Monday, May 16, 2011

Days Two and Three of Our Vacation and More Research

We spent the night in Hope and went to the County Court House. We started at the County Clerk's Office, but soon moved to the Circuit Clerk's Office where the deed records are kept. Since there is no 1890 census (drat that fire!), we began by searching for my great great grandfather's name. We hoped he owned property at the time of his death and that there would be an affidavit or will which explained what happened to him. No such luck. However, we found where his widow bought forty acres in August, 1895, probably the land they were renting at the time of his death.

Let me give you a review of the family. My great great grandfather Billingsley married in 1887 when he was twenty-seven and she was nineteen. Their first child was born ten months later in 1888, and their fourth child was born in February 1895. He was shot in April at their farm in Hempstead County, and he died a few days later in Nevada County where they had taken him to the doctor.

What my great grandmother remembered of the incident was that her father had some cattle and made a deal with another man to drive the cattle to market and sell them. The man had been seen in town but hadn't come to pay her father his portion of the money. They lived in a dog trot house, which is really two log cabins connected by a breezeway. On one side is typically for cooking and eating and the other side for sleeping. So it's understandable that someone on one side can't see the people on the other side if the doors are shut. As my great grandmother told it, one night she heard a knock at the door and her father answered it. She heard him say something like "Oh, it's you. Have you come to bring me my money?" And then she heard the gunshot. She was four months shy of her seventh birthday at the time, but I'm sure the event and those that followed were talked about in front of her by many people and probably for many years, so I think it's pretty accurate.

After my great great grandfather died, the man was charged with murder, tried, and hanged. I wanted to find written verification of that. However, other than the deed to my great great grandmother, we found nothing. What is interesting, at least to me, is that my great great grandmother would buy forty acres so soon after his death. My conclusion is that she was paid the money the man owed my great great grandfather or restitution for the murder, and went ahead with the purchase of the land they had been renting. The reason I think that is because she bought the land from an E.(Earnest) H.(Helmer) Amonett and he continued to pay the property taxes on the land through 1898. My great great grandmother paid them from 1899 through 1902 and then they are paid by T.(Thomas) D.(Dolphus) Chambless, brother-in-law of E.H. Amonett.

After that, we couldn't find anything, not where she sold the property, not a quit claim, not a sheriff's deed. Nothing. In desperation, we went across the street to Hempstead County Abstract Company. I told my story to the lady there and she went back to look at her books. The nice thing about abstract companies is that they can look up the ownership by property description, not just by name. She said there was no deed where my great great grandmother sold the land. The next deed is from a man named Hicks, which she said looked to be a family member of Chambless. I don't know, and may never know. The next record I have of my great great grandmother is in the 1900 census where she is listed as a farmer who owns her land free (without a mortgage). So where is the deed selling it?

From there we went to the Hope Public Library to see if their microfiche was any better than the SARA. It wasn't. But armed with the date in which my great great grandmother bought the property, we headed back to SARA to see if we could find the trial record in the criminal records. Still no luck but we did learn some interesting trivia. Some of the crimes that people were tried for were breaking the Sabbath, disturbing a church service, gaming, and bigamy. I didn't think there would be a lot of murders back then, but there were a surprising number of them, and many more listed as Assault with Intent to Kill. Violent times back then. But here is what I find interesting. It was also a crime to carry a pistol. And yet, the man who killed my great great grandfather was doing just that, or carrying some kind of gun, probably concealed or the first words my great grandmother would have heard would have been about the gun. And what that means is that it was a premeditated murder, not just an argument that got out of hand.

Land in Arkansas is divided into quarters of Townships and Ranges, so it was easy to find the forty acres on a map. With that map, we decided to drive out there and see if we could find it. Unfortunately, it was now part of a larger piece of property and there was no road through to the forty acres. However, we did find the nearby cemetery where there are headstones for his sisters. He doesn't have a headstone.

We spent that night in Little Rock and then got up early so we could go to the Arkansas History Commission and Archives. We hoped there would be a mention of the murder in a state newspaper. If you've ever read newspapers from the 1800's, at least in the south, you'll know that they aren't big on bold headings. They tend to run most news together in several long columns so we had to read most of the newspapers from April to August, and all for naught. We spent a few hours there (which was a few hours more than Hubby wanted to spend) and only got completely through two papers, and skimmed the third.

So with that, we gave up, ate lunch, and headed to Branson for some fun.

As frustrating as our search in Hope, Washington, and Little Rock was, I have to say that the people working at most of the places we went were extraordinarily friendly and helpful, from the security guards at the Hope Courthouse to the ladies working at the History Commission.