“Slanderous Reports:” the Election for County Sheriff in 1908

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

On November 7, the people of Harvey County will have the opportunity to vote on several local issues of importance.  Today, candidates use a variety of methods to get their message out to the voters. Social media, including twitter and Facebook, can have a huge impact on results, both locally and at the national levels. The influence of television was experienced in 1960 and  the first live Presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Where people today rely on TV and social media for information in past years, local newspapers have been an important avenue for candidates.  The race for Harvey County sheriff in 1908 could be one example.

“An enviable record as a soldier, and his bravery, . . . is unquestioned.”

Avery R. Ainsworth was a respected member of the Newton community.  He served as City Marshall in the early 1900s.  In the bid for re-election in 1900, the editor of the Evening Kansan Republican noted:

Ainsworth “has always been on hand when needed, and as a enforcer of the law is cordially hated by the ‘gents’ that frequently float around the community living at the expense of the other fellow. . . he has an enviable record as a soldier, and his bravery . .  is unquestioned.”

Avery R. Ainsworth, Newton City Marshal, Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks 1901, p. 8.

Evening Kansan Republican, 5 February 1900.

While serving as City Marshall, he assisted the County Sheriff on raids “made on ‘refreshment stands'” or “joints” to enforce prohibition.

Ainsworth Home, 1901. Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks, 1901.

He also served on the Board of Education for the Newton schools in 1904.

Avery R. Ainsworth, NHS 1904 Yearbook, Board of Directors.

Harvey County Candidates in 1908.

In 1908, Ainsworth  announced his candidacy for sheriff on the Republican ticket. In the republican primary he faced W.E. Johnston, “one of the staunch and true republicans of Highland township.” In the August primary, Ainsworth prevailed to get the republican nomination for sheriff.

Evening Kansan Republican, 30 July 1908, p. 6.

The Evening Kansan Republican urged party unity. In the section titled “Comments Wise and Otherwise,” the editor S.R. Peters noted;

“If he [a voter] takes part in the primary he is honor bound to stand by the ticket nominated by the system, regardless of his personal feelings or bias.”

In the fall of 1908, rumors and controversy  swirled around Ainsworth and in October, editor Peters, sought to answer the critics.

Good Faith for Public Good?

He posed these questions:

“Are J.C. Johnston and Dr. Boyd opposing Mr. Ainsworth and other candidates on the republican ticket in good faith for the public good, or are they airing sore spots and seeking revenge?or airing sore spots and seeking revenge?”

Evening Kansan Republican, 23 October 1908.

Using more than a full page of newsprint, Peters carefully reviews the facts as he knew them in defense of A.R. Ainsworth and the “republican ticket.” He noted that it was important in this case to name the people involved to understand the motives.

  “These men claim to be republicans, but are outdoing all the others in their efforts to oppose a number of the republican candidates.”

“These men are leading . . . the dirty fight . . . against Ainsworth”

Who were the leaders against Ainsworth? Two well known Newton men, Dr. Gastor Boyd and J.C. Johnston. The editor gave some back story related to the two men. He noted that Dr. Gaston Boyd, was “a life long democrat until he was defeated” in a recent election.  It was observed that Dr. Boyd  secured a promotion for his son when he was Newton’s mayor and appointed his “own son city clerk.”

J.C Johnston was a Republican with a total of 12 years of service in various capacities in county government including County Clerk and County Treasurer.  The recently defeated candidate for sheriff, W.C. Johnston was likely a relative**. The editor of the paper noted: “after a long term in office, his [Johnston’s] luck changed.”

Johnston applied or ran for various positions from pay master in the general army to the superintendent of construction of the new Harvey County courthouse. He was not able to secure any of the positions and the editor noted that after not receiving the position under the McKinley administration “he abused McKinley.” In 1894, a suit was filed against him by  Harvey County “to recover about $5,000.00 in fees which as county clerk and treasurer he had failed to pay into the treasury.” The editor concluded that “by this time he was out with practically all republicans” further noting that “these are the men that are leading. . . the dirty fight . . . against A.R. Ainsworth for Sheriff.”

Boyd and Johnston charged that Ainsworth was “guilty of compounding a misdemeanor about seven years ago.” They claimed that Ainsworth

“accepted $15 from James Riley for his agreement not to prosecute said Riley for crap shooting and he received $50 from Thomas Berry about 13 years ago for releasing him from custody when he was wanted in Nebraska for stealing horses and sheep. “

We have investigated these charges”

Editor Peters set out to answer the charges. The first case was a muddled exchanged involving a forged check issued at Murphy’s Hotel and innocently cashed by Mrs. Van Aiken and a  man by the name of Riley who was involved in an illegal crap game in July 1901.  Peters was adamant, after talking with those directly involved, that Ainsworth had done nothing illegal. He summarized by noting that Ainsworth merely “recovered and returned to its owner the money obtained from Mrs. Van Aiken as a result of a criminal act . . . no extortion was involved.”

