The Day They Shot County Sheriff May|
The story is the type that makes for a good Country and Western ballad. The best part is it's all true.
It concerns a unique bit of Washington County history, recollecting the saga of the
only County Sheriff ever to lose his life in the performance of his duty.
It was resurrected recently by Bill Temme when he found what he believes to be one of the bullets fired in the historic shootout, Temme found the bullet
lodged inside the southwest wall of the L & N Depot building now under renovation by the County Historical Society. The bullet was discovered while
replacing worn weather boards.
"I'd been looking for it for the last year and half," said Temme, who has researched the depot building and its historic significance. "Everybody said
it (evidence from the shootout) was in the southwest corner and that's the only hole on the south side."
Temme hopes to determine the caliber of the bullet as a final way of proving who fired the shot. It is logical to assume the bullet came from the gun of
Assistant City Marshall, August Leker, one of three men who died as the result of a confrontation on Wednesday, June 20, 1917.
Leker and Sheriff, Jacob "Jake" May had been summoned to the Jankowski saloon which was housed next to the depot around 12:30 p.m. on June 20, to
disarm Hiram Rice. Rice, who had taken a shotgun into the saloon and was threatening to shoot John Evilsizer, Jr., his 20 year old perspective
Evilsizer and Rice's 16-year-old daughter, Ella, planned to be married. In fact, the parents of both had applied for a marriage license earlier that
year, but because Ella was under 16, the license had been denied. June 20 was Ella's 16th birthday. Rice had changed his mind about the marriage and
now threatened to shoot Evilsizer rather than see the marriage confirmed.
Rice was a 60-year-old former City Marshall and had been president of the local miner's union for the last 20 years. He had been suffering from
rheumatism and until the day of the shootout, walked with the aid of crutches.
But on that Wednesday, Rice visited several saloons in Nashville before going to the Jankowski place. When May and Leker confronted Rice on the
street between the saloon and the depot, outside the establishment, Rice threatened May with a raised shotgun.
"You saw that" said May as Leker pulled a revolver and fired five shots at Rice, missing him with all five. Rice blasted his shotgun into Leker's
chest, reloaded, then shot May in the back of his head before he fell to the ground, wounded in the abdomen by one of three bullets fired by May,
according to Newspaper reports.
Customers from the saloon ran outside to find May and Leker both dead and Rice mortally wounded. Rice was transported to Mt. Vernon hospital where an
operation proved useless. He died after signing a confession four days later.
In the flowery prose of the Nashville Journal Newspaper of June 28, 1917:
"Rice passed from the reach of human courts to face the Supreme Judge." Rice was given no chance of recovery after the operation in Mt. Vernon found the
bullet lodged in his hipbone and pierced five intestines. "Sinking spells set in," but before he died he stated that it was a bullet from Leker's gun
which had struck home. He claimed Leker fired first.
Witnesses at a Coroner's Jury held the day of the shooting differed as to whom fired first. Most said it was Leker.
Rice was disarmed after the shooting by Leo Jankowski, the saloon owner a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Rice surrendered without a struggle.
Rice was kept under armed guard at his home to prevent a get-away or possible lynching before he was transported to the Mt. Vernon hospital
Thousands of County residents attended the funerals of May and Leker. Leker had been born in Nashville on April 29, 1881. May was born in Lettveiler,
Germany on November 17, 1871. He had first been elected Sheriff in 1914 and was the second of five May family members to hold the position in
Washington County, since Illinois became a state in 1818. Jacob May was Sheriff from 1874-1878; William H. May was Sheriff from 1922-1926, a
cousin, Freeman F. Kaser was Sheriff from 1958-1962 and A. Virgil May was Sheriff from 1962-1966.
The day after the shooting, Ella Rice and John Evilsizer again applied for a marriage license but were denied by County Clerk Heckert "under the
circumstances." Ella and John eventually married and had a number of children and remained married until death.
Newspaper reports identified the bullet, which killed Rice as a 32-calibre. Rice was using a 16-guage shotgun. The identity of the revolvers used by May
and Leker was not given. From the Coroner's Jury testimony, however, the angles indicate the position of the bullet found in the L & N Depot could be
one fired at Rice by either Leker or May. The likelihood that it came from Leker's gun is prevalent due to the extreme closeness of his shots to the
window of the depot where the bullet was found. The bullet was found three feet from the corner of the depot building about two and one half feet above
Newspaper accounts say Rice was standing about three feet away from the corner of the building on the southwestern side.
|Bio notes for August H. Cohlmeyer|
August Herman Cohlmeyer|
Born on December 5, 1859 in Madison County, Illinois
The son of William Carl & Christina (nee Meyer) Cohlmeyer
Married : Ada Alice Haun on November 4, 1884
Elected Sheriff of Washington County in 1898
Elected Sheriff of Washington County in 1906
Elected to the State of Illinois House of Representatives in 1912
Served as Assessor of Washington County
Served as Highway Commissioner of Washington County
1930 Census lists his occupation as : Auctioneer - Public Sales
Died on December 29, 1938 in Nashville, Washington County, Illinois
Buried on January 1. 1939 in Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Washington County, Illinois
Blue Book of the State of Illinois, 1914 - Forty-Fourth District
August H. Cohlmeyer, (Representative, Democrat), Nashville, retired farmer, was born in Madison county, Ill., Dec. 5, 1859. Received his education in the country schools
of Washington county. Married Miss Ada Haun, Nov. 4, 1884. Elected Sheriff of Washington County in 1898 and re-elected in 1906. Also served as
assessor and highway commissioner. Is and Odd Fellow, K. of P. and a Woodman. Also a member of the Methodist Church. elected to House in 1912.
|Bio notes for John A. Mierkoski 5|
John Albert Mierkoski|
Born April 22, 1932 in Du Bois, Washington County, Illinois
Died July 7, 2012 in Nashville, Washington County, Illinois
Burial at Trinity Lutheran Church Cemetery, Nashville, Washington County, Illinois
Served in the United States Army from 1948 to 1953.
Served as a Nashville City Police Officer from 1964 - 1990; over 26 years.
Served as Sheriff of Washington County, Illinois from 1990 to 1994.
|Bio Notes for Willis White|
Willis White - Washington County, IL. Sheriff from 1848 - 1850|
Veteran of the Mexican War
Born on April 13, 1819
Died on February 26, 1897 at home near Liberty Church (Ashley Township)
Burial at Liberty Cemetery, Ashley Township (Row 15)
1 1879 History of Washington County, Illinois
Brink, McDonough & Co.; Philadelphia; Corresponding Office, Edwardsville, ILL.; 1879
2 This Is Washington County -- 1818 - 1968 -- Illinois Sesquincentennial
by the Sesquincentennial Committee of the Historical Society of Washington County
3 Newspaper article
Nashville Democrat, Nashville, Illinois; October 22, 1903; courtesy of Trudy Connor
4 Newspaper article - Shooting of Sheriff May
Nashville News, Nashville, Illinois; Date is unknown; by: Don Lehnhoff: courtesy of Marci Kasen.
4 Biography of John A. Mierkoski; extracted from Campagna Funeral Homes website :
5 Newspaper article - Youth is Held a Wrecker
The Rock Island Argus, January 6, 1910, Page 4
6 Newspaper article - Wife Has Husband Arrested
Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, Illinois, October 3, 1912, Page 7