The Reason for This Series and a Tribute to a Friend

I never aspired to write anything about our local history. When we started this series in 2011, I had no interest in publishing and focused on research. The fun was in the search and chase. I had spent the decade before climbing around the stacks in the old Howell County courthouse vault where one of Missouri's most complete sets of county records, dating back to 1865, resides. I was content in the dust and grime, digging through court cases and administrative records. Yes, I was and am a nerdy history geek!
In 2003 a noted historian and author, John Bradbury, a Senior Archivist with the Western Missouri Historical Manuscript Collection on the MSU Rolla campus, and I edited and re-published William Monks' work, "A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas," initially published in 1907. It was rare then. Though dogeared, I had to sign my name in blood to photocopy a photocopy. It took six years for us to feel we had enough of a handle on Monks to write a balanced introduction that told the story from both sides. 
John and I were in weekly, often daily communication and regularly met to trade transcriptions and work up footnotes. The real burden of writing was on him, and I supplied tidbits of information gleaned from the Howell County Circuit Court criminal and court records. Monks was a lawyer and sued anyone he felt had done him wrong after the war. I called John one day when the book was near completion, and he had been struggling to assemble everything. I asked him how it was going, and he said, "If I could find that SOB Monks, I'd kill him myself!" John knew the trade and landed a publishing contract with the University of Arkansas Press. I knew nothing but was now co-author of a book. 
Not everyone was pleased we re-published Monks' book. By then, I was a regular Howell County Genealogical and Historical Society attendee and was asked to become a board member - because they needed a young guy. I was fifty at the time. When I excitedly told them about the forthcoming book, one of the elderly ladies said, "Well, why would you want to put out that old reprobate's book? My family all hated him!"
Another told the group, yes, my mother told me Mrs. Monks, who had a yard facing the road, always hung her quilts on wash day with the patterns facing the house because they were all stolen." The best story came from an individual who said their parent was volunteering in an early West Plains library when Colonel Monks came in with a copy of his book. She refused to put it on the shelf and used it as a doorstop. It was evident to John and me that the Civil War was not over in Howell County!
I first walked into John's office and archives in the mid-1990s, hoping to find something about the guerrilla war here in Howell County and along the Eleven Point River. He was located in the lower level of the Curtis Laws Wilson Library on what is now called the Missouri S&T campus. I was met with a smile and handshake and found that to be the case anytime I met John over the next three decades. 
I was in his office once complaining about a historian stretching the truth in some of his Civil War books. He was, and John knew it but refused to criticize another author. He smiled at me and said, "Until you write something more factual, he is the authority!" That sunk in over the years as he encouraged me to write about my findings. I learned my bookshelves of notebooks filled with source materials I was collecting were of little value without some interpretation in print. When the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Civil War rolled around, the Howell County News asked if I wanted to try an article or two. It became a bi-weekly feature, and considering I've written around twenty-five articles a year over the past twelve years that average about fifteen hundred words, which totals around four hundred fifty thousand words from a guy who didn't want to write. 
I received the devastating news two Sundays ago. John F. Bradbury, Jr., had passed away at his home in Rolla. He was two months younger than I, though I always regarded him as my senior. We last met a few months before in Houston just to catch up and were planning another trip about now. His obituary tells of some of his accomplishments:
"John F. Bradbury, Jr., longtime archivist, and director of the State Historical Society of Missouri's Rolla Research Center, died at home on Sunday, June 11, surrounded by family and friends. He was 70. A historian specializing in the Civil War period, John dedicated a distinguished career to studying and promoting the history of the Missouri Ozarks region, publishing over a hundred books, articles, and reviews. John's books and essays ranged over a broad span of time periods and subject matter—from a general history of Rolla to an account of Phelps County as the 1930s winter headquarters of the Russell Brothers Circus and a book-length study of the Civil War's origins in 1850s border conflicts along the Missouri state line."
John was one of the first to recognize the destruction of Howell County and South Central Missouri in comparison to the border counties on the Kansas border, which receive all the attention: 
"Apart from meticulous research and lapidary prose, John's work was characterized by a concentrated focus on the region where he grew up and lived most of his life, a place he thought was misunderstood, distinct from the deep south, the west, and the northeast, and due more study and attention than it receives."
John and I have been working on publishing a portion of the John J. Sitton diary for the past six or seven years. John was instrumental in getting the complete set of Sitton's journals from 1860 to 1880 on microfilm and added to the Rolla Research Center of the Missouri State Historical Society collection. Sitton was a Missouri State Guard and Confederate soldier for the entire war. Though the planned book centers on a year in the middle of the war, the other diaries detail Sitton's whole war experience, including being shot and captured, and left to die. His post-war diaries tell of life in Oregon County and farming in the 1870s and 1880s. The transcriptions of the entire set of journals John and I made will be given to the State Historical Society, Rolla office. 