The second charge made by Boyd and Johnston involved the release of a man wanted in another state, Thomas Berry, for money.  The editor concluded that it was a matter of poorly timed information from the sheriff in Nebraska that led to the release of the man charged with stealing horses and sheep.

Peters observed that these events transpired thirteen to fourteen years ago and Ainsworth has served in “honorable positions in the community” all of this time. “Nothing,” Peters continues, “is heard of this matter . . . until late day when Ainsworth is a candidate for sheriff.”

Office of Sheriff

Even with the conflict, A.R. Ainsworth was elected sheriff for Harvey County. The November 5, 1908 paper noted that “while the majority for Ainsworth was not as large as his friends expected, it was sufficient to place him in the office of sheriff next January.” 

Principals Have Been Sued”

Ainsworth did file suit against Dr. G. Boyd, J.C. Johnston, and Joseph Hebert “for conspiring to defame his character on the eve of the election.”

Avery R. Ainsworth died at the home of his son, Clayton, in  Newton at the age of 76 in 1921.  Born in Ohio in 1845, he was in the 5th Ill Calvary, Co C during the Civil War.  He married Sadie J. Corey in 1870, and the family came to Newton in 1879. The couple had three children, but only one lived to adulthood, Clayton.  In Harvey County, he served as Newton City Marshall for several years, as Deputy Sheriff  for two terms and one term as Harvey County Sheriff.  He also served on the Newton Board of Education and was involved with the Episcopal church in Newton.


  • ** W.C. Johnston was likely a brother to J.C. Johnston, but at this writing (10/27/2017) it could not be confirmed.


  • Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks 1901, p. 8.
  • Evening Kansan Republican:  5 February 1900, 26 March 1900, 10 April 1900, 12 October 1900,25 March 1901, 21 August 1901, 2 August 190430 January 1905, 15 December 1905, 6 March 1908, 12 May 1908, 5  30 July 1908,  5 August 1908, 23 October 1908,5 November 1908,  20 May 1921, 24 May 1921.
  • For more on the first televised Presidential debate: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/1960-first-televised-presidential-debate/

It Was the Same Old Story: Murder on Main

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Part 1 of 2 posts.

Shortly before 10:00 on Thursday morning, February 14, 1895, Thomas Williams, the head cook for the Clark Hotel,  stepped out of P. Byer’s Store at 421 Main after placing an order.  He walked south toward the Clark Hotel and had reached Fred Brandt’s place when Patrick Rickman rushed out.

Some eyewitnesses said that Rickman shouted, “Now I’ve got you!” before shooting his No. 44 Colt Navy Revolver at Williams. Williams ran and Rickman fired again hitting Williams in the back. Rickman then chased Williams.  The two continued to fight. Rickman threw Williams down the stairway to a basement on the south side of the Clark Hotel.  He continued to beat Williams with the gun handle. One observer described Rickman as “insane with rage” and Williams “powerless to help himself.”

Clark Hotel, 409 N. Main, Newton, ca. 1880

Marshall Ainsworth came to the scene and tried to disarm Rickman with little success. Two men, W.C. Conrad and Mart Covert, tried to help.  Finally, Covert gave two blows to the head and was able to daze Rickman enough that Ainsworth was able to get the gun away. By the time they were able to separate the two men six shots had been fired. Williams had a gun shot wound and was severely beaten.

Williams was carried to Dr. O.W. Roff, where he was pronounced dead.

Newton Daily Republican, 14 February 1895, p. 4.

Rickman was taken  to a nearby drug store where Dr. Miller tried to take care of his wounds, but found that Rickman was “still in a frenzied condition.”  The doctor recalled that Rickman “had the appearance of a maniac and it was with difficulty that he was approached.”

Hutchinson News, February 14, 1895. One of several area papers that ran this release.

In the Coroner’s Inquisition later that day, it was noted that Rickman shot and killed a man on Main street and “more than hundred men saw the brutal act.” 

Thomas Williams, a Black man, was roughly 30 years of age, described as “quiet, industrious, quite a flashy dresser.” He had worked for Van Duyn, manager at the Clark Hotel, for 4-5 years.  The initial newspaper reports note that he had a wife and child.  The report also noted that this “was not the first experience of this sort” involving Williams. However, “for a good number of years he has borne a good reputation.” 

Patrick Rickman was well-known in Newton and described as “a powerfully built negro of large mold and fine physical build, about 35 years . . . one-eighth Indian and has always been a steady and industrious man.” A builder by trade and he had even served for a time on the police force.

Patrick Rickman. Photo Courtesy Julian Wall.

The reporter for the Newton Daily Republican noted that the cause of the fight “was the same old story. A man came between husband and wife and paid his life as a forfeit.”

