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Title: 1901 Posse Nabbed Prize
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1901 Posse Nabbed Prize

Widow’s Boarding House Riddled by Bullets

by Barbara M. Hawkins Magazine Editor

AS THE escapee was being taken back to the penitentiary, he complained bitterly that he had been captured by a bunch of “rubes.” Well, those 1901 “rubes” had been shrewd enough to subdue a convicted murderer and conscientious enough to give a widow more than half of their reward money so she could repair her house after a midnight gun fight.

The “rubes” were from Otterbein and the bullet-riddled boarding house was in Green Hill. The disgruntled convict was Marvin Kuhns whose name was as weighty at that time as John Dillinger’s was 30 years later.

Kuhns and two companions were suspected of stealing a pair of dapple gray horses and a surrey from a man named Pomeroy at Plymouth. Those were the days when Horse Thief Protection societies were composed of men who weren’t afraid to take out the family revolver and track down suspects.

On Jan. 16, 1901, Gov. Winfield Durbin, when queried about Marvin Kuhns, replied, “The idea of a single man defying the whole state (Indiana) is not a pleasant reflection on the peace officers.” Then, replying to a question about what action might be expected, Durbin said, “What plans I shall pursue I shall decide on when I have ascertained how to proceed.”

A little less than 12 hours later Marvin Kuhns, who had been termed a “desperado” by the governor, was wearing handcuffs, but none of the posse knew what a prize they had, for he had identified himself as J.W. Wilson, South Dakota.

HOUSE INTACT

Drive over to Green Hill (almost due west of Lafayette just across the line in Warren County) today and almost any one of the 100 residents can point our Widow Franklin’s house and recite part of the story that originated there 59 years ago.

It all started on Sunday, Jan. 13, 1901, when Pomeroy reported that his horses and surrey had been stolen. Two weeks later details of the Green Hill fight had changed a half-dozen times and the identities of at least four men finally had been unscrambled.

According to one story, the following Wednesday evening, Edward O’Leary, superintendent of the telephone office at Otterbein, was returning from Green Hill, where he had been repairing a line, when he was stopped on a country road by three men in a surrey drawn by a pair of dapple gray horses.

One of the men asked O’Leary where they could get lodging for the night. O’Leary directed them to Mrs. Emma Franklin’s boarding house in Green Hill. While talking to the trio he had been impressed by the handsome team and the breast harness it wore, seldom seen on country roads. About 9 p.m. so this version goes, O’Leary received a phone message from Lafayette telling him of the theft of Pomeroy’s horses. The encounter on the road that evening clicked in O’Leary’s mind. He notified Marshal Elmer Laird, then telephoned to Edward Wilson at Green Hill, learned that the three men were asleep at Mrs. Franklin’s.

Some say that O’Leary, apparently already knowing about the theft when he met the men on the road, spread the word as soon as he returned to Otterbein. It really doesn’t matter, because it was O’Leary’s alertness that started the posse south to Green Hill about 9:30 p.m.

SIX-MAN POSSE

In Marshal Laird’s posse were R.H. Bolt, cashier of the Otterbein bank and a former deputy sheriff in South Carolina, Frank Moore, Elmer Switzer, legislator and livestock shipper, Luther Hawkins and O’Leary.

Arriving shortly after 11 p.m., after a six mile ride from Otterbein, the posse aroused Mrs. Franklin and started to the second floor to capture the three men, none of whose names was known at that time. Moore was stationed outside the house to thwart an escape via the window, a possibility which turned into reality a few minutes later. Laird and Bolt went up the stairs side by side, followed by Switzer, Hawkins and O’Leary, according to an interview given by Laird a few days after the fight. In a large room at the top of the stairs they saw a man (Marvin Kuhns) in bed.

LAIRD’S STORY

As Laird recounted the story in 1901 he told Switzer to take care of the man, while the others moved to a door at the west end of the hall where a lamp was burning in a room in which two men slept. the horse thief asked Switzer to allow him to put on his trousers, found one of his pistols and fired at Switzer, awakening his two companions who started firing at Laird, Bolt, O’Leary and Hawkins. Laird turned to help Switzer, seized Kuhns and pressed him to the floor where they grappled for the gun. Laird shouted to Switzer to shoot. He did, although there was no light in the room, and his bullet struck Kuhns in the right cheek below the eye.

