Chapter 184

John W. Gresham Was Murder Victim of Only Man Hanged in County

JOHN HANCOCK and Mary Elizabeth (Collard) Brant had nine children, namely, William Steers, Leonard James, Ora Daniel, Lucretia Susan, Jennie Alberta, Alvin Truman, Sara Lyman, Nola Dole and John Riley Brant. Only three are now living. They are Mrs. Lucretia Susan Gresham and Mrs. Jennie Alberta Yokem of Pleasant Hill and Alvin Truman Brant of Pittsfield.

William Steers Brant was born in Pike county February 10, 1866. He was named for that William Steers who was county clerk of Pike county from 1861 to 1869. William Steers died at the age of seven, July 31, 1873. His death occurred at the family home, then in Calhoun county, where the Brants resided for several years in the early 1870s. He died of cholera. His father's brother, William C. Brant (who married Christena Turnbaugh), died of cholera about the same time, his death also occurring in the John H. Brant home.

Leonard James Brant was born in Pike county March 7, 1868. He was raised for the most part in Pike county but lived with his parents for a few years in both Calhoun county and in Lincoln county, Missouri. He was a carpenter and fisherman. The latter part of his life was spent in Louisiana, Missouri, where he died June 26, 1915.

Ora Daniel Brant was born September 15, 1870 and lived only a little over three months, his death occurring on Christmas Day, 1870.

Lucretia Susan Brant was born at the family home at Kampsville in Calhoun county, December 30, 1871. After a few years at Kampsville, the family moved to the vicinity of Troy, county seat of Lincoln county, Missouri, settling near the pioneer settlement of Mrs. John Brant's grandparents, John and Lydia (Cannon) Collard. It was in Lincoln county that John Collard was killed in a runaway accident in 1818, shortly after the family's arrival in a covered wagon from Christian county, Kentucky.

The John Brant family removed from Lincoln county, Missouri, to Pleasant Hill in Pike county, Illinois, in the latter 1870s, shortly after the birth of Alvin T. Brant, the sixth child.

On February 6, 1898, at Pleasant Hill, Lucretia Susan Brant (known generally as Aunt Lou) married Orville Elsmore Gresham, a son of John W. and Mary Elizabeth (Barnett) Gresham. He was born May 27, 1869. They reside on a farm (a part of the old Captain A. J. Lovell lands) a mile north and three-quarters of a mile east of the Pleasant Hill business section. This is in the early day settlement of the Cannons, Hubbards, Venables and Lawsons. Just east of the Gresham residence is the burial ground of the early Venables, in which some of the old markers are still in place. A short distance west is the old Cannon-Hubbard cemetery, of which only a few traces are left. The road, which in early days skirted this burial plot on the south, now passes directly through the cemetery, which is on the Lovell lands and in front of and a little to the west of the farm home on the Lovell property.

The old cemetery, on both sides of the road, is now a feed lot. Only two slabs are now observable. These lie in the dust of the feed lot, on the south side of the road. Both lie with their inscriptions face up. These inscriptions, after cleaning away the dirt, may still be read. One of them is inscribed to the memory of Hannah, wife of David Hubbard, who died a century ago, September 25, 1839, aged 39 years, two months and ten days. She was the first wife of the Reverend David Hubbard, pioneer minister of the Pleasant Hill and Martinsburg Baptist churches. Following her death, the Reverend Mr. Hubbard, on August 31, 1840, went over into Lincoln county, Missouri (from which county he had originally come to Pike county), and there married Mary Little (Polly) Thurman. Together, with a large family of children, they crossed the plains to Oregon Territory in 1853 and settled at The Dalles, Oregon. They had ten children, one of whom, John Hubbard, resides in Independence, Oregon.

Hannah Hubbard, commemorated by this fallen stone, was the mother of Mary Hubbard, who died on the great plains in 1853, while enroute to Oregon Territory with her husband, Ephraim Jackson Thurman, and her child, Lydia Thurman, who was only three months old when her mother died on the Oregon Trail.

The Hubbards, Cannons, Thurmans and their kindred are closely interlinked in Pike county family history with the Collards, Greshams, Barnetts and Lewises. Charles Hubbard, early settler at Pleasant Hill and later an emigrant to Oregon where the town of Hubbard bears his name, married Margaret Cannon, a sister of Lydia Cannon, great grandmother of Mrs. Lou Gresham. Another of the Cannon daughters, Rebecca (Cannon) Barnett, was a grandmother of Mrs. Gresham's husband, O. E. Gresham.

