| || Notes for Nancy Minerva GIDEON:|
~Murder and Revenge - The Story of Matilda Gideon and John Wesley
"It was a dark and stormy night....."
....on March 1, 1892, when John Wesley Bright, insanely jealous of his
lovely wife Matilda Gideon being a little too friendly with their
neighbor, Mr. Jones, shot her in the back and left her dead outside
their Taney County cabin. His daughter, oldest of their four small
children, ran for help to the neighbors, and soon a posse was after
Bright. The children went to stay with their aunt Nancy Minerva Gideon
and her husband, Isaiah Stewart.
Bright was soon captured and jailed on murder charges, and held in the
Forsyth jail. Forsyth, home to a large faction of the "Bald Knobbers"
vigilantes of the post-civil war Ozarks, didn't take too kindly to one
of their own women being treated in such a rude fashion. Why, Matilda's
uncle, J.J. Gideon, had been a star defensive attorney for the Bald
Knobbers in one of their many trials for hanging no-count ruffians like
Bright. So, the cards were stacked somewhat against the hapless Mr.
Bright as he sat awaiting trial in the flimsy Taney lockup.
On March 12, after the first day of hearings, a tension could be felt in
Taney. Men stood on street corners, talking in hushed tones. The local
saloon was doing a brisk business. After several hours of drinking, a
group of men appeared in front of the jail and began pounding on the
locked door with a sledgehammer. Bright, alone inside the jail, must
have been feeling a little concerned about then.
Sheriff Cook and Deputy Williams watched from across the street. Rumor
has it that Cook was himself a Bald Knobber, and he did nothing to stop
the mob. Finally, Deputy Williams decided to put an end to the uprising.
Pushing through the crowd, he blocked the door of the jail and ordered
the men to go home.
In the heat of the moment, two shots rang out from the crowd, and Deputy
Williams fell dead on the ground. Now, Bright was getting *real*
nervous. Two men crossed the street to the town well, and cut the rope
from the bucket. It was soon tied around Bright's neck as he was dragged
from the cell. He was hoisted onto a horse behind another rider and the
mob headed for the big oak tree in the cemetery. They threw the rope
over a sturdy branch, and soon John Wesley Bright paid the price for
shooting Matilda Gideon in the back.
Sheriff Cook, wanting to make an example of Bright, threw his body on
the steps to the Taney Courthouse and left it there, the rope still
around his neck, for days. Wild hogs dined on the murderer's corpse.
While the local citizenry was largely pleased with Bright's demise, the
murder of Deputy Williams left the good people of Forsyth a tad uneasy.
The Governor of Missouri offered a reward for the capture of the lynch
Arrested for taking part in the murders were cousins of Matilda Gideon:
Abraham Lincoln "Link" Weatherman, Samuel W. Weatherman, Martin
Weatherman, Luther Keithley, and James Stewart, along with about a dozen
other men. George Friend, at the center of the controversy, turned
state's evidence and agreed to testify against the others. Many were
prominent citizens of Forsyth, including Link Weatherman, Justice of the
In a bizzarre incident, as the prisoners were transported to a trial
hearing in an open wagon,they were all unshackled and given loaded guns
to protect themselves in case of an attack by Bright's relatives. No
attack occurred, and none of the prisoners attempted an escape. Were
they perhaps confident of an acquital?
Sheriff Cook selected the jurors for the trial, most of whom were Bald
Knobbers. At this point, the prosecuting attorney dropped the charges
against George Friend, since he had promised to testify against the
others. Friend immediately refused to testify, so the prosecutor dropped
all charges against the others.
John Wesley Bright had signed over all his property to his brother-in-
law, Isaiah Stewart, who in turn agreed to post his bail money...which,
of course, Bright never got a chance to use. (Cousin James Stewart was
part of the Lynch Mob.) Stewart transferred the property to the names of
the four young orphaned children of Matilda Gideon and John Wesley
Bright. Stewart and Nancy Minerva Gideon raised the four children.
