Life Story of J. L. McNeil

The following is a transcribed version of “Sowing and Reaping.  Life Story of J. L. McNeil”, by my Great Grandfather John Lee McNeil. 

 In transcribing this I’ve attempted to keep the original size of the photocopy I have, of about 5½ by 8½, and the margins to approximate the same look of the original text.   This may have been written about 1940, as in chapter 4 Great Grandpa says “34 years ago I returned to Montgomery County in which I was born ----. “  He is supposed to have moved to New Richmond in 1906.

I’ve noted in parentheses a few corrections, for example on the first page there is either an original typographical error or an error in the original manuscript where it says “In 1851 when war broke out, ….”  The referred to war was the American Civil War that started in 1861.

I hope you enjoy reading about my Great Grandfather in this story in his own words.  Boyd O. McNeil III







(Original cover was blue with black lettering, and title was surrounded with a dashed bracketing)

My Dear Readers: I pray God that this True Story may find a place in your hearts,
that you will have more faith in prayer.

       “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

                                                  --Matt. 21:22

Chapter I

Jesse G. McNeil was reared in a Christian home in Ohio.  He came to Montgomery County, Indiana, and there near Fredericksburg, now called Mace, he met Lavina Holloway.  She was also brought up in a Christian home and they were finally married and began married life in a log cabin near Mace.   I was born in that cabin.

         In 1851 (should be 1861) when war broke out, we moved in covered wagons to Benton County, Indiana which was then a bleak prairie.  When returning to Montgomery County on visits we also traveled in covered wagons and the route we followed from Benton County to Mace was to go to Independence and cross the river on the ferry boat, then through Newtown and pleasant Hill which is Wingate, and strike the Crawfordsville road north of Crawfordsville which was then a corduroy road.

         In Benton County we encountered all kinds of hardships.  The terrible winters that we passed through in this new country, no one could know without having had the experience.  The farming was very difficult, as the prairies were covered with ponds and sloughs and we could only farm on the high ground, as at that time the methods of draining were not known.  Corn was dropped by hand and covered with a hoe, as there were no corn planters and we had no scoop shovels to scoop the corn from the wagons when it was gathered.  It had to be thrown out by hand.  What little oats and buckwheat we raised, as there was no thrashing machines, we would clean a place on the ground in a circle and get on horses and ride over the grain until it was thrashed out.  At this time there were deer and wolves and an abundance of all kinds of wild game in that part of the country.  One could hear the wolves howling the whole night long.  In the spring the dead grass would be set on fire and would burn for a day or two.  After the grass burned off we found it great sport to gather the eggs of the prairie chickens and wild ducks which we found in abundance.  The cranes laid their eggs on the muskrat houses in the ponds and never laid but two eggs before each setting.  The wild geese always went south at this time of the year.

         Our daily food consisted of corn bread and meat and parched rye coffee or scorched meal coffee.  Our clothing was very meager.  We never had an overshoes, overcoats or underclothing.  Our lighting system was very crude, as there was no kerosene or gasoline and we lighted our homes by burning a piece of flannel saturated in a pan of grease.  Our only method of traveling was on horse-back or in a wagon.  I remember one time I fell off my horse and broke my arm and brother had to ride about fifteen miles to get a doctor and they did not arrive until a day had passed, and of course I suffered deeply through these inconveniences.

         Coal was unknown to us and we had to haul wood from Warren County, a long distance.  We had very little shelter for our stock.  Our own house was built cheaply, being boarded up and down.  The downstairs rooms were plastered but the upstairs rooms where we boys slept were not.  On those cold winter nights the snow would blow through the cracks and cover the floor and bed until we had to cover up our heads to keep the snow out of our faces.

         I remember well the cold New Year’s of 1864.  My father was teaching school at that time and the day before New Year’s it was a pleasant morning and I went to school with my father.  Along in the afternoon a terrible blizzard came up and one could scarcely see his way over the prairie.  A neighbor came for us in the evening in a bobsled.  There were two boys who lived in another direction, about two miles across the prairie, and my father took them with him and left them at a neighbor’s house, for he knew they could never reach home across the prairie.  Some time that night the father of those boys made his way thru the storm, on horseback, and going to the school house and finding them gone, he supposed they had perished in the storm.  He went on to this neighbor’s house, where he found them safe.  He made this remark, “Thank God, they are safe.”


Chapter II

We used to have preaching about once a month at the schoolhouse and once in a great while a temperance speaker would come and have meetings, which were called “Blue Ribbon Meetings.”  We signed a pledge that we would abstain from all intoxicating drinks.  This was the beginning of the prohibition movement.

