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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 Cicero and Mary Ann Williams

Reuben Cicero Claybourn was born a twin on 31 May 1854, at his father’s home in Texico, Illinois (Jefferson County). He bore the nickname of “Bull” all his life, as explained in the sketch of his twin brother, “Bitts.” The twins were only nine years old when their mother died and eleven when their father married again.

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.

The Williams Girls

Mary Ann and her daughters. Front row: Opal Laurette. Second row (left to right): Ruby Myrtle & Beatrice Florence. Third row (left to right): Anna Lois, Ethel Belle, Mary Ann Eldorado Williams Claybourn, & Rosella Frances.

It is interesting to note that three Claybourn brothers married three Williams girls. The three girls are:

  1. Mary Ann Eldorado Williams (married Rueben Cicero Claybourn)
  2. Rose Ann Caledonia Williams (married Cashus M. Claybourn)
  3. Lavada Jane Florence Williams (married Charles F. Claybourn)

They were the daughters of Rev. James Jackson Williams (born in Bedford County, Tenn.) and Sophronia Jane Bryant, daughter of Nathaniel and Mary Ann (McGuire) Bryant of Knoxville, Tenn., and Jefferson County, Ill. Rev. Williams was a Baptist minister but later became a Methodist minister. He was the son of Moses Williams and Margaret Foster of Richmond, Virginia. Rose Marian Brown Williams writes this of Mary:

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.”

“The House on the Hill”

Reuben Cicero’s brood. Back row (left to right): Ruby Myrtle, James Verner Marvin, Ethel Belle, Harry D. Carl, Anna Lois and Noel Clyde. Front row (left to right): Rosella Frances, Wesley Vance, Reuben Cicero, Mary Ann Williams, Opal Laurette and Beatrice Florence.

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’s life after Mary

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.”

Reuben and Mary’s headstone at the Jordan Chapel Cemetery in Jefferson Co.

After leaving Illinois, Reuben lived for a while with his son Vance in Topeka, Kansas, and then went to his brother Cashus in Palacious, Texas, where he died on 13 March 1921. He and Mary Claybourn are buried at Jordan Chapel Cemetery, a short distance east of Dix, Illinois, near his twin, his parents, her parents, and numerous other close relatives.

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.”


  1. Rosella (“Rose”) Frances Claybourn was born on 16 December 1878, in Dix, Illinois. She married (1st) Jack Wooters on 27 December 1900, but Jack died nearly one year later on 18 September 1901. Rose married (2nd) Charles Marquard (born 20 Sept. 1864) on July 22, 1902. The couple lived in Texico, Kell and Mt. Vernon, all in Illinois. Rose was a milliner and had millinery shops in Kell and Mt. Vernon. They moved to a ranch in Montana in about 1919 and from there to Los Angeles in August of 1921. They owned adjoining city property to that of Rose’s cousin Iva and Frank Randol, and jointly with them owned a ranch in northern California. They had no children but took a lively interest in their nieces and nephews. “Uncle Charley” was a fine photographer, and it is to him that the family is indebted for its treasury of many, many family pictures. Rose died on 2 November 1961 in Los Angeles, California.
  2. Minnie Sophronia Claybourn was born on 12 June 1880 and died just over a year later on 31 August 1881. She is buried in Jordan Chapel Cemetery in Jefferson County, Illinois.
  3. James Verner Marvin Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  4. Ethel and Pleasant Ellsworth
    Ethel Belle Claybourn was born on 15 October 1883, near Dix, Illinois. She married Pleasant Ellsworth (born 26 October 1882) on 27 November 1907. (Pleasant would later marry Lola Hawkins, his cousin.) For a time Ethel and Pleasant operated a small country grocery store in Texico which also served as the post office. Later they lived on a farm a short distance west of Texico, across the C.&.E.I.R.R., up the hill and on the south side of the Dix-Texico road. Ethel was more plain in appearance than her sisters but had a kind of serene beauty with clear blue deep set eyes. She was kind, gentle, quiet and deeply religious. She inherited her mother’s compassion for others, and was struck down by the dreadful flu epidemic on 25 January 1919 after her selfless devotion in caring for others, family and friends, stricken with flu. Her funeral was small – many who would have been there were still bedridden, and others, whom she had nursed back to health, were afraid to come. She was buried in the little church yard at Antioch just across the road from her home, never in her short lifetime having been very many miles from the place of her birth. “Too good to live,” they said of her. Pleasant later dropped his first name to go by Ellison and married his first cousin Nola Belle Hawkins (1894-1954) on 15 October 1922. He died on 13 November 1954. He is buried with Nola in Antioch Cemetery.
  5. Beatrice Florence Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  6. Ruby Myrtle Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  7. Harry D. Carl Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  8. Anna Lois Claybourn was born on 22 March 1890. Anna worked for many years as a telephone operator in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and later in Los Angeles, California. After her mother’s death, she spent some time working in the Canal Zone, Panama, where her brothers Verner and Noel were, and later in Topeka, Kansas with her brother Vance. She then returned to Illinois when her sister Ethel died and then moved back to Kansas for another year. Vance was then transferred to Texas, and in January of 1920 she went to Los Angeles. In a letter written in 1949, she wrote, “I really did not know where I was going until I laid the cash on the line and said, ‘Ticket to Los Angeles, please.’ I was never satisfied any place until I came here.” She influenced several of her family to join her there. Roughly three years after moving to Los Angeles she married (1st) on 14 April 1923 to John (“Jack”) Mann (born 28 November 1890). They had no children, and Jack died on 13 March 1952. A year later on 4 March 1953, Anna married (2nd) Joseph Alvin LaVigne (born 14 April 1889), a longtime friend and neighbor. The couple lived at 12823 North Chandler Blvd. in North Hollywood, California. Joseph died on 22 September 1971. Anna had no children of her own but was a beloved aunt to her many nieces and nephews. She did many linen cut work table cloths for all of her nieces. Anna died on 16 December 1979 in Los Angeles.
  9. Noel Clyde Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  10. Opal Lauretta Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)
  11. Wesley Vance Claybourn (click name for separate biographical sketch)