REV: Oct. 19. 2005
BILLIE DEMINT, JR: THE ONGOING LEGEND
Ask almost anyone around Dunklin County if they know the story of Billie Demint, Jr and you are sure to get an enthusiastic "Yes!" Unless they are new to the area or too young to have heard the tale, they not only know about it but also have an opinion about what really happened on Crowley's Ridge way back in November 1863.
I grew up in Malden, MO knowing I was related to the infamous Billie Demint and was told stories about him by my father and grandmother, Dalton Folks and Ruth Morefield Folks. What was heard around our house was that Billie's family had moved from the Crowley's Ridge community of Hopkins, 3 miles NE of Campbell, to an area just north of the present day airbase in Malden, later known as Townley. Ten year old Billie had returned to Hopkins to retrieve some missing livestock and ran into a group of three Confederate guerrillas demanding to know where his father was. When Billie refused to give his father's location they hung the boy from a tree and left him there. Several days later he was found by Celia Jane Gunnels, age 12, and a friend on their way to school and the girls' parents cut him down and buried him at that spot. (Locals know this area as County Road WW near the microwave tower) A wooden fence was erected around the grave by John Hopkins and William Jackson but was eventually lost to the elements. While the exact burial site was unmarked for over 30 years many people of the area knew its approximate location based on several nearby trees. Residents of the Hopkins area kept the legend of Billie Demint alive and in the early 1940's a group of citizens from Malden and Campbell placed a tombstone over the most likely burial spot; its inscription reads: "At Rest Billie Demint, Jr Aged about 10 years. Hung by guerilla band during Civil War Nov. 1863 because he would not tell where his father was. Erected by his friends." Later that decade the Rural Electric Company was drilling to extend light poles and discovered the actual burial site very close to where the monument had been placed. I was also told my my father and grandmother that Billie's father found out who murdered him and he hunted them down and killed all three men involved. Swift and effective frontier type justice!
As legends go it was a pretty cool story with good guys and bad guys set against the Civil War. When I began researching this branch of my family history in 2003 I hoped I'd be able to solve the mystery of Billie Demint but found only more speculation. After talking to local persons familiar with the story I discovered there were as many versions of the event as there were questions about it. Why was a ten year old boy walking alone miles from home with the Civil War in progress around the area? What brought the Demint family to Dunklin County? And why were the Confederates interested in Billie's father? What I do know is that William (Billie) Demint was the son of James (b 1817 IN) and Elvira (b 1825 TN) Demint. (Elvira's maiden name unknown but was possibly Smith) Billie (he appears as William on all census records) Demint was born in Illinois in 1846 which means he was about 17 when he died, not 10 as the legend states. Perhaps a 17 year old walking alone makes more sense than a 10 year old. He also had a sister, Amanda M. (b 1850 IL) and a brother, John M. (b 1853 IL) and 3 years after his death, a half sister Alice J. Demint born in 1866 near Campbell, MO. And this is how I am related to Billie Demint--Alice Demint was my Great Grandmother. According to land entry records James Demint bought 166 acres in Massac County, IL between 1846 and 1856 and sold all of it in 1859. The 1855 Illinois State Census shows the family having 8 hired hands living with them in Massac County as well as "3 males eligible for the Illinois Militia." By 1860 the Demints moved to Missouri; they are listed on that year's Federal Census for Dunklin County and resided in Union Township in the Hopkins area. James stated his occupation as "Farmer" with the value of his Real Estate and Personal Estate being $2500. However, according to resources, James owned the only grist mill in north Dunklin County. Neighbors of the family in 1860 included the Fletchers, the Wells family and Dr. Fuller Ballard. In Nov. 1863 the Demints, according to legend, had moved 10 miles away from Hopkins to the East Swamp area in New Madrid County, MO (Townley was on the western edge of the East Swamp and on the New Madrid-Dunklin County line) and this is when the tragic incident occured. I find no written record of the family until 1865 at which time James Demint married my Gr Gr Grandmother Martha Mosier Glover in New Madrid County and a year later their daughter Alice was born.
