Sunday, May 18, 2014

The legends (and damnfool valor) of Alkana Malone

Library of Congress

I wrote yesterday about Wilson Allison, a carpenter who helped build Chariton in the 1850s, and some of his recollections related to horse racing, whiskey --- and the Hatcher House hotel.

The Hatcher House, the biggest frame building on the square in its time, was according to most reports commissioned during 1856 by Elkana Malone, one of Lucas County's great early characters, perhaps in partnership with a man named Pusey Chapman, related in some manner to the Chapmans down around Last Chance. (The hotel took its name from later owners.)

Alkana, born ca. 1808, was a Virginia native who moved to Ohio as a young man and married Elizabeth Freese on July 14, 1831, in Fairfield County. The couple settled in Guernsey County and lived there for more that 20 years --- until 1853 when they headed for the frontier, Chariton.

The Malones had an even dozen children, but three died young in Ohio and three more --- Lydia at age 19 in 1853, Edward at age 5 in 1854 and Adeline, age 1 in 1855 --- in Lucas County. The surviving children were John, Jacob, Lewis, Mary, Perry and Amanda.

Alkana seems to have been a rough and rowdy character in many ways, and most of the stories Wils Allison told were related in some manner to him.

But he died a hero.

Many Lucas County men lied about their ages, pretending to be older in order to enlist for service during the Civil War. Alkana did it the other way --- knocking 10 years off his 54 during the fall of 1861 to enlist, as 44 years old, as a wagoner (or teamster) in Co. C, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, a unit raised almost exclusively in Lucas County. Even at 44 he was considered too old to fight.

Alkana's son, Lewis, enlisted as a private in the same company on the same day --- so the two men went off to war together --- but in a sense, neither came home.

Elijah Lewis, then editor and publisher of The Chariton Patriot, recorded some of the Malone legends in an article published on May 22, 1894 --- a broadsheet issued to commemorate the dedication of Lucas County's new courthouse. Here's how it reads:


There are some interesting and exciting incidents connected with the early and subsequent history of the city and county which may be appropriately mentioned here. One of the historic buildings in Chariton is the large frame, two story structure, on the south side, so long occupied by Eli Manning. It was built by Alkana Malone in 1856. A.B. Noble and S.S. Row, both still living in Chariton, were the contractors and builders.

There is one incident connected with the erection of this building which will bring a smile to many an old timer. Wils Allison, a well known character, was one of the carpenters employed on the building. In putting up the rafters it occurred to Mr. Allison to show off his activity and courage by balancing himself on a rafter. Not being quite so skilled as Blondin in balancing he lost the center of gravity, and went like an arrow, from the top to the cellar, passing between three sets of joists and striking the mud in the cellar without seriously hurting himself. An old settler in relating the story remarked that whiskey was considered a necessary precaution against danger in those days. Mr. Allison is living at Beloit, Kansas.

Alkana Malone was another local character somewhat notorious in those days but, with  all his faults, a man of great personal courage, atoning, later on for all his short comings by a last act of heroic devotion to his country.

Malone had a partner in the saloon business by the name of Pusey Chapman. Horse racing was the popular amusement. A mile race track was established on the bottom land along the river south of Chariton from the bridge to hickory point. Malone and his partner were steady patrons of the turf. A barrel of whiskey with a tin cup, free to all, was deemed a necessary attraction at the pioneer horse race. There was just as much "heap big fight," as the old Indian expressed it, in a barrel of whiskey then as now.

Under such conditions it is not surprising that serious disputes should frequently occur. It came about that Malone and his partner, Chapman, quarreled about dividing their winnings, or some other matter of business, and as Malone was the larger man and a fighter from the word go, Chapman was a desperate character and "carried the difference," in size, in his hip pocket. So one day, soon after the quarrel, Chapman came riding along the south side of the square and noticing his friend Malone standing in the door-way of the building now occupied by the grocery store of James Gillespie, he pulled "the difference" from his hip pocket, in the shape of a Navy revolver, and concluded to settle the trouble with his partner by quietly shooting him.

Joseph Braden, then Register (of lands), having moved the land office, 1858, to the south side, occupied a room in the same building and was standing in the next door to where Malone was leaning against the doorpost, when Chapman fired, the ball striking the post just above Malone's head, who looked up and simply remarked: "Why, I believe the scoundrel shot at me." The hole made by the bullet is plainly visible yet. Mr. Braden did not stop to make any further investigation, but concluded he had some urgent business to attend to in the farther end of the land office. Chapman soon after left town.

When the war broke out in 1861, Malone, being to old for a soldier, enlisted as a teamster in company C, Capt. James Baker, 13th Regiment Iowa Infantry. The regiment went to Davenport, and while there Malone came back, on furlough, to settle some business matters. In the office of Col. Dungan, then located on the lot where the Dewey block now stands, he declared over and over with vehement emphasis that he was going to be killed in the war. Said he in loud tones to Col. Dungan: "I know what I am going for; I know it as well now as you will later on. I am going to be killed."

With this premonition in his mind he rejoined his regiment and went to the front. On the morning of the battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862, he left his team, walked over to company C and forcibly taking the musket from his son who had enlisted in the same company, ordered him to go and take charge of the team saying, "I'm going into this thing myself." And so in the advance line he went forward into the leaden storm of that terrible fight and fell among the first, shot through the head.

Thus died Alkana Malone. Rude, boisterous, much given to the rougher phases of frontier life though he may have been, who will say that he did not atone for it all, in the verdict of history, by that last act of heroism, in dying a patriot and a soldier.


Alkana was buried first on the bloody Shiloh battlefield, in a grouping of 21 graves "southwest of Jack Perry's house." He shared a common grave with three other soldiers.  After the war, remains were collected from scattered graves and reburied in what now is the Shiloh National Military Park. Thirteen of the bodies recovered from Perry's field, including Alkana's, were identifiable; eight were not.

All of the dead who could be identified were soldiers of the 13th Iowa, which sustained stunning losses at Shiloh. Most likely, the unidentified eight were as well.

Two of the men buried in Alkana's common grave could not be identified. The fourth was 1st Corporal John Melton, Company E, 13th Iowa.

Because Alkana could be identified, his grave still can be located. Those whose remains could not be identified, including most if not all of the Lucas Countyans who died there, were reinterred as "unknown."


Elizabeth Malone continued to live in Chariton after her husband's death, succumbing herself on Aug. 2, 1874, at the age of 61. None of the Malone graves in Lucas County are marked, but it seems likely that the three children who died in the 1850s were buried at what now is Douglass Pioneer Cemetery and perhaps Elizabeth was buried with them.


Lewis Malone, the young man legend has it whose life was saved by his father's sacrifice, deserted on Jan. 19, 1863, at Young's Point, Louisiana. He is said to have died on July 7, 1878, near Mills Creek in Benton County.

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