Genealogy: Family Histories
David Bonham - murder trial and more
Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 05/18/2006
First Murder In Waukesha County
Return to David Bonham's Life page
There are many different versions of this first murder in Waukesha County by David Bonham. As Editor, I don't deny that David Bonham killed Henry Keene; but the circumstances surrounding the murder, the trial and events leading to his full pardon have been grossly twisted as presented in the "History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, 1880", the main source for later articles about his life.
Remember one thing when reading the following newspaper accounts - they were often highly prejudicial in nature and comment. Most newspapers and their editors sought to promote a cause or political party.
Michael R. Reilly April 10, 2006.
The following is copied from Bonham's personal diary:
"While living in Wisconsin, a great misfortune befell me [Editor's (Fred H. Keller) note: Obviously, diary was written after he left Wisconsin for Missouri]. But due to my strong faith in God and deep religious convictions I was saved from death.
There was an owner of a mill who had leased the sawmill to more than one party. It seems as though one man, H. Keene, had not paid his portion on the lease and also refused to do so.
The owner told him his lease would be expired at that moment unless the amount due didn't come forth immediately.
The money was not paid, so the owner leased the mill to me.
In a few days while at the mill. Keene came to me (Bonham) and I ordered him off the property. I told him I had leased the sawmill and Keene informed me it was his. A heated argument proceeded. A short time later Keen returned to the mill and brought two men with him as protection and threatened my life.
I called my brother who has a gun handy. I tried to scare Keene and friends but the three men approached my brother and I, carrying a large tool, like a sledge hammer. Just as Keene raised the hammer over my head to kill me, I took my brother's gun and shot Keene in the leg. I did not intend to kill but did shoot toward his leg in self defense. After many hours and with doctors miles away and having to ride horseback, Keene did not get any help and bled to death.
I was sentenced to prison, where I stayed nearly a year. I have been visited regularly by a faithful Episcopalian minister who has comforted me and given me strength. I have read the scripture constantly and spent many hours in prayer.
I was sentenced to death. But thousands of Wisconsin citizens had signed a petition to free me and sent it to the governor. They felt that I was innocent and begged my pardon. Again, due to horse travel there was a slow response to the petition. The hours hung long. I watched them out my window building the gallows. But finally, all prayers were answered and the anxiety was over. Just one hour before I was to be hung in the gallows the governor's letter arrived stating I was a free man and innocent.
[Editor's note: The man delivering the reprieve was Alexander Foster Pratt on his horse "Old Whitey". Mr. Pratt, along with Bonham's attorney [see below]; A. W. Randall, with Mr. Barstow, and A. E. Elmore conceived the idea of seceding from Milwaukee County and organizing a new county [Waukesha]. Mr. Pratt was also owner and editor of the Waukesha Plaindealer newspaper. Mr. Randall went on to become governor of Wisconsin. See "History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Vol. 1, 1881", pgs 170-171 for biographical data.]
[Editor's note: from further sources, his attorneys present at the trial, those who were mentioned are: Messrs. Holliday and Walker. Source: American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, November 17, 1846, page 2 of 4.]
What isn't told in this version of the first murder in Waukesha County, is in the "1880 History of Waukesha County". There are seven county murders discussed, but Bonham's takes four pages, while the other six murders get only two pages total. Source: Excerpts from "Lisbon chairman a killer", by Fred H. Keller, Tuesday, June 11, 1996, Sussex Sun.
Regarding the article "Another Version" above, is it based on the following 1949 newspaper account and/or the "The History of Waukesha county, Wisconsin, 1880?
Waukesha Daily Freeman, Waukesha, Wisconsin,
Tuesday, March 29, 1949, page 6.
Local History Includes Sensational Murders
[Editor's note: This article is the first, a hundred years after the crime was committed, that mentions, Keene as the victim, that is, he was cheated by Nottingham, versus the other way around, At least according to the newspaper accounts of the era - see below. There is no author to this article nor source material listed - Is this article a fabrication or twisting of the facts?]
Note: Abraham Nottingham was a shareholder in the American Freeman, a Prairieville newspaper, operated by the Liberty or Abolitionist party of which he was long standing member. The American Freeman very much wanted Bonham to be hanged. Was there a conspiracy among some of the abolitionists and perhaps the temperance movement to set Bonham up?
Alexander W. or A. W. Randall advertises he is an "Attorney at Law, and General Land Agent; Prairieville, Milwaukie Co., He is appointed the District Attorney for Waukesha County in June 1846 by the Board of Supervisors (Source: The History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, 1880). If Randall was the District Attorney, he couldn't have been Bonham's attorney, even if the trial was moved to Racine County. In his later letters he talks of his business dealings with both Henry Keene and Thomas Phippin; why would Bonham put his life into his care?
Messrs. James Holliday and Isaac P. Walker were Bonham's defense attorneys according to the trial record. I. P. Walker, one of Bonham's defense attorneys, answers Randall's allegations in a lengthy letter in the Evening Courier, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 13, 1847. In which he says of Bonham's innocence "and I firmly believe he is".
Rev. (The Hon.) Henry Powers and the temperance movement petition are mentioned in the American Freeman, February 17, 1847 issue, but only that the lawful petition was presented to the Legislature. There is no mention in the newspapers of this time of the fraudulent act as described in the "History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, 1880", and later news stories which undoubtedly used this book as their source for material.
Thomas Phippin and a Mr. [Abraham] Nottingham built a saw mill on the Fox River in the general area of present day Wanaki Golf Course [on Lisbon Rd. in the Town of Menomonee] using water power to turn saws. Soon afterwards Mr. Phippin sold his interest in the property to Henry Keene; the firm thus changed its' from Nottingham & Phippin to Nottingham & Keene. Mr. Nottingham went to the land office in Milwaukee, without Keene's knowledge, and made out a deed for the entire mill property in just his own name, instead of allowing the title to rest in the firm name of Nottingham & Keene. Mr. Keene, after going to the land office and discovering the wording of the deed went to his partner and asked for an explanation or remuneration to settle this discrepancy.
Mr. Nottingham refused to give an explanation or to pay any settlement. Mr. Keene then went o the mill, determined to get some value for his investment, if possible. He began to remove machinery and tools to Phippin's home which which was nearby. David Bonham, who worked for a monthly salary for Nottingham, discovered what Keene was doing and ordered him to leave the mill. Keene angrily expressed an opinion that he had a perfect right to remove whatever he desired because he was part owner. Keene proceeded to start dismantling the mill. Bonham sent his brother to get a loaded gun. The appearance of the gun failed to have the desired effect. Bonham took deliberate aim and shot Keene dead. The shooting had been witnessed by several persons besides Bonham's brother.
Bonham was arrested, and appeared before William P. Sloan, Justice of Peace, at Waukesha. He had Alexander W. Randall, a future Governor of Wisconsin, and Postmaster General of the United States as his attorney, and no man ever worked more tenaciously for his client. Justice Sloan, in spite of a lot of legal maneuvering and eloquent pleas, held Bonham for murder. He was sent to jail in Milwaukee to await trial, as Waukesha had no jail in 1845.
Randall secured a change in venue to Racine County, because the excitement was so great and the feeling was so bitter against Bonham. His advisers thought a fair trial and impartial justice could not be had at Milwaukee.
Testimony at the trial brought out that Nottingham had written from Milwaukee to Bonham, that Mr. Keene was on his way to take possession of the mill, and to "be ready for him." The letter did not call for violence. Three prominent things were brought out at the trial: James Keene was so dead that he was buried, and he was perfectly alive and well before David Bonham shot him, in May 1845, and that this was the first murder in Waukesha County.
Bonham was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hung. Hanging for capital crimes had not yet been abolished in Wisconsin. Bonham, a physically strong man, who borne up bravely until the sentence was pronounced, lost courage, but not his attorney and friends, who at once set in motion an appeal for intercession from the Governor. Shrewd attorneys and tireless friends laid siege to the Governor's office. Gov. Dodge granted a reprieve of one month in December, 1847, on the very day that he was scheduled to be executed. A large crowd of people had gathered in Racine to see the hanging. The crowd, largely from Waukesha County, was angry when they heard of the reprieve. One man made a speech in which he said, " They never could have a better opportunity for a first-class hanging, or a more deserving subject." Lynching was openly talked about.
The delivery of the reprieve is a story in itself. The fateful paper was taken by A. F. Pratt on horseback to Racine. The horse was called "Old Whitey" who was famous in those days for tireless speed. The horse and rider arrived in Racine with only hours to spare.
The one month reprieve was used by Attorney Randall and Bonham's friends to hatch a plot to get a pardon. A Rev. Powers, a temperance advocate, at this time was completing s several months labor of collecting signatures to a temperance petition. Somehow this petition fell into the hands of Bonham's supporters who noted the many prominent Waukesha and vicinity residents who had affixed their mark to the eloquent plea for outlawing alcohol. It was a simple matter to cut off the temperance petitions from the list of names and paste in its place a petition asking the Governor to grant the condemned man a full and free pardon. The Governor acted on the strength of this bogus petition. Bonham was freed with a full pardon. this probably caused a bigger stir than the murder, but once done there was no remedy - Bonham was forever free. Many indignation meetings were held to try to undo his pardon. Bonham even attended a few.
Bonham returned to Lisbon, but found so much hostility that he followed some of the Weaver clan that had settled in Missouri. With a new start in life Bonham again distinguished himself. Missouri was a border state in the Civil War with brother against brother, father against son in the choosing up of sides. Bonham volunteered as a private for the Union side, and quickly rose to a command position with a rank of "Colonel". In the later part of the war he was invalided out of service after giving heroic help to the Union. After regaining his health, he entered politics, being elected to the state senate. He helped to write the new state constitution for Missouri and acted as a watch dog over public expenditures with a zeal that thwarted many of the "fleece the taxpayer" schemes.
In 1868 he sailed back to England to see his brothers and sisters whom he had left 38 years before. Finding most of his kin living in drudgery, he organized a mass migration to Missouri. He lived to see them all comfortably located and prospering before his death in May 22, 1870. He left five children.
From Source: excerpts from "First Lisbon Town Chairman was a Murderer", by Fred. H. Keller, Sussex Sun, Tues., Dec. 7, 1976.
[Editor's note: I have included the following letters written by David Bonham before the alleged "murder" incident took place to show the extent of the feelings he and others had regarding "settler's rights" and the importance of having the canal land sale abiding by those rights. Mr. Bonham and his friends had many opposing them in the canal land sale, disregarding the settlers rights. It would not be surprising, if the whole event that followed on May 22, 1846 was manufactured in some way, by one party or the other. A challenge to the opposition, a game of chicken, so to speak. Unfortunately for Bonham, he played the game too well and paid the price for his convictions. Let the readers decide for themselves Bonham's and others motives for what happened May 22, 1846 and afterward.]
For the Courier
CANAL LANDS AGAIN
Editor of the Courier
The 14th of April being the time fixed for the sale of Canal Lands, and as one excitement after another is getting up, and communication after communication going the rounds in all the papers of this county, signed by plough jogger, canal lands, canal grant, and heaps of other fictitious names, it would be amiss at this time to broach the subject calmly, and ascertain the facts that has brought on the sale of those lands at this time. And first, I must go back to the report made in Congress in 1842 relative to those lands. The committee making that report say, that congress has not the power to reduce the odd sections on the Canal reserve without the consent of the Canal company, (this I resume will not be disputed by any candid man). The committee also say, that it would be unjust to reduce the even sections until the odd one are reduced.
Thus showing that the work of reduction must begin at home. The opposition being so heated against the canal, the President of the Canal company became satisfied that it was useless to think of constructing the canal, made a proposition to the people, that he would do al in his power to have the lands reduced to 10 schillings per acre, accordingly he was elected to the Legislature in the winter of 1844, to use his influence to accomplish this object, his election being to the House of Representatives. He there introduced a bill bringing the lands in market at 10 schillings per acre on a credit, [if I mistake not of 4 years] his bill, however, was amended by substituting an entire new one on the cash system. This bill passed the House of Representatives absolute at 10 schillings the acre, 18 members voting for it, and 6 against it. Every member from Milwaukee county, to my personal knowledge, done his best to have that bill become a law. But in the Council it met with an unexpected opposition, and was amended by adding the 17 sec., in this shape it came back to the House, and every member from our county rejected the 17th sec.; it then went back to the Council, and finally was referred to a committee of conference, which on the whole thought best to let it pass as it is than have it killed, believing as they did if the Canal Company and all parties concerned gave their assent to the bill, and ask Congress to approve of it, that congress would do it without doubt. Thus believing that they had done all in their power to reduce the lands according to the prayer of the petitioners with 1,500 signers and 800 from the canal grant.
The same Legislature passed a memorial asking Congress to approve of the act a move referred to - thus giving their assent in every point to get the lands reduced, and in Dec. last, the canal company sent a memorial to Congress asking that body to approve of the act above referred to. Thus giving their assent to accomplish the object we are all seeking for, and thus giving their assent to congress in order that that body might do what they in 1842 said indirectly they would do, it they had the consent of this company, and at an early day in the last session of our Legislature, two memorials was passed asking Congress to approve the act above referred to, reducing both odd and even sections to 10 schillings per acre. Thus it will be seen that all the influence that can be brought to beat on this subject, has had its weight, and under those circumstances who can think for a moment that congress will compel us to pay double price and no canal. I can't believe that any rational being does not think so, and if not, why not let the sale go on? But some say, why did not the Legislature put off the sale until next Oct. All I can say on this subject is that every member from this county tried to do so, but they being the minority, the majority ruled otherwise. Another complaint is, that our members this last winter did not do their duty, or else they would have postponed the sale until Congress had acted upon it, [I could have wished that this should have been done].
