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, February 21, 2016

The "Lynching" of Paralee Collins

If you do an Internet search for "Paralee Collins," you’ll get several results naming her as a black woman lynched in Howell County, Missouri, on June 17, 1914. There are two important things wrong with this. She wasn't black, and she wasn't lynched—at least not in the popular sense of being hanged.
However, her tale is no less interesting because she is not a statistic from America’s bigoted past. The story of Paralee Collins is one of clannish feuding and scandalous behavior, and the acts of violence against her stemmed not from racial hatred but from jealousy and moral outrage.
Paralee grew up in what was called the "Collins settlement" in the vicinity of old Horton in northwestern Howell County not far from Douglas County. In 1905, when Paralee was only about fourteen, she married Lee Washington Collins, a second cousin. The Collins clan, as a local newspaper later reported, was well known for intermarrying.
Paralee and Lee already had three kids by 1910, but they must have been on the verge of a split even at the time of the census in April, because only three months later, Paralee married Levi Richard Collins, a third cousin.
Paralee's second marriage was also short lived. She was divorced from Levi Collins in April of 1913 after three years of marriage.
About the time of the divorce, Paralee started carrying on with Lee Isaac Collins, who was another second cousin.
For some time prior to December 1913, Paralee and others in the Collins settlement had been accused of "gross immorality," according to a Springfield newspaper, and the "last straw on the camel's back" came in early December when Paralee allegedly rode nude, or in "Mother Eve's attire," as the newspaper phrased it, through Horton in the company of a man (perhaps Ike Collins). On Sunday night, December 14, a mob of masked night riders raided the Collins settlement, dragged Paralee from “Blind Jane” Keith’s cabin, where she was staying, and whipped her "unmercifully" with switches. They also herded Jane out of the home, set it on fire, and ordered both women to leave the territory, under threat of death. They proceeded to burn the home of Dan Collins and two other Collins houses that were unoccupied. After they were done, they punctuated their fiery work by shooting into the air as they rode off.
Instead of leaving as they'd been ordered to do, Paralee and her friends began barricading their houses and preparing for battle. However, Paralee and Ike soon moved across the line into Douglas County and set up housekeeping in a cabin on Noblett Creek. Some of the couple's allies followed, and the affair died down for a while.
It flared back up when Paralee brought charges in early March 1914 against both of her former husbands, accusing them of being among the night riders who had whipped her and burned Jane Keith’s cabin. Paralee said she recognized one of her ex-husbands when he first entered Jane's house, that his mask came off while she was being whipped, and that he even talked to her after he realized he'd been recognized. She later learned that the other former husband was also among the mob. Although no arrests had been made in the immediate wake of the raid, both ex-husbands were arrested on charges of arson and felonious assault after Paralee’s accusations. They were released on bond, and in mid-April the charges were dropped altogether after Paralee did not show up for the men's hearing. "Godiva Failed to Appear" read the sensational headline in one newspaper story.
The arrest of Lee Collins and Levi Collins apparently rekindled their rage toward their ex-wife. In mid-June, a mob showed up at the cabin on Noblett Creek intent on teaching the woman a lesson (although it's not known for sure that the two ex-husbands were among the night riders). After banging on the door and gaining admittance, the leader of the gang pulled a revolver and covered Paralee and Ike with it. The couple made a dash for freedom and got outside, but the mob followed them into some brush and shot at them, wounding Paralee in the leg and seriously wounding Ike in the head.
Ike eventually recovered, and he and Paralee got married in 1921. This time Paralee stayed married. She died in 1979 at the age of 88, ten years after Ike had left her a widow.

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