Monday, June 16, 2014

Guns, doom & the Asbury Collins family (Part 2)

This continues an earlier post --- and if you've not read it, and are interested in context, then follow this link to "Guns, doom & the Asbury Collins family (Part 1).

It's not clear when Asbury and Louisa Collins and their  children moved west from Chariton to Red Oak, in Montgomery County, but it probably was a year or two before 1870, when The Chariton Democrat reported in its March 22 edition that "Judge Collins and Mr. Summerville of Red Oak were in town last week, looking for fine stock hogs to purchase and take west."

When the 1870 federal census of Montgomery County was taken, Asbury was enumerated as a farmer who owned real estate valued at $2,500 and personal property valued at $1,480. While certainly not a rich man, this was a respectable net worth at the time. The household consisted of Louisa, Milton, 18, D. Finely, 13, and little Lou(isa), age 2.

There is no indication that Collins ever preached in Montgomery or surrounding counties; nor for that matter, do any Lucas County churches seem to have utilized his services, at least on a regular basis.


It probably was in Chariton that Asbury had become acquainted with David N. Smith, another pioneer Iowa Methodist preacher who arrived in Lucas County with his wife, Sophia, during the mid-1850s after health issues forced him from the active ministry at Fairfield. He had just received  before locating at Chariton --- closer to the frontier --- an appointment as agent of the Methodist Episcopal Sunday School Union, responsible for traveling newly settled parts of the state, establishing Sunday schools, preaching when health permitted and fulfilling other missions as assigned. He was, however, carried on the rolls of the Iowa Conference as a "superannuated or worn-out preacher," a designation related to his health.

As it turned out, David also was an astute businessman and became one of southern Iowa's most affluent residents before his death during 1879 in Burlington.

After 1853, when the land office was moved from Fairfield west to Chariton, Chariton became home base for land speculators, some of whom made a good deal of money dealing in south-central and southwest Iowa property. These included John Branner, Edward Ames Temple (who went on to found what now is the Principal Financial Group) and many others, including the Rev. Mr. Smith, generally credited with locating and developing the Adams County seat of Corning in 1855. It seems likely that Smith combined his Sunday school efforts in southwest Iowa with his sideline of speculating in land.

When the Civil War broke out, Smith returned full-time to the active ministry and signed on as chaplain for the 18th Iowa Volunteer Infantry while his wife remained at home in Chariton.

After the war, he went to work as a land agent for the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, stalled by the war at Ottumwa, now moving westward across Iowa to the Missouri and beyond. As agent, his principal job was to acquire land for and then shepherd initial development of towns along the new rail route. Huge amounts of money could be made by investing in the town lot companies sponsored by the railroad. Among Smith's associates was Smith H. Mallory, who became Chariton's richest man, bridge contractor on the rail route west from Lucas County.

By 1871, Smith was working the B.&M.R. route across Nebraska and during that year in southwest Nebraska founded both Lowell, which became the Kearney County seat; and Kearney Junction, where the B.&M.R. and Union Pacific tracks joined --- later known just as Kearney and the Buffalo County seat.

Smith's sidekick in the founding of Kearney Junction was none other than his old Chariton friend and fellow superannuated preacher, Asbury Collins. The two set out during the early spring of 1871 from Fort Kearney and crossed to the north bank of the Platte River with guide Moses Sydenham and located Kearney Junction on April 11, 1871.

Asbury brought Louisa and the remainder of his family west from Red Oak, arriving on May 11, 1871, and they moved with others into the first building on the site, known as Junction House, becoming generally recognized as Kearney Junction's first permanent settlers. The Collins family facilitated organization of Kearney's first congregation, Methodist of course, while living at Junction House, as well as the city's first school. Asbury was named Kearney's first postmaster in 1872 and was elected Buffalo County judge in 1873.

By July of 1872, Asbury, Louisa and their family were living in a new home built on their claim --- located within the later city limits of Kearney.


