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~Murder and Revenge - The Story of Matilda Gideon and John Wesley Bright~




"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 mob.

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 Peace.

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.

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(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!

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~~Be sure to read the sensational news articles at the link below~~


Original 1892 news articles of the murder and hanging!: