For the past two or three decades there has been a bit of a whirlwind of statements claiming that Bloody Bill Anderson had a sergeant in his command by the name of Cave Wyatt, who was either captured by Federals on a train or by the 9th Missouri State Militia Cavalry in the field, and that Anderson spared the life of Federal Sgt. Thomas Goodman at Centralia in order to trade him for Wyatt. And that after Goodman escaped, Wyatt was hanged. Or that Wyatt survived the war. Take your pick.
The somewhat amazing thing is--I have not found one single primary source that says any of this. This all appears to be just latter 20th century secondary sources citing each other in a circle. In fact, I have not found a single "Cave Wyatt was to be exchanged for Thomas Goodman" reference earlier than 1959. Most of the statements are 1990s or later, which are as far as a century and a quarter after the war. Nothing close to primary source, or even in an era when a primary source could have been involved.
So...somebody help me here if you can. Is there a primary source on Cave Wyatt/Thomas Goodman exchange anywhere? I'm not saying there aren't any -- I'm saying if we want to continue going down this road about a Cave Wyatt/Thomas Goodman tie to the Centralia Massacre, we need to primary source it instead of doing dizzying secondary source circle citing.
In 1959 Carl Breihan said Cave Wyatt was captured on a train. But Breihan didn't cite a source so his reference does us no good. Recent writings have been saying Cave Wyatt was captured by the 9th Missouri State Militia Cavalry on Sept. 24, 1864. Whoa. That's really specific, but I have never seen any such primary reference.
A letter to the editor reference in True West magazine in the 1990s said Wyatt was hanged (Can we stop referring to letters to the editors published a century after the fact as being authoritative? Otherwise, let's all start magazines and run letters to the editors solving every mystery of the world ranging from the disappearance of Judge Crater to the recipe for Coca-Cola.)
Back on track....in 2003 Michael Banasik wrote in Cavaliers of the Brush that Thomas Goodman was to be exchanged for Cave Wyatt, and said it didn't happen because Goodman escaped. Banasik said the Federals were never sure Cave Wyatt was a guerrilla and that he survived the war. Banasik cited Eakin and Hale. Another.....late 20th century source.
And....there is a photo in the Cantey Myers Collection that purports to be of Cave Wyatt. The desciption on it states he was a sergeant with Bill Anderson, and that he survived the war (I'm pretty sure he did, and state my reason below).
While the Federals may not have been sure ca. 1861-1865 that Cave Wyatt was a guerrilla, based on post-war memoirs of several guerrillas, we know Wyatt was one of them. But I'm not finding anywhere in those memoirs that Wyatt was captured and that Bill Anderson was wanting to exchange Thomas Goodman for him.
Cave Wyatt has been a mystery. Now I am 95 percent sure I have found him. I believe he was J. Cavan Wyatt of St. Joseph, Missouri, born 1845, died 1911. Son of the Rev. Joseph J. Wyatt. J.J. Wyatt was a former law partner of John Cavan in Fleming County, Ky., and named his son after that partner. After moving to St. Joseph, J.J. Wyatt practiced law for a few years before becoming pastor of the First Christian Church. Shortly before the war the senior Wyatt was appointed judge, and later became postmaster in 1866. A man of many abilities.
The subject of our inquiry is the son, however. Cavan Wyatt, was born in St. Jo on Aug. 11, 1845, and was one of 12 children. In written references to him he is mostly referred to as Cavan Wyatt, occasionally as J. Cavan Wyatt, sometimes as J.C. Wyatt, very seldomly as John Cavan Wyatt, and never as John Wyatt or John C. Wyatt.
A bio I have located states growing up he was a student of Edward R. Neely. The bio leaves out what Cavan was doing between his schooling, ca. 1863, and his post-war occupations. The bio does say he clerked for a store "for a few months" before becoming assistant post-master under his father for two years. His father became postmaster in 1866, so the work history bio basically covers, maybe, 1865-1868.
Around 1868 Cavan moved to...wait for it...Centralia, Missouri. That wouldn't be a coincidence for a guy named John Smith. That's all kinds of coincidence if we're talking about two different Cave Wyatts. At Centralia the Cavan Wyatt of our sketch went into the mercantile business "with an uncle." I have found a separate bio for that unnamed uncle, who was James D. Wyatt.
Cavan Wyatt also served as postmaster in Centralia, and married Katie Garrard, daughter of Centralia farmer James D. Garrard. Did civilian Cavan Wyatt return to Centralia to win back a sweetheart?
After just two years in Centralia, Mr. and Mrs. Cavan Wyatt moved back to St. Joseph, where Cavan entered the mercantile business inpartnership with John Townsend and John D. Richardson. Their business venture was extremely fruitful, with Wyatt becoming very wealthy. As a philanthropist, civic leader, and church leader, J. Cavan Wyatt was a major St. Joseph, Missouri, figure in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Just a final thought. Jesse James was living in St. Joseph at the time he, James, died. Was he living there under the wing of the richest and most successful post-war Bill Anderson veteran of all? As stated, there is no doubt a Cave Wyatt served with Bill Anderson--there is doubt Cave Wyatt deserves all the write-ups swarming around relating to a prisoner exchange for Thomas Goodman.
So while it is not 100 percent that that Bill Anderson's Cave Wyatt is the Cavan Wyatt from St. Joseph, I'm pretty sure this is him.