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.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Triple Lynching at Osceola

In the spring of 1880, St. Clair County, Missouri, had been plagued by an outbreak of crime stretching back several years, and, in many instances, the perpetrators had not been brought to justice because of continuances and other legal maneuvering. On the night of May 12, a mob of vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands.
About half past midnight, about fifty armed and masked men broke into the St. Clair County Jail at Osceola, dragged Chesley Pierce, John Parks, and John Smith out of their cells intent on dispensing their own brand of justice. Eighteen-year-old Pierce had killed William Bohon in January at a schoolhouse east of Osceola, and Parks was arrested as an accessory to the crime. In April, twenty-year-old Smith killed William Triplett near Johnson City over an old grudge, and he joined Pierce and Parks in the clink.
By mid-May, Pierce and Parks had already been indicted for murder and were scheduled for trial at the May term of the St. Clair County Circuit Court, while Smith was awaiting the action of a grand jury. Despite the fact that the county prosecutor was under indictment for malfeasance in office, the wheels of justice were still turning in St. Clair County.
But apparently not rapidly enough to suit some.
After dragging the three men from their cells, in the wee hours of May 13, the Moderators, as they called themselves, put ropes around the captives’ necks and marched them a couple of blocks to Fourth and Chestnut, where Smith made a break for freedom. The vigilantes yelled for him to halt, but he ignored the order and was riddled with bullets.
Taking the Humansville Road to the eastern outskirts of town, the vigilantes marched Pierce and Parks to a grove of locust trees in an area known as Happy Hollow, dragging Smith’s body along with them. The live prisoners were strung up to a limb of one of the trees, while Smith’s body was tied to the trunk of a different tree.
After the multiple lynching, the mob rode off in a southerly direction, and the victims were left suspended until after daylight on the morning of the 13th. Found at the scene was a note left by the lynchers saying they were “tiard of the tardiness of the law” in the administration of justice, and they promised that future murderers and horse thieves of St. Clair County would be dealt with in similar manner.
The bodies were cut down and removed to the courthouse, where a coroner’s inquest was held. The jury reached the usual verdict that the three men had come to their deaths at the hands of parties unknown. Thus, another outbreak of mobocracy in Missouri went unpunished.
Condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

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