BY CHERILEE WARD
At High Noon on January 20, 2021, Gary Klotz, like Gary Cooper, faced a showdown with a notorious gang. But the showdown was friendly and the notorious gang included Wilson historians and gun aficionados, who had gathered at Lang Memorial Library to view the infamous revolver, owned by Klotz.
The revolver, now deactivated, was last fired 116 years ago, almost to the day, to enact revenge and bring swift justice to the perpetrator.
On January 19, 1905, the Wilson City Marshal, Jesse A. Tillman used the revolver to gun down Klotz’s great-grandfather, Colonel Charles S. Hutchison, the Wilson newspaper editor. Tillman then turned the gun on himself.
The gang reverently inspected and photographed the .38 caliber, 5-shot Forehand & Wadsworth top-break double-action revolver, manufactured in Worcester, Massachusetts. The minisculely stamped patent date, December 7,1886-January 11, 1887, was discovered on the revolver’s barrel by the sharp-eyed gang.
The small, easily concealed revolver is now nicknamed a pocket pistol or Saturday Night Special. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming confirmed the handgun was authentic and was a reliable sidearm.
Speculations were shared by the gang about the revolver and the three spent bullets. But the fateful day’s events are best reconstructed from real time newspaper reports, now found in newspaper archives.
In October 1887, The Dorrance Nugget had offered the prophetical but eerie advice to Tillman, “Go a little slow, friend Jess, until you hear both sides of a story and it may someday save you lots of trouble.”
A gunshot split the stillness of the mid-afternoon January day. Colonel Hutchison, the editor of the last surviving Wilson newspaper, The Wilson Echo, felt a sharp pain in his side and looked down to see dark red staining his suit vest.
Elderly Scotsman, Tom Latta, who was sitting nearby reading the newspaper, froze in disbelief. Only seconds earlier, the two men had been staring at the Wilson City Marshal, Jesse Tillman, as he burst through the front door of the newspaper office.
Hutchison, momentarily dazed, quickly realized he was Tillman’s intended prey. He started for the back door of the one-floor newspaper office with Tillman close behind.
Another gunshot zinged through the air, hitting Hutchison in his chest near his heart.
Thrown off balance by the force of the bullet, he struggled through the back door and headed for Coover’s Wilson Laundry, located in the alley. Here his sister would be working, taking in laundry. Hutchison was helped inside, where he collapsed at 2:45 p.m. and traveled into legend.
Tillman, his revenge appeased, hurried to his upstairs rented room in the J.H. Baum Rooming House, located on the west end of Saline Street, north of the railroad tracks.
News of the shooting spread like wildfire and a mob quickly gathered outside the Baum House. Joe Latshaw, the Mayor of Wilson who had hired Tillman, and Harvey Baum, owner of the rooming house, went inside and shouted from the bottom of the stairs, “Jesse, give yourself up.” The mob, growing larger, was armed and had rope ready for the lynching.
Tillman yelled through his door, he would soon be out, there was no hurry. The next few minutes vary, according to different newspaper accounts. Either Tillman stepped out and stood at the top of the stairs facing down at the crowd or stayed in his room, near his doorway. Or, according to eyewitnesses, an unnamed Wilson man climbed through an upstairs window and confronted Tillman.
A third and final gunshot ushered Tillman into eternity. The Ellsworth Messenger reported Tillman had “placed the pistol, with which he had killed Mr. Hutchison, to his head and sent a ball crashing through his brain.” His body stayed where he fell, until Coroner Henry Mayer arrived on the evening train.
Tillman was buried in the Wilson Union Cemetery at midnight. The ghastly chore was illuminated only by the glow of the full moon for the two gravediggers, who were each paid $9.00.
The City Clerk would soon order Tillman’s possessions be sold to reimburse the City for “funeral expenses.” There is no certainty whether Tillman’s family received his salary for January 1905 of $19.20 or his January payment of $2.00 for killing dogs.
Tillman’s checkered life
Jesse A. Tillman was born in 1853 in Ottawa, Illinois, where he was educated and grew to manhood. He was 6 feet tall, with a slight build. Tillman was married to Lillian Miranda Terry in October 1878 by her father, H.G. Terry, the minister at the Wilson Coal Mines. The 1880 Census listed the young couple as farming in Plymouth Township, Russell County, Kansas. In 1880, Tillman was the Justice of the Peace for the township and in 1881, he was the township assessor.
Finding the days dull, Tillman left for Ohio City, Colorado in July 1882 to seek his fortune working in a silver mine. By July 1883, Tillman was back in Plymouth Township and filing a complaint over losing his timber claim on Section 20. By 1885, Tillman and his family were living on Section 8 of Noble Township in Ellsworth County. Sadly, in January 1887, his second of five children, Lula, died from diphtheria.
