CHAPTER XIII. 

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THE MURDER OF MARY EAGAN—BURNING OF THE EAGAN HOMESTEAD—THE LACEY-BUNKER TRAGEDY— 

THE MURDER OF ALFRED ERIKSON—THE 

JOHN MCDONALD HOMICIDE—THE 

MESSIAH CRAZE AND TRIAL OF 

PLENTY HORSES FOR THE 

MURDER OF LIEUTENANT 

CASEY. 

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THE MURDER OF MARY EGAN.

 

     Thomas Eagan, a native of Tipperary, Ireland, on Sunday, September 12, 1880, at his home eighteen miles northwest of Sioux Falls, murdered his wife Mary Egan.  The circumstances of the murder were peculiarly horrible and brutal.  Egan was in the habit of beating his wife, and on this day he sent his two boys away from the sod-shanty in which they lived, and then attacked his wife.  He threw a piece of rope around her neck, and proceeded to strangle her, and beat her about the head with a hard wood picket until she became unconscious, and her scalp was laid open to the skull.  He then threw the body through the trap-door into the hole used as a cellar, where it remained until Tuesday, when it was discovered.  A coroner’s jury was summoned and Egan arrested and lodged in jail.  After unavoidable delays the trial came off in November, 1881, and the prisoner was convicted of the murder of his wife.  A motion for a new trial was overruled, and he was sentenced to be hung on Friday, January 13, 1882.  The counsel for the defense was L.S. Swezey assisted by C.H. Winsor, while the prosecution was conducted by the district attorney, J.W. Carter, assisted by E. Parliman and A.M. Flagg. 

An appeal to the supreme court was perfected January 4, 1882, which staved proceedings under the sentence, until May 13, when the supreme court affirmed the judgment of the district court, and on May 29, Egan was re-sentenced, the date of the execution being fixed for Thursday, July 13, 1882.  Through no fault of the officials in charge, owing to the accidental breaking of the noose at the first drop, and the consequent excitement, it was not until the culprit had been dropped the third time that the execution was successfully accomplished, and while the scene was harrowing, it seemed but the just retribution for so horrible a crime.  This was the first execution in Minnehaha county, and the second one in Dakota.  Joseph Dickson was the sheriff. 

There are two incidents in connection with this deplorable tragedy that are worthy of record.  One is the changing of the date fixed upon for Egan’s execution to accommodate the publisher of a newspaper, and as E.W. Caldwell was the publisher, we will give the details in his own language: 

“I went to Judge Kidder and asked him if there was anything in the law which required that a man should be hung on Friday, and he said there was not.  I then told him that I ran a weekly paper, which I issued on Thursday, and if Egan was hung on Friday, I would either have to postpone the issue of my paper, or hold the account of the hanging a week later, neither of which I wanted to do.  He asked me if I had seen Judge Carter, the prosecuting attorney, and I said I had not, but I would; so I went to Judge Carter, told him the circumstances, and asked him if it would make any difference to him.  He said it would not; he didn’t care when the man was hung, if he was only hung.  I then went back to Judge Kidder, who finally said that he had intended to appoint Friday, July 7, for the hanging, but as that was so soon after the Fourth, it might put a damper upon the celebration, and if it would be any accommodation to me, he would fix it for Thursday, July 13.  I told him that would just suit me, and so he did.  Afterwards I was telling Mr. McLoney of it, and he took me to task for depriving the poor man of one day of life.  I replied that I did not deprive his of a day, on the contrary I was the means of prolonging his life six days.” 

The other event was the burning of the Egan homestead.  The fact of the burning was not so important as the fact that it resulted in the discovery of a poetess in Minnehaha county, who had hitherto been unknown to fame.  It was printed at the time in one of the Sioux Falls newspapers and read as follows:

 

BURNING OF THE EGAN HOMESTEAD. 

POEM BY MRS. CYNTHIA WARREN.

                                                    It was a fair and pleasant night, April the third or fourth, 

                                                    When at a distance we saw a light of a fire in the north.

                                                    The lurid flames ran to the east, not minding things of worth 

Burning beautiful trees, and leaving bare the earth.