         My father was county surveyor and as a boy I was a helper, carrying the surveyor’s chain.  This chain is suppose to be four rods long, and we had eleven iron pins, and as the man in the lead would come to his pin and I would hollow “stick”; ten chains made an out.  We had to go by the old government survey usually, and there was supposed to be a mound.  When the government made a survey, they dug into the earth and made a mound for every mile, and then drove a stake or peg in the mound.  Of course, at this time the stake would be decayed ad it was very difficult to find the mound.  Sometimes we would have to measure five or six miles to find the place of beginning.  I remember one time that we had measured five miles, wading through wet grass and ponds, and we had made a mistake of one out, and there was nothing to do but measure it over again, which was a pretty hard task.  On one occasion I remember I was helping my father survey.  It was a cold dark night as we were coming home in the wagon.  The horses couldn’t see the road and we ran off of a culvert.  When the front wheel went down, I fell off the wagon into the ditch, broke through the ice and went under.  It being so cold I had to walk behind the wagon about a mile to our home and my clothes were frozen stiff.  However, owning to my good physical condition, I was feeling fine the next morning.

I was one of a family of ten children.  One day the death angel came and the spirit of my little brother went home to God who gave it.  At the age of fifteen it fell on me to herd cattle.  In this herd there were seven hundred head of all kinds.  There a great many Texas cattle.  In those days all the cattle had horns and the Texas cattle had horns as long as a man’s arm.

Heading cattle was a great task for a boy of my age.  I was compelled to encounter much exposure and many hardships, it being necessary for me to be constantly with the cattle, even during terrible storms.  But I never lost faith in God, and prayed to Him constantly for protection and guidance, and knew that He would take care of me.

I remember distinctly of one terrible storm.  I saw clouds thickening and the lightning and the thunder was fierce.  The sky was a glow with the lightening and yet it was almost as black as night.  My cattle stampeded, but I rode my horse after them and with the help of my horse and my dog I managed to bunch them up with my herd whip, with the use of which I was quite an expert.  I felt as though my time had come, but I prayed to God and faith that He would carry me through, and all of the terrible strain and burden was lifted from my heart and there was joy and peace.


Chapter III

      I remember on another occasion, when one of our cattle had died and been buried on the prairie.  As we all know, a herd of cattle when they get the scent of anything dead, will throw up their heads and begin to bawl and then start to stampede toward the scent.  Of course could let them go, but I tried to do my duty.  If I let them go, they would of horned and hooked each other and probably several would have been killed, but with the aid of my horse, my dog, and my herd whip, I kept them bunched as best I could by riding back and forth and whipping them over the heads with my herd whip.  They kept gaining on me until they reached the spot where the dead animal was buried, and there, with the use of my whip and the help of my dog we fought them off, even though there was great danger of them trampling me to death, and finally I conquered them and got them started back.  I constantly prayed every day and when the cattle were at peace and grazing, I would let my horse graze on the knolls where I could constantly watch the cattle.  If the knolls could speak, they would tell of many boyish prayers that went up from my heart while at my duty.  This scene, as I now look back on it reminds me of when Jesus went into Gethsemine (as spelled in original text) to pray apart just before the Crucifixion and said unto his disciples, “Tarry ye here, while I go yonder and pray.”

There was also at this time, a wild animal roaming the prairie; it was said to be a lion that had escaped from some show.  It was known as “The Benton County Lion.”  It killed hogs and calves wherever it could find them.  It caused great excitement throughout the county and, in fact, all over the state.  I remember one winter on New Year’s day one hundred men on horseback with their guns gathered to hunt for this lion.  They hunted all day, but they did not get a sight of the animal.  Later on the “lion” was killed, within a mile of my brother’s home and it was found to be a large wolf from some other county that had made its way to Benton County.  A man from Texas poisoned it and shot it before it could get away.  I saw this animal before it was killed and afterwards—it measured seven feet from the tip of its tail to its nose.  It was a monster animal.  I often heard it howl during the night; it was a fierce, loud howl compared with the howl of the prairie wolf of that country.  When this wild animal was roaming through the country, most people were afraid to venture out after dark.  We had a dog that would imitate the wolf’s howl and the wolf would come near the house.  The dog would meet it at the road and the wolf would chase the dog back to the house, but when the wolf neared the house it would get frightened and retreat and the dog would chase it back.  I would slip down stairs with my gun but it would be gone before I could get sight of it.


Chapter IV

      From the Christian example of our parents, I had one brother that became a minster, (as spelled in original text) three nephews that became ministers, and two nieces became missionaries.  Many lives were bettered by the good example and influence and example of my parents.  I know of two instances where two people have told me on their death beds, since I grew to be a man, that the influence of my father and mother helped them lead good Christian lives.  Through all of their trials and discomforts my parents never forgot God and both morning and evening they would read chapters from the Bible and have family prayer, asking God’s blessing on us, their children, and mankind everywhere and thanking Him that it was as well with them as it was.

