The Mysterious Life of Thomas W. Cover

The Cover family arrived in Ohio sometime between 1832 and 1834.  The family had traveled from Frederick County, Maryland where Daniel Cover had married Lydia Stevenson on April 2, 1822.[1]  The couple had at least four children while in Maryland: Jason Jerome (b. February 5, 1823[2]), Upton Aquila (b. March 18, 1826[3]), Josiah Stevenson (b. July 16, 1829[4]), and Thomas Wells (b. March 31, 1832[5]).  By 1850 the family had settled in Perry Township, Richland County, Ohio and added six more children to the family: Mary, Martha, Eliza, William, Daniel, and John.[6]  Thomas Wells Cover left the family in the 1850s, traveling west to make his fortune.  His journey would take him to Montana as a gold prospector and vigilante and on to California, where he and one of his brothers would grow prize winning oranges.  His death would come early and be filled with as much mystery as his life, where he would be the villain in some peoples stories and a hero in others.

Historical and Biographical Record of Southern California by J.M. Quinn

It’s unclear where Thomas Cover was in the 1850s.  In 1860 a man with the name Thomas W. Cover purchased land in Buffalo County, Wisconsin[7], but there is no other mention of him in the area.  The next time we see Thomas is May 26, 1863, when he and 5 other men were prospecting for gold in Montana. The group set up camp in Alder Gulch. Thomas and three other men went out hunting while William Fairweather and Henry Edgar stayed behind. While waiting for the men to return, Fairweather and Edgar began panning for gold hoping to get enough to buy some tobacco when they returned to Bannack.  The first pan turned up $2.40 worth of gold and the men laid claim to the area when they returned to Bannack and bought supplies.  They tried to keep the claim a secret, but word traveled quickly and, less then a month later, cabins and tents filled the hillside and Virginia City, Montana was born.  It’s estimated more than $30,000,000 in gold was taken from the Alder Gulch in the first three years.[8]

Hydraulic gold mining in Alder Gulch, 1871. Photo by William Henry Jackson

Cover and others didn’t feel local law enforcement was doing enough to stop crime in the area, particulary those being robbed on the trails while transporting gold, and a group of men started vigilance committee to take the law into their own hands.  The committee would track down those they thought guilty and, often with little evidence, hang them.  One of the most famous was local sheriff Henry Plummer.  The vigilantes claimed Plummer was not doing enough to stop the crimes or even aiding some of the robbers.  This small group of vigilantes acted as judge, jury, and executioner, often not sharing the views of the community as a whole.  Many believe the vigilantes were the true villains in this story, getting rid of the sheriff and others for their own nefarious reasons.[9]

With his newfound wealth, Thomas returned to Ohio, marrying Mary E. Hess in Franklin County, Ohio.  The couple would have three daughters Estell, Camille, and Blanche.  It didn’t take long for Thomas to return to Montana with his new wife.  Once back in Montana, he began working with John Bozeman, the creator of the Bozeman trail which led from the Oregan Trail to Virginia City and who is the namesake of Bozeman, Montana.  Thomas was with Bozeman when he was murdered by a group of Blackfeet while traveling along the Yellowstone River on April 20, 1867.  Though many at the time and today think Thomas Cover was the true murderer.  It appears John Bozeman had a habit of making advances at other men’s wives and Mary was no exception.  It’s possible Bozeman’s past caught up with him and Thomas Cover took the matter into his own hands.[10]  Whatever happened that day, Cover made his way to California a short time later, settling in Los Angeles.

The Death Of John Bozeman by Edgar Samuel Paxson

The first record of Cover in California is in April of 1869 when he purchased a small lot in Los Angeles for $600.[11]  It looked like California would be a new start for Thomas Cover.  He was a father of one daughter, with another on the way.  A year later Cover would purchase the “extensive Robedeaux Ranch, in San Bernardino County”  and began growing oranges.[12]  Thomas’ brother, Perry Daniel Cover, would join him in California and the two would grow prize winning oranges throughout the 1870s.  The Covers were one of the first to import navel oranges to California.[13]  The tame, horticulturist life didn’t appear to be enough for Thomas and he soon caught gold fever again, making trips to the Colorado Desert in search of the fabled Peg Leg Mine.

