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While Atchison County cannot boast of many grave or noted criminal trials, there are a few crimes which have been committed within her borders, that are of sufficient interest and importance to be mentioned in this work. We regret exceedingly that the facts which constitute the following chapter are so meagre ; such as they are, however, we shall now present them :

Though not the first homicide, Freeman Halsey was the first man tried in the county for murder. In 1856, and for some years prior, Freeman Halsey and Harrison Davis had resided in the northwestern part of the county as neighbors, in the vicinity of a place called El Paso, on the Nishnebotna River. Just previously to the circumstances which we are about to relate, they became enemies. They were men of rough habits and manners, and in the spring of 1856, before the county seat was moved to Rock Port from Linden, they happened to meet at the latter place, where, by the use of liquor, they renewed their quarrels. At the time, both parties were in the street on the north side of the public square. After an altercation of words, Halsey drew his knife, rushed upon and stabbed Harrison, and cut him so terribly that he died in a short time.

Halsey was indicted for murder in the first degree, by the first grand jury that was empaneled at Rock Port after the removal of the county seat, and was tried at the same term of court. The indictment was returned into court on the 27th, and he was tried, convicted of murder in the second degree, and sentenced to a term often years in the penitentiary, on the 29th of October, 1856—very strikingly in contrast with the delays of most subsequent trials of a criminal character.

Elijah H. Norton, one of the Judges (at the present time) of the Supreme Court of the State, was the judge, and James N. Burnes, acting at the time as circuit attorney, tried the case. Richard Rupe, Valentine Livingston, William Woolsey, Robert Anderson, Henry M. Bush, John Handley, L. White, Jacob Hughes, George Rader, Andrew Tribble, Jonathan Shepherd, L. Young, James W. Garrison and Isaac Law, were the grand jurors who indicted him, and John G. Sutton, John Harrington, William King, Calvin Strange, P. R. Christian, Thomas S. Ely, William McK, Reuben Hawkins, B. F. Reynolds, James Roberts, John W. Elliss and William Barber, were the trial jurors who found him guilty. Onethird of the grand jurors and two-thirds of the petit jurors are still living. The case was not appealed, and Halsey was sent to the penitentiary. He was a man of perhaps more than ordinary intelligence, but was of the long haired, frontier, dare devil type.


The next homicide that resulted in a conviction for murder occurred November 7, 1864, near Stafford's Mill, in the southwestern part of the county, in which Daniel LaFollett, a drunken desperado, shot and killed an inoffensive German, by the name of Charles Baker, almost without provocation. The difficulty arose out of a controversy, involving the sum of seventy-five cents. The tragedy occurred at a time of great excitement, when men were familiar with blood and crime, when the motives of base men were scarcely under restraint when afforded an opportunity to come to the surface. It was during the war and on the day of Lincoln's second election. LaFollett was permitted to escape and was not even indicted by the grand jury until the April term of court, 1866. William Herron was the judge and I. C. Parker circuit attorney, the latter drawing the indictment. Parker was afterwards judge of the circuit court, then representative in Congress from this district, and is now Judge of the United States Court for the Western District of Arkansas, residing at Fort Smith. LaFollett fled the country and his whereabouts were long unknown. During 1874, in the early part of the year, the officials ascertained that he was living in the state of Illinois. The necessary requisition was made on the Governor of Illinois and Jas. Tate was appointed messenger to take and bring the criminal to Missouri.

When found, LaFollett had settled down and reformed from his past life. Instead of a wild, reckless, drinking, swearing desperado, he had become a quiet, industrious and respected citizen, and had become a member of the church. During his trial and subsequent imprisonment in the penitentiary, he has sustained his quiet, unobtrusive Christian character, taking his punishment as his merited desert.

He was brought to the county at the May term, 1874, and was tried at the September term following, resulting in a conviction for murder in the second degree, and a sentence of twelve years in the penitentiary. Under the three-fourths rule, his good behavior will entitle him to a disIOlS charge in September, 1883. He was defended by Messrs. Durfee & McKillop, Judge Henry S. Kelley on the bench, and John D. Campbell, prosecuting attorney.


Under head of "Another Murder," the Atchison County Journal, of March 31, 1866, thus refers to the deed: "On Thursday last, the 22d, Captain S. A. Hunter, late of the Ninth Missouri Cavalry, was brutally murdered near the Missouri River, in Buchanan Township, by William R. Robertson. The immediate cause of this sad affair we learn from rumor, was a quarrel between the parties respecting the sale of some cord wood. Captain Hunter had purchased a lot of wood from Robertson, who afterwards sold the same to a boat passing up the river. Hunter went to see him, and an altercation was the result. Hunter started off as if going home. Robertson thereupon used some abusive language, which caused Hunter to return. He took Robertson by the collar and gave him a shake. Robertson then drew his revolver and shot him. Hunter turned round and Robertson shot him a second time. Hunter died almost immediately. Robertson at once took to flight, and has not yet been captured, though pursuit has been kept up, and the friends are offering large rewards for his capture. Captain Hunter is well and favorably known in Northwest Missouri, and his loss in the community will be deeply felt. Robertson does not enjoy a very good reputation in the neighborhood in which he lived, which fact will go hard with him if taken.