I married Alice Rhodes in 1882, and with my good wife tried to live a Christian life.  We were blessed with a family of 7 children, and we tried to teach them the way of a Christian life.  I am a great believer in prayer, and I know that my Heavenly Father has answered my prayers and guided me through all these difficulties and hardships of my early life, which I sometimes think were blessings in disguise.

I lived in Benton County on the farm for 40 years and saw the country improve from a wild prairie and today it is considered, as a whole, the best county in Indiana.  34 years ago I returned to Montgomery County in which I was born and since then have been in the real estate and telephone business.

I would like to mention a few incidents that happened when I was a young boy and man which may interest you readers.

The land office was in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, at that time.  I remember a story that was told of a large landholder who had gotten so much land from the government and had so many herds of cattle that he was considered wealthy.  The story goes like this:  He had a man working for him, and one day he asked this man if he would like to make $500.00.  This man said yes, he would.  The landowner said, “If you will do what I tell you to do, I will pay you $500. At this time the government had slacked up on selling the good land-the dry land-at the government price; but if there was any land that was covered with water, they let it go. The landowner blindfolded the man who had agreed to take the $500, and put him on a horse, leading the horse and riding another. He told him, "Now, whenever we get into the water, you pull the handkerchief from your eyes, and whenever we get near the dry land, I will tell you to pull it down over your eyes. He did this, and the man made an affidavit that he rode all over this section of land and saw nothing but water.

Later on, I think it was in 1870, the Lake Erie and the Big Four Railroads were built and towns established. At that time the first church ever built in Boswell was constructed and stands there today.  My father was one of the trustees. The first thing that some people wanted was a saloon. I remember that in the town of Boswell where we lived, a man applied for a license to sell liquor, and my father and a man by the name of Harris fought him and kept him from getting a license for a year. At last, however, he got the license and ran the first saloon in Boswell; on of the first saloons in Benton County.

I remember an occasion later on when I grew older, there was a man applied for a license in another nearby town, and I, a young chap; myself fought him and kept him from getting the license. We got witnesses and got this case lined up before a commissioner's court. I had to ride horseback, almost knee-deep in mud, fifty-four miles but we succeeded in defeating him in getting a license; and thanked God that we had men and women with the right kind of stuff in them to fight the booze.

Chapter V

When I was a boy, I stayed with a Doctor who owned a drug store. He made a vow and signed a bond that he would never drink another drop if my father would let me live with him and stay in the drug store, but one day he went to a nearby town and when he returned, I noticed that he had been drinking. He kept on drinking until finally he fell unconscious behind the counter. I stayed with him until ten o'clock, then took him home. Every night for about ten days I stayed up with him until twelve o'clock giving him medicine, when his wife would relieve me and stay up the rest of the night, and in the daytime I stayed at the drugstore taking care of his business for him. It filled me with horror to see the terrible effects of intoxicating liquor on a person.  At the end of about ten days he died with delirium tremens. This experience made me stronger than ever for prohibition and I fought for it every chance I got.

This "Benton County Lion" which was so widely known, got after the landowner who had blindfolded the man had taken him over the government land, as he was going across the prairie in a buggy one evening. The "lion" ran along the side of the buggy, and did, of course, frighten the man almost to death. He was a man who was ready to pray when he got into danger or was sick.  He thought his time had come and he thought it was abut time for him to pray, and he commenced something like this:  “Now I lay me down to sleep;” then it came to him what he was saying and he “Oh the devil, I can’t sleep here.”

On another occasion, this man hired a man to cut and put up five-hundred tons of prairie hay.  This man was a poor, hard working man, and he hired what help he could, and cut the hay and put it into stacks.  He then went to the man who had hired him and asked that he measure it as he needed the money badly.  This man told him that he had no time to measure the hay and told him to measure it himself.  When he measured the hay and told the man how much it was, he said there was not that much, and refused to pay for it.  The man who had cut the hay tried to get him to go measure it, but e kept putting him off until finally this man began to get desperate, as he had to have the money, and he said to him one day: “Mr. ___ ___ ___, you may beat me out of my money, but if you do, the day will come that I beat you out of your life.  I mean just what I say; it is not worth while for me to go to law with you; you are a rich man and I am a poor man.”  A few days later they met out on the prairie, on horseback, face to face: this man pulled his revolver and held it right in his face and said: “I will give you just five minutes to pay me my $500.00.”  He paid it.  Afterwards he would laugh about it and say “Boys, when I looked into that revolver, I saw blood.”  In those days it was very difficult to get justice in cases of this nature.

