The Murder of Harrison Caton


Murder on Route 66 – Layton Park

Murder was not on my mind as I planned a trip across the US along the famous Route 66. I just felt I had to travel the complete route.  The trip was not on my wife’s bucket list, so I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a traveling partner.

No response, most of my friends had wives or other excuses not to go, I was facing the sojourn by myself, but decided I would go alone then the phone rang.

“Hello, it’s Kev, are you still looking for someone to travel Route 66 with you?”

Kev has been a friend for over forty years, but I hadn’t talked to him since his wife’s funeral two years before.  I couldn’t think of a better travel companion, he is funny, money was not an issue, and he is always good-natured.

“Traveling 66 has always been on my bucket list.  I’d love to go with you.”

Plans were quickly finalized and a couple of months later we were on our way to Chicago and the start of Route 66.

During the first part of the trip we talked about Kev’s wife, a woman he had known and loved for forty years, even though they had been apart for several years between school then finally getting together again and marrying. As we rolled down the road in my small motorhome, we talked about her and life in general.  Then he said, “It’s funny, a friend suggested I meet a medium she knew.  I could not believe the information she seemed to pull out of the air. She told me things that she could not have known.

I feel her presence, she is guiding my life in positive ways and I am now much more relaxed and happier. What do you think?  Am I going crazy?”

“Hell no, you have been crazy for years. I am interested in hearing more though.”

I was interested even though I was not much of a believer in such things. I listened to his stories of meeting with the medium several times, with interest, but thought there had to be a real explanation to what he told me. Still, I was not going to argue with him.  I listened but remained skeptical, however that was about to change.

Route 66 winds through eight states on the way to LA, as we entered the second state, Missouri, I began an internal debate; should I tell Kev about my great grandfather, his murder and my desire to search out his final resting place?  The reason for my hesitation was it would take us off the route for a day. Although I would like to look for his grave, would it be of interest to Kev?

Harrison.jpgI knew him to be the kind of guy who would agree to go for my sake because that is who he is, but I did not want to detour him away from these 66 adventures to follow my search for the grave of Harrison Caton. Looking at the map I could see that Missouri is shaped like a rectangle standing on edge and Route 66 only cut through the southeast corner.  My grandfather’s farm was just south of Kansas City in the northwest corner.  There is no direct highway cutting diagonally across the state, making the side trip about a four-hour drive, so I decided I would not tell him and just plan to return on my own sometime later.

We just checked into a motel in Lebanon, Missouri and started to unpack, when Kev got a call from home telling him his ninety-two-year-old mother had been rushed to the hospital and the diagnosis was necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating disease. His daughter told him they didn’t think she had much time.  A quick search of the Internet found him a flight to Edmonton the next morning from Kansas City, so we got up early and headed northwest zig-zagging across the state to the airport.

We got an early start to catch an airplane about noon.  Just over two hours into the trip Kev’s daughter called again to say the doctors operated overnight and the surgery was successful, his mother was resting, so perhaps he could carry on.  Kevin asked to speak to the doctor, who confirmed that the operation had gone extremely well, in fact, the doctor called the operation a miracle and he believed they got it all.  Kev then spoke to his mother who told him she was okay, then he spoke to his older brother Dennis and became convinced that indeed it would be alright to carry on.

A few miles down the road we were on, we entered the town of Clinton.  “I see a McDonalds let’s stop and use their free Wi-Fi so we can plan our way back to 66,”  I said.

We sat a little more relaxed, had a coffee and looked at my computer.  “It looks like the best route is just west of us.  We will come to Highway 49 then take it straight south to 66,” but as I looked at the map, I realized a strange but exciting coincidence.

“Kev, we will be passing within 5 kilometers of where my grandfather grew up and my Great Grandfather is supposedly buried, would you mind a short side trip?”

“Where is it?” he asked.

“We head south on the route back to 66 a few miles then turn west. I got directions from a cousin who is trying to solve where my great-grandfather was buried, why and where he was murdered and who did it.”

“Murdered?”

“Yes, she also included clips from the newspaper of the day. Can I read them to you?

It was his turn to drive so when we got back to the motorhome, I dug out the information I had been given, just before we had left on this trip. Another descendant of Harrison’s, who I had only recently met, sent me copies of newspaper articles of his death along with a description of how to find his grave and photos of the area.

