Wednesday, August 28, 2019

William "Uncle Billy" Swinford

William Swinford, known to those who knew him locally as "Uncle Billy," served a two-year term as sheriff during the Civil War, 1862-1863. He was a farmer by trade, and later a hotel owner, and apparently very well liked in the community where he lived.

Sheriff Swinford was born in Harrison County, Kentucky on November 20, 1815 and moved to Nodaway County in 1856 from Putnam County, Indiana, to which his parents had previously relocated. He died in Maryville, Missouri on April 21, 1905, at the age of 90. On November 28, 1833, he married Rebecca Thompson. She died on February 14, 1879. They brought ten children into the world. Mr. Swinford, after living in Maryville for ten years, returned to his farm in 1881 and opened a hotel, the Western, in Barnard the same year. In October 1882, Mr. Swinford remarried to Rosa B. Shore, who was born in Huntington County, Pennsylvania in 1854. She was twenty-eight. He was sixty-six years old.  No children were born to their union. In 1890, he retired from business and they moved to the town of Guilford.

He served in the Civil War on the Union side of the conflict. Prior to the Civil War he was part of the Democratic Party, but during the war he switched to the Republican Party. He enlisted for the first time on June 5, 1861 and was mustered in on July 5, 1861, serving as a First Lieutenant in the Missouri Home Guard Volunteers, Nodaway County, Company C, under the command of Captain Allen. He was forty-five years old. He served until August 28, 1861. Records show he re-enlisted that same day, again with the Missouri Home Guard Volunteers, Company D, under the command of Captain Robinson, with the rank of private. The company disbanded on September 21, 1861. He served a total of three months. In November of 1861, he ran for the office of sheriff of Nodaway County, and won. His term began on January 1, 1862 and concluded on December 31, 1863. The following spring, on April 29, 1864, he reenlisted in the 36th Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia, with the rank of private, serving under Captain Wright. He was ordered into active duty by General Fisk at St. Joseph, Missouri on July 20, 1864, and relieved of duty eleven days later, on July, 31, 1864, at the age of forty-eight, with the rank of captain. After the war, he switched party affiliations again. By January 1875, he had joined the Greenback Party, later known as the Independent Party or Populist Party, with many prominent citizens of the county. His affiliation with that party did not last very long.

Mr. Swinford again announced his candidacy for sheriff in the "Democratic county convention" in July of 1876 by posting a newspaper ad. He noted in the ad that he was unable to get around and announce it in person to the county voters due to an "illness in the family and a large crop on hand." Whether he was elected to run on the Democratic ticket or not is yet unknown. It is known that he never served a second term as sheriff.

As a hotelier in Barnard, for two years, he was quite successful. The Western was described as having "twelve fine large sleeping rooms, and his table is always provided with the best the market affords. Everything is scrupulously neat and clean, and "Uncle Billy," as he is commonly called, always exerts himself to make his guests feel perfectly at home. He is well posted in politics and the Scriptures, and generally wins in an argument." Uncle Billy and his wife, Rebecca were members of the Advent Christian church of Maryville, having been accepted as congregants there in 1871. According to a newspaper piece at the time, he had "ridden ten miles on horseback" to the "Maryville school house" where the church members met and offered himself for membership, "after referring to his demoralized and backslidden condition." Rebecca also joined that day.

There is much more to Sheriff Swinford's life, and I am continuing to research his life as part of this project. I hope to bring you another brief biographical sketch of another sheriff very soon.

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