Reuben Cicero Claybourn
The Tenth Child of William Divine Claybourn
Twin to Joseph Monroe Claybourn
31 May 1854 - 13 March 1921 Biographical Sketch Note: Most of what follows was penned by Rose Marian Brown Williams, Reuben's granddaughter.
Reuben married at age 24 to Mary Ann Eldorado Williams on 24 January 1878 in Jefferson County, Illinois. They resided at various areas in Jefferson County, then at Kinmundy in Marion County, Ill., residing at the "Miliken" place and later next door west to the Catholic Church. Eventually they returned to Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and resided at (i) 525 S. 15th St. in February of 1907, (ii) 1924 W. College in July of 1907, and (iii) 917 N. 4th St. in July of 1909.
Reuben occasionally did construction work on residences and bridges, and was roadmaster several times. He also worked for a short time for the Mt. Vernon Car Mfg. Co., but he primarily engaged in farming, stock raising and dairying. At one time he pastured a herd of dairy cattle in the area which is now the Mt. Vernon City Park. He and his younger sons would rise in pre-dawn darkness to do the milking and then quickly deliver the milk via horse and wagon, door to door, with the milk being measured at the door into a pan, glass jar or any container the customer brought to the door.
Reuben was a small man and wore a thick drooping handlebar mustache. Harriette Threlkeld writes of him:
"He looked very much like his twin, and I can recall him and Aunt Mary very well. Their family and my grandfather's family were very close and visited often when the children were small, and I recall visiting in their home a number of times when the grandchildren would be home for a visit."He belonged to the Methodist Church, served as Sunday school superintendent at different times and as choir leader. All the family liked to sing, and several had good voices.
It is interesting to note that three Claybourn brothers married three Williams girls. The three girls are:
Grandma Claybourn was a pretty woman with blue eyes and brown curly hair and a temper hot enough to keep it curly. I didn't know her, of course, but Mom spoke of her, and according to those who knew them both, my Mom was very much like her, both in physical appearance and temperament. Grandma's bible was her law, her religious beliefs being strict and as vigorous as her temper; her morals unbending, her patience short with those who did not "bend." She believed vanity to be a sin equal to the more commonly acknowledged sins. My mother had pretty curly hair too, and Grandma would brush, comb and pull Mom's hair tightly into braid so that it could not curl. This to prevent vanity. Grandma was an excellent seamstress, making all the clothes for the family - including overalls for the boys. She worked very hard raising her large family - a stern disciplinarian - a good homemaker - a good mother.
In 1958 or 1959 "Aunt Lois and Uncle Vance" visited Kinmundy. They located an elderly lady who was a friend and neighbor of Mary's. They could barely remember her but she remembered them and remembered Mary well - and fondly. She told them that when and wherever there was trouble or sickness, Mary Claybourn was there. She would walk right in where there were contagious diseases, feared by others, and she never carried the diseases home to her own children. Mary Ann Eldorado Claybourn died at the age of 57 years old on 14 February 1914. The Mt. Vernon Register News carried these items for Monday, February 15th:
"MRS. R. C. CLAYBOURN DIED SUNDAY MORNING - Well known resident of Mt. Vernon passes away; leaves a husband and 10 children. Mrs. Mary E. Claybourn died at 1:10 Sunday morning at her home, 917 N. 4th St. She had been ill for some time. Mrs. Claybourn had resided in Mt. Vernon for some time and had many friends here who are grieved to learn of her death. She was 57 years of age. - - The body of Mrs. Claybourn was taken to Dix this morning where the funeral was held at the Methodist Church."From the newpaper the following day on Tuesday, February 16th:
"COME FROM PANAMA TO ATTEND FUNERAL - Two sons of Mrs. R. C. Claybourn, who died Sunday, sail from distant land for Mt. Vernon today. Noel and Verner Claybourn, two Mt. Vernon boys who have been working for some time in the Panama Canal Zone, sailed for home today. They will travel over 1000 miles by land and sea to be present at the burial of their mother. It was at first supposed that the boys would not be able to get away, and the funeral services of Mrs. Claybourn were held yesterday, Rev. Mr. McAdoo officiating. Later a message was received from the two sons in far distant Panama to the effect that they were coming. It is expected that they will reach Mt. Vernon early next week at which time the burial will take place. The two boys will sail by one of the fastest steamers from Panama today and expect to reach this country by the last of the week and take the quickest train from Mt. Vernon. The burial will take place at Dix."