We headed down the road and I began reading the newspaper accounts of the day.

 

“Bates Country Record Butler, Saturday, Feb. 11, 1893

Thomas Scott hit Harrison Caton on the head with a heavy coal fork, fracturing his skull.  Scott turned himself in and explained it was in self-defense.  Scott lived on the Caton farm as a hired hand. The two got into an argument and Scott said he feared for his life and struck Caton.”

Bates Country Record Butler, Saturday, Feb. 11, 1893

We are informed by Judge Boxley, who returned home from Foster last Saturday evening, that a very serious affair occurred between Thomas Scott and Harrison Caton, near Worland, that morning about 9 o’clock.  It seems that there has been bad blood between Scott and Caton for some time.  They met on Saturday morning and a quarrel and fight ensured, resulting in Scott striking Caton over the head with a heavy coal fork, fracturing his skull.

Later reports stated that Scott came to Foster and gave himself up to the authorizes, saying he thought he had killed Caton.  Dr.’s Haynes and Porter immediately started for Caton’s home but had not returned up to the time Judge Boxley started for home.  Scott claims that he struck Caton in Self-defense, but his statement was discredited by many who knew the parties well. Caton is a very aged man, while Scott was young, strong and in the prime of his manhood and he could easily have avoided his action.

 Bates County Democrat Feb 23, 1893

Preliminary Trial at Foster, Mo

Thomas Scott the man who struck and killed Harrison Caton with a coal fork at this home near Worland Saturday the 4the, had his preliminary trial before squire Livingston, at Foster, Saturday last and resulted in Scott being bound over in the sum of $600 to await the action of the Grand Jury.  The state was represented by Judge Boxley and the defendant by W.W. Graves.

Caton was 68 years of age and leaves a wife and several children five of whom live at home.  Scott is 43 years of age and has a wife and three children, the oldest being 8 years of age.

Thos. Scott was in the city Monday and made the following statement of the affair to the Times Reporter:

 

Scott’s Statement

“at the time of the trouble, I lived on Mr. Caton’s farm about half a mile from the Caton Residence.  Caton came over to my house Saturday morning, the day of the trouble about 9 or 10 O’clock.  I was at the barn loading manure.

 Caton said, “Scott I want you to stop hauling this manure,”

I said, “Mr. Caton I have a right to this manure.” 

He said, “You have no right.” 

I said, “I did not touch this manure until I found out that I had a right to it.” 

He says, “you must not haul any more,”

I told him that I was going to keep on hauling until he stopped me according to law, and said, “Mr. Caton, I have only a short time to stay here and don’t let us have any more fuss.

He was angry when he came into the barn.  He said he would shut me in so I could not get out, and I said I would go out, then he came at me with a hammer.  I can’t say where he got it; he must have brought it with him for I am certain it was not mine.

 We were standing about 8 feet apart.  I don’t remember what he said anything to me when he stared at me with the hammer, but he looked vicious and I was satisfied that he meant to hurt me.  I stepped back and told him to keep down that hammer. 

I don’t know that he made any reply but kept coming at me, and I saw that I would have to strike him, or he would strike me.  Then I struck him with a fork, and he fell and dropped the hammer and I threw it away from him.

 I saw that he was seriously hurt right away and me and my wife took him to the house and laid him on the bed.  I was scared and got a horse louse from the wagon as quickly as I could and started for Dr. Porter at Foster. 

On the side of the road, I stopped at Mr. Garrisons.  My nearest neighbor and told him I wanted him to go over to my house that I guessed I had killed old man Caton, and he went over.  I got his saddle and, on the road, to Foster. I saw old Mr. Hess and asked him if he would go down to my house and told him what the matter was.

 Then I road on to Foster and I saw Constable Doke on the street and asked him where Dr. Porter was, he told me he thought he was over there in the store.  He was not there, then I got D. Haynes and he took Dr. Wilson with him and went to my house.  Then I went to the constable and gave myself up and told what I had done and wanted to give myself up.  The constable did not hold me, and I went home and Sunday morning he came to my house with a warrant and arrested me. 

I did not with the intention of killing him and would not have done so for anything.  It was the hammer for I knew he would hurt me with it.  I might have gotten out of his way by running but then he might have struck the back of the head. I had been living on his place for about four years.  We had been having trouble for about a couple months and a month ago had a lawsuit.

