George Washington Law

George Washington Law

Franklin County, Virginia, USA
Death 23 Aug 1873 (aged 44–45)
Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri, USA
Burial Reform, Callaway County, Missouri, USA
Memorial ID 88109314 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Sheriff George Law of Callaway County, MO was killed in the line of duty, shot in front of a large number of his fellow citizens as his carriage was driven from the courthouse. He had with him a convicted felon. Law was a plain and unpretending man, possessing excellent judgement; modest, yet welding a large influence.

He was the son of John W. and Mary B. Ferguson Law, born in 1828 in Franklin County, Virginia. The family emigrated to Callaway when he was young. He became a successful farmer, settling in the neighbor-hood of Reform. He & his wife Amanda had eleven children. When Amanda died May 26, 1871, eight of their children had gone before her. Surrounded by loving family, she whispered, "I will soon be in heaven with my little darlings." She then embraced her husband, "Meet me in heaven and bring the little boys with you. Do not forget; I shall watch from the window, until I see you come." He followed her in only two years and three months.

As the Civil War began, he joined the rebel Missouri State Militia that fought under Sterling Price. Missouri was a border state, so Price's militia was unattached to the army of the Con-federate States. In December ten companies were enlisted and perfected into the 1st Mis-souri Calvary with Elijah Gates chosen commander and George Law as captain. By 1862 Law was a lieutenant colonel, still serving under Gates.

Law was involved in the 1863 Vicksburg campaign. After defeat at Champion Hill on May 16, 1863 Confederate forces arrived at Big Black River Bridge early in the morning of the following day. Toward mid-morning Union forces moved upon them from the opposite side of the bridge and firing began. The rebels withdrew across the river. When they reached the far bank, they set fire to the bridge and the Steamboat Dot. During this maneuver, George Law received bullet wounds to the left arm. They reached Vicksburg later in the day. Law's wounds were such that amputation was necessary. When he had recovered he rejoined his unit and served until the final surrender, May 4, 1865.

In November of 1872 Law was elected sheriff of Callaway county. On June 19, 1873 he was notified that two horses had been stolen by the notorious horse thief Peter Kessler and his son Augustus. Five weeks later the two were arrested in St. Louis. By July 30 they had been taken to Jefferson City for imprisonment. There were threats of lynching. Kessler was widely hated for his free-style crimes. The prisoners were taken to Fulton August 1 and committed to the county jail. That night an angry mob appeared on the edge of town and was dispelled. Law took the Kesslers to a place safer than the tiny jail. The next day he returned them to Jefferson City.

Trial was set for August 15. On the 13th, Law asked Gov. Silas Woodson for reinforcement as violence and revenge were all but certain. Woodson declined saying a need for added security was not anticipated. There had been no "Summoning of a posse." Law made the best preparations he could, using the security offered by the several resolute men who were faithful to him. The prisoners were put aboard the Louisiana & Missouri River Railroad. Just a few miles from the river, Augustus Kessler managed to escape from the window of the moving train.
Law tightened security, met the train in Fulton and transported Kessler to trial. A reporter wrote, "Seeing from the temper of the crowd that danger was imminent and postponement would prove fatal [to Kessler], they concluded the best course would be to plead guilty," which is what was done. Kessler was sentenced to six years in the penitentiary. He was kept in the courthouse for more than two hours, then placed in a closed carriage. With a complement of eight to ten mounted guards, the carriage pulled away. Immediately, the driver was pushed from his seat by an unidentified man who drove the carriage furiously up Court Street.

The driver turned and pointed his pistol at Kessler but Law kicked the pistol upward and it discharged through the roof. Simultaneously men on horseback rode up, firing rapidly into the carriage. The sheriff's guard provided heavy fire, but to no effect. Law was mortally wounded. One ball entered his left hip, another 6-8" above this which lodged in his spine. His deputy, W.W. Dundon was also mortally wounded.

The men endured a jarring ride of almost two miles before the carriage drew to a stop. A man who happened by managed to take them to Law's home in Fulton. Help arrived quickly. Editor John B. Williams wrote, "It was indeed a terrible scene; it has never been our lot to see men endure greater agony; but a large number of friends gathered..."

Law's suffering was borne with fortitude. His mind was clear until a few hours of his death. His good friend Col. Elijah Gates, now sheriff of Buchanan county, was summoned to the deathbed and provided great comfort in Law's last few hours. George Law died on August 23, 1873. He was buried at the cemetery that he, himself had established at his farm, next to his wife Amanda and surrounded by eight of their small children.

A crowd of almost one thousand had witnessed the ambush. No one ever came forward.

Family Members



LT COL GEORGE W LAW 1 MO CAV CSA, 1828 - AUG 23 1873

Gravesite Details Marker placed December, 2000 by Elijah Gates Camp #570, Sons of Confederate Veterans


Plan a visit to Reform, MO?



  • Maintained by: Anna Jaech
  • Originally Created by: Marsha Williams Byrd of Missouri
  • Added: 5 Apr 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 88109314
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for George Washington Law (1828–23 Aug 1873), Find A Grave Memorial no. 88109314, citing Law Cemetery, Reform, Callaway County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by Anna Jaech (contributor 47861515) .