But on this subject, there are reasons why they did not do it. First, they were unsatisfied that a postponement of the sale would throw the subject into the hands of the future state, and the state could get a title in fee simple to the lands, and in that event the State Legislature would pretendedly try and make the most out of the lands for the benefit of the whole state, thus it might be that instead of a reduction ????? as more than 20 shillings per acre. Second reason was that there was 1200 signers to petition on this subject, 400 only for postponement and 800 against it. And my firm belief is that Congress will approve of the act, and thus the question will be settled, for in a conversation without worthy Governor last winter, he gave it as his opinion, that there was not a doubt but Congress would approve of the act as quick as it could be reached by that body.
And again here is the opinion of our present delegate on this subject:
Extract of a letter date
"Washington City, Feb. 19, 1846.
"I have introduced a canal bill and should we fail in getting a bill through Congress at this session, the Commissioner of the General Land Office will do all in his power to protect settlers by keeping the lands out of market, satisfied as he is of the great injustice of making them pay double price without the most remote prospect of the construction of the canal. I have strong hopes of getting a bill through, however, which will relieve you all."
Also an extract of a letter from our delegate dated March 1st, 1846, in which he says:
"It is conceded on all hands that there is no reason why the price of the lands should be continued at 20 schillings. Whatever may be the final disposition of the canal grant, it is evitable that the price must be reduced of both odd and even sections, and if not done now, it will be done at no distant day, for the confident anticipation of that event, I advise you by all means to attend the sale in April, and purchase your homes regardless of the fate of any measures to be adopted immediately for your relief. I am confident that it cannot be delayed beyond the next session. Should it be unsuccessful at this time, and when it does come, it will sanction all proceedings under the law."
Here then, we have the opinions of men that knows more than we can on this subject. Also the assurance of the commissioners of the General Land office, that the lands sworn out of market will not be brought into market until Congress has acted upon the subject. The above is a plain statement of facts, and the only question with the settlers should be whether they should comply with the laws of their country or not. Gentlemen on the canal grant, just say to yourselves, that you asked the Legislature to do in their power to reduce your lands; the Legislature say we did.
Now ponder coolly, the circumstances, and ask whether it will do for you to resist the law that you helped put into operation; ask yourselves whether if lawful means will not stop the sale, you will recommend Judge Lynch? God forbid?
And, although it has gone forth to the world, that the towns of Lisbon and Warren have resolved on lynch law, I pledge you sir that not a man in Lisbon, except one that helped (if I mistake not) draft the resolution above referred to, which can be found in the Waukesha Advocate, the person alluded to writes for the Sentinel and Gazette, under the signature of "Plough Jogger" says, the greatest evil in our camps is, there are men among us who undertake to laugh down opposition to the canal land sale, inattention to their case now, is but a respite. Justice will drive them into their lurking places befitting their corruptions. Now, air, I don't know of any man who thinks the sale had best go on, but who comes out, I the writes on the subject, and signs his name to what he write; on an important subject like this, I do not see what ground there is for fictitious names to articles sent before the world, if what is written is true, why not give us your true name? If it is not true then your story is soon told. I am honest in the opinion that the step being taken by some to stop the sale, is the very thing to prevent a reduction in the price of the lands; I am also honest in the opinions, that if the settlers do all in their power to purchase their lands under the law, that the act will be approved of, and end the trouble; and if I am corrupt, in an honest difference of opinion, Mr. "Plough Jogger" can take advantage of my corruption by keeping his name in the lurking place it is now.
I had concluded this article, but since writing the above, I
have received the proceedings of Settlers meetings held in Brookfield and
Delafield, in which, I regret to say that war seems inevitable up to 43d degree
north latitude. I find that resolutions have been passed designed to effect a
resignation of the Canal Commissioners, I take it that the Commissioners have
accepted the office to which they were elected, and have sworn to discharge the
trusts and duties imposed upon them by law. The resolutions, seem to me, like
trying to swerve men from a duty which they have sworn to perform. Again, it
appears by the report of those Commissioners, made to the legislature under date
of Dec. 31st, 1845, that 158 persons paid in their 10 per cent in July last
according to law; and, undoubtedly, are now ready to comply with the law, and
pay the balance between the 1st Monday and 2nd Tuesday in April. Now, I ask,
have not these men got lawful and constitutional rights under the law. that no
power on earth can or ought to try to abrogate? And if those men resign, will
they not abrogate the vested rights of those that wish to comply with this law?
Certainly, for they cannot avail themselves of their rights without another act
of the legislature, and it would be an act of the grossest injustice to all
those who wish to comply with the law, for the Commissioners at this time to
resign and deprive men of their just and lawful rights. Who is to accept their
resignation? don't their bonds bind them for the faithful discharge of all the
trusts and duties imposed on them by law?
Certainly it does; and in case they resign and prohibit those that have compiled and wish still to comply with the law - will it not be a breach of trust - also a breach of duty? But the resolutions say, we hope to stop the sale by peaceful means, and trust we may not be driven by acts of avarice and injustice to forcible means. Well, sir, I trust not either, but if so, my humble opinion is, it will be done through the crimination and recrimination which is embraced in the inflammatory resolutions which are passed at meetings held on the canal grant. And my firm belief is, that every meeting held, as yet, will have a tendency, and a strong one too, to prevent a reduction in the price of our lands, instead of drawing sympathy for our situation. Congress will see that we are setting fire to the canal grant and adding fuel to the flames.
Resolutions were passed at some of those meetings, setting forth that our legislature, in authorizing a sale of those lands, assumed an authority which they had no business, alth'o, mind you, 800 signers to petitions, asking to sell the lands all from the canal grant - it is true they contend that they asked the lands to be sold at ten shillings per acre. Now, if they had the authority to sell at ten schillings, certainly they have the same authority to sell for 20, thus the assumption of power without authority appears to be groundless.
All the meetings seem to indicate that the title to the land under the law will not be good. For the information of the settlers I will here quote the law of Congress on this subject.
Sec. 1st. And the said land so granted, to aid it, the construction of said canal, shall be subject to the disposal of the legislature of said territory. And the canal shall be commenced within 3 years, and
completed in ten years; or The United States shall be entitled to receive the money for which the lands have been previously sold - and the title to purchasers under the territory shall be valid - mark the law, the title to said lands, sold previous to the expiration of the 10 years, shall be good, eight years next June - no comments on that point.
Sec 2nd., The Governor of said Territory, or such other persons as shall be appointed for the purpose, under the authority of the legislature of said territory, shall have the power to sell or convey the whole or any part of said land, at a price not less than 20 schillings per acre; and give a title in fee simple therefore to whomever shall purchase the whole or any part thereof.
Now, sir, who can for a moment doubt the title. I heartily wish the lands could have been sold at 10 schillings, without any mortgage, but the law is passed, and I believe that the lands should be opened for sale, under the law, feeling confident that Congress will relieve us by approving the act; and the true motto for the settlers to adopt, is, that every man should buy that wants to, without being molested; and he that does not, let him not buy, and protect him in his just rights. All this can be done without holding meetings, and passing inflammatory resolutions censuring this man, and that man, or this legislature or that legislature.
Sir, I assure you, I have not written the
above to vindicate or censure this man or that man; its only done to lay before
the settlers the law and the facts, and the opinions of some of our prominent
men on the subject; its true, I have given my own opinion, and its before the
world, if it is worth anything you have it gratis.
P. S. will the Sentinel please copy.
March 26th 1846
Source: Milwaukee Daily Courier, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monday Morning,
March 30, 1846, page 2 of 4.
Lisbon, 16th, April 1846
In the American Freeman of the 14th inst. I find the following paragraph in an editorial article, to wit:
"In Pewaukee the liberty ticket was defeated, wigs and democrats combining against it as usual. A similar result, by similar means, was also affected in Lisbon."
Now sir, I contend that fair play is good sport after election as well as before, and if the above goes before the world without a demurer it may be taken for a fact, and people might believe that the whigs and democrats in Lisbon combined together on purpose to do to defeat the so called liberty party. So far as Lisbon is implicated in the Freeman, I pronounce it to be false to the letter, for it is well known that all of the three weeks before the town meeting, the democrats brought out a strict party ticket, and I state for a fact, that one week after the democrats made a nomination, the whigs and abolitionists combined together, and made an amalgamation ticket strictly from their own parties, to defeat the democratic ticket. But the democrats of Lisbon as usual, came on with an unbroken front, and defeated the combined forces of both parties, and it vexes them no doubt, but it's so. And it strikes me that friend Sholes is hard up, having to resort to such statements to bolster up the so called liberty party. It's no go Charley, you must try again.
Source: Milwaukee Daily Courier, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monday Morning, April 20,age 2 of 4.
Affray and Probable Murder - We regret to learn that an affray occurred in the town of Menomonee, on Friday evening, between David Bonham and a man named Keene, in which the latter was killed by a shot from a gun discharged by the former. Some dispute about a price of land led to this deplorable result. Bonham has fled towards Fond du Lac, but as he is well known in many parts of the territory, he will doubtless be arrested, and brought to judgment. A hand bill issued by the Sheriff of this county describes him as an Englishman by birth, about 40 years of age, short, stout built, with a heavy black beard, dark complexion, blue eyes, and a yellow scar on the under jaw. - Keene was also an Englishman, and a man of some property.
Source: Daily Sentinel and
Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monday Morning, May 25, 1846,
page 2 of 4.
The Murder of Kean - In yesterday's paper we stated very briefly the circumstances of this ????? affair. We have since learned some further particulars. The murder was committed in the town of Lisbon, in the new county of Waukesha. - Kean, the deceased, and a man by the name of Nottingham had a disputed claim to a piece of land, and a saw-mill in the town of Lisbon. At the late Canal Reserve sale, Kean bid off this piece of land; but Nottingham, complaining that he had been cheated in the transaction, leased the premises to David Bonham. On Friday evening last, Kean went to the mill and took out some pieces of the machinery, so as to prevent Bonham from running it. Bonham met him as he was coming out, and told him to take the machinery back. Kean refused, and Bonham told him if he didn't he would shoot him. "You dare not shoot me," was Kean's reply. Bonham immediately took a shotgun from the hands of his brother, standing by, raised and fired it at Kean, who was scarcely six feet from him. - The charge passed thro' Kean's abdomen, inflicting a mortal wound. "I am murdered, and you have done it," was his exclamation, as he turned away. Kean expired in a short time, and Bonham being arrested by some of the neighbors, was carried before Justice Slone, by whom he was committed for examination. He is now in this city and is to be examined at Prairieville to-day. If the facts are, as we have stated them, the killing of Kean was a cold blooded murder for which David Bonham must be held to a strict account.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday Morning, May 26, 1846, page 2 of 4.
We learn by the American Freeman that Henry Keene, a
citizen of Prairieville was murdered on Saturday morning last in the town of
Menomonee by David Bonham of Lisbon, a man of considerable notoriety in that
section of the country.
It appears that the affray grew out of a dispute concerning a saw-mill, which Mr. Keene had purchased of an original owner or claimant, and a piece of land on which the mill was located, which he had bid off at the recent sale of Canal lands belonging to the Territory.
The mill at this time was in
the possession of Bonham as agent of Abram Nottingham, who claimed an interest
in the property. It was the expressed determination of these men - particularly
of the first named - to retain possession at all hazards. Mr. Keene came to the
mill, and after some few inquires addressed to the person in charge - a Mr.
Frary - proceeded to take possession, no resistance being offered, he
immediately removed several articles to a place of security. Mrs. Bonham, who
had been informed what was transpiring, hastened to the mill, demanded of Mr. K.
that he return such articles as had been removed, which Mr. Keene refused to do,
when the demand was again made, accompanied with a threat that if the refusal
were persisted in , he would be shot. He disregarded the threat, and asserted
his determination to take possession. Whereupon, Bonham, having, as it is
stated, received a gun from the hands of his brother, deliberately place the
muzzle within a few inches of Mr. K's person and fired - a heavy charge of shot,
with the wadding, and a small shell (as was ascertained by a post-mortem
examination of the body) having entered the lower part of the stomach, passed
through the bowels, and lodged in the spine. Mr. K. was immediately removed to
the nearest house and expired in about an hour.
Bonham has been committed to jail, and George Bonham arrested, and a warrant issued for the apprehension of Nottingham as accessory to the murder.
Source: The Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin Territory, Saturday, May 30, 1846
Committed for Murder
David Bonham was fully committed on Tuesday last, by Justice Sloan, of Prairieville, to stand his trial for the murder of Kean. Bonham's brother, and Nottingham, who had been arrested as accessories, were discharged from custody; there being no evidence to implicate them in the bloody transaction. Source: Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 5, 1846.
Source: Milwaukee Daily Courier, Friday Morning, June 12, 1846
Drowned - A valuable horse, belonging to David Bonham, was drown in the river yesterday morning. The driver, a son of Mr. Nottingham of Lisbon, was backing him into the water to drink, when the wagon broke and the horse, becoming entangled in the harness and thills, got beyond his depth and soon went under. He was drawn out, dead, a few minutes afterwards.
