Volume 36 , Number 4 , Spring 1997
Correction: In the last issue of the Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 3 (Winter 1997), I told you that I had a discussion with Douglas Mahnkey in regard to the death of deputy sheriff George Williams at the Taney County Jail, March 12, 1892. The mob removed the prisoner and hanged him on Swan Creek less than a half mile north of the jail. I said that I had discovered in one of the early Quarterlies that George Williams was buried in the Helphry Cemetery just about a mile north of Taneyville, and Douglas replied, "Yes, but his family came later and moved his body back to North Carolina where he came from." It is possible that I misunderstood Douglas, and I probably did, but let me give you some food for thought.
At the time of this event, there were two newspapers in Springfield, Mo., that described in detail many of the facts of this incident. One was the Springfield Daily Democrat and the other was the Springfield Leader. The Democrat published the first account of the death of John W. Brights wife on March 11, 1892 (vol. 2, #183, p. 1) by telegraph to the Democrat, Ozark, Mo., March 10, 1892. The next report by the Democrat was March 15 (vol. 2, #136, p.5). The Springfield Leader reported the incident on March11 (vol. X, #295, p. 3), then again on March 12 (vol. X, #296, p. 1), again on March 14 (vol. X, #298, p. 1) and on March 15 (#298, p. 1). This last one must be an error, however, this is not to say that neither of the papers published other accounts of this event, only that these are the only accounts that I have at this time.
The point is, to try to make it as accurate as pos sible according to the facts when something is published. Point number one: Was the name of the deputy sheriff who was killed by the mob at the jail George T. or George L. Williams? Well, both of the newspapers used the name George T. Even in an interview with Dr. S. A. Johnson of Springfield on March 14, 1892, Dr. Johnson told the Leader reporter that he was "well acquainted with the family of Deputy Geo. T. Williams, I was raised with Deputy Sheriff Williams in Louisville Kentucky and knew his family well." The Daily Democrat on March 15 in describing the events that occurred at the jail when Williams was shot, also said "George T. Williams of Taney County."
In the article that Douglas Mahnkey published in the Qzarks Mountaineer (Jan-Feb 1983) Douglas used the full name, George L. Williams, but also court testimony given by Dr. Breckenridge Johnson and Taney County Sheriff John L. Cook. In this article, the middle initial "L" appears eleven times, therefore, I have concluded that Douglas was correct since he worked from the court records and placed
trust in those primary documents.
The second point: Who was Dr. S. A. Johnson of Springfield, Mo., the source of the Springfield Leader interview of March 14? In checking Amy Johnson Millers The Pioneer Doctor in the Ozarks White River Country, the daughter of Dr. Cabel Breckenridge Johnson wrote, "Dr. Johnson was born on a plantation in McLean County, Ky., on January 24, 1856.
The plantation was the family home until about 1886 when they migrated to Springfield, Missouri, where his brother, Judge Arch A., and his sister Annie, still reside, "(still being c. 1947). "Dr. Johnson and his brother, Sam, studied medicine at Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Breck chose Forsyth as his field of practice while Dr. Sam was physician and surgeon at the Missouri State Asylum at Nevada. Later he opened a sanatorium at Springfield where he died." Millers book also revealed, "John C. Breckenridge Johnson, M.D., b. January 24, 1856, and died May 24, 1904, is buried in Maple Park Cemetery, 300 W Grand, Springfield, Mo., along side his brother, Dr. Samuel A. Johnson."
There is no question in my mind that Dr. B., Dr. Breck, John C. Breckenridge Johnson, and John Cabel Breckenridge Johnson, M.D. are the one and same person; therefore, I feel sure that Dr. S. A. Johnson, Dr. Sam Johnson, and Dr. Samuel A. Johnson are one and the same person. As Amy Miller said, they were brothers. It is certain that they came from Louisville, Ky., and that both knew deputy Williams as they grew up in that community together. It is the likely place where deputy Williams family lived and most probably, when his body was removed from the Helphry Cemetery, Louisville was the destination for interment, but a question still remains.
As to the death of Matilda, wife of John Bright: At the time of the event, three different versions were offered. One suggested that Matilda and the four children were locked inside the house and set afire by Bright which destroyed the house and family. However, both newspapers reported that death occurred by gun shots. It is a matter of fact that Matilda and the children did not die as a result of a house fire; rather Matilda died by gun shot. The four children, three girls and one boy, survived and each of them married according to the "Gideon Book," published in 1969.
The Springfield Daily Democrat reported that on the day of Williams murder and the hanging of John W Bright that a brother of Matildas, George Gideon, was in Forsyth all day. But Matilda did not have a brother George, rather it was her brother Burt (Joshua Burt Gideon), age 42 in 1892. There was never any evidence that Burt Gideon had anything to do with the lynching, however, I can imagine that he had an interest in the days event.
In hindsight, it appears that the newspapers were dependent on teamsters at the Springfield Wagon Yard and traveling salesmen for the initial accounts which had occurred. However, they soon had reporters at Forsyth and covered the story more accurately.
Douglas has always relied upon the record to support his writings and is to be commended for all the historical contributions he has made to this publication for many years. Great job Doug, and we thank you for it.
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