Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lynching of John Bright

After a mob lynched wife murderer John Wesley Bright in Taney County in March of 1892 and shot a deputy sheriff dead in the process, one newspaper account reported that the latest killings brought the total number of people killed in the Taney County area since the Civil War to 72. I have seen similar figures cited in accounts of the Bald Knobbers' activities. In fact, it was the lawlessness that pervaded the county in the post-war years that led to creation of the Bald Knobbers. However, I suspect that 72 is a highly exaggerated estimate of the actual number of people killed in Taney County from 1865 to 1892. Regardless of the actual number, though, Taney County was most assuredly a rough territory in the late 1800s, as the Bright incident attests. Although it is sometimes chronicled in accounts of Taney County's Bald Knobber era violence, the Bright episode actually came a few years later and had nothing to do with the Bald Knobbers.
On March 6, John Bright reportedly took a gun and followed his wife to a spring on the Bright property. The couple's children heard a gunshot, and a few minutes later the father came back alone and told them that their mother had been shot by someone at the spring and warned them not to go near the spring as they might get hurt. He then reportedly filled his pockets with eggs and left the house with his gun in hand. Soon afterwards, the children went to the spring, found their mother dead, and sounded an alarm. A posse of about fifty or sixty men quickly organized and went in search of Bright. A Springfield newspaper speculated that when they found the culprit, "Judge Lynch (would) preside."
Sure enough, the newspaper was right. Bright was apprehended on or about March 11 and transported to Forsyth, where a preliminary hearing was held on Saturday the 12th. That evening, a mob of about 30 to 40 men (one estimate said as many as 100) gathered, surrounded the jail, and demanded that Deputy George Williams, who met the group outside the jail, hand Bright over. When he refused and fired a shot into the air to show he meant to defend the prisoner, someone in the mob shot him down. The horde of vigilantes then broke into the jail and dragged the prisoner from his cell to an old graveyard near the edge of town, where they hanged him from a tree. The leader of the mob then reportedly fired a shot as a signal for the vigilantes to disperse, and everyone went his separate way. Supposedly no one in the mob was recognized and a coroner's inquest came back with the usual verdict in such cases, that Bright came to his death at the hand of "parties unknown."

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