Source: Daily Sentinel and
Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Friday Morning, June 12, 1846,
page 2 of 4.
In the District Court,
Yesterday P. M.
David Bonham, indicted for the murder of Keane, was arraigned and his counsel, Walker & Holliday, on his behalf, put in a plea of "not guilty". Afterwards a motion was made by the counsel of the prisoner for a continuance of the cause of the said David Bonham until the next November term. It is understood that this motion was made on affidavits - not of the prisoner's, but of the counsel, setting forth that the prisoner had only succeeded in making arrangements to secure counsel, on the 8th inst.; and that his counsel were not prepared to enter upon defence; further, that said counsel believed Bonham has a good defence on the merits; and that he had not been able to get his witnesses, (persons not named) and lastly that the counsel did not believe Bonham could get a fair trial in Milwaukee county, owing to the excitement and prejudice of the citizens generally.
Messrs. Upham (District Atty.) and Randall of Milwaukee appeared for the prosecution.
The Court too until morning to decide the question of continuance.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 16, 1846, page 2 of 4.
The Trial of Bonham - The Court yesterday decided that the trial of Bonham should take place during the present term and set Monday week as the day for the hearing of the cause.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wednesday Morning, June 17, 1846, page 2 of 4.
Bonham's Trial - We hear from Racine that the Court was busy yesterday empanelling a jury for the trial of Bonham. It is supposed that a day or two will be consumed in this process, and that the trial will not be finished till some time next week.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Friday Morning, October 30, 1846, page 2 of 4.
Correspondence of the Sentinel and Gazette.
Racine, Nov. 7, 1846
Messrs. Editors - The evidence in the case of the United States vs. David Bonham, indicted for the murder of Henry Keene, closed on Thursday last, and a part of that day and, the whole of Friday, was occupied with the arguments of counsel. Judge Miller delivered his charge to the jury last evening, and after an absence of four hours, they returned with a verdict of GUILTY.
Throughout the whole trial the Prisoner has been confident in the belief that he would be acquitted, and when he heard the verdict his feelings overcame him, and he wept like a child. The defence has been ably conducted by Isaac P. Walker and Jas. Holliday, Esqs., and the prosecution with equal ability by Jonathan E. Arnold and James J. Brown, Esqs. The Speeches made by these gentlemen were eloquent and pathetic, add were listened to by a crowded audience. Mr. Arnold's closing speech, especially, was a master effort, and the manner of its delivery, and the beauty of his expression, struck me as peculiarly calculated to have an effect upon the jury.
Mr. Walker occupied about four hours with his speech; and displayed a vividness of concentration, and a memory of facts, rarely possessed by our ablest lawyers. Had it been in the power of man to have cleared David Bonham, Mr. Walker would have done it.
The same may be said of Mr. Holliday.
Sentence was pronounced against the prisoner this forenoon about 11 o'clock. When asked why the sentence of the law should not be pronounced against him, he rose and read a statement which he had prepared, in which he asserted his innocence of the crime charged against him. He had lived, he said, a man among men, and he should die like a man. After he had finished, the Judge pronounced sentence against him. Unless pardoned by the Governor, he is to be hung on the 11th of December next, by the sheriff of our county [Racine].
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 9, 1846, page 3 of 4.
Bonham's Trial (American Freeman,
Prairieville, Wisconsin, November 17, 1846, page 2 of 4.)
We copy the following succinct and lucid account of this trial, from the Southport Telegraph of November 11th.
The case occupied the attention of the Court, to the exclusion of all other business, over eight days of the term.
We propose now to give briefly the circumstances of the murder, as drawn from the material part of the mass of testimony presented.
It seems that there is a sawmill situated on a small tract of canal land, in the town of Menomonee, Waukesha Co. This mill was erected some years ago by the joint means and labor of Mr. Nottingham and a Mr. Phippin, who, of course, were joint owners. The last named individual sold his interest shortly after the mill had been erected, to Mr. Henry Keene, of Prairieville, between whom and Mr. N, there appears not to have been a good understanding, from the outstart. At the canal land sale, in Milwaukee, in April last, Mr. Keene bid off, and paid for, the tract of land upon which the mill is situated; and thus became, in law, the entire owner of the property in question. Mr. Nottingham at this time, and for some weeks after assumed and exercised exclusive control of the mill. Shortly before the fatal occurrence, the mill was placed in possession of David Bonham, as lessee of Mr. N, Mr. B., as appears from the testimony, was fully aware of the difficulties which existed in regard to the property; and it appears farther, that a leading object in view, on his part, in taking it, was to prevent, by force if necessary, its falling into the hands of the legal owner, who, it was supposed, would soon attempt to enter into possession. Mr. Bonham had been somewhat conspicuous as an advocate of what are termed "settlers' rights" - was very familiar with the rules and regulations which had bee adopted by settlers for mutual protection in these rights; and being, withal, a man of some courage and determination, was of course, the very one who would be most likely to fight the thing successfully through against the claim of Mr. K. Indeed, he had, it seems, expressed a determination to do so, and for two nights prior to the night of the 22nd of May, when the murder was committed, had guarded the mill with a deadly weapon - a gun in his hands. Early in the afternoon of the 22nd of May last, Mr. Keene, acting under the advice of his counsel, appeared in the mill, which was then in charge of a Mr. Frary, a hired man of Bonham. After making some inquires in reference to Nottingham and Bonham, the former of whom he was told had gone to Walworth Co., and the later to Prairieville after the Lisbon mail, he informed Mr. Frary that he intended very soon to take possession of the mill. He then left but returned a short time before sundown and sensing a favorable opportunity, when Mr. Frary had stepped outside to point out to a Mr. Foster where certain lumber was to be found, he shut down the gate and stopped the mill. When Frary stopped back again, Mr. K told him he had taken possession and that his services were no longer needed. Frary soon started away leaving the mill in peaceful possession of Keene, who provided to take out the saw and removed it, with a segment of the drag wheel, &c, and discharged a loaded gun which he found on the premises. Bonham by this time had returned home from Prairieville with the mail.
By this mail he read a letter from Mr. N., then in Milwaukee, informing him of the design of Mr. K and advising him, at all hazards, to regain possession of the property. Bonham sent his brother George to a neighbor to borrow a gun directing him to be at the mill with the gun, in the course of half an hour and immediately, himself, started for the mill, the distance of which, from his house, is over a mile. He met Frary within a few rods of the mill, who informed him what had taken place. When Bonham entered the mill, he found Keene, Foster, and a young lad, by the name of Dunn, there. He shook hands with Mr. K, to whom he said, "you have stopped my mill." K replied, "Your mill? You couldn't expect a mill so easy as that." Bonham then went away, and returned with Frary, and commanded Mr. K to bring back the articles he had taken off. Thus, K, refused to do so. B then ordered all but Frary out of the mill. K declined going, and requested Foster to remain. About this time George Bonham appeared with the gun which he had been sent for.
David Bonham immediately took it, and again, with the gun in his hand, ordered Keene, Foster, and Dunn out of the mill who all now left, K taking the lead. K got only about half a rod from the mill, when Bonham called out, "Keene, come back I wish to speak with you."- K turned about and met Bonham, who had advanced toward him - B then again demanded the articles which had been taken away. K replied "You can not prove that I have taken them". B rejoined, "Bring them back, or I'll shoot you." K advancing a step, said, "Shoot, I'm not afraid." B. drew back, presented the muzzle of the gun within a short distance of the body of K and fired, the whole charge entering the lower part of the stomach, passing through and lodging, (as appeared by post mortem examination) in the spine. K reeled, fell on his right hand, exclaiming, "I am a dead man." B. replied, "You are no worse." K recovered and staggered away at out 70 yards, when he fell. He was carried into Mrs. Phippin's house, which was in the immediate vicinity, where in the course of half an hour he died. Bonham and his brother, and Frary very coolly left the scene of the occurrence, without going near the wounded man, or making the slightest inquiry, or exhibiting the slightest feeling of anxiety, in regard to his situation. This fact doubtless impressed the mind of the jury, as it did that of the Court and public most unfavorably towards the prisoner, and was the strongest evidence presented of the express malice upon which the indictment rested."
These are the principal circumstances, as narrated by the witnesses for the prosecution. It is proper to state that the testimony of George Bonham and Frary, on the part of the defense, differed in material points from that above given. Frary swore that Bonham, instead of calling Keene back, said, "Keene, don't you come back, unless to return the property you took away," and that when this remark was made, Keene advancing towards the mill, with the mill-dog in his hand, an article which it seems he had been carrying about with him during the time of the difficulty. George Bonham swore, in addition to this, that when his brother demanded the return of the article taken away, he said, "If you don't bring them back, I'll sue you!" - that Mr. K. replied, "sue, I'm not afraid" - that after K said "you can not prove that I have taken them," his brother replied, "you have one of them in your hand" - that then K raised the mill dog in a threatening manner and advancing said, "Yes! God damn you, take it," when his brother stepped back and fired, as before described.
The summing up was commenced by Mr. Brown, District Attorney of Milwaukee Co. on the part of the prosecution, whose duty, we are informed, was ably discharged. Mr. B. was followed by Messrs. Holliday and Walker, whose efforts on behalf of the prisoner displayed more than ordinary ingenuity and talent - not a point or circumstance, which could be turned to their advantage, was left untouched, and the impression was doubtless general, that if the prisoner was condemned, it would not be for the want of faithfulness, energy, or ability, on the part of his counsel. Mr. Arnold closed on the part of the prosecution. His speech occupied about eight hours. A forensic effort of more power has probably seldom been heard. His closing appeal to the jury, (in which they were called upon to sustain the law in its majesty and impartiality, and in which allusion was made to the violation of law and justice in the case of Vineyard, who murdered Arndt, and is now a member of our Constitution convention - in the case of Freeman, "the poor, miserable, stolid, insane, negro," who was condemned to be hung - and in the case of Spencer, who, because of hereditary insanity in his family was acquitted of the murder of his wife, whom he destroyed in a fit of jealousy,) will not soon be forgotten. But we shall not pretend to give and idea of this, nor other points, of his eloquent appeals and arguments. We could not do the subject justice, and have not room, if we had the ability.
The defense endeavored to sustain the position that the act was not one
of felonious homicide, but excusable homicide, committed in self
defense. the testimony of Geo. Bonham and Frary was, of course, the
basis of the argument; but, unfortunately, there was much to discredit
this testimony, and the law was read, on the other side to show that,
even admitting the evidence in question to be entitled to full crudity,
yet, under the circumstances, the plea of self defense could not stand.
The evidence adduced as to the prisoner's former good character for
"benevolence, kindness, and humanity," was dwelt upon as affording
ground for reasonable presumption as to his innocence of the crime
alleged, - and if a doubt existed it was contended that the prisoner was
entitled to the full benefit of that doubt, and should be acquitted.
The court was requested by the Counsel for the defense to charge the Jury specially in reference to certain written points presented, embodying among others, the points above stated.
After the charge of the court, the case was left with the jury, about 10 o'clock P. M., of Friday. At 1 A. M., of Saturday, the verdict was rendered. The word GUILTY fell upon the ear of the prisoner with appalling force. He had indulged a hope, amounting in his mind almost to a certainty, that he should be acquitted. He had known of cases in the Territory, where the circumstances of guilt against the prisoner had been as strong, if not stronger, than in his case. Yet, verdicts of acquittal had been rendered. He supposed the result in his case would be the same - and doubtless, from what he had seen of the administration of law in Wisconsin, he had calculated the chances of escape, before the crime was committed. Such is the influence of crime unpunished to beget crime. The strong hope he entertained, sustained him during the progress of the trial. It was not observed that at any time he exhibited the least feeing of anxiety or apprehension. Indeed, it would have been difficult, so unconcerned generally was the expression of his countenance, for a stranger to have told who among the persons at the bar, was the prisoner. But as we said before, the word "guilty" came upon him with a crushing effect. With hope, the spirit of the man appeared to be almost extinguished. The look of indifference was gone - and in its place was one of terror and despair. The tottering step, of the before strong man, as he left the Court room for the prison, to await his sentence, betokened the state of mind under which he was now laboring, and how little prepared he had been for the awful verdict which had been announced.
At 11 o'clock on Saturday, he was brought the Court to receive the sentence of the law. Being asked what he had to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against him, he rose, and with a tremulous voice and choked utterance, read four or five pages of manuscript which he held in his hand, giving detail of the circumstances ... that he had no intention to kill Mr. Keene - that no one could regret the occurrence more than he did - that he alone was responsible for what had been done - that his brother, Nottingham, and Frary were not accessories - that he had noted in self defense, etc, etc. he was disposed to submit to the laws of his country. he had been advised the day after the offense was committed, and when he could have done so, to effect his escape. This advice was given by Dr. Hilliard of Waukesha Co. But he scorned to do it. He had to abide the issues before a Court of Justice, having no fear as to the result. But the decision was against him!. He hoped that the Court would have mercy upon him; and begged that he might be allowed as long a time as possible to prepare for the awful event which awaited him. He sank upon his seat overcome with emotion, when the Court proceeded to discharge the solemn duty which devolved upon it.
