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Pale Horse Revelations #17: Bloody Bill

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." SPOILER ALERT - If you're still reading the novel and haven't yet reached chapter thirty-five you may want to skip this entry for the time being. In the aforementioned chapter the reader is introduced to a character calling himself Bloody Bill. He is the leader of a small band of Missouri raiders and becomes a bit of thorn in our protagonist's side.

As many of you may know there was a historical figure who used this same moniker. Whether or not the character in the book is intended to be this historical figure is left to the reader's imagination. I deliberately muddied the water by writing, "There were probably a dozen men using that name these days, Garrison knew" (Pg. 112). This is pure invention by yours truly but is certainly plausible.

While I certainly don't want to ruin it for anyone regardless of which side of the fence they fall on, I will acknowledge that at the very least the character you encounter in the book is inspired by the real-life persona of Bloody Bill Anderson. With that in mind, I thought that this colorful character would make an outstanding topic for this week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations.

The man who would become known as Bloody Bill Anderson was born William T. Anderson in 1839. His parents were William C. Anderson and Martha Anderson. He was one of six children. While Bloody Bill would claim Missouri as his native state, it is generally believed that he was born in Kentucky. The family moved to Kanas in the 1850s and prospered there. By 1860 Anderson was the co-owner of a 320-acre property.

After the Civil War began in 1861, Anderson turned to trafficking stolen horses along the Sante Fe Trail, robbing and looting along the way. in 1862 Anderson's father was killed by local judge Aurther Baker, a former friend of the family before a falling out. The killing was ruled self-defense which prompted the junior Anderson to take matters into his own hands. Baker and his brother-in-law were lured to a store in Council Grove where they were ambushed by Anderson and his brother, Jim. Baker and his brother-in-law fled to the basement of the store after a brief gunfight. The Anderson brothers barricaded the basement door and set the store on fire, burning the two men alive. For good measure, they burned Baker's home to the ground as well.

Following these events, the Anderson's formed a gang with a man named Bill Reed. A prominent newspaper named Reed the leader of the gang in a February 1863 edition. Shortly thereafter the Anderson brothers joined Quantrill's Raiders, the most prominent and feared Confederate guerrilla group operating in the area at the time. In May of that year the raiders were intercepted by a US Marshall and a posse of 150 men resulting in a skirmish that led to the death or capture of several of the raiders. They decided to break into smaller groups and Anderson became the leader of his own guerilla force that numbered between 30-40 men. Among his men were Jesse James and 18-year-old Archie Clement. Clement had a reputation for being fond of torture and mutilation and was fiercely loyal to Anderson. Although technically still under Quantrill's command, Anderson was able to operate independently, planning his own attacks.

Despite the atrocities they committed many in Missouri considered the raiders actions justified. There was an extensive network of civilians who provided support and information. In an effort to undermine this support Union General Thomas Ewing Jr. arrested the guerilla's female relatives, including Anderson's sisters. The women were kept in a three-story building in Kansas City. The building collapsed, killing several of the women including one of Anderson's sisters. In the aftermath rumors began to spread that the building had been sabotaged by Union Soldiers. Convinced that the rumors were true, Anderson became consumed by the desire for revenge.

Anderson soon earned the moniker "Bloody Bill" as a result of his ruthless actions. He was known to scalp Union soldiers and decorated his horse with the scalps. He was also fond of decapitating his dead enemies and placing the heads with other bodies. Anderson was said to of kept a rope with 53 knots tied in it, one for every man he had killed.

Anderson played an integral role in the Lawarence Massacre. He commanded the largest group among the attackers and was credited with killing 14 men himself. Anderson and his men were careful to avoid shooting women but pillaged and burned their way through the town until Union troops arrived around 9:00 pm.

This would hardly be the last of Anderson's deprecations. His violent and bloody attacks would continue until October of 1864. In September of that year Anderson and his men attacked and looted the town of Centralia, Missouri. During the raid his men captured 22 unarmed Union soldiers on their way home for furlough. All 22 men were brutally murdered and mutilated. Anderson then set a trap for the 150 soldiers sent out to pursue him. The pursuers were annihilated by Anderson's men, their bodies mutilated as well.

Bloody Bill's reign of terror would come to an abrupt end almost one month later in Albany, Missouri. There, on October 26th, 1864, Anderson's men engaged the Missouri State Militia led by Colonel Samuel P. Cox. During the fighting William T. Anderson was shot in the head and killed instantly. His body was put on public display at a local courthouse.

Thank you for checking out this week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it both informative and interesting. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

As a reminder, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page ( and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.

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