Biosketch of Capt. W. J. Allen, Once Among the Wealthiest of Monroe County

Blog post by Randi Richardson


This picture of Capt. W. J. Allen appeared with his obituary in the Bloomington Evening World on May 16, 1915.

William John Allen was born September 8, 1836 in Putnam County, Indiana, and came to Monroe County with his parents, John W. and Fanny (Clark) Allen, when he was only three months old.

After completing his education in the common schools of the county he took a college preparatory course.  In 1854 he went to California with 14 others from Lawrence and Monroe counties including  Capt. Lunderman, Paris McPhetridge, William Allen and Henry Knight from Bloomington.  He remained there several years working as a common laborer, miner and farmer.

Upon his return to Monroe County, he again took up farming.  In 1860, at the age of 24, he was living with his wife and two children in Perry Township where he owned real estate valued at $5,300 and personal property valued at $100.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Indiana Volunteer Infantry as a first lieutenant and was discharged on June 28, 1865, with the rank of captain.

At the conclusion of the war, J. W. engaged in the hardware business in Bloomington.  For 40 years was prominent as one of the leading merchants of the city.  His business was located on the south side of the square.  He also invested heavily in real estate and farm land and owned several store buildings on the square as well as the Bloomington National Bank building.  He was eligible for a military pension of $30/month, but he never received a dollar from this source because he never applied for the pension.

J.W. married twice. In 1857 he married Harriet L. Swearengen with whom he had three children: Fannie who married Wallace Palmer of Michigan; Joseph of Bloomington and John, deceased.  After the death of his first wife he married Eliza J. Allen, the daughter of Robert N. and Elizabeth (Talbott) Allen.  With her he had six more children all of whom died before their father.

On May 26, 1915, J. W. died at his home at 402 N. North College Avenue following an illness of two weeks.  The cause of his death was an enlarged prostate and uremic poisoning.  At the time of his death he was 78 years old and a widow.  In addition to his two children, he was survived by a number of grandchildren including Harry H. Allen, a founder of the Allen Funeral Home of today.

A few days after his death, the Bloomington Evening World reported that Capt. W. J. Allen was the “heaviest individual taxpayer in Monroe County paying in $3,500 each year to the county treasurer.  Unfortunately, however, because he died without a will, his estate went into probate and was not settled until fourteen years later in 1929.  The half million dollar estate at that time went to four heirs—two children, Fannie and Joseph, and two grandchildren, Cecil Ball and Rebecca Jane Allen of Chicago and San Diego, respectively.


George Buskirk on Trial for the Murder of Elzie Easton

Blog post by Randi Richardson

After shooting and killing Elzie Easton and gunning down his companion, James Douglass, on Christmas Eve, 1889, George Buskirk, the saloon keeper, escaped through a rear door and headed east to the home of his mother.  He reportedly gave some thought, initially, to turning himself in to the sheriff, or so he said, but feared he might be attacked and killed by a mob.  Instead he got his horse and headed south.

A few days later Elzie’s brothers offered a $50 reward for the “arrest and delivery” of George at the Bloomington jail.  George was described as about 32 years of age with a mustache and sandy complexion, about 6’1” in height, with blue eyes.

On January 8, 1890, the Bloomington Republican Progress reported that George was captured in Sanborn, Knox County, Indiana, at the home of a relative who owned a “little hut on the riverbank.”  Although efforts were made to have the sheriff of Knox County arrest George, he flatly refused to do so.  Soon afterward, a deputy sheriff from Monroe County, along with Wilson, the marshal at Gosport, made for Sanborn.  Upon their arrival, they tried to deputize some of the Sanborn men to assist in the arrest of George.  All said they were “too busy.”  So Wilson went down to the river, slipped quietly up to the hut, pushed a shotgun through the door and commanded George to surrender.

George was sitting by a small stove reading a novel, his trapper kin having gone to Sanborn for “wet goods.”  Taken by surprise, George threw up his hands and was arrested without resistance.  A search of the hut revealed a revolver in George’s pocket and a gun conveniently nearby in a corner of the little room.

courthouse2A month later a large crowd gathered in the Monroe County courthouse to hear the case tried before a jury.  According to a newspaper account of the trial published in the Bloomington Progress on February 5, 1890, the majority of the witnesses were those who testified in the coroner’s investigation.  All had been drinking at the time of the incident and were said to be “still at it” while attending court.

