Excerpted from: The Complete History of Sullivan County, Missouri, Volume 1, 1886-1900 — Copyright © 1977 by History Publications, Inc. in the United States of America.
NOTE: This is not to be reproduced in any form but to be used for genealogy research only.
Gus Meeks and his wife and three children were taken out of Milan at 12 o´clock Thursday night and murdered in cold blood by W.P. and George Taylor of Browning. The murdered were: Gus Meeks, aged 33 years, Delora Meeks, his wife aged 30, Hattie Meeks, the four year old girl and Mary Meeks the 18 months old baby girl.
Last Thursday night occurred one of the most horrible and brutal murders ever committed in the annals of the criminal history of Linn or Sullivan County.
Gus Meeks, his wife and children were killed and Nellie Meeks was knocked in the head with a rock and buried for dead with the rest of the others. The bodies were buried on the farm where George Taylor lived, in a field that had been freshly planted with corn. In the center of the field was an old straw stack that was worn and eated down by stock till the straw was not over three feet deep at the deepest. It was in under the edge of this straw, which had been turned and rolled back, where the bodies were all buried and then covered back with a little dirt, and the straw placed back on them.
To the southwest about 250 yards is the Cotter place where a family by the name of Carter lives. To the south east of the old stack about 400 yards is the house of George Taylor.
Some little time after daylight but before five o´clock, the little girl came to and managed to crawl out from under the straw and the first house she saw was that of Geo. Taylor. She started there but looking around saw the Carter house much closer, went there and tumbled into the house in a half dazed condition, and being all bloody and dirty, the Carter women were badly scared, there being no men at home save a 10 year old boy. The little girl stated her name Nellie Meeks and that her Papa & Mama were dead and buried in the straw in the field, that sister was dead, but baby was not dead yet. The ladies were much startled but could not believe the strange story told by the little girl hence they sent the 10 yr. old boy down to the straw stack to see if he could see the bodies. He came back and said he could find nothing, then the little girl said she could find them and went down with him and uncovered and showed the faces of her parents to the Carter boy. When the boy and little girl got back the ladies sent the boy out to tell the neighbors. The unsuspecting boy passed through the field where George Taylor was harrowing around the old stack trying to hide the wagon tracks, and told him there were some dead people in the straw stack and not to harrow on them.
George Taylor came out to harrow just as the little girl and boy got back and when the Carter boy told him about the little girl crawling out and showing him the dead people, Taylor says to the boy, you come and go with me and we will see. He went immediately home with the harrow, and told the little boy to go in the house and sit down and as soon as he got the team put up they would go see. The little boy went into the house and waited for George Taylor, but George Taylor did not go in. He took a horse out of the barn and made a run for Browning.
The circumstances leading up to the crime is a matter of court record in Linn and Sullivan counties. There are a number of criminal cases in Linn and Sullivan counties against Wm. P. and George Taylor brothers. The charges against them are forgery, arson, larceny, viz the bank draft case, the case in Linn county, for incendairyism, and the McCullough cattle case from this county. William P. Taylor, Gus Meeks and others were indicted. Meeks pleaded guilty at the last term of the Sullivan County Court and was sent to the penitentiary. About one month ago the Governor pardoned Meeks out of the state prison in order to use him as a witness and because of his being the principal witness against the Taylors, they were in consequence, very anxious to get him out of the way before court next week, also Abner Page who now lives near Sticklerville, as he was a victim already marked had little Nellie Meeks been dead and the story untold.
Some two weeks ago Wm. Taylor commenced arranging with Gus Meeks to get him to move out of the country so he would not be present to testify when the trial came up. It was arranged that the Meeks, for a team and wagon, and $1000 in money, would move out of the community. The plan was for the Taylors to move Gus Meeks away, to be driven to Geo. Taylor´s the first night, to remain there during the day, and the next night to make the drive out of the community.
Mrs. Meeks, mother of Gus, with whom Gus lived in Milan, knew the plan. From Mrs. Meeks it was learned that Gus received a letter on Thursday, and Attorney Pierce in searching the Meeks house found the letter Saturday:
Browning, Mo. May 10, 1894.
Be ready at 10 o´clock, everything is right, xxx
The letter was written on a letter head of the Peoples Exchange Bank of Browning of which Wm. P. Taylor is Cashier. The letter was mailed on the Burlington train, addressed to Gus Meeks, Milan, Missouri. The receiving stamp of the Milan post office shows the letter to have been received at 2 p.m. May 10, 1894. Persons familiar with the hand writing of Wm. P. Taylor pronounce the letter and address in his hand writing.
Thursday night Gus Meeks and family did not go to bed but lay down with their clothes on. Thursday night between 9 and 10 o´clock George Taylor drove into Browning in a wagon with a spring seat. Wm. P. Taylor met him, and together they drove up to the latter´s house, stopped, and Wm. P. got out, went in, came out with a quilt which he folded and spread out on the seat. He got in and they started northeast in the direction of the Milan road.
At midnight Mrs. Meeks says two men came to the house, but only one came in, Gus said they were Geo. and Bill Taylor. Mrs. Meeks says she recognized the man who came in as Wm. P. Taylor. The clothing of the family, and some bed clothing, including a feather tick were ready.
The Standard Reporter talked with Nellie Meeks, the only living witness, blue eyed, sweet faced, who is not yet seven yrs. old and very bright and intelligent.
She says two men came to move us away, we got in a big wagon, the men rode in the spring seat, and the family in the rear end of the wagon.
"When we were going up the hill the man without whiskers said his feet were cold and got out and walked along the side of the wagon and shot Papa, and Papa jumped out and started to run, then Mamma screamed and started to jump when they shot Mamma and sister, then they hit me in the head and I went to sleep."
The killing was done going up the Jenkins hill a short distance east of Browning. The prints could be seen on the side of the road where bodies had fallen, and large pools of blood were on the grass and leaves at the side of the road. The brains were beat out of the four year old girl and little Nellie was left for dead. Here the pistol was found with 3 chambers empty, and the rock with which the smaller children had been killed.
The bodies were then loaded in the wagon and drove about two miles coming into the field past Geo. Taylor´s house, through the meadow and drove due west about 200 yards on the freshly planted corn ground to the old straw pile where a grave about 2 feet wide, but 3 1/2 feet long and 16 inches deep had already been prepared for one body. In this hole Meeks´ body was placed with head and arms on the bank. Mrs. Meeks was placed the reverse way beside her husband. The baby was under her and at the side, while the four year old dead girl was beside him and under. Just what position little Nellie occupied no one knows.
After Nellie "went to sleep", as she says, she knew no more until thrown out of the wagon at the stack which seemed to arouse her. She says she knows what was said and done but could not move, speak or cry out. She says, "When the man put me in the straw the one with the whiskers kicked me on the back and said, ´they are all dead now, the damn villain sons of bitches.´" The doctor who examined Nellie bears out her statement by the bruise on her back.
She continued, "They covered me up and I could not breathe good. I heard them say ´it would not burn´ as it would not catch." She thought they were talking of burning the straw, but a woolen blanket was buried out at one side about ten feet, which had been on fire and was still burning when found.
Early Friday morning George Taylor drove into the cornfield with a harrow and followed the wagon track harrowing it all out and drove around the stack a few times and that is where the little Carter boy found him. Upon George hearing the report he made a straight line to the barn, took a horse out and started for Browning.
Tom Daily had been out to his farm and was going back into town and says George Taylor passed him on a forced ride. George rode into town, got Wm., informed him of the discovery, they both passed out and met Daily again. They were riding hard & went east, this was as early as 8 o´clock Friday morning.
The word was not received in Browning until an hour after the Taylors left. It was then telegraphed to Milan.
Nellie says they were met by two men in a buggy on the hill just before the murder.
When the Meeks family left Milan they had two large bundles of bed clothing and wearing apparel, a feather tick and two pillows. Meeks wore an open face stem winding silver watch. None of this has been found but one partially burned quilt at the stack.