This was the final incident in the long history of the Bald Knobbers,
and was decisive in ending the midnight rides of the infamous vigilantes
of the Ozarks.
(Most of this story is summarized from the book, "Bald Knobbers...
Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier", by Mary Hartman and Elmo Ingentron.
It is must reading for anyone interested in the history of Taney County,
Missouri and surrounding areas. It can be ordered directly from
Amazon.com. Also, special thanks to Woody Franklin, Audie Canida, and
Debbie Gordon for the information they provided.)
If you have any information from your Gideon ancestors about this deadly
tale, or pictures of those involved, please email me!
~Original News Articles on the Murder of Matilda Gideon and the Hanging
of John Wesley Bright~
The following news accounts from 1892 were transcribed and submitted by
Gideon researcher Woody Franklin. Sincere thanks for her efforts in
making this available.
The Springfield Leader March 11, 1892 Vol. X #295 pg. 3
BULLET THROUGH HER HEART,
Wife of John Wesley Bright of Taney County Shot
The Lifeless Body of the Woman Found at the Spring- Husband the Supposed
A number of persons from Taney County were in the city last night and
rumors of the murder of Mrs. John Wesley Bright, who lived on Roark
Creek, about 15 miles northwest of Forsyth, was the subject of much
comment, though no exact details of the alleged crime could be learned
as these teamsters had left home early in the week.
It was not definitely known that the woman had been killed, the lifeless
body being found at the spring last Sunday morning pierced through the
heart with a bullet.
Roark, one of the small mountain tributaries of White River flows
through the rugged section of the western border of Taney Co. The Bear
Creek road running from Highlandville through to Harrison crosses the
table land west of the Roark rivulet on which the Bright family resided.
This section of Taney Co. is remote from railroads and daily mails and
news from its pine woods reaches the outside world slowly.
When the woman was found dead suspicion at once rested on the husband of
the deceased as the probable murderer. Just what circumstances led to
this belief could not be learned from fragmentary rumor of the tragedy.
It was reported, however, that Bright had been arrested on the charge of
murder and lodged in the new Forsyth jail, a substantial stone building
from which no criminal has yet escaped.
The Brights are a numerous family living in the southern part of
Christian and the northern and western sections of Taney counties. The
father of John Wesley Bright was a well to do farmer of Bull Creek a few
years ago till trouble among his boys involved the old man in heavy
losses incurred in their defense in courts.
Andy Bright, a brother of the alleged (uxorcide), was a conspicuous
witness in the trial of the Peyton boys for the murder of the infant
child of Bub Mathis several years ago, a crime so well remembered by all
the people of Christian and Taney counties.
The Springfield Leader March 12,1892 Vol. X #296 pg. 1
THE TANEY COUNTY MURDER
More Details About the Killing of Mrs. Bright
Later reports from the Taney county murder confirm the first rumor that
John Wesley Bright has been caught and lodged in the Forsyth Jail on the
charge of killing his wife. The alleged murderer was hunted down by a
party of about sixty armed men. Mrs. Bright's maiden name was Gideon, a
relative of the family so well known in Christian and Greene counties.
When Mrs. Bright started to the spring just before her death, Bright
took his gun and left the house. Soon the children heard a shot in the
direction of the spring. Bright came back to the house in a few minutes
and told the children that he had been shot at by someone at the spring.
He warned the children not to go near the spring as they might get hurt.
The man then filled his pockets with eggs, took his gun and left the
After a while, the children went to the spring and found their mother
dead. They gave the alarm and the neighbors gathered in and began the
search for the suspected murderer.
The Springfield Leader March 14, 1892 Vol. X #298 pg.1
Lynchers Hang John Bright, the Taney County Murderer. Deputy Sheriff
Williams Shot Down While Resisting the Mob. The Preliminary Trial Was
Going on When the Mob Came After the Man.
Mob law, once the terror of the White River region, has again resumed
sway in Taney county and John Wesley Bright, the alleged wife murderer,
is now beyond the jurisdiction of all human courts. The work was done
quickly and thoroughly as such things are always executed at Forsyth.
