old man faced him with his hand on his hip.
      Joe said: “I know you would like to kill me”.
      The old man said: “Kill you? Why you ain’t worth killing you dirty no account.”
      Joe said: “Yes, you old son of a bitch, If I had done as much thieving, robbing and murdering as you have then I would say nothing!”
      The old man had started to leave, but, then turned back and said: “What’s that?”
      Joe said: “You are a thief and a murderer and I can prove it on you! You should have been killed thirty years ago, you old son of a bitch!” “You bothered pretty near every one of your daughters and their husbands.”
      Just then the old man – it was done quickly – the old man came back into the room. Joe was trying to get his hand down into his pocket. The old man took another step and looked at Joe. The old man had his hand in his pocket and kept moving it around there, like he was trying to get a pistol out.
      I was trying to hold Joe back.
      Joe said: “Let me go, I’m not going to let the old son of a bitch go.”
      Joe jerked a pistol out; Mr. Dobbins tried to stop him. I thought the old man had one too and I jumped out of the way, and then Joe shot.
      The old man never spoke a word but just fell down, there was some sound like his breath coming out and he was dead.
      Mrs. Hamilton was yelling: “Joe! You’ve shot Pa!”

      As a footnote to his email to your author, Mr. Perney advised research had determined that Mr. Hamilton was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to ten years, but was paroled after serving only seven years. No record of Mr. Hamilton has been found subsequent to his release. While incarcerated, Jennie filed for divorce, as duly reported in the Liberty Tribune – primary news source for Liberty, Clay County, Missouri:

Liberty Tribune; Feb. 15, 1895
Jennie Hamilton, wife of Joseph Hamilton, is suing for divorce in the circuit court. Hamilton is serving a term in the penitentiary for killing her father, Sid Creek.

      It has been an interesting trip! Sid was no ordinary man and his life was anything but ordinary. Much like our Younger and Dalton cousins' lives, his was centered on the dramatic, sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful, events that once divided our great country. He was the eldest brother to my 2nd great-grandfather Absalom Creek, being already twelve years of age when Absalom was born. Every moment spent researching a family member is precious to me. An opportunity to come to know not only the person, but the circumstances in which that person fulfilled their life's ambitions, and experienced their greatest moments of happiness, and how they dealt with the most tragic of events

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