I remember of a story that happened some years before this. There was a young Doctor came from Kentucky and located at Oxford, which was just a little village, perhaps of a store and a hotel, in Benton County. In those days times were hard and money was scarce. The young Doctor got in debt and could not meet his obligations; there was another man in the community in the same condition. Unbeknown to anyone the Doctor received some money from Kentucky, and he paid his debts.  After this he was missing and no one knew where he was. Now, this other party that was in debt had in some way gotten hold of some money and settled his debts. They suspicioned (as spelled in original text)  him of killing this young Doctor, so they gathered together as many as they could in the neighborhood and they went to this man's house one night and took him out in the yard, put a rope around his neck, threw the end of the rope over the limb of a tree, and told him if he wanted to save his life, he would have to confess to killing the young Doctor; and to save his life he confessed that he had killed the Doctor. They then brought him to Lafayette and put him in jail. As soon as he was in jail and safe from them, he turned to those men and said: "I am just as innocent as any of you men; I know nothing of this Doctor; I did not kill him; I do not know any more about him than you do." Some of them believed him, and some did not.

At this time Court did not set only once a year, and he was in jail for perhaps three months, when one day he looked out of the window and saw this young Doctor riding down the street past the jail, he began to hollow, and they came in to see what was the matter with him, and he told them he had seen the young Doctor pass by on horseback. They finally went to Oxford and investigated and found the young Doctor safe. Of course, this man was then freed from the cloud of suspicion and released from jail, and from that time on he did not lack friends.


Chapter VI

      Upon another occasion there was an old bachelor by the name of McCormick who lived by himse1f and who one day was missing. There was a neighbor who claimed that he drove him over to Kentland, across the prairie and then he bought his team and wagon and then came back with the team and wagon. They suspicioned  (as spelled in original text) him of murdering this man, but there was never anything done. I think it was about twenty years later that a skeleton of a man was found in a pond, which was supposed to be the skeleton of this old bachelor. Of course, he had no relatives here and no one to look after him, and there was never anything done, but the suspicion was on this man.

In October, 1882, we had one of the most outrageous murders that was ever committed. It was committed just south of Oxford, There was a man by the name of Nelling, who had worked in the Atkinson home for seven years. On this day the Atkinson's, the father and mother, had business in some other part of the county, and tey (as spelled in original text) left their two girls, Lucy and Ada, at home, and this man Nelling, the farm hand, a man perhaps fifty years of age, was out on the farm at work. Along in the afternoon Lucy said, "Ada, I will get on the pony and go to town and get the mail, and I will be back in a short time." When she came back, Nelling was at the woodpile up by the house, chopping wood. She said, "Where is Ada?" She seemed surprised that she did not come out to meet her. Be said, "I guess she is in the house." Lucy went into the .house and searched it and found Ada in bed, all mangled and cut to pieces. After he had accomplished his brutal act, he had killed her. He let on that he was as much excited as Lucy was about Ada being murdered. They had no telephone in those days, but they sent the parents word and they came home. The whole country was then aroused and the authorities arrested everybody there was any suspicion of and every stranger that traveled the roads. They sent for the Pinkerton detectives at Chicago, and they came down and investigated.

The suspicion lay on Nelling, but they said nothing; they went back and in a few days one of them came back as a farmhand and hired out to Mr. Atkinson. He worked with Nelling every day and slept with him, and he would start up in his sleep. One day they were out doing some work and it came up a rain; they went into the barn and sat on some hay, and something came up that satisfied the detective that Nelling was the man who had committed the murder, and before Nelling knew what he was doing he had handcuffs on him. The detective took him over to Fowler and placed him in jail there.

That night one hundred men gathered together on horseback and went to Fowler in the dead hour of night, went to the jail and broke the jail door down; Nelling heard them, and when they got to him he was dressed; and when they took hold of him, all he said was, "Boys, go a little slow, I am getting old." They put him in a spring wagon that they had brought for the purpose and started for Oxford ten miles away, as fast as they could ride. When they got there they took him out in front of the Atkinson home, put a rope around his neck, put him on the wagon, fastened the rope to the limb of a walnut tree, and asked him if he had anything to say. It was said that he said nothing; then they hung him. This tree was cut down and taken away by little pieces as relics. This was one of greatest excitements that Benton County ever knew.

Ada Atkinson was buried in the cemetery just west of Oxford, and Nelling was buried in the same cemetery. It was not long until people traveling the road at night could see what they thought were ghosts out behind the tombstones there was great excitement. Every few nights there would be someone pass along and they would see those supposed ghosts; so one night a fellow had a shotgun, and the ghosts would appear and then dodge behind a tombstone; just as they dodged back of the tombstone this fellow fired, but he did not hit any of those supposed ghosts. This went on for several years, and one of the boys that played ghost, later on married a niece of mine, and he told me what those ghosts were. He said the boys thought it would be fun, and they got some sheets and would go down to the graveyard and put them on, and when they heard a buggy or wagon coming up the road, that they would run out and then dodge back. They thought it was great fun to see the travelers lay the whip to the horses and get away. I expect there are people to this day that never knew what those ghosts were.


