Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Murder of Jesse Brown

The Civil War was dangerous not just for soldiers but also for civilians, and probably in no other state was this more true than Missouri, where sentiments were strongly divided and the war quickly degenerated into a partisan conflict characterized by raids and personal vendettas. People had to be careful what they said and to whom they said it. Being perceived as helping the wrong side could get you killed. Although guerrilla warfare in the state did not peak until the middle part the war, murderous incidents involving private citizens were not uncommon even during 1861.
One such incident was the murder of 70-year-old Jesse Brown of Hickory County. Late on the night of October 13, 1861, a squad of Southern men that included 23-year-old John P. Claybrook of Moniteau County called at Brown's home in the Elkton vicinity. Brown answered Claybrook's halloo and, opening the door, asked the caller what he wanted. According to the later testimony of Brown's wife, Nancy, Claybrook replied that he wanted to stay all night, and Mr. Brown said okay. At that moment, though, Nancy heard shots ring out, and her husband stumbled back into the house and fell dead. Rushing to the door, Nancy recognized the shooter and demanded, "John what did you do that for?" She got no reply, as Claybrook simply wheeled his horse around and rode off. Nancy later said she thought her husband had been killed simply for being a Union man.
A neighbor of the Browns who also later testified against Claybrook said that he hurried outside after hearing the shots and saw a squad of men ride by his house but recognized only Claybrook. The next day he saw Claybrook with a squad of men whom he took to be the same ones he'd seen the night before, and he asked Claybrook what the shooting had been about the evening before. Claybrook replied that he had shot a dog. One of the other men asked Claybrook, apparently jokingly, whether he had killed it, and Claybrook replied that he thought he had. The neighbor expressed his opinion that Claybrook was, in fact, the person who had killed Brown.
Another neighbor stated that he had also asked Claybrook about the shots he had heard in the middle of the night, and Claybrook supposedly replied that it must have been a dog he had killed "from the way it howled." Nancy was largely correct that her husband had been killed because he was a Union man, but there was a little more to the story than that. Apparently Jesse Brown had been instrumental in organizing a local company of home guards, with which Claybrook's men had skirmished shortly before Brown was killed.
Claybrook was arrested on charges of disloyalty back in his home territory of Moniteau County in January of 1862 and taken to Tipton, where he was paroled upon taking an oath of allegiance. When word of his killing of Brown several months earlier reached Moniteau County, however, Claybrook was re-arrested in April and charged with murder. In provost marshal records at the time, Claybrook was listed as 23 years old, standing 5' 8" tall, having brown eyes and black hair, and living in California (Mo.) Although I've thus far found no record of the final disposition of his case, Claybrook was apparently executed on July 28, 1862, because it is known for sure that he died on that date. A few days after his death, the local Masonic lodge published a brief tribute to Claybrook, their fellow lodge member, in a California newspaper.
Sources: California (MO) Weekly News, 1862; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Two or More Civilians; Provost Marshal's Papers Relating to Individual Citizens.

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