But the mob did more than hang Bright and avenge the death of his wife
who was shot in the lonely pine forests of the Roark wilderness. Between
the doomed prisoner and the vengeful agents of Judge Lynch stood a brave
and conscientious officer, Deputy Sheriff Geo. T. Williams He would not
yield to the demands of the mob and sought to protect Bright from the
fury of the vigilance committee. But the mob would not be cheated of
The heroic deputy was shot down and over his bleeding corpse the terror
stricken prisoner was dragged to the rude gallows from which his
lifeless body soon hung.
It was last Saturday that the people of Taney assembled at Forsyth to
attend the preliminary trial of John Wesley Bright charged with
murdering his wife about a week ago. The crime was revolting, the
circumstances pointing to the guilt of the prisoner convincing. On
Sunday morning, March 6 the report of a gun vibrated through the pine
hills of Roark, a small tributary of White river that flows along the
northwestern border of Taney county. This shot was fired near John
Wesley Bright's spring. But a few minutes before Mrs. Bright had gone to
the spring after a bucket of water. The woman's husband left the house
with his gun a short time after the woman's departure. A number of small
children constituting the rest of the family at the house. They heard
the report of the gun in the direction of the spring. Soon the father
came back to the house and told the children that some one had shot at
him down at the spring. "Don't go near the spring children, you might
get hurt," were the strange words of the man as he hastily prepared to
leave the house. The children watched their father as he went about the
house filling his pockets with eggs and other articles of food. He had
his gun and ammunition still and the little ones wondered what strange
mission could call their father from home so suddenly on a Sunday
morning. The report of the gun, the prolonged absence of their mother
and the mysterious words, "Don't go near the spring" filled the minds of
the children with shuddering terror. What could all strange events mean?
Why did not mother return from the spring? Without explaining his
strange conduct the man left the house and the children looked at one
another first in mute alarm.
Then they began to seek an explanation of the horrid mystery. They
thought of the warning given them by their father, " Don't go near the
spring", but thither the little ones soon ran and the awful tragedy was
revealed. There lay the lifeless body of their mother, her heart pierced
with a bullet. Then the report of the gun, the father's "Don't go near
the spring," his hasty departure from the house, all the strange events
of the morning began to assume in the minds of three motherless children
the coherence of an awful story. Father had murdered mother and left the
little ones to discover the terrible crime.
The children gave the cry of alarm to their neighbors. The farmers and
their wives hurried to the scene of the tragedy. The gathering crowd saw
the body of the murdered woman and heard the story of the children.
Quickly a party of pursuers took the trail of the fugitive uxorcide. At
each mountain pass the party of hunters received new recruits. Soon the
woods were full of armed men on horse back and on foot armed with
Winchester rifles, shot guns and revolvers, bent on capturing the
murderer at whatever cost. The pursuit was swift and sure. The country
was alive with enraged men. Evergathering crowd saw the body of the
murdered woman and heard the story of the children. Quickly a party of
pursuers took the trail of the fugitive uxorcide. At each mountain pass
the party of hunters received new recruits. Soon the woods were full of
armed men on horse back and on foot armed with Winchester rifles, shot
guns and revolvers, bent on capturing
The news of the crime spread all over the county. On Saturday a crowd of
unusual size gathered at Forsyth to hear the preliminary trial of
Bright. The expression of vengeance was clearly written on the faces of
many of the citizens of the county who remained in town all day. Deputy
Sheriff George T. Williams had the prisoner in charge. Mr. Williams was
a brave young man from Louisville, Kentucky, who had been in Taney
county only a few years. He had been deputy sheriff since the election
of J.L. Cook, the second term. At dusk the town became quiet, and some
persons hoped the storm cloud of vengeance had vanished and the law
would be allowed to deal out justice to the alleged murder. But this
feeling of security was soon to be rudely displaced by the presence of a
At nine o'clock armed men disguised beyond recognition appeared in all
parts of town. They moved quickly toward the jail under the direction of
conspicuous leaders and demanded possession of the prisoner, John
Bright, the alleged wife murderer. Deputy Sheriff Williams refused to
surrender the prisoner to the mob. The crowd surged around the officer
and sought to compel him to yield to their demands. Williams was firm in
his adherence to the line of duty and withstood bravely the mob. While
the deputy was thus defending so nobly the life of his prisoner, the mob
shot him down and dragged Bright away to the old grave yard near the
town. Here the doomed man was quickly hanged to a tree. When life was
extinct in the body of the suspended victim, a pistol shot from the
leader of the mob gave the signal to disperse and the crowd disappeared.