"In 1980, John took a job as a manuscript specialist with the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at their newly created Rolla Research Center and worked there until his retirement in 2011, attaining the rank of Associate Director. After retirement, John was appointed Senior Fellow at the State Historical Society's Center for Missouri Studies, where he continued working on research projects. On the day prior to his death, John completed edits to the photo captions for his forthcoming book."
 "John F. Bradbury, Jr., was born October 24, 1952, in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, John F. Bradbury Sr., a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, was stationed during the Allied occupation. His mother, Jeanne Bradbury, was a homemaker. The family soon relocated to Rolla, where John's father was on post at Fort Leonard Wood and worked as an ROTC instructor at the Missouri School of Mines (shortly thereafter renamed the University of Missouri at Rolla; now Missouri S&T)."
In the Spring of 2020, John and I simultaneously landed in the hospital with heart problems, neither knowing the other was in the hospital. I received a couple of stents, but John's problems were more severe. He needed a bypass. COVID then made it difficult to visit each other.
My relationship with John was far from unique. He had dozens and more that considered him this kind of friend because he was that kind of guy. His co-workers describe a friendship with him that outlasted their professional relationship, and fellow writers across Missouri and the nation kept a correspondence with him. 
Every time over almost three decades, he shook my hand on meeting. He always addressed e-mails to me with a colon where I refused to use anything but a comma. Always professional, he was meticulous in his research and writing. Dr. Tom Lowry, who has written several books on the Civil War, wrote me at John's request for information on an Oregon County doctor who had been sentenced to death. He began his letter by stating, "John Bradbury, a prince among researchers, referred me to you." 
I never met John when he didn't have something in his hand to give me, usually photocopies of a good source he had found. I have a handful of musketoon bullets John discovered on the site of Monks' Civil War stockade in Licking he shared with me. He was always mailing me something to read.
John was always laughing. He had a funny story for every circumstance and loved to kid around. While working on Monks, we were in the habit of being a bit silly; I think to balance the brutality and heaviness of the guerrilla war we were studying. We were working on the time following the war that Monks led a band across the border into Arkansas, supposedly to suppress guerrilla activity. John was getting impatient with the progress of our publisher on getting some work done. He wrote, "If so-and-so doesn't get on with this, we may have to ride down there and burn his house down!" (Referring to the tactics of the people we were studying.) The problem was that John accidentally included the conversation's subject in his message. He quickly wrote a follow-up explaining we were just kidding with each other. John made work fun.
Locally John wrote a lot about Howell County. In Russ Cochran's West Plain's Gazette, you will find Howell Countians in the Civil War, Part Two: The Rolla Connection describing how Union troops used the terminus of the railroads at Rolla and Pilot Knob to flood Missouri with troops, often on their way across country to fights in Arkansas and south. He was the first to detail the massive refugee problem created by citizens of Howell and neighboring border counties northward to Rolla. His work in articles published in the Missouri Historical Review describes the armies occupying West Plains and the movement of the Union Armies of the Southwest and Southeast through our county. His books are available on Amazon and directly from his publishers. I encourage you to find and read them to understand the Civil War in southern Missouri better.
A favorite quote of John's from the movie "Outlaw Josey Wales" was when Clint Eastwood playing Josey, faced with overwhelming adversity, says, "We must endeavor to persevere." 
In tribute to John, a fellow employee at the archives wrote:
But for now I know that I just must,
Endeavor to Persevere,
Is it selfish of me to say,
"I want you to stay here!?"
I wish you didn't have to go away, I will miss you being here,
But I hope you'll find things just as interesting, once you get to, there.
I know I've left something out here. More than anything, I wanted to convey to my readers that if you enjoy reading my articles, you have John to thank. Because of him, I'm in the habit of writing regularly. It is flawed. I'm learning and always will be. Sometimes I'm wrong. But, as John said, I'm the authority until someone writes something more factual or better! Thank you, John. You will be remembered. To my mind comes a thought stolen from General Douglas McArthur with some modification. Something to the effect of, "Old historians never die; their life lives on in their work."
A private funeral service was held, and a public celebration of John's life will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, John's family requests that donations be made to the State Historical Society's Rolla Research Center in support of the long-term preservation and promotion of John's own archive there. Donations can be addressed to SHSMO Katie Seale at G3 Curtis Laws Wilson Library MST, Rolla, MO, 65409.
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