The only other stone now observable in the Cannon-Hubbard cemetery was erected to Robinson Copeland, who died March 12, 1852. The inscription says he was "aged about 56 years." The stones lie on top of a knoll, where they have been trampled by the feet of livestock to the level of the surrounding earth.

John W. Gresham, father of Orville Elsmore Gresham, was the victim of an atrocious murder in February, 1871, which led to the hanging in the corridor of the Pike county jail of Bartholomew Barnes, the only person ever hanged by sentence of the Pike county court. This hanging took place on December 29, 1871. The murder had occurred February 27, 1871. Barnes was a young man, not yet 20.

Mr. Gresham, who resided near Pleasant Hill, did much of his trading at Clarksville, Missouri, to which town he had been the day he was killed. He was accompanied by his 15-year-old son, Joseph. Father and son, in a two-horse wagon, crossed the Mississippi river on the ferry boat, enroute home. On the same boat was Bartholomew Barnes of Pleasant Hill, who asked for a ride home with Mr. Gresham in the wagon. On the way from the ferry landing, and while yet across the county line in Calhoun county, Barnes, who was drunk, started an altercation with the elder Gresham while the two were seated beside each other on a board across the wagon bed. Gresham's son was standing up in front, driving the team. Barnes, during the altercation, jumped out of the wagon, and one end of the seat board being thus released, the board tipped up and Gresham was thrown out of the wagon onto his back and near a fence. While he was thus lying on his back, perfectly helpless, in the presence of Mr. Gresham's son and another witness, Barnes jumped upon the prostrate man, stamped his head eight to ten times, forcing his boot through his skull and so disfiguring his face that Dr. John A. Thomas of Pleasant Hill, who had lived a near neighbor to the deceased for 20 years, was unable to recognize who was the murdered man.

(Note: Facts of the murder here set forth are from the death sentence pronounced by Judge Chauncey L. Higbee amid a death-like stillness in the crowded court room of the old Pike county court house at 10:30 a.m., December 6, 1871, sentence being pronounced pursuant to a death verdict returned by the traverse jury at the session of court convening November 27, 1871.)

Records in the case show that Barnes was indicted at the May term of the circuit court of Calhoun county (the murder having occurred three feet over the line on the Calhoun side) and that the case was brought to the Pike county court on a change of venue. Judge Higbee's death sentence concluded as follows:

"It is the order of this court, Bartholomew Barnes, that you be taken from here to the county jail of this county and there confined until Friday, the twenty-ninth day of December, 1871, and that between the hours of 10 o'clock a.m. and 3 p.m. of said day, in said jail and in the presence of witnesses required by law, hanged by the neck until you are dead."

The trap was sprung at 25 minutes and 15 seconds past 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the 29th. The town was crowded with people. The Reverend Fred Priestly of Pleasant Hill and the Reverend Mr. Johnsey, another minister of the Methodist church, sat on each side of the condemned man preceding the adjustment of the noose. Sheriff Joseph McFarland and his deputies, James B. Landrum and Augustus Simpkins, were in charge of the execution. The death warrant, still of record in the office of the Pike circuit clerk, was printed in a very large plain hand by the pen of Dr. J. J. Topliff, then circuit clerk.

John W. Gresham was buried in the old Sapp cemetery, atop the high Mississippi river bluff between Pleasant Hill and Stockland. When this old cemetery was abandoned, upon the opening of present Crescent Heights cemetery at Pleasant Hill late in 1874, his body was removed to the new cemetery. A stone erected to his memory is inscribed as follows: "John Gresham - Died Feb. 27, 1871 - aged 45 years, 10 months, 26 days." There also is engraved on the stone this further inscription: "Blessed is the man that was murdered."

John W. Gresham was accustomed, on his trading visits to Clarksville, to bring home some sweets for his children. Instead of candy, he brought them lumps of domino sugar. John Gresham's son, Elsmore, not yet two years old when his father was killed, remembers the blood that was on the domino sugar his father was bringing home that day. He has never since been able to eat of the sugar that was so favored by his father for his children.