 

                                                    The breeze sprang up, the bright flames leaped toward the shining stars, 

With a rushing sound resembling them of a train of cars.

 

                                                    The frightened birds fly here and there, the frogs in the low pond croak, 

While suffocating is the air, filled with ashes, heat and smoke.

 

                                                    Then o’er the hill the fire comes sweeping toward the south, 

It has lit in Egan’s forsaken home and burned the old sod house.

 

                                                    The roof and posts are burned, and all the boards around, 

The sodding is all fallen in and lies smouldering on the ground.

 

                                                    We never will forget the day when first the tale was told, 

That Mrs. Egan in the cellar lay a sad sight to behold.

 

                                                    By her husband she was killed, to get away she hoped, 

And her life-blood there he spilled, and choked her with a rope.

 

                                                    Now nothing marks the place, save a pile of sod burned mellow 

And they lay by the place where she was found in the cellar.

 

                                                    Good people, far and near, all had one desire, 

That a place so drear should be swept away by fire. 

THE LACEY-BUNKER TRAGEDY.

 

     Probably the most awful tragedy in the state, occurred about five o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, October 22, 1893, just outside of the eastern limits of the City of Sioux Falls. 

Harry Lacey, a man known to all the residents of the city, shot his mother-in-law Mrs. Lydia Bunker, his wife Clara, and himself, all three dying within a few minutes, and before any of the neighbors arrived at the place where the terrible deeds had been committed. 

Harry Lacey came to the City of Sioux Falls in 1882, and commenced the practice of law.  He was quiet and unassuming, but it was soon known that he was a man of considerable ability.  He obtained a good standing in the community, and although he soon abandoned his profession, he was always occupied in some business enterprise.  His mother-in-law, in 1889, sold her farm east of the city (except a few acres where the tragedy took place) for quite a large sum of money, and invested fifteen thousand dollars of this sum in a phonograph enterprise, and lost it all.  Mrs. Bunker charged Lacey with this loss and Lacey denied his responsibility in the matter.  Soon after the sale of the farm, Mrs. Bunker came to the city and resided with the Laceys.  It was known among their neighbors that family matters were not running smoothly, but not until the early part of December, 1891, was there an open outbreak.  At this time there was a serious disturbance in the family, and all three of them bore marks of a personal combat.  Mrs. Lacey had Mr. Lacey arrested for assault and battery, and immediately brought a bill for divorce.  After a few months she told the writer, that she could not live without her husband, and soon after, the divorce proceedings were abandoned, and they commenced living together again.  It did not prove a happy re-union, and they lived apart and together, as they could agree, until the spring of 1893, when Mr. Lacey secured rooms a short distance from Mrs. Bunker’s place.  During the summer there were frequent quarrels, and Mr. Lacey grew more and more dissatisfied and unhappy, and one thing more than anything else that seemed to trouble him was the fact that his little children were under the influence of Mrs. Bunker. 

On Sunday, the day the tragedy occurred, he was in Sioux Falls and went home late in the afternoon.  Shortly after he walked over to the Bunker house.  In less than thirty minutes after he had been seen going to Mrs. Bunker’s, his two little children, aged four and seven years, who had witnessed the terrible deed of their father, came to a neighbor by the name of Jones, the eldest boy saying: “Papa Jones come over; they are all dead.  Papa has shot grandma and ma, and went out in the yard and shot himself.”  Mr. Jones went immediately to the house, and found them all dead.  Mrs. Bunker and Mrs. Lacey were both shot in the back part of the head, near the base of the brain, and were lying but a little distance from each other in the kitchen.  Lacey was lying in the yard, a few feet from the house, where he evidently fell and died without a struggle, after firing a bullet into his own head.  Mr. Lacey was an expert marksman, and knew where the vital spark could be most quickly extinguished, and whether with the coolness of a wicked, desperate hate, or the frenzy of a man who thinks that nothing but blood can atone his wrongs, he brought his skill and knowledge into action, and committed the fearful tragedy with wonderful precision and fatality will never been known.  He completed his work and left nothing to be done but to bury the dead. 