George testified on his own behalf.  He said Elzie, upon his arrival at the saloon, wanted Lee Wampler to treat him to drinks.  Lee didn’t want to and Elzie threatened to shoot him.  George then put Elzie out the door but he came back cursing and demanded beer which George refused to serve.  When Elzie went out again, George reportedly barred the door with a stick of wood.  This prompted Elzie to throw rocks at the door and he could be heard in the street threatening to kill George.  Later that night Elzie got back in along with James Douglass and for a second time demanded to be served.  George refused.  There was a shotgun standing behind the counter.  Elzie said if George drew the gun on him, he would kill him.  Then he drew a revolver and pointed it at George.  This prompted George to fire the gun at Elzie to protect himself.  James was shot by accident.

Most of those at the trial believed that George would be found guilty of manslaughter or else there would be a hung jury.  George even told Sheriff Farr that he wouldn’t be surprised of the jury gave him 15 years.

After the judge read a carefully prepared charge in which the law was clearly set forth as to the citizen’s right to defend his domicile, the case was turned over to the jury.  That was Wednesday evening.  On Thursday morning the jury arrived at their verdict.  “Not guilty.”  A surprise to the majority of the people gathered in courtroom.

Shortly afterward, George gave bond for his appearance at the next term of court to answer for the shooting of Douglass and was set free.  That case came up in September 1890.  After wrestling with the case for a night, the jury brought in a “Guilty” verdict against Buskirk assessing him with a $500 fine for assault.

The next news heard of George was in 1899 when he reportedly killed a native in Central American where he had been working in the timber industry.  His captors, it was said, wanted to burn him at the stake for the foul deed.  William Laughlin added a few new details to the story on page one of the Martinsville Evening Democrat.  According to him, George was tried before a judge who ordered him tied to a tree for safekeeping.  At night, when all had retired and everything quiet, George simply untied the rope and walked away.

Whether or not George was recaptured or made good his escape is not known.  There was no more word of him in the news.



Guest Blogger: Eva Ladd

Hello, my name is Eva Ladd and I’m currently an intern at the Monroe County History Center (MCHC) from Bloomington High School North through my Service Learning Program. I have a general interest in history, specifically the 1960’s, with the Civil Rights movement being one of my favorite topics. My Service Learning class required me to have a personal project from my internship to put in my portfolio that I am creating. With my interest in Civil Rights in mind, the search through the MCHC collection began, and I found the Rev. Andrew J. Brown flyers. These are a collection of 5 flyers centered around Civil Rights and police brutality issues that Rev. Brown was passionate about to help introduce his views and who he was to garner support for his causes.

Eva1The first image references Birmingham, Alabama, a city prominently known for its racism and violent attacks on Afican Americans during the 1950s-1960s. Birmingham is alluded to on the second page as well with the mention of Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety (1936-1954 and 1957-1963) who oversaw Birmingham’s fire and police departments. He allowed police to use brutal tactics during protests such as using dogs to attack the protestors. Connor denied Civil Rights to the people of Birmingham and enforced racial segregation.Eva2

Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where the Watts Rebellion occurred, is brought up on page three in which Marqutte Frye (who was on parole) was pulled over for reckless driving. After speaking to an officer for a while Frye admitted to driving after having a few drinks. While being arrested his mother, Rena Price, came over to scold him for his decision to drink and drive. Eva3She was then pushed by someone, which escalated into her and her son fighting the police along with other members of the community. They were eventually arrested but the arrests caused a lot of uproar due to the LAPD being famous for racial discrimination, generally treating minorities worse than the white people of the town. This event started six days of protests and rioting, with the California Army National Guard being called in to subdue the situation, resulting in 34 deaths, countless injuries, and $40 million in property damage.

The fourth image shows a large crowd of people protesting outside of the Indiana Governor’s Mansion in July of 1969, a rally that Brown helped organize to call attention to the plight of the poor and to eradicate poverty. He stressed that the rally was only a first step but he hoped that it would lead to meeting with the heads of welfare and other programs to end poverty and racism through resources like better education and housing. The governor at the time was Edgar Whitcomb and he aggravated Rev. Brown and many others by signing a law that discriminates against minority voters. Eva4Residents of Marion and Lake Counties called into question the validity of of recent state statutes establishing Marion County as a multi-member district thus giving them more power to elect state representatives and senators. Although when taken to court that claim was dismissed, the issue of diluting minority votes, specifically in the “ghetto” areas of the county, was found to be true and the statutes were deemed unconstitutional.

