Few counties have managed to get along without a county seat contest, and this was the beginning of the one in Lincoln. The election in November resulted as follows: Representative, I.C. Buzick; Commissioners, Cornelious Dietz, Jas. Wild, John S. Strange; County Clerk, A.S. Potter; Treasurer, Vollany Ball; Probate Judge, D.C. Skinner; Register of deeds, T.A. Walls; Sheriff, R.B. Clark, Corner, Francis Seiber; County Attorney, Myron Greene; District Clerk, J.A. Cook; Surveyor, P. Lowe. This was a victory for those in favor of changing the county seat, so it was picked up bodily and taken over the hill, where, in order to make business legal, the county officers met and organized court on bare and bleak townsite of Abram on cold January day in 1871. They then adjourned to the house of Ezra Hubbard, where the new County Commissioners met in February, 1871. A license to sell liquor was granted, Mr. Strange casting his vote against it. Three petitions for county roads were accepted. The first was to run from section 12, on the east line of the county, to the county seat, the second from Pottersburg to the county seat, and the third was to begin between section 24 and 25, on the east line of the county, and go to Elkhorn Creek, and thence to a point about half mile west of Twin Groves, corner of section 28. The clerk was instructed to procure seals for the Probate Judge and Register of Deeds, and advertise for proposals to build a court house. The bids were to be filed in the clerk's office up to 12 m. on Saturday, April 1, and the court house was to be completed by July 1. In March, 1871, the Legislature provided for court in Lincoln County. Jas. H. Canfield, of Junction City, Judge of the Eight District, presided over court on November 6th of the same year.
The buildings were put up the next summer. The county effects were housed in the upstairs of Myron Green's store. A frame building 25x60 feet. County Clerk A.S. Potter had to issue the license to sell liquor which had been granted to Fred Buckner and John Cleary, and is mad yet because he had to.
Two petitions were filed with the commissioners that year to hold another election on the county seat proposition. Both were rejected in June. There was considerable agitation at this time about this question, and a tragic affair occurred which settled the county seat fight.
Ezra Hubbard was building a mill at Rocky Hill. Bad blood had come to exist between him and the Haleys, who wanted to drive him off his claim. They annoyed him a great deal, sometimes coming at night and tearing down the building. At one time John Haley burned one of Hubbard's freight wagons. The latter suspected Haley of stealing logs from his timber land, so on one occasion, when he and his son-in-law, John Cook, went with their teams to haul logs, Hubbard took his carbine with him to stop Haley from trespassing.
Haley was on the Hubbard property, and when the men were about to hitch to a certain log he claimed it, saying that it had floated onto Hubbard's place from his. A quarrel arose and Hubbard shot Haley.
After the shooting Hubbard managed to get away from Haley's friends and gave himself up. He was at first put in the store building at Abram, and later confined in a building used for a boarding house. Cook was arrested and kept with him.
This building has since been moved to Lincoln, and is now occupied by John Kyle's tin shop. Sheriff Medcalf appointed four of Hubbard's worst enemies to guard the prisoners, refusing all other help that was offered. As no two persons exactly agree on the names of these guards, we are not sure that we are absolutely correct in the matter, but it seems most likely that they were John Lyden, Chas. Wilson, John Ryan, and Tim Murphy.
John Lyden did his best to protect the two prisoners, but to no avail. A mob of forty men, in all degrees of intoxication, took the place. They first shot at Hubbard through the window and later entered the building and shot again. Suffering from nine wounds the old man crept up the cleats on the wall to the loft. Later in the night some members of the mob beat out his brains with a carpenter's mallet. Cook escaped.
Several parties, including all of the guards, were arrested, but none were brought to trial except Ira Buzick. He was acquitted. This trial cost the county $10,000, and, of course, people grumbled and blamed the officers for not keeping such disturbances down.
Hubbard's body was taken to Salina for burial. Those who escorted the body were well armed, but then, nobody was considered dressed in those days unless he was sufficiently armed to take care of himself. Thomas Bennett bought the mill. This is the way it looked in process of building.
Mob violence was used as an argument for changing the location of the county seat. On February 19, 1872, an election was held at which 408 votes were cast. Lincoln Center received 232 and Abram 176.
The triumphant Lincolnites then loaded Abram on wheels and brought it along with the county's archives to Lincoln. All the buildings were moved. Abram was not allowed to die a natural death, but was given the distinguishing honor of being translated while yet in the body.
A building was erected for a newspaper by a deaf and dumb man, but only two issues of the paper came out.
This building, which was 10x22 feet, was later loved to Lincoln and became the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Anna C. Wait. Mrs. Wait taught Lincoln's first school in it, and it is now used for a shoeshop.
In 1873 the county headquarters was in the upstairs of the Webster building. The rent on this upper room was $300 per year.
This brings us down to a famous period in the annals of Kansas - 1874 - "grasshopper year." In the diary of E.E. Johnson is an account of the grasshoppers in August, 1868. They came from the north, commenced at the edge of his corn field and cleaned it as they went. But in 1874 they made their big raid through Kansas and did not slight Lincoln County. It made times extremely hard everywhere, especially for the new settlers who had nothing but their crops.
The Government sent out some blankets and army overcoats and for many years afterward the grasshopper sufferer could be picked out of a crowd by his coat. Relief was also sent out by private parties in the East. Many people were left absolutely destitute and the township trustees spent the winter distributing supplies. Not a green leaf was left. Everything was eaten up but castor beans. The grasshoppers drew the line here as does the small boy.
THE LYDEN MURDER
The next year a very mysterious murder occurred. A well educated and cultured Irishman, John Lyden by name, who had been one of the armed guards placed over Ezra Hubbard, was the victim of foul play, the full secret of which will probably never be unearthed. The facts so far as they developed at the time are as follows: John Lyden, a wealthy stock owner of the Elkhorn was shot as he sat at breakfast one morning, by an unknown party, the shot being fired from under the table. The body was hid under the bed all day and at night taken in a wagon to the vacated home of Dr. Seiber, who had built one of the finest houses in the county and later left it. Here the body was thrown into the well, the house was burned down and some of the charred timbers thrown into the well. The body remained in the well about a month before it was discovered. In the meantime a young man by the name of Millard Eaton who was working for Lyden at the time rounded up his cattle, drove them to Ellsworth and shipped them to John Lyden at Kansas City. Eaton went to Kansas City and returned by way of Salina, leaving $1,000 in a box with a certain doctor there. He went out home and had a big party and seemed to have plenty of money to spend. By this time people began to wonder what had become of Lyden. Eaton then came to Lincoln Center on Sunday.
A certain already notoriously bad character attracted suspicion to himself by driving from Salina to Lincoln in two and a half hours, and taking Millard Eaton away with him, after which Eaton was seen no more in Lincoln, but rumor had it that he was seen in Kentucky by the Lincoln County sheriff who went there ostensibly to bring him back, which he did not do. All sorts of surmises and rumors were current but the incident was closed without any one being bright to trial.
After Eaton disappeared a searching party comprised of F.A. Schermerhorn, Tone Bishop, Wells, and Grubb found the body in the well. Mr. Bishop climbed into the well and saw blood on the side of it. The body was under water. Some of the citizens employed a private attorney to look into the matter. Several parties were suspected of being implicated. It was not supposed that Eaton did the shooting himself but seems probable that he was there when it was done.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
It is a relief to turn from the above tragic facts to something more agreeable. Lincoln County was enjoying continual growth and prosperity. In 1873 there were five hundred families or about 2,500 people. Stone buildings, bridges, mills, and other improvements were being built. A fine new school house the best this side of Junction City was put up in 1872.
The next year the Rees Mill was built. It is still one of the most beautiful spots around Lincoln Center.
It was built by Ellias Rees and after his death was operated by his son, L.J. Rees, who is the present owner. At present Mr. T.F. Brann and Mr. Howard Rees operate it.
In this same year a six foot vein of coal was found a mile from Lincoln Center. There were also coal mines in the Elkhorn and Spillman, the vein being 3½ feet thick. A vein 3 feet thick was discovered underlying the whole Danish settlement. Twenty-five men were employed in the Spillman mines and more were being put in as fast as room could be made. This coal was worth $3.50 to $3.75 per ton at the mines. Lincoln had great prospects for a mining country. For further discussion read the article on "Geology" in another part of the book.
Lincoln County has had prairie fires, cyclones, and floods which brought more or less disaster with each visitation.
The first big fire on record was in 1871. The fire originated on the railroad track near Fort Harker, and came into Lincoln County from the south. It burned up ranges and destroyed many thousand head of cattle. No lives were lost. The most disastrous fire was in March, 1879, when the northwestern townships were burned over. Three deaths occurred about a mile north of where Prairie Grove Church now stands. The victims were Robt. Montgomery and his fourteen-year-old son, Robert, and Isaac Pfaff. These men were caught out on the prairie and overtaken by the flames. The Montgomery home was also destroyed.
The population in 1880 was 8,572. The work of organizing townships which had been in progress since 1875 was finished about this time and the county was redistricted as follows:
First District Indiana, Valley, Franklin, Colorado and Madison
Second District Marion, Beaver, Salt Creek, Logan, Scott, and Battle Creek
Third District Orange, Cedron, Grant, Pleasant, Highland, and Golden Belt
It was about this time that the railroad agitation began. The Topeka, Salina and Great Western organized in 1880, and secured a right of way in Lincoln County in 1881, without opposition. Then the Kansas Central put up a good talk and wanted $60,000 for a narrow gauge. Later the Kansas Central was absorbed into the Union Pacific.
The Union Pacific had surveyed a Saline Valley route in 1866, when Junction City was the terminus of the Kansas Pacific, but when the Union Pacific become a candidate for Government subsidies its projects naturally took the route along the Smoky Hill, which was the old "Pikes Peak" trial and along which were the military posts of Fort Harker, Fort Hays, and Fort Wallace. Not until compelled to do so for fear of other roads did the union Pacific build the Saline Valley branch. In spite of five years of daily expectance of a railroad, in 1885 the people of Lincoln County were still hauling their grains to Salina and Ellsworth and hauling back their goods in wagons. In October of that year aid was voted by the county and in 1886 a branch of the Union Pacific, called Salina, Lincoln and Western reached Lincoln Center. The road is now called Salina and Oakley.
THE CLEARY CASE
In the morning of January 3, 1888, the community was thrown into great excitement over the killing of Jessie Turner by a neighbor Pat Cleary. The two men had quarreled over a drinking place where both wished to water stock, and as Turner was driving his stock to water Cleary shot him. He then came to town, gave himself up and claimed he did it in self defense. Coroner DeArmond summoned a jury and repaired with the sheriff to the scene of the shooting. The facts as they appeared to this jury did not support Cleary's plea of self defense. He was tried, found guilty of murder in the second degree, and sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment. After serving a few months of this term a new trial was granted by the supreme court. Accordingly Pat was brought back to Lincoln. A jury was impaneled and the trial begun May 16, 1889. The State made out a even better case than it had before but from some words which were let drop from time to time, the public was not sure that Cleary would be convicted. The jury was sent out Wednesday, May 30. They were able to come to no agreement and by Friday the citizens began to think that some one or two men were persistently voting for acquittal. Saturday night the jury was sent out until the judge should ask for their report. The people had now become convinced that the jury was "spiked." Sunday night there were open threats of lynching and an extra guard was placed over the jury room. Monday morning the jury was still unable to agree and they were discharged.
Cleary might have gone free now for anything the State could have done for a change of venue can not be taken in criminal cases, and another lawful jury could not have been secured in the county.
But as soon as the jury was discharged the prisoner through his attorney, Ira C. Buzick, entered a plea of manslaughter in the third degree and was sentenced by the judge to three years imprisonment, which is the maximum punishment for that degree of crime.
As soon as it became known that one man had persistently voted for acquittal the wrath of the citizens burned higher and higher. J.P. Harmon, who voted for acquittal, was intercepted by an unorganized mob on the street, who demanded to know why he hung the jury. He placed himself under the protection of the sheriff and was taken to the court house for safety. All day long hundreds of men from all over Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties, who knew Cleary and believed the ends of justice had been defeated and the law made a travesty, poured into Lincoln. It is believed that Cleary had attempted to kill John Lyden and that he killed his brother-in-law, Cornelius Deits. Other stories of his vengeful and bloodthirsty nature were afloat. The jurors and those who had testified against him in the two trials were especially alarmed lest when he would finally be released he would get his revenge.
The mob filled the court house square and demanded that J.P. Harmon show himself and be catechised. He came to the window and gave his reasons but his answer failed to satisfy the crowd.
