Thursday, June 09, 2005

Sheriff Wm. B. Ramsey shot and killed

The tombstone of Sheriff William B. Ramsey in Mount Zion Cemetery.

Two of four Lucas County sheriffs who served during the period 1870-1889 were shot and killed in the line of duty, a bloody record.

On the 6th of July 1870 Missouri horse thief Hiram Wilson shot and killed Sheriff Gaylord Lyman as Lyman attempted to arrest him just off the southeast corner of the square. Wilson was lynched early the next day at the courthouse (You may read more about that shooting and the lynching that followed here).

Almost exactly 19 years later, on 28 June 1889, Sheriff William B. Ramsey was shot and killed near Freedom while attempting to arrest the deranged John McGinnis. McGinnis, in turn, was shot and killed by Henry Blouse, who was assisting in the attempted arrest.

Sheriff Ramsey and his family had lived in Liberty Township, near Oakley, before his election as sheriff and so he was taken home to Oakley on a special train and then on to Mount Zion Cemetery for burial.

The years have not been kind to the inscription on his tombstone, which reads in part as follows:

Sheriff of Lucas Co.
MAR 1, 1844
Was shot and instantly
killed in his official
JUNE 28, 1889

The circumstances surrounding Sheriff Ramsey's death were reported upon at great length in The Patriot of 3 July 1889, primarily by reproducing transcripts of testimony taken during the inquest over John McGinnis's body. I've condensed the report, which is quite repetitive, by eleminating as indicated the testimony of all witnesses other than Henry Blouse, who killed McGinnis. There is no mention in the report of disposition of McGinnis's body, but I'd guess that he was buried in Freedom Cemetery, near the site of the shooting. If so, his grave is unmarked.

Sheriff W. B. Ramsey Killed by John McGinnis Near Freedom
Two out of Four Lucas County Sheriffs Killed in the Last 19 Years While Attempting arrests
Particulars of the Double Tragedy and Verdict of the Coroner's Jury

Last Friday morning, this community was thrown into intense excitement by the news that Sheriff Ramsey had been killed while attempting the arrest of John McGinnis near Freedom. In March, 1888, McGinnis had been adjudged insane and taken to the Mt. Pleasant asylum from which he escaped the following September. He has since been at large, but his whereabouts was unknown until within a few weeks ago when he returned to his old neighborhood in the south part of Warren township.

He had been working on the farm of James Stafford since early June and only at intervals showed evidence of an unsound mind. Thursday evening preceding the tragedy, an information was filed by W.O. Woods, charging McGinnis with being insane and dangerous. A warrant was issued for his arrest and placed in the hands of Sheriff Ramsey about 9 o’clock same night. Procuring the assistance of constables, D.S. Myers and Eugene Nafus, the sheriff started about midnight for the Stafford farm about eight miles south of Chariton. Before going there however, they went on to the residence of Henry Blouse, to get his assistance in making the arrest.

The whole party now proceeded to Stafford’s place and the tragic story is told in the testimony herewith given, of eye witnesses of the terrible event, taken before the jury at the inquest held by Coroner Stanton on the body of John McGinnis who lay there dead with a bullet on his brain. Sheriff Ramsey had frequently been warned that McGinnis had threatened to kill him but he was of such a kindly and human nature that he could not bring himself to believe that the former was reckless and wicked enough to put his threat into execution. He thought that kind words would calm and subdue the aroused and insane devil in McGinnis’s nature, and his cruel murder showed how fatally he was mistaken. McGinnis had frequently sworn that he would never go back to the asylum alive. On this subject he was undoubtedly a monomaniac, but upon ordinary occasions seemed quiet and sane enough.

Below we give the testimony of the witnesses before the coroner’s jury:

(Following is deleted testimony of W. A. Woods, who filed the complaint against McGinnis that Sheriff Ramsey was acting upon, but who was not present at the shooting; Henry Catron, an employee of James Stafford, who was sleeping with McGinnis and others in the Stafford barn when Ramsey and others arrived and awakened them; Constable Dennis Myers, who accompanied Sheriff Ramsey to the Stafford farm; and Elmer Stafford and C. J. Wisser, farm hands who also were sleeping in the barn with McGinnis. The testimony of Henry Blouse then follows.)

Henry Blouse: Have been acquainted about seventeen years with John M. McGinnis. Deceased has followed farming and well-digging; during the time previous to his becoming insane, he was always considered a hard working industrious citizen. He became insane in March 1888 and was sent to the asylum in a short time where he remained until September when he made his escape and came home, where he remained about ten days. He then left and was not heard from until about the 1st of March, 1889. At that time he was at Carthage, Mo.; when I received a letter from him, and from its contents thought him insane. Mr. McGinnis returned about the 1st of April, 1889, for some time. He visited around among the people about ten days, working a few days for D.K. Hastings, then began working for J.G. Stafford about the 7th of June, where he remained up to the time of his death.

From a conversation with him soon after his return, I became satisfied that Mr. McGinnis was laboring under a delusion, and considered him of unsound mind. He was laboring the delusion that certain persons, his wife among others, had control over his actions. At that time he told me that he intended to kill his neighbor, Mr. Hastings; am convinced that he always had about him two revolvers. At the time of his return he was very much enraged toward his wife, and whenever her name was mentioned he would become very much excited.