The bodies remained where they were buried all day until about 5 o´clock. It was about dark when the Coroner of Linn Co., who lives at Bucklin, got there. After the inquest was held the bodies were put in rude coffins and brought to Milan. Be it said to the eternal disgrace of Linn County, that woman´s and children´s bodies were placed in those unlined boxes in all that dirt, blood and old clothes they had lain in all day, and unwashed, and with only "furniture packing", and the old clothes stuffed around them. They were brought to Milan about 11 o´clock Saturday night and were placed in the court house yard. Undertaker Schoene opened the coffins and to the consternation of those present, the corpses had not been washed, the coffins were crude, not finished on the inside and with no lining. Be it said to the credit of Schoene & our citizens generally that the bodies were taken out, and the blood washed off, and nicely washed and cleaned and the bodies were nicely dressed in shrouds. Schoene took the coffins and lined them, fixed them in decent shape and put mountings on them. They were set in the corridors of the court house, where during the after part of the night and Sunday morning the remains were viewed by hundreds of people from town and the surrounding country. The mother was in a delicate condition, and in the natural course of events, would have been confined in a couple of months.
When she jumped from the wagon she aborted a fetus which was thrown in the grave with the family.
At nine o´clock Sunday morning the remains were placed in wagons and the funeral procession moved toward the Bute Cemetery, 5 miles south east of Owasco. The crowd at the funeral was estimated in the thousands. The funeral occurred at 3 o´clock, services conducted by Rev. Pollard of Milan. The grave was dug ten feet wide and all the bodies put in one grave.
Pursuing parties from all surrounding counties were organized and by Saturday night 500 men were in pursuit of the Taylors. Blood hounds from various places are being used and it is thought by Monday 1000 well armed men were on the hunt.
At the coroner´s inquest Nellie Meeks told the same story she had told the Standard Reporter. After hearing her story and other evidence the Coroner´s jury gave a verdict that the Meeks had met death by gunshot wounds and blows from blunt-end instruments, and at the hands of William P. Taylor and George E. Taylor.
The jurymen were: J.W. Gooch, Joseph Lay, Geo. Dodge, A.J. Schrock, D.D. Cotter and W.H. Gooch.
It is thought the Taylors are skulking in the Chariton breaks and on foot. The O.K.R.R. was patrolled from the Castle to Kirksville, the Wabash from Kirksville South and the Sante Fe with men every few feet.
June 26, 1894: Batesville, Ark. William P. and George Edward Taylor are snugly domiciled at the Gleason Hotel, Jerrry South, the captor wired Sheriff Barton of Linn County that he would leave with the prisoners for St. Louis Wednesday evening. In the meantime the Taylors are enjoying the freedom of the hotel. Mr. South is a delegate to the Democratic State Convention which meets tomorrow. That is the reason he is detained here.
Both Men wore beards of several weeks growth which had not been trimmed. Both are fine looking men and might be called handsome, the younger having a complexion as rosy as a girl´s.
William Price Taylor, late prominent banker, lawyer, newspaper owner, and member of the Legislature was the spokesman. Both are well to do having considerable property interests in the county. No one would suspect them of being murderers.
Wm. said they went to Springfield a few days, then south to Chadwick, Mo. They had not run away or hid from anyone, as they intended to return home sometime. They then came into Buffalo City, Ark. and met Mr. Stone. He asked if they were not the Taylors and they admitted it. He said they were confident of coming clear if given a fair trial.
Both had on new suits. One of the men was purchasing a pair of shoes when Mr. South accosted them. They have made no effort to escape and Mr. South is almost convinced the men are innocent.
When the Taylors were on their way to Linn Co. for trial, they were removed from the train at Macon, later that night sent to the jail at Moberly and transferred to a jail in St. Joe, Mo.
Sheriff Barton had been notified at Shelbina there would be a mob to meet them at Brookfield, hence the precautions.
At the approach of the train the shout went up. “Here they come”. About 25 men rode down the street with the lower part of their faces covered with handkerchiefs; all were heavily armed & most carried Winchesters. They rode to the depot and began to dismount. One man said there were about 250 "of us" here. "As soon as the horsemen arrived the balance of our crowd who were already in Brookfield would have covered their faces with handkerchiefs and we would have taken the Taylors at all hazards." They were a determined looking set of men.
The Linn County Court was asked to set bond but refused. The Taylors were willing to give bond of $50,000 each but were refused.
The Taylors had been in trouble before the murders.
June 12, 1891: An arrest. Last Saturday night the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney of Adair Co. came to Milan and Sunday morning took a team to the George Taylor farm east of Browning where they arrested George Taylor. About a year ago J.T. Gash bought a $2.00 draft at the Browning Savings Bank. The draft was paid by Baird of Kirksville after having been raised to $2,000. Wm. Prather, cashier of the Browning Savings Bank and W.P. Taylor assistant cashier, had received a letter containing a $2.00 bill, and asking for a $2.00 draft to be sent to J.T. Gash at Haseville. In the letter Gash denounced W.P. Taylor and asked Prather to write the draft himself. Taylor advised Prather not to send the draft, but did.
It was thought George Taylor was the man who had cashed the check. He was taken to Kirksville, accompanied by Mac Wilson and W.P. Taylor. A Mr. Link, a teller in the Kirksville Bank thought Taylor was the man who cashed the check, Baird, the cashier, could not be positive. Taylor made bond for $2,000 and returned home. The man who was supposed to be Gash was in Milan and stopped at the Crumpacker Hotel. While there J.P. Butler talked with him and does not recognize him as Taylor. George is a good family and is a brother of W.P. Taylor, ex-representative of Sullivan Co. It is thought George will be cleared.
Oct. 16, 1891: The George Taylor case has been taken from the Adair County Court to the Linneus Circuit Court. The Taylor brothers were indicted by the Grand Jury in Adair; they gave bond and took a change of venue.
Sep. 29, 1893: Cattle Stolen. A Good Haul But Not A Successful One. Thirty-one Head Three Year Olds: Belonging to W. McCullough-All Recovered.
On his farm near Cora, W. McCullough had over a hundred of three year old steers on pasture. He had sold to Tom Brandon a number for future delivery, and they were to be delivered on Wednesday 20. McCullough and others went down on Wednesday and discovered 31 head short. It was soon noised about that the cattle were gone, and Thursday Mr. McCullough and other went to trace them up as parties were seen driving cattle on the Friday night before about midnight. The cattle had been turned into a pasture east of Browning owned by W.P. Taylor, and on whose place a Mr. Bingham lived. The cattle remained there for several days when they were turned out and were found near Enterprise in the lanes. It developed that a gentleman had ordered two cars for use Saturday following the Friday the cattle were stolen providing the railway company would hold the train until a certain hour. The shipper missed fire for some cause, and arrangements were made for Tuesday night but it got too warm and the cattle were turned out.
It so happened that the gentleman, Abner Page, who ordered the cars in another assumed name was recognized by the parties about the depot, a warrant was sworn out for his arrest, and when the gentleman was taken into custody by Sheriff Niblo and W. McCullough and in learning that he was caught, squealed and gave the whole thing up at least enough to satisfy the authorities, who immediately issued warrants and arrested Abner Page, Gus Meeks, Arthur Binghan and W. P. Taylor. The latter two gave bond and the former are boarding with Sheriff Niblo. The preliminary trial is set for next Tuesday. The developments are highly sensational and unravels much that has heretofore been a mystery.
Oct. 6, 1893: The trial of the parties involved in cattle stealing was to have taken place Tuesday but the defendants took a change of venue to Judge Smith´s court in Green City. The trial is set for the 13th. There were about 100 witnesses who gave bond to be present on that day.
Gus Meeks, who was charged with being implicated in the cattle stealing was given was forfeited.
Nov. 10, 1893: Gus Meeks is again boarding with Sheriff Niblo. He has concluded that honesty is the best policy, and the sooner he faced the music the sooner he will be through the courts.
In the November, 1893, term of court Delora Meeks brought suit against Wm. P. Taylor for damages. The state had two suits against Gus Meeks forfeited recognizance; the State vs Gus Meeks, grand Larceny.
Feb. 1, 1895: Circuit Court convened in Carrollton on Tue. Jan. 29, 1885 for the purpose of trying the Taylor case which was continued on the part of the state until the second Monday in March Next. A misunderstanding between the attorneys for the state and attorneys for the defense existed. The State´s attorneys were not present when the court set the date of trial and took no official notice of it. The defense had subpoenaed all its witnesses.
