Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

March 7, 2013 Volume 34, No. 22

Lecture Tuesday on Civil War homicides


Professor combines law and history in several projects

The 21st Century Corps of Discovery Lecture March 12 will feature Frank O. Bowman III, the Floyd R. Gibson Missouri Endowed Professor of Law. His lecture’s title is “Homicidal History: Shootings, Stabbings, Lynchings, Melees, Massacres and the Legacy of the Civil War in Modern Missouri.”

Bowman will speak about the social and legal history of the Civil War period in Boone County, Mo., drawing from his recent study of murders tried in the area from 1850 to 1875.

Bowman is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in criminal justice policy. His research extends to crimes of the past. Throughout his career, Bowman has been interested in the origins of legal rules, especially those that respond to “extremes of individual misconduct or societal breakdown,” he said. About five years ago, his curiosity expanded beyond contemporary criminal justice policy to the Civil War. 

“Stories of the Civil War help explain the area’s current social and political geography,” Bowman said. “Missouri’s history is singular in that it was a border slave state that remained in the Union, but was riven before, during and after the war with guerilla conflict and racial violence.”

Bowman describes his professional life as one “lived at the intersection of law and violent or predatory human misbehavior.” Before his more than two decades of legal scholarship, Bowman spent seventeen years as a trial lawyer.

“All good trial lawyers are practical social historians,” Bowman said. “They want to know not only what the protagonists in a case did, but why they did it and how the history of the community from which the jurors are drawn will dispose them to see the matter.”

Bowman has published more than 50 works, including his recent entry in the Missouri Law Review, “Getting Away with Murder (Most of the Time): Civil War Era Homicide Cases in Boone County, Mo.”

“The moral ambiguities of history are especially rich here in mid-Missouri,” he said. “The deeper wisdom to be gained from a study of our own recent past comes from reflection on the fact that not very long ago in the place we now inhabit a great many otherwise decent, industrious, self-consciously virtuous people believed and did things we reject as irredeemably evil. 

“That we believe this to be true ought to make us wonder which of our own certitudes another generation will consider monstrous,” he continued.

To make his findings accessible to the public and to better understand what happened in central Missouri during the Civil War, Bowman has created a website entitled War and Reconciliation (

In addition to his scholarly endeavors, Bowman helps law students explore the intersection of law, history and theatre through the Historical and Theatrical Trial Society. Each year, students and faculty select a historical event that represents a potential legal cause but was never tried. 

His lecture is at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Reynolds Alumni Center Ballroom. A reception will follow in the Great Room.