Jealousy and Bad Whiskey, OR Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

“We don’t judge families by their black sheep. We judge the black sheep by their families. And the better the family the blacker the sheep.” ~ Mister Squeegee Tires ad, The Coffeyville Daily Journal, 5 June 1915.

preston seely blog mr squeegee ad.jpg
Mr. Squeegee postcard ad found on ebay.

I just want to say first that I love my husband. This is how much he loves me: when I questioned the veracity of some of the statements of the parties involved, he helped me recreate the murder scene in our living room. That’s true love. Also, I’m pretty sure if I had a bucket list, recreating a murder scene in my living room to solve a mystery would definitely be on that list!

One more personal note. When I first read this story I did a double take. One of my brother’s close friends throughout his school years was a guy named William Petty. So it was really a strange concept to say or think “William Petty” and not be referring to my brother’s friend William. It should be clear to all that the William Petty in this story is NOT my brother’s friend. Nonetheless, I’ll clear it up for good- this is NOT the William Petty who grew up in Jay, Oklahoma.

Before moving on, I want to talk about my resources. The majority of the information in this series of blog posts about the Seely murder was taken from newspapers. At the end of each post I will include a list of newspapers I consulted to put the whole story together. I also contacted at least one family researcher from each of the following families for more information prior to publishing this series: The Garton Petty family, the Andrew Medford family, the Charles Smoley family, and the Charles Stewart family. The Petty family is deciding whether or not to share information. The Smoley and Stewart families have not responded. Barbara T.- whose husband is the grandson of Andrew Medford- contacted me and was excited about the blog and has agreed to share information with me. Thank you, Barbara!!

This post is about my 1st cousin 3x removed. His name was Preston SEELY. He was the grandson of my 3rd great-grandfather, Reverend Charles SEELY. I’ve written about Charles SEELY here if you’re interested in catching up on him before moving on. Charles’ son, John F. SEELY, was the father of Preston and the brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Ann (SEELY) BATES.

Preston Seely’s Dead with a Bullet Through His Head
That was the headline in The Daily Republican on 26 March 1914. Death makes good copy. And Preston’s body lay in the street for hours with a bullet in his head, so there was plenty to write about.

You’ve just been selected as a juror in the case of State of Kansas vs. William Petty. Each day for the next week or so you will hear from various witnesses who will tell you their version of what happened on 25 March 1914 – the murder of Preston SEELY. We’ll start today with a brief background of Preston SEELY, a quick sentence about William PETTY, and a short historical synopsis to put you in the right frame of mind. Unlike a real court case, you’re going to hear from Preston and Willie- and you’re allowed to take notes if you wish. I won’t even sequester you while you “listen” to the testimony. Keep open minds. At the end of this blog series you’ll get to submit your verdict of guilty, not guilty, partially guilty, or hung jury. All rise. Court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Lisa presiding.

Preston SEELY
Preston SEELY was born on 16 March 1891 in Benton County, Arkansas to John F. and Sarah (SPIVEY) SEELY. I would have to say he lived a quiet life because I really can’t find much information about him other than his death. The reporters of 1914 would have you believe otherwise. They described him using words and phrases like “ne’er-do-well”, “jealous”, “been in trouble”, “looking for trouble”. They described him as violent, a drunk, and a partier. But was he?

Preston was 9 years old in 1900. That’s the earliest I’ve found him in records. He was going to school. His family lived in Garland Township in Benton County, Arkansas. (Think “Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport” and you’ll have the right area.) About 1907 his family and he moved to Dearing, Montgomery County, Kansas (think “Coffeyville, Kansas” and you’ll have the right area- the papers described Dearing as a suburb of Coffeyville). In 1907 in Montgomery County, Kansas, Preston got paid out of the county road fund in the amount of $1.50. He was 16 years old. In 1908 he got paid by the county out of the road fund for “labor” provided. These warrant notices were published in the newspaper when the county published the pay warrants for the term. In 1908 he received two payments of $2.60 and one payment of 75 cents. In 1910 he received payment from the county in the amount of $22.50 for “caring for poor” so it would seem that at some point he went from manual labor to working in an alms house or taking care of the poor in his own home. He was doing that at 19 years old. In the 1910 census he and his brother are still single and living with his parents- right next door to 21-year-old William PETTY’s family- in Fawn Creek Township, Montgomery County, Kansas. Preston is working as a kiln helper at a zinc smelter. His brother is doing the same work at the same place as Preston.
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Edgar Zinc Smelter, Cherryvale, KS. Photo at Kansas Memory.