Thomas “Peg Leg” Smith had allegedly found a hill littered with gold-bearing quartz while traveling from Yuma to Los Angeles.  Peg Leg was never able to relocated the hill and efforts were made by many throughout the years to rediscover its location.[14]  Cover made many of these trips into the desert, the last happening in September of 1884.  Cover and fellow horticulturist, Wilson B. Russell, and a team made their way out to the desert. The two split up, with Russell taking the team and Cover taking a short cut on foot.  When Russell made it to the agreed upon meeting place, Cover was nowhere to be found.  Russell continued on hoping to find Cover, but with no luck and returned to Riverside to organize a search party.[15]  A $1,000 reward was offered for his whereabouts or body and this brought in many stories of bleached bones found in the desert belonging to Cover.  In 1891, reports began to circulate that Cover had run off to Mexico.  Cover had his life heavily insured and the insurance company had yet to pay on his death.  The company sent a man to Mexico to investigate the claim, but Cover was never found.[16]  In 1901 bones were found many miles from where Cover was last seen and trinkets next to the body were identified as once belonging to Cover. His brother, W. H. Cover, was notified and many believed the mystery was finally solved.[17] 

But what happened to Cover on that September day in 1884?  Did the experienced prospector get lost in the desert, wandering for miles and finally succumb to the elements?  Or was he murdered by some person he had wronged in the past, possibly during his time as a vigilante?  Or did he simply stage his death, starting a new life in Mexico? 


  1. Maryland, U.S., Compiled Marriages, 1655-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.
  6. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.                                                                       
  7. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes
  11. Los Angeles Daily News, Volume 1, Number 94, 15 April 1869, p. 2.
  12. Weekly Butte Record, Volume 17, Number 12, 8 January 1870, p 2.
  13. Daily Alta California, Volume 31, Number 10621, 12 May 1879, p. 2.
  15. Riverside Daily Press, Volume XXXVII, Number 89, 14 April 1922, p. 4.
  16. Los Angeles Herald, Volume 35, Number 175, 8 April 1891
  17. Butler Enterprise, published in Butler, Ohio on Friday, March 29th, 1901, p. 2.

Haunted Tales from the Daily Shield

Printed below are two stories of haunted homes as they appeared in the Mansfield Daily Shield in 1905 and 1907. The first is of a landlady, Mrs. Mary White, who was so distressed by spirits that she feared to enter her house alone. The second story concerns the Soule family. The family was plagued by tragedy during the time of this story. Shortly before moving into the home mentioned below, they were rescued from a house fire at No. 18 High School Ct. In 1909 John Soule’s 19-year-old daughter died of tuberculosis and, in 1920, Mr. and Mrs. John Soule lost their 25-year-old son, Sherman, to illness.

Haunted House

A Landlady of a Boarding House Annoyed by Ghosts

The Mansfield Daily Shield, November 7, 1905, p. 3

Residents of the north end are in a fever of excitement over an alleged haunted house, it being claimed that the house at 258-260 North Main street, next to Schwien’s saloon, is infested with visitors from the supernatural world.  Traps and poison have proved of no avail, as the silent-footed visitors continue to stroll through the domicile.

According to Mrs. Mary White, who has recently moved into the house, and who by the way, announces her intention of soon moving out, the spirits hold high carnival almost any night of the week.  Their regular lodge meeting night seems to be on Wednesday.  Mrs. White has been keeping boarders in the house, which is a large rambling one, and she says that various occasions she has heard strange noises.  Wednesday night she says the men boarders had all left and she and another woman were sleeping together in the house.  Just as the chimes of the distant clocks were striking the silent hour of midnight, she heard a noise in the kitchen.  Going down stairs she found the door which had been locked and bolted, standing wide open, with the bolt turned back.  She shut the door and returned to bed in fright.  This thing has been repeated several times, always when the men boarders were away.

On another occasion, a Wednesday night by the way, Mrs. White was awakened in the dead of night by a strange dread of something portending.  She then heard on the panel of the cellar door, on the inside, seven distinct raps.  This was followed by silence.

But the piece-de-resistance of this troubled soul occurred about two weeks ago, when a lady walked down the stairs.  Mrs. White who, with another woman, was in the house at the time, awakened about midnight and distinctly heard the swish of silken skirts as if some richly-dressed lady was walking across the floor on the landing of the second story.  Afraid to investigate, she followed the sound and heard the silent on go down the stairs.  The last they heard of the wraith was a choking sound which might be a sigh of deep distress or a labored attempt at breathing.

Although the talk of ghost has been known to residents in the vicinity for some time, the first official notice came recently when, at the hour of midnight, Officer Beam found a woman on the street, shivering with cold and her eyes distended with terror.  It was Mrs. White.  She told the officer that all her men boarders had gone and her woman friend also had gone and she was afraid to sleep alone in the house.  She had gone onto the street to see if she could find some friend and, while she was out, the lamp had become extinguished and she was afraid to go back into the dark house.

The officer found someone to stay in the house with Mrs. White, but there were no nocturnal visitors. Mrs. White says she will move without delay.