The foregoing is sufficient to outline the incidents connected with one of the most horrible tragedies that ever occurred in a civilized community, and one which undoubtedly will never be paralleled in Minnehaha county. 

THE MURDER OF ALFRED ERIKSON.

     Sometime during the early evening of December 7, 1897, Alfred Erikson, a young man about twenty-two years of age, was most brutally murdered.  The crime was committed in a small one-story house located near the Mulhall block on Main avenue in the City of Sioux Falls.  He was an eccentric character, and known to be a little below par in point of intelligence, but strong and robust.  The house in which he was killed, was occupied by James Garrington, a small man about sixty-six years of age, who was at that time in feeble health.  Erikson had the day before returned to Sioux Falls, from whence he had fled on the 28th day of August, preceding, to escape arrest upon a complaint charging him with having committed a serious offense upon the person of a girl about eleven years of age, the daughter of William West of Sioux Falls.  The girl during Erikson’s absence had been sent to the Reform school at Plankinton, and was burned to death at the time the Reform school buildings were destroyed by fire.  Erikson arrived in town December 6, and noon of the day following, Erikson went to Garrington’s place, took dinner with him, and was out and in during the day.  He was at Dunning’s drug store at 4:45 P.M., where he was last seen alive.  A little past midnight that night, he was found dead in Garrington’s building.  As stated above, he had been brutally murdered, there being no less than thirty-three wounds upon his person.  Garrington was immediately arrested, and he then charged Wm. West with having committed the murder.  Two hours later West was arrested.  During the evening of that day, representatives of the Sioux Falls Daily Press interviewed Garrington and represented to him that West could prove an alibi, and that the only hope he had was to confess that he did it, and to claim that he did it in self-defense.  Before they left they succeeded in getting Garrington to sign such a statement.  Within an hour thereafter State’s Attorney Bates, with two or three others, also visited the prisoner, when he made in substance the same statement to them.  The next day West was discharged, and Garrington remained in prison charged with the murder of Erikson.  On the 13th day of December he plead not guilty and Monday the 3d day of January, 1898, was fixed for his trial.  Before this time arrived, on motion of the defendant, the time of trial was changed to Monday, January 31.  A special venire was issued for seventy-five jurymen in addition to the regular panel, and the trial commenced at the time appointed.  State’s Attorney C.P. Bates, assisted by ex-State’s Attorney P.J. Rogde, appeared for the prosecution, and D.R. Bailey, assisted by A.F. Orr, appeared for the defendant.  The trial lasted until February 9.  The jury retired at 11:05 A.M., and at 4:10 P.M. returned a verdict of guilty, fixing the death penalty.  On the 14th day of February, Judge Jones sentenced Garrington to be hanged on the 14th day of April, 1898.  D.R. Bailey, attorney for Garrington, made a motion for a new trial, based upon alleged errors occurring at the trial, and upon newly discovered evidence, which motion was on the 4th day of April denied by Judge Jones.  Mr. Bailey, on the 8th day of April, secured a writ of error from the supreme court, which operated as a stay of the execution of Garrington, and all further proceedings in the case were transferred to the supreme court.  On the 14th day of June, the case was argued by C.P. Bates and D.R. Bailey, and the court took the case under advisement. 

The last of August, 1898, the supreme court granted a new trial, and at the next term of the circuit court the case was called on Tuesday, the 3d day of January, 1899, and the trial commenced.  The same attorneys appeared for the prosecution as at the former trial, and D.R. Bailey, assisted by D.J. Conway and C.C. Gliem, conducted the defense.  On the 12th day of January, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the case was submitted to the jury.  At nine o’clock the next morning the jury found Garrington guilty, and fixed his punishment imprisonment for life. 

The writer having been the leading attorney in the defense, will refrain from any comment, except to assert that a large percentage of the people in the county feel confident that if the whole facts were known other parties would be implicated in this brutal murder.

 

THE JOHN McDONALD HOMICIDE.

 

     During the evening of December 24, 1897, an affray occurred between John McDonald, a printer, and Gilbert Gilman, a saloon keeper, both of Sioux Falls, which resulted in the death of McDonald. 