At the same time, Bolt was exchanging shots with the two men in the other bedroom. O’Leary and Hawkins had gone downstairs to get a light. One of the bullets hit Bolt, creased his back and fell through his trouser leg into his shoe. fortunately he was wearing a heavy coat. Bolt subdued one of the men, but the other jumped out the bedroom window and was fired upon by Moore and Hawkins, who had just opened the downstairs door.

Handcuffed, the two horse thieves were returned to Otterbein by the posse which found the horses and surrey in Mrs. Franklin’s barn. Since Otterbein had no jail, the suspects were kept in the livery stable until Lafayette police and the Warren county sheriff arrived to take them into custody.

Members of the posse agreed that it was a near-miracle that someone hadn’t been killed in the fray. Some 25 shots had been fired, two windows were broken and there were 13 bullet holes in Mrs. Franklin’s house.

Kuhns identified himself as J. W. Wilson of South Dakota; the other man gave his name as Walter Wilkinson. Wilson declared that he had stolen the horses, met Wilkinson at Monon and persuaded him to accompany him.

SHOT’S CLUE

Wilson (actually Kuhns) had had his wound dressed in Green Hill. Later, in Lafayette, he was examined by a doctor who discovered a No. 8 bird shot just under the skin at the corner of his left eye. This shot which Kuhns had acquired in a fight at Logansport, and measurements (compared with Bertillon measurements made in Ohio) identified Wilson as Kuhns, who had escaped from the Ohio penitentiary on Thanksgiving, 1900. At 30, Kuhns, was serving a life sentence for murder when he escaped. News stories of the day said he first was arrested at 17 for stealing a horse.

What about his companion, Wilkinson? Most people thought it was Marvin’s brother, John. Later it was discovered that the man was Marvin’s cousin, Henry Griffin, 26. He was arraigned on the horse stealing charge at Plymouth, pleaded guilty and sentenced 2 to 14 years in the penitentiary at Jeffersonville.

Kuhns was returned to Logansport, then to Plymouth where he was taken into custody by a deputy warden of the Ohio prison from which he had escaped. It was while he was being taken back to prison that he declared, “...it makes me sore to think that I had to be caught by a lot of rubes, farmers who wore straw hats and carried pitchforks.”

All of which neatly took care of two of the horse thieves. But what happened to the man who jumped out of the window? The day after the fight Eugene Feigel, a Green Hill grocer, found a man’s vest and watch hanging on a fence. Later felt-lined boots and a cap were taken during a break-in at an Independence store, and everyone concluded that it was John, Marvin’s brother, who had escaped.

The Otterbein men who were in the posse that night received an $80 reward and gave Mrs. Franklin $50 of it to take care of repairs. The Logansport men were said to have received a $1,200 reward, possibly dating back to the Dec. 10 fight during which a Logansport officer was wounded.

[photo 1.] SITE OF FIGHT; Green Hill’s Pine street was a dirt road the night Marvin Kuhns and his companions stopped for lodging at Mrs. Emma Franklin’s boarding house (above). According to oldtimers, one of the horse thieves escaped by jumping out the southwest window at the rear of the house, in which Mr. and Mrs. Amos Shoaf now live. Residing in the house next door is Miss Lela Feigel whose father found a vest and watch belonging to the escapee. About five years after the fight Kuhns was given a pardon. [photo 2.] HISTORIC HANDCUFFS: A relic from the gun fight is this pair of handcuffs owned by Glenn Johnson, grandson of the late Elmer Laird, Otterbein marshal, who led the posse the night Kuhns was captured. Johnston remembers hearing his grandfather recount the story time and again.(staff photos) [handwritten at top of article ]July 9, 1960 Green Hill Marvin Kuhns

Date: 7/9/1960
Origin: Journal Courier
Author: Barbara M. Hawkins
Record ID: 00000067
Type: Periodical
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 2/13/2002
Collection: Green Hill File
Entered By: Louise Jewell

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