Jan. 29-1895: Carrollton. Spectators at the trial of the Taylor Bros. were from Linn, Sullivan and adjoining counties. Lawyers for the defense were: Col. John B. Hale, Carrollton: Senator E.R. Stephens, Linneus; A.W. Myers, Brookfield; Virgil Conkling, Carrollton; D. M. Wilson, Milan. State´s Representatives were: Major A.W. Mullins, Linn; Thos. M. Bresuehen, prosecuting attorney of Linn; L. A. Holliday, Carrollton, E.B. Fields, Browning; Ben F. Pierce, Milan.
When told the case had been postponed the Taylors registered a protest. They were ready to go to trial and prove their innocence.
Carrollton, Mo. Mar. 18, 1895: Taylors to be Tried. The Case of the state vs. William P. and George Taylor indicted for the murder of the Meeks family in May, 1894, was called before Judge Rucker today, in the Carroll Circuit Court. For the prosecution were: T.M. Bresnehan, Pros. Attorney of Linn Co.; Major A.W. Mullins of Linneus; B.F. Pierce, Pros. Atty., Sullivan Co.; E.B. Fields,Browning; L.W. Hollimay, Carrollton; Sidney Miller, Pros. Atty., Carroll Co. For defense, John B. Hal, Carrollton; D.M. Wilson, Milan; Ex Senator, E.R. Stephens, Linneus; A.W. Myers, Brookfield; Virgil Conkling, Carrollton.
A venue of 150 men is to be secured for jury duty. The Taylors narrowly escaped being lynched. William P. Taylor is a bright young man and a lawyer. He married the daughter of Banker Leonard of Browning, and subsequently became cashier of the bank. He and his brother were indicted for a $2,000 check on the Kirksville bank. They were tried and convicted but were allowed a new trial that was never held.
Gus Meeks was arrested and convicted of stealing cattle and sent to the penitentiary. There he made a confession which implicated the Taylors in connection with a organized gang. Agreeing to turn State´s evidence he was pardoned by the Governor, and the case was in preparation for trial when Meeks was murdered.
Early in the morning of May 11, 1895 a little girl made her way to a farm house near Browning, and reported that her father and mother with two of their children had been murdered the night before and buried in a hay stack. She said the Taylors had come to their house with a wagon and team to move the family. On the road they had shot her father and mother to death, and beat out the brains of her little sister and baby brother with stones. They had left her for dead but she had revived and gotten away.
The Taylor brothers disappeared soon after the tragedy became known and for weeks they were hunted by citizens. A month later they were captured in Arkansas, when brought to Macon, a lynch mob gathered but the posse eluded them and the brothers were placed in the St. Joseph jail.
The men came into court smiling and as unconcerned as a spectator. It was agreed to lay the case over to begin Wed. morning.
Mar. 29, 1895: At 9:30 George and William Taylor were brought into court; they were well dressed and smiling. They carefully scrutinized each potential juryman as he was questioned. Out of a list of 60, 20 were found acceptable, tho the defense objected to each one. The afternoon was spent selecting jury men. So far a panel of 33 has been chosen.
Three car loads of spectators to the trial, from Linn, Sullivan, Grundy, and Livingston counties came in on the Burlington R.R. The jam around the court house is equal to that of show day.
April 5, 1895: When the Taylors were brought from the jail to the court house, the crowd rushed pell mell over one another to get a look at them. The Taylors were neatly dressed in black, their black hair and beards were carefully combed. There was no appearance of nervousness. George Taylor, the younger is exceedingly handsome, his large brown eyes are lustrous and his cheeks have a ruddy glow of a ripening peach. Both men have appearance of intelligent business men who have dropped in as spectators to the trial. Inside the bar railing the space was uncomfortably crowded by the attorneys in the case, visiting attorneys, court stenographers, members of the local press and reporters from the St. Louis and Kansas City dailies.
When court was called the state said their eight challenges to the panel of 40 had been made. The defense issued 20 challenges which they were allowed. The following men were chosen as jurors: Frank Yehle, James H. Creel, J. T. Noland, Elisha Baker, J.A. Rose, Granville Jenkins, W.R. Brammer, Barnett M. Hudson, David Jamison, Benjamin Glover, George Fleming, and Aldoph Bogard. The jury was put in charge of Chief Deputy George Cummings.
Judge Rucker instructed the jurors they must not talk with anybody about the case, must not read the newspapers and must not "out over town."
T.M. Bresnehen Pros. Atty. for Linn Co. began reading the opening statement at 11:o´clock. He told the story of the murder of the Meeks family on the night of May 10, 1894, and said the state would prove beyond all doubts that the crime was committed by William P. and George E. Taylor, that the state would present witnesses who saw the Taylors driving in a wagon on the night of the murder, that they stopped at Gus Meeks´ house, that the Gus Meeks family came out, got into the wagon with the Taylors and drove off.
The next morning May 11, Nellie Meeks went to a farm house near George Taylor´s farm and told the story of the murder. A little boy was sent to the stack to see if the story were true, how he saw George Taylor harrowing in a nearby field, and told him the little girl´s story and asked Taylor to go to stack with him. George told the boy he did not have time, took the boy to the house with him, then saddled a horse and rode rapidly to Browning where he held a hasty consultation with his brother. The two Taylor brothers fled going in an easterly direction. While the citizens of Browning were wondering why the Taylors left so suddenly the news of the murder reached town.
Bresnehen described the position of the dead bodies, he said he had a witness who was hauling wood for George Taylor, how he had gone to George Taylor´s house early on the morning of May 11, had found George rubbing and currying his horses which had been out in the mud and rain the night before, how the witness saw the wagon bed covered with clotted blood, some of which had trickled through the bed and stained the axles.
The witness will say that an effort was made to burn the wagon bed, and that the clothing of the Meeks family was burned. He will refer to the cattle stealing case in which Gus Meeks and the Taylors were implicated, how Meeks was pardoned by the Governor to testify against the Taylors and how William had said he must be gotten rid of.
The defense declined to make an opening statement but asked that witnesses be excluded from the court room during trial. This was granted.
The afternoon was spent with witnesses being called by the state and cross examined by Colonel Hale.
The first witness was W.H. McCullom, Grundy Co. He told how he had seen the dead bodies tumbled into a heap, the two children lying on top of their father´s and mother´s, all were covered with blood. Dr. Van Wye, Coroner of Sullivan Co. made similar testimony. Harris Wilson told of his visit to the Jenkins Hill, two miles north of Browning, the trail of blood on the ground by the roadside, described the spot where the murder was committed, how the bodies were hauled two miles in the wagon and buried in the straw stack. Wilson found a bull dog revolver at the scene of the murder with three shots fired from it.
Lot Lantz of Browning duplicated Wilson´s testimony. On cross examination Lantz said he saw Wm P. Taylor go into a store in Browning about 5:30 o´clock in the morning of May 11 and buy some soda. The news of the murder had not reached Browning at this time. Taylor had no cause to flee.
R.T.L. Curtis swore he lived about one and one half miles from Browning, was in Browning May 11, 1895 and came with Ike Guinn, Jonce Wilson, James Fleming and Lester Smith from Browning to the Taylor farm; arrived about 9 o´clock going by way of the Jenkins hill. Quote, "I was doing the driving, the other men got out, they saw sign of scuffling, where something had been dragged, and found a revolver about 40 feet from the road. The straw stack was about 60 rods northeast from the Geo. Taylor house, I think I could see Geo. Taylor´s house, and could see Frank Carter´s house, south and a little west, about 30 rods. There were 40 or 50 people at the straw stack when we arrived. One of us took a fork and went to the stack, we found three bodies, a man, woman and child. The quilts I saw were not with the bodies. I knew Gus Meeks, it was his body. I saw another child´s body after they were brought to town. I went to Carter´s and saw Nellie Meeks there. She had a cut on top of her head."
Q: What tracks did you see in that field, wagon tracks, harrow tracks or others?
