Man of Mystery: Isaac van Brunt

by Kristine Schmucker, Archivist/Curator

“Man of Mystery at the Rooming House at 7th & Shawnee”

In the early morning of October 31, 1915 a man collapsed on the street near Seventh and Shawnee in Leavenworth, Ks. He was rushed to the county hospital, but he died shortly before 6:00 in the evening that same day.  At that time the cause of death was thought to be a result of complicated stomach trouble.  The man, known as Frank Thompson, was a stranger in town. No one knew when he arrived in Leavenworth, but he rented rooms at a boarding house at 7th & Shawnee.  His age was thought to be around 47 and he was often seen with John Orman, a native of Leavenworth and a retired Kansas City police officer.  (Leavenworth Times 1 September 1915)

Two days later, Thompson’s roommate, John Orman died “after an acute illness of a few hours.”  Because of the similar nature of the illness that struck both men down, the coroner ordered an inquest.

Both men lived at 7th & Shawnee and were “engaged in the making and peddling of chili.” Orman made the chili. The cause of death was declared to be from ptomaine poisoning as a result of eating chili and no foul play was suspected.

“Chili caused a second mysterious death. John Orman died in great agony in his room at 7th and Shawnee streets.”

Unclaimed Body

Who was Frank Thompson? The paper reported that “no trace of the man’s relatives has been found.” One promising lead came from a family in Nebraska, however after viewing the body they knew it was not their relative. The editor noted that “it is probable that the body will be buried in a local cemetery tomorrow.”

However, there were a few clues. Contact information for Orman’s sister, Mrs. Julia Webber, was found in Thompson’s room with the name Isaac van Brunt. The mystery was finally solved a few days later. Mike Aaron, former guard at the state penitentiary, recognized the body of a former inmate, Isaac van Brunt.

The strangeness of Isaac van Brunt’s death is an interesting story by itself, but his whole life is cloaked in mystery and tragedy with Harvey County connections.

The Orphan Train

In 1879 or 1880, Isaac van Brunt, a 6-8-year-old boy, stepped off the train in Newton, Ks. He was a long way from where he started as an orphan in Brooklyn, New York. His actual birth date is unknown with a range of 1867 – 1872.  Born in Brooklyn, he was possibly the youngest of at least five children born to Albert Isaac and Sarah van Brunt.

In October 1870, his mother Sarah, died and Albert remarried a woman named Hulda. In July 1876, Albert died leaving 8-year-old Isaac with Hulda who did not have interest in raising the child. Isaac was taken to the Children’s Aid Society and placed on a train with 19 other children going west with a stop in Newton, Kansas with the hope of a better life. ***

He was taken to the home of John S. Hackney where he lived until 1884. Later newspaper accounts describe a young boy with “an everlasting propensity for lying and stealing. Mr. Hackney did everything possible to break the boy of his erring way, but to no avail.”

Isaac left the Hackney family only to return after a few years to say that he had reformed. It was not to last. “His was a wandering disposition and he soon left his pleasant home never to return.”

He seemed to shuffle to a number of different places in Harvey and Marion Counties. At one-point, young Isaac met a woman named Mrs. Owens. He boldly asked Mrs. Owens if he could live with her. She no doubt saw a little boy in need and with her husband decided to take him in. Isaac became a close playmate with their daughter Alice. When he was old enough, he began to work as a laborer. Due to moves out of the area by both the Owens family and Isaac, they lost contact with each other.

In 1885, at the age of 15 Isaac was living with Harry Thomas working as a laborer.

Dark Years

Two years later, Isaac’s life began to go in a bad direction.  He was arrested for stealing a watch in August 1887. He spent time in jail charged with burglarizing the home of Harry Turner. He then spent a year for burglary and larceny at Lansing after which he returned to Harvey County.

“Found Murdered!

A Harvey County Farmer Meets with Foul Play!”

On Wednesday morning, May 14, 1890, people in Harvey and Sedgwick Counties woke up to a sensational headline.