So what happened to the Billie Demint's family after Nov. 1863 and how much of the story is accurate? Billie's mother Elvira is found living with the family on the 1860 Dunklin County census records but on Feb. 8, 1865 James Demint married Martha. Did Elvira die or did she and James divorce? If Billie was killed and not found until a few days later, did his parents look for him? One scenario is that James Demint knew he was a wanted man and laid low; he had possibly been receiving threats of some sort and this is why Billie was in Hopkins that day and not James. And just why was James Demint wanted by this guerrilla band of 3 men? Were they acting in an official capacity or was this something personal? Was James a Union sympathizer or even a Union spy? Did his possible alliance with the Illinois Militia have anything to do with the incident? Was he a wealthy man whom these 3 planned to rob? James sold his 166 acres of Illinois farmland in 1859; was he thought to have retained a large amount of money from the sale? Why does Billie's tombstone have the initials "Jr" on it when his father's name was James? Was he really known as Billie Demint, Jr. or was this just hearsay woven into the legend over the years? Why has it always been said he was 10 when he died? Interestingly, his brother John was 10 years old at the time. Resources state Billie was a teenager when he died but was frail, small for his age and had lost the vision in one eye; he also is said to have spent the night prior to his death in the home of Dr. Jacob Snider at the foot of Crowley's Ridge before continuing on to Hopkins the next day. According to descendants of Dr. Snider and other sources, the two families were friends and Dr. Snider lived about halfway between Billie's new and previous homes on what is now known as Dunklin County Road 113. And in 1880 Billie's half sister and my Gr Grandmother, Alice Demint, lived with her cousins in Obion County, TN where her mother Martha was born and raised. Alice was 14 and there is no mention of either of her parents on the census records but she eventually married, settled in Pemiscot County, MO and died in 1940. What became of my Gr Gr Grandparents, James and Martha Demint?
Billie's burial site is on private property with no trespassing posted and his story continues to be as popular as ever. Dunklin County Road WW, which is about 100 yards from the grave, was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1998 and by August 2005 the Scenic Byway Board of Directors was close to acquiring an easement to the gravesite. They hope to soon have a road leading there and a memorial where visitors can read about what happened on that spot in November 1863. And in 2003, Billie Demint was chosen for the Dunklin County "Hall of Honor" in Kennett, MO. While it's unlikely the entire truth surrounding the events of November 1863 will ever be known, I'd like to fill in this part of my family history as completely as possible. Where did Billie and his family live in Hopkins? What was the location of the grist mill that James may have owned?; was there a large enough water source on Crowley's Ridge to run the mill or was it horse powered? The 1860 Dunklin County census shows that the Demint children attended school but which school? Also, the same census lists Salina Carter, age 14, born in MO, living with the Demint family. Who was Salina and was she related to Herbert Carter, age 13, also born in MO, living with the Timothy Beche family 3 households away? Were the Carter children possibly taken in by these families when their parents died? What became of Elvira, John and Amanda Demint? I've been in contact with the National Dement Family Association as well as local persons familiar with the story and I have come up with little additional info. I've also searched courthouse and genealogy records in several counties as well as Internet research. Unfortunately most of the records were lost when the Dunklin County Courthouse in Kennett, MO burned in 1872. For now, the trail seems to end for James and Martha in 1866 with the birth of Alice Demint. If anyone has information or knows a different version of the events please contact me so I can research that info.
Cindy Folks Lester September 2005
P.O. Box 607
email@example.com (573) 276-5716
James DEMINT/ Martha A. Mosier Glover=Alice J. DEMINT (half sister of Billie DEMINT)
Alice J. DEMINT/Asbury J. Morefield=Ruth Ellen MOREFIELD
Ruth E. MOREFIELD/ Goah Jake Folks=Dalton Ward FOLKS
Dalton W. FOLKS /Colleen Clarice Hoggard=Cynthia Ruth FOLKS
1848 Bureau of Land Management Land Patent Records, Washington, DC
1850 U. S. Federal Census, Massac County, IL
1855 Illinois State Census, Massac County, IL
1860 U. S. Federal Census, Dunklin County, MO, Union Twsp
1880 U. S. Federal Census, Obion County, TN
1900 U. S. Federal Census, New Madrid County, MO
1910, 1920, 1930 U. S. Federal Census, Pemiscot County, MO, Godair Twsp
New Madrid County, MO Marriage Records 1865, New Madrid, MO
Missouri Department of Vital Statistics, Jefferson City, MO
Obion County, TN RootsWeb
Massac County, IL Historical Society, Metropolis, IL
Massac County, IL Land Entry Records, Metropolis, IL
National Dement Family Association
"The Grave of Billie Demint" by Homer E. Book Malden Press Merit, Malden, MO March 21, 1957
"Civil War Remembrance" by Ada Knox Dickerson The Piggott Times, Piggott, AR Sept. 5, 1990
"How a Local Boy Died" author unknown The Flint Journal, Flint, MI 1956
"On Crowley's Ridge" by Joe Brasher The Delta News, Malden, MO April 2, 1980
"The Legend of Billie Demint" by Dawn Dement Detring, National Dement Family Association
"Who was Billie Demint, Jr?" by Mike Everett About Town Magazine May 1997
"History of Dunklin County, MO 1845-1895" by Mary F. Smith-Davis
"Borderland Rebellion" by Elmo Ingenthron
"Campbell Area History 1800's-1900's" by the Campbell, MO Genealogical & Historical Society
Verbal history & personal records of Ermazine Woodward, Gr Granddaughter of Celia Jane Gunnels
Verbal history from the descendents of the James Demint family
Verbal history from the descendents of Dr. Jacob Snider
Family records of Cynthia Ruth Folks Lester, Gr Gr Niece of Billie Demint
Cindy Folks Lester Poster-#-171-