Saturday, December 13, 2014

Israel Hixson: A killing at Christmastide

Out in Cedar Township as Christmastide nears, Bethel Church is abandoned and nearer the tipping point into dereliction this year than last. At the far edge of its graveyard, near encroaching woodland, the grave of Israel Hixson lies forgotten.

But Israel's death 139 years ago at the hands of Paul Krile --- caused by a blow to the head from a gunstock inflicted on Christmas day --- was a cause for great sorrow and considerable consternation in this tightly-knit neighborhood during what was supposed to be a joyous season. By now, old sorrows, like old joys, have dissipated.

The Chariton Patriot of Dec. 29, 1875, reported the sad events this way under the headline, "A Murderous Affray."

"A quarrel occurred during last week between Israel Hixon (sic) and Paul Krile, both of Cedar Township, which resulted in the former receiving a serious and what is expected to prove a mortal injury at the hands of the latter. The facts in connection with the affray are, as we get them, as follows:

"On Friday (Christmas Eve) Krile's hogs got into Hixon's field and were distrained by Hixon for damages done by them. Krile claimed that Hixon owed him a few dollars, and wanted the account, or part of it, to settle the damages, but Hixon insisted on receiving the money before releasing the hogs. The money was sent by Krile on Saturday, and the hogs taken home, when K. at once went to Esq. (James) Roseman and sued for the amount of his (K's) claim. 

"On Krile's return home from the Squire's, (he was carrying a gun at the time, which he claims to have borrowed during the day to go turkey hunting the next day) and when near Hixon's house he shot the latter's dog. Whether Hixon was aware at this time that Krile had sued him, and before this in addition to the killing of his dog to exasperate him, how the conversation or inauguration of such an encounter occurred, we have not learned, but on Krile's arriving at Hixon's house, the latter went out for the purpose, as he expressed it to the family, of "settling the matter at once," and the two came into contact. 

"Just what was said or which one of the parties first attempted violence is not known, but the result was that Hixon received a blow over the head from the gun in Krile's hands, which fractured his skull badly. The gun was an old army musket, and the blow was inflicted by the butt of the weapon, the lock penetrating the skull. 

"Hixon was carried to the house in an insensible state and still remains in that condition. Dr. Fitch was called on Sunday and removed a portion of the skull from the top of the head about four inches long and two inches wide, to relieve the brain from pressure by the fractured bone, but the doctor has no hopes of his recovery. Krile had a preliminary hearing before Esq. Roseman, of Cedar Township, on Monday, and is now in the county jail. He formerly lived north of Chariton, and for some time hauled coal to town, and has heretofore, so far as we can learn, been considered reasonably peaceable and quiet as a citizen. 

Since writing the above we learn that Krile had paid the damages done by the hogs, but had not taken them away and stopped at Hixon's on his way home to take them from the pen, and while he was taking the hogs out, Hixon came out and began the altercation that led to the results recited. Krile had shot the dog in front of Hixon's father's house, about fifteen rods distant from Hixon's, and while Krile was taking his hogs from the pen, the father came down to Israel's house and told him of the killing of the dog. It is thought that the news coming to Hixon of the killing of his dog had principally to do with bringing on the encounter with its sad results.

Five days later, on Dec. 30, Israel died and The Chariton Leader, in its edition of Jan. 1, 1876, reported a few additional details.

Krile made no attempt to escape, according to The Leader, and had been arrested without incident. The Leader reported that he had been sent to jail in Ottumwa, transferred from Chariton. Perhaps Lucas County authorities remembered that just five years earlier, the  people of Chariton had lynched Hiram Wilson, tossing him unceremoniously out a courthouse window with a rope tied round his neck.

Krile was a big and strong man, the Leader reported, and Hixson, below medium size. That, according to The Leader, "makes the foul tragedy look dark and damning in every feature. Krail (sic) claims that he feared that Hixon was armed and would do him some injury as Hixon kept advancing upon him before he received the fatal blow.

"It is to be hoped," The Leader piously editorialized, "that justice will be administered to the savage brute as soon as he can be brought to trial."

In the meantime, Israel had been buried at the far north end of what was known then as the McDermott or Sargent cemetery, shoulder to shoulder with a man of similar age, James W. Drake, late corporal in the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, who had died a few days earlier --- on Dec. 18. The lot appears to have been otherwise vacant, although Israel's sister-in-law, Lucinda (Etheredge) Hixson --- an aunt of mine some generations removed --- would be buried some distance to the south seven years later, in 1882.

Justice was indeed administered in the Lucas County courts during 1876, but a jury found Krile guilty of manslaughter rather than murder --- and he was sentenced to a three-year term in the state penitentiary at Fort Madison, which he duly served.


Nothing is known of the character of Israel Hixson. He was the eldest son of Matthew R. Hixson, a highly respected farmer and licensed Methodist preacher, and his wife, Rebecca Tedrick. They brought their family from Ohio to Iowa shortly after 1850 and had settled in Cedar Township, Lucas County, prior to 1856. 

Born Oct. 25, 1835, in Guernsey County, Ohio, Israel's age was given as 20 in the 1856 state census of Cedar Township. A year later, on 9 July 1857, he married Mary Ann White in Mahaska County, but the couple does not seem to have had children.

