PRECURSOR TO WILLIE PETTY’S TESTIMONY:
Before going on to Willie’s story, I want to remind you that you are a member of William PETTY’s jury. But unlike a true court case, I’m going to let you know all about Willie’s past and about events that occurred after the murder. Then you can make a true decision about guilt or innocence- about whose story you find more credible.
WILLIAM PETTY’S TESTIMONY:
Before we delve into the SEELY murder on 25 March 1914, we need to know a little more about William PETTY. He went by Willie as a young adult and later went by Will or William. We’ll call him Willie since our focus is 1914 and the best I can tell he was going by Willie at that time. Willie was born in Missouri but lived most of his life in Kansas. Like I said above, in 1910 Willie and Press were next-door neighbors. Around 27 September 1911 Willie’s dad secured a contract with the Missouri Pacific Railroad- a grading job. Willie’s dad gathered up his gang of teamsters (about 25 men from the Dearing area) and his grading outfit and headed out to McCracken, Rush County, Kansas- about 60 miles East of the Colorado state line (and about 1 mile East of McCracken).
1914 Sod house in Rush County, Kansas found at http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/305067.
The PETTY gang set up a railroad grading camp- the Plunkett & Petty camp (sometimes called the Plunkett & Yale camp). There were three “gangs”- PETTY’s, and two others. Willie’s dad appointed Willie foreman of the Petty gang. They expected to be working on this job through the fall and into the winter.
If you want an idea of what life was like in a 1914 railroad grading camp, take a look at this link. Once you get there you can use the search phrase, “1914 railroad grading camp kansas”.
On or about 14 November 1911 Willie and two of the guys on his gang (Dick COLLIVER and Watie SUAGEE) were shot. There are varying stories and points of view about what happened on 14 November 1911. The story you get definitely depends on whom you ask.
William PETTY was the son of Garton W. and Maggie PETTY. Garton worked in the smelter at Dearing. Willie PETTY’s part in this story actually starts back in 1906. There is a newpaper article that says Willie, among others, pleaded guilty to intoxication charges after a celebration in Coffeyville. Willie was only about 15 then and there were other (related) William PETTY’s in the area- but it’s a possibility that this is our Willie already drinking and in trouble with the law. (From here on out, I’m only including information that I know for sure was our Willie PETTY. I included that first little tidbit because I do believe it could have been our William PETTY.) Fast forward to 1911. With both this 1911 story and the 1914 murder, Willie’s version of this story varies from other people’s versions of the story so I’ll do the best I can with bringing all the accounts together.
In late September of 1911 Willie’s dad was a contractor in Dearing and he had secured a big railroad grading contract about 60 miles from the Colorado state line with the Missouri Pacific. He took 25 local men (including Willie) with him to work in McCracken, Kansas. He expected to work out there the rest of the fall and through part of the winter. He made Willie the foreman of his crew. There were two other crews working the same job.
On 14 November 1911 word reached Dearing (from Edgar DALE, the timekeeper at the camp) that Willie, Watie SUAGEE (pronounced Soo-ah-gee), and Dick COLLIVER had been shot and seriously wounded in a quarrel at the Plunkett & Petty grading camp in McCracken, Kansas. The men had been shot by Charles SID, the camp cook. Willie’s wife left Dearing for the camp immediately to care for him. Willie was shot in the chest. He was paralyzed from the hips down. The bullet pass through the fleshy part of his right arm near the shoulder, passed through his right lung and liver, severed part of his spinal cord and embedded in his spine. Blood was pressing on his spinal cord. The doctors said this was what was causing his paralysis. Doctors said it would be a long time before he walked again. Waitie SUAGEE was shot through the face and shoulder. He was brought to Kruggs Hospital with the bullet still in him. Dick COLLIVER was shot in the hand and shoulder. Willie was eventually brought to Kruggs Hospital near Dearing and he was accompanied there by his parents and Walter SCOTT. I’m not sure why his wife wasn’t mentioned as she was the first to travel to McCracken to be with Willie. (For the record, I haven’t yet discovered who his wife was at that time.) In any case, once Willie arrived at Dearing, he was joined by his two sisters- Maude HICKS and Nora SMOLEY- and his brother-in-law Harry HICKS.