Chapter VII

A little after the Atkinson murder which I have told about, our County Treasurer at Fowler was murdered one night in the treasurer's office. He was shot three times in the head, one shot going exactly through the forehead, and one thru the head from the ear. They said that either of these two shots would have proved fatal. No one knew why he was in the office at that hour of the night, but he was supposed to have come to Lafayette that day, and he was seen when he came home that night. He bought some groceries down town and brought them up to his home and laid them on the porch; his folks were at some of the neighbors. No one ever seen him alive after that. There was some money scattered over the office and the window was up, but the door was locked. There was also some money scattered out on the windowsill and a little outside of the window.

After his funeral there was some talk about him committing suicide. The body was taken up and the coroner's verdict was suicide; but there were a great many closely connected with him, and I myself, who never believed that Jim Kirtley killed himself.

There is one more incident of my experiences that I would like to mention here which happened in more recent years. On the 20th day of August, 1921, I had a Ford sedan stolen from in front of the Y. M. C. A. in Crawfordsville. That night, I telephoned to police headquarters in every town of any size in the state I could think of, and then I had two-hundred und fifty cards printed and sent them in every direction to the police; I heard nothing from the machine.

About two months later, I saw in the Lafayette Journal-Courier that they had a man by the name of Frank Smith in jail at Danville, Illinois, and they had five Ford machines there that they supposed were stolen. I called Mr. Kelly, the chief of police at Danville and asked him if there was any Ford sedans among them; he said, "Yes, there are two." I told him I was coming down; and my son Boyd and I drove down there and went to police headquarters; they showed us the machines, but none of them was mine.

The reason they arrested Frank Smith was because that he sold those machines to a local dealer, and after he bought them, he mistrusted that there was something wrong and stopped payment on the check he had given to Frank Smith. They went to Frank Smith and questioned him, but he would give them no information whatever.

They then went to his wife, but they could not get anything from her; so they put him in jail.

While we were there Mr. Kelly said, “I am going out on the street a minute and I will be back soon.”  When he came back he said “I met a man out on the street by the name of John Jones, and told him when your machine was stolen, and he said, “Why, I was in Crawfordsville that night and I met Mrs. Smith on the street and stopped to talk to her.” It also happened that there was a woman by the name of Gibson living next door to my daughter in Crawfordsville and she saw Mrs. Smith that night on the street in Crawfordsville and talked to her.  I had a good reason to believe that they got my machine.

Before they could discover any owners to the machines in Danville, Ill., it was found that Indianapolis wanted Frank Smith for the changing of a certificate number.  The Indianapolis police went to Danville and got him and took him back to Indianapolis and put him in jail there.  Now the same night my machine was stolen, there was some tires and tubes stolen from a garage at Darlington.  There was a young man by the name of Earl Valentine who lived at Kokomo, and who had a sister who lived down in Linton, and he had some trouble with his machine and stopped at a garage.  While at the garage he made the remark that he was going through Crawfordsville; Frank Smith was there and he asked the young man if he could ride with him to Crawfordsville; the young man said yes.  They started out, not even knowing each other.  They had both been in the war, and they both talked of the war and did not ask each other’s name.  They had a great deal of tire trouble, and finally Smith said to Valentine, “If you can only get to Darlington, I have an interest in a garage there and will give you a tire and tube.”  Finally they reached Darlington, and Smith told Valentine where to drive up the alley.  He said, “Now you go around to the front door and I will go in by the back door; it will be alright with my partner, and I will give you a tire and tube.  Smith then went in the back door and brought a tire and tube to the front door and handed them to Valentine.  As he handed them to Valentine, Smith said, “by the way, you have another tire that is liable to go out, and while I am here I will get you another, to pat for my ride; you get into the machine and I will be there in a minute.”  When Valentine got to the machine, the night-watchman saw him and pinched him.  Valentine said, “Why, I do not know anything about this; the man that you want is up there in the garage.”  The night-watchman was excited and scared and he said, “never mind, I’ve got you with the goods on you and you are the one I want.”  Smith heard it and beat it.

They took Valentine over to Crawfordsville and put him in jail; when his case came up, he hired Ira Clouser to defend him.  His friends came down from Kokomo and testified that the boy was never in trouble before.  Valentine told his story of how it happened and said, “If you send me for life, I am innocent." He said, "I don't know who the man is that rode with me, but if I ever see him, I will know him; he had a scar on his right cheek." The prosecutor and judge did not believe Valentine's story, and they sentenced him to Michigan City for from two to fourteen years.

