Pieces of a Puzzle: M. Thomas Family

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In honor of Juneteenth, a day celebrated by many Black communities to commemorate the end of slavery, we are sharing the story of  an Old Settler Black family.

Introduction

Harvey County is made up of diverse cultures.  Many families can trace their history back to the early settlement period of the 1870s and 1880s.  Traditionally,  focus has been on the white settlers in celebrations like Old Settler’s Day. However, Black and other mixed race families,  like David Anderson & Mary Rickman Anderson Grant , were homesteading in 1871. In 1880, a group of at least 32 Black individuals, including Katie Vance, settled in Newton. Their stories are harder to find, often only brief mentions in the newspaper provide scattered clues. Many times the stories are not neat and pretty. This is the case with the family of M. Thomas as seen through the eyes of local newspapers.

Recently, a short blurb in 1888 about a 15 year old “colored girl”  in Police Court caught my attention. Curious to see if I could find out more, I did some digging.

Newton Daily Republican, 1 March 1888

The M. Thomas family came to Newton in about 1880 from Trenton, Todd, Kentucky.  The family consisted of Madison, his wife, Matilda, and three children, 13 year old William, 11 year old Mary, and 7 year old Ellen. In 1885, the family was living along north Main between 10th & 11th and Madison worked as a laborer.

The two of Thomas children experienced difficulties with the law in the late 1800s, all of which were reported in colorful detail by the local papers.

The Thomas Siblings

Ellen Thomas : “Frisky Colored Maiden”

In 1887,  14 year old Ellen Thomas must have fallen in with a rough crowd.  In September, she was arrested with four men for disturbing a meeting at the Second Baptist Church.  The men, George Morrow, C. Coleman, George Vance, and Bob Wylls, were each fined three dollars and court costs. The judge showed “mercy to the woman” and did not fine her.  Later, he reportedly regretted not being harder on her. (Newton Daily Republican, 9 September 1887)

At the end of September, Ellen was arrested along with Charles Coleman  for stealing a watch while at the county fair.  This time the judge was not so lenient and Ellen was fined two dollars and costs.

Justice’s Docket City of Newton Criminal Cases 1880-1889

In March 1888, Ellen  was arrested for drunk and disorderly. The Newton Kansan noted that “Ellen is an old offender and has figured quite conspicuously in the courts in this city on several former occasions, and the officers’ patience is about exhausted.” (1 March 1888) She plead guilty and paid the $5 fine plus costs.

In April, Ellen was again mentioned in the Evening Daily Republican under the heading “Too Hilarious”

“Ellen Thomas a colored woman, who has on more than one occasion figured romantically in police court circles, and Albert Lewis also colored, were taken before Police Judge Spooner . . . who fined them each $5 and the court trimmings for disorderly conduct on the streets Friday night.” (22 April 1888)

The reporter failed to describe what was “Too Hilarious” about the situation.

A more serious crime was committed in October when the Newton Daily Republican  reported that she was “Fined for Her Fun.” Ellen was described as the “frisky colored maiden, who assaulted the young white girl Miss Scott.” The trial was held in Judge Lupfer’s court and Ellen was fined $5 and costs which the editor felt would “no doubt cause her to have more respect for the law.” (22 October 1888)

She again caught the attention of the police and newspaper readers in October 1891. After serving time  in jail for an “affray” with Mrs. Weston (another Black woman), Ellen was released, but soon found herself back in jail for attempting to help a fellow prisoner escape. The Newton Daily Republican recounted:

“It seems that while in jail she lost her heart to one of her fellow-prisoners, a colored man giving his name as McCloskey, and ever since she received her freedom has been trying to devise a way for him to escape. Today Sheriff Pollard caught her giving him two saws made especially for cutting iron and promptly arrested her.” (22 October 1891)

This time she was sentenced to 15 months at Lansing for the attempt. She returned to Newton in 1893, “a rather notorious colored woman.” Ellen next appears in Police court with several others on charges of being operators, inmates or frequenters of questionable houses.” However, in this case she was found not guilty.

Ellen appears once more in the Newton paper in a strange story featuring “Female Footpads.”

Newton Kansan, 26 Jan 1900

The Newton Kansan on January 26, 1900 colorfully describes the hold up of “L. Titsworth of Lincoln. . . by three wenches” on West 4th near the Second Baptist Church in Newton.  Titsworth was walking around town to pass the time when,

“he was accosted by the dusky Amazons, one of whom flashed a pistol in his face. He surrendered at once and the woman went through his pockets, taking two $5 bills and a silver dollar.  This was about 8 o’clock; services were going on in the church at the time.  the audacity of the affair left Mr. Titsworth almost speechless and by the time he regained composure the females had flown.”

