The Civil War created long term problems in Pettis County. The death of family members in battle, the injuries suffered by those who fought, and the battle fatigue (now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) experienced by those who returned devastated many families. The loss of property confiscated or destroyed by Union or Confederate troops caused economic hardships. Many families never recovered.
The family of Ebenezer Magoffin exemplifies the devastation caused by the war. Tracing the story also reveals some of the difficulties conflicting accounts create for historical research.
Ebenezer Magoffin and Margaret Ann Hutchinson were married in Kentucky and, according to the 1850 census, had six children — Ann, born in 1839; Elijah, born in 1837; John, born in 1841; Beriah, born in 1843; Mary, born in 1842; and Emily, born in 1850. By 1860, the family is living in Pettis County, Missouri.
The 1860 census provides differing information that makes identifying the family somewhat difficult. For example, Margaret is identified as Mary. Ann is not listed, leading to the conclusion that she had died.
The 1860 census identifies the family’s occupations — Ebenezer is a farmer, sons Elijah and Beriah are farmers, son John is a broom maker, and daughter Mary is identified as a domestic, an unusual designation for an 18-year-old daughter in a family that owned several slaves who would have performed household tasks.
Ebenezer and sons Elijah and Beriah joined Confederate forces during the Civil War. The three were captured in the battle of Milford and were imprisoned in the Alton Prison in Illinois. Following their escape from Alton, the three fled to Arkansas. There Ebenezer was killed. Two accounts of his death provide differing details.
The 1882 History of Pettis County, which mistakenly refers to Ebenezer as Elijah, notes that Ebenezer interfered in a bar room brawl between two of his friends in order to prevent bloodshed. One of the men “lunged at Magoffin with a huge Bowie knife, split Magoffin’s heart in two, and killed him instantly.” Another account of Ebenezer’s death, written by Clement Lounsberry in North Dakota History and People, states Magoffin was stabbed in the back by an “assassin.”
Both sources agree that son Elijah pursued his father’s killer to Texas, apprehended him, and hanged him. After the war, son Elijah worked as a postal clerk. In 1886, according to court documents, he was being paid $75 per month working for the postal service carrying mail between Kansas City and St. Louis on the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
Elijah was killed in a train wreck between Greenwood and Pleasant Hill. His wife sued the railroad for $5000. The railroad tried to deny financial responsibility for his death by claiming that since he was not a paying passenger, his family was not entitled to any compensation. The jury awarded them $5,000, and the railroad appealed the ruling. Mrs. Magoffin’s claim was upheld.
Son Beriah returned to Missouri after the war, found the home place “ravaged” and left Pettis County. At some point before he left, he had married the daughter of Manlius Thomson, a brother-in-law to Sedalia founder George R. Smith.
Beriah traveled as a representative for a New York company, and by 1884, he had moved to Westport, North Dakota. In 1886, he moved to a point on the proposed Milwaukee Railroad, and built a shack that would later be identified as the first building in Monango, North Dakota. He was appointed Post Master of Monango by President Grover Cleveland. He was a Democrat and active in state-level party politics.
The 1870 census identifies son John Magoffin as living in Elk Fork Township, Pettis County, and receiving his mail at Ionia City. He was a farm laborer living in the household of 40-year-old Milly Hall, her sons 22-year-old George Hall and 16-year-old John Hall, 14-year-old daughter Nancy, and 16-year-old farm laborer Obidaiah Scott. The census reports the value of property, and identifies John Magoffin as possessing $4,000 worth of personal property and George Hall the owner of $200 worth of personal property.
The nature of the property is not specified, leading to questions of why a man with $4,000 worth of personal property would be working as a laborer on someone else’s farm.