The House which Mrs. White has been living for the past three weeks, conducting a boarding place, is just such a one as ghosts are ascribed in folklore to inhabit.  It stands in from the street, a great rambling mansion of fifteen rooms, built of gray brick, dark, gloom, uncanny.  As a motive for the ghosts in which Mrs. White firmly believes, it is claimed that there have been enacted in the house three tragedies.  Twenty-eight years ago a man living in the house fell from the porch and was killed.  His wife then hanged herself from the stair banister.  A few years ago, it is said that a man was burned to death by gas in the front parlor of the house.

Whether there be ghosts or no, at any rate it would surely make a first rate lodge initiation to require the candidates to spend a night in the place.

Noises in House

Occupants of an East Sixth Street Home Fear a Spirit is Abroad

Claim They Hear Footsteps and a Swinging Lamp Moves

The Mansfield Daily Shield, August 29, 1907, p. 6

Strange sounds and mysterious happenings have so disturbed the family of John W. Soule residing on East Sixth Street, that they are living in fear.

The house is said to be haunted. The Soule family has resided in the big green house for only a few months, and the family living there prior to their moving in claim that the “spirits” gave them no rest.

On the second night of the residence of the Soule family in the house, Vernon Soule, the son, was aroused by hearing footsteps in the hallway down stairs.  Thinking it was his sister he ran down the steps but failed to find any one.  Since then the steps are heard regularly every night.

The family who moved out before the Soule’s occupied the house, claim that the sound of walking was heard by them and that they, on several occasions, saw a woman dressed in white, pacing back and forth in the hallway during the late night hours.

They became so terrified that they moved as soon as possible.

Besides the sound of walking, the Soule’s claim that every night between the hours of ten and eleven o’clock, the lamp hanging in the hall way starts to swing back and forth and keeps the motion for some time.

Then there are strange noises, continuing through the night.  The members of the family are terrified and several of their relatives are afraid to come near the house.

Reports of the strange happenings have been kept closely guarded by the Soule family for some time, but recently became known and have become a topic in the neighborhood.

A Job for Brave Men

They Have a Chance to Find Ghost

The Mansfield Daily Shield, August 30, 1907, p. 2

The “supposed to be haunted house” on East Sixth street is being shunned by all who have occasion to pass that way after the shades of night have fallen.

Ninety out of every hundred Mansfield citizens do not believe in ghosts.  They are firm in their statements that spirits are only the products of imaginations and nervousness.  However, when they walk by the house with the haunted term applied to it, they experience sort of a queer feeling and would not be at all surprised if something unearthly would happen.

A story circulated to the effect that a girl who was murdered paces back and forth in the hallway every night.

She is supposed to be resting uneasily in her grave and has a secret to impart which would clear up the mystery in connection with her untimely end.

It has been suggested that several of the brave ones spend the night in the haunted hallway and endeavor to see if there is any truth to the strange tales.  A party of iron nerved young men would be most acceptable and the question of spirits could be solved once and for all.

While the majority put little credit in such stories still the strange goings in which have aroused and terrorized two families are worth looking into.

Mansfield’s First Christmas Tree

Legend has it that the first Christmas tree in the city of Mansfield was put up by German immigrant Peter Ott in the family parlor of the Wiler House.  The story varies slightly depending on which article you read.  According to Virgil Stanfield, the tree was put up for Christmas 1855 for the invalid son of the Wiler House operator, James Hervey Cook.  Ott had a barbershop for some time in the Wiler house.  According to Stanfield, Ott made his way into the woods and chopped down a “good-sized pine.”  He added ornaments, which he ordered from Germany, and candles.  The tree was a delight not only to the Cook boy, but all of Mansfield.[i]  The boy is not mentioned by name in the article, but a 5-year-old child named Albert Cook is listed on the 1850 U.S. Census.  He is not listed on the 1860 Census and no further information was found on him.

A shorter story from 1907 in the Mansfield Daily Shield describes the story differently.  The tree was put up Christmas Eve 1854, a year earlier, and an informal social party was held.  There is no mention of the Cook boy and it was reported Ott purchased the ornaments a few weeks earlier in New York.   Both Peter Ott and James Hervey Cook’s widow, Mary Wiler, were living at the time of this article.

Wiler 1869

From 1869-1870 Mansfield City Directory

Peter Ott was born in Plankstadt, Germany on December 14, 1834 and arrived in America in February of 1851, according to a later passport application.[ii]  According to Stanfield, he first practiced his trade as a barber in Milan, Ohio where he recalled cutting Thomas Edison’s hair, which, if true, Edison would have been 4 years old at the time.  Ott arrived in Mansfield a few years later, in 1853, and set up shop in the Wiler House.  On January 28, 1858, Peter married Fredericka Bleily in Crawford County.[iii]  According to Census records, the couple had at least 6 children and Peter is the grandfather of Mansfield business and civic leader Louis J. Ott, who married Miss Helen S. Keeting, the Mansfield Public Library’s first children’s librarian.

