John Watkins

John Watkins

John Watkins was born March 7, 1836 in  Coid Camawr or Llwyncelyn Farm, Llangynidr, Breconshire, Wales, son of Elias and Ann Thomas Watkins, and died May 7, 1917 in Mount Sterling, Van Buren County, Iowa. (Daughter, Kez' Bible gave John's birth place as Llangynidr.) John married Ann Evans, daughter of Morgan Evans and Anne Williams, August 3, 1861 in Parish Church of St. George, Tredegar, Monmouthshire, Wales. Ann was born December 10, 1839, in Tannywydd, Llandetty, Breconshire, Wales, and died May 20, 1907, in Mount Sterling, Van Buren County, Iowa.

John and Ann lived at Llwynon Farm after their marriage. John's son, John Elias Watkins, rembered that John was a "good stockman" and herded sheep as a youth. He later farmed and raised sheep. He could not read or write.

In January 1876, the inhabitants of Crickhowell (see map) were excited and alarmed at a fatal poaching affray at Glanusk, in which the head gamekeeper, George King, lost his life. The case was never settled satisfactorily. John Watkins, who was a tenant of Sir Joseph Bailey, was accused of the crime, but was acquitted. Newspaper articles say that John paid 90 pounds per year for his land, upon which the encounter between the poachers and the gamekeepers took place about 1 a.m. one mid-January Saturday morning.

An underkeeper named Phillip Hooper heard shots fired in the area of Dwfyhant Wood and aroused King. Together, they headed toward Llangynidr, coming upon the poachers near the wood. Shots were fired on both sides and King was hit twice; once in the chest from a distance of ten yards. He died within an hour, leaving a wife and eight children.

An inquest was held the following Monday at the Six Bells Inn, Crickhowell, Llangattock. Although John Watkins was described as a respectable tenant farmer, he was charged with killing King. A newspaper of the time described the murder as "one of the most deliberate and cold-blooded that ever characterized a poaching affray."

The court was packed at the magistrate's inquiry, held February 7, 1876. Sir Bailey noted that December 6, 1872, King had found John Watkins shooting pheasant and filed charges against him, but the case never went to trial. In the fall of 1875, Bailey heard that John Watkins was ferreting on his land, but Watkins apologized and asked forgiveness, so no further action was taken. John Watkins had told Bailey at that time that King was "persistent in watching him and annoying him."

Underkeeper Hooper said there were three men shooting at him and King. Hooper testified that, even though it was a bright moonlit night, he could not identify the shooters. He said, though, that he had recognized the voice of John Watkins. He also stated that King told him before he died that he was sure John Watkins was one of the men "who caused my death."

James Walker, a local laborer, had come to King's assistance after Hooper contacted him. He went to the tenant house at Dan y Wern Farm where Watkins had lived since 1869 and asked to use John's cart to take King home, but John told him the cart was broken. John Watkins was in his bedroom at the time and Walker did not see him. Later, about 4 a.m., Watkins stopped by Walker's home and said something like "It is a shocking thing." John's face was bandaged with a mustard poultice on it. He told Mrs. Walker he was suffering from a toothache and feeling fainthearted.

The only gun John Watkins owned was rusty and didn't appear to have been used in some time. John Watkins' three oldest children testified that he had been in bed at the time of the shooting. One of the children said he had been in Watkins' bed with his father. The chairman of the Magisterial Inquiry then declared there was not enough evidence to commit the prisoner for trial. The audience cheered.

A park at Crickhowell was later named for George King. The wood where King was killed was later called King's Wood. George King's son, Ernest later became the game keeper.

John and family moved from Dan y Wern Farm to another tenant farm named Rhyd y bont, which is located at the base of Waun Fach, the tallest of the Black Mountains. Locally, it is called Hill  Farm.

In 1881, John and his family emigrated to America. His children later said there were three reasons for the move: (1) John was terribly hurt by the gossip after the shooting. (2) Youngest son, William, was in poor health and the family hoped he might recover in America. (3) They had heard the streets in America were paved with gold and thought they could better their lot.

On May 15, 1881, there were 17 members of the Watkins and Evans families who left Liverpool, England, on the ship SS City of Brussels. The trip lasted 13 days and cost about $85 per person, steerage. Son, John Elias Watkins remembered that it stormed for two days off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship made only one more voyage before sinking on a return trip to Liverpool.

