Volume 5, Number 6, Winter 1974
George L. Williams came to Taney County from the State of Georgia in about 1890. He was a young man, well liked and highly respected by those who knew him. He was noted for his good manners and neat dress.
John L. (Fate) Cook, Sheriff of Taney County in 1890 appointed young Williams Deputy Sheriff. Williams was a good deputy and his honesty and bravery were unquestioned.
On the night of March 12th, 1892, a wild and drunken mob gathered in Forsyth. The mob had been forming all afternoon. John Bright was being held in jail, charged with the murder of his wife, on Roark Creek in western Taney County. The murdered woman was a near relative of the leaders of the mob.
About dusky dark on that day the armed and dangerous mob closed in on the jail with the avowed purpose of taking Bright from the jail and lynching him. Sheriff Cook advised Deputy Williams that it would be impossible to stop the mob, and to avoid any encounter with them. Sheriff Cook then went home but Williams remained on the scene. He watched the mob from a store porch across the street from the jail. The mob began pounding with a sledge hammer on the big lock on the jail door. Deputy Williams rushed into the wild crowd and jerked masks off two men pounding on the lock. At that moment he was shot from both sides and died at once.
George L. Williams is buried in an unmarked grave at Helphrey Cemetery, north of Taneyville, according to the testimony of Sheriff Cook, given at the preliminary hearing.
The mob proceeded to break into the jail. Bright was hanged from a big oak tree across Swan Creek from Old Forsyth. The site of the hanging is East of the Forsyth Cemetery and beside the road to Swan Creek.
I have read the old transcript, written in long hand, of the testimony of the witnesses in the preliminary hearing on charge of murder before W. H. Jones, Justice of the Peace for Swan Township. The Defendants, Madison Day, Isaac Lewis (Big Ike), and fifteen others were charged with first degree murder of George L. Williams. (None were convicted.)
The friends of George L. Williams collected funds for a memorial in his memory. The following letter written by Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey, daughter of Col. A. S. Prather, furnishes all the information now obtainable regarding the memorial.
April 1, 1942
"And how happy I am, to be able to tell you what I know about the George Williams Memorial fund. And the reason I remember so well, was because at last it was decided to invest the donations in a memorial library. J. C. L. McKnight, who was County Superintendant of Schools in Taney County, at the time the
funds were donated, and he was given authority to select the books. There was a very imposing array of books, good books too, and they were kept in the County Treasures Office, in the court house. I used to go almost every week, and get me a bunch, and carry them home with me on my pony. I read a certain book on Astronomy, it was wonderful, and Mythology, and novels, although McKnight was serious person, and did not choose many works of fiction. Some poetry. No one knew just what ever became of those books. Like all such libraries, I reckon, just played out. Some one told me a few years ago, that they were in the law office of old Col. Ford, and maybe at his death were scattered for ever. There were not many left.
I remember we all thought that was such a lovely plan, for George Williams was a scholarly man. Do you remember in one of my When Roseville was Young stories, I wrote about him? He was from Georgia. He was a slight, short slender man, very good looking, and with such beautiful manners.
Like the library, the record of the brave young man, who died attempting to uphold law and order, has disappeared. Faded yellow pages of the Justice of the Peace transcript and the nameless grave in Helphrey Cemetery are all that remain to remind our citizens that one so young and brave died defending the honor of Taney County from mob law.
It seems the conscience of our people would have dictated that at least a marker be placed at his grave.
Nov. 27, 1974
by Douglas Mahnkey
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