Edgar DALE said the fight started in the grubshack when Willie PETTY threw a dinner plate at one of the Plunkett & Yale camp laborers. Charles SID (cook) ordered PETTY out of the mess tent. Willie left but he returned later with two men from his crew (SUAGEE and COLLIVER). Edgar said the men were drunk and armed with sledge hammers. They went into the kitchen shanty and ran SID out so SID opened fire on the men. A more “Willie-friendly” version of the story states that Saturday, 11 November 1911 was payday for the camp crew. Charles SID got drunk and quarrelsome and the shooting followed.
Willie himself said that neither he nor Watie nor Dick were drunk. Willie said if anyone was drunk it was Charles SID, the head cook. Here’s Willie’s side of the story straight from The Coffeyville Daily Journal, 24 November 1911:
By 8 December 1911 Willie had had surgery and was improving. It was reported he finally had the use of some of his lower limbs now after being paralyzed from the hips down due to the shooting. A week later he was taken to his parents’ home in a “greatly improved” state. The physicians were telling him he was totally out of danger.
Initial reports claimed that Watie was not expected to live but other reports stated all three men- Willie, Watie, and Dick- were expected to recover. However, by 17 January 1912 papers were reporting that Watie was “in a dying condition”. His injuries had taken a turn for the worse. The previous Monday, Charles SID had been released on a bond but was expected to be re-arrested on murder charges if Watie died. On 3 February 1912 Watie was still in critical condition. Charles SID was charged with Assault with Intent to Kill. His case was set for a hearing at McCracken, Kansas on the following Monday. Garton PETTY, Willie’s dad, went to the hearing. At the hearing the proceedings were postponed due to the inability of the injured men to attend the proceedings. The judge planned to resume the proceedings once all three men had recovered and were able to attend court. By March of 1912 Watie was improving. Watie didn’t die; neither did Dick COLLIVER. Willie, of course, recovered.
24 March 1914- Willie and Press Fight
On the evening of 24 March 1914, Willie was sitting in his buggy in front of Isabelle STEWART’s house. Some say Andrew MEDFORD and Isabelle were in the buggy with him. Some say Isabelle was getting in but not yet all the way in the buggy when Press SEELY, who thought of Isabelle as his girlfriend, came up. Press was acting drunk and cussing. He threw a rock at the buggy and came toward them with an open knife. He climbed on the rear axle of the buggy and tried to pull Willie out, slashing and stabbing him the whole time. Willie’s coat and arm was slashed over the right shoulder and arm in several places.
At this point, reports vary. Some say Willie pulled out his revolver, Andrew tried to stop him but the gun discharged and shot Andrew and Isabelle, then Willie turned partly around and struck Press on the back of the head cutting a gash and then fired on Press a second time sending a bullet into Press’s head just back of the left ear and killing him instantly. Other reports say Willie pulled his revolver out of his pocket and shot it backwards over his shoulder. He turned to the other side and shot two more times. Isabelle was screaming that she’d been shot. He saw Press SEELY lying on the ground. He tried to calm Isabelle and tell her she wasn’t shot but she fell to the ground.
Some reports say he carried her in to her dad’s house where he discovered she really had been shot. He panicked. He ran out to his buggy (possibly with Andrew – reports vary) and fled. Other reports say he never left the buggy after shooting. That he immediately drove away rapidly. If the first reports are true- is it possible he FLED as in “on foot” (at least from the house to the buggy) because he was already in the house with Isabelle. But every article you’ll read about the murder will remind you that he was “paralyzed from the hips down”. Yet he fled. And if you’ll remember that 1911 article- it said he was improving and had movement in his lower extremities. He was in a “greatly improved” state and “totally out of danger”. Well, get used to hearing about his disability because he uses it to his advantage every single time he gets in trouble. The newspaper articles that ran after the shooting stated there was “no way for him to get around once he leaves the buggy” and “officers expect no trouble finding him”. However those words were followed by the statement that “he is regarded as a desperate character and officers are on guard”.
