Western Historical Co.

The history of Jefferson County, Iowa, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., a biographical directory of citizens, war records of its volunteers in the late rebellion, general and local statistics, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, history of the Northwest, his online

. (page 50 of 75)
Online LibraryWestern Historical CoThe history of Jefferson County, Iowa, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., a biographical directory of citizens, war records of its volunteers in the late rebellion, general and local statistics, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, history of the Northwest, his → online text (page 50 of 75)
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building a new Court House. Mendenhall soon found, however, that he could
not go on with the erection of the building, and tendered the contract to
Craine, which the latter gentleman, through the intercession of a Whig friend,
finally accepted at an advance of $100 over his first " bid," and, on the 27th of
October, 1849, a contract was entered into between the Commissioners, on the
part of the county, and George Craine, by which the latter gentleman agreed
to complete the Court House for $7,500. The contract specified that he was to
take the materials on the ground, and the work already done at the prices paid, and
deduct the same from the contract price; "also, the amount to be paid for haul-
ing the brick from Shelton's, and for stone furnished and to be furnished by
John G. Lembarger, and also to pay D. Mendenhall $25 for his services as
Building Superintendent up to date," etc.

Under these conditions, Mr. Craine perfected his arrangements, and, in the
spring of 1850, commenced work. The stone used in the foundation was hauled
from the, Cedar and Walnut Township quarries ; the cut-stone was all taken
from the Walnut Creek quarry, near Pheasant's Ford ; the brick were made,
in part, at John Shuffleton's yards, and, in part, at Medley Shelton's, and were
laid in the wall by the Hoffmans — father and two sons ; the carpenter work was
done under the immediate direction and supervision of Craine, who is a practi-
cal carpenter. The building was completed in January, 1851. The first term
of court held in the new building came on in March following.

The present Jail was built in the fall of 1858, at a cost of $7,300 — George
Craine, contractor and builder. The stone used in this building were from
the two quarries of Clinton & Baldwin and Elliott & Clinton. The dressed
stone were reduced to the desired facings by John Turney. The brick were
made at Shuffleton's yard.


Prior to the occupancy of the present County Poor-Farm, those unfortunates
ivho were the charges of the county were distributed among the people, and the
care and expense borne by the tax-payers. As the population increased, with a cor-
responding increase of feeble-minded and indigent, it became necessary to provide
a place where better attendance at less cost to the people could be furnished them.


At the election in the fall of 1866, the question of buying a Poor-Farm at a.
cost not to exceed $6,000 was submitted to the people of the county and car-
ried by a large majority.

A selection was not made until the next year, when, through William Hop-
kirk, J. H. Collins and W. F. Dustin, a committee appointed for the purpose,
what was known as the "Traverse Farm," in Liberty Township, was purchased.
This consisted of the north 140 acres of the northwest quarter of Section 22,
and south 96 acres of the southeast quarter of Section 15. There was a build-
ing on the farm at the time of the purchase, 34x18 feet, with an "L" 16 feet.
In 1869, H. B. Mitchell, William Alston and William Long were appointed a
Committee to prepare buildings for the reception of paupers. They erected a
new building 36x40 feet, two stories in height, which was completed the same
year, and the next year built a barn 36x40 feet. Other improvements have
been made since. In 1875, a story was added to the old building, and there is
now in course of erection a kitchen 28x80 feet, two stories high. These build-
ing are of frame, well arranged, and of ample capacity for the present need of
the county. The average number of inmates for the years 1876 and 1877 was
twenty-one, which has increased the present year to twenty-five. James Arm-
strong is the present Superintendent.


Section 1 of an act entitled " An act fixing the terms of the Supreme and
District Courts of the Territory of Iowa, and for other purposes," provided for
holding two terms in each of the several organized counties in each year. " In
Henry County, on the first Mondays of April and August."

Section 1 of an act entitled " An act to authorize the holding of the Dis-
trict Courts in the county of Jefierson," approved January 25, 1839, provided.
" that the time of holding the District Courts in the county of Jefferson, shall
commence on the Thursdays preceding the times of holding the District Courts
in the county of Henry."

According to this act last quoted, the first term of the District Court for-
Jefferson County ought to have commenced on the last Thursday in March,
1839, and the County Commissioners made arrangements to that end by select-
ing grand and petit juries, etc. ; but for some reason the Judge did not put in
an appearance, and the Court was not held.- The first term held commenced on
Thursday the 2d day of August, 1839 ; Judge Joseph Williams* presided.
John A. Pitzer, Clerk. The Court ordered that Willis C. Stone and Oliver Stone
act as Constables, and that Alexander Kirk act as crier during the term.

