Horse Thief's Gravestone Recovered
Notorious Lawman Shot Him; Later His Headstone Was Moved, Used As Cornerstone
It’s a story right out of an old Western movie. A stolen horse, a chase, a shootout and a death. The story fairly leaps off the crisp, folded pages of the coroner’s inquest, stored for nearly 100 years in a narrow metal box in the depths of the District Court vault.
But the story would not have come to light again if Clem Lemieux hadn’t torn down a storage shed on May 5. The shed was attached to a garage on his property on Division Street on the south side of U.S. 2. When he removed a corner post, he discovered the cornerstone it was standing on was actually a gravestone. It was cast concrete, about 2 feet by 18 inches, with a name and a date, “J.H. Waterous 1882-1917,” and in the lower left corner, the number 541.
Lemieux stopped working and called dispatch immediately. According to the dispatch log, he thought the subject was probably buried some place else and has a new stone so they probably used the stone to support the shed. He bought the property on Division Street about five years ago. The previous owner may have built the shed 10 or 15 years ago and is no longer in the area.
Undersheriff Vernon Buerkle, the deputy coroner of Valley County, measured and photographed the gravestone, then took it as evidence. As coroner, his concern was that someone might be buried under the gravestone, but before digging, he would do some research. The next day, he checked the records of Highland Cemetery in the city office and discovered that someone named Waterous, age 35, had been buried on Jan. 23, 1917. The stone had been removed or stolen from the old section of the cemetery at some time and never replaced.
“The only location of the grave was by other markers and the map,” Buerkle said. “The stone was missing from plot 541.”
Who was J.H. Waterous? The old leather-bound coroner’s book has a record of an inquest on Jan. 19, 1917, into the death of this man, but nothing was noted on the page except the names of the five men on the coroner’s jury (each paid $.10 per diem) and five witnesses.
Sheriff Glen Meier knew another place to look for Waterous, among the death certificates in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. It listed him as male, about 35 years old, white, married and a painter. Also, he died of a gunshot and was killed by a deputy sheriff.
Killed by a law officer – that meant there had to have been a real inquest. In District Court, Clerk of Court Shelley Bryan brought out the old boxes and found the right one. C.H. Powell was the sheriff. The Rev. R.H. Stone, a Methodist pastor in Glasgow since August, testified that he visited Waterous briefly in Deaconess Hospital on Jan. 18. He was “sick and dangerously wounded.” He knew he was about to die. They spoke of spiritual matters.
Stone asked Waterous if he stole the horse. He said, “Sure.” How was he wounded? Because he resisted the officers.
Now the story is about a horse thief resisting capture.
Waterous told Stone he was born in Kansas on March 21, 1888. He had a wife and child in Minnesota. He had a sister he wanted notified, a Mrs. Larson, but he couldn’t remember her first name. His mother was living, but he didn’t know where.
He had tied the horse in a barn in Glasgow overnight.
Dep. William H. Dickmon next testified about the shooting. He said yesterday morning (Jan. 18) about 6:30 he and Dep. Jack Teal went to the place where they heard Waterous had tied up the horse the night before. They backtracked the horse and went to the place Waterous stayed overnight. He had already left and they were a half hour behind him. They rode after Waterous on Lenz Road east toward Nashua.
The deputies saw their man ahead and whipped up their horses. When they were near the Borton Schoolhouse, Teal drew on the suspect and hollered for him to put his hands up. Waterous turned to the right, got his six-shooter from his mackinaw pocket and fired a shot.
Teal shot Waterous and he fell off the horse. He came up with his gun and Teal shot him again.
Sam Sylvester was driving a wagon coming west while this was happening. They loaded Waterous into the wagon and hauled him back to Glasgow, taking Lenz Road across Willow Creek.
Waterous died of his wounds.
Dep. Jack Teal was an infamous fellow in his time. He is featured in Valley County’s history book, “Footprints in the Valley.” The lead to the article is “Jack Teal – outlaw or lawman?”
According to the article, Teal was rumored to have come to Valley County after the Johnson County War in Wyoming. He was said to be a fast-gun Texan hired by the big stockmen of Wyoming to get rid of small settlers and ranchers from the open range where the large outfits ran their herds.
The story is recounted that Teal was accused in Malta of stealing some 200 coyote and wolf pelts. He was drunk and got into a fight with the man who circulated the story. He bit the man’s ear severely and beat him up. When a justice of the peace wanted the injured man to swear out a warrant for arrest, Teal turned on the justice and treated him the same way, biting his ear and finger and gouging his eyes.
In November 1895, Teal was tried for assault with intent to commit mayhem. “Some difficulty was experienced in getting a jury to try the case,” according to the story in “Footsteps.”
Teal said he was so crazed with drink he did not remember anything about the trouble with the justice. The jury delivered a not guilty verdict.
The judge was outraged and delivered a speech that is quoted at length.
“I never like to criticize the verdict of juries, gentlemen, but I don’t see how this jury ever came to such a verdict … Here is a man that comes out and literally eats up a citizen of the county … He asks ‘Are you the man that is going to arrest me?’ and then he begins to eat him up. That is cannibalism … (I)f the juries in this county do not stop this, then you will all have to move out.”
Teal was also the leader of the mob that hung John Brown out of the Valley County Courthouse window in 1903, according to one account mentioned in “Footprints.”
All this history rises up when you blow the dust off a headstone. There is probably a charge of criminal mischief in the disturbing of the grave, but Buerkle said the statute of limitations is past. After the investigation is complete, Buerkle will return the gravestone to the cemetery caretakers and they will replace it on plot 541.