Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"The Matthews-Payton Feud"

I've been doing some research on the Meadows-Bilyeu feud in southern Christian County that erupted into violence in late November of 1898, and I was interested to learn that one of the principals in that feud, John S. "Bud" Meadows, was also involved in a previous feud in the same vicinity back in the Bald Knobber days of the 1800s.
In early 1885, Alex Payton and L. T. Matthews were involved in a replevin suit (the reclaiming of possessions through legal action), and the outcome favoring Payton angered Matthews. A feud developed between the two families, and Bud Meadows and his father, Alexander "Old Bob" Meadows, sided with the Paytons in the dispute.
Two weeks after the suit, someone threw a lit stick of dynamite on top of the Payton home, and it ripped through the roof of the house when it exploded. A small child was seriously injured (and later died according to at least one report), and several other members of the Payton family were injured.
Suspecting that the Matthews family was either directly or indirectly responsible for the explosion, the Paytons sought revenge. On April 12, 1885, as Matthews and his family were moving by wagon to Chadwick, they were ambushed by rifle from the side of the road. One shot wounded Matthews in the arm, and another struck his young son, Claudie, killing him instantly.
Matthews ran toward the bushes where the shots had come from and saw eighteen-year-old William Payton and fourteen-year-old James Payton running away. After the boys were charged with murder, Old Bob Meadows helped in their defense, and Matthews suspected that the Meadowses had played a part in the attack on his family.
Despite the legal aid provided by Old Bob, the younger Payton was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. However, the sentence was commuted in March of 1887. (He was eventually pardoned altogether.)
The commutation must have re-opened an old wound for Matthews. Less than three months later, on June 6, 1887, Old Bob Meadows was shot dead from ambush as he walked along the road just south of the Christian-Taney county line, the same way Matthews's small child had been assassinated two years earlier. Matthews was indicted in Taney County for the murder but was acquitted after a lengthy trial.
In 1895 (four years before the Meadows-Bilyeu feud), Bud Meadows was finally indicted as an accessory to the murder of little Claudie Matthews, but he, too, was acquitted.
After the Meadows-Bilyeu feud erupted into violence and Bud Meadows was on trial for killing Steve Bilyeu, several defense witnesses tried to suggest that Bilyeu and his sons had reputations as quarrelsome and violent men. Given Bud's prior history, that may have been an example of the pot calling the kettle black.
By the way, I haven't yet been able to determine whether L. T. Matthews was related to John Matthews and his nephew Wiley Matthews, the Bald Knobbers who, along with Dave Walker and his son, were convicted of killing two members of the Edens family south of Chadwick in March of 1887 (about the same time James Payton's death sentence was being commuted). Does anyone know whether they were related?

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Blogger Chris Meadows said...

That's an interesting bit of research. As a Meadows myself, and oddly proud of my ancestry in a way that only a born-and-bred hillbilly can be, I'd be interested in learning more about the history of the feud.

(Did you know that most of the members of the band Big Smith are descendants of the Bilyeus from the feud?)

September 15, 2010 at 2:19 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Just now saw the comment you left about a year and a half ago. Sorry for not responding sooner. I don't know much more about the Matthews-Payton feud than what I found out while researching the Meadows-Bilyeu feud and what I posted at the time. Yes, I knew that at least a couple of Bilyeus were in Big Smith. Too bad the band is getting ready to call it quits, as I understand.

April 9, 2012 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

If you meant that you would be interested in learning more about the Meadows-Bilyeu feud, it's been written about quite a bit, including a chapter in my book called Desperadoes of the Ozarks.

April 9, 2012 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Randy Hawkes said...

Hi Larry My name is Randy I'm the GGGG Grandson of J. A. Matthews Sr. L.T. Matthews is the son of Sr. born 1825/26 and I've been researching my ancestry resently I received photo's from the dept. of forrestry of the Matthews Family plot at the Family farm where Sr. is buried my line is John Sr., John Jr., Issac, Clara Matthews-Phillips, Ruby Matthews-Hawkes, Randy Hawkes Sr., Me I would like to get any information you have on the Matthews. Thanks Randy

January 24, 2013 at 1:33 PM  

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