The Mystery of Stonewall Shacklett By Marcus Payne
Since I was a kid, Ive always been fascinated about Jesse Stonewall Shacklett. To me (and quite by accident), he was my Mothers step great-grandfather and my fathers grand uncle. Stonewalls wife, my great-great grandmother Bertha (Ridle, Fogleson) Shacklett, died on October 21st, 1952; a little less than two months after my mom and dad were married. To my parents utter surprise, Moms family contacted her, and Dads family contacted him concerning Berthas passing. That was when they discovered they had been distantly related; but not by blood. Bertha had been married to Stonewall Shacklett since 1895. Prior to that, she had been married to her first husband, John Webster Fogleson (my gg grandfather by blood), but separated due to abandonment. Putting two and two together, Mom and Dad realized that as children in the 1930s, they had both stayed with the Shackletts in Shawnee, Oklahoma; possibly at the same time. Stonewall was known as a very easygoing and kind person who worked for many years as a tailor. Thats what made his earlier days so at odds with his reputation later he was a convicted murderer.
Being young, the fact that he was a convicted felon intrigued me; so I asked as many questions as I could. My Dads family didnt know much of anything about it (or wouldnt talk), and my Grandmother Matheny could only say that it had something to do with a man being killed in Shawnee. According to her, she thought Stonewall had heard a man say something insulting about his wife; possibly in a bar. He had left, only to return with a gun and shoot the man to death. She didnt know when it happened, but was guessing it was sometime between 1910 and 1920. Years later, I took this information and set out to find exactly what had happened. I looked high and low, went to Shawnee in Pottawatomie County and labored through historical documents, court records, newspapers and address books. I looked sporadically for years before giving up in frustration; unsatisfied because I hadnt found anything about Stonewalls early life, but firm in the knowledge I had done my best. I closed my file out and moved on to other interests; thinking the answers would remain hidden in my lifetime. Then in December 2004, a coincidence would change that and eventually lead to answers as well as new questions.
click image to enlarge
Photo of Stonewall Shacklett, c. 1897 in Canadian County,
The Early Years
Stonewall Shacklett was born on March 5th, 1873 to Jesse and Susan (Easton) Shacklett in Meade County, Kentucky. His ancestors were very early settlers to Kentucky and arrived in the 1790s to what was then Hardin County; farming just south of the Ohio River. Daniel Boone and his brother Squire were two of the earliest explorers and landowners in the area. Squire remained in the county off and on until his death in 1815, and lived very close to the Shacklett clan. It can be assumed by proximity that these families knew each other well, and early records show they traded at the same local establishments.
Although the Shackletts owned several parcels of land, it was located in a hilly area and they were only marginally successful as farmers. But they were well respected for their hard work and integrity. When Meade County was carved out of Hardin County and established in 1823, a Shacklett was its first sheriff. Stonewalls great-grandfather, Blancit Shacklett fought in the War of 1812. His grandfather fought in the revolutionary war, and others fought for both North and South in the Civil War.
In 1882, Jesse and Susan Shacklett, along with their four children, Eunice Eliza, Birdie, Thomas, and Jesse Stonewall, moved to Kansas and joined the Payne family in Haskell County (The two families had intermarried several times and both migrated from Kentucky to Kansas). Shortly after the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, the Shackletts traveled to Canadian County in Oklahoma Territory. This long journey was chronicled in 1937 by a Works Progress Administration writer in an interview with Stonewalls sister, Birdie. The interview is now part of the Indian Pioneer History Collection at the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Once they arrived, the Shackletts were unable to get a land claim, and had to settle for renting a portion of property from a man named Seymour Siler. Times were tough, and in a profile written years later of Stonewalls brother Thomas (who later became the postmaster of the town of Yukon, then Canadian County sheriff), it was stated Like many early settlers, his (Thomas) family was too proud to accept charity. They gathered bones of dead cattle or buffalo to haul to Oklahoma City, and sell. A double bed of bones would bring as high as $1.00 to $1.50. While living in Canadian County with his parents, Stonewall Shacklett married Bertha Fogleson on or before 1895. It has been said that Stonewall was an excellent father to his step-son Norman Fogleson, as well as to his own daughter (with Bertha) Sadie (b. 1894). After this, no other information on Stonewall Shacklett was available until his entry in the 1910 U.S. Census in Pottawatomie County. I tried one more method. Assuming he had spent time in a prison somewhere, I went to the state offices of the Oklahoma State Department of Corrections in Oklahoma City, and requested any information on Stonewall Shacklett. They did a check, but were unable to find anything; as much had been lost over the years. This was especially true before 1910. Unable to find any more information, I moved on to other endeavors; essentially giving up.