This is the third murder that has been committed in this county since the commencement of the present year, and the fact that no one of the murderers has yet suffered the penalty of their crime, goes far towards making these affrays so numerous. Let the grand jury at once find bills against these parties, and one or all suffer as the law directs, and there will be less violence and bloodshed. In the days of the rebellion, even, such outrages in our community were not so common, and this, in a measure, results from the fact that honest and upright citizens have long since ceased to carry weapons of defense, those who retain them being mostly of a class that need watching."

The same journal in its issue of April 7, 1866, says : " From Sheriff Wyatt we learn that William Robertson, who murdered Captain Hunter on the 22d of March last, was arrested in Linn County, Missouri, a few days ago and taken to Iowa, where the officer who captured him will receive the reward offered for him, and that Sheriff Wyatt will start at once for him and take him to Oregon, Holt County, for confinement until his trial. Thus must another convict render an account of his inhuman acts. We hope that law and justice will attend to his case well, and if he be found guilty to make an example of him. It is high time that a stop should be put to this nefarious work, and it only remains with our civil courts to do this thing."

The Journal of the 14th of April of the same year contains the following account of another bold murder in the county :


" As we stated in our last issue, William Robertson was captured and on Friday last brought to this place in custody of Sheriff Wyatt. Saturday morning he was taken to Buchanan Township for examination, as we learn, at his own request. 'Squire Cellers being absent from home and not returning till late in the day, the trial was not over until late in the afternoon. Robertson waived an examination and was committed. The sheriff and his posse were stopping at the house of Captain Woolsey, half a mile below the site of the old town of El Paso, and directly after dark the house was suddenly surrounded and entered by a band of armed men who took Robertson away and doubtless hung him, as he was found next day hanging from a tree in the neighborhood.

The sheriff and his posse did all in their power to save their prisoner from his impending doom, but resistance was useless with a band of persons, perhaps one hundred armed and determined men, and it is fortunate that farther bloodshed was not the result of these men taking the law into their own hands.

We regret that any portion of the people of Atchison County should so far lose confidence in the ability of the law to punish the guilty as to undertake its enforcement, in violation of law. And now that four liveshave been lost and many others made unhappy for life, and society been disturbed and disorganized, we hope to see our officers renew their vigilance and show a determination that the guilty shall not go unwhipt of justice. To the bad management of the first murder (that of the murder of Johnson) may be traced the origin of this affiair, or the origin of the facts which caused these men to think and act as they did."

The mob is believed to have been headed by the notorious Bill Lewis, a noted character in that day, and though endowed with some good traits of character, turbulent and overbearing in his demeanor. He was arrested, with others, on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of Robertson. He managed as did others concerned in the outrage, to have his trial moved from place to place, at great cost to himself, until finally the matter was worn out, and he escaped justice.


Many stories are told of Bill Lewis as a practical joker. Many of of these jokes, it appears, savored as much of malice as of fun. On one occasion, it is related that he offered the captain of a boat on which he happened to be traveling, ten dollars for the privilege of ringing the bell. This diversion he kept up, to the annoyance of the passengers, till the captain was glad to return to him the money and pay him, besides, a bonus to induce him to forego his contract. In another of his drunken moods, he is said to have mounted the drum of a large stove on the fore wheels of a wagjon, in the semblance of a cannon. With this planted on the river bank, at the Sacramento landing, he hailed and ordered a passing boat to round to and land—a command with which the captain of the craft, apprehensive of being blown out of the water, promptly complied, when he discovered, to his infinite disgust, the nature of the formidable fieldpiece, and recognized one of Bill Lewis' practical jokes.


The following well illustrates the power of circumstantial evidence : W. King, who resides two and a half miles south of Rock Port, on the farm originally settled by the Fowlers, in the summer of 1878, had in his employ two men, Barney Gordon and Hiram Phillips, the latter twentyfive or thirty years of age, and the former a young man barely grown. Both were engaged at work in the timber. Hiram was chopping and Barney was hauling with a team. Both had endeavored to pay their compliments to the same young lady, who was living at Mr. King's.