In August 1887, Tillman purchased and edited The Wilson Wonder newspaper. While running the newspaper, the Tillman family was respected and included in social events.
February 1888 found Tillman with money problems. He sold his half of the newspaper, then returned to farming and cattle brokering. During October 1888, Tillman filed a lawsuit to stop the foreclosure on his farm in Noble Township. In November 1888, Tillman was hurt for a second time that year from a horse falling on him. By 1889, Tillman’s farm was sold at auction to settle $800 owed to the Central Kansas Loan & Trust and W.S. Keller, who had sold the Wonder to him.
Tillman found work in the security profession in Kansas City but was still behaving badly. In January 1901, the Kansas City Journal reported Tillman had broken into a Kansas City jail and pleaded to be arrested, saying he was destitute. Tillman had a difficult time convincing the Chief of Police to arrest him but he won by his persistence. The “break into jail” story was reported in many newspapers across the state, including The Wilson Echo.
Released in the custody of his wife, she defended her husband by testifying he was a successful cattle dealer and from a respectable family. In mid-January 1901, The Salina Daily Union reported Tillman’s family thought he had bouts of insanity but always returned to be as sane as anybody. The newspaper mused on what Tillman will do or where he will go, when insanity hit again.
In July 1902, The Salina Herald reported Tillman had made a “pleasant call” to their office and proudly mentioned his cousin was Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, the former Governor of South Carolina and current U.S. Senator. By November 1902, The Topeka State Journal reported Tillman was in Topeka, full of “the bad brew” and was arrested for threatening to shoot a large hole in a Topeka policeman.
In January 1903, Senator Benjamin Tillman, who Jesse Tillman was so proud to call his cousin, was linked to a sensationalized shooting in South Carolina. The editor of The Daily State newspaper had criticized Senator Tillman relentlessly. In revenge, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, James H. Tillman, shot the editor, who died on January 19, 1903. James Tillman, nephew to Senator Tillman, was later acquitted.
During October 1903, Tillman’s wife was granted a divorce and custody of their two minor children. By May 1904, Tillman had surfaced once again in Wilson. The Wilson Echo took notice by reporting how Tillman had promised he wouldn’t return to Wilson until he had accumulated $10,000, an impossible feat for him.
In August 1904, Tillman was working for a threshing crew when his arm was pulled into the threshing mechanism and his wrist was broken. By October 1904, even with his well-known checkered life, Tillman was hired as the Wilson City Marshal when B.H. Riley resigned. Tillman was now on his way to his dishonorable date with destiny.
In the era of Hutchison and Tillman, newspapers needed to win the circulation wars to survive and be profitable. Reckless headlines and sarcastic editorials often increased circulation but created grudges, old and new.
The first Wilson newspaper, The Wilson Index, was started in October 1878, by W.M. Risley. The Index used a homemade wooden printing press built by local mechanics, Henry High and Charles Kyner. The Index office was located in a small building owned by Wilkinson Power, on the same site where he would later build the Hotel Power, now the Midland Railroad Hotel and Restaurant. In May 1879, Risley relinquished the Index to Power as payment for his delinquent rent of $28.
Weeks later, Sam Coover noticed the building was being emptied out and offered $10 to Power for the entire contents of the newspaper office. Thus, on July 15, 1879, Coover became the owner of a newspaper. Coover moved the wooden printing press, two doors to the west on Saline Street, into the wooden shanty he owned. He changed the newspaper’s name to The Wilson Echo and published the first issue in late July with the masthead, S.A. Coover, Editor and Proprietor.
Sam Coover, along with Jacob Sackman and John T. McKittrick were the founding fathers of Wilson. McKittrick was the Kansas Pacific Railroad land agent and had arrived in Ellsworth County from Pennsylvania in 1871. Coover and Sackman followed in April 1872, leading the First Pennsylvania Colony of 40 families to Wilson, then named Bosland. Coover returned to Pennsylvania and brought the Second Colony of 50 families in April 1878.
Coover, a widower, had remarried Elizabeth Moore Hutchison in 1869. Coover brought his second wife and her children to Bosland with the Second Colony. Coover’s step-son, Charles S. Hutchison, was born in 1864 and had lost his father in the Civil War. While still a boy, Hutchison had worked as a farm laborer to help his mother. At age 15, he started learning the printer’s trade from his stepfather.
By 1884, Hutchison was employed as foreman of The Wilson Echo. When Coover died in January 1899, Hutchison became the newspaper’s editor. The same year, Hutchison was also appointed the Wilson Postmaster, a position he held until his death. He went by the name, Colonel, an honorary title conferred on him as a sign of respect.