Warrants were quickly issued for Ellen Thomas, Mary and Gertie Doe. In a strange turn, the February 23 issue of the Newton Kansan noted that

 “The criminal docket was wiped up this morning owing to the fact that ‘Colonel’ Titsworth failed to leave his address and refuses to stay in one place long enough to allow said address to become known . . . the case dismissed.”

The editor noted, “The colonel is a smooth proposition and will no doubt be the defendant in a state case some time.”

Ellen Thomas also seemed to disappear from Newton and the record.

Bill Thomas: “Full of Lead”

William or Bill was born in Tennessee in approximately 1867. He was 13 when the family arrived in Newton.  By the mid-1890s, he was working as a porter at the Clark hotel in Newton.  He had scuffles with the law off and on.  The most serious event was in 1896 and also involved his sister Ellen.

Newton Kansan, 5 November 1896

During Republican rally with a large crowd, Thomas apparently took insult at “Red” Woodford slapping his sister Ellen. Thomas drew his 32 caliber revolver and fired, hitting Woodford at least twice. Woodford drew his own weapon and chased after Thomas.  Even though both men sustained possibly fatal wounds, the paper reported that they “showed great courage so far as the effects of the shots were concerned.” Woodford was carried to Harry Lum’s and Thomas to Dr. Roff’s, both too badly wounded to be arrested, neither expected to live.

In May 1897, the Newton Kansan reported Red” Woodford Captured. Apparently, both men were strong enough to escape Newton before they were arrested for the November 1896 shooting.  Woodford returned to the area in May 1897 and Sheriff Charles Judkin wasted no time in arresting him.  The paper reported that Bill Thomas was in Louisiana.

Madison & Mathilda Thomas

Madison and Matilda Thomas seemed to have lived a much quieter life than  their children.   One can only wonder what they thought.

Matilda Thomas: “A Colored Woman”

In 1892, sorrow struck the family when Matilda died of “a severe attack of asthma.” on December  10. Her obituary was a brief announcement in the paper. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.  Matilda was born in Kentucky in approximately 1842.  She possibly met Madison Thomas after the Civil War and they were married.  Their first child, William was born in 1867.

Newton Daily Republican, 10 December 1892.

Madison Thomas: “The Price Paid”

Born a slave in about 1829 in Virginia,  little can be pieced together about Madision Thomas’ life. A small notice in the Newton Kansan for July 18, 1907 notes:

“Thomas is at present time 86 years of age and is growing feeble but at one time he was evidently a good man as the price paid for him was 1200 dollars.” 

The article also describes Thomas’ bill of sale for a “negro slave . . .Madison Thomas . .  in Richmond, Va in the year 1858.” When the war broke out Madison enlisted in the Union army under General Thomas and “was given by his own master the bill of sale for his own body.”

Under the command of General Thomas, it is likely that Madison served with the USCT 1st Brigade (14,16,17,18,44) or USCT 2nd Brigade (12, 13,100) and which was raised in Tennessee. He was posted along railroads in 1864 and moved to Nashville with General Thomas to participate in the Battle of Nashville.

After 1911, Madison Thomas, former slave, Union soldier, laborer and Harvey County resident since 1880 disappears from the written record. While his wife, Matilda Thomas, is buried in Greenwood, there does not seem to be a record of his death or burial.

Sources & Notes

  • Thank you to HCHM Volunteer Damon Penner for his research on Madison Thomas’s Civil War record. (Any errors are mine.) Damon is a senior at WSU and is currently volunteering at HCHM working with the Civil War Pensions.
  • More on Juneteenth 
  • Newton Daily Republican: 1 July 1891, 7 January 1893
  • Newton City Directories: 1885, 1887, 1902, 1905, 1911.
  • U.S Census: 1880, 1900, 1910,
  • Kansas Census: 1895, 1905,

 

“I Know Who Did It!” The 1902 Bank Robbery at Sedgwick

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“One of the most daring attempts at bank robbery ever perpetrated in this part of the country occurred in this city sometime Monday night.”  (Sedgwick Pantagraph, 23 January 1902.)

Sedgwick Pantagraph, 23 January 1902.

“Daring Attempt”

According to the news reports, the burglars “forced an entrance through the west window . . . picked a hole through the thick walls of the vault” at the Citizens Bank of Sedgwick January 22, 1902. They continued and “knocked off the combination lock” and made their way through the outer door. To get past the time lock and “heavy steel doors,” they employed  nitroglycerine and blew it up.