The first order of the District Court relating to this county, was " that the
eagle side of a 10-cent piece of money of the American coin be the seal tem-
porarily for the District Court of Jefferson County, Iowa Territory." This-
order bears date February 26, 1839. "At the same date, Frederick E. Lyon,
Sheriff, appointed Samuel Moore, Under-Sheriff."

The following persons composed the first grand jury : Henry Shepherd,
John Gillam, William Vincent, William Precise, John Ankrom, Joseph Higgin-
bottom, William Hueston, David Cowan, Josiah Lee, John Parsons, David Pee-
bler, John Miller, Jonathan Turner, James Coleman, James Lanman, Henry

* Judge Williams was a Penneylvanian by birth and education, and came to Iowa under Presidential appointment
soon alter the Territory was organized, and settled at Bloomington near Muscatine. He subsequently removed to-
Eansas. and settled at Fort Scott, where he died a few years ago.


McCauley, Frederick Fisher, James Gilmer, Archer Grau, Aiden Nordyke, Rod-
ham Bonafield, Jonathan Dyer and Enos Elmaker.

After being sworn, the grand jury retired to a strip of timber about half a
mile north of the Fairfield of those days to deliberate.

The following persons were the first petit jurors : Wiley Jones, Abraham
Louden, Isaac Blakely, Isaac Whitaker, Edward Busic, Isaac McCalla, John
Vincent, George C. Parker, Charles HoUoway, George W. Troy, John Eastepp,
David Eller, John Reager, John W. Johnson, Michael Feebler, Benjamin Mount,
Greenup Smith and Alfred Aikes.

The attorneys present at this first term of the District Court, so far as their
names appear of record, were Van Allen, Buckland, Teas, Cyrus Olney and
Samuel Shuffleton. Shuffleton was admitted to practice as an attorney on the
presentation of a certificate to practice as an attorney in the State of New York.
Olney was appointed to act as Prosecuting Attorney for the term.

The title of the first case called was " Hosea Hall vs. Isaac Bush," and
seems to have been a suit for damages. The case was tried before a jury, and
after being out all night, the jury returned a verdict of $5 for the plaintiff.
The court ordered that the plaintiff recover that sum and costs. Three indict-
ments for gambling and one for perjury were found at this term. At the next
term in April, 1840, they were all disposed of, all the parties being discharged
except in the case of the United States vs. John Payton, charged with gam-
bling. He pleaded " guilty," and was fined $10 and costs of suit.

When Iowa Territory was organized. President Van Buren appointed Joseph
Williams, Charles Mason and Thomas S. Wilson as Territorial Judgeg. Under
an act of the Territorial Legislature, approved January 21, 1839, Charles
Mason was assigned to the district composed of the counties of Henry (to which
Jeiferson was attached). Van Buren, Lee and Des Moines ; Joseph Williams
was assigned to the district composed of the counties of Louisa, Muscatine,
Cedar, Johnson and Slaughter (now Washington), and Thomas S. Wilson was
assigned to the district composed of the counties of Jackson, Dubuque, Scott
'and Clayton. When the time for holding the August (1839) term of the Dis-
trict Court of Jefferson County came oh. Judge Mason could not be present to
preside, and Judge Williams came in his place ; and so it came that he presided
at the first term of the District Court held in Jefferson County. Cyrus Olney
was the first Judge elected in the district under State jurisdiction. Judge Olney
has been succeeded by J. C. Knapp, William A. Seevers, Caleb Baldwin, H.
B. Ilendershott, William M. Stone, William Loughridge, E. S. Sampson and
H. S. Winslow. Circuit Court — L. C. Blanchard. J. C. Cook, of Jasper
County, was chosen at the October election, 1878, to succeed Judge Winslow.

Of these, Joseph Williams, Caleb Baldwin and William H. Seevers have
served on the Supreme Bench. Charles Mason has filled the ofiice of Commis-
sioner of Patents ; W. M. Stone, the oflSce of Governor of loAva, and E. S.
Sampson has represented his district in Congress.

John A. Pitzer was the first Clerk of the District Court, and has been suc-
ceeded by John W. Culbertson, Sawyer Robinson, David J. Evans, Robert F.
Ratcliff, William Long, George H. Case and M. S. Crawford. A. W. Jaques
was elected at the last election, October, 1878, to succeed Mr. Crawford.