I had been holding onto a picture of my great-great-great-grandparents (surname Ridle) and had been plugging their names into Google, hoping to find the cemetery in which they were buried. I was just guessing they might have died in Pennsylvania; as their daughter Bertha was born there (turns out Bertha wasnt born there, but thats another story). I wasnt finding anything on them, and it turned out my problem was the way I was entering the search phrase, but I kept on trying.
In 2004, I hit pay dirt and found their final place of rest; in Oklahoma and right next door to the county I lived in. The cemeterys name was Frisco, and it was located in the now non-existent town of Richland in Canadian County. The name of Richland set off bells in my head because my great-grandfather, Norman Fogleson, was born there (he was the first child of Bertha).
So one day I took some vacation and drove to Frisco Cemetery in Canadian County. I found the graves and was photographing them when I noticed I was being watched by a lady who was tending to a nearby grave. Being curious, I went over and introduced myself, and we began to talk about the cemetery and the history of the area. She lived next to the cemetery and had known some of my distant relatives over the years, so I found her interesting. Her name was Jean Kyle. We hit it off well, and she invited me to the next meeting of the Canadian County Historical Society in El Reno. They met in a very old county library, and although I had made no promises, I decided at the last minute to go.
When I got there, Jean wanted to show me her biggest accomplishment to date; a book she had put together titled The History of Richland, Oklahoma. It actually had some good information and listed a few of my relatives by name, so I bought a copy from the library and took it home. A few days later, I got it out and started reading from front to back. Towards the end, it had a chapter titled Sad Times; which was a listing of historical events that negatively impacted the area. At the bottom of one page listed a murder that happened on Sunday, July 18th, 1897 at the Frisco Post Office in broad daylight. My eyes got big.
There it was, the crime that had sent Stonewall Shacklett to prison. I had been wrong about both the location and the time period. It wasnt in the town of Shawnee, and it wasnt in the 1910s. It had happened in the town of Frisco before the turn of the century. According to the article, James Overstreet and Stonewall Shacklett had met at the Post Office to settle a debt owed to Shacklett. The money had been paid and the two were getting along quite well, when unexpectedly a noise was heard by patrons of the Post Office. They turned around and saw Stonewall holding a club and standing over Overstreet, who had sustained a mortal blow to the head.
Finding more information at the Oklahoma State Historical Societys newspaper section, I discovered that James Overstreet had got up after the attack, went to his horse, and rode home. Barely making it, he told his wife he never saw who had hit him over the head, and died the next day. An autopsy later revealed the blows (multiple) to his head had caused his skull to be partially crushed, and he died from a brain hemorrhage. All newspaper reports at the time; including the Daily Oklahoman, were quick to place the guilt on Stonewall Shacklett due to the number of people who were at the scene of the crime. The motive could never be established because the two had been on good terms just moments earlier. One newspaper had interviewed Bertha Shacklett about her husbands motives. ( Click here for Articles Pulled from History of Richland Oklahoma ) In the article, she said that Mr. Overstreet had insulted her the day before the incident, but the account was quick to add the excuse sounded flimsy at best.
