Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Written Words For You All to Read

Running family lines feels, at times, like fishing. Occasionally, I land a catch that haunts me. A long-concluded life demands I consider our present circumstances.

I spend hours trolling databases, message boards and digitized documents. Sometimes I'll net evidence of further relationships. It’s usually gratifying. Given a seeming plethora of available data, and my low threshold of interest, I've disciplined myself – generally – to confine research to first cousins, and forgo crawling out far distant limbs in my family tree.

I was diverted from entering Turner family deed records from 19th century Madison County, Kentucky. A probate sale involving the estate of one Creed Turner caught my attention.

One of my skill sets seems to be name retention. Immediately the name ‘Creed’ evoked ‘Curd’ Turner: a first cousin, 4-times removed, of whom I’d learned very little. My heart raced when I discovered Turner’s executors had distributed Missouri lands to Curd’s siblings. I'd cracked a nut! ‘Curd’ and Creed Turner were one and the same.

This, however, was only the first of several excitements.

We both descend from Turner's grandfather (my 4-times great-grandfather), John Turner, Jr. (c1738-1813). Technically, Creed and I are ‘half-cousins.’ John had perhaps 19 children by two wives. I am from John's union with Rebeckah Smith (1743-1774), Creed by two generations from second wife Jane Barnett Cooper (c1755-1816).

In 1814, Creed’s father, Barnett ‘Barney’ Turner (1790-1836), posted bond in Madison County for his half-brother, Thomas ‘Trading Tom’ Turner (1764-1847). This enabled widower Thomas, my 3-times great grandfather, to marry (second) my 3-times great grandmother, Annah Berry (c1785-1833). Ten months later, Methodist Deacon John Pace would also unite Barnett to Creed's mother, Nancy Durret Taylor (1795-1836). Nephew Squire Turner (1793-1871) posted bond for this pair. Squire and his uncle Barnett had seen battle together, both serving as Privates in Capt. Robert Sturges' company of Kentucky Mounted Volunteer Militia in the War of 1812.

Nancy was a teen when her Revolutionary-era father died. Peter Taylor (c1750-1812) succumbed to a ‘stroke of apoplexy’ while overseeing some of his two dozen slaves in a garden. His estate, arising out of a land grant of 1,000 acres when Kentucky was yet an extension of Virginia, was considerable. It included fine pewter, a library and chaise carriage. Taylor's 1807 will provided for children “yet to be reared.”

Barnett, with Annah’s father, James Berry (1752-1822), were among executors of John Turner’s will when Barnett’s and Thomas' father died the following year. Barnett’s inheritance was trifling, when compared to Taylor's estate: John Turner left him perhaps a sixth of his 200-acre tract. John had in 1811 been exempted from paying the county levy on half of his slaves, to wit “two old negroes Karon and Pender.” (See Meet Monk Estill for more on James Berry.)

On 30 December 1822, Creed Turner became the third son and fourth child born to Barnett and Nancy. He was likely named for his maternal uncle, Creed Haskins Taylor (1808-1832). The Turners could be considered clannish. They kept in touch. "Barnett Turner and his family is in common health," wrote Barnett's uncle Philip to son Talton, in Missouri by 1825. More importantly, these Turners could be migratory. Philip Turner (1762-1852), born with his brother John (above) in North Carolina, had westward momentum. Settled in Madison County, Kentucky, his name is found on an 1819 petition from the Louisiana-Missouri territory. Philip joined others in asking the President to appoint someone whereby they can register land titles. At the penning of the 1825 letter, in which he writes, "Our children is much annimated with the prospects of coming to your cuntry," Philip is poised to leapfrog his siblings. Like Daniel and his brother Squire Boone, he'll move from North Carolina, to Kentucky, and on to Missouri. Unlike the Boones, Philip will bring eight slaves. (For more on Talton and Squire Turner, see To Write on Ends As Was at Hand.)

The 1830 census shows Creed’s Madison County household to contain his parents, 7 siblings and 17 slaves. Neither Barnett nor Nancy would be reflected in the 1840 census. Nancy died in March 1831. Creed was but several weeks beyond his 14th birthday when his father died ... in February 1836.