Past that hurdle, they were unable to get to the “compact little steel compartment which was protected by a combination lock” open.  They gave up after damaging the  smaller vault with a hammer. This vault had over $6,000. For their efforts “all the booty . . .  they secured was the loose silver in the counter tray . . . and a Colts revolver from the drawer at the cashier’s window.”  The estimated value of what was taken was $100.

Prior to breaking into the bank, the “robbers broke open the Santa Fe tool house and secured a pick, hammer crowbar and other tools to crack the safe.”

The Heart of  Town

Initial reports noted that despite being “committed in the heart of the town” the burglary was not discovered until 7 o’clock Tuesday morning. The broken window was noticed by “Post Master Mueller’s boy.” Some reported hearing explosions earlier, but “they were so muffled that little attention was paid.”

Later reports, note that the night watchman discovered the break in around 4 a.m.

When Mr. Anderson arrived and  opened the bank “the wreck disclosed was something frightful. Books, papers, brick and mortar were scattered everywhere and the big heavy steel doors of the vault were torn and twisted.”

The Escape

In the rush to get away “the tools were left where they were dropped by the burglars after they decided to abandon their project. . . they stole a hand car and went south over the Santa Fe toward Wichita.”

The robbers were spotted at 4 o’clock in the morning by a man living near Wichita Heights. He was awakened as the handcar passed by and saw the robbers at a distance.  At the time he did not know of the Sedgwick robbery.

The burglars abandoned the handcar at Valley Center “evidently the work of propelling it was too hard” where it was found Wednesday morning. (Topeka Daily Herald, 22 January 1902)

Area papers reported the news across the state.

“At about two o’clock yesterday morning burglars robbed the Citizens” Savings bank here of a box of silver containing $100. The burglars dug through the brick walls of the vault and then blew off the door of the safe with dynamite. In their haste they missed the bulk of the money, but escaped with what little they secured.

Perhaps in response to the January burglary, the Sedgwick State Bank announced on February 27 that they were “fitted out with an up-to-date electric burglar alarm . . . now better protected against daylight holdups and night burglaries” (Sedgwick Pantagraph, 27 February 1902.)

Identity of the Robbers

Despite being amateurs, it is unclear if the culprits were ever found.  The Pantagraph reported that “no clew (sic) has been obtained as to the identity of the robbers.”

Although one clever boy claimed to know,  and the paper reported his theory.

“A small boy appeared on the scene and startled everybody by exclaiming, “I know who robbed that bank.”

A dozen men anxiously inquired, “Who?” 

“Robbers!” yelled the kid as he started for the school house.

Sedgwick Pantagraph, 23 January 1902

At the time of publishing this post, research has not revealed if the burglars were ever caught or sent to jail.

Sources

  • Sedgwick Pantagraph: 23 January 1902,  27 February 1902.
  • Topeka Daily Herald: 22 January 1902

 

“The Most Bloody Affrays”

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

After the shooting of Deputy Sheriff Carlos B. King in the fall of 1871, the violence in Newton calmed.  Most of the businesses associated with the earlier violence had moved on with the cattle trade. With incorporation of the city and the creation of Harvey County, came order and laws. However, the community would be shocked once again in November 1872 with “one of the most bloody affrays.”

Just before closing, the editor of the Newton Kansan received news of a violent morning on Newton’s Main street.

“Before closing for press this morning one of the most bloody affrays, within the limits and before the eyes of an enlightened community took place in this city. . . We have to chronicle the murdering of Geo. Halliday, Esq,  well know and highly esteemed and  prominent citizen of this city.” 

The man accused of the murder “one of the most murderous and wicked men in the country, especially when under the influence of . . . liquor” was Mike (M.J.) Fitzpatrick.

“Ordinarily Good Friends”

On the morning in question, George Halliday was at James Gregory’s Gold Rooms Saloon, 515 Main, Newton.  Even at the early hour of 10 am, he was reportedly intoxicated.

500 Block, Main Street, Newton, Ks in 1879, Showing the location of the Gold Room Saloon. This photo was taken 7 years after the Halliday shooting.

At the same time M. J. Fitzpatrick “had been upon a drunk for perhaps two weeks” and as a result “that wicked nature of his had began to overcome his senses.”  The previous evening, he had “hunted several parties of his associates with pistol in hand to kill them” with no success. This was his mood when he entered the Gold Room Saloon at 10 am and saw his friend, George Halliday.