A second newspaper, The Wilson Wonder, appeared in April 1886 and was published by William Debitt. The Wonder’s office was on the second floor of the Russell Building, later known as the Olds Building. When the Wilson State Bank was completed in December 1886, the Wonder moved to the rooms above the new bank. In August 1887, the Wonder was purchased by Tillman. In October 1887, Frank Jerome, an old comrade, joined Tillman as co-owner of the Wonder. Jerome was the former editor of The Russell Hawkeye and The Russell Record. He persuaded Tillman to change their newspaper’s name to The Wilson Hawkeye. The first issue with the masthead, Tillman & Jerome, Editors and Proprietors, was published on October 17, 1887. By February 1888, Tillman had sold out to Jerome but still visited his old friend in the Hawkeye office.
A third newspaper, the Wilson Eagle, soared in during June 1888 and was published by R.J. Coffey. The Eagle’s office was nestled on the second floor of the Alderson Drug Store, located in the middle of Block 1, on northeast Michigan Street, the main street in Wilson. The Eagle was just finding its wings when the devastating fire of September 1, 1888, swept through Block 1, destroying six businesses and scattering fiery ashes over the west side of Wilson.
The Alderson Drugstore burned to the ground and the Eagle, on the store’s second floor, lost everything except for a small job press and a composing stand. Following the fire, the Eagle’s office “took flight” to the front room of the St. Louis House, located one door west of the Echo office on Saline Street. The St. Louis House was a lively gambling hall, where guns would appear from under card tables when five aces were played. The Echo generously shared their printing press with the Eagle, but recovery was futile. The Eagle printed its last issue in February 1889.
Before and after the fire, the Echo and the Eagle had accused the Hawkeye of stealing the Eagle‘s copy and printing it as its own. In July 1888, the Eagle threatened the Hawkeye, “[we will] make the fur fly in a lively manner, unless you leave your roost and defend yourself.” A week after the fire, the Echo printed, “Mr. Hawkeye, come down to earth from your lonely roost.”
In October 1888, the Hawkeye responded by saying, “wait and see the fur fly.” But by December 1888, the Hawkeye had published its last issue. When the Hawkeye vacated the rented rooms above the Wilson State Bank in March 1889, the Echo couldn’t resist expressing an opinion. The Echo reported the new bank’s “once beautiful and well-furnished rooms will never look again like they once did. After one year occupancy, the printing company made the rooms look like a soap factory had operated there for half a century.”
The Echo had won the circulation wars and prevailed as the only newspaper in Wilson. The spoils of winning allowed the Echo to purchase the Jellison & Co. storage room on the north end of Block 1 on Michigan Street, the site later known as the Rezabek Building or the Wilson City Garage. In June 1894, the Echo moved their office, print shop and fixtures to their new location, then offered their former office building for sale or for “a fine lot of kindling.”
In November 1895, when an elderly Bohemian man was sent to the Asylum in Topeka, the Echo ran an editorial demonizing the immoral character of the man’s wife. In the next issue, the Echo profusely apologized for printing idle gossip and tarnishing the sterling character of the fine Bohemian lady.
Reckless comments helped win the circulation wars but created dangerous consequences.
Breaking evening curfew was a continuing problem during the early years of Wilson. In June 1888, the Echo reported the City Curfew Ordinance should be enforced and the town boys forced home at 8:00 p.m. In May 1900, the Echo reported the curfew was extended to 8:30 p.m for the summer, enforced by the City Marshal.
On January 12, 1905, Tillman had rung the evening curfew bell but a gang of boys, loitering near the corner of Saline and Michigan Street, were slow to start for home. The gang jeered at Tillman when he tried to catch a few boys. Roland Hutchison, a ten-year old boy, who was not part of the gang, was standing in front of the Post Office, located one door north of Lechner’s Corner, now Wilson Foods, waiting for his father. Tillman, with his volatile temper, grabbed the Hutchison boy and slapped, kicked, and cursed him. Roland Hutchison, hurt and crying, ran to his father in the Post Office. Hutchison confronted Tillman who refused to talk, saying he had nothing to discuss and would explain tomorrow.
When no explanation was offered by Tillman the next day, Hutchison published his version of the assault, in the next issue of the Echo, dated January 19. Hutchison’s version carried the headline, Chief of Police Assaulted, Ruffian Attacks Wilson’s Great Chief, followed by a sarcastic editorial of the Chief of Police covering himself “thick with glory” and defeating the Ruffian, who stood almost four and one-half feet tall. Hutchison also mentioned the City Fathers should be congratulated for “securing such an efficient and courageous guardian of the peace and dignity of our city.”
When the January 19 issue was circulated, Tillman, upon reading about the assault, immediately went to the Post Office to confront Hutchison. Not finding Hutchison, Tillman threw down the newspaper and headed for the Echo office, carrying his double action revolver.