No one in the mob was recognized.
John Bright is the third man executed by Judge Lynch in Taney county,
while Forsyth has never witnessed a legal hanging. In the Spring of 1886
George and Tubal Taylor, two brothers were lynched by the Bald Knobbers
for shooting Mr. T.J. Dickison and wife, merchants of Taney City. The
shooting resulted from the refusal of Dickison to sell the boys a pair
of boots on credit. The merchant and his wife were not dangerously hurt
by the shots received, but the young outlaws failed to get the benefit
of their erring aim, and met the terrible vengeance of the Bald Knobber
legions then just organized. This was the first work of the secret
brotherhood that afterwards gave the White River country such a name of
terror. Beginning with the Taylor boys three lynchings and eight or nine
other homicides have occurred in Taney county up to the present hour.
WHO WILLIAMS IS
Dr. S.A. Johnson, of this city, is well acquainted with the family of
Deputy Sheriff Geo. T. Williams, who so gallantly met his death in
defense of the laws of Missouri. Dr. Johnson said to a Leader reporter
this morning "I was raised with Deputy Sheriff Williams in Louisville
and know his family well. He was a sober, industrious young man and very
courageous. He could always be relied upon to do his duty. He was well
educated and of a literary turn. He has hosts of friends wherever known
who will be greatly grieved at his sorrowful end."
The Springfield Leader March 15,1892 #298 pg.1
TANEY COUNTY MURDER
Gov. Francis will send militia there if necessary.
St. Louis March 15- Gov. Francis has taken official notice of the Taney
county Missouri outlawry and has ordered the sheriff to summon a posse
sufficient to arrest and hold all concerned in the murder of Deputy
Sheriff Williams and the lynching of Bright Saturday last. The governor
says if the sheriff is unable to get a posse, he will send State aid.
There is much excitement in Southwest Missouri and more blood shed will
Springfield Daily Democrat March 11,1892 Vol.2 #183 pg. 1
MURDERED HIS WIFE John Bright of Taney County Takes His Wife's Life in a
Cowardly Manner (By telegraph to the Democrat)
Ozark, Mo. March 10- News reached here today that John Bright living in
Taney county shot and killed his wife early this week. Bright sent his
wife to the spring after water, then got his revolver and followed her.
Coming upon her, he shot her through the head, killing her. Bright fled.
A posse is after him. Judge Lynch will preside if the murderer is
Springfield Daily Democrat March 15.1892 Vol. 2 # 186 pg. 5
JOHN BRIGHT, THE TANEY COUNTY UXORCIDE, HUNG BY A MOB.
Deputy Sheriff Williams Shot Down for Offering Resistence. Various
Theories of the Composition of the Mob- Great Indignation.
A lynching and a murder are added to the list of Taney county's crimes.
Reports of the lynching of John Wesley Bright at Forsyth last Saturday
and the murder of Deputy Sheriff Geo. T. Williams, by the same mob, were
confirmed yesterday. Bright, it will be remembered, murdered his wife
Sunday March 6th under peculiar circumstances. Monday the searchers who
had turned out to hunt him by the hundreds after the revolting crime,
found him in the woods near his home and he was taken to the Forsyth
jail. Threats of lynching had been heard through the week but few
regarded them as serious. Saturday, it was noticed that an unusual
number of drunken men were in the streets of Taney's county seat and
hints of lynching were more frequent. Deputy Sheriff Williams had said
in conversation that he would resist any such attempt with his life and
this remark is the only explanation of his uncalled for murder.