“Fatal Shooting Affray”

The difficulties started in spring 1894,  when Rickman returned to Newton from Oklahoma or “the Strip” with the suspicion that Williams was “being too free with his wife,” Amanda Burdine Rickman.  He had received an anonymous letter telling him, “he had better come home and look after his wife.” Initially, he did not believe there was any truth to the claim and  things calmed down.

Amanda Burdine Rickman. Photo courtesy Julian Wall.

Then,  in February 1895, he received several suspicious letters for his wife from a  Florence woman with reference to another man. According to friends,  Rickman was “beside himself about the matter.”  A letter he received  the morning of February 14, contained proof of his wife’s infidelity.  On that Thursday morning in February 1895, he snapped, with tragic results.

Later that day, a reporter for the Newton Daily Republican  visited Rickman in jail and observed that “the fire of passion which this morning resulted in Tom Williams’ death had burned itself out” and Rickman appeared “dazed and in pitiful condition.”

Corner’s Inquisition

A Corner’s Inquisition was held in the afternoon following the shooting. The jury consisted of James W. Hurst, David E. Scott, C. Kirlin, H.C Smith, C.L. Schafer, J.J. Risdon and James McKee, Harvey County Corner.

Cover Page of Coroner’s Inquistition

Several eye-witnesses were interviewed, as well as the doctors that attended the dying man and Rickman.

Of the men interviewed, most knew Rickman.  Only  three knew Williams, but not very well. Only one of those interviewed did not know either man.

E. E. Pollard recalled an earlier conversation he had with Rickman. At that time Rickman told him that “no man could come between him and his wife and still live.” Pollard advised him “to do nothing rash, but to wait.”

Fred Brandt, a restaurant owner  at 413 Main, recounted what he observed that morning.

“I and  Rickman stood in the door . . . I asked Rickman what he was doing this spring, if he was going to the Strip.  He answered, ‘Fred I can not tell you what I am going to do this spring’ at that time Tom Williams passed . . . Rickman pushed me and ran out and drawed his pistol – shot one shot – at Tom Williams, then fired another one – Williams went into Frank Tyson’s . . went up to Mr. Tyson’s place and seen that Rickman had Williams down on the stairway and pounding him with his gun – then the wressled awhile and Williams got away from him and run up to the Clark House tried to open the front door, Rickman catched him. . . wressled awhile . . . Mr. Ainsworth – City Marshall- went on the South side of Clark House – Rickman and Williams were down there, Rickman was hammering Williams with that pistol – Weir Conrad and Mart Covert went down in the stairway and assisted the City Marshall.”   

Another witness, George W. Geary, noted that by the time the two men were by the Clark House “quite a crowd had arrived – good many cried for Pat to let him alone” while the Marshall and two other men tried to get the gun away.

A.R. Ainsworth, Newton City Marshall,  described  efforts to separate the men.

“The parties were in the basement – south of the Clark House – I told Rickman to give me his revolver that he had killed him any way – I grabbed  hold of the gun with both hands and told him to let me have it – he resisted and I tried to take it from him but could not.  W. C. Conrad came and took hold of the gun -we both tried to take it from him. He held on to it. Then,  someone came and struck Rickman over the head – he let go – Conrad took the gun and I took Pat – brought him to Newton Drug Co. and had his head dressed and took him to the County Jail.”

“With Felonious Intent”

The Jurors came to their conclusion on Friday, February 15.

Thomas Williams Coroner’s Inquisition, February 14 & 15, 1895.

“Thomas Williams (Colored) a resident of Newton, Harvey County Kansas, came to his death as the result of a Gun shot wound from a Revolver in the hand of Patrick Rickman (Colored) on Main Street City of Newton, Harvey County, Kansas on the 14th day of February 1895 about the hour of 10 o’clock a.m. upon the above named Thomas Williams (Colored) and that his death was caused by said wound, and that we do find that the said Thomas Williams (Colored) death was caused by the said Patrick Rickman (Colored) with Felonious Intent.”

The editor of the paper expressed frustration that it took two days for the jury to reach a verdict.

“It seems queer that it should require nearly two days for the Corner’s Inquest to find that Thomas Williams was dead, that a gun shot wound was the cause, and that Patrick Rickman did the shooting . . . more than 100 men saw the brutal act committed.”

Beyond the initial newspaper report of a wife and child, the family of Williams was never mentioned. Thomas Williams was buried by the county in Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave, the location in the Original addition, Block 1, Lot 7, Space 10.


  • Newton Daily Republican: 14 February 1895,  16 February 1895, 1 March 1895.
  • Hutchinson News, February 14, 1895.
  • “Corner’s Inquisition: Thomas Williams.” HCHM Archives Box 7A, File 05.06.
  • newton.harvey.ks.govern.com/cmquery
Part 2 will be published next week and will focus on the trial.
Follow this link for  the happier story of  Patrick Rickman   and his second wife, Mary Ruth Martinsdale Rickman.