Some comment passed between the two men that “were ordinarily good friends.” Whatever was said caused Fitzpatrick to strike Halliday on the head with the revolver “at the same time he pulled it down to his breast and miss fired once, pulling it again and it was discharged, killing Mr. Halliday almost instantly.”

“Put an End to his Existence”

Following the shooting, Fitzpatrick “walked into the street defying any person to attempt to touch him. Crowds of men immediately rushed to satisfy themselves  as to the affair and in two minutes fifty men ran for firearms and swore him to death.” 

The City Marshall, Jack Johnson, did attempt  to arrest Fitzpatrick, “who immediately drew the revolver on him.”  At which time, Johnson “calmly surveying the situation . . . crossed the street, borrowed a Henry rifle and in another minute put an end to his existence . . . in front of Hamill & Co store.”

“Ordered  to Leave Town and Never Come Back”

Within fifteen minutes of the shooting, a committee was formed to search out  “several hard cases  . . . and ordered them to leave town and never come back.” 

“There Lying Dead”

At the same time a Coroner’s Inquest was convened with John Reid, Justice of the Peace of Newton Township, Harvey County, Ks as the acting coroner. Twelve men, six for each case, were called as jurors.  In the case of Fitzpatrick, the jurors included D. Hamill, who owned Hamill & Co located “first door north of the depot” where Fitzpatrick lay dead. Seven witnesses were called. After hearing the statements the jurors, “at the body of M.J. Fitzpatrick, there lying dead”  decreed that Fitzpatrick “came to death from a gun shot wound, in the hand of a lawful officer whose attempts to arrest him” failed.

The cost of the Inquisition was $16.15.

Testimonies and statements were also taken related to the death of George Halliday for the consideration of the six jurors. Five witnesses were called to describe the events of the morning.

It was ruled that his death was caused by the actions of M.J. Fitzpatrick. The cost for the Halliday Inquisition was $14.65.

 

George Halliday, Attorney at Law

The same paper that reported his death included a small notice advertising his services as an Attorney at Law and real estate agent.

Newton Kansan, 7 November 1872

Active in the public since his arrival in Newton in 1871, George Halliday was well known in Newton and his former home, Topeka.  Shortly after his arrival in Newton, Halliday was appointed justice of the peace following the resignation of Judge C.S. Bowman on August 31, 1871.   On February 29, 1872, he, along with R. M. Spivey, was instrumental in the organization of Harvey County, introducing bill H.B. 504 which created the new county. Just seven days prior to the fatal encounter, Halliday was listed as a Republican delegate from Newton.

Gravestone in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton Ks.

Born in Scotland in 1837,  he married Jennie Roe on November 5, 1871 in Kansas.   Halliday was held “high in the esteem of his neighbors.” 

Mike “M.J.” Fitzpatrick

Although newspapers from the time do not reveal a great deal about M.J. Fitzpatrick, it is apparent that he was known in Newton.  The August 22, 1872 Newton Kansan lists M.J. Fitzpatrick among men gathered to form a “Grant & Wilson Club.” 

Newton Kansan, 7 November 1872.

The November 7, 1872 newspaper that detailed the shooting also announced the formation of the Newton Hook & Ladder Fire Co the previous evening; among those elected to positions, M.J. Fitzpatrick, foreman.

What happened to cause M.J. Fitzpatrick to go on a drunken rampage on a week day morning and shoot a friend dead remains a mystery.

“One of the Best Days . . “

The editor of the Newton Kansan concluded:

“While we lament the death of Mr. Halliday, we believe this has been one of the best days our thriving young city has ever seen. Our respectable and law-abiding citizens have taken the matter into their own hands, and will see that hereafter Newton shall give no shelter to men who live by murdering and robbing good people, but shall win that reputation near and far that shall be to it an honor not a disgrace.”

Sources:

  • Harvey County Coroner’s Reports, Box    File Folder 01.04 HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Newton Kansan: 22 August 1872,  5 September 1872, 31 October 1872, 7 November 1872, 14 November 1872,21 November 1872,  27 March 1873, 7 April 1873.
  • The Weekly Newton Democrat: 15 November 1872.
  • Daily Commonwealth: 25 February 1871,  31 August 1871,  5 November 1871, 29 February 1872.
  • Daily Beacon: 7 November 1872.
  • Wichita Eagle: 14 November 1872, 28 November 1872.
  • Topeka Weekly Times: 18 January 1872, 25 January 1872, 1 February 1872, 7 March 1872, 14 March 1872, 30 May 1872, 2 June 1872, 14 November 1872.
  • Weekly Commonwealth: 13 November 1872.