There was nothing to do now but wait for night. It was said that a guard was stationed every fifty feet in Lincoln to prevent any possible escape of the prisoner. Toward night the excitement was so tense as to be felt in the atmosphere. Comparatively few people were seen on the streets at dark and shortly afterward Harmon escaped by the back of the court house. Sheriff Boyle placed guards over the prisoner and about nine o'clock went home leaving the door unlocked. Soon after the sheriff was gone Cleary took a hatchet from the stove and made a desperate attempt to escape. Several shots rang out as he ran across the court house yard. He was captured in the wire fence at the northwest corner of the square. One shot had taken effect in his left side. In course of the short trial given him before his execution he is said to have confessed to killing three men and trying to kill two more but said it was in self defense. He was taken down to the Fourth Street Bridge. A new rope provided for the occasion was tied around his neck and he was dropped off the bridge and fell fifteen and a half feet.
There were some three or four hundred men in the crowd and it was the verdict of ninety-five per cent of the people that it was the only thing to do under the circumstances. It looks like a brutal thing to drag a fatally wounded man to the bridge and hang him, but once into the business the lynchers could not afford to quit till the job was finished.
The sequel to the Cleary case was a libel suit for $10,000 damages brought against Anna C. and W.S. Wait, proprietors of the Beacon, by Jeary Moler, of Salina, one of Cleary's attorneys. This gentleman came near being lynched with his client, and he was warned never to come to Lincoln County again. The Beacon had remarked concerning Moler's conduct of the Cleary case that he was an all around villain. Mr. Wait charged him with "fixing" the jury. A short time afterward, on complaint of Moler, Wait was secretly arrested and conveyed to Salina at once. It was feared that if the news of his arrest become public it would be impossible to take Mr. Wait from Lincoln as the people would demand that he be tried in his own county.
On learning of the arrest the people were very indignant. When the train came in that evening Mr. Wait was met by hundreds of citizens in buggies, in wagons, and afoot. Business was suspended for the time being. A subscription had been already started to pay the costs of the trial. Mr. Wait was taken to the center of the town and asked to make a speech telling the public all about the day's experience in Salina. The trial had been set for October.
The Republican of Sunday, October 27, 1889, contains an account of the trial in which it is spoken of as the most noted trial ever held in Saline County. The affair stirred up Lincoln to the depths as nothing had for years and the people stood by Mr. Wait, regardless of party or personal affairs.
The case was widely commented on by the press over the State and in other States, these comments all favoring the defense. Had he been tried at home he would have undoubtedly been acquitted in the first trial. But Saline County was divided. The jurors were all farmers and at the end of seventeen hours they stood equally divided. On being told that they absolutely must agree they returned a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of nominal punishment. Mr. Moler made a speech recommending light punishment and Mr. Wait was fined $10, and court costs amounting to $600. An appeal was taken and granted.
The supreme court reversed the decision of the lower court and Mr. Wait was acquitted. The General Statutes of Kansas for 1897 contained the following decision concerning this case:
"A part of an alleged libelous article was that the person alleged to be libeled who was an attorney-at-law assisting in the defense in a criminal prosecution for murder, had at the time no possible hope of being able to clear his client with a fair jury but his only hope lay in a packed jury and that his manner of conducting the trial showed that he relied upon hanging the jury by a 'fixed man,' or bribed; that he did in fact hang the jury; and the defendant has a right to show the conduct of said juror in the jury room, while the jury was deliberating on their verdict, and what said juror then and there did, and what he omitted to say and do, how he voted and how the other members of the jury voted." (State vs. Wait, 44 K. 310.)
In beginning this work it was not the intention to lay stress on the criminal history of Lincoln County, but since three murders have already been extensively written up it seems best since one man's life is as important as another's to at least mention the other murders.
In 1882 a farmer by the name of Wheeler was shot from the back of his wagon as he was driving home from town one night. A stranger was arrested for the murder but later broke jail and escaped.
Wesley Faulk, a single man, was killed at night by unknown parties. No arrests were made.
Mike Haley, brother to the Haley killed by Ezra Hubbard, killed his nephew, a young man by the name of Barrett. He was tried and acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. The killing was done in Haley's house.
"Jack" Peate says that if you are going to point out the places in Lincoln County where people have been killed that it will be a long job, as violent deaths have occurred on nearly every acre of it.
So I think we will stop here and discuss something else.