News From Terre Haute, Indiana


April 21, 2013

Historical perspective: Attempted carriage-jacking thwarted

TERRE HAUTE — Nineteenth century newspapers covered several topics that might astonish current readers.

For example, the front page of the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette on Nov. 16, 1878 – 135 years ago – reported on the bold attempt by four “villains” to rob two women riding in a carriage immediately west of the fairgrounds at Brown and Wabash avenues:

“The ladies, who desire their names not to be made public, are well known members of our highest society circles, their husbands both being prominent business men. They had been out enjoying a ride and visited a family residing about two and one-half miles east of the city on the State road,” the article read.

At about 4 p.m., they were met by “two rough looking tramps” standing in the middle of the road and “saw two more sitting up a fence there.”

As they passed the men, one of the tramps seized their horse by the bit and the other man stepped toward the carriage. The lady driving asked, “What do you wish?”

“The villain holding the bit replied, ‘We want to see you.’”

The lady driving instantly struck the horse with her whip, causing it to spring forward with considerable force. The man held onto the bit and other man grabbed the carriage frame. However, after being dragged several yards, both men relinquished their hold and the women escaped.

“The ladies were both wearing valuable jewelry, diamond rings, expensive watches and chains and had quite a sum of pocket money,” the article read.

Other newsworthy items covered on the front pages during November 1878 include:

n Vigo County Clerk John K. Durkan, “one of the most efficient officers that ever held that position,” returned to Terre Haute on Nov. 9, 1878, after seven months in Ireland.

There was no criticism of his absence from his public duties. Durkan was welcomed by “a large concourse of friends, the Governor’s Guards, “who turned out in full numbers in dress uniforms” and the Ringgold Band. The entourage accompanied Durkan to his residence at 128 S. Eighth St., in the south part of the city.

When Durkan departed May 15 on the steamship Egypt, accompanied by his young son Patrick, he was frail, slender and “had the general appearance of ill health.”

He returned with an additional 57 pounds on his frame, “vigourous looking and in full figure.” Durkan is a “walking illustrated description” of Ireland as a health resort.

Durkan spent most of his time at Connemara, in County Galway, riding, boating, fishing, hunting and “getting fat.” He also made a few short trips to Scotland.

n An inquest conducted by Vigo County Coroner James W. Boston on Nov. 12, 1878 concluded that there was no foul play involving the death of Mary Mahoney, the small daughter of Stephen and Hannah Mahoney, 642 N. Fourth St.

The girl’s body was found in an open cistern located only four feet from the family residence. The elder Mahoney, an engineer on the Terre Haute Fire Department, testified that the cistern needed a new chain and may have been left uncovered.

Jury foremen Patrick Osborne rendered a verdict that Mary’s death was the result of accidental drowning.

n Davis & Co. Pork House at 16 S. Fourth St., owned by William A. Davis, 609 Ohio St., Terre Haute, and William W. Davis of Cincinnati, was expected to commence slaughter operations on Nov. 15, 1878.

The company reported that 500 hogs had been received from Sandford and will be victims “of the club and the butcher knife.” Will Hammond was in charge.

Considerable new machinery was being installed at Early’s Pork House, 118 Wabash Ave., operated Samuel S. Early, in anticipation of the coming killing season.

n “The grading, gravelling, and otherwise improvements on what is known as Prairieton Road, from corporate limits to the Honey Creek bridge, which was awarded to three different contractors and in three sections, is nearly completed. When finished and the work has settled, this will furnish one of the finest drives in the state.”

n “A young lad, who has tramped his way from Atlanta, Georgia, and answers to the name of Dan Murphy, says there are at present time 43 tramps who sleep nightly at the northern rolling mill (Wabash Iron Co., 710 N. Second St.). Dan has abandoned his company and gone to shining boots in the city and says he likes the town and intends to locate here permanently.”

n Terre Haute Car & Manufacturing Co. was in the process of fabricating 500 railroad box cars for what was commonly known as the Erie Railroad, though its real name in 1878 was the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railway Co.

Most of the cars made in Terre Haute were to be used by the Great Western Dispatch, a fast freight line.

n There was much coverage during late 1878 and early 1879 of the sensational criminal case against Oliver Wilson, William Kahoe and William Chrisman for the death of Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad employee James Murray.

Accused of second degree murder, the defendants allegedly altered a switch and removed fastenings along Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad track, which caused the engine and train of cars to wreck on June 9, 1878.

The death of Murray, head brakeman of the train crew, resulted.

The defendants were represented by Terre Haute attorneys William Mack and Abraham B. Felsenthal. Wilson was accused of being the chief conspirator.

The prosecution team included Major Brown of Greencastle and Edwin Seldomridge, Cyrus F. McNutt, Sanford C. Davis, Sydney B. Davis, Ambrose Carlton, John E. Lamb and Thomas A. Foley of Terre Haute. All of the lawyers for the State, except Foley, were paid by the railroad.

The case deserves more than brief mention so a more elaborate recital will be found in future columns.


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    March 12, 2010