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.

 

 

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

 

 

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…

hotel
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”

 

A BLOODY TRAGEDY IN ELLETTSVILLE

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Sometimes the line between “vigilante justice” and just downright meanness is quite thin and poorly defined.  Such is the 1854 case in which Harrison Spear, variously spelled Speer, was a victim and Hugh Butler, one of several perpetrators, died.  The assault was allegedly triggered by Spear’s immoral behavior.  Newspapers in various states carried the story which often differed in detail.  It is believed, but not proven, that the Harrison Spear in question was a resident of Indian Creek Twp., Lawrence County.

knifeOn April 15, 1854, the Bloomington Newsletter published information pertaining to a vicious assault on Harrison Spear of Ellettsville by Hugh Butler, Jacob Young and Jeff Raper who were all well into their cups at the time. Spear was described by the Newsletter as a “peaceable but unfortunately a poor man.” It was alleged that Spear was living with a woman of ill repute. The young men lobbed bricks and rocks toward Spear’s home. At one end of the house they exploded a keg of powder and sand putting the inhabitants in fear for their lives.

In the midst of the chaos, someone fired a gun.  Some accounts noted that it was Raper; in other accounts it was Spear. Regardless of who fired it, it struck Butler.  Butler’s companions took him to a physician who declared that the wound was not serious whereupon Butler and the others took up their pursuit of Spear.

Here, too, the story differs.  According to one, Spear quickly fled for his life with his assailants, joined by Hugh’s brother, Frederick, Jr., in hot pursuit.  They overtook him and were beating him terribly with rocks and, it is believed, an axe, when Spear managed to draw a bowie knife and stabbed Hugh in the right side killing him almost immediately.  According to another account, the ruffians managed to get the “old man” out of doors and had him on the ground beating him over the head with a stone when he drew a knife and stabbed Butler.

Whichever of the stories is accurate, covered with blood, both his own and that of Hugh, Spear escaped and fled to the home of his neighbor, Henry Shook who turned him away, perhaps fearing for his own safety.  Next Spear took refuge at some distance in Worley’s tavern.  He ran upstairs and fastened the door with the assailants close behind.  It was there that Worley found Spear covered with blood, still clutching the bloody knife and terrified almost to death.  He convinced Spear to give himself up with the assurance that he would not be hurt by his pursuers.

While Young and Raper made a hasty retreat, Spear was lodged in jail.  On Friday morning, the case was brought for trial before Jno. M. Sluss, a justice of the peace. Because Young and Rader, witnesses for the prosecution, had not yet been found, the trial was continued until the next Friday.  Paris Dunning was one of the lawyers appointed to prosecute Spears.

On May 6, 1854, the Bloomington Newsletter reported that “no bill” was found against Spear for killing Hugh Butler.  Thus ended Harrison Spear’s brief sojourn in Monroe County.

Shorty Owen Feared No One

Blog Post by Randi Richardson

shorty
Several Bloomington policemen standing at attention in front of the Monroe County jail c. 1913.  From the archives of the Monroe County History Center.

George McQueen “Shorty” Owen (variously spelled Owens) was a tubby individual with a cold eye who feared nothing that walked on two legs.  He had several siblings including a sister, Lizzie, who had that same cold eye.  She was a teacher in the local schools for a number of years and had no trouble controlling the boys in her charge.

Shorty, a native of Indiana, was born about 1855 to William Dunn and Sarah Owen.  For many years he was one of the Showers factory boys but finally left his bench at the factory to go into politics and first ran for town marshal about 1887.

Back in those days, Saturdays was the weekly fighting holiday—a political rally or national holiday was a sort of field meet for fights.  Saturdays was Marshal Owen’s busy days.  A cry of “Fight, fight” would bring Shorty at a swift pace and within a few minutes he could be seen going down an alley to the jail with a struggling individual.  But it wasn’t often he had to use a club to get a man to jail.  He never used a “billy” unless the unlucky man was sober enough to put up a real right.

The fights were mere pastime for Shorty, a cop who had a policy of never arresting a drinking man if the man would go home.  Also, every Saturday Shorty conducted various farmers to their wagons and started them home.  He was a sort of majordomo of the week and drinking festivities.

There were enough saloons in Bloomington to accommodate all the local thirsty and all the thirsty visitors as well.  With liquor in them, the town men fought because of differences and the country boys fought for pure pleasure.