David Bonham is
about 35 years of age; and has, we are informed, a wife and four
It is due to his Honor Judge Miller, to say that the whole of the proceedings in this case were characterized by an evident disposition on his part to afford the prisoner and his counsel every advantage which propriety and the most liberal construction of law, would warrant.
Source: American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, November 17, 1846, page 2 of 4.
The Case of David Bonham (Daily Sentinel and Gazette,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Friday Morning, November 20, 1846, page 2 of 4.)
We hear, not without surprise, that a strong effort is made to procure a pardon, or commutation of punishment for David Bonham, now lying under sentence of death for the murder of Henry Keene, in the town of Menomonee, on the 22nd of May last. Petitions to the Governor have been prepared and are circulating in this and adjoining counties, and as many of our readers will no doubt be asked to unite in this appeal to the Executive we thought it due to them, as well to the community at large and to the cause of justice, to recapitulate the facts in the case and to offer some consideration which seem to us conclusive again to the propriety of the proposed Executive interference. The circumstances of the murder as established on the trial, are thus printed in the Southport Telegraph.
"It seems that there is a saw mill situated on a small tract of canal land, in the town of Menomonee, Waukesha Co. This mill was erected some years ago, by the joint means and labor of Mr. Nottingham and a Mr. Phippin, who of course, were joint owners. The last named individual sold his interest shortly after the mill had been erected, to Mr. Henry Keene of Prairieville, between whom and Mr. N., there appears not to have been a good understanding, from the out-start. At the canal land sale in Milwaukee, in April last, Mr. Keene bid off and paid for, the tract of land upon which the mill is situated and thus became, in law, the entire owner of the property in question. Mr. Nottingham at this time, and for some weeks after, assumed and exercised exclusive control of the mill. Shortly before the fatal occurrence, the mill was placed in possession of D. Bonham, as lessee of Mr. N., who appears from the testimony, was fully aware of the difficulties which existed in regard to the property, and it appears farther, that a leading object in view, on his part, in taking it, was to prevent by force if necessary, it falling into the hands of the legal owner, who it was supposed, would soon attempt to enter into possession. Mr. Bonham had been somewhat conspicuous as an advocate of what was termed "settlers rights" - was very familiar with the rules and regulations which had been adopted by settlers for mutual protection in these rights, and being, withal, a man of some courage and determination, was of course, the very first one who would be most likely to fight the thing successful through against the claim of Mr. K. Indeed, he had, it seems, expressed a determination to do so, and for two nights prior to the night of the 22nd of May, when the murder was committed, had guarded the mill with a deadly weapon - a gun - in his hands. Early in the afternoon of the 22nd of May last, Mr. Keene, acting under the advice of his counsel, appeared in the mill, which was then in charge of a Mr. Frary, a hired man of Bonham. After making some inquires in reference to Nottingham and Bonham, the former of whom he was told had gone to Walworth Co., and the later to Prairieville after the Lisbon mail, he informed Mr. Frary that he intended very soon to take possession of the mill. He then left but returned a short time before sundown and sensing a favorable opportunity, when Mr. Frary had stepped outside to point out to a Mr. Foster where certain lumber was to be found, he shut down the gate and stopped the mill. When Frary stopped back again, Mr. K told him he had taken possession and that his services were no longer needed. Frary soon started away leaving the mill in peaceful possession of Keene, who provided to take out the saw and removed it, with a segment of the drag wheel, &c, and discharged a loaded gun which he found on the premises. Bonham by this time had returned home from Prairieville with the mail.
By this mail he read a letter from Mr. N then in Milwaukee, informing him of the design of Mr. K and advising him, at all hazards, to regain possession of the property. Bonham sent his brother George to a neighbor to borrow a gun directing him to be at the mill with the gun, in the course of half an hour and immediately, himself, started for the mill, the distance of which, from his house, is over a mile. He met Frary within a few rods of the mill, who informed him what had taken place. When Bonham entered the mill, he found Keene, Foster, and a young lad, by the name of Dunn, there. He shook hands with Mr. K, to whom he said, "you have stopped my mill." K replied, "Your mill? You couldn't expect a mill so easy as that." Bonham then went away, and returned with Frary, and commanded Mr. K to bring back the articles he had taken off. Thus, K, refused to do so. B then ordered all but Frary out of the mill. K declined going, and requested Foster to remain. About this time George Bonham appeared with the gun which he had been sent for. - David Bonham immediately took it, and again, with the gun in his hand, ordered Keene, Foster, and Dunn out of the mill who all now left, K taking the lead. K got only about half a rod from the mill, when Bonham called out, "Keene, come back I wish to speak with you."- K turned about and met Bonham, who had advanced toward him - B then again demanded the articles which had been taken away. K replied "You can not prove that I have taken them". B rejoined, "Bring them back, or I'll shoot you." K advancing a step, said, "Shoot, I'm not afraid." B. drew back, presented the muzzle of the gun within a short distance of the body of K and fired, the whole charge entering the lower part of the stomach, passing through and lodging, (as appeared by post mortum examination) in the spine. K reeled, fell on his right hand, exclaiming, "I am a dead man." B. replied, "You are no worse." K recovered and staggered away at out 70 yards, when he fell. He was carried into Mrs. Phippin's house, which was in the immediate vicinity, where in the course of half an hour he died. Bonham and his brother, and Frary very coolly left the scene of the occurrence, without going near the wounded man, or making the slightest inquiry, or exhibiting the slightest feeling of anxiety, in regard to his situation. This fact doubtless impressed the mind of the jury, as it did that of the Court and public most unfavorably towards the prisoner, and was the strongest evidence presented of the express malice upon which the indictment rested."
Bonham was arrested the day succeeding the murder, was shortly afterward indicted by the Grand Jury of the county and his trial set down for the term of the current court held in June. - but when the appointed day came the prisoner, thro' his counsel, made application for a change of venue, upon the ground that he could not obtain a fair trial in this county. The Judge granted the application and set down the case for trial at the next term of the court in Racine county. The trial came off accordingly and after hearing the testimony, the arguments of counsel and the charge of the Judge, the Jury, after an absence of a few hours returned a verdict of Guilty.
Such, in brief, are the facts in the case. Let us next glance, for a
moment, at the palliating circumstances attempted to be shown in behalf
of the Prisoner. First, it was stated by George Bonham, the brother of
the Prisoner, in his testimony, that Bonham said to Keene, "If you don't
return the irons I'll sue you (not "shoot", as other witnesses
testified) and that Keene replied "Sue, I'm not afraid." But without
dwelling upon the circumstance that George Bonham prevaricated upon this
point in his cross examination and that he was distinctly contradicted
by Robert Dunn, Joseph Younger, and Thomas foster, who were all present
at the occurrence and swore that Bonham threatened to "shoot" (not
"sue") it is sufficient to remark that Bonham would not have borrowed a
gun to sue with, and that Keene would scarcely would have replied, "I'm
not afraid.", if simply threatened with a law suit. Second, that it was
sought to be shown by George Bonham that when his brother shot Keene the
latter was advancing toward him, with his arm raised and a mill iron in
his hand, as if about to strike. But here again George Bonham, was
distinctly contradicted by the other witnesses who testify that Keene at
the time he was shot was standing still with his arms hanging by his
Lastly, it is claimed by the prisoner himself that he did not intend to kill Keene, but only to wound him. But to this is opposed the fact that he fired the gun, loaded with No. 3 (?) shot, directly at Keene's body, when the prisoner and his victim were but six or eight feet apart, the whole charge, as we have before stated, passing through the lower part of Keene's abdomen. Admitting, for a moment, the absence of homicidal intent does not the firing of a gun, directly at the body of a man, but a few feet off, evince that recklessness of human life, which, even where malice before thought is not proven, is held to constitute murder?
Several of our most respected citizens, Col. George H. Walker, Mr. Kilbourn, Mr. Crocker &c, were called by the Defense to testify to the Prisoner's ?? acts, and they swore ?????? that they had ??? considered him a humane well disposed, ???? man. Mr. Crocker, ???? to a question from Counsel, said that he was surprised when he heard of the transaction, as which of ?? ?? not. It was shown, too, that Bonham was a man of standing and influence in the community, that he had filled several important offices by election, or appointment, in the town and territory. and that he attended several sessions of the Legislature in the capacity of Sergeant at arms. But all these circumstances in our humble judgment so in from palliating in the tended to aggravate the guilt of the Prisoner for they go to how that Bonham had enjoyed opportunities superior to those of most of his fellow men for learning the law of the land, and distinguishing between right and wrong. It was not through ignorance of the law, ??? ??? ???, that Bonham cried.
Nor can it be pretended that he didn't have a fair trial. The venue, at his request, was changed to the Court of Racine county, prover??? for an intelligent, thrifty, ?????, population.-
The Jury was carefully selected out of a panel of some 60 or 70 drawn by the Sheriff. The Judge held the scales of Justice ??? ??? ??? hand.
Editor's Note: Too much of the article above continues in a very unreadable manner; another couple of paragraphs yet to be deciphered.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Friday Morning, November 20, 1846, page 2 of 4.
Sentence of David Bonham
Saturday, Nov 7, O'clock A. M.
Source: Daily Sentinel & Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday, November 10, 1846, page 2.
Gov. Dodge, has issued his warrant for the execution of David Bonham on the 3d day of February next. We regret to see the remark of the Milwaukee Sentinel on this subject. It exhibits a feeling which is far from being creditable to the editors. That time allowed the prisoner by the sentence of the court was unusually and unreasonably short was generally admitted. Why then object to this slight exercise of Executive clemency in his behalf? The demands of justice will in the end be as fully met, while it is an act of but the commonest mercy to allow the unfortunate culprit time sufficient to prepare for the awful event which awaits him. We love to witness such exhibitions of weakness on the part of those who have the lives of any of their fellow men at their disfusal. It is such weakness as the Almighty disposer of events in in the daily habit of exhibiting low ???????? creatures.
Source: Southport Telegraph, South Port, Wisconsin, December 9, 1846, page 2 of 4.
Another Pardon - William Galloway, who was found guilty of manslaughter last spring, at Lancaster, Grant county, for his participation in the murder of Mr. De Lassauit, and who was sentenced to five years imprisonment, has been pardoned by Gov. Dodge. Our readers may remember, that this murder, like that of Keene, grew out of a dispute about land. If Gov. Dodge intends, by this exercise of his prerogative, to establish the law that all disputes about land are to be settled by an appeal to arms, and that "might is to make right", it is due, as well to those who now in our Territory, as to those who propose emigrating hither, that the fact should well and widely known. If such is not his Excellency's purpose, he owes it to the people of the Territory to make public the reasons which have induced him to pardon William Galloway, and to reprieve David Bonham. Unexplained, his conduct wears the appearance of criminal weakness.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Thursday Morning, December 10, 1846, page 2 of 4.
We are informed that the twelve jurymen who returned a verdict of guilty against David Bonham, have signed a petition to Governor dodge, praying for a commutation of his sentence. The officers of the Court - the Sheriff, deputy Sheriff, Clerk, and Deputy Marshall, the Jailor and constables, have all petitioned the Governor to the same effect. In addition to the above, about four hundred of our most respectable citizens, have also signed a similar petition. In fact, we are confident that there are hundreds more who would like to have the prisoner saved from the gallows by executive interference, but their previous committal in favor of the death penalty prevents their saying so. We sincerely hope that Governor Dodge, in view of this almost unanimous expression of our citizens in favor of David Bonham, will be please to commute his sentence to imprisonment. [Racine Whig]
Source: The Fond Du Lac Whig, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, January 14, 1847
A. W. Randall's Letter
January 28, 1847
To His Excellency Henry Dodge, governor of Wisconsin:
I presume to address you on the subject of the commutation of the sentence of David Bonham, and it is proper for me to state to you my own acquaintance with his difficulty and of the primary examination of the witnesses against him. When in conversation with you at Madison, on the subject last fall, I exposed a doubt as to the consequences in several points of view, if his sentence should be commuted at that time. Then there was a strong feeling manifested throughout this part of the country against Bonham.
(1) A great change has taken place in the public mind in this region of country within a few weeks, and in conversing with a multitude of people on the subject of both the the great political parties, I am satisfied that there is a general desire that the sentence of David Bonham should be commuted.
(2) There is one exception to this sentiment. The political
abolitionists alone, as a class, desire, or to have, Bonham hung. I have
never made a statement of what fell under my own observation in this
case, for the reason that I was the legal advisor of Keene. Keene
exceeded my advice in his acts. I was well acquainted with both parties.