On Jue 28th, between 2 and 3 a.m., the sheriff, Wm. Ramsey, Eugene Nafus and Dennis Myers, came to my house and told me that they wanted me to go with them to Mr. Stafford’s, that they wanted to arrest John McGinnis who was then insane. I got into the buggy with them and started to Mr. Stafford’s. On the way Sheriff Ramsey handed me a revolver and told me if I got into a tight place, all I had to do was pull the trigger. We drove down in front of Mr. Holten’s when we tied the team and came down the road until just west of Mr. Stafford’s house. We then separated, Mr. Myers and I going to the south side of the barn where Mr.McGinnis was sleeping with three other men. The sheriff and E. Nafus going on the north side. We arrived about 3 o’clock and waited until daylight.

Mr. Ramsey then called up the boys and Mr. McGinnis answered. The rest of the boys then got up and came down from the barn loft where they had been sleeping, Mr. McGinnis remaining. After a little conversation between he and Ramsey, I spoke to him and told him to come down, which he did, going to the north barn door where he met Ramsey and Nafus and myself, Ramsey stepping up to him and shaking hands, McGinnis saying “I don’t know you,” Ramsey then says: “My name is Ramsey."

McGinnis then bringing his left hand from behind with his revolver in it, a 44 British Bull Dog. Ramsey then stepped back and said “Don’t shoot John!” McGinnis immediately shot hitting Ramsey in the breast from which he died in a few minutes. Nafus then shot McGinnis through the chin, not injuring seriously. McGinnis then turned a little to the left and shot Nafus, wounding him slightly in the side. He then turned and aimed at me, when I drew my revolver and shot McGinnis in the forehead,the bullet having passed through his right forearm. He fell instantly, and died at about 9:12, remaining unconscious until death.

Verdict of the Jury:

State of Iowa
Lucas County

An inquisition holden at J.G.Stafford’s in Lucas county on the 29th day of June A.D. 1889, before T.P. Stanton, coroner of said county, upon the body of John M. McGinnis, there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed. The said jurors upon their oaths do say that he came to his death by a pistol shot fired by Henry Blouse while acting as peace officer in self-defense and that said H. Blouse was fully justified in firing said shot and is exhonerated from all blame and should be commended for his prompt action in protecting his own life, and probably the lives of others from the danger of an insane man.

In testimony whereof, the said jurors have hereunto set their hands, the day and year foresaid.

(Signed) James T. Wright
(Signed) W. A. Todd
(Signed) J.F. McGinnis

The Sheriff’s office of Lucas county has a bloody and fatal record. Nineteen years ago on the 6th of July, Sheriff Lyman was shot to death by a Missouri outlaw and horse thief while attempting his arrest, and now another of her sheriffs goes to his grave at the hands of a blood thirsty maniac. We have had four sheriffs during the time referred to, two of whom died by violence while in the line of their duty. In this hour of profound sorrow, it may not be inappropriate to turn aside a moment and briefly refer to the great responsibilities and ever present dangers of such an office as that of sheriff. The people seem to forget that his life is always risked in the discharge of his duty and only when some great calamity befalls, do they realize how much they owe to a (illegible) and courageous officer and how (illegible) and pitiful is the compensation awarded him. Henry Blouse, who shot McGinnis, did so absolutely in self defense, and to his coolness and courage his own escape as well as others, from death is undoubtedly due. All the officers acted under the sheriff’s orders and did their duty in the trying moment. Constable Nafus was painfully though not seriously wounded.

It is a sad story. The community loses an excellent and upright citizen and faithful officer, and his family the best and kindests of husbands and fathers.

The funeral took place from his late residence on Sunday and was conducted by Iseminger Post G.A.R. and the Sons of Veterans who attended in a body. The funeral cortege of seven loaded cars bore the remains of our comrade, accompanied by the sorrowing family and over four hundred sympathizing friends, to near Sheriff Ramsey’s old home in Liberty township a mile beyond Oakley. They were met by a large number of neighbors and friends from the surrounding country, and the funeral procession moved to the grove where appropriate services were held. Rev. Farlow made an eloquent address and the choir sang some beautiful selections, when the march to the cemetery began, where all that was mortal of Sheriff Ramsey was reverently and tenderly laid to rest.

W. B. Ramsey was born in the state of Ohio, March 1, 1844, and came to Lucas county, Iowa, with his parents thirty-four years ago. They settled in Liberty township and most of his life has been lived in that community. He was twice married. His first wife was a daughter of William Skidmore. Three children were born to them, two of whom are now living, John and Minnie. His second wife is a daughter of O.S. Frazier. They have four children, two boys and two girls, the oldest boy being about fourteen years of age.

Mr. Ramsey enlisted in the 3rd Iowa cavalry and served with honorable distinction throughout the war.

He was elected sheriff of Lucas county on the democratic ticket in 1887, and served only one year and a half of his term. In every relation of life his duty was done modestly and faithfully. He was an honest man. Kind hearted and discreet, he was a most likeable man and commanded universal respect.

To his loving wife and children he leaves the priceless heritage of an honored name. In their sorrow they can think tenderly and proudly of his generous, brave and noble life, and that he died at his post of duty doing what he thought was right.

The profound sympathy of an entire community goes out to them. In a notice of our friend’s life and death, an injustice would be done if we failed to mention the kindness and most unselfish assistance rendered in the last sad hour by his old friend and comrade in arms, S. B. Swift.


Unknown said...

Frank, Ilene Church knows where McGinnis is buried. It is in a fence row west of Freedom. John

Frank D. Myers said...

Thanks John. I'll talk to Ilene about this the next time I see her.

Unknown said...

While Digging a grave East of Ottumwa, the diggers came upon a casket buried North & South,
While All Other Graves Were East & West, the Thought was that the dead could either see the
Sunset or the Sunrise...but a 'bad person' deserved neither...this was told me, by one of the men that was there!