Joseph Washington Head - The Rebel

This story was passed on to me, by William Joseph Head, son of Joseph Washington Head
Mary Penwell Bish

James Allen Head, born 1808, was a Georgian by birth. The family home was originally in Hall County. Later he, his wife, Sarah Cain Head, and two sons moved to Catoosa County near Ringgold, Georgia, and the famed Tunnel Hill. The first two sons were named John Cain Head and Joseph Washington Head (Joe). John was the oldest by two years. Joseph's birth year was 1830.

In 1853, John and Joseph set up law practice in Catoosa County, GA. John was the first Notary Public in that new county, and "Joe" was the first County Clerk. At 25 and 23, respectively, these two Heads did remarkably well for several years.

The Head family, like many other families in that section prior to the Civil War, yielded to the call of the Northwest Territory. They settled in Kansas at Ft. Scott, and by that time the family had grown considerably - mostly boy children. The two older sons, John and Joe, ventured into Arkansas and set up law offices in Greenwood, Arkansas. They also operated a hotel there. They owned no slaves, but there was one darky named Dan Griffith, who hired out to these two young lawyers by agreement with his owner, a Colonel Griffith, from whom he took his name. Loyalty among these three people was a by-word in those parts, and it was many, many years later William Head said he saw his father meet Dan Griffith after years of separation, and that they cried and embraced each other exactly as though they had been blood brothers.

Later, but before the Civil War, the rest of the family in Kansas moved into Arkansas, much further south, and settled in Richmond, in Little River County, which at one time was a thriving farm community.

When the Civil War broke out, all the Head boys who were old enough to carry a gun, joined the Confederate Army. Joe was commissioned an officer and was in command of an independent company, charged with the mission of eradicating all "Bushwackers" in Arkansas and vicinity. By "eradicating," according to army translation was meant simply - apprehending and hanging by the neck until dead. Joe's company also had the mission of providing guard for the city of Little Rock. Arkansas lent itself well to guerrilla warfare. John was Joe's lieutenant, and they worked side by side in war as they had in their profession. They took part in the battles of Prairie Spring, Indian Territory and Poison Spring. During the course of the war, Joe became rather famous for his exploits and successes in carrying out his missions. He was very soldierly; had a fine appearance and a bold manner, and he was greatly feared by the Yankees.

Just before the war ended, Joe met, fell in love with, and married a Southern belle from a plantation near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her name was Jennie Beall. When the war ended, Joseph Washington Head, refused to surrender, and refused to pledge allegiance to the new Federal Government. John and the younger brothers took the oath of allegiance, but not Joe. He chose the alternative of having a price put on his head for the rebel that he was!

Because of this, the war did not end for this solder. He was a fugitive and subject to capture, and there were many who were willing to collect the reward by informing on him. The incident which changed his whole life occurred in Mississippi when Joe, to whom fighting was second nature, struck an opponent over the head with a two by four, causing injuries and death to the opponent. Joe was immediately taken into custody. It is doubtful whether he would ever have been apprehended for the count of "rebel" but the second count altered the picture. He was to have been taken North by train for trial and sentencing. The day for his transportation was set; a sheriff was appointed to travel with him, and the outlook for the Confederate officer was a gloomy one.

Oath or no oath, brother John, back in Arkansas, learned of the plan for taking Joe North. He quickly rallied around him his blood brothers, and some recruits from Joe's old command, and they laid their own plans to hold up the train on which Joe was prisoner and effect his rescue and release. Among the group of blood brothers was one only sixteen years old. This one had been too young to see action in the War, but he was allowed to accompany the older ones on this particular mission. The plan worked according to schedule. Joe was rescued. But, in the excitement and gun brandishing, the younger brother fired and killed the sheriff. ( See additional information below)The entire group then felt that they must make a run for their lives, and they did just that - going far west into Texas. (This was a hard part for William Head to tell - perhaps he wasn't proud of all the decisions made by his ancestors).

San Saba, Texas was the home of Joe for many years. His wife, Jennie joined him there and from that point was Mrs. Jennie Hardee. Hardee was the name assumed by Joe. She bore several children to Joe. She died and is buried in San Saba, Texas. Joe moved further west. There he met and married Mary Triplett whose childhood home was Springfield, IL. She was William Joseph Head's mother. There are reports of him having lived at Yaleta, Texas and Silver City, New Mexico.

The other Head boys wandered back to Richmond, Arkansas, and evidently nothing ever came of their part in the train hold-up. The youngest brother was the only one who was a drinking man and whether or not he sought forgetfulness in that manner was a thing no one ever really knew for sure.

*William Joseph Head, son of Joesph Washington Head was not raised by his father and mother. He was brought to Richmond, Arkansas as a young boy and was handed over to his Aunt Magee (Joe's sister), and was raised by she and her husband, Dr. Thomas Butler. William Head said his father, Joseph Washington Head, was never apprehended and died still a Confederate Major in his own eyes. William Head once said, by way of heritage, he should be waving the Confederate flag with all the majority in the south who were so frantically trying to revive it, but his environment and knowledge gained precludes that action on his part.

John Cain Head and his family are buried in the back yard of their old home place in Richmond, AR. The parents, James Allen Head and Sarah Cain Head are buried in the old Richmond Cemetery on Braden Branch. Joseph Washington Head was my great uncle. The 16 year old in this story was my grandfather, C. Calhoun Head..... Mary Bish



Below is the image of Ansel H. Prewitt, my gr-gr-gr-grandfather, the Sheriff of Pike County, Miss., shot and killed during the rescue of Joseph W. Head.

I'll send the 1956 article by today's mail; I wasn't able to mail it before the New Year holiday.

I hope to get that other material from the 1870s copied for you eventually; it's in storage until I finish an addition onto my house.

Don't you think somewhere there must be more info about Head?  I went to the below web site and found that there are military records for a Joseph W. Head, which suggests that even more military records for him are in the National Archives (or so I've found in the past).

(Look under Joseph Head for Arkansas, and there's one entry for a "Joseph W. Head" as belonging to the "

2 Mounted Rifles, Arkansas.")

Someone, somewhere must have a photo of him, don't you think?  Do you have any long-lost cousins who might have material?

This is all very interesting, don't you think?


Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D.