 A later article from the Butler Weekly Times:

The grand jury found an indictment against James Scott, for manslaughter. He will stand trial at this term of court, so his attorneys, Parkinson and Graves inform us.

 Judge Steele, J. Showalter, and others were aroused at the jail last night, by the screaming of Scott, who is in for killing old man Caton.  Hurlburt had put bed clothing against the door and set it afire in order to get out and had been holding W. Scott back with a spade.

However, finally, Hurlburt gave Scott permission to yell, and he never did a thing with more alacrity in his life.  Two or three blankets were consumed but no further damage is reported.  It is thought coal oil was used.  Hurlburt had Scott in a close place, to say the least.

 Feb 23, 1893, Butler Weekly Times

Geo. Hurlburt, the Rich Hill shooter confined in the jail, attempted Tuesday evening to burn the workhouse in which he and Scott are confined. 

Scott objected to Hurlburt’s mischief, but the rascal raised a shovel and threatened to rain him if he interfered.  The torch as applied but when the fire began to gain headway and the room became too hot for comfort Hurlburt weakened and appealed to Schott to call for assistance, which soon arrived, and the fire was extinguished. 

Hurlburt was taken and locked in a cell in the jail.  Here he played crazy and attempted to go through the same performance as he did at the workhouse, but the prisoners objected to his designs and told him if he attempted anything of the kind, they would beat him to death.  Hurlburt then quieted down, and peace reigns supreme once more at Hotel de Steele.

March 9, 1893,

The case of Thos. Scott for killing Harrison Caton a short time ago in Walnut township was called for trial Wednesday of last week, and the prisoner was set free.  The case did not reach the jury as Scott’s attorney, W.W> Graves, raised a point of law in the preliminary proceedings which were sustained by the court and the jury was instructed from the bench to find a verdict of not guilty.

The Caton family left the US shortly after to settle in Alberta. A hundred years later, none of the younger generations knew for sure where Harrison was buried.  This new information my cousin found gives directions and a copy of the title to the family farm where there is suppose to be a small graveyard. She also included these photos.”  I knew it would still be a long shot as I had spent several days looking some years before.

“Where did she find all this?”

“Apparently there is a new site, Cemetery.com, which had located the family graveyard and documented it.”

Map to Caton Farm.jpg

Kev smiled and said, “I’m in!”

Following directions, we turned west at Rich Hill to road DD then turn back north for what is said to “be about three miles or so”.

“Three miles or so?” I said, after we had gone over five so I was sure we must have passed the place. Getting a little frustrated I said, “Look, there is a family in that yard. Pull in and I will ask if they can help.”

Kev pulled into the driveway giving the homestead and occupants a suspicious eye saying, “I am not sure about these Ozark mountain people, I will wait here in the motorhome while you ask. I’ll keep the motor running.”

“Hi, I am looking for my great-grandfather’s grave.” I tried to use my most friendly voice as I walked up to the two men and a woman.  “He is buried on a farm near here but these directions are confusing so I was hoping you can help us.”

They looked me over, then the motorhome then Kev, like we were from outer space then the oldest spoke,

“What’s his name?” the older man growled. He looked little wary, weathered features, and dressed for farming.  As he spoke, I noticed he was missing at least half of his teeth, which he spit tobacco through to punctuate his sentence.

“Harrison Caton,” I said, “He was buried in 1893.”

“Never heard of him.”  The old man said, watching me closely.

“Like I said, he died in 1893 and the family left the area shortly after.”

“Well, there ain’t no graves back there, “pointing to the way we had come.  “There are some on the property old Larson bought last year but he is a miserable old bastard and he won’t let you onto the place.” He spit again.

“Yeah, a miserable old bastard,” the other man repeated, “You may as well head back home he will never let you on the place. What did you say the name was again?”  the younger man asked.

“Caton,” I repeated.

“I ben here my whole 56 years and I ain’t never heard of them.  Have you, Pa?”

“Like I said, the family left here a hundred years before you were born.” The son looked like his father and I thought he should be on the porch playing the banjo.