Now, when the case of Frank Smith came up in Indianapolis, the judge sentenced him to Michigan City for from two to fourteen years. As it happened, at the penitentiary Smith was sent to the same workshop that Valentine was working in. When Smith came in, Valentine knew him, but Smith did not recognize Valentine.

Now I had reason to believe that Smith got my machine, and I wrote him a letter; as kind a letter as I knew how to write. I said something like this: "Mr. Smith, I suppose you will be surprised on receiving this letter from me, but I had a Ford sedan taken from in front of the Y.M.C.A. in Crawfordsville, on the night of August 20, 1921. Now Mr. Smith, if you can give me any information about my machine, I will pay you $50.00; or if you will give me your wife's address and she can give me any information, I will pay her $50."  I said, "Now Mr. Smith; I suppose you are in prison for some crime, but I do hope that when you get out, you will brace up and be a man among men." I said, I wish you well; and I will close asking God's blessings upon you."

I never got any answer from this letter, but I knew that Smith got it. Valentine and Smith worked together every day, and got to be seemingly good friends, but Valentine never let on that he knew Smith. So one day Smith handed Valentine my letter to read, and when he read the letter he handed it back to Smith. Smith said, "We got McNeil's machine all right; we took it to Indianapolis and sold it." Valentine said that Smith did not seem to care what he said, and up and told pretty nearly everything he ever did. He said, "Why, we sold that New Ross bunch fourteen stolen machines." He told him all about the Darlington deal, and said, "I never did hear what became of that kid, but, said he, I'll tell you what I was going to do after I got the new tires on the machine; I was going to knock him in the head and take his machine." Valentine never let on that he knew anything about it.

He also told Valentine "I had a buddy to get a machine in Crawfordsville, and another buddy to get one at Frankfort," but he said his buddy got drunk and was about to give him away and that was the reason he had to get back to Crawfordsville. This was the night that Valentine picked Smith up at Frankfort and took him to Darlington.

Mrs. Gibson at Crawfordsville, who had relatives in Danville, Illinois, gave me the name of the restaurant in Danville where Mrs. Smith was working. I called Mr. Kelly, the chief of police there, and told him to go and see if she was there. He called back and said they told him she had been gone for a month, and that they did not know where she was. In a little bit he called again saying that he just found out from one of the girls employed in the restaurant that she was coming in on the five o'clock car that night to work. I said, "Mr. Kelly, hold her until I get there, but do not arrest her." My son-in-law Mont Pugh and I drove down to Danville. We went to police headquarters, and Mr. Kelly said, "I have a woman over at the restaurant; I told him to bring her over to police headquarters about eight o'clock." He brought her over at eight o'clock, and when she saw us sitting there, she was frightened.  The first thing she said was, "Oh. Mr. Kelly, do not arrest me and put me in jail."  Now Mr. Kelly knew her well, and said she had a good father and mother; and he talked kindly to her. He said, "Mary, we are not going to put you in jail if you will tell us the truth"; she said, "I will tell you all I know."

Now I wanted to find out about the Darlington deal. In my car when it was stolen, I had a little morocco (as spelled in original text) backed book with real estate contracts in it. The car was stolen on Saturday and on Monday morning, on the morning train, this book came to me by mail. I handed this book to Mrs. Smith and said.  “Mrs. Smith, did you ever see this book before?" she said "No." I said, "Did you ever see my name in print?" She said "No." Then I told her about the Darlington deal. She said, "I don't know anything about that; if Frank was in Frankfort that night, I didn't know it." Well, I talked kindly to Mrs. Smith, the best I could, and I gained her confidence. I said, "Mrs. Smith, were you in Crawfordsville on the night of August 20, 1921?" She said "Yes." I said, "Mrs. Smith, how did you get to Crawfordsville?"  She said, "Frank and I drove there from Indianapolis in our own car; we took supper at the community house." Now I did not tell her what I already knew. I said, "Mrs. Smith, did you see anybody in Crawfordsville that night that you knew?" She said, "Yes, I saw John Jones of Danville, Illinois, and talked with him; and I saw Mrs. Gibson of Crawfordsville, and talked to her." I said, "Mrs. Smith, did you know that your husband was stealing machines?" "Well, she said I knew he was gone a good deal at nights, and, of course, naturally I would question him where he was." I said, "Well did he get a machine in Crawfordsville that night?" She said, "I don't know whether he got a machine in Crawfordsville, or his buddy."  "Now, I said, "Did they get a machine in Crawfordsville?"  She said, "Yes, they did." Then I said, "Mrs. Smith, what kind of a machine was that?" She said, "A Ford sedan." I said, "Mrs. Smith, what did they do with that machine?" She said, "They drove it to Indianapolis and sold it." I said, "Mrs. Smith, do you know who bought that machine?" She said "Yes." She then opened her pocketbook and took out a slip' of paper and gave me his name and address. "Now, she said, Mr. McNeil, you go over to Indianapolis and go and see that fellow and tell him that he got your machine and for him to settle with you for the machine; if he don't do it, tell him that Mrs. Smith will come over and tell everything she knows on him." She said, "I can't go now, but I will go."

