I’m sure many of you have ridden the “Frisco Silver Dollar Line” at Silver Dollar City, near Branson, Missouri. And of course your train got held up by that no good Alfie and Ralphie Bolin gang. I’ve had people ask me if there really was a historic Alfie and Ralphie Bolin.
There really was an Alfred “Alf” Bolin, born in Stone County, Missouri, in December of 1842. As for his brother Ralphie, well I think they just made him up for the train robbery skit.
Alf was already an outlaw when the Civil War began. The outbreak of hostilities turned him into one of the most notorious bushwhackers of the Missouri and Arkansas borderland. He robbed and murdered, taking revenge on the families of union soldiers or any families that were suspected of giving any kind of aid to the North.
In one incident that occurred near the old village of Day, Missouri, he murdered a 16-year-old boy named Dave Tittsworth. Some of the local women gathered and one asked Bolin why he wasn’t ashamed of murdering the innocent lad.
Bolin said, “Get in yer houses and shut yer mouths if ya wanna save yer own scalps. That makes 19 I’ve kilt.”
Another victim was 12-year-old Bill Willis. He lived on Roark Creek, which is near present day Branson. The boy was carrying some ears of corn out of a field. When Bill stopped to climb over a rail fence, he was shot and killed by Alf Bolin.
Bushwhackers of that time often agreed with the practice of murdering young boys. Their reasoning was that if they didn’t kill the lad, they would be facing him in a shootout a few years later. However, both the North and South condemned this practice as nothing other than the murder of an innocent child.
The old men were not safe either. An 80-year-old man from Christian County, known as Old Man Budd, was driving an ox team south across the White River. On the return trip, he met up with Alf Bolin and his gang on the banks of White River. Alf ordered Budd to wade out in the river. Then Alf shot and killed him. Budd’s body slumped into the river and was carried away by the current.
At one time Bolin had bragged of killing more than 40 men. One notorious place associated with him was Murder Rocks, which was beside the old Carrollton-Forsyth Road. Bolin and his gang robbed and murdered many travelers on this spot. The Union placed a high reward on the head of Alf Bolin or any member of his gang.
One place that Bolin considered a safe house was the home of Robert D. Foster, who lived near Murder Rocks close to the Arkansas border. Bolin often came there looking for a home cooked meal by Mrs. Foster. Her husband was a Confederate soldier who had been captured and was being held at the Union stockade in Ozark, Missouri.
In early 1863, Robert Foster was begging to be released as he feared for his families safety. The army knew that Alf Bolin often frequented the Foster home and made a deal to release Mr. Foster if he would help them capture Bolin.
A Union soldier from the 1st Iowa Cavalry named Zachariah E. Thomas was selected to carry out the plan. Robert Foster guided Thomas to the Foster home where Thomas pretended to be a wounded Confederate soldier in Mrs. Foster’s care.
One evening, Alf Bolin came into the Foster cabin and found Zachariah Thomas in a bed pretending to be wounded and very ill. Robert Foster was there too. Bolin thought nothing of it after Foster explained he had been released on parole, to bring his wife to safety in Springfield. He pointed to a bloodied southern uniform hanging on the wall and explained about the wounded soldier.
Mrs. Foster fixed Bolin a meal and he sat down and began to eat. When he was finished, he went over to the fireplace and stooped down to light his pipe with a burning coal. At that moment, Robert Foster got out of bed, came up quietly behind Bolin and whacked him in the head, several times with a fireplace poker.
Alf Bolin’s head was cut off and taken back to the Ozark Post. According to tradition, the head was placed on a pole and paraded around through the streets of Ozark. Then the head was left standing on the pole in front of Union headquarters where children were said to have thrown rocks at it.
Today it seems strange that a heinous serial killer of young boys would be turned into a comical train robber at Silver Dollar City. Or maybe that is just history’s revenge against Alf. Anyway, next time your train is held up by Alfie Bolin, look him in the eye and say, “Well, I see you got your head back.”
If you want to know more about the Alf Bolin story, the following book is a good reference: Elmo Ingenthron, edited by: Kathleen Van Buskirk. Borderland Rebellion, A History of the Civil War On the Missouri – Arkansas Border, Ozark Regional History Series BOOK III (Branson, MO: The Ozark Mountaineer, © 1980) p. 285-289.