Keene to my certain knowledge was advised (not by me) but by some
lawyers in Milwaukee, that "he had the right to take possession of the
premises by force, and to keep possession even to the shedding of
blood." I know that Keene went to Lisbon intoxicated, and with this
advice, and with a determination by force and with weapons, if
necessary, to take and hold the premises. I also knew well Mr. Phippin,
of whom Keene made a pretended purchase of an undivided portion of the
property. I know that Phippin's title was good of nothing, and the trade
between him and Keene was a sham trade. They are both dead. I know all
their connection with the property and their title to it before they
died. I know that Bonham was advised, on the afternoon of the affray at
this place, of Keene's intention and determination, and that he was much
affected by it. I saw Bonham on that afternoon - I overheard what was
said to him. Keene was a man of quick temper and when excited and
crossed, inclined to be malicious. I was present the next day after the
affray in Lisbon, and saw the body of Keene examined. I saw the ground
on which both parties stood. Their relative position was explained to me
by the three witnesses upon whose testimony Bonham was convicted. I was
counsel for the prosecution before the justice who committed Bonham to
jail. I examined these witnesses for hours, with the minutest care. I
saw the manner in which the charge of the gun entered Keene, and the
point at which it entered and the direction it took in the body. I saw
the place where the charge finally lodged and from which it was taken by
the physicians. I have the testimony of these witnesses word for word,
as it was uttered. The justice, Sloan before whom the examination was
had, did not take it with care - he did not take it correct, From the
situation of the parties at the place of the affray in Lisbon, as it was
pointed out to me by these witnesses, inch by inch and foot by foot, and
from their own statements there, and on their examination under oath. I
know that their statements under oath are not only improbable, but the
truth of them absolutely and utterly impossible. The feeling they
manifested when they swore out their writs against Bonham - the strange
anxiety they manifested in the case while consulting with me alone,
before they were sworn and the actual fact that they did, within my
knowledge, and in my hearing, correct and arrange the statements of each
other, so that their stories should agree with singular accuracy, led me
first to distrust and doubt, and finally to become morally certain that
they did intend, and finally did commit the most damnable perjury. And
although there was much public indignation felt here at the time of
examination, among the large body of people who assembled to hear it,
yet I do know that among the candid and thinking portion of those who
heard it there was a settled conviction that Bonham did not intend to
commit murder, nor to kill Keene. The case for the defence was
bunglingly managed by the counsel who assumed to take the lead, or much
might at the time have been unmasked. If the other counsel employed by
Bonham had been permitted to share more in the proceedings, I never
doubted but a different complexion would have been given to the matter.
BONHAM DID NOT INTEND TO KILL KEENE. Keene, did go to Lisbon with the intention of taking and holding that property - to use his own words, or their purpose; "if all hell stood at the door." And before God, I believe that Bonham killed him accidentally in defence of Bonham's own lawful possession, and to which Keene had no shadow of claim except a paper claim from Phippin, which bore fraud upon its very face, and which if Phippin had not died and left a defenceless wife, of whom Keene took most shameful advantage , he (Keene) would never have dared attempt to enforce. I was counsel for Phippin and for Keene, in their matters. I kept their secrets. I knew their views, wishes and intentions. They are dead. There is no motive for further concealment. That life of a man guiltless of murder hangs upon a thread - one who though of rough and unprepossessing exterior, had in his inner man all the nobler elements of humanity.
Unless your clemency is interposed, he must die - die as a felon without having committed a felony - as a murderer - condemned - despised and hooted - without having committed murder.
I cannot, sir, sit quietly by without speaking in this matter. the struggle has been hard with me, but I must tell the errors of the dead and their machinations when the life of a man innocent of murder, hangs at the door of death. We all have our faults, and we all are compelled to suffer for them. All have their rights, and unless they are craven cowards, will maintain them. So it was with Bonham, and in maintaining not only what he supposed his rights, this accident occurred which excites us all.
(3) The end of the law can be well answered by commuting his sentence, as by taking his life. By the first, the blow aimed at justice, will be stayed. By the last, a man will suffer the punishment of a crime he did not commit. Surely, sir, that justice which adds dignity to mercy, will be satisfied by the interposition of your prerogative, and that mercy which tempers justice, will be bestowed upon a fitting object. By commuting his sentence all that the law demands will be simply paid. If it is not commuted, I cannot, no man can, answer to the result. A husband and a father dies upon the gallows - a spectacle for a cold, heartless, mocking crowd - dies as a murderer! A wife, oh! If you could see her now, and then see what she was - a fair high-minded, honorable woman, reduce to a mere walking ghostly skeleton, with utterable woe fastened like a spectre upon every line of her visage - gloomy and tottering after her dying husband. No life to act, no hope to cheer her, scorned as a felon's wife and about to be turned upon the cold, lean charity of the world, a murderer's widow. If you could see her dim, glassy eye, turn to her little ones, the felon's children, who sit wondering at their mother's grief. and why their father stays so long from home, I am sure you could but feel the hardship of their lot. What will they do? Where can they go? They have no home, no friends; strangers look coldly upon their sufferings. Sir, there is no hope nor help but in you. You have great examples in such emergencies.
I am sire, most respectfully,
Your ob't serv't,
A. W. Randall
Source: printed in the American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, March 10, 1847, page 2 of 4.
We learn that the Washington Guards of this city, in compliance with the requisition of the Sheriff of Racine County, will leave here on Tuesday next to attend the execution of Bonham, which is to take place on the day following.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Saturday Morning, January 30, 1847, page 2 of 4.
Extraordinary Legislation - It will be seen, by reference to our Madison letter, that a bill has passed the House, and is now pending in the Council, to abolish Capital Punishment. It will be seen, too, that the chief is not sole object of the bill and of them who introduced it, is to meet on particular cases, other words, to afford the Gentleman a pretext for commuting the punishment of David Bonham. The Governor, it appears, satisfied in his own mind that no good ground exists for extending the Executive clemency to this unhappy convict, or postpone the doom. But he is said to have promised that if the Legislature would pass a law abolishing Capital Punishment, he would, in that event, commute Bonham's sentence. Hence, as a last effort, the friends of Bonham have procured the introduction of such a law in the House and its passage, under whip and spur, on the next day after its introduction. We hesitate not to say, that the enactment of this law, under such circumstances, would become of the most unpardonable outrages that a Legislature could commit. Here is an attempt made, without debate, without any previous discussion among the people, on the spur of the moment and to meet a particular case, to change a law of the Territory, which has been in force since its first organization. Now, however men may differ as to the right, or expediency of Capital Punishment, there cannot, we think, be two opinions, as to the gross impropriety and wrong of this special, post-haste legislation. What security is there for life and property, when the Legislature, forgetting in their sympathy for an individual their duty to the public, thus hurriedly, inconsiderately and obeying a blind impulse, pass a law remitting the penalty for the worst of crimes as a last means of saving the life of a convicted murderer?
Which certainty is there that punishment will follow any offence,
when our Law-makers thus step in between the law and its victim, and by
an ex post facto enactment seek to rescue the guilty from the hands of
Justice? But we cannot believe that the council have lent their sanction
to this ubiquitous act. We shall know to-night, and meanwhile we suspend
P.S. We hear, by last night's mail, that the Council have ordered this bill to a third reading by one majority (7 to 6), But we are assured, nevertheless, that it cannot pass. We trust, for the honor of our Territory, that it will not.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday Morning, February 2, 1847, page 2 of 4.
A Second Reprieve for Bonham - Those who returned yesterday from
Racine bring word that the Governor had again respited Bonham; this time
for 30 days. This, we presume, is preliminary to a commutation of
sentence. When his Excellency shall have finally made up his mind, one
way or the other, we may offer some comments upon his course. It would
have saved a very considerable expense to our county, if he had notified
the Sheriff of his last change of purpose a day or two sooner.
We learn that a very large number of people had assembled at Racine yesterday and that there was a good deal of excitement about the conduct of the Governor and the action of the Legislature. As to the last, we hear but one voice, and that of the most unqualified and indignant condemnation of the passage of the Anti-Punishment law to meet a particular case. It is the most discreditable act of which our Territorial Legislature has ever been guilty, and cannot but affect, most injuriously, the interest and reputation of Wisconsin.
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Thursday Morning, February 4, 1847, page 2 of 4.
From the Milwaukee Sentinel
If the public have been surprised and shocked by the manner and motive of the recent action in our Territorial Legislature on the subject of Capital Punishment, what will they say when they come to hear that their members were found to stand up on the floor of the House and excuse, if not justify, the murder committed by David Bonham?
We invite their attention to the following remarks made by Mr. Hobart of Sheboygan, a leading and influential member of the House, during a debate on the subject of the Canal Lands and a day or two previous to the introduction of the bill to abolish Capital Punishment.
"The records of the canal land troubles had already been written in blood, if he might be permitted to allude to the unfortunate murder that had been committed on these lands. He would say that it was to a certain extent justifiable. The act was done with the belief that it was in defence of private rights and with a noble motive. The man by whom it was committed believed that he was acting in defence of the property of others. if nothing was done by the Legislature on the subject now before the committee, similar outrages might be expected, if outrages they could be called which were committed in the defence of sacred and inalienable rights."
Now what is to be said to sentiments so revolting, to language so extraordinary as this? The murder of Keene "to a certain extent justifiable!" The act "done in the defence of private rights and with a noble motive!" the murderer to be held guiltless because he was standing up "for sacred and inalienable rights!" Have we, indeed, so utterly mistaken the character of this transaction as Mr. Hobart's language would seem to indicate? did the Jury which convicted and the Judge who sentenced Bonham, so grossly transcend their powers as to attempt to inflict the penalty for murder upon a man who was battling "for scared and inalienable rights!" Shall a man be held responsible for following our a "noble motive", even tho' it lead him to cut his neighbor's throat, or shoot him down, like a dog, on the public highway? Is it not a sufficient and satisfactory defence to every indictment for murder, that he who committed the act "believed that it was in "defence of private rights?" Has not every man full power and authority to assert his own rights and avenge his own wrongs? And if in so doing he destroys life and tramples under foot both human and Divine law, shall that be called an outrage which was committed in defence of "sacred and inalienable rights?"
These are conclusions to which the remarks of Mr. Hobart irresistibly lead. We tremble for the cause of law and order in our Territory, when such sentiments are uttered in our legislative halls and are suffered to go forth to the world, unanswered and unrebuked. Fata indeed will be the influence of language like Mr. Hobart's, of legislation like the passage of the anti-Capital Punishment bill; of Executive weakness and instability such as has marked the course of Gov. Dodge, upon the name and fortunes of our fair territory, if the People, rising in their majesty, do not administer to each and all a withering rebuke! Source: American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, February 17, 1847, page 1 of 4.
We understand that the Governor's private Secretary denies that he lost
the warrant of the Governor to the Sheriff of Racine Co. to stay the
execution of Bonham. Our authority for saying so was pretty direct, but
we don't know that it is of any consequence, farther than that it might
cost the Territory a little more expresses. Source: Evening Courier,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 3, 1847, page 3 of 4.
A friend tells us that he saw Bonham out of jail, sawing wood, in Racine on Saturday last. This, we suppose, is the first step towards his discharge from confinement. Why keep a man in prison who has only committed murder? Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday Morning, March 9, 1847, page 2 of 4.
CASE OF DAVID BONHAM
The sentence of this unfortunate man has been commuted to imprisonment for life.
This act from the Governor a full statement of his reasons. The setting aside of the action of the Court, after the full and deliberate trial afforded to the convicted criminal, is not trivial action. Unless it was done for the most substantial reasons which will commend themselves to the sound judgment, as well as the kind wishes of the community, its effects upon public, morals, and upon the reputation of the laws and government of our Territory will be disastrous in the high degree.
We notice in the Madison Argus of the 2nd inst. a number of documents from the governor's office, which we suppose are published as a justification of his action. In a petition of eleven of the jurors, the say - "while acting as jurors under the solemnity of an oath, the were in duty bound to find Bonham guilty of the crime where with he stood charged; that while they believe in the strictness of the law, said verdict was correct, yet they do not believe said Bonham ought to die for said offence."
The affidavits of James Kitchingman, Thomas E. Parmele and Ira Dean represent three of the witnesses, Foster, Younger and Dunn, who testified at the trial, as manifesting "hostility and revenge against said Bonham, and seemed determined to procure a conviction of said Bonham if possible by their evidence."
As any one may see, the petitions of the jury-men amount to nothing more than a declaration that they do not believe in capital punishment.
The Argus also publishes the petitions of several officers in Racine county, and several members of the Legislature, for the commutation of Bonham's punishment. That our readers may know who of our Legislature signed such a petition we extract as follows:
To His Excellency Henry Dodge:
The undersigned members of the council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Wisconsin, respectfully represent that it would be in accordance with their wishes, that the sentence of David Bonham be commuted to imprisonment for life, and would respectfully ask that said commutation may be granted.
January 30, 1847
Council - Henry Clark, Wm. Singer, H. N. Wells, Joseph Turner, Andrew Palmer, B. F. Manahan, Mason C. Darling, J. E. Holmes, Chauncey M. Phelps.
House - James Giddings, W. W. Brown, Joseph Bond, Joseph W. Ymber(?), H. C. Hobart, John W. Stewart, C. A. Bronson, Jared G. Winslow, J. M. Burgress, Thos. Chilton, U. Wood, John T. Haught, Wm. Richardson, C. G. Heath, Geo. W. Green.
But what surprises us most of all is the letter written to the Governor by our townsman A. W. Randall, Esq., which the reader will find in another column.
(1.) If the execution of law is to depend wholly upon the state of public sentiment, carefully ascertained by political spies here and there, what safely remains to the citizen whose sentiments may not coincide with public opinion? If public opinion, rather than the constitution and laws, is to be consulted, why have we constitution or laws? Why not be controlled by mob law at once? Why should the honest citizen, who looks to the Government for protection, be deluded by the false assurances of constitution and laws?
Public sentiment has changed, Gov. Dodge, and therefore you are released from your oath to support the laws of Wisconsin. You should act in accordance with public sentiment, or you will become unpopular. It is not quite so important that the dignity and authority of the laws should be maintained, as it is, that your popularity and future election should be secured!!
