Wednesday, May 05, 2021

"Hell hath no fury ....," they used to say

This is another of those Chariton-related stories plucked from a newspaper published elsewhere during December of 1871 --- a period for which there are no extant copies of newspapers published in Lucas County. It was published in The Burlington Hawkeye of Dec. 17 and then republished widely, generally in abbreviated form.

The image is appropriate, but not specifically related. The subject of the portrait is May Manning Lillie (1869-1936) who made her name as a sharpshooter (and in later life a conservationist of buffalo) while performing with Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West Show. Pawnee Bill was her husband, aka Gordon W. Lillie.

The story commences at the C.B.&Q. Depot in northwest Chariton near midnight on an early December night and the events it reports transpired as the midnight train rolled west toward Osceola. Far down in the story, the couple who are major players are identified as a Mr. and Mrs. Willoby. The third party in this ménage à trois is not identified. The headline reads, "Shooting Scene on a Midnight Train."


On the Pacific train going west, on Wednesday night on the B. & M. road, a scene, or rather a succession of scenes, occurred, which beggar description. We will try to give the outlines of the serio-comic affair as related to us by an eye witness.

At Chariton, about midnight or a little after, several persons came aboard the train. The conductor --- our most worthy friend Searle --- in passing through the smoking car, soon after leaving Chariton, found a woman who appeared somewhat strangely, and said she wanted to see him as he came back from going through the other cars. On his return, she asked him if he saw such and such persons, mentioning a man and a woman, in the other car. He replied that he did. She then told him that the man was her husband, who was running off with a woman of the town. That some of the neighbors had watched the guilty parties, and notified her of what was going on, and now she wanted to go back to the seat where they were sitting together and charge them with their crime to their faces.

The conductor told her to go. She hastened to the seat where her husband and his partner were sitting all unconcerned. The wife marched boldly up in front of them and charged her husband with his guilty and shameful conduct, and the next instant whisked a revolver out from under her shawl and, placing the muzzle at the heart of the woman, fired --- or would have done so had not the pistol refused to go off. The guilty woman jumped as if she had been shot, and rushed out into the sleeping car for safety, pursued by the now infuriated wife. The former hurried into the sleeping car crying, "Help! Help! I'm going to be shot! Give me place to hide! Quick! Quick!"

The conductor of the sleeping car was naturally startled and amazed at the sudden apparition, but he soon collected his scattered senses enough to realize that something was up, and he told the woman to go to the rear of the car and he would protect her.

In the meantime a brakeman had attempted to stop the maddened wife as she pursued the wicked woman, but she brushed him out of her way after a momentary struggle and made her way to the door of the sleeping car. The conductor of that hitherto peaceful vehicle at once comprehended the gravity of the situation, and squared himself across the aisle, determined, if possible, to prevent the consummation of a bloody tragedy. 

On came the wife, her eyes gleaming like fire, and in her hand flourished the weapon of vengeance and death. The conductor grappled her. She struggled and pressed forward with almost superhuman energy. But her strength was somewhat exhausted, and the valiant conductor stood his ground like a hero. The baffled wife found that she could not go over or around him, and there was but one other alternative, and that she quickly determined upon. Dodging down, she attempted to pass between his legs, and had actually got well under way when, fortunately, the bewildered brakeman came to the rescue of the conductor, and the two together managed to effectually check the further progress of the wife.

Meanwhile, the sleeping car was in an uproar. Women were screaming, babies were crying, and numerous half-dressed gentlemen began to tumble out of their berths.

The wife, however, meant business, and if she couldn't catch the woman, she at once determined to find the guilty husband, who had followed along at a convenient distance for observing the actions of his abused and irate wife, but when he saw that she was coming towards him, he tried to hide by getting down between the cars as low on the steps as possible. But he was too late. His wife saw him and went for him then and there with vim and spirit interesting to behold. She kicked him and snapped her revolver at him, and kept on kicking and snapping until the poor fellow was frightened nearly to death. The train was going at the rate of 25 miles an hour, and he expected momentarily to be shot or to be kicked off the train, which would have been almost certain death.

At this juncture, a big burly passenger came out and caught the flagellated husband by the coat collar and dragged him out of the jaws of death (his feet were already bobbing over the ties) and away from mortal terror scarcely less terrible than death itself.

And at the same moment the now recuperated brakeman (who had been once more tumbled unceremoniously into a wood-box, but which we neglected to note) caught the wife around the waist and threw her over the railing onto the platform of the sleeping car, into which she was hustled before she had time to make further resistance. The husband took refuge in the saloon of the ladies' car. Conductor Searle now persuaded the abused wife to give up her revolver, which she did somewhat reluctantly. It proved to be carefully loaded, but the hammer did not hit the cartridges squarely when it came down, so there was no explosion. Whether those who had provided Mrs. Willoby with the weapon knew this we are unable to say, but the fact seems to have saved a life or two.

By the time Mrs. W. returned to the ladies' car, Willoby had plucked up courage enough to come out of his hiding place, and she went for him again, this time with her tongue. He thought she might still be armed and was fearfully frightened and begged and apologized in the most humble manner. She gave him a piece of her mind in words more remarkable for their emphasis than elegance.

At Osceola the wife said they would get off. Husband made a rather unwilling assent. When the station was reached she jumped off nimbly. Husband hesitated and looked wistfully towards the sleeping car where the strange woman was. Wife collared him and jerked him out on the station platform with a vim and energy that excited the admiration of bystanders. As the train started, he showed some signs of slipping away from her and getting aboard, but she collared him again and gave him such a jolt that he was glad to abandon the idea of trying to get away.

The strange woman was put off at Afton. The last heard of the wretched man, he had given the last dollar he had to some chaps in Osceola who promised to put him on track of the women, but who took him into a dark alley at night and left him to find his way back as best he might.


Unknown said...

What a delightful read! And very well written.

Tom Atha said...

Hahahahaha. Loved the story!