In ten years, Creed was to mimic the western migration of his grandfathers. He had sufficient resources to purchase 160 acres in Atchison County, Missouri in May 1846. Surprisingly, a year later – on 27 May 1847 – the Oregon Spectator published Creed Turner’s name beneath a resolution of pioneers vowing to “not give their vote to any man for A public office who is in any manner, shape or form connected with claim jumping." Turner was in Oregon City, the administrative hub of a self-organized, provisional government that had proclaimed authority in the Pacific Northwest. The following year, part of this amorphous area would be partitioned and called The Oregon Territory.

I had to pause. Within an hour of discovering Creed Turner is kin to me, I must reckon with the idea that – a few weeks shy of 167 years ago – my subject was fifteen miles from where I sat, pecking away at a computer.

You see, I cast my net from Portland, Oregon.

It may have been the U.S. Senate’s June 1846 ratification of a treaty with Great Britain, finally delineating a northern border of the United States of America, that spurred my cousin to navigate the Oregon Trail.

Map of the administrative districts of the Provisional Government of Oregon, as of 1843.
State archives indicate Turner had been busy. He filed two land claims in September 1846: the first in Champoeg District, a second in Yamhill. In November of the same year, Turner filed yet another Champoeg claim. [See image.] Turner may have been speculating a pioneer settlement in Champoeg would, with territorial recognition, supplant Oregon City as the seat of government.

Creed Turner was certainly not without resources.

Goeres-Gardner, in her 2005 book, Necktie Parties, locates Creed Turner in Clackamas District (think of Washington State). On 24 May 1847, only days before publicly committing to the set of resolutions on claim jumping, Turner had “signed ownership of fifty head of American cattle over to Thomas [McCutcheon] Chambers while Turner was traveling back to the eastern states.”* It's more likely Turner had driven stock before him in the trek from Missouri - animals that subsequently required fattening up - than it is he paid inflated, frontier prices for them. Perhaps Turner intended to breed a larger herd of cattle.

Irish and a Presbyterian minister, Chambers and his sons left Oregon City in the fall of 1847 to lay claim to land owned by the Hudson Bay Company. I don't know what happened to Turner's cattle. If the men stayed in relationship, Turner would have known of Chamber's response to those sent to evict the (perhaps former) cleric, soon after his arrival in environs of present-day Olympia, Washington. Perez in the Steilacoom Historical Museum Quarterly, reports "After no reply from Chambers, officials of the Company visited him on [Steilacoom Creek] and made their demands. Chambers replied by resting a rifle on his fence and made it quite clear he was going to stay. The Hudson's Bay Company never bothered him again." Turner's known Oregon associate was bold in his gesture.

Creed Turner ‘sold up.’ He was likely in Kentucky at the death of half-uncle Thomas Turner (above) on 17 November 1847. Madison County deeds dated 29 November 1847 reveal Cyrus and Thomas Turner – 'Trading Tom's' grandsons by Squire Turner – bought from Creed 420 acres he held on Tates Creek in Bluegrass Country. Not only that, the sale included Creed's personalty; "all goods, chattels, articles and movable property located thereon." It may be interesting to note that Cyrus Turner, a member of Kentucky's lower house, would be dead in 18 months ... publicly disemboweled by an unstable political aspirant, Cassius Marcellus Clay.

John Bonser and his party of immigrants arrived in Linnton, Oregon in December 1847. According to Thompson, in Oregon Pioneer Biographies, Ohioan Bonsers “were not shy in their hospitality.”
Image of John Bonser (right) and his Sauvie Island home/boarding house in Oregon.
John Bonser & home, c1880 or later.

The following year, the Bonsers settled a piece of land on the south bank of the Columbia River, at Sauvie Island. “In the spring of 1850 a large cabin was built on a knoll to avoid the annual floods, and added to for the next several years. It was to become a rambling structure capable of housing both a large family and guests,” says Thompson. The Bonser home was “a popular gathering place on the river.”