A: There had been harrowing done around the straw stack and there had been wagon tracks but I did not follow them.
Q: Could you see the impression of wagon tracks?
A: Yes, Sir, they were at the edge of the straw stack to the southeast.
Q: Where were the dead bodies?
Q: Where was the harrowing with reference to the straw stack?
A: Seemed to be all around the straw stack, across the field east and went on the south side of the stack and then came back to the straw stack. It began on the south and east side.
Q: How deep was the hole where the bodies were?
A: Probably a foot deep.
Q: What time did you go to the straw stack?
A: Between 9 and 9:30.
Q: What time did you leave the straw stack?
A: 11 o´clock.
Cross examination by Hale. I went to Browning on the evening of the 10th and stayed at Billy Pattisons.
Q: Did you see George Taylor?
A: Yes, about 5 o´clock.
Q: Where was he?
A: In Exchange Bank. He and Bill and Henry Bundy were talking, I joined them, talking about a barn that was burned.
Q: Describe the wagon tracks to the jury.
A: They had been harrowed over and I didn´t try to follow them at all.
Q: Did the harrowing extend around the stack? [Some text missing-ed.]
A: They were by the stack burning but don´t think they were burning much.
Mrs. Kittie Edens was called to the stand.
Q: Where do you reside?
A: In Browning.
Q: How far do you live from the Jenkins Hill?
A: About 600 yards southeast.
Q: What, if anything did you hear on the night of Mar. 10th or the morning of the 11th, with reference to some shots?
A: I heard five shots from the southeast of my home.
Q: About what time?
A: Between 12 o´clock and___ in the morning.
Q: What did it sound like?
A: A revolver.
Q: Did you hear anything else?
The venerable mother of Gus Meeks, Mrs. Martha Meeks took the stand about 3 o´clock. She is gray haired perhaps 65 Yrs.. old, not educated but naturally educated to a certain degree. Mrs. Meeks told of the frequent visits of the Taylor boys to her house while Gus and his family were living there. She told how George had come to the house the night after Gus had returned from the penitentiary and asked that Gus come outside as William was there to see him. Mrs. Meeks said she was always afraid of the Taylor boys and had fears they would murder Gus and his family and kill her. She told Gus not to go out and he didn´t but George went outside and came back in three times wanting Gus to go out. When Gus would not go, William came in and they talked about the $1,000 which the Taylors were going to give Gus to leave the country. Old Mrs. Meeks was locked in another room; she could hear the conversation. Gus held out for $1,000 but William wanted to jew him down to $800. On the Sunday night the Taylors came and agreed to give the $1,000.
On May 10, 1894 Gus received a letter written on paper having a heading of the People´s Exchange Bank of Browning of which William Taylor was cashier. The letter, dated May 10, 1895, read, "Be ready at 10 o´clock. Everything is right."
There was no signature but were instead three stars. Gus handed the letter across the table, said he was going to take the $1,000 and leave that night. Mrs. Meeks tried to persuade him not to go fearing he and his family would be killed. That night a wagon drove up, George Taylor came in and helped Gus carry out the household goods. Gus told his mother William was outside but she did not see him.
On cross examination, Hale tried to weaken the testimony by attempting to prove she did not know the Taylor brothers very well but she pointed to each in turn and identified him. The letter spoken of earlier was brought to court and the writing was identified as that of William Taylor.
W.H. Jones of Browning told about seeing George Taylor drive out toward the Milan road at dusk on the evening of May 10. John I. Russell, a neighbor of William Taylor, testified to the same thing.
E.M. McCullum not only saw George Taylor drive out in a wagon toward the scene of the murder but he saw William Taylor walking down the railroad tracks in Browning in a direction to intersect the route taken by George.
John Hoak´s testimony: I lived 4 miles north of Browning on the night of the Meeks murder. I was south of our house about 300 yards, about four and a quarter miles from Browning. I know Wm. P. Taylor but not George. I saw Wm. Taylor about 10 o´clock that evening driving along the road at a rapid rate in a lumber wagon traveling north. There were two in the wagon, I was about ten feet from the wagon. It was a light night, the moon was shining.
On cross examination he said he was 15 year old, went to Browning about once a week, that his father had pointed out Wm. Taylor to him; had often been in the bank where Wm. Taylor worked, that he first knew William Taylor seven years ago, was subpoenaed as a witness last Sunday, never had a talk with the attorney about what he was to say, that when he met Wm. Taylor in the road he was with a boy 12 years old, Clarence Whitaker, who did not know the Taylors. Wm. Taylor was on the west side, dressed in dark clothes, had on a black hat, that the horses looked like dark bays, that the man driving had long, black whiskers and was not Wm. Taylor.
Court opened Wednesday morning, at 8 o´clock. The court house was crowded with more ladies present than on Tuesday.
D.C. Pierce was called as first witness. He testified to a conversation he had held with George Taylor when Meeks was pardoned. He (Pierce) had spoken to George about Meeks coming home to testify against him and Wm. in the cattle stealing case, George replied. "We will get the --- out of the way." Pierce had told George and his brother were not on good terms with Gus Meeks. George replied, "Oh well, Frank Leonard is all right with him and can attend to that."
On cross examination Hale tried to point out that Taylor had intimated Leonard would kill Meeks, but witness was inclined to believe that George meant Leonard could be used as a tool to kill Meeks.
A.R. Dillinger, living six miles north of Browning, testified that in a conversation with Bill Taylor about Gus Meeks going to testify against him and George, Bill Taylor said, "I will kill the d-n ---." His testimony could not be shaken.
Mrs. John Carter, next witness, gave a strong testimony for the state. It was at the house of Mrs. Carter Nellie Meeks called the morning after the murder. The Carter farm adjoins the George Taylor farm. Mrs. Carter is 53 years old and has lived in the vicinity of Browning since childhood. She reported, "I got up at 4 o´clock on the morning of May 11. Between 5 and 6 in the morning a little girl came crying to the door. When asked where she had slept, she said in a straw stack. When asked where the straw stack was she pointed out a straw stack about 75 yards away on the George Taylor farm. The little girl´s face was covered with blood and dirt. She had a gash cut in the top of her head and her hair was clotted with blood.
She carried her cape and hood in her hand and kept crying and telling about her little sister being in the straw stack. I sent my nine year old nephew, Jimmie Carter, to find the straw stack and report to me. I asked her name and she said it was Nellie Meeks, Gus Meeks´ child and her pa and ma were lying up the road. I stepped out to see where Jimmie was and saw him walking across a field with a man that looked like George Taylor." She was asked to identify Nellie Meeks. Nellie has a round rosy face, bright blue eyes and light brown hair that hangs in ringlets. She wore a tam-o-shanter cap and cloak of brown.
Mrs. Carter visited the straw stack later in the day and saw the dead bodies. She notified some of her relatives and sent Elihu Harvey, 16 Yrs. old to Browning to report the murders.
Jimmy Carter, age 9 years, brown eyes, brown hair, gave this testimony. "I first saw Nellie Meeks coming up the walk crying. She said her sister was in the straw stack and my aunt sent me to see about it. In the field on the way I met George Taylor and told him what the little girl had said. I asked him to go with me but he said to wait, I must go to the barn lot and let some one else go to the stack. He made me hold the team."
"He asked if the little girl said anything about her father and mother, I told him she said her pa and ma were lying down there in the road. He put a saddle on a horse in the barn lot and rode away. I then went to the straw stack, pushed the straw back and saw the bodies."
D.B. Gooch, who lives 1 1/2 miles from George Taylor said he had gone to the straw stack and saw the dead bodies under 2 1/2 ft of straw.
He said a wagon had been driven in the from the public road to the stack, back across the meadow and plowed ground straight to George Taylor´s house. Mr. Gooch and six other men followed the wagon tracks. A man´s foot print, who wore a size 8 or 9 shoe was seen along the wagon tracks leading to the Taylor home. (George Taylor wears a size 8.) On Cross ex, Mr. Gooch said the bodies had been buried in a pit 4 ft. long, 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep.
Hale said he proposed to prove that a mob of 50 or 75 men had ridden into Brookfield on June 28, 1894 and threatened to kill the Taylors. Gooch was asked if he were armed that night. Objection sustained. He was asked if he wore a handkerchief over his face that night. Objection sustained.