George Broer, a 68 year old farmer in Richland Township, section 26, was discovered dead in his bed. The coroner called for an inquest and the verdict was “that the deceased me his death at the hands of some persons and in some manner unknown to the jury.”

The manner of death was difficult to determine due to decomposition. Strangulation was the prevailing theory. A team of horses, wagon and harness were missing, and a small cupboard where he kept valuables had been “chiseled open and the contents removed.” Broer lived alone and had not been seen since Monday. Clues were scarce.

“Denies Murder”

Law enforcement soon zeroed in on Isaac van Brunt. A reward of $300 was offered by the county, $200 by the Broer estate and $300 by the State for the capture of van Brunt. Sheriff Pollard followed leads from across Kansas from late May to July 4 when he was arrested in Peabody, Ks.

“Marshall W.K. Palmer of Peabody capture Isaac van Brunt who is suspected of having murdered George Broer of Richland township early in May. The officers have been on the track of Van Brunt for a long time.” (Newton Daily Republican 5 July 1890)

On July 4, Van Brunt had been spotted riding through Peabody. Upon his arrest “Van Brunt acknowledged having driven the Broer team away, but denies the murder.”

“Suspected Mischief”

While awaiting trial, van Brunt spent his time in the Harvey County jail where he attempted to escape.

“Sheriff Pollard suspected mischief and yesterday made an examination of Van Brunt’s cell which resulted in his finding the in the bedding a rude saw made from a case knife, a piece from a pair of shears and several burrs which had been removed from the bolts in the jail. . . the county commissioners have now had all the fastenings secured so no more iron can be removed by prisoners.” (Newton Daily Republican, 21 July 1890)

Harvey County Jail, 1880-1917.

“Trial for the Murder of George Broer – An Interesting Case”

The December 2, 1980 issue of the Newton Daily Republican noted that there was “unusual interest” in this session of the district court “because of the trial of Isaac van Brunt, who is charged with the murder of George Broer.”

All evidence seemed to point to murder with Isaac van Brunt as the culprit.  County Attorney Bowman was the prosecutor and he called forty witnesses.

Several testified that they had heard van Brunt confess and that it essentially matched the confession van Brunt had made to the Republican, published in the July 14, 1890 issue. In addition to the confession, much of the evidence against van Brunt centered around his possession of Broer’s missing team and wagon as well as traces of powder found in van Brunt’s case.

The theory put forth, based on van Brunt’s “confession” was that in December 1889, he had supper with Broer. It was then he conceived the idea to murder the man because he had been told Broer had money.

On May 12, he stopped by the Broer farm again and “while Broer was preparing supper Van Brunt stealthily put strychnine in the food. He then fled with his victim’s team and a little money” which was about $4.50. Van Brunt made this confession to the reporter of the Republican.

R.W. Berry and C.E. Branine did their best for the defense suggesting that his confession was influenced by others and that he wa mentally impaired. Two Newton doctors testified on van Brunt’s behalf.

“Drs Axtell and Newhall testified that Van Brunt was of a very low order mentally, and that his disposition was such that he could easily be induced to make statements which would lead to his own crimination.” (Newton Journal 5 December 1890)

Throughout his life, van Brunt was often described as being mentally impaired in some way.  One reporter observed that while “van Brunt evidences little anxiety about the result of his trial his health is becoming impaired.”

Another reporter for the Newton Journal describe van Brunt as a

 “man of weak mental make-up, not naturally of a vicious disposition, and his guilt of the crime charged against him is doubted by many. He is perhaps 22 years of age, of slight build and thin, sharp features and shows indication of rapid physical decay. Every few minutes . . . he was noticed to cough like one does in the early states of consumption, his sallow, consumptive complexion, leading one to believe him afflicted with that dread disease.” (Newton Journal 5 December 1890)

Even the reporters, sheriff and county attorney questioned the confession and van Brunt’s mental abilities.

“Sheriff Pollard and County Attorney Bowman are disposed to take Van Brunt’s statement with several grains of allowance. Why since he confesses at all, he should tell any but a straight story it is hard to understand. However he experiences difficulty in traveling the same route twice.”

