A Chapter of Tragedies

taken from "History of Woodford County", pg 259-261

Woodford county, Illinois

We come now to scenes in the history of Woodford County over which we would gladly draw a veil. Within the last dozen years, three distressing tragedies have been committed within its borders, and none of the parties engaged in them have received the slightest punishment beyond the pang of remorse. About the year 1868, a man by the name of Hedges was murdered on his farm in Panola Township by a man named Kingston, in a fit passion. Kingston was tried, and acquitted without difficulty.

It may be that there were extenuating circumstances. At least, the man Kingston had borne a good character, and it is believed by many who knew him well that he bad not the slightest idea of killing Hedges. In a mad fit of passion, he struck him a blow on the head with a spade, from the effects of which Hedges died in a short time.

The next in the vocabulary was a murder which for some time created the most intense excitement, and the final acquittal of the prisoner seriously threatened lynch law. This was the alleged murder of Christian Shertz by Daniel Goldsmith, in 1871 and had attendant circumstances of a most distressing character. Shertz was a stepson of Mr. Joseph Shertz, an old settler of Worth Township, and a highly respected citizen. He had taken the name of his stepfather, upon assuming that relationship, and when he married, the old people set him up on a farm six miles east of Metamora, on the Panola road. It was while sitting at home in the bosom of his family, spending a quiet Sunday evening, listening to the reading of the Bible, that a shot came through the window and killed him. It was on the 3d of December, and one of the stormiest nights of the Winter season, when the howling of the wind without and the driving of the snow against the sides of the house would stifle the sound of a murderer's footsteps. The evidence was wholly circumstantial, but of a very strong character of that kind. Goldsmith was indicted by the Grand Jury, and the fact that he had lived with Shertz, that they had had trouble and disagreements, and Goldsmith had left him but a few days previous to the murder, coupled with other points of a strong circumstantial character, everything seemed to indicate beyond a doubt that he was the assassin.

His trial lasted from Monday afternoon until about the same time on Saturday, when the jury, who had received the case at 7 o'clock on Friday evening, returned a verdict of "Not guilty." The counsel for the people were Smith M. Garratt, District Attorney, and Hon. W. W. O'Brien, now of Chicago. For the defense, Messrs. Burns (now Circuit Judge), Ray, Feilitzsch and Barnes, all able lawyers. As we have said, the points in the case were all circumstantial, and therefore left room for doubt. The assassin of Christian Shertz may never be positively known until the last day, when all things shall be revealed. The following extract from the Woodford Sentinel shows the prevailing sentiment the result of the trial. We are now, and always have been, opposed to mob violence of any character whatever, and we trust we may never be compelled to chronicle a case in Woodford County, but if we are to have such farces enacted as the last two murder trials spoken of, we want to ask, Where are the people going to get justice, and how?'

The third and last scene in this chapter of melancholy events was the most pitiable and, at the same time, the most horrible of all, the alleged murder of a woman by a woman. Like the Sherts murder, the testimony was circumstantial, but equally as strong as in that case. By a strange fatality of circumstances, the victim in this case was the widow of the man Hedges, murdered by Kingston, as already detailed in this chapter. It has been said that, 'in all events, whether for good or ill,' there is a woman in the case. In this, however, the principal participants were women, with a man figuring in it rather conspicuously, and he a preacher. The tragedy occurred in the village of Eureka, in 1873, and the alleged murderess, Mrs. Workman, wife of Rev. Mr. Workman, of the Methodist Episcopal Church. From newspaper publications of that period, and other information gathered in regard to the affair, it seems that the reverend gentleman had conceived a passion for the in murdered woman (who was a member of his flock), which, if she did not reciprocate, she did not, at least, very strongly condemn.

From a publication of letters, said to have passed between Workman and Mrs. Hedges, their love for each other would appear to any One to be of a character rather warmer than should exist between a pastor (with a wife and children) and a sister of his congregation. It was the discovery of this correspondence that rendered his wife insane with jealousy. Mrs. Workman, according to the most of the testimony given before the Grand Jury, was a woman of very violent temper, and the most probable theory in regard to the matter seems to be that, in a fit of insane jealousy, she murdered the woman who had roused within her the green-eyed monster. She had forced her husband, who, it appears, stood somewhat in awe of her, to write a letter to Mrs. Hedges, at her dictation, demanding the return of his letters, which she sent out to deliver in person. She and Mrs. Hedgs were seen, or supposed to have been seen, about dark, in earnest conversation, and a while after, Mrs. Workman returned home, with her face badly bruised and scratched and her dress muddy and in some disorder, which she explained by saying she had fallen on the sidewalk in a dizzy fit. Mrs. Hedges was never seen alive again, but was found early the next morning, with a bruise on her head, as if from the blow of a club, and her throat cut, lying near where she and Mrs. Workman were supposed to have been seen the evening before. This was the gist of the testimony before the Grand Jury and with which they even failed to find an indictment against Mrs. Workman.

An incident, related to us by an old settler, who was familiar with the circumstances at the time they transpired, is not inappropriate in this connection. In 1836, there came to Woodford County an English portrait painter, the first in the county, by the name of James Wilkins, and an Irishman named Canaday. The latter, apparently, was of a good family, and seemed to have plenty of money. He bought considerable land and accumulated other property around him. Quite an intimacy seemed to exist between him and the Englishman, and for a time they worked and lived together in a kind of rude, easy way; but after a while they broke up, and Canaday went to board with Rev. Mr. Davenport. Among other property, he owned a couple of ponies and a light wagon. One day he went to Peoria, riding one of the ponies, and leaving his wagon and the other pony at Davenport's. From that day to this he has never been seen or heard of by any one from this section. After waiting several days for his return, Mr. Davenport went to Peoria in search of him, and found where he had stabled his pony, but further no trace could be had. Inquiries were made and search instituted everywhere; letters written to Ireland were never answered, and all efforts to learn his fate utterly failed. Finally, a party appeared, who showed deeds to Canaday's lands, but were here pronounced forgeries and excited suspicion as tO their validity, which have intolved litigation not yet settled. Later, parties came from Ireland, claiming to be relatives and heirs, thus adding further complications. What the man's fate was will probably remain forever one of the unrevealed mysteries. The locality where he had put up his pony, it is said, was of rather bad repute at that day, and as he was known to have had a considerable sum of money with him, the most plausible theory is that he was there made way with. Wilkins finally went to California, making the trip overland, and painted a kind of panoramic sketch of the journey. He is said to be still living, and at present in St. Louis.

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