So Willie fled the scene and County Attorney ISE and Sheriff LEWIS from Independence, Kansas were notified immediately. The prosecutor gathered accounts of the shooting and determined it was self-defense.
Meanwhile, Willie had fled to his sister’s (Maude HICKS) home near Wann, Nowata, Oklahoma. It was there he was arrested between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning. Willie reportedly made no resistance to being arrested by “the little squad of officers composed of Sheriff LEWIS, Undersheriff Bert ZIEGENFUSS, and Jim AUSTIN of Dearing.” The officers had been “searching the country by auto for several hours”. By 4:00 a.m., Willie was sitting in the county jail. While in jail, Willie’s account of the shooting was that the over-the-shoulder shot was the one that killed Press. He thought he had fired three shots.
The inquest was held a few hours later at O. O. CRANE’s store where Press’s body had been taken when it was finally moved from the road. It was found that a bullet entered Press’s skull about an inch over the ear and ranging downward. A gash was found just above the bullet wound of a nature that officers believe Press received a blow with the butt of a revolver.
The inquest jury found that Willie had killed Press with a revolver but they didn’t (or wouldn’t?) determine whether there was murderous intent. Willie stated he “would rather have been killed than to have injured Ms. STEWART.” It was believed by officials, and reported by Willie, that the shootings of Andrew MEDFORD and Isabelle STEWART were accidental.
On 26 March 1914, the day after the inquest, Willie was still sitting in jail. In the evening his dad, Garton, and another man came to the courthouse and asked permission to visit Willie. Officer George EVANS was the only man on duty at the courthouse when Garton PETTY showed up. The other officer was out working another case. Officer EVANS told Garton and the other man that they could come back later to visit when Officer EVANS had help. Garton PETTY and the man with him entered the jail anyway in violation of the rules and the order of Officer EVANS. They began talking to the prisoners. Officer EVANS warned them to stop and get out. They “answered him impudently” and EVANS called Deputy WALTERS from the courtroom to assist him. Officer EVANS gave the men one last chance to leave peacefully and the men decided to take that chance so there was no further trouble. Later that night Willie was released and Garton took him home. Authorities stated that Willie’s “condition was sufficient surety for his appearance when wanted” and that they had no way to care for him at the county jail. The newspaper reported that Willie’s father was allowed to take “the slayer of Preston SEELY” to his home at Dearing. Willie had not yet been arraigned and no bond was required due to his “condition”. The newspaper reported that it was “impossible for [Willie] to move without assistance” and that the evidence showed that Press’s murder was self-defense.
County Attorney ISE went to Dearing on 30 March 1914 in the afternoon to continue looking into the murder of Press SEELY. He was convinced the act was self-defense but the SEELY family was insisting on a murder trial. On 31 March 1914 County Attorney ISE made a partial effort to appease the SEELY’s by going ahead and charging PETTY with First Degree Murder for killing Preston SEELY. At that time Willie was out on a small bond according to The Evening Star (Independence, Kansas). Willie was notified that a warrant had been issued for him on the murder charge and it was anticipated he would give himself up. Although Willie had initially been released to his father and gone home to his father’s home, by 31 March 1914 he was living in Wann, Nowata, Oklahoma with his sister, Maude HICKS. The paper reported that County Attorney ISE was “loathe” to start proceedings against Will PETTY as he felt the shooting was self-defense but the SEELY relatives had demanded an investigation and Dearing residents also thought there should at least be an investigation. Public opinion forced ISE to set a preliminary hearing and start proceedings “to clear the air”.