And the fifth image finally introduces Reverend A.J. Brown, an Indianapolis based civil rights activist, who spread his message of nonviolence through religion. He was a WWII veteran who worked alongside his friend, Martin Luther King Jr., to create the Indiana branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with marching with him in Selma, Alabama. Additionally he lead his own church, the St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, where he would record his radio program “Operation Breadbasket”, primarily talking about African American experiences and viewpoints on various subjects such as politics and local news. In 1970 Brown would go on to create the Black Expo with several others, an event that gathers African American entertainers, politicians, athletes, etc which is still held today in Indianapolis and is known as the “largest ethnic-culture festival” in America.Eva5

The various shots of police, looking armed for combat, are spread all throughout the posters. Police would have been stationed at rallies to jump at a moment’s notice despite many protests stressing nonviolence. The images could have also come from an incident at Shortridge High School earlier in the year in which Brown helped deal with the aftermath.

Shortridge High School is located in northern Indianapolis with an African American majority population due to the “white flight” of the 1950s-1970s, in which many white people would move out of neighborhoods in fear of incoming African American residents, eventually causing primarily black neighborhoods and by association, school districts. Many schools throughout the 1960s held several protests over different matters such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, etc. For Indiana one of the larger protests began with an incident on February 25, 1969. Otto Breeding was a student at Shortridge High School that was accused of violating dress code with his mirrored sunglasses and an image of a fist on a black t-shirt, indications of his support for the Black Panthers, a controversial black organization. The Dean of the school, William Merrill, confronted Breeding about his attire resulting in violence and a three day suspension for Breeding.

Police were called on the day of the Breeding encounter because of other students pulling fire alarms, running through the halls, and in some cases picking fights with teachers. When news of this incident began to spread many students did not show up the next day, fearing for their safety. As the school tried to talk to the students about returning to a “normal” school day an ad hoc group of students had a list of four demands for the school administration.

  • For Breeding’s suspension to be cancelled (over 900 students signed a petition is support)
  • If a petition gets ⅓ of the school’s signatories then the administrators must honor it
  • As long as the clothing is clean and “not obscene” the students may wear whatever they want
  • “Physical and verbal harassment of pupils” by police, teachers, and staff members to cease immediately

In the end the school did not honor their requests, causing an uproar among the students. As a response to the unwillingness of the school, 20 students walked out of a mandatory orchestra concert. They then returned to the school to protest on the steps and were joined by adult leaders of African American activist groups. Police were called in to subdue non-violent protesters. Students were violently dragged down the steps, beaten with night sticks, and forced into police cars under the charge of “disorderly conduct”. The charges were later dropped but Rev. Brown was worried about a violent response from the public, causing him to stage a nonviolent protest at the Governor’s Mansion with his organization, the Indiana Christian Leadership Conference.

The poster ends with questioning the audience (specifically the silent majority who didn’t express their opinions publicly)  to think about the things that happen around them, the racism, the brutality, the hatred and to wonder how they would change the world for the better. These posters were most likely displayed in Bloomington to spread his message and as Bloomington is only about an hour away from Indianapolis, to step in to help or inspire people to do good within their own community.

The Murder of Elsworth “Elzie” Easton

Blog post by Randi Richardson

The story below was taken from an article titled “Double Murder, Terrible Shooting Affair,” published in the Bloomington Telephone on December 27, 1889, and found in the clipping file at the research library,  Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.  It was abbreviated from the lengthy original as shown by the ellipsis.  Note that Elsworth “Elzie” Easton was the youngest son of William and Jennie Easton, hotel keepers.  At the time of his death he was about 25 years of age and worked as a stonecutter for Hoadley & Sons.

StinesA terrible, double tragedy was enacted at Stinesville Christmas Eve.  Elzie Easton was instantly killed; James Douglas was mortally wounded.  A shotgun and whiskey in the hands of George Buskirk are responsible for the terrible crime.

Such are the facts, but the details are still more revolting.  There has, perhaps, not been a more desperate deed committed in the county for years.  It was between 6:30 and 7 PM in the evening, and the people of the quiet town—young and old—were hurrying by to the little church on the hill where was to be the annual Christmas tree…

Elzie Easton and James Douglas had been at Gosport during the afternoon and while there became more or less under the influence of liquor.  Shortly after 6 PM they boarded a work train and came down to their home at Stinesville.  Soon after arriving they went to the saloon of George Buskirk, a little frame building on the south side of the main street of the town…

While there Buskirk and Easton had some words though the quarrel was not of a very serious nature.  Anyhow, shortly after Easton and Douglas entered, the murder occurred.  Buskirk ordered [Easton] out of the saloon and when he refused to go, picked up a double-barreled shotgun that stood beside him behind the bar, deliberately aimed at Easton and fired.  Easton fell to the floor, instantly killed, the top of his head was blown off.

