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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Lynching That Wasn't

Doing credible research online is much more feasible than it used to be, because many more original records are now available than was the case just a few years ago. Also, secondary Internet sources such as Wikipedia, which were once considered very unreliable, have greatly improved. Still, the Internet has a well-deserved reputation for false and misleading information. After all, people can put about anything they want on the Internet.
For instance, a month or two ago, I wrote about the vigilante whipping of Paralee Collins in Howell County, Missouri, in 1914. As I pointed out, this incident has been cited on various websites as a lynching, either implying or directly stating that Paralee was hanged. In addition, the victim has often been identified as a black woman. In fact, Paralee was not black, and she was not lynched except in the broad sense that she was administered extralegal punishment.
Similar misinformation has been dispensed on the Internet and elsewhere about the case of Andy Clark, a black man who was supposedly lynched in Wayne County, Missouri, in 1903.
Clark, about 57, lived near Leeper in the southwest part of the county. On Monday, January 19, 1903, he was at the neighboring farm of a forty-six-year-old white man named James Thurman when the two men got into an argument over some land. Clark finally left and went to his own home about a quarter mile away, where he procured a shotgun. Returning to the other man’s house, according to one newspaper report, he called Thurman to the door and “shot his head almost off by emptying both barrels of the gun at his victim.”
Clark escaped and eluded capture until Wednesday afternoon the 21st, when he was captured in the swamps east of Leeper. Taken into town, he was placed in the village calaboose, but about eight o’clock that night, a mob of seventy men “battered in the prison door, took the trembling negro to a nearby tree and hanged him.”
That’s the story that was published in several newspapers in the immediate wake of the incident, and now, over a hundred years later, the story is still repeated as fact on the Internet and elsewhere. Andy Clark’s name is almost always included in lists of black men lynched in America that various people and organizations have compiled over the years.
The only problem is it didn't happen. Clark apparently wasn’t lynched at all. Just days after the initial report of the lynching was published, at least one newspaper (i.e. the Iron County Register) stated, “The report that A.N. Clark, who killed James Thurman, was lynched at Leeper, proves to be unfounded.” The paper went on to say that, in fact, Clark made his escape and that the report of his lynching was only “indicative of the fate that awaits him if he is caught.”
Clark had still not been captured a year and a half later. On the last day of June 1904, Missouri governor Alexander Dockery offered a reward of $100 for the arrest and conviction of “Andrew Clark, colored, accused of killing James Thurman in Wayne County in January 1903.”
Whatever happened to Clark is unknown, although he apparently was never brought to justice. One thing seems clear: he wasn’t lynched at the hands of a mob in Leeper, Missouri, in 1903.

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