On 15 April 1914 Willie had a preliminary hearing at Dearing on the murder charge. County Attorney ISE and his stenographer Bessie KENIADY traveled to Dearing for the preliminary hearing. The newspaper on that date stated that “up until now” the murder “looked like self-defense” but that Preston SEELY’s family was “not satisfied” with that view of it and “demanded action against William PETTY”. The paper also stated that the Prosecutor thought a preliminary hearing, “where the matter could be gone over thoroughly would be the best solution”. Deputy County Attorney Joe HOLDREN assisted with the prosecution while Charles BUCHER of Coffeyville and Tom WAGSTAFF of Independence appeared on behalf of William PETTY. (If you’re interested, you can read a nice bio of Tom WAGSTAFF here:. Another artifact is a letter Tom wrote to then-Governor Henry J. ALLEN which you can read at Kansas Memory, if you want.)
In mid-February of 1915 (a year after Willie was charged with First Degree Murder), a warrant was issued for Willie for a charge related to violation of prohibition laws. The newspaper article announcing it was dated 13 February 1915 and it didn’t fail to announce that Willie was “paralyzed from his hips down”. James MOORE was also arrested on 12 February 1915 and charged with selling liquor. MOORE was taken into District Court the morning of 13 February 1915 and appointed an attorney. I don’t know what the outcome of this was for either MOORE or Willie but I can guess that Willie’s charges were deferred or something similar to that. At the end of the next paragraph, you’ll see why.
In mid-September of 1915, William PETTY and Isabelle STEWART surprised friends when they returned to town on a Sunday and announced they were married in Copan, Oklahoma, that weekend. Ms. STEWART had been attending school in Oklahoma at the time of the wedding. At that time, Willie and a cohort named “A. MEDFORD” were involved in liquor sales and shipments. You do remember, Andrew MEDFORD, don’t you? He was the ex-brother-in-law who was trying to rescue Isabelle from the buggy the night Willie murdered Press. Prohibition was still in effect. In mid-September of that year, good ole’ County Attorney ISE came to town inspecting records of liquor shipments at the depot. According to the paper he found the shipments “in good form and per law” and there was no statement whether any “consignees” (liquor buyers/shippers) would be raided based on the records. But if he didn’t find something then, he did find something soon after. In January of 1916 there was a “booze raid” in Dearing, though. Andrew and Willie were arrested by Deputy Sherrif Bert ZIEGENFUSS for violating prohibition. MEDFORD was picked up with 11 quarts of booze in his possession and he was taken to jail. Willie was also taken to jail but he bonded out quickly. The charges that eventually stuck on “slick Willie” were selling liquor and signing a false name to obtain possession of a booze shipment. (Ever wonder if ISE was getting a clue about Willie yet?) It’s noted in this article that Willie was “crippled” in a shooting in Hoisington County a few years back. It seems like every time Willie got in trouble with the law he made sure the reporter knew he was “a cripple”. But if you’ll remember, the last news reports we received after that 1911 shooting were that Willie had movement in his lower limbs, he was getting better, and the doctors expected him to have no trouble. Slick Willie sure knew how to work that “disability”, didn’t he? In a later news article on this event, it was noted that Indian JOHNSON was also caught in the raid but later freed. It also noted that MEDFORD had plead guilty to his charges. The timing of the sudden marriage and ISE’s visit to town to check out the liquor shipments coincide so perfectly that I wonder if Willie knew he was about to go down and he was trying to manipulate the situation somehow by marrying Isabelle. You know, the old “but I have a family to care for” excuse.
On 8 February 1916, seven men from Dearing traveled to Independence, Kansas to attend William PETTY’s trial for violating prohibition laws. All seven were called as witnesses in Willie’s trial. The men who went were S. L. ALEXANDER, William “Bill” BARRIGAR, Ike DOWNS, Jesse FARMER, Tony PUGH, Shorty SPARK, and James MOORE (the same James MOORE that got arrested a year before this. I’m thinking he turned on Willie and got a reduced sentence or probation for turning on Willie.). On 17 February 1916 it was reported that in the case of The State of Kansas versus William PETTY, Willie was found guilty on one count against him. The article does not say on which count he was found guilty.
I am uncertain whether he served any time or not. On 23 February 1916 (just 6 days after the guilty verdict we just talked about) The Coffeyville Daily Journal reported that William PETTY installed a shooting gallery on Monday of that week. I am uncertain whether that was slick Willie or his uncle William PETTY.