     There were some words between the parties in a saloon on Phillips avenue in reference to a bill Gilman claimed McDonald owed him.  Gilman left the saloon, McDonald followed him and continued to talk to him about the matter.  Just as they turned the corner of Tenth street, going east, Gilman turned around and struck McDonald a slight blow upon his face, telling him to stop his talking, and then walked away.  Shortly after, McDonald was found lying on the sidewalk in a dying condition, and was carried back into the saloon, where he in a few minutes expired.  Considerable excitement prevailed in the community in reference to the affair.  Gilman was arrested and bound over to the circuit court, which was then in session. State’s Attorney Bates filed an information against Gilman charging him with manslaughter.  There is a statute which declares that homicide “when perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor” is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree.  The trial commenced on Thursday, January 6, State’s Attorney Bates appearing for the prosecution, and H.H. Keith for the defense.  After the regular panel had been exhausted, a special venire was issued for additional jurors.  At 3:30 P.M., the following jurors were accepted:  Charles Foss, Frank Edgington, E.T. Hayes, Fred Witte, P.F. Sherman, Sam Herbert, Chas. Arndt, W.H. Holt, and Henry Dalton, all of Sioux Falls, W.J. Page of Dell Rapids, H.A. Foster of Wayne, and I.N. Griffith of Brandon.  The testimony of Doctors Morgan and Olney, who conducted the post-mortem examination upon the body of McDonald, developed the fact that he came to his death from the obstruction in the air passage to the lungs by quite a large quantity of fine cut tobacco and mucus, which they found in the trachea and bronchial tubes. 

     The case was vigorously tried by the attorneys.  Mr. Bates claimed that Gilman while in the act of striking McDonald was committing a misdemeanor, and that the blow McDonald received caused him to swallow the tobacco which resulted in his death, and hence they jury should find him guilty of manslaughter as charged in the information.  Mr. Keith, on the other hand, claimed that the prosecution had not established the fact beyond a reasonable doubt that the swallowing of the tobacco by McDonald was the result of the blow struck by Gilman.  The jury retired to consider their verdict at 2:10 P.M. Saturday, the 8th of January, and after being out about three hours, returned a verdict of not guilty.  On the first ballot the jury stood three for conviction and nine for acquittal. 

     The jury were all of the opinion that Gilman did not contemplate doing McDonald any serious harm, and it is greatly to his credit that since his acquittal he has materially assisted in maintaining McDonald’s family.

THE MESSIAH CRAZE, AND THE TRIAL OF PLENTY HORSES, ALIAS TSUNKA WAKA OTTA, FOR THE MURDER OF LIEUTENANT E.W. CASEY.

 

     Plenty Horses was indicted on the 13th day of March, 1891, at a term of the United States District Court at Deadwood, S.D., charged with the murder of Lieut. E.W. Casey on the 7th day of January preceding. 

     During the latter part of the summer of 1890, it first became known that a remarkable hallucination had taken possession of some of the tribes of Indians belonging to the Sioux nation.  It was known as the “Messiah Craze.”  At first it attracted attention outside of the Indian country by reason of its strange features, both in reference to the character of the delusion and the peculiar demonstrations resulting therefrom.  Just how it originated is not well verified, but that it was madly contagious and rapidly spread among the Indians, completely demoralizing whole tribes, was soon well known.  It was at first thought to be harmless, and it did not seem possible to a sane person that such a craze could last for any length of time, and the authorities in charge of the Indians delayed taking any active, aggressive measure for its suppression, believing that it would destroy itself by its own intensity.  The Indians professed to believe that the Messiah was at that time to be found west of Salt Lake, and that they were to leave the Union Pacific railroad and go into the mountains, about four day’s travel, where they would find him; that he would talk to those who went to see him in their own language, and the next spring, or at some stated time, he would come and visit them.  That the purpose of his coming was to punish the white people for crucifying him and for the wrongs they had committed against the Indians, and that they would be restored to their former mode of living.  That another earth would come from the west and cover up the white people, and that the Indians would mount this new earth.  Dances were organized among them, and were so unnatural and weird that they were called ghost-dances. 