J.W. Gibson, who lives 2 1/2 miles west of George Taylor, told how someone had harrowed around the stack. In cross examination it was brought out George Taylor had married a cousin of the witness, but witness said he and George Taylor were not on good terms, and he had no use for George Taylor after the arson case came up against his brother William.
James L. Harris, hired hand for Taylor took the stand. He stated he went from George Gibson´s house to George Taylor´s about 5:30 the morning of May 11, 1894. He found George Taylor washing the mud from his horses as if they had been out the night before in the rain. Witness said he had hitched up Jim Taylor´s team to haul wood. He noticed the wagon bed and axles were bloody, there was a strong odor of coal oil and an attempt had been made to burn out the blood stains. Later in the day Harris said the Taylors came by there, left their horses and walked off through the wood. That was when the Taylors took their flight.
When witness Harris was telling his story of the blood stains, Bill Taylor seemed to be in a brown study and scratched the capital letter "M" on the back of the chair. Later in the day George Taylor scratched an "M" on the back of a chair.
Harris said he had been arrested shortly after the Meeks murder and bound over to the Grand Jury but he didn´t know the charge against him. Pros. Atty. Bresnehen had him arrested in order to bring him before the Grand Jury to testify.
Hale asked Harris if he had not been arrested on suspicion of having been implicated in the Meeks murder. He said he had been closely questioned by a number of men but they were wanting to know where the Taylors had gone, and he did not know.
John B. Harris, brother of James, said he examined the wagon bed and saw the blood spots, that he knew his brother had been arrested, but did not know it was because of implication in the murder but rather to be used as a State´s witness.
Edward Barton, Sheriff of Linn Co., at time of Meeks murder said he saw blood stains on the wagon. The defense brought out the fact Jim Taylor, (father of the boys) told some children had been playing in some straw in the wagon and set fire to it, thus explaining away the charge that somebody had tried to burn out the blood stains. Only a few small stains remained after the fire, it seems the fire sought out the stains.
Jim Cornett, a slim middle aged man, 7 feet tall, told he had found blood stains on the wagon bed at George Taylors, and he had heard James Harris was held in jail as a witness. Hale attempted to shift part of the blame of murder to Harris but failed. Cornett said excitement in Linn County was high after the Taylors fled and he had heard a posse and blood hounds has tried to track the brothers down.
Peter McDonald of Browning testified he saw Bill Taylor returning home about 5 o´clock on the morning of May 11. M.L. Gibson, Postmaster, said he saw the two Taylors at 8 o´clock, May 11, and they had ridden away on their horses. David Beachman of Browning swore he saw George Taylor ride in early on May 11, and about half an hour later both men got on their horses and rode away. J.D. Jessee, a preacher, testified he was riding from the north to Browning on the morning of May 11, and met the Taylors about 8 o´clock riding their horses in a gallop and urging them on. The murder was not reported in Browning until about 9 o´clock.
Jerry South, member of the Arkansas legislature, took the stand. An audible whisper went through the crowd, "That´s the fellow who captured the Taylor boys."
He was examined by A.W. Mullins of the prosecution. He stated his home was in Mountain Home, Ark., he was serving his third term in the Arkansas Legislature and that he first saw the defendants in Buffalo City, Ark. June 20 or 21, 1894. Next he saw the defendants on June 25 in Buffalo City. The Taylors were stopping at a house run by a man the name of Hays. There were no hotels in Buffalo City. One of the men said his name was Edwards, the other Price. South said he knew everyone in the county and knew the men were strangers. Quote ´At the dinner table, William watched me suspiciously and seemed nervous. I remembered something I had read about the Meeks and Taylors in The St. Louis Republican. I checked in a newspaper office and found pictures and descriptions which fitted the Taylors."
Later South and Taylors met in a little store and South decided he had the right men. He got his breech loading shotgun and went out. The Taylors were several hundred yards away. He ran up the sandy road within firing range, and yelled at them to stop. Both men were in shirt sleeves. Bill put his hand back to draw his gun but South had his gun leveled at them. They gave up without any incident. When South showed them their photographs in the paper they acknowledged their identity. Taylors told South they were going to separate and leave Buffalo, Ark. that night. South took them to Little Rock, from there to St. Louis where he was met by Sheriff Barton of Linn County. Barton put the handcuffs on the Taylors at St. Louis but removed them before reaching Macon. South accompanied the party to Macon.
In conversation Wm. asked South what he had heard about them. South mentioned the letter, Wm. said he might admit writing the letter offering Meeks money but would prove an alibi, that the Meeks family was followed and murdered by someone else. Wm. also said he might say he had given the $1,000 and the team and wagon to the Meeks, but someone else had murdered them and buried them on the Taylor farm to throw suspicion on the Taylors.
When asked why, if innocent, they had left Browning so hurriedly. Wm. replied, at the proper time a man would come forth and tell how he had notified George early in the morning and they had fled to escape mob violence. On cross examination South said the Taylors admitted they went to Milan on the night of May 10, 1894, got the Meeks family but left the family in the wagon at 2 o´clock in the morning. They also told that George helped carry out the household goods and Wm. remained in the wagon. South continued, "At that time I was convinced the Taylors were innocent and I gave them honest advice. I told them not to deny writing the letter to the Meeks family because someone would prove he had. I told them they would better predicate their defense on some other theory: They knew I was a lawyer and listened attentively."
Hale, on cross examination, insisted South give the exact language used by the Taylors during the conversation but he refused saying it would be foolish to try to do so after 10 months. Hale tried to show South had made negotiations with the Taylors in advance, they were to give themselves up but only after a show of force, then South and Taylors would divide the reward money.
Mr. South said he was paid $1,500 by Linn County for the Taylors capture but Governor Stone told South he would not be paid the $600 offered by the State unless the Taylors were convicted. By innuendo Hale tried to convey the impression South was testifying for the defense in order to get the $600. After two hours of questioning South left the stand which closed the State´s testimony.
Virgil Conkling, a big bluff, Democratic politician conducted the examination for the defense. Colonel A.W. Myers, a venerable lawyer of Brookfield, whose chief duty seemed to be hunting witnesses for the defense and inducing them to sign their names to written statements.
Most of the defense testimony was given by relatives of the Taylors. Beverly Gibson, whose wife is a sister of the Taylors said he had visited the straw stack, had seen the dead bodies, had examined the wagon bed, and had followed the wagon tracks from the straw stack to the George Taylor farm. He said the wagon bed had once been painted red and the paint had worn off leaving only spots.
John H. Gibson, a cousin of George Taylor´s wife swore the essentially the same testimony as given by Beverly Gibson. He said he found some bed clothing over the bodies at the stack and that it had been on fire.
Mrs. James J. Taylor, mother of the boys took the stand next. She is 55 Yrs. old, gray hair, dark eyes and was dressed in black. She was cool and collected. While she was testifying Bill Taylor became nervous and chewed on strips of note paper, but George, as usual, sat like a stone statue. She swore she was at home May 11, 1894, and the news of the murder and the accusation of her sons was brought to her. She said she went out and looked at the wagon bed, there were no blood stains, just spots of red paint. She said her sons´ names were George Edward and William Price.
The Taylor brothers went as Mr. Edwards and Mr. Price.
William Gibson, uncle of George´s wife swore he had visited the straw stack, saw the bodies and heard the crowd accusing the Taylor brothers. He had found no blood on the wagon. He admitted he found a bushel of red clay in George Taylor´s barnyard that had been rubbed off the wagon. The Milan road to the Meeks house is over red clay roads. He admitted the wagon tracks led from the stack to George´s farm.
Alpha Van Wye, a young lady who worked in a restaurant in Browning swore she and her mother were walking to the home of Blythe McCullom at 10 o´clock on the night of May 10, 1894 and met Wm. Taylor coming out of the Bank and he spoke to her. She swore she and her mother had sat up all night with Mrs. McCullom who was sick. McCullom testified for the state yesterday and stated Mr. and Miss McCullom were not at his house.