(2.) But the one exception is worthy of note, "The political abolitionists alone as a class, desire to see, or to have Bonham hung." That the Abolitionists as a class have revengeful "desires," or thirst for Bonham's blood, is false. Where have they expressed it? What manifestation of such "desire" have they made? Have they ever advocated his execution through their organ?
The truth is there is a great diversity of opinion among Liberty men on this subject, as there is also in the other "great political parties" whose opinion, it is so important to consult. Some of them, doubtless, are in favor of capital punishment, and if David Bonham is guilty of murder, as he has been proved to be before an impartial jury of his peers, they believe he should bear the penalty of the law. Others of them believe that human governments have no right to take human life, even as a punishment for murder. The writer, as an individual, is alone responsible for the articles on this subject that appear over his signature in the Freeman.
But why should Mr. Randall make such an assertion in the ears of the Governor? Did he wish to enlist his antipathy against the abolitionist in favor of Bonham's release? Why this singling out of the Liberty party in his communication to the governor, as alone in favor of the execution of the laws? Are there no whips or democrats who are of opinion that the honor of the laws and the protection of community demand Bonham's execution? Can half a doze men be found in Bonham's own neighborhood, who believe that he is not guilty of willful, deliberate murder - who do not believe that justice demands his execution?
(3.) Has it then come to this, that every man must report to the pistol, the musket, and the bowie knife, to defend himself in the possession of his property? Is there no protection in law? Does Mr. R. indeed design to advocate this method of maintaining individual rights? And are those to be termed "craven cowards" who will not spill their neighbor's blood in private quarrel in defence of their own property? May not every murder committed since the death of Abel be justified on similar principles? the death of Keene, then, at the hands of Bonham, is to be regarded as an accident? If this is a proper name for that act, to what deed of flagrant crime and malicious hatred, any not that soothing appellation be applied? If crime is ever to be checked, and if righteous laws are to be honored and obeyed, crimes must be called by their proper names, and meet their appropriate penalty. If such men as Vineyard and Bonham are to escape "?????? of justice", and are to enjoy not only the protection , but the honors of the state, what better is the government than an organization for the defence of wrong?
The special pleading reported to in this letter - the vivid picture of Bonham's afflicted, and we know, worthy wife, is brought in in conflict with the honor of just law, and the safety of the whole community. "Better one suffer than many," is a sound maxim. But who is the author of her sufferings? Not the law - not those who demand its execution - but the wretched man who is guilty of the murder of Keene, No one is more entitled to our sympathy and kind offices than a worthy woman place din such distressing circumstances. Let that tongue be dumb that would utter a word of reproach in her hear - and let that hand be palsied that would point the finger of scorn at her. But she needs protection from the murderer's steel, and so does the community. The defences that an honored law throws around 30,000 fire-sides in Wisconsin, ought not to be prostrated at the request even of a noble woman's quenchless love.
Why dwell altogether upon the family scene of Bonham? Why not consider the desolation wrought by the hand of crime in the circle poor Keene moved? Were his rights less dear, are his friends less sensitive, than those of his murderer?
If Mr. R. knew all the facts to which he refers in his letters why did he conceal them until the 23rd of January? Why did he not produce them at an earlier date, and let them have an influence at the time of Bonham's trial? Why did he suffer an innocent man to endure all the horrors of imprisonment, reproach, and the most dreadful suspense, when his testimony in time, he might have secured his release? Why wait so long and then whisper in the Governor's ears, that the witnesses are guilty of "damnable perjury."
How will those witnesses bear this sweeping charge? What will Justice Sloan - what will Judge Miller, and the council for the defence think of this remarkable letter? We shall see.
Source: American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, March 10, 1847, page 2 of 4. Milwaukee, March 9, 1847.
Editor of Evening Courier
I, the Wisconsin Argus of the 2nd inst., I have read a communication from A. W. Randall, of Prairieville, to Gov. Dodge, on the subject of the commutation of David Bonham's sentence. I have heard many express their surprise at this document, not only on account of the utter professional depravity of which Mr. Randall convicts himself, bit also on account of the very peculiar light in which he places Gov. Dodge.
The first remarkable passage found in the letter of Mr. Randall is as follows:
"When in conversation with you at Madison, on the subject last fall, I exposed a doubt as to the consequences in several points of view, if his sentence should be commuted at that time. Then there was a strong feeling manifested throughout this part of the country against Bonham. A great change has taken place in the public mind in this region of country within a few weeks, and in conversation with a multitude of people on the subject of both the the great political parties, I am satisfied that there is a general desire that the sentence of David Bonham should be commuted."
Now what inference can be drawn from the above than this: That last fall, not only Mr. Randall, but the Gov. also, was coldly weighing the political consequences to himself, if he should then commute. Notwithstanding that (according to the letter) "unless the Governor's clemency is interposed he (Bonham) must die - die as a felon without having committed a felony - as a murderer - condemned - despised and hooted - without having committed murder." Great God! Would Mr. Randall have us believe Gov. Dodge to be so lost to all sense of moral rectitude, of human feeling, and of responsibility to his Creator, as to let an innocent fellow creature die upon the gallows as a murderer, rather than take upon himself the responsibility of commuting at the hazard of some political or party censure? That Mr. Randall could entertain such sentiments, and practice from, and be actuated by such motives, is evident from his letter. For last fall he could only express doubts as to "consequences." Now he can and does advise commutation, because he has conversed with multitudes of the political parties, and is satisfied that the consequences will not be bad.
And yet he can say in his letter, "before God I believe that Bonham killed (Keene) accidentally in defense of Bonham's own lawful possession, and to which Keene had no shadow of claim," &c. Did he, "before God" believe this any the less, when "last fall" he was weighing his doubts of political consequences against the life of Mr. Bonham?
judge and answer after you hear him, He says in his letter;
"I was well acquainted with both parties. Keene, to my certain knowledge, was advised, (not by me) but some lawyers in Milwaukee, that "he had a right to take possession of the premises by force, and to keep possession even to the shedding of blood." I know that Keene went to Lisbon intoxicated, and with this advice, and with a determination by force and with weapons, if necessary, to take and hold the premises. I also knew well Mr. Phippin, of whom Keene made a pretended purchase of an undivided portion of the property. I know that Phippin's title was good for nothing, and that the trade between him and Keene was a sham trade. They are both dead. I know all their connection with the property and their title to it before they died. I know that Bonham was advised on the afternoon of the affray at this place, of Keene's intention and determination, and that he was much affected by it. I saw Bonham on that afternoon - I overheard what was said to him. Keene was a man of quick temper and when excited and crossed, inclined to be malicious. I was present the next day after the affray in Lisbon, and saw the body of Keene examined. I saw the ground on which both parties stood. Their relative position was explained to me by the three witnesses upon whose testimony Bonham was convicted. I was counsel for the prosecution before the justice who committed Bonham to jail. I examined these witnesses for hours, with the minutest care. I saw the manner in which the charge of the gun entered Keene, and the point at which it entered and the direction it took in the body. I saw the place where the charge finally lodged and from which it was taken by the physicians. I have the testimony of these witnesses word for word, as it was uttered. The justice, Sloan before whom the examination was had, did not take it with care - he did not take it correct, From the situation of the parties at the place of the affray in Lisbon, as it was pointed out to me by these witnesses, inch by inch and foot by foot, and from their own statements there, and on their examination under oath. I know that their statements under oath are not only improbable, but the truth of them absolutely and utterly impossible. The feeling they manifested when they swore out their writs against Bonham - the strange anxiety they manifested in the case while consulting with me alone, before they were sworn and the actual fact that they did, within my knowledge, and in my hearing, correct and arrange the statements of each other, so that their stories should agree with singular accuracy, led me first to distrust and doubt, and finally to become morally certain that they did intend, and finally did commit the most damnable perjury. And although there was much public indignation felt here at the time of examination, among the large body of people who assembled to hear it, yet i do know that among the candid and thinking portion of those who heard it there was a sealed conviction that Bonham did not intend to commit murder, nor to kill Keene. BONHAM DID NOT INTEND TO KILL KEENE. Keene, did go to Lisbon with the intention of taking and holding that property - to use his own words, or their purpose; "if all hell stood at the door." And before God, I believe that Bonham killed him accidentally in defence of Bonham's own lawful possession, and to which Keene had no shadow of claim except a paper claim from Phippin, which bore fraud upon its very face, and which if Phippin had not died and left a defenseless wife, of whom Keene took most shameful advantage , he (Keene) would never have dared attempt to enforce. I was counsel for Phippin and for Keene, in their matters. I kept their secrets. I knew their views, wishes and intentions. They are dead. There is no motive for further concealment. That life of a man guiltless of murder hangs upon a thread - one who though of rough and unprepossessing exterior, had in his inner man all the nobler elements of humanity.
Unless your clemency is interposed, he must die - die as a felon without having committed a felony - as a murderer - condemned - despised and hooted - without having committed murder."
Source: Evening Courier, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 13, 1847, page 2 of 4.
Mr. I. A. Hopkins, 146 U. S. Block, has for sale "the life and writings of David Bonham", who was convicted of the murder of Keene, but his sentence commuted by Governor Dodge. [Editor's note: I. A. Hopkins operated a bookstore in Milwaukee]
Source: Daily Sentinel & Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monday, March 15, 1847, page 2.
Source: Daily Sentinel & Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monday, March 27, 1847, page 2 of 4.
I found on my way
through the lake towns that general dissatisfaction was manifested
against the conduct of Governor Dodge in the case of Bonham. I met
everywhere a prevailing spirit right the reverse of that declared in
Randall's letter. Randall did not expect that would meet the public eye
when he penned it, I presume. It was beneath him or any man, to utter
that palpable lie that the political abolitionists as a party wished to
see Bonham hung, while other parties were anxious for commutation. It is
plain throughout that a desire to make capital for Bonham, and not to
state the truth, was the master passion that governed Mr. Randall while
inditing that libelous and flagitious letter. No party, it is to be
hoped, would like to see a fellow being hung, and in no party it is
believed has the sacredness of human life been more thoroughly discussed
than in the Liberty Part
There are differences of opinion among Liberty men touching the rightfulness of the death penalty as among men of other parties.
I. Codding (Editor Note: Co-owner/Editor of the American Freeman)
Source: American Freeman, Prairieville, Wisconsin, March 17, 1847, page 2 of 4.
As A. W. Randall
in his famous letter to governor Dodge upon the subject of the
commutation of the sentence of David Bonham, imputes to me neglect of
duty and a violation of my oath of office while acting as magistrate in
the primary examination of Bonham before me, and in my opinion has
grossly and willfully misrepresented the facts of the case throughout, I
feel called upon by a sense of duty to myself, to the public and three
of the witnesses as well as to his honor the governor, to expose the
insincerity and hollow-heartedness of the author in this transaction as
also the imposition he has attempted to practice upon all who are
concerned or live in the Territory. Having been familiar with the whole
history of the proceedings from the day of the arrest of Bonham up to
the present time I cannot look upon the letter as anything but an
outrage upon common sense, upon myself, upon the witnesses Foster,
Younger and Dunn, and an insult to the community in which I live.
I took the examination of Bonham, and that with the utmost care and as nearly as possible in the language of the witnesses. And when Mr. Randall said that I "did not take it with care" - that I "did not take it correct," he perpetrated a most infamous falsehood and a libel upon me. I committed Bonham to the jail of Milwaukee upon the evidence of the witnesses produced on the part of the prosecution, for there was none produced or sworn on the part of the prisoner; and I committed him upon their evidence because i believed it. I have also been familiar with the proceedings in the premises from that day to this. I attended the trial in the district court at Racine and was in the Court-House there during nearly the whole of the trial and heard every word of the testimony of Foster, Younger and Dunn, and know they recapitulated the evidence they gave before me and as I have it recorded, nearly word for word. And it is more particularly to perform a duty which I owe to these witnesses, Foster, Younger and Dunn, and to undeceive the public in regard to some other things which appear in that letter than to defend myself from the aspersions of Mr. Randall's letter. It was my intention to leave the matter so far as it related to me without note or comment until I found that some very honest people appeared inclined to construe my silence into a tacit acknowledgement that Mr. Randall's statements concerning me were true. From what I have already said it will appear that I make no such concessions and that I give no countenance whatever to the construction which is put upon my reluctance to appear in the public prints in vindication of my own reputation.
Having been acquainted with Mr. Randall from his boyhood, and for a time associated with him in business, the appearance of so much more depravity and hypocrisy than I had ever supposed him capable of, filled me more with shame and regret than with a desire to revenge the injury done to my name. I however felt bound from the moment I finished the first reading of his letter, as a citizen of Wisconsin to expose its iniquity as far as in me lay, if some plausible explanation of the principal features of it was not in due time laid before the public by the author.
If the Governor was really deceived by it, he ought to know how far he has been duped; and it is due to the witnesses Foster, Younger and Dunn of whom Mr. Randall says, "I know that their statements under oath are not only improbable, but the truth of them absolutely and utterly impossible," - "the feeling they manifested when they swore out their writs against Bonham - the strange anxiety they manifested in the case while consulting with me alone, before they were sworn and the actual fact that they did, within my knowledge, and in my hearing correct and arrange the statements of each other so that their stories should agree with singular accuracy, led me first to distrust and doubt, and finally to become morally certain, that they did intend perjury" that I should unmask the fraud if there is any.