     This condition of affairs at last became intolerable; but it was found impossible to control them by peaceful measures, and the regular army was called upon for aid.  General Miles was in command.  The Indians believed that the white man’s bullet could not injure them, and they were defiant.  A battle was fought at Wounded Knee on the 29th day of December, 1890, in which one hundred and forty-nine Indians, and forty-nine soldiers were killed.  Another battle took place the next day on White Clay creek. 

     General Miles, at the time of the killing of Lieutenant Casey, had the Indians surrounded and was endeavoring to force them to surrender.  Lieutenant Casey, at the head of the Cheyenne scouts, was with General Brooke, northwest of Pine Ridge, and on the morning of his death, left General Brooke’s camp, taking one of his scouts with him, for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to the location of the camp of the hostile Indians.  He proceeded without molestation until he reached the picket line of the hostiles, when he was told that he was in great danger and had better turn back.  He paid no attention to this, however, but proceeded in the direction of the camp, when he was again warned by some friendly Indians that he was in danger and ought not to go any further.  He hesitated, but at the same time expressed a desire to go a little further where he could see the hostile camp.  While conversing with a messenger who had been sent out from the Indian camp by Red Cloud (who had learned that Lieutenant Casey was approaching the camp) to intercept and warn him of the danger he was in, Plenty Horses, after changing his position so as to get behind Lieutenant Casey, deliberately shot him and rode away.  Lieutenant Casey died instantly. 

     General Miles immediately after the death of Lieutenant Casey demanded the surrender of Plenty Horses, which demand was complied with.  After the indictment was found, the court ordered the trial to take place at Sioux Falls, and on the 24th day of April, 1891, the trial of Plenty Horses commenced in the United States court room in the Masonic Temple at that place.  Judges Shiras and Edgerton were upon the bench.  U.S. District Attorney Sterling, with his Assistant Howard and Lieutenant J.G. Balance, appeared for the prosecution, and George P. Nock and D.E. Powers of Sioux Falls, appeared for Plenty Horses.  The indictment of Plenty Horses for murder aroused considerable interest throughout the country.  The New York World sent one of its most competent men to report the trial, and the account of the proceedings in that paper was most minutely and graphically given.  The trial lasted six days, and the attorneys for the defense endeavored to secure the acquittal of their client upon the theory that actual war existed at the time of the killing of Lieutenant Casey, and that Plenty Horses was one of the hostiles; that his act was not murder but excusable as an act of war.  They had, however, but short time for preparation, and did not succeed in establishing the fact beyond question that there was actual war, and the Court not feeling justified in directing a verdict, the case was submitted to the jury and resulted in a disagreement. 

     The court immediately fixed upon the 25th day of May following, for a second trial.  At that time the same judges and attorneys were in charge, and assembled at the place of the former trial to determine the position the Indian holds in the time of so called war.  At this trial the real character of the acts of war during the Indian outbreak was clearly shown by the defense, and when the testimony was all in, Judge Shiras directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty; holding that at the time of the killing of Lieutenant Casey there existed in and about Pine Ridge Agency an actual state of warfare between the army of the United States and the Indian camp; and that Lieutenant Casey was killed by Plenty Horses while reconnoitering the camp of the hostile Indians; and, while condemning the manner in which the act was committed, still, it was a legitimate act of war.  Judge Edgerton did not concur in the opinion of Judge Shiras. 

     Plenty Horses was educated at the Indian school at Carlisle, Pa., going there the 24th of November, 1883, and remaining until July 8, 1888, when he returned to the Rosebud Agency where his father, Living Bear, was the recognized leader of the Brule tribe of Indians.  He was a dull scholar, although considered quite intelligent, but upon the return to his old home he again adopted the habits and customs of the Indians. 

     In the fall of 1890 when the Indians were banding together and threatening to make trouble, he sympathized with them, and after the destruction of Big Foot’s band he joined the hostile Indians and became a participator in their warlike demonstrations and undoubtedly felt justified in killing Lieutenant Casey. 

     It only remains to mention that the trials were of a more sensational and dramatic character than any ever had in South Dakota, attracting the attention of the whole country; and were conducted by the attorneys on both sides with great energy and ability. 

   
 

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