When I bade her goodbye I said, "Mrs. Smith, Mr. Kelly tells me that you have a good father and mother." She said, "As good as anybody." "Well, I said, you certainly deserve better treatment than to be hooked up with a man stealing machines and who is in the penitentiary." As I said goodbye, I said, "God bless you."

Chapter VIII

I went over to Indianapolis, where I first went to police headquarters. I gave the police this man's name that Mrs. Smith said bought my machine from her husband. They said, "That woman is lying to you; this man was the prosecuting witness that sent Smith to the penitentiary." I then took a street car and went down to this man's place of business. I found he was running a garage. He was a man about thirty or thirty-five years of age, very polite, and did not have much to say. I just simply told him that I had a Ford sedan stolen from Crawfordsville the night of the 20th of August, 1921. I said, "You were the prosecuting witness that sent Frank Smith to, the penitentiary." He said, "Yes, Frank Smith forged my name to the certificate, and they came to me and asked me if that was my name. I told them yes, but that I never signed it." Well, I saw thru it at once. He was compelled to be the prosecuting witness to save his own self. Finally I said, "Mr. Goldberg, do you know Mrs. Frank Smith?" He said "Yes." I said, "Did you know Frank Smith?" He said "Yes." I said, "Did you know a man by the name of Carl Swartz, who was sent to the federal penitentiary from Lafayette?" He said "Yes." I said, "Did you know a man by the name of Shell in Indianapolis?" He said "Yes." Well I knew if he knew all of those crooks, there was something wrong with him; but I said, "Mr. Goldberg, Mrs. Smith told me to tell you that you got my machine and for you to settle with me for that machine, and if you did not do it, she would come over here and tell everything she knows on you." I watched him as close as I could to see if there was any quiver in his face, or anything in his actions that. I could detect; but all he said was, "The devil she did," So I did not press him any further; I did not care to at this time.

I went back home and I called the restaurant where Mrs. Smith was at work, to see if she would go with me to Indianapolis. They said, "She has gone to Chicago," but they gave me her address. I wrote her a nice kind letter, and in the letter I sent an affidavit for her to sign, that what she had told me was true. I did not think she would sign this affidavit. I registered the letter so I would know that she got it. I got the registry receipt, but I got no answer to the letter. Finally I located her and talked to her over the telephone. It cost me about $4 00 (probably $4.00). The first thing she said was, "Mr. McNeil, I don't want to sign that affidavit." Well, I said, "Mrs. Smith, I am so anxious about my machine; will you write and tell me more about it?" She said, "Yes, I will." Instead of writing me, the next day she called me over the telephone; she reversed the charges and it cost me about $4.00 more. She said, "Mr. McNeil, if you will pay my carfare from Chicago to Indianapolis and back, we will go and see him." I said, “Mrs. Smith, how much is it?" She said, "$13.25." I said, "Mrs. Smith, I want to know if you are telling me the truth?" She said, "Mr. McNeil, I have told you the truth all the way through." I said, "Mrs. Smith, I believe you; I have faith in you; I believe you are telling the truth; I am going to send you the money; I am going to send it today."  She said, all right; I will get it tomorrow, and I'll take the midnight train on the Monon and be I in Indianapolis the next morning at six o'clock.” I said, "All right, I will meet you at the Union Station." I went over to Indianapolis the night before and stayed all night. The next morning I went down to the depot about twenty minutes of six, and the very minute I walked in one door, she walked in the other and we met in the center of the depot. I was not sure I would know her and she was not sure she would know me; I had never seen her but once. She said, "Is this Mr. McNeil?" I said "Yes, I was just going to ask you if you was Mrs. Smith." She said, "My Monon train was an hour and a half late; I got on the Big Four and got here twenty minutes earlier." I said, "All right, you have not had breakfast, and neither have I; we will go have breakfast and then have a talk." So we did. She said, "Now when we go down to see this man, I want to have a talk with him before you have a talk with him." I said, "That is all right, I will go along." "Sure," she said. I said, "I will step to one side." We took the street car and went down to his place of business about eight o'clock.  When we got down there they told us that he had gone squirrel hunting, leaving that morning at three o'clock, but he would be back at twelve. Mrs. Smith laughed and said it was kind of discouraging, but she said, "They say a poor beginning makes a good ending." "Well,” I said, "Mrs. Smith, it is not necessary for us to stay here; we will take the streetcar and go back to town, and then we will come back at twelve." We got off at the Interurban station. I said to Mrs. Smith. "I believe what you I have told me is, the truth all the way through, but we have plenty of time and we are going over to, the State House. They have every man's name, on record there, in alphabetical order, who owns an automobile, and we will see if we can find out if Goldberg sold a Ford sedan the latter part of August, 1921." We went over to the office of the Secretary of State.  I told the girl there what I wanted and asked if she would not get the records and see if A. O. Goldberg sold a Ford sedan about the latter part of August, 1921.  She came back after a bit and had it written out; A. O. Goldberg of Indianapolis, sold Frank Wolf of Indianapolis, on the 26th day of August, 1921, a Ford Sedan."  Then she gave me the motor number, which was 4,143,524. My motor number was 3,943,524.  I knew exactly what he had done; he changed the 39 to 41, but all the other numbers were mine. I said to the girl, "That it could not be possible; that it would not happen in a thousand times that a twenty model and a twenty-one model would be exactly the same except the first two numbers." 