After landing at  the port of New York, the family, along with the other passengers, were hustled into a receiving center called Castle Gardens, which was located at Battery Park at the tip of Manhatten. The passengers' physical condition was examined, then their names, origin and intended destination was recorded. From there, they were sent to one of the transcontinental railroad companies and eventually transferred to the proper railroad station. The Watkins family crossed  New York on an elevated train, then boarded a train that took them directly to Van Buren County, Iowa, at a cost of nearly $27 per person or about $250.

When they first arrived in Van Buren County, the immigrant family sought shelter from John Findley and Lura Phillips Watkins. John F. Watkins was also from Brecon. He had come to Iowa in 1861 and fought in the Civil War. He married Lura or Phylura Phillips in 1864 and purchased land in Section 12 of Des Moines Twp. John F. Watkins, possibly a cousin, allowed the immigrant family to live in his new barn for about a year until they could find a better place. It is unknown if John and Ann's youngest daughter, Rosabel, was born in that barn or if their youngest son, William, died there of diphtheria three days after Rosabel's birth. It is possible that John F. and Lura invited them into their home during these events. Young William was buried at the Landess-Watkins cemetery on the John F. and Lura Watkins farm, about a mile east of the barn. At the turn of the century, John and Ann lived in Willits Station in Vernon Twp. and attended church at Story Chapel , a Methodist church, in Section 25 Vernon Twp. They later moved and became members of Center Chapel Methodist Church in Section 17, Vernon Twp.  

Some time before his death, John Watkins received word that a neighbor in Wales had given a deathbed confession to the shooting of George King and said he was sorry that John had been accused.

John's obituary

Five of John and Ann Evans Watkins' children, front: Gwen Armstrong, Kez Courtney and Rose Sheets;
back: Jesse and Dave. Photo taken ca 1935

Children of John Watkins and Ann Evans are:
i. Margaret Watkins, born November 18, 1861; died May 23, 1934. She married John Hales.
ii. John Elias Watkins, born October 24, 1863 in Wales; died 1952. He married (1) Olive Chadwick and (2) Mary Williamson.

iii. Mary Ann Watkins, born October 30, 1866 in Wales; died May 22, 1937. She married Arthur Chadwick.

iv. Jesse Alfred Watkins, born June 29, 1869 in Brecon, Wales. He married Hilma Nelson.
v. Gwen Watkins, born July 13, 1871 in Wales; died August 7, 1942. She married William Armstrong February 1891.

vi. David Evans Watkins, born May 16, 1873 in Tallybont, Breconshire, Wales; died March 5, 1943 in Van Buren County, Iowa at the home of his nephew Roy Watkins, where he was living. Unmarried, "Uncle Dave" lived with his mother until her death in 1907. He then moved to Kansas and lived with his brother, John Elias and sister, Mary. Later, he returned to Mount Sterling and worked with race horses and on farms in Clark County, Missouri. He then worked at the county home in Van Buren County.

vii. William Watkins, born June 5, 1874 in Breconshire,Wales; died August 11, 1881 in Van Buren County, Iowa. He was buried in the Landess-Phillips Cemetery, on land owned by John  F.Watkins (relationship unknown.) Before he died, young William chose the name for his newborn baby sister, Rosabel.

viii. Kezia Edith "Kez" Watkins, born August 23, 1876 in  Llangynider, Breconshire, Wales; died of a lingering illness of diabetes and cancer April 16, 1937 at her home in Backus, Minnesota. She was five years old when the Watkins family moved to Iowa. Kez married William Archie Courtney August 16, 1900. He was born September 18, 1877; died December 5, 1944. About 1910, the Courtneys moved from Van Buren County to Doliver, Iowa, then to Ceylon, Minnesota, and about 1918 they moved to Backus, Minnesota. They had three children: Myril Courtney Zenk in Lemmon, South Dakota in 1937 and William Harley Courtney in Morristown, S.D., and Nola Courtney Baldwin Billadeau who remained in Backus. Kez had grandchildren: Paula, Perry, Rodney and Bruce Zenk, Patricia, Anita, and Connie Courtney; Nita Jean and Richard Baldwin and Gary Billedeau.
ix. Rosabel Watkins, born August 8, 1881 near Keosauqua, Van Buren County, Iowa; died April 24, 1957 in the Van Buren County Hospital, Keosauqua, Van Buren County, Iowa. She married Henry Edgar Sheets September 23, 1903 in Willits Station, Van Buren County, Iowa, at the home of her parents.

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