On 31 March 1919, Isabelle E. E. PETTY “through her next friend” filed suit in district court for a divorce from Willie PETTY. (In legal cases, a “next friend” means “An individual who acts on behalf of another individual who does not have the legal capacity to act on his or her own behalf.” See Legal Dictionary.) Her initial complaint claimed “gross neglect” and “cruelty” and said she wanted a divorce and “further relief”. In July of 1919, Isabelle PETTY received the divorce she wanted from Willie PETTY. The divorce was final on 2 July 1919. The divorce was requested and granted on the grounds of “extreme cruelty”. Isabelle claimed in her divorce action that Willie attempted to kill her about a year prior to her divorce action. His method of murder? Shooting her five times with a revolver. One of the bullets struck her in the forehead and she narrowly escaped death. (Deja vu, anyone??) The PETTY’s were married four years in all and had no children together. I was curious who might represent the PETTY’s in the divorce. I don’t know who represented Willie, but Isabelle managed to get C. D. ISE as her attorney! Yes- you know that name. He was the very same County Attorney that refused a trial to the SEELY’s because he believed Willie PETTY acted in self-defense when he murdered Preston SEELY. (Did you ever think about someone and wonder if/how they were able to sleep at night??) The PETTY’s lived in Dearing, Kansas during their marriage and subsequent divorce. After all that mess with Preston SEELY, the couple never left Dearing. But then, neither did the SEELY family. Curious.
In 1920, slick Willie was involved in one more newsworthy event. A couple of days before Christmas, 1920, a local bank was robbed. Willie called the bank afterward and claimed he had passed the robbers on the highway when they were fleeing. He said they had a flat tire and they ran over and killed his dog. He didn’t say whether he helped them with that flat tire. Or whether he might happen to know anyone in the gang. In the 1920 federal census and the 1925 Kansas state census, Willie was living with his elderly parents. He was still single.
And there you have it. Slick Willie’s story- as much of it as I could find. A little more of Isabelle’s story. Their short story together. I’m going to give you a day or two to read over this. It’s shocking. It throws some events into a whole new light. Deliberate, Bates jurors. Talk amongst yourselves. Swap details. Someone might have noticed something you missed. I may (or may not- depending on my schedule) give you a little more information about Isabelle. Or perhaps in the next post, I’ll just ask for your verdict. You’ll just have to wait and see. Now go deliberate! We’re at the verdict stage!
“They say every big family has a black sheep. Well that’s the way of the world.” ~ Mister Squeegee Tires ad, The Coffeyville Daily Journal, 5 June 1915.
You can find some Coffeyville history at History of Coffeyville, KS if you’re interested.
Until this weekend,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives
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; 23 November 1912; 22 March 1913; 2 April 1913; 21 June 1913; 16 August 1913; 20 August 1913; 27 August 1913; 14 February 1914; 26 March 1914; 28 March 1914; 1 April 1914; 9 April 1914; 7 October 1914; 1 April 1915; 2 June 1915; 5 June 1915; 12 June 1915; 15 September 1915; 9 February 1916; 17 February 1916; 23 February 1916; 24 April 1916; May 1916; 4 13 May 1916; 28 November 1916; 12 February 1917; 27 March 1917; 18 August 1917; 14 September 1917; 1 June 1918; 27 February 1919; 31 March 1919; 21 April 1919; 3 July 1919; 23 December 1920
The Coffeyville Weekly Journal
27 August 1909; 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
1 June 1908; 26 March 1914; 27 March 1914; 28 March 1914; 31 March 1914; 1 April 1914; 13 April 1914; 15 April 1914; 16 April 1914; 13 February 1915
The Daily Republican
17 November 1911; 17 November 1913; 26 March 1914; 1 April 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
The Independence Daily Reporter
15 December 1908
1 April 1914
16 April 1914
28 May 1920
9 November 1920
The Fort Scott Daily Tribune and The Fort Scott Daily Monitor
9 April 1920