“The Bonsers had taken in several young women of the Lee family who had been orphaned, and with John's own marriageable daughters, the Sauvies Island homestead drew a swarm of men from throughout the area.” The U.S. Congress had prompted a marriage market in far-off Oregon with passage of the Oregon Donation Land Act: the 1850 legislation provided 320 acres to wives of white male citizens. (American, half-breed Indians with at least intent to obtain citizenship could claim land: language explicitly excluded African Americans and Hawaiians.) “No young girl over the age of twelve was safe from the stampede of young farmers wanting to add another half section to their land,” Thompson observes, ominously.

Creed Turner, 29, was boarding with the Bonsers by 19 October 1851. Newspaper accounts have him romantically invested in the Bonsers’ daughter Martha Jane. Attractive by many accounts, Martha had just turned 14 in the month prior.

Following Turner, another, younger boarder took up residency in the Bonser’s ‘popular gathering place.’ Edward Augustus Bradbury (1827-1851) arrived. Son of Cornelius Saunders Bradbury (1799-1871), operator of Cincinnati’s most productive seed oil gristmills, Edward was likely scouting frontier opportunities.

“Turner had been attracted to Martha for some time but when Bradbury arrived they seemed to have eyes only for each other. Turner became jealous and was determined to see an end to their attraction for one another, so on October 19, 1851, as the family gathered for a quiet [Sunday morning], Turner entered the room and walked up beside Bradbury. Without comment or provocation he pulled a dirk, a dagger-like knife usually used for stabbing, and slashed at the young man,” reports Wilson, in Legal Executions in the Western Territories 1847-1911. “He gutted Bradbury with five deep gashes to his stomach, and then inflicted more deep cuts to his left side, chest, and arms.” Like the above Cyrus Turner, “the stomach wound … resulted in a terrible infection.” Like Cyrus, “Bradbury lingered for a day in excruciating pain and fever before he died.”

News clipping of Creed Turner's crime in Gallipolis Journal
Horrid Murder, 1851
Turner did not flee the scene, nor did he deny his involvement.

Newly appointed Portland Marshal William L. Higgins investigated, even though the crime occurred outside his jurisdiction. “Higgins’s arrest of the killer, Creed Turner, was the first extension of the city’s authority,” declares the Portland Police Museum. Having no deputies, Higgins alone is to have conducted Turner to the county seat at Hillsboro. It’s not known where Turner was secured: Washington County would build their first jail two years later.

The following day, when Bradbury was interred, a grand jury was convened. In short order, Turner was indicted for first degree murder. Witnesses testified the homicide “was unjustified and the jealous survivor a cowardly criminal.” Goeres-Gardner also states, “Turner was neither repentant nor dismayed at his action. He told the authorities that his only regret was that he was unable to kill himself.”

It was an unfortunate time to commit murder in the Territory. Attention was sharply focused on such transgression. Weeks before, on 9 September, the Oregon Spectator carried a story about a vigilance committee battering jail doors down in Alta, California. “The excitement was intense,” it was reported. “Only 17 minutes were occupied in rescuing [an incarcerated pair] and arranging the preliminaries for the execution of the culprits.” Nothing short of an immediate execution could have appeased the excited crowd. No crime was identified. “The bodies, after hanging for 40 minutes, were cut down.” Whittaker, a ‘hardened villain,’ “evinced some signs of life. He was swung up a second time, and was suspended for 20 minutes longer.” 'Hanging,' in this sense, was likely to be 'strung up' and strangled.

Justice was makeshift on the frontier. William Kendall, convicted of homicide, had been hung in Marion County, Oregon in April. Shortly thereafter, gambler William Keene was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a sailor named Cook – arising from a game of ten-pins – and sentenced to six years in the penitentiary. “As the jury had decided that he ought not to hang, and he could not be confined in an imaginary penitentiary, he was pardoned by the governor,” relay Bancroft and Victor in their 1888 History of Oregon.