“Guilty of Murder”

After an hour of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict “guilty of murder in the first degree” (Newton Journal, December 5, 1890)

Once again Count Attorney Bowman was praised by the newspaper, “he conducted the case of the state with rare tact and skill and applied the law with his characteristic gravity and acumen.” 

The defense “made as strong a fight as can be made by men without a toothold. Mr. Berry’s address to the jury was very comprehensive and frequently eloquent and pathetic. Mr. Branine, who has a reputation as a good talker, kept up his end.”

“Not Satisfied”

At the sentencing, Judge Houk remarked, ” that he was not satisfied with the evidence produced by the state; that the body should have been exhumed and examined.” Regardless Houk gave the sentence of “a year in the penitentiary and then death by hanging.” (Newton Daily Republican, 29 December 1890)

Pardon for a Forgotten Man”

Isaac van Brant’s story did not end in a hanging. For seventeen years, served his sentence at Lansing as a model prisoner. He received no visitors or mail. He was very much a man alone in the world.

One person remembered him, a long-ago foster sister named Alice. For fifteen years, Alice Owens Bertenshaw had been looking for information on her childhood friend. Completely by chance, she learned of his imprisonment at Lansing for murder. Alice wasted no time in visiting Isaac. She shared the distressing story with Kansas Gov. Edward Hoch. The story of this friendless man “touched the chief executive’s heart” along with lingering questions about van Brunt’s guilt.

Newton Journal, 21 February 1908.

In addition to pardoning Isaac van Brunt, the governor made several visits to the penitentiary “to see prisoners who are alone, friendless- for whom no hand reaches out in help.”

The reporter for the Leavenworth Post described van Brunt’s release.

“The man who had spent so many years in prison seemed more like a child and had no dependence upon himself. When he was given his money for his years of servitude he turned and passed it to Mrs. Bertenshaw, remarking, ‘You take it. I don’t know what to do with it.”

Following the pardon, with Alice’s help, van Brunt moved to a farm near Independence, MO. Eventually he made his way to Leavenworth, Ks. He died alone on October 31, 1915.

Even with the pieces of his story put together, Isaac van Brunt remains a solitary man of mystery.


Primary Sources

  • Newton Kansan: 11 August 1887, 14 May 1890
  • Newton Daily Republican: 21 January 1890, 21 June 1890, 5 July 1890, 9 July 1890,14 July 1890, 5 2 December 1890, December 1890, 29 December 1890.
  • Newton Journal: 21 February 1908.
  • Sedgwick Pantagraph: 10 July 1890, 24 July 1890, 27 February 1908.
  • Wichita Daily Eagle: 14 May 1890, 16 July 1890, 6 December 1890,
  • Evening Kansan Republican:  3 September 1915; 31 December 1915.
  • Leavenworth Times: 12 February 1908, 9 September 1915.
  • Leavenworth Post: 31 August 1915, 1 September 1915, 2 September 1915, 3 September 1915.
  • St Louis Globe: 5 February 1908.

Secondary Sources

  • ***Halfide, Lori, “Revisiting Isaac” Head of Research, National Orphan Train Complex, Concordia Ks, 2023.  The information for Isaac’s early life comes from research completed by Lori Halfide.

The Hardest Fought Criminal Case

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“The case will come up for trial next month and will undoubtedly excite more interest than any other criminal case in Harvey County in several years.”

In the spring of 1902, people in Harvey County eagerly followed the case of a near fatal shooting that involved two young men in Harvey County, John Moulds and Taylor Gillespie. Even though they were neighbors, the animosity toward each other was well known. Once the case went to trial, the case also pitted two well-known Newton attorneys against each other, Charles Bucher of Branine & Branine for the defendant, and H.C. Bowman, County Attorney for the State.

Sedgwick Township, Harvey County, Sect 6 & 7, 1902 Plat Map Atlas.

“Bad Blood”

“between Mr. Moulds’ son, John and Mr. David’s step-son, Taylor, bad blood has existed for some time. Just when the trouble began is difficult to learn, but neighbors have known for a long time . . .”