Clarence Whitaker, 13 yr. old son of Alfred Whitaker, living on Oscar Head´s farm 4 miles north of Browning, on the Milan road, swore he had been with Johnie Hook, fishing, on the night of May 10, 1894, that they had not seen the Taylors nor spoken of them.
John Brumbaugh, a farmer, and Oscar Head swore the Hook boy´s reputation for truth and veracity was bad, although on cross examination, they said they had not seen him many times.
A deposition of Mrs. Edna Ogle of Wheeling, Mo. stated she had seen Mrs. Mattie Van Wye at the home of Blythe McCullom, May 10, 1895.
Charles Taylor, youngest brother of the defendant took the stand. He is smooth faced, black haired, of slim build. On the night of the murder he was at his father´s house. May 11, 1894 he was in the timber and heard of the murder.
He went to the stack and heard the crowd accuse his brothers. He examined the wagon but found no blood stains. He had seen his brothers leave their horses in the woods and leave on foot.
James C. Taylor, father, 54 Yrs.. old born and reared in Linn county, stated he had five sons, William the oldest and George next. George lived about 1/2 mile west of his parents. George was at his house at 2 o´clock on May 10, 1894. He had brought over a bucket of cabbage plants. George took his father´s team to go to Browning to haul his wagon wheels to get the tires set. The next morning when the team was brought home they showed no evidence of being driven hard. He stated it was 20 miles from George´s farm to the Meeks place and the team did not look as if it had been driven that far, 40 miles.
While in the timber, May 11, George and Bill came riding up, left their horses and walked off. Something seemed wrong. Going to the house, Mrs. Meeks (should be Taylor) informed her husband of what had happened. He learned Bill and George were being accused. The crowd at the stack said if they were guilty the murdered bodies had been hauled in my wagon. He went home, examined the wagon, saw no blood stains. The wagon bed got burned when some grandchildren were playing around a fire under a kettle and got the bed afire.
Mr. Taylor said he saw no wagon tracks and had not gone over to George´s house for 3 or 4 days after the murder. He stated when George and Wm. walked away he saw a big revolver sticking out of his pocket. He denied he ever told Daniel Nichols, a neighbor, he thought his wagon had been used to haul the Meeks family.
James C. Harris had returned the wagon May 11, 1894, but had failed to say anything to him about blood stains. Mr. Taylor had tried to coerce John Harris, brother of James, to make a statement he had seen no blood on the wagon.
Mrs. David Gibson, mother-in-law of George Taylor, swore she saw George Taylor at his own home about 3 o´clock May 10, 1894. He was preparing to take his wagon wheels to Browning. She returned to her own home a short distance away, George´s wife and baby going with her. After supper they all returned to George´s house, spending the night, she and her husband sleeping upstairs .George´s wife was about to be confined. About 9 o´clock I went downstairs and saw George. He had off his coat, vest and shoes. In the morning she went downstairs and George was in bed. She went home. She gave various times as to when she saw George ride away from home on the morning of May 11. She returned to George´s house but did not see Jimmie Carter holding George´s team and she did not go to the Carter house a short distance away to see little Nellie as everyone was doing.
Mrs. Anna Cooper, Milan, who lives a few blocks from Martha J. Meeks, the mother of Gus, testified Mrs. Meeks told her on the morning of May 11, 1894, she did not know who rode away with the Meeks family but supposed it was the Taylor boys. Witness had gone into the Meeks home just before John P. Butler, an attorney had gone out. He had brought the telegram telling of the murder. Witness said she first told of conversation to David M. Wilson, an attorney of Milan, who is engaged by the defense. Witness admitted she heard Mrs. Meeks tell Mrs. Anna Johnson in her presence it was the Taylor boys who took the Gus Meeks family away.
Mrs. Anna Johnson testified she lived next door to "told lady Meeks", house. She told of the conversation in front of Mrs. Cooper, that Mrs. Meeks told her she did not know who took the family away but supposed it was the "old Taylor boys", and that none of the men came into the house. On cross she could not explain why Mr. Wilson sent for her. Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Johnson are washer women and were used in attempt to offset the testimony of Mrs. Meeks who had stated George Taylor came in and helped carry out things.
Mrs. George Taylor, wife of defendant George Taylor, came to the stand. She carried her baby who became fretful and George´s mother came forward and took the child. Mrs. George Taylor is only nineteen years, of heavy physique, blue eyes, fair complexion, light brown hair, rosy cheeks. She wore a dark blue dress and small black hat trimmed in green ribbons, and black cloth gloves. She spoke in a low tone and simply followed the alibi theory by swearing that her husband took some wagon wheels to Browning on May 10 and that he slept in her bed all night May 10.
Mrs. Maude Taylor, wife of Wm. Taylor, took the stand. She is a good looking brunette, large brown eyes, medium size about 30 Yrs.. old, dressed in black and wore a black hat. She was cool and collected, said she and Bill Taylor were married in 1886, had 3 girls, age 7, 5, 3. Testimony: She was at home in Browning May 10, 1894, Bill went downtown after supper came home about 10 o´clock and went to bed, arose at 5, and had breakfast at 6. George ate supper with them May 10, after supper George left in a wagon. On cross she was asked if she had not told Rev. P.M. Best a few days after the murder her husband had been away from home on the night of the murder and did not return home until morning, that when he left he had told her he would be gone all night and maybe a day or two; that she told Rev. Best she had prayed her husband would be cleared on all previous charges against him, but had lost all hope. She denied the conversation with Mr. Best. She was asked if Bill had told her he was going to take the Meeks family out of the country and she had asked where the family were and he had told her George´s. She denied this and was dismissed.
Bill Taylor was called to the stand at 9:30 a.m. As he stood with his right hand upraised to be sworn, the heavens began rumbling and roaring with peals of thunder, as if the elements were angry. Bill was cool and collected, dressed neatly in a black suit. He said, "I was born and reared in the neighborhood of Browning and lived in Browning at the time the trouble occurred. I am 33 years old. I was educated in the common schools. I am an attorney by profession, and read law with D.M. Brinkley of Browning. I was admitted to the bar in Linneus in 1885. M.E.B. Fields, the attorney for the State here, read law in my office. I was mayor of Browning in 1888 and elected to the state legislature. I am the Cashier of the People´s Saving Bank of Browning."
"George Taylor, my brother, came in with some wagon wheels in a wagon about 4 o´clock in the afternoon of May 10, 1894. He ate supper at my house and about dark hitched up his team and went home to the country. I remained in the house about an hour and went downtown to the bank. I frequently had work to do in the bank at night, for I attended to nearly all the work there."
"I left the bank about 10 o´clock that night and went home and stayed there all night in bed. I arose about 5 o´clock next morning, went down town and bought some soda. I went downtown that morning again about 8 o´clock to open the bank and a few minutes later George came up and said there were some dead people down on his place and he thought the man was Gus Meeks. He wanted to get an officer to take down there. After talking the matter over I advised him not to get an officer. I told him I believed Meeks had been murdered and placed on his (George´s) place in order to get us in trouble and we should better wait and see what developed.
"It was a general rumor over the country that Meeks had been pardoned out of the penitentiary to swear against brother George and I in the cattle stealing case. We had many enemies and concluded we would ride away and stay in hiding until we heard and saw what the people would do. We anticipated that a mob would be raised against us by our enemies. Just before this murder I had received a letter from Gus Meeks." A letter was produced, he identified it as the one he had received from Gus Meeks.
Attorneys for the state examined it about 5 minutes. Everyone wanted to see Wm. Taylor, necks were craned and men, women and children climbed on benches to get a look.
Taylor continued. "Meeks had his house burned and it was insured. The policy was for $400. I went up to Milan and Meeks told me he wanted the insurance money because he had to get out of the country. He said he had committed a crime in Indiana and they had found out where he was and he had to get out. He wanted to sell me the policy. I agreed to give him $50. He said he had a man to move him out of the country. I never offered him $1,000. I knew he was out of the penitentiary to swear against me. Meeks told me he had told several parties that he was going to get $1,000 from me to get him to leave the country."
