Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

W. S. Norton-Killer of Jake Killian

The current issue of Wild West Magazine contains an article of mine about Jake Killian of Granby, Missouri, and his notorious family, and my Ozarks' Gunfights book contains a chapter about the same subject that is similar to the article. I don't have anything else to say about Jake and his family right now, but I would like to add a few words about William S. Norton, the man who ended up killing Jake in the spring of 1878 at Empire City, Kansas (now part of Galena), because Norton was something of a notorious character in his own right.
Norton and Killian were members of the same unit during the Civil War, and the two men got into a violent argument over a card game during the latter part of the war. They grappled over Norton's gun, but Norton managed to turn the gun toward Killian and shot him in the face, blinding him in one eye. Killian swore revenge, a mistake that eventually cost him his life.
After the war, Norton lived in Dallas County, Missouri, awhile but came to Joplin soon after lead was discovered and the town was established in the early 1870s. He served briefly as a constable or deputy constable and became embroiled in an 1874 dispute in Joplin when he was appointed city marshal after the sitting marshal was ousted by the city council. The two men feuded awhile before the incumbent went to court and regained his office. Norton hung around Joplin a few more years and was reported to have killed at least one or two men in cases that were ruled self defense.
Shortly after lead was discovered on Short Creek in southeast Kansas in 1877, Norton moved to the booming new lead town of Empire City. He killed Killian in March of 1878 when the latter came looking for him. Although this killing, like the previous ones, was ruled self defense (primarily because Killian had a notorious reputation and had stalked Norton), it was actually a clear case of murder. Killian was not even armed at the time Norton gunned him down.
Norton later ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Cherokee County. Maybe the good folks of southeast Kansas wanted someone for their chief law enforcement officer who was a little more deliberate in the use of firearms than Bill Norton.

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