Trouble had been brewing between the two men for some time for unknown reasons. Gillespie lived on a farm with his mother and stepfather, Howard & Emily Gillespie David, across the road from the Moulds farm where John lived with his father Robert.

In February 1902, the bitterness between the two intensified and there were several incidents. Notably one involving a valentine. “Moulds received an ugly valentine which he supposed had been sent by Gillespie and Gillespie in turn received a caricature by mail.”

A second incident occurred three weeks before the shooting. Gillespie was involved in a fight in front of a Halstead business, “in which Moulds was badly worsted.”  Later that same night, John, with his brother Carl, “turned the tables on Gillespie” when they met on the road between Halstead and their homes. “After exchanging hot words indulged in a fight in which Gillespie was badly pounded about the face.” Gillespie reported the fight, but nothing was done as the sheriff had “some doubt as to just which one was the aggressor.” 

Nothing further happened until Friday night, April 18, 1902, after a program at the Kemper District School.

The next morning the county papers detailed the events of the conflict that almost cost and young man his life.

“Handy With A Gun”

“A shooting affray occurred at the closing exercises given in the Kemper District, four miles east of Halstead last Friday night and as a result, Taylor Gillespie has since been hovering between life and death from the effects of a bullet in the abdomen fired from a 32-caliber revolver by John Moulds.” (Halstead Independent. 17 April 1902)

Around midnight, Gillespie went to untie the horses in preparation to drive his parents home from the event. He went back to the front of the school to get his parents, where he met Moulds. Angry words and blows were exchanged. Moulds drew his revolver and struck Gillespie with it. Moulds went with his brother, Carl, back to the hitching posts. Witness reported that Gillespie then accosted Carl while the brothers were working with the horses. John was on the other side of the team and came around and confronted Gillespie.

Words were exchanged, Gillespie “quick as a flash . . . struck out and hit Moulds.” Moulds “without warning drew his pistol, and striking with his left hand, discharged the pistol with his right. Gillespie fell to the ground.”

Gillespie was “hastened to town after surgical assistance.” An examination by Drs. Hertzler and Huntberg revealed that the bullet “had made four holes through the large intestines. . . . Every possible attention was given to the injured man.” The bullet was never found.

John Moulds was arrested and was out on a $3,000 bond paid by his parents by April 17. The editor noted; “Moulds does not seem to realize the serious nature of his crime but has retained Branine & Branine to conduct the defense.”

John T. Moulds was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill Taylor Gillespie.

Hardest Fought Criminal Case

The attorney for John Mould was Charles Bucher from the well-known Newton firm Branine & Branine.  Attorney H. C. Bowman, respected for his “gravity and acumen,” was the prosecutor.

The preliminary hearing has held on April 25, 1902 in Justice Hedges’ court. The nearly twenty-five people in the court room attended the trial “mostly out of curiosity.”

Also in the courtroom, with the defendant, were his parents Robert and Alice Moulds.

The reporter again observed that “Moulds did not seem to appreciate the enormity of the offence with which he is charged, although at times he appeared to be a trifle nervous.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 25 April 1902)

M. Howard David was the first witness called to speak on behalf of his stepson, Taylor Gillespie. He “gave a graphic description of the affair at the schoolhouse, although he did not see all of it.” Mr. David asserted that he was not more than three feet away when the actual shooting took place and saw Moulds’ left arm go up while discharging a pistol with his right hitting Gillespie.

He recounted how he rushed “up to the prostrate form of his step-son and asked if he had been shot. Gillespie replied that he had. David then picked up the wounded man and carried him to the nearest buggy. ” He intended to take Gillespie home but was forces to stop at the home of H.B. Steele, his stepson’s “condition having become so painful and dangerous that he dared not go farther. Doctors were summoned with haste.”

Sheriff Masters was the next witness, and he identified the Moulds’ pistol as an Ivers Johnson, caliber 32.  The final witness was Dr. A.E. Hertzler, one of the physicians called to care for Gillispie. He described the nature of the injuries caused by the bullet.