"I was at Cora on Tuesday, May 8, 1894 and he wrote me on Wednesday to meet him on Friday. I haven´t that letter. I wrote my folks while I was at St. Joe to send me my letters but that letter from Meeks could not bet found. The purpose of that letter was for me to meet him at Cora on Friday, May 11 and to come up on the freight that goes through Browning at 9:30 A.M. It was my intention to meet Meeks at Cora on May 11."
On Cross examination Bill Taylor said, "Yes, old Mrs. Meeks had sued me on the same insurance policy on which Gus Meeks wanted to realize. Gus Meeks had already testified in the arson case against me. He told me he had promised to swear to anything they wanted him to swear against me in the cattle stealing case. I met Meeks and assisted him in his preparation to leave the country, because I was quite willing that he should go. I left Cora on foot May 8, after seeing Meeks and walked home to Browning, six miles."
About the letter to Meeks stating, "Be ready at 10 o´clock everything is all right." Taylor admitted he wrote it. Asked who had informed George about the murder, Bill said, "George told me a little boy came up to him in the field where he was harrowing and told him there were dead bodies in the straw stack. George said he harrowed on around the field until he came to the stack, when he looked and saw the body of a man and knew it was Gus Meeks. He then saddled his horse and came to Browning to tell me."
George Taylor was also cool and collected. He stated he was born in California while his parents lived there a few years and was 30 years of age. He said, "On May 10, 1894, I left home between 3 and 4 o´clock in father´s wagon, and had father´s team to take my wagon wheels to town. It had rained the night before and was somewhat muddy. My brother Albert rode two miles with me to see a man and I drove on to Browning alone. I ate supper at Brother Bill´s, and left town about dusk in the wagon. I got home about 9 o´clock and remained there the balance of the night. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. David Gibson slept upstairs at my home that night."
"I got up about 5 o´clock the next morning May 11, and curried the mud off the horses. After breakfast Jim Harris and young William Gibson took my father´s wagon home. I started to harrow in the field around the straw stack. The field was planted in corn."
"I harrowed around the vicinity of the straw stack because that was the highest and driest part of the field, it had rained and the other portion was too damp. I had started to lay off a land near the stack and had harrowed only a short time when a little boy came up to me and said a little girl had come to his house and told that her two little sisters were in the straw stack and that her pa and ma were up there in the road somewhere."
"I drove the harrow on around the land until I came to the stack, and stopped. I kicked away some straw, and saw the face of the dead whom I recognized as Gus Meeks. I went to the house, got on a horse and rode to town and had a talk with Bill."
"We concluded that it was a job set upon us to get us into trouble and we thought it best to get away. We had a great many enemies and we thought there would be trouble. Bill and I rode our horses south of Browning and left them with our father and brother in the timber and then proceeded on foot."
On Cross ex., George denied he had told little Jimmie Carter to go with him to the house when the boy told him of the murder, he denied he made the boy hold his horses while he saddled a horse to ride away. He remained in Browning but a few minutes when Bill got his horse and fled.
George said he found no bed clothes on fire at the straw stack. After he recognized Gus Meeks he drove the harrow across the field to the barn lot. He made only a brief search of the straw stack. He saw only the face of Gus Meeks. He left when he saw his face.
States rebuttal: Gus Corbin, Circuit Clerk and Recorder of Adair Co. testified he had an indictment against Bill and George Taylor for passing a forged check for $2,000. He had papers showing they were convicted. The record of the indictments against the two Taylors were for the murder of the Meeks family, the attempt with assault to kill on Nellie Meeks, the record of the indictment against William P. Taylor for arson, also for the larceny of cattle. The defense objected since the Taylors were being tried for the murder of Gus Meeks. Objection sustained.
Israel Wood of Milan went on stand to impeach the testimony of Mrs. Johnson, defense witness. He said Mrs. Johnson´s reputation for chastity was bad.
J.A. Niblo of Milan, who is serving his second term as Sheriff of Sullivan Co., swore Mrs. Johnson´s reputation for chastity and truth and veracity was very bad. C.S. Hart, a grocer at Milan, swore the same.
Theodore S. Poole swore Mrs. Johnson was "a bad egg".
Mrs. David Henley, an old lady living near Browning, swore Mrs. Gibson, George´s mother-in-law had told her George had gone to town with some wagon wheels but did not get home until 4 o´clock in the morning.
Mathias Martin, who lives on the road running from Milan to George Taylor´s, saw George in town about 6 o´clock. He went home, ate supper and sat under a maple tree in his yard about 40 feet from the road, and he did not see George pass by going home. State Rested.
The case was given to the jury Tuesday night, April 9, 1895. Verdict, jury failed to agree. On ballot, for conviction was: J.A. Rose, Dave Jameson, Adolph Auer, Grandville Jenkins, Elijah Baker, Jas. H. Creel, W.R. Brammer; for acquittal: Frank Yehle, Barnett M. Hudson, Ben Glover, Geo. Fleming and J.T. Noland. They jury was dismissed. The case tried again on a later docket. The trial began Mar. 29, 1895.
Carrollton, Mo., Apr. 29, 1895: A special grand jury is to be called to investigate the charges of bribery against the jury in the Taylor case; and also charges of perjury against some of the defense witnesses. It is expected more than one indictment will be returned.
May 3, 1895, from Quincy Daily Herald: Little Nellie Meeks, the eight year old survivor was brought from St. Joe to Quincy by Bert Martin. Nellie had been putting in a week at the museum at St. Joe and enormous business was done. She had her first night at the Eden last night and a big crowd attended. Nellie is quite a pretty girl, with a healthy face and a long mass of yellow hair. The scar on her head can be seen where she was hit with an ax club and left for dead. She talks plainly of all her recollections of the event.
She has to be watched closely, even her victuals have to be watched, lest some one poison her. She will receive a fat sum for her engagement with Martin and Taylor and will be able to leave Browning and attend School elsewhere.
July 25, 1895: The business of selecting a jury in the case of State vs Taylor began today. All witnesses in the case are instructed to be in Carrollton by Wednesday afternoon July 31. The jury selected are: E.J. Calloway, F.G. Ceaser, T.N. Haughton, John M. Edge, G.W. Shank, G.T. Morris, W.H. Vaughn, George Freeman, B.C. Dulaney, G.W. Craig, J.S. Helm and R.G. Evans, seven farmers, a lumber dealer, a bank clerk, a stonemason and two carpenters. W.S.Snow was placed in charge.
Not a great deal of new testimony was introduced. Gus Meeks´ pistol found on Jenkins Hill was brought to court. The most damaging testimony was that of D.C. Pierce who said George Taylor had told him, he (George) had no fear of Gus Meeks, as they would get him out of the way. "Frank Leonard and him is all right and Frank will attend to that."
The most feared witness is Mrs. Sallie Carter. It was to her house Nellie made her way after the murder. Mrs. Carter said she sat on the fence and watched her nephew tell George about the incident, and watched George Taylor drive away from the field without looking in the straw stack. "How could he know it was Gus Meeks in the straw stack unless he looked."
Nellie Meeks was in court. She is the ward of Mrs. Pierce. Nellie went to where the counsel for the state was sitting and climbed into the lap of Pros. Attorney Pierce of Sullivan Co. Wm. Taylor seemed interested in her but George glanced at her, with a cold hard look.
A few days after the murder Detective Freeman discovered in a woods pasture on the farm of James Taylor, where a fire had been built, and something burned. He gathered the fragments, sealed them in an envelope, and kept them in a bank vault until introduced today. They were a piece of cloth from a pair of trousers, a scrap of bed ticking, pieces of a pocket book, comb and picture frame.
Mrs. Meeks, mother of Gus, stated Gus and family were living with her and had been at the time of the murder. That he took a pair of trousers in his trunk and the piece looked like them. The part of the pocket book looked like his, but wasn´t sure, that they took a feather bed covered with similar ticking, he had a picture frame made of 100 different kinds of wood. She could not positively identify the pistol, but Gus took his the night of the murder.
The defense brought in as witness Josie Bailey, 12 yrs. old, who said, "I live 3 1/2 miles southeast of Browning and about one mile north of George Taylor´s. On the wagon between 8 and 9 o´clock nearer 9. I was just over the fence from the road, it was a bright moonlight night and I saw him plainly, I was after the cows."