They went out into the timber one day to work, as usual. In the afternoon or evening Hiram came home, went to the well, drank two or three cups of water, seemed somewhat excited, and finally asked if Barney had come back. The answer was, he had not. He then stated that Barney's team was up in the woods, fast, and that the tongue of the wagon was broken. Mr. King went after the team and found the wagon and other things as stated. That evening, or some other time previously thereto, he told the girl that he had or would kill Barney.. He was a sullen, solitary, morose appearing individual. Barney failed to return that night. Suspicion began to be aroused. Search discovered a few drops of blood on the fresh chips, near a newly cut stump. Barney had only taken with him in the morning his every day clothes, but left his valise and principal clothing, and a dollar and ten cents in money, at Mr. King's. Mr. King was owing him, besides, almost a month's wages. Hiram had been seen to gointo the woods the next day after Barney was missing. Suspicion grew stronger until he was finally arrested on the charge of murder, the supposition being well founded that a foul crime had been committed, and that poor Barney had been'murdered and his body secreted by his comrade.

Vigorous search through the hills and woods was made for the missing man, but as Hiram had had several days in which to dispose of the body, but slight hopes were entertained of finding it. 'Thirty or forty persons at different times, explored the woods, the streams and old wells, but found not the missing man. A large club, about three feet in length, was found in the hollow of a tree, supposed to have been secreted there. A place had been discovered where the ground had been dug up and filled again, but examination revealed nothing, though it was thought that a slight stench was detected, which led some to suppose Barney had at first been buried there, and then removed. At the end of a week quite a number of buzzards were seen sailing above the woods ; a doctor, high in his profession, who had been used to the dissecting room, in passing through the woods got two or three scents from some decaying body, which he said, must be that of a human being. But all search seemed unavailing ; the body itself could not be found. Word was sent to Barney's friends who lived in Kansas ; they had heard nothing of him. His father came up to be present at the preliminary trial, before the justice. Hiram could give no bond ; in fact the case was not a bailable one. After ten days the case came up for trial, and strange as it may seem, the justice discharged the prisoner, and he left the country. In a few days afterwards, Barney's body was found in Trent County, Iowa, walking around in perfect health, unconscious of the furore and commotion his silent disappearance had made. If he ever gave any account of his mysterious action, we have not been informed.


The Atchison County Journal, of February 24, 1866, says: "This little town of Sonora was thrown into quite an excitement on the 12th instant, over a stabbing affray, the parties being John Stinson and Joseph Smith. The first bad feature in the affair was that it originated in a grocery, or as Father Doyle calls it, a gate to hell. It appears from the sworn evidence that Smith made a challenge to fight any g— d— man in Sonora. Stinson considering himself that sort of a man, accepted the challenge, so they went at it, Stinson striking the first blow and knocking his antagonist down, then seizing him by the hair of the head, commenced the work of annihilation, Smith claiming that he was whipped. About this time knives were seen in both their hands. Stinson at this time stabbed Smith, inflicting a mortal wound, at the same time thrusting the fatal instrument into his lungs to make the work sure. The weapon he used was a bowie knife, the blade six inches long. Stinson was taken off Smith. Smith then ran for his life, but his conqueror not being satisfied with the work he had done, swore that he would kill him, and seizing a wagon neck yoke, pursued Smith, overtook him, and would have ended his life there, had not a spectator interfered and prevented him from beating his brains out, Smith all the time claiming that he was whipped. In all the annals of the four years' war that we have passed through, I have never read anything more cruel. Stinson was arrested by Justice Morgan and brought to trial, and because he is bound over in the sum of $2,000, some of his Christian neighbors claim that the justice of the peace committed a great error, and did not exercise impartial justice."


The Atchison County Journal, of June 24, 1865, says : "The court house, owing to the great weight of the cupola, during the late high winds, has been considerably damaged. A crack in the east wall, something like an inch in width is visible in the clerk's office. Something should at once be done to strengthen the walls."

The same paper of July 1, 1865, says :

"On Wednesday evening last, June 28, 1865, a terrific storm came up from the west, which in its course struck the court house, completely unroofing the 'same. The damage done is not less than $3,000, and perhaps the total loss of the building. Fortunately, the clerks had left their offices but a few minutes before. The storm seems to have been somewhat extended in its effects. We hear of many smaller calamities in its wake."


The Journal of April 24, 1867, says: "The building occupied by Messrs. Hunter & Hurst and L. B. Stivers, on Main Street, we are told, rocked backward and forward like a cradle, causing the inmates to suddenly vamoose. Dr. Dozier's drug store, on the opposite side of the street, was jarred considerably, causing several bottles to fall from the shelves. The same was the result at Mr. E. L. Clark's store, only the shock was more perceptible. Other buildings were shaken to a considerable degree, including the court house, which received a very severe shock. The Journal office did not escape without some damage, as a considerable amount of live matter was knocked into pi. The appearance of an earthquake in this county is decidedly a new feature, as the oldest inhabitant can attest."

The Missouri Express says : " On the 15th of June, 1872, a heavy storm of wind and rain visited Rock Port and vicinity. Holliway & Bro. and Deuser's fine store houses were unroofed and the tin rolled together like a scroll. The rafters of the new Baptist Church were thrown over and several other houses damaged. If the storm was as severe in the country as here, barley and other grain and fruit must be seriously damaged

 The History of Holt and Atchison Counties 1882

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