The community was so outraged at the murder that-unusual for those times-the trial was moved to nearby Blaine County. The first trial in early 1898 resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial in March, Jesse Stonewall Shacklett was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. At the time, neither Oklahoma Territory nor Indian Territory had a penitentiary, so I wasnt sure where Shacklett was sent once he was convicted. There was a reformatory in Granite, Oklahoma Territory, that could have been where he was incarcerated. So where was Stonewall Shacklett sent?
As I said earlier, I had ran into an information dead end and decided to go the route of trying to establish where Stonewall Shacklett had served his time; rather than going through local newpapers and records. The place I looked first was the research section of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. A research assistant had told me that they didnt keep the records for the Department of Corrections, but gave me a tip. He said that prior to 1909, Oklahoma didnt have a penitentiary, and had been shipping their convicted prisoners with long sentences to the Kansas State Penitentiary; to be housed for .25 cents per day. Then he said, Sure hope your relative wasnt one of those convicts. I asked why, and he said that in 1908, Kate Barnard, the Oklahoma Commissioner of Charities and Corrections had made a surprise visit to the Kansas State Penitentiary, and had found the treatment of prisoners from Oklahoma to be horrendous. They were being used as slave laborers in an on-site coal mine and a brick-making plant during the day, then kept behind bars in deplorable conditions the rest of the time. Brutal punishments, including water torture were common, and many convicts were found very malnourished. In short, the authorities in Kansas were taking advantage of the fact that nobody from Oklahoma was overseeing the treatment of its prisoners. In January of 1909, the last of Oklahomas prisoners in the Kansas State Penitentiary were removed and employed to build Oklahomas own penitentiary in McAlester.
Coal Mine at Kansas State Penitentiary
Whether or not Stonewall Shacklett spent time at the Kansas State Penitentiary was still unknown, as well as how long he was there. But it is safe to say that if Shacklett was there, he truly did hard time and was treated very poorly, as all Oklahoma inmates were.
Ever since finding the graves in Canadian County (including Stonewalls), I now drag my poor wife and kid out there every Memorial Day to fix up and place flowers at each family gravestone. As I did this, it would cause me to reflect back on what Id learned about Stonewall; and more importantly, what remained unanswered. For instance, why would a person defined as easygoing and kind suddenly be thrown into such a rage as to kill another human being, then return to being his old self again? Why was he given a life sentence in 1898, but is listed on the census in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1910?
In 2007, I bought a guide to the U.S. Census, which included a chapter on finding individuals who were incarcerated. Using that information, I looked up census records on Ancestry.com for the year 1900, and within ten minutes found Stonewall in the district of Delaware, county of Leavenworth, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (sheet 17). Here it was; proof that he had been incarcerated there in 1900, but offering no information as to when he was sent or when he was released.
I got back on the internet, hoping to find more information on Stonewall during this time of incarceration. The Kansas penitentiary system has a website today which includes historical information. One line captured my attention. It stated All records of the Kansas State Penitentiary are kept at the Kansas Historical Society, and gave an address. So I wrote to the historical society, requesting information on Jesse Stonewall Shacklett, and included a check for $25.00 as well as a picture of Stonewall for their records if they wished to keep it.
Less than two weeks later, I received a thick reply letter, and opened it up. Inside was a treasure trove of information; along with a thank you letter for the picture. Included was a copy of the jurys verdict and the judges sentence. Everything I had read in the newspapers was true; he had been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. In the judges instructions, it says that Mr. Shacklett was to be taken by the Blaine County Sheriff to the Kansas State Penitentiary where he would spend the rest of his life.
Another document enclosed was a copy of the Kansas State Penitentiarys Record of Prisoners Received and showed Stonewalls entry into the system on March 9th, 1898. I this document, he had $1.80, and was issued a prison # of 8472. It also stated he had never been incarcerated prior to this date.
