On the Record

If we are to take him at his word, Thomas Lovewell hated publicity, or at least wanted no part of it.  He probably learned his lesson after being featured as the hero of “History of Jewell County, Kansas, with a Full Account of the Early Settlements and Indian Atrocities Committed Within Its Borders,” published in 1878.  A year after the pamphlet of Jewell County history went on sale, with Thomas Lovewell featured front and center, Orel Jane Lovewell's first husband showed up at their doorstop, perhaps hoping to rekindle a relationship, and Thomas's ties with some of his neighbors began to fray.  

Thomas may have blamed the book for telling Alfred W. Moore where to start the search for his ex-wife, and also for driving the first wedge between the Lovewells and their fellow citizens of White Rock.  People may have begun to regard him differently.  He was no longer merely the affable and prosperous farmer up the road, no longer just one of them.  Suddenly, he was a celebrity.  Whatever the reason, Thomas Lovewell would never again contribute his reminiscences to a volume of regional history.  However, he still wanted newcomers to the northern tier of Kansas counties to understand the price others had paid for the land they now occupied.  When he made the yearly trip to Belleville to pay his taxes, he always made a point of dropping in at the newspaper offices of the Belleville Telescope and the Scandia Journal and talking with editors about the old days.  While the fact that those conversations took place was often published, the conversations themselves remained private. 

Then, in 1893 he had another reason to tell what he knew, and every word he said was preserved.  His old neighbor John Marling had filed an Indian depredation claim for horses and household goods stolen decades earlier, and he now asked Thomas Lovewell to testify on his behalf.  Thanks to his testimony, we can not only glean many details about what happened in Jewell County in 1866 and 1867, we can learn what it was like to hear Thomas Lovewell tell a story, and defend that story under cross-examination.  

He was asked about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Marling’s property.

A.  In the month July 1866, a band of Indians came to the claim of the claimant and his wife, occupying the wagon they had moved in, and took and destroyed the property of the claimant contained in the wagon, but I can’t describe specifically the articles taken.  When we got to the place soon after the depredation was committed, we found the halves of the double harness, the leather having been cut out and removed therefrom, feathers scattered in every direction, indicating that the beds and pillows had been ripped open by the Indians.  The wagon was left intact, but the wagon sheet gone.  At that time the Indians took Marling’s wife from the wagon, took her into the woods nearby, and after ravishing her several times, left her and went away.

Q.  What do you know about the horses that you have heretofore mentioned?

A.  The following winter of 1866-67 Marling left his claim and moved into a shanty about a hundred yards distance from my place, and as the claimant ran out of feed during the winter, I took his horses and wintered them through for the claimant, and the next spring, in March or April, a band of Indians came through the county committing many depredations and killing quite a number of people, and carried away one woman, a prisoner.  These Indians passed near my place, where the claimant’s horses were running on the prairie, with horses belonging to one Fisher, and these horses of claimant as well as three horses belonging to Fisher, disappeared at that time and was never seen there anymore, and I have no doubt that these Indians took them away...

Q.  Upon what facts do you base your opinion that these mares and colt were taken away by Indians?

A.  It was reported through the neighborhood by the boy that was wounded and left for dead, that he was wounded by a band of Indians; that these Indians had killed Ward, the man with whom he was living; that they took all the horses and mules on the place, and when the boy reported to us, we went and found that Ward had been killed as reported by the boy.  We then went to Bartlett’s and found Bartlett killed, apparently done with a knife.  A dagger was yet sticking in his mouth.  We also found the widow Setzer at Bartlett’s house, dead, killed, apparently by a blow from a large stone; and we followed the trail of parties from their place, by the tracks of horses and mules to the Solomon River...     

Q.  Now, why do you say the depredation was committed by the Cheyennes and Arapahoes?

A.  My only reason for thinking it is this.  The subsequent depredations committed during the next two years were committed by these bands of Indians and in about the same manner, and hence I believe that the depredation on claimant was committed by the same band or bands of Indians.

Q.  With reference to the value of these horses, your estimate seems to be in excess of that stated by the claimant in his petition.  How does that occur?

A.  The claimant evidently placed the value of the property at what he paid for it in Iowa before coming here, while such property was worth a great deal more here than in Iowa at that time.

Lovewell’s testimony, perhaps a third of which is quoted above, was never interrupted by objections.  Joe Litsinger, former editor of the Courtland Register, who was transcribing every word, probably even S. S. Kirkpatrick, the attorney representing the United States, must have been riveted.  The events being described were local legends, being communicated to them in a raw form they had never heard, by someone who was actually there.

Kirkpatrick also may have found the witness unexpectedly intimidating.  Thomas Lovewell always claimed to have skipped school for most of his boyhood, except for a few days’ attendance.  His lack of formal classwork may have been overstated, or else he could give an awfully good impression of an educated man, occasionally even lapsing into lawyer-speak, perhaps just to show off.

It must have felt like a good day for Thomas, in January of 1893, when he got to tell his version of events simply and directly, with no meddling journalists around to distort events, place them in the wrong year, and misspell the names of massacre victims.  It was accomplished without bringing him any more unwelcome celebrity, yet it was all on the record, waiting for someone to find it.     

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com