Missouri and Ozarks History

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

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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.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Murder of John Marshal

During the frontier and Old West days of America, any time young men, separated from the mollifying effects of domestic life, gathered in relatively large numbers, there was apt to be violence, or at least a disproportionate amount of crime was committed by such individuals. This is still true today to some extent, of course, but it seems there was a higher percentage of jobs back in those days that attracted young, unattached men in large numbers--soldiering, mining, punching cattle, building railroads, lumbering, and so forth.
An example of what I'm talking about was the murder of John Marshal in the fall of 1869 by James Hagget and Thomas Carroll at a saloon in eastern Greene County, Missouri, on the line of the South Pacific Railroad, which was then being built to Springfield from Rolla. (The railroad would reach Springfield the following spring.) All three men were described as "railroad hands," and the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot opined that the crime appeared to be a "brutal murder without any provocation whatever."
The few details of the killing available in the days immediately after the incident were provided by a witness named Michael Donovan, who himself was a railroad worker and was present at the scene during most of the affray. Donovan told a coroner's jury that on the evening of Friday, November 26, Hagget, Thomas Carroll, and John Carroll went to the saloon, located about a mile and a half from the railroad contractor's office, to retrieve a revolver that Hagget had pawned with the saloonkeeper. Donovan went part of the way with the three but stopped at a boarding house (where he apparently had his quarters) before following the other three men to the saloon. When he got there, the saloonkeeper, a man named James Topin, was just opening the door for Hagget and the two Carrolls, and all four of the railroad hands entered the saloon together. Hagget announced that he had the money to redeem his pistol, ordered whiskey about the same time, and paid for both the whiskey and the revolver, which was turned over to him. The men, particularly Hagget, apparently started slugging down the drinks at a rapid pace. They had been there about twenty minutes, according to Donovan, when John Marshal showed up.
Soon Thomas Carroll and Marshal got into an argument about some money that Johnson had lost on the Iron Mountain Road. (Not clear whether this means literally that he dropped or otherwise lost the money on or near the road bed or simply that he lost it while he was helping build the Iron Mountain Road.) When Johnson grew irritated and told Carroll he didn't want to hear anymore about it, Carroll got up and knocked Johnson to the floor. Johnson got back up and asked Carroll why he had knocked him down, adding that he didn't know why Carroll would treat him in such a manner because he thought they were friends. Carroll replied that if Johnson didn't shut up, he would knock him down again. "May be you could not do it," Johnson challenged.
At this point, Hagget joined the fray. Stepping over with his revolver drawn, he told Johnson that if Carroll couldn't do it, maybe there was somebody else who could. Realizing the perilous situation he faced, Johnson conciliated, allowing that, as long as Hagget held a revolver, he probably could do it. The quarrel temporarily abated at this point, and the four men went back to drinking. When the saloonkeeper suggested that they had had enough, Hagget promised to leave after one more round, and Topin gave in, supplying the additional drinks.
When Hagget and the Carrolls finished what were to be their final drinks, Hagget ordered yet another round, and Topin refused to serve them at first. Both Hagget and Thomas Carroll, however, drew their revolvers and demanded the drinks. The saloonkeeper again relented but immediately left the saloon, along with Johnson, after pouring the drinks.
Standing outside the saloon, Johnson called Donovan to the front door, and he walked outside, where the two men started a conversation. They were quickly interrupted, however, by Hagget, who came to door with his revolver drawn and fired a shot in their direction. Donovan claimed not to know whether the shot was directed at him or Johnson. Cursing Johnson, Donovan, and the bartender, Hagget told them all to leave or he would blow their brains out.
Donovan went around to side of the building, while the bartender took shelter behind a pile of wood, but Johnson foolishly went back into the saloon. The barkeep followed Johnson into the saloon, but quickly re-emerged after putting out the light and then went to a neighbor's house. About five minutes later, Donovan heard two shots from inside the saloon. He also heard some noise that sounded to him like the knocking about of barrels and bottles. Shortly after that, he heard Marshal moaning in pain and complaining that he had been shot. He then heard Hagget tell Marshal to hush up or he would shoot him again.
At this stage of the melee, Donovan apparently decided that the better part of valor was discretion, and he retreated toward the rooming house. On his way, though, he met some other men who had been attracted by the sounds of gunfire, and together the men headed back toward the saloon. On the way, they heard the sound of more gunshots. When they got to within about 100 yards of the saloon, Donovan once again could hear Marshal moaning and groaning. He and the men accompanying him went closer to the saloon, and Donovan crept up to the door. The sounds coming from inside the building told him that Johnson was being beaten, but he could not see what exactly was happening because it was too dark inside the saloon. At one point, Donovan heard Hagget tell Johnson to shut up or he would kill him. Then he heard John Carroll plead, "For God's sake, don't kill him."
However, the damage had apparently already been done. Donovan again retreated toward the boarding house. After procuring a light, he and several other men returned to the saloon and went inside. They found all parties lying on the floor. Johnson was near death, while the other three men were apparently dead drunk. Hagget climbed to his feet and put his revolver in his belt. Donovan and the others, however, took it from him, and upon examining it, found that it was missing all but one round. Hagget admitted killing Johnson and said he was sorry for it but there was nothing he could do about it now. Upon inspecting Thomas Carroll's gun, the men found that it had not been fired.
The next morning Donovan and some other men loaded Johnson into a wagon and took him to Springfield, where he could be treated for his wounds, but he died within a day or two. A special jury impaneled on Monday charged both Hagget and Thomas Carroll with murder in the first degree. Hagget was arrested and brought to Springfield, but Carroll could not be immediately located.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to readily learn the final disposition of this case.

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