Well, we went back to his place of business at twelve o'clock, and here he came, He shook hands with us and invited us into his office. Mrs. Smith went on in and I stepped back on the sidewalk, I walked up and down the sidewalk for a half hour or more.  I came to the door just far enough that I could look in and see her face, but he could not see me. Finally they came out and invited me in. I sat down between them, and the first thing he said was, "Mr. McNeil, when you were here before, you asked me if I knew anything about your machine." He said, "I told you I did not; I told you the truth," He had not told me that, but I did not want to cross him, so I said, "Perhaps that is true." I waited a little bit to see what he had to say further. Finally he said, "From what Mrs. Smith says, I must of gotten your machine." I said, "Yes, Mr. Goldberg, I have been on the hunt of this machine for thirteen months." I have spent about $150.00; I have run it down and I positively know that you have my machine." He said, "What are you going to do about it?" I said, "Well, I will have to have pay for my machine." He said, "I haven't got any money, what can I do?" I said, "I do not know."  Now, I said, "Mr. Goldberg, I am going to show you that I am going to treat you right, and I expect you to do me the same. Now I paid $1065 for that machine, and when you got it, machines had not come down; but since that they have come down. Now I can send you to the· penitentiary, but I do not want to do that if you will treat me right; I want $700.00." He said, "I haven't got the money; how can I make you safe?" I said, "I do not know, it is up to you. But while you are making me safe, you do not know what would leak out; you are on dangerous ground. If you were to make me safe, you would have to make me just as safe as you would a bank," I said, "The thing for you to do is to go out and get this money." Well, he said, "That is a good deal of money to raise; I do not know whether or not I can do it." "Well, I said, it is up to you." I said, "You say you have a good business here, and you certainly have some friends. Well, he said, "I will go and see what I can do." So after he left, Mrs. Smith said, "I showed him the affidavit and told him I didn't want to sign it; I told him you went to the State House, but did not tell .him I went along." She said she told him, "You changed that motor number from 39 to 41 didn't you?" He said “Yes."  She said to him, "You sold that machine to Frank Wolf of Indianapolis, didn't you?  He said "Yes."  He said, "Did you tell Mr. McNeil all you knew about me?" She said, "No, just about this machine." Finally he came back and said, "I had $300.00 at the bank, and I borrowed $300.00, what are 'you going to do about the other hundred? I said, "I do not know, it is up to you; but I'll tell you what I will do; you give me your check for $100.00 for thirty days; I will hold it for that time."  I said, "You are on dangerous ground; you do not know what would leak out about that check." Well, he said, "I have another hundred on me." He counted out $700.00 and said, "There is seven-hundred bucks." I told him as far as I was concerned, I would not prosecute him.

Of course I knew who had the machine, but I never went near the machine. I could, of course perhaps held him up for $1500.00, but, although he was a crook, I saw no reason why I should be a crook. All I wanted was to get my money out of it.

We bade him goodbye, and I said to Mrs. Smith, "Now, I am going to give you $25.00, if you are satisfied." She said "I am."  I gave her $25.00 and she took the train for Chicago.

I felt that this Earl Valentine was an innocent man, and Mr. Clouser at Crawfordsville, Valentine's attorney, and I, made two trips to Indianapolis to the pardon board, paid our own expenses and we got him out of the penitentiary. After he got out of the penitentiary, he came to Crawfordsville with his brother to meet us and thank us for what we had done.

I prayed fervently all through this transaction for guidance, and despite the fact that I was discouraged on every side, I never lost faith that I would receive this guidance, and I firmly believe that it was in answer to my prayers that events transpired as they did.

Benton County INGenWeb Project

© 2008
oyd O. McNeil III