There were several country families that celebrated each visit to Bloomington with a glorious fight.  The fight always started in a saloon or in front of one, then it continued up an alley to the hitchrack and around the square or to a side street where the family team and wagon was waiting.  Arrived at the wagon, the fighting family made a valiant retreat out of town, well satisfied with the usual pleasure which a trip to town offered them.  There were two or three families of four or five brothers who never finished their Saturday in town without a fight.  It must have been against the generally accepted rules to use a gun for few of those fights resulted seriously.  Even the use of a pocket knife was not good form.

Once in a while a bad individual would come to town, announce that he was bad and that he was going to perform in a bad, bad way.  When Shorty arrived, he would walk up and take the gun away from the bad man then take him to jail or run him out of town.  Shorty was one of the most fearless individuals who ever walked the streets of Bloomington.

As the years passed, Shorty began to have more than a local name; his name was used by mothers in compelling the obedience of bad little boys.  In fact, so great was the fear of Shorty that bad little boys ran and hid when a rumor passed up the street that he was coming.  In spite of the bad name which the mamas of the village gave him to their children, Shorty was kind to all the kids.

After serving as town marshal for twelve years, Shorty finally fell a victim to politics and was defeated by Ed Johns.  He lived only about a year after leaving office, much of that time in failing health.  In late October 1900, he went to Nashville, Indiana, to take advantage of the mineral baths.  Upon his return home in early November, feeling no better or worse than usual, he sat down to breakfast one morning at the home he shared with his sister, Lizzie.  His head suddenly dropped forward and the dying man breathed his last.

At the time of his death Shorty was 43 years of age, lived with Lizzie at 504 N. Lincoln Street in Bloomington where the funeral was held, and never married.  Lizzie filled out the information for his death record.  No place of burial was noted.  In addition to Lizzie, he was survived by two brothers, Charles of Waynetown and William Dale Owen who served as Secretary of the State of Indiana from 1885 to 1891.

Sources:

  • George M. Owen Death Record, Ancestry.
  • An undated and unsourced item written by Blaine W. Bradfute found among newspaper clippings in a scrapbook compiled by Fred Lockwood at the Monroe County History Center.
  • George M. Owen obit, Bloomington Evening World, November 5, 1900, p. 1.

 

 

Regulators Organization Established to Deal with Lawbreakers

The clipping noted below, written by Mrs. Wesley Hayse, was published in an undated, unsourced Bloomington newspaper under a column called “Looking Back.”  It was found in a scrapbook compiled by a man named Fred Lockwood.  The scrapbook is held by the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.  The item below was abbreviated from the original, as noted by the ellipsis, and excludes information pertaining to the development of Polk Township.

Horse thieves, crooks of every kind, burglars and counterfeiters seemed to overrun Indiana in the late forties and early fifties, and Monroe County seemed to receive her share of the unwelcome visitors.  Within the county, where the rough country was scarcely inhabited, the ravines and thickets furnished excellent retreats for the outlaws.

The southeastern portion of Monroe County showed early evidence of illegal transactions of this character and several residents of Polk Township were at times suspected of complicity, but nothing definite was learned until late in the fifties.

Many men of good character, who had previously bore good reputations, were sometimes inducted to connect themselves with manufacturers of counterfeit bills or bogus coins in order to reap a harvest for the time being, intending to later resume their places of respect among their fellowmen.

Before this, counterfeit bills on different state banks and bad coin of fair appearance, color and weight had made its appearance in the county at stores, and steps had been taken to find the guilty person or persons, but the rascals had a well-organized system and soon baffled the authorities.  It was no doubt but more of this money was actually manufactured within the county as passers of counterfeit money were quite numerous.

regulators

But finally conditions became so bad that an organization known as the Regulators, men of honesty in Monroe County and vicinity, resolved to, by their own efforts, end the career of the lawbreakers if careful vigilance and persistent effort could possibly bring such things to pass.  And these men did succeed and the plan soon became quite popular as the means of settling with criminals.

One man was shot in the jail in Bloomington by a mysterious crowd of men who overpowered the guards.

In a short time the plan meant grave abuses when a number of men held a grudge against a neighbor they would assemble at night, thoroughly disguised, and give the man a terrible whipping.  A man named Bingham received such severe treatment in this way that his body was a mass of bruised and blackened flesh from the whipping he received.  He died from the wounds within a few days, and he was said to be an honest, upright citizen.

Another man, named Vansickle, who lived in the southern part of Monroe County, was so severely whipped by masked men who took him out one night that he later died from the effects at what became known as “Vansickle’s Mill” in the southern part of Morgan County…