Dr. Craig of New Salem testified that character of James Harris was bad in the community where the Dr. lived, but James Harris lived ten miles away and he didn´t know what it was there.
Albert Taylor, a brother of Bill and George, stated he started to Browning with George, went two miles with him, saw Jesse Hinley about some shoats, returned to his father´s, ate supper, saddled a horse and went visiting, then went to George´s house to get the mail, found George unhitching the team, assisted him, then went home arriving about 9:25. He also told of his brother´s flight when they came to the timber and how he had examined the wagon for blood and found none.
Mrs. Gibson, George´s mother-in-law, swore the baby cried in the night, went downstairs about 12 o´clock for it and saw George in bed. Katie Bailey, sister of Josie, swore she had seen George Taylor coming down the road 120 yards from her and recognized him.
The testimony of the Taylors was the same as at the prior trial.
Both sides rested and the case was given to the jury Aug. 2, 1895. The strain of the trial is beginning to show on the Taylors. The jury reached a verdict of guilty Friday afternoon, after a deliberation of 1 1/2 hours.
The defendants were cool, the jury was polled and then discharged.
The judge sentenced the Taylors to hang. Bill was hanged April 30, 1896 but George escaped.
Jefferson City, March 3, 1896: In the Supreme Court today the appeal case of the Taylor brothers was argued. The Transcript of the case is lengthy consisting of over 1,600 pages of typewritten matter. Assistant Attorney General appeared for the state and R.F. Lazier and Virgil Conkling of Carrollton, and D.M. Wilson of Milan for the defense.
The State Supreme Court affirms the decision of the lower court and sets Thursday, April 30, 1896 as the execution date for the Taylors. As usual George Taylor took this decision in a quiet manner but Bill looked as thought the last hope was gone.
April 11, 1896: Bill and George Taylor made an attempt to break jail at Carrollton at 8:30 Saturday night. George succeeded but Bill was recaptured. Night watchman Shelton was in the jail at 8:20 and everything was all right. He went into the backyard, was talking to a friend when he heard a noise at the opposite corner of the jail. He rushed to that corner and saw Lee Cunningham, who was also in jail for murder, sliding down a hose to the ground where he was taken by Shelton. Bill Taylor, who was about halfway down, shouted to Shelton not to shoot, he would give himself up. He told Shelton, George was still on the roof. Shelton stood guard but George never showed. He had evidently gone down the hose first and Bill´s statement gave him more time to get away.
On examination of the jail it was found a bolt had been cut in the back on one of the cells and a bar knocked off. This gave the prisoners access to the corridor. They went up on top of the cage into the garret through the scuttle and onto the roof. They took a 50 foot hose with them which they fastened to the roof.
Blood hounds were put on the trail of George, posses are out, but no substantial lead has been found. The blood hounds could only track him to the back gate. It is thought he was picked up in a buggy. Yound Leonard of Norborne, a brother-in-law of Bill Taylor was in Carrollton today. Since supper he took a rig from the livery stable and drove out of town. A telephone message from Norborne says a team arrived there 10 o´clock that had been driven hard but who the driver was is not known.
Kansas City, Mo. April 13: Bill Taylor was brought here this afternoon from Carrollton for safe keeping. In an interview with Taylor, who is locked up in murderer´s row at the jail, Bill said, "I tasted the air of freedom for a few moments. It was the sweetest breath for many a weary day. A man has to be penned up in jail to appreciate liberty, free air and the lights of heaven. If I had been a moment sooner or a minute later I should be with George now. He is having lots of hardships and I would like to help bear them. We were unfortunate the deputy sheriff discovered us by accident. We had our escape well planned and had got clear of the jail and had not been missed when one of the two deputies who were on guard walked outside the jail and discovered us. He cornered me but George was still on the roof. It was 25 feet to the ground but George jumped off the opposite side of the jail."
It is thought George may have escaped by climbing down the smokestack of the furnace on the east side of the jail.
The people of Carrollton are in an angry mood as well as those of Linn and Sullivan counties. They believe it was through the carelessness of Sheriff Stanley that George Taylor escaped. They say no effort is being made to capture George and more angry men converged on Carrollton. Some think the Taylors were buying their way out. Deputy Sheriff Wilson demanded Bill be returned to the Linneus jail. Wilson became very angry. Shaking his fist in Sheriff Stanley´s face he said, "You let Bill Taylor escape and the people up my way will come down and lynch you. We came close to doing it as it was."
The sheriff stole away from the jail with Bill Taylor in a hack in time to catch the 10:44 train on the Santa Fe to Kansas City.
April 24, 1896: It is now known Bill Taylor was not removed to Kansas City to thwart a lynching but because it was feared George would return and try to rescue him. It is positively known George Taylor is within a few miles of Carrollton but had eluded capture. It is thought there has been a leak in the sheriff´s plans, enabling George to keep tab on his pursuers and change his hiding place accordingly. Also it is known he is armed and exceedingly dangerous.
May 1, 1896: W.P. Taylor was hung at 11 o´clock sharp Thursday, April 30, 1896. He walked on the scaffold, stood alone while the straps were put on and he was cool and did not show a tremor. He moved his head for the rope to be adjusted. A priest prayed while the trap was sprung. Taylor had sent for a priest Wednesday afternoon and was baptized into the Catholic Church. His parents were members of the Christian Church. Taylor had been polite, courteous and respectful to everyone who visited him.
The Taylors´ fortune has been greatly diminished from the time of their first lawsuit and that is thought to be the reason for the apathy shown by their lawyers except Conkling who is a sort of a bulldog and holds on until the last ditch is reached.
When the 10 o´clock Santa Fe rolled into Carrollton hundreds of people met the train.
Taylor was handcuffed and guarded by 13 deputies. He was placed in a carriage and driven rapidly to the jail, the guards followed in a bus and they displayed rifles and shotguns on every hand.
When he arrived at the jail he was thoroughly searched. In a little card about 3 1/2 inches square was found 1 1/2 grains of strychnine. Taylor was stripped while doing this they noticed he had something in his mouth. This proved to be a saw about two inches long which he said he used to do his finger nails.
Bill Taylor left the following written statements:
Carrollton, Mo. April 30, 1896: "To the Public: I have only this additional statement to make. I ought not to suffer as I am compelled to do. Prejudice and prejury convicted me. By this conviction my wife to be left a lonely widow, my babies are made orphans in a cold world, my brothers mourn and friends weep. You hasten my gray-haired father and mother to the grave. The mobs and the element have haunted me to the grave. I had hoped to at least live till the good people realized the injustice done me but it cannot be so. I feel prepared to meet my God, and knowing my way to the great unknown, where I believe everyone is properly judged. I hope my friends will meet me all in heaven. I believe I am going there. Good by all. W.P. Taylor."
He also signed and gave to Father Kenne this statement: "Certificate. I the undersigned believing that in the event of my death that the truth concerning the condition of my soul should be told at my funeral. I do hereby testify that I have been born again, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. If I die tonight I will go to heaven. W.P. Taylor, April 29, 1896."
As the time of execution Father Kennedy and Taylor knelt in prayer. Taylor kissed the crucifix. Taylor was clean and shaved. He wrote a note to the newspaper men saying, "One of the men guarding me is Harry Wilson, a Linn County mobber."
At 6 o´clock he was given his breakfast, two fried eggs, three buttered biscuits and a tin cup of coffee. At 7:30 a mass was held for Taylor, and the last sacrament was administered.
The town was literally full of hundreds of people from adjoining counties and Linn and Sullivan counties.
The funeral was held at the Catholic Church in Carrollton Friday afternoon and the body interred in the Catholic cemetery. His immediate family attended. The people were permitted to view the remains at the church. A handsome gray granite monument marks the spot where Bill lies. It bears this inscription:
George was never captured, thought for years his appearance was reported at various parts of the country. Rumors said he fought honorably in the Spanish American War, others said he left the country, some said he returned and visited his family, but he was never apprehended by the law. Nellie grew to womanhood and married Albert Spray of North Salem. She died in 1910 shortly after giving birth to a daughter Hattie.