Reuben and Mary's last home together was a small farm in Jefferson County, Illinois (on North 4th St.) at what was then the northeast edge of Mt. Vernon. It stood at the east end of Park Avenue and atop a big hill, facing west, and was always referred to as "the house on the hill." Park Avenue was the main street of the new Williams Park addition to Mt. Vernon. The Avenue veered around to the right of the big hill and curved into Fourth Street. The road to the house came straight up the hill from the Avenue for a short distance and made a wide swerve to the left into the barn lot, just missing the huge old tree which stood in the middle of the hill, about half way up. The barn was tucked in the side of the hill, level with the ground at the front and on high pilings at the back, lower down the slope.
Behind the barn and at the bottom of the hill ran Casey Fork Creek, a beautiful stream that wound its way around the hill and across the northeast section of the farm, banks shaded with willows and other lowland trees. (The same creek that ran through Wm. Divine Claybourn's farm some ten miles to the north.) Here lay the fertile pasture and the rich bottom land where corn was planted. Here heavy spring and fall rains caused Casey Fork, now muddy and violent, to reach beyond her banks, flooding the lowlands, but generously depositing her silt for the enrichment of the hospitable pasture land. These semi-annual escapades of Casey Fork would sometimes trap the horses and cattle on the far side of the pasture, and it was a difficult and somewhat dangerous task to lead the stock back through the high waters to the barn at feeding and milking time. In the summer Casey Fork was cool and gentle, her clear water and clean sandy bottom providing hours of wading and splashing fun though not deep enough for swimming.
The house was an unpretentious but comfortable white frame house which hugged the top of the hill and seemed almost a part of it. There was a porch across the front, and wooden scallops decorated the front gable end. The parlor and bedrooms were across the front, and back of them, forming the long stem of a "T" were three or four rooms, only one room wide, two of which apparently were added after the initial construction. Rose Marian Brown Williams writes: "I seem to remember the very back room was a kind of storage room and do not recall that it was ever used as a room of the house. Along the south side of this back section was a long porch in the center of which stood the cistern."
"It was in this house that my mother and dad were married, and here also I was born - in the front parlor bedroom. Some years later we too lived here in 'the house on the hill' for a short time. The tornado which struck Mt. Vernon on December 18, 1957, completely destroyed the house, and when I last saw it shortly thereafter, it was a mass of rubble and broken timbers, only the foundation and front steps remaining intact. None of the Claybourns lived there after 1920 or 1921, and I do not know who lived there or whether or not anyone was hurt when it was destroyed."
Reuben lived seven more years after his wife Mary's death. He lived some with his daughter Opal and their family, which included his granddaughter Rose. For a short time he operated a tiny grocery store in Mt. Vernon - a worn dark red frame building across the street from the Park Avenue Baptist Church - its stock consisting mostly of old fashioned candies, potatoes, sugar, flour, coal oil (kerosene), canned beans, matches and plug tobacco. He had living quarters in the back of the store but came to Rose's house two blocks away for his meals, "the house on the hill." Rose writes, "Each evening at suppertime my brother Brownie and I would watch him coming down the Avenue, never forgetting to bring a small brown paper bag of candies - horehound sticks, big starchy peppermints with XXX's on them, lemon drops, jaw breakers, peanut butter sticks and best of all licorice whips."
"Vividly do I remember the night he came for supper as usual and told us he was 'going away.' Mom cried and so did he. Perhaps they both had some premonition that he would not return. I pressed my face against the window and watched him go slowly down the big hill, now in darkness, guided by the feeble flickering light from his lantern. Although it was some days or weeks after that before he actually left, I cannot recall seeing him again or telling him goodbye."
Uncle Verner said of him, "I lived with my Dad in my youth and always felt great pride in seeing how much better or easier he did things than the men with whom he came in contact. His technique in such an apparently simple matter as felling a tree or loading the log, even of whetting an axe, was always to me a matter for wonder and admiration."
Rose writes: "Reuben Cicero Claybourn never put his roots down very deeply, and in trying to reconstruct the last years of his life, after his wife's death, I get a somewhat restless, aimless pattern - a prophetic and timely pattern, however - because of all his large family, only my mother, Opal, remained in Jefferson County, and only one son, Noel, in Illinois. All the rest pushed westward with America's final westward movement in the early 1920's. Only after World War II do we find the trend reversed and some of the later generations coming back east - at least one known lived in eastern Tennessee where our story of Ephraim and his son William Divine Claybourn begins. In his oldest son, Verner, was instilled a love and pride of family which prompted him for more than 50 years to fit together scattered pieces of that story, to faithfully keep detailed family records and to persistently seek out those deeper roots which we know are somewhere in Tennessee, Virginia and/or the Carolinas, and thence across the Atlantic."
She ends with this poignant reflection: "My Granddad Claybourn attained neither fame nor fortune, but he was a good man of simple tastes - a good father of a fine, large, normal, middle class American family, the kind of which writers speak as the 'backbone of America,' and I am proud to be among his descendants."