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Bushwhacking Murderer Alf Bolin
People said Alf Bolin was as mean as they come and the ugliest man south of the North Pole. While these descriptions of the man may be a bit of an exaggeration, there is no disputing he was one of the most notorious bushwhacking murderers of the Old West.
Bolin and his outlaw gang are said to have murdered as many as 19 people in their stomping grounds ranging from Forsyth, Missouri to northern Arkansas. They terrorized local hill people and luckless travelers along what was called the old Springfield-Harrison road. There are legends claiming stolen Union silver is still hidden somewhere around Branson Creek…and Bolin’s ghost. It seems Rebels were smuggling silver bullion from the North into the Arkansas Delta. Bolin’s gang was more than happy to relieve them of it.
The area around Branson Creek was once the scene of Civil War skirmishes making the Ozark Mountain region a refuge for outlaws, thugs and army deserters. Mountain communities were held hostage to their murdering and looting rampages. When most men went off to fight in the Civil War, Bolin remained behind. He harassed women, children, old men and extorted money, food, and horses.
Alf Bolin was born near Spokane, Missouri, in Christian County. Not much is known about his early years. Some believe he and a sister were orphans. According to accounts he was a good student and an excellent speller in school.
As he matured he also became a skillful hunter and woodsman. There is only speculation as to why he became such an evil person. Some believe a Union soldier shot from ambush at Alf, igniting a desire for revenge. This theory is possibly true since his victims were often relatives of Union soldiers.
Eventually Bolin headed a gang of about twenty men who raided northern Arkansas, throughout Taney County and into southern Ozark County. He and his gang robbed, raped and killed at will since there was no one to stop them.
Branson Creek area also has a place known as "Murder Rocks." Two Union soldiers returning from furlough were supposedly ambushed and murdered there by Bolin when he shot them in the back. Legend has it they are buried there. Murder Rocks, on Pine Mountain, just south of Kirbyville, Missouri, was the spot Bolin and his gang robbed and murdered many of their victims.
Bolin and his gang of cutthroats were merciless and killed indiscriminately. One victim was twelve year old Bill Willis. He had climbed a rail fence to feed corn to a horse. Bolin shot and killed the lad for no apparent reason.
Another, who was luckier and survived to tell the story, was a 16 year old named Dave. Dave was innocently on his way to mail a few letters to his sick father, a Union soldier. Alf deliberately shot him in the chest. Two women who had witnessed the shooting were told by Bolin to "Get into the house and shut your mouths if you want to save your scalps. That makes nineteen I've killed."
Alf apparently had no scruples whatsoever. He returned to the home of a Mr. Bilyeu, a kindly old man who had taken him in during his youth. Bolin threatened to kill him if he wasn’t given food. Mrs. Bilyeu fed him while he counted a bag of money. When Bolin left, he stole their best saddle horse.
Another sad tale tells of Mr. Budd, an eighty-year-old who was driving a yoke of oxen on his way to get some corn. At the time, corn was a valuable commodity. Mr. Budd was planning to use it to make bread for local needy families. Alf and his band of renegades stopped him at a river crossing. They forced him into the water and fired several rifle bullets into his body. Mr. Budd died as the river carried his body downstream.
Finally Union authorities became fed up with Bolin’s atrocities and devised a plan to put an end to his reign of terror.
Bolin was known to camp in some rugged terrain near the cabin of a Mrs. Foster. Frequently Bolin would come by and demand to be fed. Union officials had promised to free her husband, a Confederate prisoner of war, if she would help in Bolin’s capture. She agreed.
Zachary Thomas, a Union soldier, masqueraded as a wounded Rebel deserter holed up in the woman's cabin. As expected, Bolin appeared and again ordered Mrs. Foster to prepare some food for him. While his back was turned, the fake Confederate soldier struck him in the head with a coulter, the heavy wedge of steel on a plow. Seeing he was still alive the soldier finished the job by stabbing him repeatedly with a knife.
Bolin's corpse was taken to the courthouse in Ozark, Missouri, where his head was chopped off and put on display. Otherwise, the frightened mountain folk would never have believed he was actually dead. Bolin's headless body lies buried in an unmarked grave on the banks of Swan Creek, northeast of Forsyth. With his death people rejoiced by dancing in the streets.
Even today, people in Forsyth have not forgotten Alf Bolin's atrocities. Over one hundred and nineteen years later on May 15, 1982, Alf Bolin's death was once again celebrated. Citizens of the little town on the banks of what is now Bull Shoal's Lake dressed in colorful period costumes to enjoy the festivities which included food, music and dancing. The affair was topped off by a couple’s wedding.