A Murder at Omio

The little settlements that began to crop up in north-central Kansas after 1870 were sometimes whimsically named.  Thomas Lovewell and other members of his company nearly chose “Pinhook,” meaning “a worthless trifle," for the name of their fledgling town, before deciding on the more dignified "White Rock.” Twelve miles to the south, pioneers along the forks of Marsh Creek called their settlement “Omio,” a word which they claimed was an Indian lament, the equivalent of “Oh me, oh my.”  White Rock and Omio were both populated and platted, while the village of Lovewell and the town of Formoso were not yet gleams in their founders’ eyes when William G. Cutler set about rearranging the history of the region in the 1883 “Andreas History of the State of Kansas.”

Cutler put the deaths of six buffalo hunters from Clifton and Lake Sibley in the year 1865 instead of 1866 where they belong, also deciding that Ark Bump and Vinson Davis had been spared from the 1867 White Rock Massacre because they had been waylaid and shot by peddlers the year prior, instead of three months afterward.  One date Cutler probably did get right was the night a young wife and mother in southern Jewell County was getting undressed for bed, when she was killed instantly by the blast from a shotgun believed to have been wielded by her estranged husband. 

The most noted murder trial in the county, was that of Daniel Davidson, a Swede, for the murder of his wife, November 29, 1878.  The first trial resulted in conviction; but in the second he was acquitted, by the disappearance, it is claimed, of a part of the evidence found by the coroner's jury.  The circumstantial evidence was strongly against the accused. He had been separated from his wife for some time; she refusing to live with him, and receiving marked and suspicious attentions from a man named Swartz.

For some weeks previous to her death she had been ill, and her husband had remained with her during the time.  On Friday, the 29th of November, 1878, having recovered sufficiently to attend to her family - a girl of twelve and a child of one and a half years - she told her husband she had no further use for him, and that he could go to his own home, which was a mile and a half distant. She further told him that he must pay for the divorce which she had applied for, and that she intended to marry Swartz as soon as it was obtained. 

The Kansas historian believed that the most damning evidence in the case was the set of fresh hoofprints between the victim’s cabin in southern Grant Township and her husband’s claim a mile and a half west in Washington Township, left as the killer rode to her bedroom window that night and then made his escape.  It was actually the assassin's own boot print outside her window that confirmed the suspicions of the dead woman’s neighbors.  When they brought her husband to the scene the next day, they removed his boot, placed it in the print, and saw that it was a perfect fit.  The mixed shot in his pouch matched the variety of pellets removed from his wife’s body as well as those that had lodged in the wall where she had been standing.

William Cutler’s source for the story was confused about key details.  The suspect was not a Swede;  he was from Norway.  Worse, his name was not Daniel Davidson, but Daniel Danelson.  Danelson was a Civil War veteran, apparently one who enlisted in Wisconsin as a substitute for another man, and at the end of the war came to Kansas from Iowa.  If this is the same Danelson, he was 18 when he enrolled in 1864, was fair with blue eyes and stood 5 feet 4 and ½ inches.  In the 1875 Kansas census he was living alone in Washington Township.

The identity of Mrs. Danelson’s supposed paramour Swartz is a mystery.  In the same census there was a young man from Ohio named Henry Swartz living with his wife and children in Republic County.  One of his nearest neighbors was Josiah Kephart, Daniel Davis’s old hunting partner.  A census ten years later has the Swartz family still living in Republic County, the marriage still intact.   

The Beloit paper that first reported details of the killing of Mrs. Danelson in rural Omio (and apparently got most of them right) wrote that “Jealousy was known to lurk in the bosom of Danelson toward his wife, and under these suspicions, he was taken in charge by the citizens until further investigations were made, and proper papers were made out for his arrest … While others are suspicioned, the strongest feeling exists against Danelson, and many think that Judge Lynch will be called to act, without delay.”  

There was no lynching.  Everything was done by the book, except that some of the coroner's evidence may have been misplaced by the time of the second hearing.  In the end, “the strongest feeling” of guilt was not enough.  There was doubt in the minds of jurors, and Daniel Danelson was acquitted.  He moved to Nebraska for a time, but seems to have returned to Jewell County by 1895 when a man named Daniel Danelson joined Jim Lane Post 34 of the G.A.R. at Mankato, the same post Thomas Lovewell belonged to.  

If historian William Cutler’s source was confused about the name Danelson after five years, perhaps the whole matter of the killing at Omio was only hazily remembered at all by 1895.  Or else everyone thought it was done by some Swede named Davidson.    

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com