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,


“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.


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