Judge Hedges decided to hold the defendant for trial at the May term under a bond of $3000 which was “immediately furnished by the father and mother of the defendant and the young man will enjoy his freedom while his trial is pending.”

Hot Fight Ahead


Evening Kansan Republican, 9 May 1902

The Trial Promises to be a Sensational One.

On May 15, the trial of John Moulds started. The Evening Kansan Republican reporter noted that “a large crowd was in attendance at the courthouse today . . .. The trial promises to be a sensational one and the attorneys on both sides have prepared for a stubborn fight.”  Forty-nine witnesses had been subpoenaed. County Attorney Bowman began the examination of witnesses. The cross examination for the defense was conducted by Charles Bucher. The reporter observed that it is “evident that the attorneys for Moulds will endeavor to prove that the shooting was done in self-defense.”

Large crowds were in attendance throughout the trial. The Newton High sophomore class attended the trial one day, and the next day the freshman class.

Moulds Is Acquitted

The attorneys concluded their arguments at noon on May 17 and the case was given to the jury. At 4:00 a verdict of “not guilty” was delivered.

“Thus ends one of the hardest fought criminal cases Harvey County has ever witnessed.” (Evening Newton Kansan, 17 May 1902)

Evening Kansan Republican, 17 May 1902

After the Trial

The David family, along with Taylor moved to Stafford, Kansas in July.

Taylor Gillespie went on to be an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad. He married twice and was survived by his second wife, Mabel L. Gillespie. He died on Julie 24, 1954 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kansas City MO, and is buried in the Highland Park Cemetery, Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Kansas.

John Moulds married Mittie David Boggs Mould on February 16, 1904. He continued farming for many years and later worked as a supervisor of the federal works program in Harvey County. He died September 24, 1962 and is buried in the Halstead Cemetery.


  • Burrton Graphic: 18 April 1902.
  • Newton Daily Republican: 28 October 1889.
  • Newton Daily Kansan: 05 December 1890 (C.E. Branine. Branine went on to be a judge for the 9th District.)
  • Newton Daily Herald: 25 February 1896, 10 April 1908.
  • Newton Journal: 22 April 1904, 10 April 1908, 5 February 1909, 23 April 1909, 20 August 1909, 12 November 1909, 18 February 1910, 26 August 1921, 18 August 1922, 25 August 1922.
  • Newton Kansan: 11 April 1902, 11 July 1958, 24 September 1962.
  • Evening Kansan Republican:11 October 1901, 12 April 1902, 14 April 1902, 18 April 1902, 24 April 1902, 25 April 1902,  7 May 1902, 9 May 1902, 14 May 1902,  15 May 1902,  16 May 1902,  17 May 1902, 6 June 1902, 2 October 1902, 31 December 1902, 12 February 1903, 18 February 1904, 6 May 1904,  5 April 1905, 15 March 1907,  3 March 1912.
  • Halstead Independent: 17 April 1902, 14 May 1902, 2 July 1902, 30 May 1912.
  • Sedgwick Pantagraph: 25 February 1902, 18 February 1904, 25 October 1906, 26 December 1907, 6 June 1912.
  • Stafford Courier: 24 January 1907, 13 June 1907.
  • U.S. Census: 1880, 1900, 1930.
  • Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, Marriage Certificate Collection. Martin H. David and Enna Jane Gillispie,12 October 1892.
  • Harvey County Plat Map, 1902.
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( accessed 11 October 2022), memorial page for Taylor Logan Gillespie (9 Dec 1882–19 Jul 1954), Find a Grave Memorial ID 103943889, citing Highland Park Cemetery, Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Kansas, USA; Maintained by Find_family 2 (contributor 47608506) .

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.


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.

New Information: The Evening Kansan Republican, 25 January 1900 records that Ellen Thomas and Cynthia Stottamyer are the same woman. See also Evening Kansan Republican, 16 February 1900, 6 August 1909; and Wichita Beacon, 8 May 1905.  Cynthia Ellen Stottermeyer is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks. She died Jan 27, 1923 at the age of 51. One could theorize that she got married at some point and changed her last name.

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,