Despite the Leader's characterization of his killer as a "savage brute," there seems to have been sympathy in the neighborhood for Paul Krile's plea of self-defense during the fatal encounter --- as suggested by this notice dated April 2, 1877, that Israel's younger brother, Ezra Hixson, had printed in The Chariton Patriot of April 4:

"Mr. Editor: Having learned that a petition is in circulation for the pardon of Paul Krile for the killing of Israel Hixon, and that a great many persons have been induced to sign said petition by the representation that the widow and relatives of said Israel Hixon, deceased, were willing to, and would sign such petition. I desire through your paper to say that such representations are not true. Neither the widow nor any of the relatives of deceased have or will sign such petition. While we do not seek to influence others in this matter, we can not ask for the release of a man whom we believe to be guilty of the crime of murder."


Because Paul Krile lived a long and full life after his release from prison, we know more about him that we do of Israel Hixson.

He was born Paul Greul --- perhaps pronounced "Krile" by English-speaking neighbors, which could explain why he used this surname during much of his life --- in Germany and came to the United States at age 9 with his family during 1852. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted and served as Paul Greul in Company A, 44th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

On the 27th of January, 1868, Paul married Rosend Bauer at Pekin in Tazewell County, Illinois --- a very German city indeed.

Rosend had a son, August, from a previous relationship, and not long after the marriage, the family settled north of Chariton in Lucas County, where they lived until moving into the Bethel --- then known as McDermott or Ireland --- neighborhood. Paul farmed and dug coal on a small scale for a living. He and Rosend seem not to have had children of their own.

After Paul's manslaughter conviction, Rosend divorced him and on July 22, 1878, married in Chariton a man named John Kramer.

That marriage did not last, however, and upon Paul's release from prison and return to Lucas County, they reconciled. Paul, Rosend and August were living together near Chariton when the 1880 federal census was taken and, on June 11, 1881, Paul and Rosend remarried. Paul continued his earlier occupations, farming and digging coal, selling the latter to neighbors and, now and then, to the county supervisors to heat the courthouse.

Five years after their remarriage, Rosend died at age 46 on Aug. 11, 1886, and Paul buried her in the Chariton Cemetery, erecting a small zinc tombstone decorated with a molded rose above an inscription that reads, "Rosend, wife of Paul and mother of August F. Krile, died Aug. 11, 1886, age 46 years, 2 months, Safe at Home."

Paul left Lucas County in 1893 and homesteaded in Hall County, Nebraska, not far from Grand Island. There, he met and married the widowed Alfaretta (Hollingshead) Smith, more than 20 years his junior.

As old age encroached on Paul, they entered the Nebraska Soldiers and Sailors Home at Grand Island, where Paul died on June 2, 1924. He is buried in the Grand Island Cemetery. Alfaretta lived on until March 14, 1943, and was buried beside her first husband, Clarence Claudius B.S. Smith, also in the Grand Island cemetery.

Note: Spelling is an issue with both the Hixson and Krile surnames. Although the Hixsons spell the name with an "s," newspaper editors and others preferred to spell it without. Krile also was spelled in many ways by everyone other than members of the Krile family.


Brenda said...

What a sad and tragic story! Your wonderful research skills in these tales is impressive. Thanks for sharing.

Charles M. Wright said...

Over two decades ago Hawkeye Heritage (a quarterly publication of the Iowa Genealogical Society) printed a story about the altercation between early Cedar township neighbors Paul Krile and Israel Hixson which led to the death of Hixson and the imprisonment of Krile. This account was written by Jerry Swim, a great-grandson of Krile. I wrote to Jerry that I had a copy of the 1881 History of Lucas County that related this 1875 tragedy which I was willing to show him as well as a photograph of my great-great-grandfather James Roseman, the Cedar township Justice of the Peace involved in the story. Jerry, who had recently retired from Wright Tree Service (no relation)in West Ds Moines, called me and I invited him to my condo in Ankeny for a visit. Jerry brought along his wife and in addition to showing him the story of the Krile/Hixson incident in my 1881 book and the only known photograph of my great-great-grandfather "Esq. Roseman" who died in 1886 and is buried in Cedar township's Bethel Cemetery, I gave the Swims (at their request) a tour of the Maplewood Village condos. To my delight, they found in Maplewood the retirement home they had been searching for and purchased a condo. Within a few years Jerry, with this many talents and skills, was elected to Maplewood's Board of Directors.

Jerry was convinced his Great-Grandfather Krile, a German immigrant who spoke little English when he was swept from his home in Illinois into the Union army during the Civil War, was not at all a villain but a gentle, mild-mannered man. Jerry was always searching for more information about his great-grandfather. I asked if he had considered contacting the prison at Fort Madison where Krile was incarcerated. It had not occurred to him. Shortly thereafter he told me that he had received a report from Fort Madison and learned that Lucas County citizens had petitioned for and secured his great-grandfather's release and that Krile had been pardoned by the governor. Jerry was elated. He said that relatives who had been upset that he had been researching the family scandal that they wanted forgotten now applauded him.

Among varied interests and activities during his retirement years, my friend Jerry Swim was a volunteer at the Iowa State Genealogy Library where he was excellent help to visitors researching their ancestry. I last saw him there. Looking the picture of health, he said that his cardiologist had told him his heart was precarious and there was nothing more that they could do for him. Not long after our conversation, he died. I've always been pleased to think Jerry's curiosity about his family history led him to learn that his great-grandfather was not a heartless villain.