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Bilyeu Meadows Gunfight

Bilyeu Meadows Gunfight

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Published by Dave Muckey
Bilyeu - Meadows Gunfight
Bilyeu - Meadows Gunfight

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Published by: Dave Muckey on Jul 19, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A TRAGIC MORNING ON BULL CREEKTaken from "Tales of the Bull Creek Country" by John H. Mitchell
Of the many gun fights that occurred in the Bull Creek Country, one of the bloodiest tookplace the 28th of November 1898. On that late fall day a dispute over a line fencebetween the Meadows and the Bilyeu families resulted in a pitched battle. Three mendied that day and the events leading up to that tragedy, the accounts of what happenedand the after effects are well worth recounting here.The Meadows family was among the pioneer settlers of the Bull Creek Country. Theytraced their ancestry back to Israel Meadows who was born in Virginia and served in theRevolutionary War. Israel had a son, William, who moved to Kentucky and later toMissouri. One of William's sons was Alexander Meadows, a Civil War soldier and knownas 'Old Bob'. This was to distinguish him from his son, Alexander, who was called'Young Bob' or 'Bobby'. Another of Old Bob's sons was John Sanvern, nicknamed 'Bud'.Bud is one of the principal characters of this story.Like the Meadows, the Bilyeus were also early settlers in the area. Of French descent,the Bilyeus came to America to the Dutch colony at what is now New York. The branchof the family we are concerned with migrated to Tennessee and from there Isaac Bilyeumoved to Missouri. Isaac's son, John Witten Bilyeu, settled on the Old Wilderness Roadnear Spokane, Missouri, and one of his sons was Steve, also a main character in theseacts. At the time of the battle, Steve was 52 years old; he was a prominent farmer andhad served as a constable in Christian County.Steve Bilyeu and Bud Meadows owned adjoining farms on the west side of Bull Creek atthe mouth of Dry Hollow. They had built a line fence separating their farms and hadentered into an agreement as to the upkeep. As the years passed, the fencedeteriorated and arguments arose over who was not keeping the agreement on repairs.Meadows served notice on Bilyeu that he was dissolving the partnership and wouldremove his part of the fence rails. This action Steve said he would not allow. Apparentlythere were numerous confrontations between the two factions and Pete Bilyeu, Steve'sson, reportedly took delight in heaping verbal abuse on Meadows. On occasions Petehad threatened Bud and forced him to perform degrading acts. Once Bud was made tobite the muzzle of a cocked rifle that Pete was holding.In those days, it was the practice of the County Road Department to permit thetaxpayers to work out their tax bills by repairing the county roads. Such work was under way in the fall of 1898 and the work crew included both the Bilyeus and Bud Meadows.Due to the friction between the families, Bud requested to be allowed to work at adifferent location so he would not encounter the Bilyeus.When Pete Bilyeu learned of Bud's request, he became angry and threatened Bud with apistol and compelled him to crawl on the ground and perform other demeaning acts. MattStevenson, who witnessed the incident, told Pete he was making a serious mistake."That man will kill you for what you made him do," Matt warned Pete. "I saw it in hiseyes." Pete scoffed at the warning, saying Meadows didn't have the nerve to kill anyone.But Matt recalled later, "Within three weeks, I helped lay Pete Bilyeu out."
Some ten days prior to the fight the Bilyeus came upon Meadows as he was movingsome of the rails from the fence in dispute. Once again, the Bilyeus were armed andMeadows was not, so Bud was compelled to retreat from the scene. But both sides knewthe issue was not settled and there was soon to be a climax.Bud Meadows was a dangerous man. He was thirty years old and as described after theshooting, was of a calm and composed manner. Despite his quiet attitude he was not aman to be trifled with and certainly not one to be taken lightly.Bud owned a Winchester rifle that had a history all its own. The rifle belonged to IkeLewis, leader of the Bald Knobber raiders who had stormed the jail at Forsyth, killeddeputy Williams when he resisted and had taken John Wes Bright from the jail andhanged him to a tree across Swan Creek. Ike was killed later at a dance on Bear Creekwhere he had gone to get his daughter. Attacked by several men, Ike put up a terriblefight until the weight of numbers overpowered him. As was said later, "They finallywhittled old Ike down." But that is another story and except for the rifle, has no relationhere. Another of the main characters was Frank Tabor. Tabor had married a daughter of SteveBilyeu but there was an estrangement in the family and Frances Tabor had not been inher father's house for a long time. This probably was one reason for the Tabors sidingwith Meadows in the fight. At one meeting at the fence, Meadows