“I have chosen guerilla warfare to revenge myself for the wrongs that I could not honorably avenge otherwise.”
“Bloody Bill” Anderson is one of the most notorious outlaws ever to come from the Show Me State. He earned the title of “Bloody Bill” for his violent crimes committed during the Civil War. He grew up in a region split between Confederate and Union sympathizers, which likely led to his distrust of practically everyone around him and the violence that came to encompass his life.
THE EARLY YEARS
The early years of William Anderson’s life are sketchy. It is speculated that he was born sometime between 1837 and 1840. Even his birthplace remains a mystery, with many historians believing that he was born in Jefferson or Randolph County. What is known from his childhood is that he grew up and went to school in Huntsville in mid-Missouri. That rural area was much like the rest of the country in the mid-1800s, with neighbors divided over states’ rights and slavery. This tense time in American history likely led to a fertile ground for Anderson to
develop his ferocious appetite for violence.
RISE TO FAME
If the environment surrounding his childhood wasn’t enough to push William to the brink of violence, the murder of his father probably was. His father had a reputation for shady dealings and was accused of stealing farm supplies, including horses. During a confrontation over the alleged robbery, his father was killed, filling William with rage and turning him toward revenge.
Anderson avenged his father’s murder by searching out the men who shot him, one of which was a judge, earning him the nickname “Bloody.” The violence was just beginning, though, as Bill set out to kill anyone whom he believed sympathized with the “Yankees.”
SHOW ME INFAMY
The Civil War was heating up when Bloody Bill was in his mid-twenties. He joined a group of rebels during a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, led by William Quantrill, where they vowed to kill all male inhabitants of the city. The violent confrontation ended with more than 150 men dead, and Bloody Bill’s band of guerilla’s claimed the most kills.
Oddly enough, many people say that Bill Anderson looked nothing like a violent killer. He was described as handsome, thin, and tall, with long dark hair and piercing eyes, but the emotions under the skin were always on the verge of exploding. His killing sprees spread around central Missouri, with trips into the counties of Carroll, Chariton, Boone, Shelby, and others. In Rocheport, he killed numerous Union soldiers and made sure the authorities knew who was behind the massacre by mutilating the bodies. Bloody Bill’s men also massacred soldiers in Centralia, where they wiped out the 39th Missouri Infantry, and once again mutilated the dead.
Bill’s violent life came to an equally violent end one month after the Centralia massacre. The Missouri militia found Anderson’s camp near Albany and engaged Bloody Bill in one final battle. As he rallied his troops, militia soldiers shot his horse, causing Bill to fall. The twenty-four-year-old rebel was shot twice in the back of the head, and his body was taken back to Richmond and put on public display. Some historians believe that his death and public display of the corpse were a major setback for Confederate fighters in Missouri.
*Some in the Southern United States still believe that William T. Anderson’s ghost makes yearly appearances around Halloween.
*Bloody Bill and the guerilla conflict was the backdrop to the 1976 movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales.