On the night of Monday, April 1, 1878, Marshall Lemon received word of a murder committed at the village of Independence (now Butler), Richland County, Ohio. Lemon, accompanied by policeman McKinley, immediately caught a freight train to the village to investigate, arriving about 1 a.m. When they arrived in the village, Samuel Bowersox had been arrested and was being held in the saloon he owned, being guarded by Deputy Daugherty and his assistants. Marshall Lemon and Officer McKinley took Bowersox to a small building by the depot and kept him there until morning. This was not Bowersox’s first run-in with the law, according to the Mansfield Herald. He had created disturbances “in Worthington Township since he has been there. Scarcely a term of the Probate Court has passed for several years that he has not been up on the charge of violating the liquor law.” Bowersox was about 40 years of age, 180-200 pounds, dressed well and had black hair, a long moustache and goatee. He had married Elizabeth Statler about three years prior to the incident and was in the shoe making business and had been operating the saloon about two years.
Many residents didn’t take kindly to Bowersox or his chosen profession, especially since a temperance revival had prevailed in the village. At about 5 o’clock in the morning, while he was being held near the depot, his saloon was set on fire and in a short time was consumed by the flames. There were also threats of lynching Bowersox and some thought he would not have the benefit of a trial. The preliminary trial was held Tuesday, April 2, and Mayor McLaughlin read the charges: “Before Me, J. M. McLaughlin, Mayor of the incorporated village of Independence, Richland County, State of Ohio, personally came James Traxler, who being duly sworn according to law deposes and says that on or about the 1st day of April, 1878, at the County of Richland, Samuel P. Bowersox did maliciously and willfully, with malice aforethought shoot, wound and kill Alfred M. Palm.”
Alfred M. Palm was about 27 years of age. His father had passed away many years ago and his mother was buried 3 weeks before Alfred was killed. Alfred had also lost a brother about six month prior. He still had three sisters and four brothers living. It had been reported that Palm had developed a habit of visiting saloons and taverns. He had an inoffensive disposition, but, according too many, had become addicted to drinking.
Lester Traxler described the incident from inside the saloon. Traxler arrived at Bowersox’s Saloon about 9 o’clock, meeting Thomas Simmons, Frank Mix, William Pierce, James Aungst, young Brumbaugh, Alfred Palm, Samuel Bowersox and his wife. About 9:30, Bowersox asked everyone to leave saying it was time to close. Bowersox asked Trexler to remain. A short time later, stones were thrown against the saloon and Bowersox became enraged. Bowersox pulled a revolver from his pocket and went to the door. Someone said “don’t Shoot, you might hit someone,“ Bowersox replied, “I will, God Damned if I don’t” and fired two shots. He then got a dozen cartridges and reloaded his revolver. Soon someone came to the saloon door saying to come out with a light that someone had been shot. When they went outside, Palm was on his back on the walk about 30 feet from the saloon. They heard more shots fired near the depot and took Palm to a nearby barn which was under construction.
John Coffee also testified and was with Palm on the walkway when he got shot. They were talking out on the platform east of the saloon when they heard shots fired. According to Coffee, Palm said “I’m shot, I’m Shot” and fell over against him. Coffee testified he saw Bowersox open the door to the saloon. Coffee then went to the saloon and reported Palm had been shot. Dr. J. J. Worley examined Palm as he was dying. When he first approached Bowersox, he said that he heard Palm had been shot. Bowersox replied he guessed not and that Palm had been playing around with a revolver and may have shot himself. According to Worley, Palm had been shot in the back, “about one inch on the right side of the spine, three inches above the small of the back.”
The jury found two indictments against Bowersox. One charge was for murder in the first degree, and one of two counts, viz: Shooting at with intent to kill and shooting at with intent to wound. For 9 months Bowersox set in jail awaiting trial and, on January 13, 1879, the trail began in Mansfield, Ohio. Bowersox’s attorneys argued he held no malice in his heart against Palm and it would have been impossible for the bullet fired from Bowersox’s revolver to hit Palm. Family and friends testified that Palm was not in the habit of carrying a gun and the one he had received from his brother, after his death, was locked in a chest unless he was travelling long distances. Bowersox also claimed he had shot into the platform to scare off Coffee, who he claimed was the source of stone throwing. Bowersox also testified he heard two additional shot before Coffee came to the door to report Palm was shot. Bowersox claimed Palm was shot by one of his companions. On January 24, 1879, a verdict was reached and Bowersox was found not guilty. According to the Richland Shield and Banner, this was the expected outcome, but many had hoped for a different result.
Samuel P. Bowersox later moved, with his wife, to a farm south of Loudonville, OH. The incident left a sour taste in the mouths of Butler and Richland County residents. In Grahams History of Richland County from 1880, he states that Butler will not allow “any saloon to exist in the place” and, according to Bowersox’s obituary, “the scales which were held by the statue on top of the court dropped” an hour after the verdict was reached. On May 30, 1915, Bowersox died in Loudonville. Six month later in December, his wife Elizabeth passed away.
The Mansfield Herald, 16 JAN 1879, pp. 2
The Mansfield Herald, 23 JAN 1879, pp. 1
The Mansfield News. 03 JUN 1915, pp. 4.
Richland Shield and Banner. 06 APR 1878, pp. 2
Richland Shield and Banner, 18 JAN 1879, pp. 3
Richland Shield and Banner, 25 JAN 1879, pp. 3