Peter had different jobs throughout his time in Mansfield.  After being a barber, he was an insurance agent, involved for many years in the manufacturing and sale of vinegar and cider, and a florist for the B&O Railroad.  Peter Ott was a city councilman and dedicated to the beatification of Central Park.  He was responsible for the removal of the fence around the park and the collection of money for the construction of the bandstand, even writing to the Hon. John Sherman to request, not money, but a flag for the bandstand.  Sherman replied sending the best quality flag available from Washington D.C.[iv]

Page 3 of Ohio Liberal,published in Mansfield, Ohio on Wednesday, September 11th, 1878

From the Mansfield Daily Shield, September 11, 1878.

Peter Ott died on June 11, 1911.  In his obituary he is remembered as one of Mansfield’s most highly honored and respected men and a man of the highest integrity.[v]



[i] Mansfield News-Journal, 18 DEC 1977, p5G.
[ii] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Roll #: 687; Volume #: Roll 687 – 10 Jul 1905-18 Jul 1905
[iii] Ohio, County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
[iv] The Ohio Liberal, 11 SEP 1878, p3.
[v] Mansfield Daily Shield, 12 JUN 1911, p2.

Richland County Ghost Stories


In October many people come into the Sherman Room looking for information on The Ohio State Reformatory, the Bissman Building, or the Ceely Rose House.  These, among others, are ghost stories and haunted locations which many of us who live in the area are familiar.  This interest in the paranormal isn’t a new phenomenon; ghost stories have circulated in the community since settlers first planted roots in the rich soil in which Richland County got its name.


After the War of 1812, Native-Americans returned to Mansfield and attempted to live with the growing population of settlers in Mansfield.  It was reported that one night two Native-Americans, Seneca John and Quilipetoxe, came into town and began drinking at Williams Tavern, located of the south-east corner of Central Park, where the Southern Hotel once stood.  The account was that they became drunk, increasingly agitated and, as they left the tavern, swore “vengeance against the whites.”  Five men reportedly followed them east towards Ashland Hill and a battle ensued.  The two Native-Americans were killed and buried in a ravine which became known as “Spooks Hollow.”  It was reported that one could see two apparitions of the murdered men lurking in the shadows at night.

Throughout the 1800’s, reports of apparitions taking the form of big black dogs were seen near Zeiter’s Cemetery north of the city.  It was reported in 1911, in The Mansfield News, that the cemetery which was located on the Joseph Flora farm, and later owned by Perry Kohler, was the site of a murder by the Flora Family.  It was rumored a peddler who had been stopping at the farm was killed and buried in an unmarked grave.  The story was never proven or disproven, but was the source for many of these stories throughout the years.  The author of the article in 1911 claimed to have stayed there alone one night and never saw the dog, nor heard its growl.

In June of 1881, The Ohio Liberal reported a ghost being seen near the Gold Mine in Bellville.  It was told a doctor and his wife was returning home when their horse stopped in the road and refused to proceed.  The doctor got down from the buggy to see if a tree had fallen, but found nothing.  On his way back to the buggy his wife screamed and, upon looking up the gully, about fifty yards from the road stood the outline of a figure.  The figure became more visible and the doctor said it was a man of about 35 years of age, moderate build with dark hair and whiskers.  Upon looking closer the man appeared to have blood on his hands and looking down towards its feet lay another man with a gaping wound on his head, who had clearly been murdered.  Mr. Z, as the paper referred to the man recounting the doctor’s story, said the doctor was unable to move until the apparition faded away.

There were also ghostly encounters reported in the city.  In 1905 it was reported that the house at 258-260 North Main Street, next to Schwier’s Saloon, was haunted.  Allegedly the sprawling home, that a Mrs. White was currently running as a boarding house, had been the site of at least three tragedies.  In the late 1870’s, a man living in the house fell from the porch and was killed.  Later, his wife hung herself from the stair banister and, a few years prior to 1905, a man was burned to death by gas in the front parlor.  Mrs. White claimed she heard a door being opened, which she was sure was locked, knocking and the swish sound of a lady’s dress as if she was walking across the floor.

Finally, in 1907, in The Mansfield Daily Shied, it was reported that John W. Soule heard footsteps in the downstairs hallway of his East Sixth Street home.  The family that lived in the home before the Soule’s also reported strange happenings and said a woman dressed in white would pace the hallway.  Rumors began to circulate that this woman was murdered and she was seeking to clear up the mystery of her untimely death.  It was suggested by the Shield that “several brave ones spend the night in the haunted hallway and endeavor to see if there is any truth to the strange tales.  A party of iron nerved young men would be most acceptable and the question of spirits could be solved once and for all.”

This question may never be solved, and as long as people search for answers to the unknown, new stories will emerge and replace the one’s we know today.