Three or four persons in the room ran out—all but Douglass.  As if terror stricken by the terrible sight before him, Buskirk turned to Douglass and ordered him to get out.  Douglass, starting to go, begging him not to shoot, but before he reached the door, Buskirk fired the shot taking effect in the left side and arm.  Douglass fell to the found and was soon carried away.

In the meantime, the murderer had gone.  As his last victim fell, he closed the rackety door behind him and, going out the back door, soon made his escape.   By this time the terrible news had spread…

At 9 PM Douglass was in care of Dr. Stansifer and resting easy when the reporter of the Telephone called.  He told the following story.  “The first of the whole matter, I went into the saloon of George Buskirk with Easton and was standing by the beer boxes.  Young Hargis was in there and started out pushing Easton to one side.  A few words passed between Easton and Buskirk; Easton wanted to fight and pulled a revolver from his pocket…Easton said he could whip Buskirk, Hargis or all of us.  I took Easton’s revolver away from him ten minutes before the shooting.  Buskirk knew Easton did not have the revolver when he was threatening to whip him just before the shooting. “

…How Milton Hargis saw it.  “I work in a stone quarry and live here.  I was in the saloon before Easton and Douglass came in…Buskirk spoke as Easton came in; told him twice to ‘get out.”  Easton said, ‘George, lay down the gun.’  George replied ‘get out’ again.  Easton ran his right hand in [his] pocket and told Buskirk, ‘If you don’t lay down that gun I will kill you.’  I looked around as George was bringing up the gun to shoot.   I started toward George; he said, ‘Take care,’ then shot at Easton.  As soon as he shot Easton fell, when Buskirk started out the back way.  I started out the front way at first shot; did not hear the second shot.  I heard all that was said up to first shot…”

Elzie Easton…when not drinking, was a very pleasant and honorable young man.  James Douglass, the other victim, does not bear such a good reputation.  He had been running a barber shop, and it is said he permitted gambling in the room.  He is about the same age, [25], as Easton.  George L. Buskirk, the murderer, is about 35 years old, has always been a hard character having been in one or two serious scrapes before.  About three months ago he opened a saloon in a little frame room and has since kept a very disreputable place as would be indicated by the terrible crimes that followed so soon.

Dr. Maxwell, Jr., the coroner, has not yet returned a verdict, but he states to the Telephone that he has heard enough evidence to justify the belief that Buskirk was not justifiable in the shooting of Easton and had no excuse whatever for attacking Douglas.

Coming next week:   George Buskirk Tried for the Murder of Elzie Easton



New Collection of World War II Letters Donated to the History Center

The Research Library recently received a small collection of correspondence between a son, Glen Whaley, and his family in Stanford, IN during his time enlisted with the Navy during World War II. Library volunteer, Lee Ehman, recently went through the letters and wrote up a bit about the contents of the collection and about Glen’s life.

Glen Whaley was born in Monroe County on February 4, 1913 and married Thelma Dunlap on September 7, 1940. He died at age 81 on May 13, 1994. The 1920 and 1930 census shows him living with his parents, William and Vivian [Emerson] Whaley, in Van Buren Township.

There are two sets of letters, presumably kept by his parents. The first is a set of condolence letters regarding the death of Glen’s 10-year old brother on Feb 23, 1935, the result of being hit by a car.

A letter from Glen to his parents dated July 1, 1945 from “Somewhere in the Pacific”

The second set of letters is from Glen to his parents, with the exception of one written to his wife, which she forwarded to his parents. They date from August 2, 1944 to December 17, 1945. There are three other pieces of correspondence, a card from his wife to his parents, a change of address card from the Navy, and a letter to his parents from a chaplain who met him during his discharge process in January, 1946.

Glen was a Navy machinist’s mate during 1944 and 1945 in World War II. He probably enlisted before 1944 but there is no record of that in the letters.

Starting in July 1944 he attended an 8-week training course at the Packard engine company in Detroit to learn to maintain torpedo boat engines. After that he went to San Bruno, California, to await being shipped out to Okinawa to a torpedo boat base. While in San Bruno, where his outfit was housed in a horse barn at a former race track, he worked nights for the railroad at a locomotive overhaul shop. The railroad picked up him and his mates in the evening and dropped them back off at 4am. He made $1.05 an hour. During this time he was promoted from 3rd class to 2nd class machinist’s mate. His wife Thelma visited him for 5-6 weeks.

He went on a Navy AKA troop transport ship and arrived on Okinawa in July, 1945, shortly after the battle for that island ended. While there the war ended in August, and the letters contain details of his work repairing trucks, sightseeing on Sundays, and wishful thoughts about coming back home. He related damage from a hurricane in October, and the file contains newspaper pictures of the storm damage. His last letter of November 30, 1945 told of preparing to sail in the next couple of days. He was discharged at the Great Lakes naval station in early January.