Frederick Lyon filled the office of Sherifi" by appointment until April, 1839,
when James L. Scott was elected. He has been succeeded by James T. Hardin,
John Shields, Samuel S. Walker, G. M. Chilcott, Jesse Long, George Shriner,
James A. Galliher, J. F. Robb, James A. Cunningham., Jacob S. Gantz, James S.
Beck and James M. Hughes. Hughes was elected at the October election, 1878.


Cyrus Olney, the first Prosecuting Attorney, has been succeeded by George
Acheson, Ezra Drown, Caleb Baldwin, Samuel Clinton and Charles Negus, as
County Prosecutors. George D. Woodin, H. S. Winslow, M. A. McCord, S.
G. Smith and G. W. Lafferty have been District Prosecutors. Ed. W. Stone,
of Washington County, succeeded LaflFerty after January 1, 1879, by virtue of
the election in October, 1878.



On Saturday, the 29th day of June, 1860, T. B. Barnett, while fishing in
Cedar Creek, one mile and a half north of Batavia, in Jefierson County, dis-
covered, in a state of nudity, the dead bodies of a woman, a little girl about six
years old, and a boy apparently aged about twelve years. The woman and the
girl had drifted partially under a tree that had fallen into the creek, and the
boy was found a short distance below under a log. Mr. Barnett spread the
alarm through the neighborhood, and a messenger was sent to Fairfield about
midnight after the Sheriff and Coroner. The latter held an inquest on the dead
bodies and elicited the facts embodied in the report of the Coroner's jury, which
were as follows :

State of Iowa, Jefferson County, ss. — An inquisition held in Batavia, .Jefferson County, State
aforesaid, before Thomas Barnes, Coroner of said county, upon the bodies of three persons lying
dead, found in Cedar Creek, near where the lowaville aifd Lancaster State road crosses the said
creek, there Vying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereunto subscribed. The said jurors,
upon their oath, do say, that the said persons, names unknown, came to their death by some
person, as there are four large cuts on the head and face of the woman ; one on her forehead,
and just before her right ear ; jaw broken ; and behind her right ear, skull broken ; and on the
back part of the head, skull broken, and her left shoulder broken. The boy had wounds on his
forehead, skull broken, and the brains oozing out ; another wound on the back part of the head,
skull mashed, with a bruise on the left arm. The girl had her right cheek, with part of her
upper lip and part of her nose, upper jaw-bone and teeth, cut off, with her under-jaw consider-
ably fractured.

We, the jury, are of the opinion that the wounds were sufficient to produce immediate death.
The woman had blue eyes, dark auburn hair, an'd was about thirty years of age. The boy had
also blue eyes and auburn hair, and was about eight or nine years old. The girl had blue eyes
and auburn hair, and was about three years old.

All of which we submit this first day of .Tuly, 1860. A. Collins,

H. P. Holmes,
John Adams,

Thomas Barnes, Coroner of Jefferson County. Jurors.

The County Judge, with commendable energy, immediately issued the fol-
lowing handbill, offering a reward for the arrest of the murderer :


A woman and two children were murdered in this county on Friday evening last, and the
bodies thrown into Cedar Creek, about nine miles west of Fairfield. The murderer is supposed
to be about six feet high, of ordinary weight, dark complexion, without whiskers, and when
seen on Friday afternoon, was unshaven and was wearing a half-worn Leghorn hat and dirty white
shirt- he was without a coat or vest. He was driving two yoke of oxen to a wagon. The wagon was
an old, light two-horse wagon, muslin cover, dirty and old, but sound. The lead yoke of cattle
was the smallest, and of a yellowish-red color with some white ; the other yoke was dark -red and
brindle the brindle being on the near side. An old-fashioned red and match-work coverlet was
over the fore end of the wagon. With the team were two dogs, one a reddish-yellow, long-haired
dog ■ the other, a puppy four or five months old, of a bluish-black color. From the tracks where
the bodies were carried to the creek, it is supposed there were two persons concerned in the


On behalf of the county of Jefferson, I offer a reward of $200 for the apprehension of the
murderer or murderers. William K. Alexander, County Judge.

Paikfield, Iowa, July 1, 1860.