I hadn’t noticed that the old woman go into the house but now she was coming back down the walk calling out, “Hey, I called Ol’man Larson, says he doesn’t have time to show you the place but it is okay if you go onto the farm as long as you close the gates ‘cause there are cows up there.”

After listening to the two men talk about how surprising it is the old bastard would allow me on the property, they gave me long convoluted directions to the farm.  Being as it was another five or ten miles away, I discounted it was the place, so I just kept smiling, nodding and backing towards the RV.

After traveling several miles in the direction, they had given me, I said, “Turn around. It can’t be this far.” Kev agreed and we headed back.

“Are you sure they said turn right at a trailer?”  Kev asked.

“I did.”

“Do you think they could have meant that old fallen in thing back there in the bush?” He pointed at an old mobile home with a caved-in roof and several trees growing up through it. He didn’t wait for an answer and turned north.

Several miles later down an old dirt road with no sign of life, I said, “I give up there is nothing here, we should head back to 66.”

“Not yet, I have a feeling we are close,” Kev said, but about a mile later we came to the end of the road.

Neither of us spoke as he turned us around and we headed back. We were both quiet and feeling a little disappointed, then suddenly Kev pulled over and pointing out my side window said, “What about those trees, do they look like the photo.”

trees over graves.jpg“Yeah!” I said feigning excitement as I looked at the photos. “And so do those,” I pointed ahead of us, “And those!” I pointed across the road.  “They are all friggen trees, and they all look alike.” I was feeling a little grouchy.

“No, go in there and look, I have a feeling,” Kev said pointing back at the group of trees he had first pointed to.

“Why those trees?”

“If I was going to bury someone, I would do it on a small hill like that, besides there are cows in the far end of the field.”

Reluctantly I opened the gate and made my way through the long grass to the woods where I wandered in both directions knowing, I was just wasting time.  Giving up again, I started out of the woods just as Kev came walking up.

“Did you find them?”  He asked.

“No, they are not here.”

“They are, a guy just stopped and told me there were graves in here.”  With that, he walked about fifty feet from where I was standing and where I had just walked myself, he stopped and said, “You better come here and look at this.”

2014-09-29 14.07.35.jpeg
Walking over, I saw him looking down at eight tombstones lying embedded in the ground.  I walked to one and turned it over. The inscription read;

Harrison Caton

Born 1835 – Died 1893

Was that was a long list of coincidences, his mother’s illness sending us across the state, then her miraculous recovery, the good ol’ boys that sent us in this direction, the stranger who stopped on this deserted road and said there were graves in the woods, then Kev’s premonitions, stopping when he did. His going on when I first said we should stop and finally just stopping at the right place on a hunch.  Or did we have help? Perhaps he is right, and his wife Ava was looking over us.

 

Prolog

In any event, the stones are all laying on the ground and now cousin Chris Huerta Riehman is trying to get permission to erect a fence around the stones, raise some volunteers and money to clean up the site and leave a small plaque as the information on the stones is weathering away.

She had also discovered that perhaps 2 acres were set aside when the farm was sold to be reserved for a graveyard. If so, maybe some of you could smuggle me into the US in a urn and scatter me over the other graves.

I don’t think the total cost of fixing the graves up would be more than a thousand dollars and if her side of the family can raise half, I was hoping to get donations to raise the other half from our side.  I will keep in touch when we plan to do it and if any of you can afford the time off maybe you could also tag along and help.

Or maybe someone from our distant past will show up and help as well.

wife of Harrsion.jpgHarrisons wife ??

 

 

Caton's.jpgGlen Caton, Sadie and Jessy circa 1895

Grandchildren of Harrsions.jpg

The Caton boys in the back, girls in the front. Photo was taken in 1957

Harold     Claude       Russel        Gordon               Cecile

Marjory (Haupt) Dorothy (Park)  Elanor (Major) Ethel (Wilson) Edith (Myers)

 

Questions yet to be answered:

No one seems to know the two other people buried here.  As you can see Esther Reeves was born in 1796 and died in 1875

Where did Harrison come from and when?

Did he or kin fight in the Civil war and if so for which side?

When I was young there were lots of old books strewn around the upper floor of the old house.  I found a water damaged and split book and brought it home, in which Harrison wrote his name, March 19th, 1847 in Mclean Country Illinois for 5 & 2 dollars

White Oak Grove, near Bloomington, or Carlock, IL