Now I look upon these statements as false and wicked in the extreme. I believe them to be without even the shadow of truth, and I look upon the man who could deliberately pen them, as lost all sense of right and justice as well as regard for truth - as a man whom the public should hold in utter abhorrence, as the traducer and persecutor of these men, until they are otherwise convicted of swearing falsely. They are men who belong in the humbler walks of life and are accustomed to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brows - they are in a foreign land, among strangers and to them strange laws. The industry of one of them at least, has, it is said, secured for him a competence for old age - the other two are in the morning of life. they are all persons who have known but little comparatively of the wide world, and in my opinion much less of its crimes. Yet nature has done much toward making them intelligent and useful citizens. They have all and at times appeared to me to be strictly honest. Mr. Randall intimates that he was present when they swore out their writs and that they "manifested a strange anxiety." Now the fact is, only two of them came to make the complaint. Younger and Dunn made affidavits before me upon which I issued the writ that Bonham was apprehended and brought before me upon - foster had nothing to do about it. And as to their manifesting any feeling except timidity and fright and as to Mr. Randall's being present on the occasion, I am almost certain it was not so, for I certainly saw nothing of either. Mr. Randall was present when I first met them in the street, but I have no recollection of seeing him about my office while I was examining these persons or while the writs were being made out. He was not present during their examination on the trial at Racine and of course has no personal knowledge of what they said or did there.
But I have - I was there - and the conviction left upon my mind is, that they saw all that they pretend they saw respecting the murder of Keene - the Grand Jury that found the indictment must have got that impression, and the jury which pronounced Bonham guilty must have had it strongly impressed upon their minds or they would never have rendered the verdict as they did. And yet, although they may and probably have related nothing more than what they saw, that does not determine the murderous intention of Bonham's heart. They stated a train of events and from them the jury inferred the intent - a murderous intent - and I think with very good reason too. Bonham came there, it appears, with the intention of taking and holding the possession of the mill; but no sooner was the fatal deed committed than he leaves the mill and makes his way home. Why did he so soon surrender the possession which he considered worth shooting a man in the legs at least to maintain, if a guilty conscience did not compel him to do so? Will any one answer this question; and will any one pretend to justify his taking the life of Keene or even of shooting him in the legs, for the sake of having the use of the mill in a few weeks? It is from these and other circumstances that I infer that he is guilty of willful murder, or was deranged or drunk. But suppose he is or was neither, does it prove that the testimony of these witnesses is false? Certainly not? In the absence of any proof of derangement or intoxication, (although the latter would be no excuse for the commission of the crime, his leaving the mill as soon as he got possession of it, is a circumstance that goes, in my opinion, to corroborate the whole testimony of the witnesses against him.
If Mr. Randall's' positive assertions that "Bonham did not intend to kill Keene" and that he "killed him accidentally" in defense of Bonham's own lawful possession" were true, would he not only have kept that possession, but also have evinced some regret at the fatal accident? I cannot be persuaded that it was an accidental; affair, at least until these matters are explained more to my satisfaction than they have been yet. There is a possibility of a want of murderous intent, but not as I can see, a probability of it. And if then, the actions of Bonham, at the time, betray no symptoms of sorrow or regret, that the excitement of the moment had caused the "accidental" discharge of the gun, and wounded if not killed a man whom he did not intend to deprive of life, why should any man disbelieve the witnesses who only swear to the transaction and not to the intention at all? They asserted certain things in their affidavits, when they, or two of them, came to make complaint of the matter - they re-asserted them on the examination, three or four days after, and again, after the lapse of seven or eight months, recapitulated the whole on the trial with that remarkable accuracy and almost perfect corroboration of one another's testimony, although deprived by the court, of all opportunity of listening to the examination of each other, which such thrilling incidents are calculate to impress upon the mind and enable one to describe with clearness and particularity long after the ordinary occurrence of life have been obliterated by time. It is true that a man might frame a story and repeat it without apparent discrepancy, years afterwards, which was perfectly devoid of truth, if not subjected to a critical examination in a court of justice.
But that is an ordeal which tries the integrity of men. And what was the fact in this case? Why they were upon the witness stand, for half a day at a time each, if I recollect aright, and I think longer, and underwent the most ingenious, searching and lawyerlike cross-examination that I have witnessed in Wisconsin, unless, perhaps it might be where the peculiar gifts and talents of Mr. A. W. Randall have been in exercise. A map of the scene of murder had been drafted, and was used by the counsel on both sides. There was the position of the stream, the mill, the log-way, boardway, bridges, stamp, large-stone and the small one Keene stood upon when shot; all laid down upon it, and from which, they were closely examined. Having listened to all this with close attention, and without discovering any material contradiction in the whole of their testimony, I came to the conclusion that the suggestions which had been previously made to me, that a conspiracy had been entered into, among these witnesses, against the life of Bonham, were without foundation in fact. And if they are without any foundation in fact, and Bonham has been convicted and sentenced for a crime of which he is really guilty, to what else but the moral integrity and moral courage of these persons, is the territory indebted for the benefits derived from the detection and punishment of a felon? At all events, they stand impeached, except by the letter of Mr. Randall, and until they are proved to be the perjured villains he represents them to be, upon the evidence of reliable witnesses, all honest men, and men who love truth and justice, and value their own personal safety and the security of their neighbors from the hand of the assassin at noon day, will never see the character of such persons traduced, and all that is really dear to them fetched away, by any designing or unprincipled office-hunter in the land. We should be wanting on all the cardinal virtues of an honest, wise or great people if we did not rebuke with scorn and contempt, the man who shall attempt it. Has not Mr. Randall attempted it, and if he has, what method has he taken to do it? Why surely none other than that of proving himself unworthy of all credit, whatever, in regard to the matter. He opens his communication by referring to doubts which he had expressed to the Governor about the consequences in several point of view, if his sentence should be commuted at that time" - (Bonham's sentence) and from which it appears that Mr. Randall in conversation with the Governor last fall considered the commutation of Bonham, a matter of expediency and not an act of justice, which the Governor would be bound to perform on account of the innocence of a man condemned to be hung who "had in his inner man all the nobler elements of humanity."
Could there be a doubt of the propriety and justice of his not only commuting the sentence of Bonham, but of reprieving him at once, if as Mr. Randall says a little further on, "Bonham did not intend to kill Keene, " or, if the witnesses had committed "most damnable perjury?" And why suggest a doubt to the Governor about the "consequences" of performing an act of justice and imperative duty? Did Mr. Randall then know, as he says he did, that the witnesses had "committed most damnable perjury" - that the evidence taken by the justice, which he says "was not taken with care - he did not take it correct" - had been before the grand jury; that the statements of these witnesses showed circumstances which were "morally impossible" - that if "the other counsel employed by Bonham has been permitted to share more in the proceedings" - " a different complexion would have been given to the matter" - that Bonham did not intend to kill Keene? If he did not know these things, and talked to the Governor of the "consequences" if his sentence should be commuted, and did not lay them before His Excellency at that time, Mr. Randall certainly convicts himself of a degree of moral depravity seldom found in a man of his age. But this affair, which was only a matter of expediency in the fall, on the 23rd of January becomes an all-important duty. Mr. Randall suddenly discovers, "That the life of a man guiltless of murder hangs upon a thread" - that Keene and Phippin are dead, and that "there is no motive for further concealment." I ask, with as much seriousness as I can command under the circumstances, If Keene and Phippin were any the more dead than when he had this conversation with the governor in the fall, or even at the time of Bonham's examination before me? I ask all lawyers if, when they know a man to be innocent of a crime alleged against him, they are not bound to desist from procuring his conviction; and if they have not a right to assert his innocence, though they should be retained on the opposite side before the facts came to their knowledge? If they have not this privilege, I shall be inclined to abandon my profession at once. But furthermore, I ask how Bonham will consider this interposition of Mr. Randall's in his behalf, when it does not come until his life is "suspended by a thread," and in then only expected to change the sentence of immediate death to a slow process of torturing it away in a gloomy prison. Yes, and that too, when if the matter which Mr. R. says long before the trial was known to him and concealed in his breast, had been revealed, might have saved Bonham all his sufferings and disgrace. If Mr. Randall really knew and believed what he says he did in his letter, all men must hold him to be in all respects the reverse of what he represents Bonham to be, and himself destitute of "the nobler elements of humanity." But I will say this much for him, and that is, if he does not now possess these qualities, he has lost them by yielding to bad influences since he left the roof of his highly esteemed and venerable parents. And knowing this, I was the more unwilling to believe the evidence of my senses when the evidence of so deplorable a change burst upon them. Yet convinced, as I was forced to be by the appearance of that letter, of his willingness to sacrifice friend and foe wherever they obstructed the path he has taken, I naturally began to look around for the causes which have produced the result. And I have come to the conclusion that he has yielded to the unpropitious influences around him and become entangled in their folds, so steadily and gradually that his wanderings from the ways of truth and uprightness have not been fully understood by himself or his friends, until this last act of folly and wickedness has opened their eyes to behold how admirably he is fitted to fill the place made vacant by the decease of that patriot and prophet Joe Smith.
The changes which he speaks of in public sentiment in this region I have never had the pleasure to see; nor did I know of any "general desire that the sentence of Bonham should be commuted." I think that I am almost if not quite the only person in this vicinity who has ever presumed to say, up to the time of the appearance of that letter, if I except Wm. A. Barstow, that there was any possibility of Bonham's being innocent of any murderous intent when he shot Keene. I have frequently said that his shooting him in the presence of witnesses might be considered ???? some circumstances, evidence of a want of malice-afterthought like that of one who waylays his victim and takes his life when he thinks no eye witnesses the deed, But I have seldom found a man to coincide with me in this view of the matter who was a resident of this quarter. And yet it is in my opinion equally untrue that "The Abolitionists as a class desire to see Bonham hung."
Mr. Randall must have known also that Keene's right of the Mill did not depend upon a fraudulent conveyance from Phippin and that Keene purchased the premises at the land office some time before the affray; and why does he say that the trade between Keene and Phippin was a sham trade if it was not to make an impression upon the mind of the Governor that Keene's title was no better than Bonham's , if as good? Was such a design an honorable one? I shall leave it for others to answer the question. The reader will see that Mr. Randall's quixotic attack upon me - upon the counsel for the Prisoner, upon these harmless and inoffensive witnesses and the Political Abolitionists, was entirely unprovoked and without any just cause whatever. But men seldom act without a motive, and by close investigation I think it will be found that the one which prompted the writing of that letter sprung from something besides a laudable ambition. - But notwithstanding, I shall be as ready as any person, and as willing to see Bonham set at liberty when Foster, Younger and Dunn are convicted of perjury and conspiracy. But I cannot look forward to the time when I think the Governor will have very strong claims upon my credulity, or when I shall give him credit for great sagacity, if he did not use that letter for an excuse to commute, rather than because it deceived him.
Wm. P. Sloan
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wednesday Morning, April 7, 1847, page 2 of 4.
For the Sentinel and Gazette,
April 8, 1847
Eds. Milwaukee Sentinel & Gaz., -
In your paper of the 7th inst., I noticed a communication over the
signature of Wm. P. Sloan a Justice of the Peace who resides in this
place, in which an attempt is made to abuse me. I do not know who wrote
it for Mr. Sloan, and therefore, cannot reply to it as I could wish. It
is only the vehicle for a portion of that abuse which a few individuals
here, for want of better employment, are inclined to heap upon me, for
the reason that I dare to think and act for myself, and to rebuke and
expose hypocrisy wherever I find it. The language used in the article,
is only a retail of common vulgar epithets, such as any man can use
without coming near the truth. - the attempt at argument in it, gives
evidence of great labor to little effect. My reasons for pursuing the
course I have pursued are partially stated in an answer to the letter of
I. P. Walker, to be published in the Milwaukee Courier. I retract
nothing stated in my letter to Gov. Dodge, because I stated what I knew
or understood to be true. He charges me with a willful misrepresentation
of the facts in the case, and that is all he can do. That stale charge
of misrepresentation can make no difference with the real facts, or with
the truth of the statements in my letter to the governor. Truth cuts
deep gashes, and Sloan with several others, seem to writhe under its
torture. I made no charge of corruption or of violation of his oath of
office against Mr. Sloan. I never thought of such a thing. I intended no
charge, whatever, against him. I stated a fact which was a subject of
remark at the time of Bonham's examination. No one finds or did find any
fault with Sloan; or supposed that he did not act honestly. He was
placed in an exciting and embarrassing situation, and acted as well as
he could. I have no doubt and never had, that he has been perfectly
honest in everything in this case, in which he was concerned, not even
when I was told that he promised to write to the governor asking the
commutation of Bonham's sentence. I believe Sloan does as well as he
knows how all the time. It is very probably that when these penny
scribblers all get through, and the public mind gets somewhat settled in
relation to this affair, I shall publish some facts connected with the
case, properly authenticated. They are now being collected. I sincerely
hope in the mean time that Mr. Sloan will continue to pursue the "even,
harmless tenor of his way."