I found all this interesting, but the best was yet to come.
I was flipping through the documents sent by the Kansas Historical Society, when my eyes got big again. At the bottom was a copy of a document titled Pardon. Territory of Oklahoma. Reading through the whereas and therefores, I realized this was a governors pardon. It stated By the authority vested in me as the Governor of the Territory of Oklahoma, I do hereby grant unto Stonewall Shacklett a full and complete Pardon of the crime of which he was convicted, on condition that said convict serve full seven years under the judgement and decree of court from the date of his commitment. It was dated March 18th, 1901 and signed by Cassius McDonald Barnes, Governor of Oklahoma.
Territorial governors werent elected, but appointed by the President of the United States; which at the time was a Republican. Being a Democratic state, I doubt he was that popular with the citizens; so the question on my mind was whether it was a
Pardon granted to Stonewall Shacklett from Territorial Governor Cassius Barnes on March 18th, 1901
political move or just in response to a public petition. The answer came half-way down the document. It said And whereas, in view of the representations made to me in this case and on the recommendations of the prosecuting attorney, judge and jurors. So in essence, nearly everyone involved in convicting him had, three years later, petitioned the governor to dramatically reduce or end Stonewalls prison term.
Oklahoma Territorial Governor Cassius McDonald Barnes
On another point of interest, I did a little research on Governor Barnes, and discovered he had signed this pardon only three weeks before leaving office in April, 1901.
Little is known about Stonewall Shacklett for the next twenty years. If the pardon was carried out properly, he would have been released from prison in March of 1905. We know his wife, Bertha had moved to Shawnee, Oklahoma sometime before the 1900 census, to a home on Market Street. Times were surely difficult for her and their two children; Norman and Sadie. Upon release, Stonewall probably immediately made his way to Shawnee to join the family. We know his trade during this time was a tailor; as that is whats listed on the 1910 census of Pottawatomie County. This is also confirmed by oral stories passed along by family members.
His son, Norman Ivor Fogleson was married in late 1910 or 1911 to Maude Mae Davis; though we dont know the exact date or place of the ceremony. They had four daughters together; Bernadine, Dorothy, Omega, and Jeraldine. Sadie Shacklett lived with her parents for many years; beyond her fathers death. She never did marry, and lived the last three decades of her life in a hotel in downtown Oklahoma City before passing away in 1984. His father, Jesse S. Shacklett, died on June 18th, 1910 in Yukon, Canadian County, Oklahoma. In his later years, Jesses (Stonewalls dad) fortunes had improved and he was the owner and operator of a hotel in Yukon. Stonewalls mother, Susan Mary (Easton) Shacklett, passed away on January 22nd, 1939 after years of failing memory that was listed as dementia on her death certificate.
Last known photo of Stonewall Shacklett, taken in July, 1935
Stonewall and his wife, Bertha remained together for the remainder of his life. 35 years after his release from the penitentiary, Jesse Stonewall Shacklett passed away on October 10th, 1940. He was laid to rest at Yukon Cemetery; just a stones throw away from his parents gravesite, and only a few miles from where he grew up as a child. Twelve years later, Bertha Shacklett passed away on October 21st, 1952 at the age of 81. She was buried between Stonewall and their daughter, Sadie. Their plot is next to the burial place of country singer Garth Brooks grandparents, and near his mothers gravesite. Also buried in this cemetery is his sister Birdie (Shacklett) Stafford, and brother Thomas C. Shacklett.
Gravestones of Stonewall and Bertha Shacklett, Yukon Cemetery, Yukon, Oklahoma
(Click stone to enlarge.)
Some questions remain unanswered. Obviously, the biggest one is what motivated everyone involved in convicting Stonewall of murder to suddenly have a change of heart and petition the governor for a pardon? Why did the first trial end in a hung jury? Was he truly guilty of the murder he was convicted of? Some of these questions may be answered in future research, most will forever remain unanswered.