Image of Joseph L. Meek; frontspiece, The River of the West Life and Adventure in the Rocky Mountains and Oregon, by Frances Fuller Victor (1870).
Joseph L. Meek
In addition to the absence of a penitentiary or court­house of any kind, a territorial judiciary had yet to stabilize. Justices elected and appointed by the provisional government had resigned, declined their appointment, or simply never shown up for trial. With the creation of an Oregon Territory, President James Knox Polk obtained the power of appointment. His nominee as Chief Justice to the Territory's Supreme Court, William P. Bryant, had resigned in 1850 ... but not before ordering U.S. Marshal Joseph Lafayette Meek (right) to hang Kussus and Quallalwowt. The pair had been surrendered by Snoqualmie and Skewahamish people for a tribute of 80 blankets. They'd been executed following trial for the 1849 death of Leander Wallace in an 'affray' at Fort Nisqually ... in which a Native man had also been killed. Polk’s appointment for Associate Supreme Court Justice, Orville Charles Pratt, was busying himself in San Francisco, far beyond his jurisdiction.

Bancroft and Victor report, “At a meeting held in Portland April 1st [1851], it was resolved that the president of the United States should be informed of the neglect of the judges of the first and second districts, no court having been held in Wash­ington county since the previous spring …” Obviously en route, Polk’s appointment, Chief Justice Thomas Nelson, arrived by sea at the end of the month. “The arrival of the new chief justice, and [return of] Pratt, brought a temporary quiet.”

Three days after his indictment, Turner was brought to trial. Attorney of the Territorial Supreme Court, Alexander Campbell, was responsible for prosecuting him. According to Scott, in his 1890 History of Portland, Oregon, Campbell “was particularly well drilled in the principles of common law. He placed great dependence upon his books, carefully preparing his cases, and appearing in Court with an armful of authorities on every occasion.”

Turner came before Campbell’s future millionaire, San Francisco law partner - Judge Pratt - on 24 October. Pratt had begun a law practice ten years earlier. In May of the previous year, he had presided in an Oregon City tavern, conducting a partisan trial for murders that occurred outside his jurisdiction. Tiloukaikt, Tomahas, Kiamsumpkin, Iaiachalakis, Endoklamin, and Klokomas were hung for the murders of missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and eleven others. In addition to a dozen troubling rulings, Pratt had quashed an acting governor’s pardon of the Cayuse nationals. Clatsop County Court historians reflect on Pratt: “During his term, Judge Pratt was embroiled in controversy. He frequently traveled out of the territory to further his political and business interests, and he took advantage of opportunities to increase his personal fortune.” Likely a fellow speculator, Pratt had thrown his political weight into having Congress declare Salem (not Champoeg) the capital of Oregon Territory.

Turner was represented by Matthew Paul Deady, who had been admitted to the Ohio bar four years earlier.** At age 27, Deady had just been elected to represent Yamhill County in the territorial legislature. In two years he too would become an Associate Supreme Court Justice in Oregon. After President James Buchanan appointed him to the bench, the Oregon Encyclopedia reports Deady “showed an inclination toward ‘natural justice.’”

The rule of law was as fluid as territorial boundaries and vacancies in administration. A provisional government had self-organized as an association, primarily as a means of assuring valid land titles. Perhaps not even a majority of white men in these western hinterlands acquiesced to the formation of this government. Justice Peter Hardeman Burnett recalled veiled threats which showed the pernicious role of claim jumping in his memoirs, Recollections And Opinions Of An Old Pioneer: "The friends of the organization were active, kind, and wise in their course toward those opposed. When one opposed to the government would state that fact, some friend would kindly remind him that his claim was liable to be 'jumped,' and that he could not alone defend his rights against the violent and unprincipled; and that it was a desolate and painful condition for a citizen, in a civilized community, to be an outlaw." It was perhaps to organized, intrinsically political coercion that Creed Turner had stood opposed in 1847.