An additional reward was raised by subscription among the citizens of

Sheriff Robb started at once for Batavia, where he learned that an old man
and a little boy, with an ox-team, answering to the description given in the
hand-bill issued by the Judge, had been seen on the road on the day of the
murder, near where the bodies had been found. The Sheriff, David R. Huff-
stutter, Harrison Smith, William A. Tegarden, H. A. Miller, Andrew Smith,
Lewis Spurlock and Samuel Espe started in hot pursuit on the Sunday follow-
ing the tragedy, and eventually tracked the party described to Upton, Scotland
Co., Mo., four miles south of which place they found the team and man and boy.

The old man, whose name they learned was John Kephart, aged sixty
years, gave up without resistance. The little boy seemed alarmed and fled
crying to one of the party for protection. The little fellow told the Sheriff that
his name was Willis; that the dead woman was his mother, and that he did not
see her killed ; awaking in the night, he saw her lying in the wagon, dead, with
a large gash in her head. He saw Kephart kill his little sister and brother.
They awoke, too, when his mother was killed, and jumped out of the wagon, and
Kephart had some trouble to catch them, as they ran under and around the
wagon to keep out of his reach.

The boy first remembered seeing Kephart in Muscatine, Iowa, when he
came to move his (the boy's) parents and family south. His father's name was
William Willis. It was ascertained that Kephart and the Willis family lived
in Cherokee County, Mo., for a time, where he kept a grocery and sold
whisky to the Indians. In the spring of 1860, he started for Iowa. The boy
further stated that his mother, whose name was Jane Willis, and the children,
whose names were Joseph S., aged twelve, and Maria Jane, aged six years, were
killed near Eddyville, Iowa, and that the bodies had been hauled a distance of
thirty miles.

Some account of Kephart's career was gathered from various sources. He
had resided near Trenton, in Henry County, in 1850, and was considered a
man of considerable means. He was at one time a preacher in the church of
the United Brethren, and, at the time of the murder, had his certificate, or
license to preach, with him. He was the father of nine children, all respecta-
ble citizens, and at the time of the murder had a wife living in Washington
County, Iowa. While a resident of this section, he was engaged in a number
of disreputable, transactions, falling into the clutches of the law and being con-
fined in jail. Kephart was for a time associated with the noted land pirate,
John A. Murrill, whose rendezvous was a cave situated some distance below
Louisville, Ky. In the year 1833, in Lancaster, Fairfield Co., Ohio, for having
been concerned in several murders with that noted criminal, he was a prisoner
at the bar, and was condemned to death, but contrived to make his escape.

As soon as the Sheriff reached Fairfield with his prisoner, a preliminary
trial was held before the County Judge. He waived an examination, and was
then regularly committed to jail. On the first night of his incarceration, the
Sheriff, on entering the Jail, found his prisoner hanging by the neck against
the door of his cell, and immediately cut the rope. The would-be suicide fall-
ing heavily to the floor, received a very severe contusion of the skull, which
almost knocked what life out of him still remained after his attempt at
hanging. He was, however, eventually restored. He had secured a rope with
which his captors had bound his feet together when he was first taken, and
which was still fastened about one ankle when he was committed to jail, and
which he had secreted about his person.


On Thursday morning after the murderer was secured, a large body of well-
armed men, on horseback, in wagons and on foot, marched into town in good order,
proceeded directly to the jail, which they surrounded, and called for the keys.
The lynchers, as they proved to be, were mostly from Wapello and Jefferson
Counties — the citizens of Fairfield being generally opposed to their summary
mode of procedure. Speeches were made to the mob by Judge Alexander,
Messrs. Wilson, Acheson, Negus, Slagle, Lamson and others, who made every
offer that might satisfy them that the prisoner would be safely kept until a fair
trial, according to law, could be given him. Their offers and arguments were
answered by loud cries to open the doors, with increased turbulence and excite-
ment. Several of the mob procured a post, which they brought to bear as a
battering-ram against everything that stood between them and their victim.
The doors soon gave way and the murderer was immediately seized and borne
by four men to a wagon and driven off under guard. The wagon containing the
prisoner stopped at nearly every house on the road, in order that all should
see the fiendish murderer. As he was quite faint during the trip, buckets
of water were thrown over him. When the procession arrived at the place
of execution — at the spot where the bodies of the murdered woman and her
and her children had been found — the crowd had been augmented to 1,200 per-
sons, and there were 2,500 people — some from a distance of thirty miles —
awaiting their arrival on the ground, about four hundred women being included
among the number, who had here gathered together to witness the execution of
a human being. The roundabout road by which the prisoner had traveled made
the distance about thirteen miles from Fairfield.

