Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Death of Young John Cullen

Old Log Jail in Nashville, Indiana

I've been going through our collection of old newspapers in the Historical Society Archives trying to pick out items of interest for our genealogy newsletter. Recently transcribing one of our oldest newspaper, the Jacksonian, of Brown county in 1873 I ran across something interesting on the back page. It was an account of the days testimony in a court case on the death of a young man, John Cullen. The case was the State of Indiana vs. George Fleener, Joseph McClung, and Nathan Fritch.

In the account several witnesses testified about a fight that had occurred between these three young men with another young man, John Cullen. The testimonies all seemed to agree for the most part on the happenings in the fight. Allegedly John Cullen and George Fleener had been having a disagreement for some time. On this day all these young men had been traveling down the road on horses when they came upon Mr. Cullen and his riding companion, Oscar Warford. Cullen and Fleener started exchanging words again and all jumped from their horses and started pushing the two to come to a fight. Cullen and Fleener started coming to blows when Fleener pulled a knife and young Mr. Cullen was cut several times. He fell back against Joseph McClung and according to the testimonies it was unsure if McClung had pushed Cullen off of him or if he had pushed him back into the fight with Fleener. By the time it was all over Cullen was bleeding badly and Fritch told him to get to a doctor.

One of the doctors gave testimony of Cullen's condition and also had him give an affidavit of what had happened to him on the day of the fight, April 12, 1873. Several other witnesses testified to various happenings that had been going on before and after the death of Cullen. There were some witness accounts that contradicted what the boys had testified to. It was a most interesting article. Newspaper articles of today don't do coverage in their newspapers in this much detail anymore. And this was most unusual coming from an 1873 newspaper.

So reading all this made me want to find out what happened in the case. I know there are no longer any newspapers that remain from this period. Where could I go next to find out more about it? Our Historical Society Archives houses the court document packets from all the Civil and Criminal Court cases. So my next step was to look for this case: State vs. Fleener, McClung, & Fritch. Going through the file I found a lot of slips of papers: warrants for witnesses to appear, a dissertation on the differences of the various degrees of Murder that can be charged.

Most of the remaining documents pertained to Joseph McClung as an accessory in the fight. McClung was eventually charged with Manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years. There was also another slip of paper saying he had taken his case to the Supreme Court and his sentence was thrown out after 10 years. But that's all that was in the packet. There was nothing more on Fritch even though he seemed to play a small part in the fight. And what was even more surprising there was nothing on George Fleener, one of the principals in the fight. So what happened? Surely Fleener must have been charged in the death of Cullen if McClung was charged with Manslaughter for just being involved? Where should I go next? This is going to require some digging. I think my next trip should be to the courthouse to check out the Criminal court books. If anyone has any other suggestions, let me know. The investigation continues! I'll let you know what I find.

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