Sunday, April 26, 2015

Killed Over Fifty Cents?

Details concerning the following incident are sketchy, and I can't seem to find verification from any other source that the incident even happened, but according to the Springfield Missouri Weekly Patriot, this is what happened: sometime during the middle of December 1875 in Newton County, Missouri, a man named Short came into the tent of F.W.M. Moore, where another man named Gideon was seated. Short, who had an ax in his hand, sat down and started sharpening it and began talking with the other men.
Soon, Gideon got up to leave. As he was passing Short, Short demanded payment of a fifty-cent debt he supposedly owed Short. However, Gideon denied the debt, and he and Short exchanged some heated words before Gideon passed on, exiting the tent. After he was gone, Short told Moore not to trust Gideon because he never paid his debts. Overhearing the remark, Gideon returned and demanded to know what Short had said. Short repeated the remark, and Gideon called him a "God damned liar."
"You'd better not call me a God damned liar," Short said, as the argument moved outside the tent, but when he took a step or two toward the other man, Gideon drew a revolver and commanded him to halt. Just as Short shouted "Don't shoot!" Gideon fired, and Short fell to the ground. "I'm shot!" he cried and asked Moore to help him. As Moore went to the fallen man's aid, Gideon started to leave but quickly came back and told Moore to stand aside as though he planned to shoot Short again. Moore leaped between the two men and told Gideon to leave--that Short was already hurt enough. Gideon then fled and was last heard of near Washburn in Barry County. Whether he was ever caught, however, was not reported. How long Short lived after the shooting was also not reported, but he apparently did die, because the Missouri Patriot called the shooting a "brutal murder."
As I said, I'm not sure how much of this story to believe since I've been unable to verify it from other sources, but I find it interesting because, if for no other reason, it shows the value of fifty cents in those days. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much money to us to be killing and getting killed over, but it would have been equivalent to at least a half day's wages if not a full day's wages. That's like fifty to a hundred dollars today. Looked at from that perspective, I realize that people are still killing each other today for such insignificant sums.
The fact that this incident happened in and near a tent suggests that it probably happened at a mining camp, which means it probably happened at or near Granby. The fact that Gideon was spotted soon afterward at Washburn adds credence to this idea.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Murder of Philip Schall

I think most people have a general notion of the division caused by the Civil War, but I sometimes doubt whether we fully appreciate the depth of the rancor and the length of time it lingered even after the war. I know that the amount of bitterness left over from the war in Missouri and surrounding regions during the late 1800s never ceases to amaze me, even after years of researching and writing about the period. I've previously written about a number of violent incidents in the late 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s that were brought about to a large extent by personal and political rancor that lingered after the war. Another example was the killing of Philip Schall in Fredericktown, Missouri, on August 17, 1872. In what was a considerable exaggeration, given the frequency of such incidents, one report in the wake of the killing called it "the most brutal murder for political hatred ever committed."
Schall, who was described as "a harmless man and a Republican" noted for his docile disposition, was driving his team of oxen home while under the influence of liquor when he encountered Thomas Mathews upon "the most public street" of Fredericktown. Mathews, a young man who was connected to some of the most prominent families of Madison County, was described as "a violent, blood-thirsty and revengeful man," and it was believed he was a leader of the local KKK, which had recently been threatening and abusing peaceable citizens in the area. Schall hurrahed for Grant, and Mathews shouted for Greeley (presidential candidates), saying he could whip Schall or any other Radical in the county.
Mathews continued to taunt Schall trying to get him to fight, and the two men finally got into a shoving match. Some bystanders pulled the two apart, but Mathews continued to taunt the other man while holding his right hand on a pistol in his pocket. Suddenly he struck Schall with his left hand and at the same time drew the pistol and fired two quick shots at Schall. Up to this point, Schall had not fought back other than to exchange shoves with his assailant. But now he cried, "Damn you, you have shot me!" and knocked Mathews down with his fist. He jumped on top of Mathews and commenced beating and kicking him, while Mathews drew a dagger and stabbed Schall in the hand. Suddenly, Schall collapsed and died almost on top of his assailant, having been shot through the head.
Mathews was arrested on the evening of the killing (a Saturday), and a coroner's jury that met that very night reached a conclusion in accordance with the facts stated above. Mathews was to be arraigned on Monday, but I have not seen a later report that gives the disposition of his case.
This report is from a Union sympathizing newspaper, so it might be a little biased. However, the facts are probably fairly accurate. I know, for instance, that the KKK was, in fact, very active in south central and southeast Missouri in the years after the war. At any rate, the incident is one more example of the incredible amount of hatred and bitterness engendered by and left over from the Civil War.

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.

Devil's Promenade

My latest book is about the famous Joplin or Tri-State Spook Light. Actually, Hornet Spook Light is probably the most accurate descriptor, s...