About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the prisoner was brought forward by
two men, who assisted him up the ladder to the platform of a gallows that had
already been prepared. There was no trial, as all were convinced of his guilt;
the services of a minister were neither offered nor asked for, and ten minutes
were allowed for confession, which he employed by stating that he was innocent
of the murder of the woman. He also asked if his shroud was made ; on
hearing which, he was shown his grave, and told by some one in the crowd that
he would get no shroud. After his hands had been secured behind his back, a
handkerchief fastened over his face and the rope placed around his neck, the
rope that held the trap-door under his feet was severed by a blow from a hatchet
in the hands of one of the party, and the prisoner was launched into eternity
directly over the spot where the bodies of his victims had been found.

Resolutions were then passed, disposing of the property of Kephart, which
were to the effect that the money discovered in the wagon — amounting to $428,
which had been found concealed in a keg of soap-grease — the wagon itself and
the oxen, should be given for the benefit of the living boy of the murdered
woman ; and a guardian was then and there appointed for him. The body was
then taken in charge, for the purpose of dissection, by some physicians who
were on the ground. The citizens soon afterward dispersed to their homes to
attend to the peaceable avocations of life, and the remembrance of the part that
they had taken in launching a red-handed murderer into the presence of a
higher tribunal than that of man, sat easily on their minds.


At Fairfield, on Thursday morning. May 23, 1867, was enacted a tragedy,
the bloody details of which are as shocking and blood-curdling as those of any
murder which has ever blackened the criminal records of the State of Iowa.
On the morning in question, Joseph Mathews, a laborer, between the hours of


7 and 8 o'clock, when everyone but himself and wife, Mrs. Sarah A. Mathews,
had quitted the premises, when the latter had no thought of the murderous
intent in the mind of her husband, and while she stood with her back turned
toward him, seized an ax and deliberately hewed her head to pieces. This
terrible crime was enacted on a bright, beautiful morning of the pleasantest
month of the year, when all the better and holier instincts of man and bird and
"beast seem to reign with the fullest sway.

Early after the tragedy, news of which had been conveyed abroad by
■James Frank Mathews, a twelve-year-old son of the victim and her un-
natural husband, who had returned home in time to witness a portion of
■the tragedy, an anxious crowd surrounded the dwelling. Mathews, when
arrested and conveyed to jail, offered no resistance, remaining as immovable
and impassive as a beast. Various and conflicting feelings pervaded the mul-
titude ; some were filled with the deepest indignation at the enormity of the
crime, and clamored loudly for speedy and certain vengeance ; some, taking into
consideration certain well-known peculiarities in the character of Mathews,
gave better counsels. These prevailed, and the matter was left to its proper
course. ^

C. E. Noble, Coroner, summoned J. M. Shaffer, J. L. Myers and John R.
Shaffer as a jury of inquest, and proceeded to view the remains of the mur-
dered wife and mother. The following facts were elicited :

The body of Mrs. Mathews, when first discovered by the citizens, was lying
on the right side in a small room on the north side of the house, nearly opposite
the residence of Mr. G. D. Temple. The face was to the floor, and large pools
•of blood were under the head and shoulders. To the north of where the mur-
dered woman lay, and near the window, stood two barrels, and on the other side
of the dead body, along the south side of the room, was ranged a row of boxes.
From the nature of the contents of some of these, it may be supposed the wife
was busy about her household cares, and that she had entered the fatal chamber
for some article used in her culinary duties. An ax. the head and blade of
which were found dripping with the life-blood of the faithful woman, who scarcely
an hour before was so full of life and vigor, lay near the bleeding body. The
hair was disheveled and clotted with blood, and the wounds and marks of vio-
lence were quite distinct, and the jagged edges indicated that the murder had
been effected with a blunt instrument. There were fully nine wounds — any one
■of which might have caused the death of the woman — " poor dumb mouths,"
which bore their ghastly testimony to the ferocious and savage instincts of the
brutal and unreasoning husband. The left sleeve of the dress was torn from
the shoulder, and a purple bruise on the back of the right hand, indicating that
a blow had been warded off, showed the desperate struggle of the wife and
mother in the vain endeavor to preserve her life.

Mrs. Mathews was buried the day following the murder, at 2 o'clock in the
afternoon, a vast crowd assembling at the Methodist Church to attend the

Online LibraryWestern Historical CoThe history of Jefferson County, Iowa, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., a biographical directory of citizens, war records of its volunteers in the late rebellion, general and local statistics, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, history of the Northwest, his → online text (page 50 of 75)