The question of what laws were in effect "arose and vexed the country," declared Evans in his 1889 History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. Oregon's Organic Law of 1845, nominally in effect at Turner's trial, drew largely from British common law and the coincidence that someone had brought a copy of Iowa statutes to the frontier. "In the spring of 1850, the newly arrived United States District Attorney had pronounced the act making the selections from the Iowa statutes void," says Evans. No codified, written law was in effect at the time of Turner's 1851 trial. Technically, the death penalty for first degree murder would not become law until passed by statute thirteen years later. The Oregon Constitution, adopted in 1857, would make no provision for it.

Image of Martha Jane (Bonser) Armstrong.
Congregational Church Deacon Thomas George Naylor, who’d come overland with Burnett, was foreman to a 12-man jury. Campbell subpoenaed eleven witnesses. Turner apparently watched his coveted Martha (right), her father, and two Bonser brothers take the stand. Two neighbors Johnson (also Johnston) were called. It is not known how long the jury deliberated, but Turner was found ‘guilty as charged in the indictment’ at the conclusion of a one-day trial. On 4 November 1851, Pratt sentenced him to hang one month following. Turner’s death sentence was reported in San FranciscoDaily Union eleven days later. [See note, below.]

My heart raced, with my next discovery. Creed Turner began his autobiography! “As the days passed he became more frantic and dedicated to penning the story of his life,” relates Wilson. Goeres-Gardner has him ‘writing madly’ during the last week of his life: "Visitors to the jail heard him mumbling, “I’m coming to myself now, and life is getting sweeter and sweeter to me. Some have taken me for a grand scoundrel of the first water, and that I aimed to get a big name. I wasn’t smart enough to act insane.”"

Goeres-Gardner reports Turner “savoring the last few hours of his remaining days.” He ate a large meal on the evening of 3 December. The following morning he had a shave. “He requested to be baptized, but it was too late to make arrangements.” The Oregon Statesman would report Turner “was equipped in his shroud” before being taken to his place of execution. Goeres-Gardner observes: “Perhaps the word is simply used to mean the garments he wore were the ones he was to be buried in.”

Smith tells us, “He was marched to the gallows, climbed the steps with a firm gait, and took his place upon the trapdoor.”

Although they’d been unable to baptize him, Reverend John Smith Griffin and political aspirant/circuit-riding Church Elder, Dr. James McBride both sermonized from the scaffold. Says Smith, “The sun broke through the clouds shortly before the execution and the reporter from the Statesman felt it was an omen of God’s pleasure” at the impending killing.

Several accounts note the absence of any blindfold, in Washington County’s first and last hanging. Turner was allowed to ‘scrutinize’ a crowd of perhaps 250 as he awaited the drop. (One contemporary account has numbers representing half the state's population in attendance.) Occurring well beyond harvest, remote farmers could behold the proceeding without substantial cost to themselves.

Creed Turner's final moments have been memorialized in several texts.

Much press attention was given County Sheriff William Hardin Bennett, a 25-year-old Kentuckian, executing Turner at precisely 11am, as ordered by Judge Pratt’s death warrant.

“Turner broke his neck in the fall and after he was pronounced dead the body was allowed to hang a sufficient time to ensure that he could not be revived,” relates Wilson. With Deady now likely in charge of his estate, Creed Turner’s body was placed in a pine coffin provided by the county. He was that afternoon one of the first interred, likely in what is now called the Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery, then on the western edge of town. No marker exists for either Turner or Bradbury.

Creed Turner was not yet thirty. Death Penalty USA lists him, behind Kendal, as the second white executed in Oregon.

Seeking to separate state executions from public spectacle, the Oregon legislature later ordered they be screened by fences.

Perhaps you can imagine my excitement, at the discovery that Creed Turner and I - in proximity and separated only by time - have both committed to publishing family histories. Testimony regarding the Revolutionary-era exploits of John Turner is disappointingly scant. I crave to learn more about Thomas Turner (whom son Squire referred to as 'Old Marse' in correspondence). Thomas, if not Squire, is likely to have fathered Jeremiah 'Jery' Turner (1840-1917), by one their enslaved women.