The Collins' son, Milton M., returned to Red Oak during early 1874 and married there on January 8 Anna Belle Cook. They then located at Kearney Junction and settled down to farm on a homestead located on the Platte River bottoms near the town. Their son, Roy Asbury, was born there on the 14th of December that year.

Serious trouble arose during September of 1875 when a band of Texas cowboys, having delivered a herd of cattle to the Lakota in southwest South Dakota, camped on their return trip to Texas near the Platte and the Milton Collins farm, then went into Kearney to carouse. Jordan P. Smith was the trail boss.

The Texans' ponies got into a Collins cornfield while their owners were away from camp. Milton rounded the ponies up and confined them, then set off to Kearney to locate the cowboys and demand damages.

En route, Milton reportedly encountered Jordan Smith --- drunk some say --- and they argued. Smith reportedly pulled a pistol on the unarmed Milton and they returned, Collins at gunpoint, to the farm. At the farm, after Smith reportedly ordered Milton to remain on his horse, the cowboy fired a shot into his back as he instead dismounted, then four more shots into his body. Anna Belle witnessed this, Milton reportedly dying in her arms at the age of 24.

News traveled faster in those days than we sometimes think it did, and so on Thursday, Sept. 22, The Chariton Patriot published the following report.

On last Friday Dr. (David) Collins, of this place, received a dispatch that Milton Collins, of Kearney Junction, son of Asbury, a brother of the Doctor and a former citizen of Chariton, had been shot and killed. The Doctor took the next train for Kearney and is still absent. The only particulars of the murder that we have received are found in the following dispatch, taken from Sunday's (Burlington) Hawkeye:

Kearney Junction, Neb., Sept. 18. -- Last night about twenty Texas herders camped on the Platte. During the night their horses got into M. Collins' cornfield. He took up their horses and they promised to settle, but, coming to town, got drunk, and shot Collins five times, killing him almost instantly. The citizens organized a pursuit and captured the Texans. They will probably be lynched to-night.

Young Collins has many relatives and friends in this county who will be pained to hear of his untimely death, and all the more that he was brutally murdered by a gang of Texas cut-throats. Asbury Collins, his father, is a former, and a much respected citizen, of Chariton, and "Miltie," as he was called, although leaving here when quite a boy, was well known, and so far as we know, a peaceable and worthy young man.

As noted in the newspaper report, a posse from Buffalo County did apprehend Jordan Smith and friends, attempting to hide on an island in the Platte in Dawson County --- and he did narrowly escape lynching. 

Lynching was a fairly common aspect of frontier justice at the time --- and one Lucas Countyans had some experience with. Only five years earlier, during July of 1870, Chariton residents had tied a rope around the neck of young Hiram Wilson, killer of Sheriff Gaylord Lyman, and tossed him out a second-floor window of the 1858 Lucas County Courthouse.

But Jordan Smith and friends lived to come to trial. Three men actually were indicted on charges of first-degree murder by a Buffalo County grand jury during December of 1875 --- Smith, Frederick Copeland and Bernadino Roach.

The latter two were acquitted, but Smith was convicted of murder on Dec. 17 and sentenced to hang.

No matter the merits of the case against Smith, there had been little possibility of a fair trial in Buffalo County, so during March of 1876, the conviction was overturned by the Nebraska Supreme Court and a new trial ordered --- this one commencing on May 17 at Lowell, then the seat of adjoining Kearney County. That trial ended with a conviction for second-degree murder and a prison sentence of 30 years.

After another appeal, that verdict was revoked as well during the fall of 1876 and yet another trial scheduled --- this time in Adams County. Here, Smith was convicted of manslaughter, with a recommendation for mercy, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It really isn't clear why Smith got off so lightly third time around, although there are various theories. In actuality, he served seven years of his 10-year term, was released, then apparently high-tailed it to Montana to begin life anew.

To be continued ...

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