and Tabor had forcedthe Bilyeus to back off and as the Bilyeus left it was reported Tabor climbed the fenceand crowed like a rooster to express his derision at the Bilyeus’ retreat.Frank Tabor was thirty years old-a thin and wiry man. His dark complexion bespoke of apossible Indian ancestor. The Tabors were early settlers in Taney County, migratingfrom Kentucky. Tabor was a nervous sort of fellow and some say he was the realinstigator of the trouble -- keeping the feud alive by bearing tales from one side to theother. Some twenty years later, Tabor met his death not far from the site of this tragedyand at the hands of other Bilyeus.That there was trouble brewing between he two factions was well known around the BullCreek Country and it was evident there would soon be a showdown. On the previousSunday, the preacher in one of the local churches had taken note of the situation andhad appealed to the reason and good judgment of all concerned to arrange a peacefulsettlement. But reason did not prevail in the minds of passionate men and so the stagewas set that fatal Monday morning for the next act in the tragic drama.When the two factions appeared on the field that morning, there were witnesses aplenty.In the ensuing argument there was at first much shouting and fierce threats. Then itappeared a settlement might have been reached and bloodshed would be avoided. Butthen something went wrong -- perhaps somebody made a wrong move or misjudged amove by someone else. A shot rang out, and then the firing became general and did notcease until there was a victor and a vanquished.Who fired first and why did that first shot get touched off? The survivors and witnessesall gave different versions, and in truth, in the confusion of the battle to have beenotherwise would have been odd indeed. We will try to give the most lucid account fromboth sides and the true facts will probably lie somewhere in between.
Following is the account given by Bud Meadows to a reporter of the Springfield Leader-Democrat and published in the 30 November 1898 issue of that paper. This account wasgiven the day after the fight and no doubt explains the Meadows' version in clearer detailthat later accounts, even those given in court."I married a daughter of Hosea Bilyeu who is a first cousin of Steve Bilyeu, andlive on a farm adjoining Steve and his family. A number of years ago, Steve and Iagreed to keep up a line fence between our farms. I was to furnish the rails andSteve was to stake and rider it. About a year ago I went to Steve and told him hispart was in bad condition and asked him to fix it, but he paid no attention to thematter.Several months later I again called his attention to the condition of the fence, andhe spoke very short to me. I then made up my mind to compel him to fix thefence and went to Ozark where I consulted attorney J.C. West, who advised meto serve a written notice on Steve that I would hereafter keep up my half of thefence and would remove my rails from the half I was not to keep up. I served thisnotice on Steve and he was mad.Several weeks ago I started to remove the rails and went to Hosea Bilyeu, mywife's father, and asked him and his son, Martin, also Frank Tabor, and mybrother Bob, who had married my wife's sister, to come over and help meMonday. They consented and were at my home early Monday morning. We wentto the field without any guns and started to remove the rails.In a short time we saw Steve and his sons, Pete, age 26 years, and Jim, age 16years, come with guns. I went to the house and got my Winchester and Hosea'sand Martin's pistols, and my brother Bob's shotgun. When I returned, Steve toldme I could not remove the rails where they were working until another time, but if necessary I would replevin the rails.We started to walk away and had gone but a short distance when somebodyyelled to me to look out, and I turned instantly and saw Steve aiming his shotgunat me, and he fired. He missed his mark and I threw my Winchester to myshoulder and fired at Steve but missed him. I fired again and killed him instantly.I saw Mrs. Bilyeu, Steve's wife, coming toward me but did not take any further notice of her. Pete Bilyeu fired at Bob Meadows who responded -- both menmissing. Pete was taking aim to fire again when I shot him, killing him instantly.Mrs. Bilyeu attacked me at my back with a butcher knife and slashed meviciously half a dozen times. I saw Jim Bilyeu with a revolver in his hand aimingat me but he was afraid to shoot as he might hit his mother. He called to hismother to get away and I realized I would get shot unless I acted quickly. By thistime Mrs. Bilyeu was at my throat and I threw the Winchester down over her shoulder and aiming at Jim who was only six feet distant, fired. The aim was trueand he dropped dead.I succeeded in getting away from Mrs. Bilyeu, who was like a wild animal. Shewent to her husband and boys and found them dead and her sorrow was great.

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MrPlutodog added this note
Excellent story. Thanks, Muck!

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