With the passage of time, events of that fateful day faded into the hazy history of Wilson. TIllman’s revolver was forgotten until an amateur sleuth read the headline, Found Old Gun, in an October 1952 issue of The Wilson World at Lang Memorial Library.
The short article item reported an antique revolver had been found behind sheeting in the attic’s wall, when workmen were shingling a house where Hutchison’s widow, Fannie, had lived. The Found Gun was of a ball and cap variety, 6-shot .32 caliber Colt revolver in a leather holster, with no ammunition. Fannie Hutchison had sold the house to James Klema in 1916 and Klema had sold the house to Wilfrid “Mike” Ptacek in 1948.
Could the Found Gun be the same revolver used to murder Hutchison and then given to his widow? Could this Found Gun be located and displayed in the Wilson Heritage Museum?
The hunt was on!
FIrst, Mike Ptacek’s son, Larry Ptacek, was asked if knew about the Found Gun. He remembered his father had found a gun when building an addition to their house. He thought his father had traded the gun away, possibly to his good friend, Ernie Hoch, who collected old guns. Next, Ernie Hoch’s son, Bob Hoch, was contacted. He remembered his father’s gun collection but didn’t remember seeing a ball and cap revolver.
Still hopeful, several Wilson historians were contacted but no one remembered the 1952 news article nor the Found Gun. Returning to the newspaper archives, a found news article reported the Hoch Lumber Company’s 2-ton safe was cracked during the early hours of April 11, 1954. Among the many items stolen were three guns. Discovering the Hoch heist shredded the naive hope of finding the old gun.
Re-thinking the search, the focus shifted to locating descendants of Hutchison, who was the father of four children, two girls and two boys. The oldest daughter, Lydia, had married John Ney but she had passed away at age 33 in 1925. Hutchison’s two sons, Charles and Roland, the Ruffian, had moved to California as adults. But his daughter, Vera, had married A. Dennis Klotz and had spent her life in the Wilson area.
Vera Klotz was the long-time Library Director at Lang Memorial Library, from 1947 to 1969. Klotz was interviewed by The Wilson World in September 1983 about her father’s murder, when she was almost 16 years old. Klotz was the mother of one son, B. Mead Klotz and the grandmother of Gary Klotz, Jerry Klotz, and Lynda Seifers.
With the last shred of hope, Lynda Seifers was contacted. Euphoria erupted when Lynda said she knew about the infamous gun, now owned by her brother, Gary. He was contacted and generously agreed to show the handgun he had inherited from his father, B. Mead Klotz, who had kept the revolver in his office desk for many years.
The infamous gun had been found! Although not the 1952 Found Gun, the search had located the more important revolver, now documented and photographed for future Wilson historians. After the friendly showdown with the notorious gang, Gary Klotz rode off into the sunset, carrying the infamous revolver misused to change his family’s history and the history of Wilson.
Following the death of Colonel Hutchison, The Wilson Echo newspaper and office building were sold to Charles Seaver in September 1905. Seaver built a new Echo building, which is still standing, on the lot north of the former Echo office.
Local newspapers reported on the new Echo building. In May 1906, The Ellsworth Messenger reported the Echo had commenced work on a new office. In late May 1906, the Echo printed, “Gus Deissroth and crew were making good progress in excavating for the new Echo building.” In October 1906, The Holyrood Banner announced the Echo was enjoying its new home in a fine two-story cement block building.
In March 1913, The Wilson Echo was purchased by W.S. Baxter, who renamed the newspaper, The Wilson World. The final issue of The Wilson World was published in May 2002.
The Echo building was sold to George Neil in June 1911. The Ellsworth Messenger reported, the old Echo building will soon be remodeled into a “grand electric [movie] theatre.” This Echo building is now used as the Wilson City Garage.
The Wilson Laundry building, where Hutchison had breathed his last, was moved to a farm in July 1906.
The J.H. Baum Rooming House was owned by the Baum family until 1956, when it was sold to Kyner Elevator Inc. A large metal shed, now owned by the City of Wilson, was built on the site of the Baum House.
According to credible eyewitnesses, the ending of TIllman’s life was different than reported in the newspapers. Eyewitnesses saw a man climb through an upstairs window and hasten TIllman into eternity with a gunshot, heard by the mob. Mayor Joe Latshaw, confirmed with his version, as he climbed the stairs to talk to Tillman, he heard a man’s voice say, “Joe, don’t come up here.” The unnamed man was seen leaving through the upstairs window.
Tillman was buried near his young daughter, Lula. His grave is still unmarked.
The infamous handgun is currently stored by a third party in an undisclosed location.
Appreciation is given to Toni Blum Seitz, who generously shared her research on her cousin, Lillian Terry Tillman.