William PETTY- he goes by Willie in 1910- is working as a Teamster so he’s traveling out to jobs, working them, getting laid off, coming home with money and then waiting for the next job to come around and repeating this same process.

Even at 19 years old, the clock of life is winding down for Preston. We’ll call him Press- that’s what he goes by as an adult. Press’s dad, John, is blacksmithing in 1910 and getting occasional payments from the county for work performed. Blacksmithing seems to have been a family business for the SEELY’s.
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Couch Blacksmith Shop, Bentley, KS. Photo at Kansas Memory.

In 1912 Press is apparently working on the road, possibly in a job similar to Willie PETTY’s. There’s a newspaper mention of him stating he was in from Texas to visit family and friends. But, by 25 March 1914 he is again living in Dearing, Montgomery County, Kansas.

Welcome to 1914
In 1914 Europe was barreling toward a world war that would eventually involve the United States. The motorcycle was ten years old. Henry Ford’s first assembly line was 3 months old. The big news on the aircraft scene was a delivery plane that flew 25 miles in 17 ½ minutes and the first ever airline in Florida.

Photo of aircraft in the 25 March 1914 edition of The Coffeyville Daily Journal.

The “interurban” was the height of technology at the time and the Independence/Coffeyville area had 2 of them.
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Interurban photo at along with several other great interurban photos.

But average people were still driving a horse-drawn buggy.
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Photo at Pinterest.

Prohibition was strong in Kansas at this time.
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Photo of Carry Nation with her hatchet. Carry, a prohibition activist, spent a lot of time in Kansas destroying saloons. She died just a couple of years prior to Preston SEELY’s death.

Apparently flies were a huge problem in 1914. The month after Press’s death, Board of Health began a screen door campaign. In July and August there was a fly-killing-for-money campaign (Folks, you can’t make this stuff up!!!) Below are two of the ads that ran in newspapers the summer of 1914.
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preston seely blog screen door campaign 1914.jpg
Ads at

Read All About It!
Tomorrow, jurors, we will read shocking headlines, a brief timeline of the murder, and the first witness’ testimony. Don’t miss it!

Until tomorrow,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

Resource list:
The Coffeyville Daily Journal
5 July 1906; 15 November 1907; 30 October 1908; 7 November 1908; 29 April 1910; 4 November 1910; 9 November 1910; 9 December 1910; 28 December 1910; 15 November 1911; 10 January 1912; 17 January 1912; 3 February 1912; 7 February 1912; 30 March 1912; 26 March 1914; 28 March 1914; 5 June 1915; 12 June 1915; 15 September 1915; 9 February 1916; 17 February 1916; 23 February 1916; 13 May 1916; 12 February 1917; 27 February 1919; 31 March 1919; 21 April 1919; 3 July 1919; 23 December 1920

The Coffeyville Weekly Journal
22 July 1910; 4 November 1910; 18 November 1910; 9 November 1910; 17 March 1911; 24 March 1911; 29 September 1911; 15 November 1911; 17 November 1911; 24 November 1911; 8 December 1911; 15 December 1911

The Arkansas City Daily Traveler
29 May 1920

The Evening Star
26 March 1914; 27 March 1914; 28 March 1914; 31 March 1914; 1 April 1914; 13 April 1914; 15 April 1914; 13 February 1915

The Daily Republican
17 November 1911; 17 November 1913; 26 March 1914; 10 January 1916

The Hutchinson News
26 March 1914

The Parsons Daily Sun
24 June 1905; 26 March 1914

The Oxford Register
2 April 1914

The Alma Enterprise
3 April 1914

The Leavenworth Post
26 March 1914

The Chanute Daily Tribune
26 March 1914

The Wichita Daily Eagle
27 March 1914

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