Throughout the letters, he commented on the news from his parents’ farm, going to church, and much about sending and receiving letters.

If you are interested in reading through the letters please visit the Research Library at the Monroe County History Center and ask to see the Glen Whaley letters.


Jennie Easton’s Hotel a Stinesville Landmark

Blog post by Randi Richardson

The story below is from upon an article  titled “Aunt Jennie’s ‘New’ Hotel Has a Place in History,” published in the Bloomington (IN) Saturday Courier, on May 13, 1955, p. 1B.  It is abbreviated from the original as shown by the ellipsis.

The Monon railroad, by coming to Stinesville instead of through nearby, already-established Mt. Tabor village, gave impetus to the stone business.  The very finest stone cutters came from Scotland, Italy and England and adopted the town.  They were always on the move, going on a job in one place, coming back to get another job, and Aunt Jennie’s hotel was their home, headquarters for that spirit of fraternity so apparent in people engaged in the stone business…

This photo of Jennie Easton’s hotel was included in a 3-ring scrapbook binder in the research library at the Monroe County History Center without a date or source.  According to the caption under the picture, the first Stinesville hotel was opened in 1856 and was operated by William and “Aunt Jennie” (Williams) Easton, great grandparents of Robert Judah of Stinesville.  “Aunt Jennie” operated the hotel for 23 years until 1901.  She died in 1909 at the age of 72 years.

Aunt Jennie had the first hotel in the town.  Her first hotel, a small building half way up the hill, had four rooms all in a row.  In after years it was known as the Soldiers Home and is still standing, owned and lived in by a remarkable woman, Mrs. Amelia Fox who will be 97 this month after the Centennial and is still able to please an audience with her singing of “A Hundred Years from Now.”

Aunt Jennie’s “new” hotel was built by Tom Maker, a stone man who sold it when he moved to Indianapolis to live and to help build the State House which was to contain some stone from near Stinesville.  Aunt Jennie’s reputation, already established, grew with the great opportunity offered by the 3-story, 17-room building.  She knew how to cook for men, having a husband and five sons.   She knew how to get a sense of order, comfort and cleanliness into a place to make it homelike.  Her big kitchen, in the basement, was a clean, good-smelling, pleasant place…

Near Aunt Jennie’s kitchen was the pantry, a big cellar and a laundry room.  East of the dining room was a large hall with a wide stairway in it.  From this hall one could go either upstairs to the second or third floor or outside.  On the second floor were an office with bay windows, many comfortable chairs, a parlor, a porter’s room and two bedrooms.  The bay window room on the third floor was always reserved for “travelling men.”

Aunt Jennie’s life was full and busy.  She had taught school in Bedford.  She, and also her husband, a shoemaker, had come from Kentucky.  One tragedy in their lives took place on Christmas eve in 1889 while they were in Oklahoma visiting a son.  Their youngest son, [Elzie] , was shot to death…

Some years later, after Aunt Jennie’s husband died, she sold the hotel and built a nice house up on the hill on Main Street.  Other managers took over the hotel…After that it became the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. James Blottie and was later made into an apartment house.  But if you ask about it in Stinesville, people will still call it Aunt Jennie’s new hotel, and right after that they begin to tell you what a wonderful cook she was, “Why people came for miles and miles just to eat Aunt Jennie’s cooking.”

Coming next week:  “The Murder of Elsworth ‘Elzie’ Easton”



Blog post by Randi Richardson

City directories are wonderful sources of information related to who lived where and when.  Both the Monroe County History Center and the Monroe County Public Library have large collections of Bloomington City Directories.  A few of the early ones are among the “hidden gems” at the Indiana Memory Digital Collections website.

If you or someone you love graduated from Bloomington High School 1908-1958, you might be happy to know that most of the yearbooks between those dates are available from the Indiana Memory Digital Collections from the Indiana State Library.  The Collections are relevant to a number of people, places and events throughout the state and feature two collections for Monroe County:  Monroe County at War and at Home; and Monroe County Community Collections.

The two Monroe County collections include, in addition to the yearbooks noted above, a number of Bloomington City Directories (1909-10; 1916-17; 1920, 21 and 22; 1922-23; 1925-26; 1927-28; 1931-32; 1934-35 and 1957); Monroe County Commissioners’ Book 1 and 2; a large number of early Bloomington photographs and more.

Although a search query box is provided, it has not worked well for me.  Instead, scroll through the items on the left titled “Add or remove other collections to your search.”