Last evening a reporter from the Democrat received the following story
of the crime from a traveling man who had just arrived from Forsyth: At.
9 o'clock Saturday night a small body of men suddenly appeared at the
jail door and demanded admittance. Some claim the crowd numbered twelve
and some there were fourteen of them. Williams was outside the jail at
the time, and planting himself on the doorstep, fearlessly replied, "You
can only get Bright by crossing over my dead body." The accounts at
hand, say no one spoke a word in answer, but a single shot was fired and
the next moment the brave officer was lying a dead man, shot through the
The mob was supplied with hammers and crowbars and speedily broke
through bolts and bars until the victim they sought was reached.
Bright was brutally seized, hustled to a tree near by and hung without
ceremony. Sheriff Cook and others are said to have been near by when
Williams was shot, but taking warning from his fate offered no
resistance. The mob disappeared from whence they came with no effort
made to intercept them.
Who composed the lynching gang is a mystery. One report is that they
came from Christian county, another is that they were close neighbors of
the Brights who came to avenge the horrible crime of the uxorcide. Some
say that the masked men were Bald Knobbers who took this opportunity to
kill Bright, who was an anti-knobber. In support of this theory it is
said that a former Bright was killed by the hands of Knobbers.
The shooting of Williams seems to have been entirely unnecessary. An
examination of his person after his death, it is said, proved that he
carried no weapons. Why the mob did not first attempt to seize him and
put him aside with their superior force is hard to explain, unless the
heads of the mob were turned by liquor or they wereproved that he
carried no weapons. Why the mob did not first attempt to seize him and
put him aside with their superior force is hard to explain, unless the
heads of the mob were turned by liquor or they were evening up with him
for some unknown reason. Williams was a comparative
The Coroner's inquest held yesterday developed no explanation of the
affair besides the customary "by parties unknown." There is said to be
just indignation at the rash shot which killed Williams, and if the
participants are ferreted out they may meet a like fate.
After the above was written the following account which corrects the
former in several particulars came from a correspondent of the Democrat
Forsyth, Taney county, Mo. March 12- Tonight about 10 o'clock John W.
Bright, a man who murdered his wife in this county on Sunday, the 6th
inst., on Roark Creek in the west part of this county, was taken from
the county jail here by a mob from that region and hanged to a tree
about one half mile north of town.
Last Sunday morning Bright's wife started from her house to the spring
to get a pail of water and on her return from the spring was shot and
killed by her husband. The preliminary trial commenced here today before
Esquire W.R.Cox, but the defense took a change of venue, causing a delay
of several hours, when the case was changed to Esquire W.H.Jones. Two
witnesses were examined this afternoon on behalf of the State and gave
very damaging testimony against the defendant, which pointed closely to
his guilt. George Gideon, brother of the murdered woman, was in town all
day and was frequently seen conversing with small squads of men on the
public square until a suspicion was aroused among the inhabitants of the
town long before night that Judge Lynch would likely terminate the case
before Monday morning, the time to which the case was adjourned by Judge
About 10 o'clock some thirty or forty persons on horseback rode into
town from the north and surrounded the jail. Deputy Sheriff George T.
Williams rushed out to the jail and stationed himself in front and
asserted that he recognized the leader of the mob and demanded that they
disperse. At the same time he fired one shot into the crowd, but
fortunately no one was hurt. Immediately after the shot was fired by
Williams some in the crowd retaliated by firing two shots back in rapid
succession, the first of which shots took effect just under the left arm
of Williams and ranged upward, passing through the heart and causing
death almost instantly. Williams was heard to make the remark just a few
minutes previous to the arrival of the mob that it was a scheme of
McConley and Taylor, attorneys, to take Bright out of jail and hang him
and that he intended to bluff them in their undertaking if they
attempted to carry out their plans. But some one of the crowd was too
quick for him and tonight there is a double corpse lying in the town
awaiting a coroner's inquest.