Sadly, Goeres-Gardner reports in a footnote to her well-researched Necktie Parties that, while such texts were common in that era, "Turner's manuscript has been lost over time." When one considers crude, log structures were then contending with natives' cedar-plank longhouses as the ultimate in shelter, it would be extraordinary for Turner's work to have survived. I blame Deady, however. Judges Campbell, Pratt and Deady all left their papers. The latter can be found among collections housed in the Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Deady is said to have acknowledged his role in Turner's defense.

There are no references to Oregon land among Creed Turner’s deeds settled in Madison County. It’s quite likely his attorney relied on the same strategy of collecting payment that he employed the following year. Judge Nelson appointed Deady to represent Adam E. Wimple, for killing his 13-year-old bride, Mary. In Nimrod: Courts, Claims, and Killing On The Oregon Frontier, Lansing has the ‘capable’ Deady receiving Wimple’s land claim to settle their account … via Wimple's will, likely drafted by Deady. ‘Crazy Wimple,’ who’d harvested $10,000 from California gold fields, was hung on 8 October 1852.

Marcus, William and Mary Jane; siblings and "heirs and legatees of Creed Turner, deceased," sold 3/4 of the Missouri lands for $375. Title went to one Littleton West Turner. Of this Turner's father, one researcher speculates, “This John is probably a grandson of John and Rebeckah Turner (above), but it is not known for sure through which son." Such speculation places Littleton beyond my 'first cousin prohibition,' and the story settles.

It transpires Creed Turner's estate was estimable. He had bright prospects. In March 1752, his heirs sold another 352 acres along Tates Creek to a Samuel Phelps, likely first cousin Samuel Brockman Phelps (1828-1909), another of Peter Taylor's grandsons. Turner's siblings sold another 95 acres on Tates Creek to Samuel Clifton Stone (1822-1901). Nephew to Squire Turner (above), it's difficult to justify having Stone, the nephew of the wife of my half-2nd great grand uncle, already in my tree ... but there you are.

*‘Back to the United States’ was a phrase employed in the era of Creed Turner's grandfather John. Adventurers associated with the Transylvania Company; Judge Richard Henderson’s speculative colonization of uncharted territory ... under fellow North Carolinian Daniel Boone’s leadership. To them, 'the States' were both geographically distant and politically distinct. Land we now know of as Kentucky was initially being organized as Transylvania Colony.

**Squire Turner (1793-1871), neared his peak of legal prominence as Creed Turner prepared for trial. In its 1850 session, the Kentucky General Assembly had adopted codification of all Kentucky law into a single document for the first time: of the trio involved, Squire Turner is seen as the project's leading light. Outcome for Creed might have improved, had first cousin Squire been present to represent him.
Bold face indicates the author's probable direct ancestor.

Elder, in Last Words of the Executed, indicates Turner’s death was reported in the New York Times. It’s unlikely folks in Madison County heard of their kinsman’s plight prior to his execution. The New York Daily Tribune only reported the “wanton murder” on 2 December. Story of the crime broke in the Indiana State Sentinel a week after Turner’s execution. It formed part of a cautionary tale: “Emigration this year has been large, but too many of them have gone to sow their "wild oats" among the mines instead of the fertile plains, where it would certainly yield an hundred fold.” [sic]

News clipping of Creed Turner's crime in Gallipolis Journal
Family members may have learned Creed Turner would “doubtless be executed” nearer Christmas, when the murder was reported in an Ohio newspaper, the Gallipolis Journal (right). Turner was dead three weeks by then.


April, 2023 - I above referenced Turner's legal counsel Matthew Paul Deady (1824-1893) ... and his papers in Oregon Historical Society Research Library collection. The magnificent Multnomah County Library sent compilation, as Pharisee Among Philistines: The Diary of Judge Matthew P. Deady, 1871-1892 (1975), to my local branch. From vol. 1, p. 255 came minor reminiscence: "Have not given any thought to [Medical Jurisprudence] since I defended Creed Turner for murder at Hillboro in the fall of 1851." Entry was dated 2 February 1878 ... a full 26 years later. Image (left) was from nearer nine years following Turner's execution.