While I think of it I will suggest to Sloan that I was in his office when the complaints were laid against Bonham, which he well recollects, and that I proposed a material alteration in the form of one ???? affidavits, all which I have the means of proving. His allusions in that dignified article to my associations, reminds me of one of the greatest errors of my life, and one which my friends, in the vicinity of whom he formerly resided, warned me against time after time, and that was in relation to my connecting myself in any manner, whatever, in any business capacity with Mr. Sloan: not so much on account of any known want of integrity, as an account of his confirmed weakness. I do not consider that at the present time, the article in your paper requires farther notice. i shall by and bye notice all these things, in their order. I have not fears as to the final result of this difficulty. I have the satisfaction of having endeavored to save a man's life by honest means. A candid, sound judging public will ultimately sustain me.
Very respectfully yours,
A. W. Randall
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Tuesday Morning, April 13, 1847, page 2 of 4.
Waukesha, April 16th 1847
Messrs Wilson & King:
I notice in the daily Sentinel and Gazette of the 13th inst,. a letter from A. W. Randall I which he still insists upon the truth of statements in his communication to the Governor upon the subject of the commutation of Bonham's sentence.
There is nothing more than is to be expected from the man who could venture in the first place to make them. And since he does not attempt any other reply to the facts lately published by me, respecting it, but continues his personal attack upon me in a more openly malicious form. I trust that the public will excuse the sacrifice of dignity which it may be necessary for me to make, under the circumstances, in order to take a proper review of so scurrilous an affair.
In the first place, he feigns as a reason for not making "the reply he could wish" that he did not know "who wrote the article for me." and evidently expects to delude the public by this dernier resort. If he had affected to be as ignorant of the Bonham affair he would have appeared as apt to be believed.
I wish I could say of his letter, that the author was not known to me, but I Cannot. Its principal features are too plainly characteristic; the style, language, erudition and vanity, all point directly towards the author, as truly as doe s the needle to the Pole. And among its beautities, not the least striking is the faint apeing of Lord Broughham's mode, in an attempt to wind up a coil and hurl a shaft right home to the heart of his adversary. he just withdraws his charge of my neglect of duty, and then glides down the way by seeming free and frank admissions of my honesty and uprightness, until he finds a place where fancy dictates, that he may give a thrust which shall destroy the force and credit of the truths of my communication. In this, however, he most sadly fails, as all men must when they attempt in imitate and set truth and candor so perfectly at defiance.
When he alluded to what he calls "one of the greatest errors of his life", he forgot that at the time we dissolved our partnership he very ingenuously declared that he would rather be in business with me than any other lawyer in Milwaukee county, and hoped the necessity for dissolution would prove to be only temporary. he also forgot that it was his own earnest solicitation that I consented to associate myself with him in the practice of law - that i have five letters addressed to me, between the 1st of Sept., 1842 and the 2nd of July 1843, it is proof of the fact. By way of refreshing his memory, I will here quote two or three sentences from one of the latter date; it runs as follows: "Now I must have some one with me or I cannot get along - I would rather have you than any man I know - We could establish a substantial office of good repute."
The letter was written, of course, after he must have received the pretended warning from the East, that the man he so earnestly sought, was afflicted with that "confirmed weakness." Now no one can fail to see that he was guilty of unblushing hypocrisy and falsehood, then, or else he must be now. The fact, however is, that then he wrote the language of an honest friend, but now speaks only that of a corrupt politician. the he had not gone so far astray, but that he could award to other men, that which was their due, whereas now, he considers all men wanting in judgment and ability, who do not enter as heartily as himself, into political schemes and intrigues of the day. But I envy not the happiness to be drawn from such sources, nor do I seek revenge for the harmless insinuations he has seen fit to make against me. I desire only to bring him to a picture of himself, and enable him to see:
"What a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive."
This cannot, however, be fully accomplished within the limits which I have allotted for my letter; but the people of the Territory might reward the modest merit of Mr. Randall, who has condescended to reveal and make known the "confirmed weakness' which he says his and my friend or former acquaintance informed him of some five or six years ago; and it is hoped that a suitable medal will be prepared for him, at as early a day as possible, since by this noble act and gracious generosity of his, they are saved the trouble of judging for themselves. It is true, that like his information in the Bonham case, it comes at rather too late an hour to give much credit, unless Mr. Randall seems to think, his word is better than the proof. To some it may be, but those are people quite abroad.
Some, too, may think this whole affair to be a matter arising from long standing animosities between him and me. But to satisfy such, how far it is from that, and how much I am myself surprised, I will barley say, that so hypocritically smooth was that face of his, up to the time of the appearance of his letter to the Governor, that only a week or tow or three before, I signed his duties as Master in chancery; and that too, as I am informed, when several of his friends refused to do it.
Having now extended my remarks beyond what I first intended, I wish only to say, that i shall not again trouble myself to reply to any of his communications, although if necessary, I may hereafter say more upon the subject of his letter to the governor. And in conclusion, allow me to say to him, in the language which his father wrote him, soon after he changed his politics, "My son, may God forgive you," though the world should not.
Yours, Wm. P. Sloan
Source: Daily Sentinel and Gazette, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wednesday Morning, April 20, 1847, page 2 of 4.
Legislative Session - Mr. Walker moved to amend by adding additional sections, for the removal from the Racine to the Milwaukee county jail, of the person of David Bonham. Source: Wisconsin Democrat, Green Bay, Wisconsin, March 11, 1848
Weekly Wisconsin, April 11, 1849, David Bonham running for Alderman position? Received six votes.
Source: Daily Free Democrat,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 22, 1851, page 3 of 4.
We notice that the papers throughout the State, pretty generally, are out on the Governor, for pardoning Bonham. Give your reasons, Governor. Source: Daily Free Democrat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 31, 1851, page 2 of 4.
We are certainly opposed to hanging, but are in favor of the certainty of punishment, by imprisonment, when a man is convicted of murder. Gov. Dewey may have had good reasons for pardoning Bonham, but we insist that he should give public those reasons. Source: Daily Free Democrat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 2, 1851, page 3 of 4.
David Bonham's Pardon
We see it stated in several of the Milwaukee papers and others that Gov. Dewey has finally been prevailed upon to grant a pardon to David Bonham. This seems to us a very extraordinary transaction and one which it will be extremely difficult for Gov. Dewey or his friends to defend before the people. What new light has at this late day burst upon the governor that he now puts forth his pardoning hand to parry off the blow with which justice is and has been chastising a criminal for the commission of one of the most fiendish, brutal acts ever committed by a man in a civilized community?
What new developments have been made which indicate that the demands of justice have been satisfied? We care not what are the reasons which have actuated the governor in turning a murderer loose upon the community: they are insufficient to justify the act. The circumstances of that murder have not faded from the minds of the people of this state. No one conversant with the dark tragedy has ever doubted the guilt of David Bonham, although at present he may appear to be one of the most penitent, meek, lowly and submissive beings on earth.
His hands are stained with the crime of deliberate murder. He has committed an act for which he has forfeited all rights to liberty and the enjoyments of society, and while the friends of the abolition of the death penalty were willing that the gallows should be robbed of its victim in this instance, they were not willing that executive sympathy should open the door to the prison and say to Bonham, "Go, thy sins are forgiven."
This executive interference is another evidence to the friends of the abolition of the death penalty that before punishments for the crime of murder can be made certain, the pardoning power must be withheld from the governor. [Madison Exp.]
Source: Watertown Chronicle, Watertown, Wisconsin, April 2, 1851, page 2 of 4.
David Bonham - The Madison
Democrat, semi-officially, we suppose, gives the following as good
and sufficient reasons for the pardon of Bonham.
1. Keene and Bonham built and occupied in common, a mill on Government land, which land, coming into market, was entered clandestinely by Keene, and he commenced the removal of the machinery of the mill. Bonham threatened that he persisted in the act he would shoot him. With this warning, Keene persisted and Bonham shot him.
2. Bonham repeatedly declared that he thought his gun was only loaded with powder - that he fired only to intimidate and not to kill.
3. The verdict of the Corner's jury went far to establish this fact, as it shoed that the death might have been occasioned by a shell gathered up with the leaves used for wadding.
4. He has already suffered much - twice respited within sight of the gallows, when he had passed all that is fearful in an ignominious death, except the bodily pain.
Since then he has quietly submitted to years of imprisonment, and no one now believes that the community would be worse for his being at large.
Such are the reasons given - let them have such weight as they deserve.
Source: Daily Free Democrat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 8, 1851, page 2 of 4.
THE PEOPLE'S GOVERNOR
Whereas, it is represented to the Governor of the Sovereigns of this State, That one David Bonham was indicted by the Grand Jury, empanelled at the Term of November, A. D. 1846, of the District Court of the United States, in and for the county of Milwaukee, for the willful and deliberate murder of Henry Keene, upon which indictment the said Bonham was tried in and by our said District court, then sitting in for our said county of Racine, before a Jury of the Sovereign People, and by them convicted of the crime of Wilful Murder, and was by our said District Judge sentenced to be hung until he was dead which sentence was afterward commuted by Governor dodge, to Imprisonment for Life.
And whereas, it appears that by secret connivance, sundry devil disposed persons one of whom purports to be and holds himself out as Governor of this our said State of Wisconsin, have privately, secretly, and clandestinely contrived to aid, abet and permit the said Bonham to make his escape from and out of our said jail of our said county of Milwaukee when he was confined by the sentence of our said Court and the commutation there of.
And whereas, the "public safety and morals demand that the supremacy of the laws be maintained, and the penalty of the criminal code be rigidly enforced."
"Now, therefore, for the purpose of arresting and securing the said" Bonham "Charged and convicted as aforesaid of the crime of murder, I" the Governor of the Sovereign People of said State of Wisconsin do hereby in pursuance of the authority vested in me by the Sovereign People of said State, offer a reward of five hundred votes for Governor, to be paid by the Sovereigns of said State, at the next Caucus, for the arrest and apprehension of said Bonham and his confederates or any of them who aided in contriving and bringing about his escape from imprisonment as aforesaid, and his or their delivery to the keeper of the said Jail in our said county of Milwaukee, or to the keeper of the Jail in the county of Grant that they may be further dealt with according to the will of the Sovereign People.
Said Bonham is a short, thick set man, and Englishman by birth, and a violent politician. The leader of those who contrived and aided his escape is a law man, about thirty five years of age, black hair, black eyes, and skin of nearly the same color. [Editor's note: the author may be referring to A. W. Randall, a law man or lawyer.]
Dated at the residence of the Governor of the Sovereign People, this day of April, in the year of our reign the first, A. D., 1851.
S. M. Booth
Governor of the Sovereigns
By the Governor
Sec'y of the Sovereigns
Source: Wisconsin Statesman, Madison, Wisconsin, April 8, 1851, page 3 of 4.
We see that the People's Governor, (Booth) has issued his proclamation offering five hundred votes for Governor next fall, for the apprehension of David Bonham, who has been confined in the Milwaukee Jail, under a sentence of imprisonment for life, for killing Keene, but who has been pardoned by one of the People's servants, and is now at large. It is a pretty good hit, Mr. Governor.
Source: Democratic State Register, Watertown, Wisconsin, April 14, 1851, page 2 of 4.
The Racine Advocate makes the worst kind of pi of the reasons given by the Madison Democrat for the pardon of Bonham. There is no doubt he was guilty of murder. Bonham's plea at the time was , that he meant to shoot him lower down - that he thought he had a right to shoot him.
Source: Daily Free Democrat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 18, 1851, page 2 of 4.
Pardon of Bonham
We have said
nothing about the pardon lately granted by Gov. Dewey to David Bonham,
having waited to hear some reason given for the motion of the governor.
We now see in the Madison Democrat an article explaining the
reasons, or rather giving no reasons but justifying the course of the
governor, and giving a history of the transaction that will astonish all
those who were here when Bonham was tried, and all those who have read
the pamphlet published by Bonham in justification of his course. Now we
do not think we have prejudged the case, indeed we have not formed any
judgment as to the reasons for the pardon, as noon are yet given, not
even in the Democrat, neither in the history of the transaction correct,
either according to Bonham's published account, or according to the
account he gave us personally. We did a good deal of work for Bonham
without charge, and therefore think we are clear of personal malignity
towards him, and although we would not sign his petition for commutation
of sentence, we found no fault, publicly, with that commutation, and
felt relieved when the poor fellow escaped death.
The "shell and leaf", part of the transaction we never heard of before, and here, where Bonham was tried, the account of the Democrat will be looked upon as the most singular and untrue one ever published. The defence Bonham made to us, was that he had taken legal advice and understood that he had a right to shoot the man, but he added that he intended only to hit him in the legs. He said nothing about "shell and leaves", and we never heard this excuse advanced before. He says nothing of it in his pamphlet if we remember it, and we think no man can read that pamphlet without being convinced that even according to Bonham's own version of the story he was clearly guilty of murder.
The ownership of the property was a matter of dispute. We no nothing of the rights of that matter, and we suspect the Democrat knows no more than we do. The rifle was not the common law of the country, had it been Bonham would not have been convicted. The jury could not even find him guilty of manslaughter only. The proof was too strong, the case of murder too clearly made out, and in truth the only palliating declaration of Bonham was that he hit Keene higher than he meant to, while had he hit him lower, death would most probably ensued, from his close proximity to his victim.
If the governor does not give some reasons for his conduct in granting this pardon, he must expect to be severely judged. The approval of his course in the Democrat is no reason, and in the article of approval no reason is to be found, while the facts of the case are utterly distorted from truth. the trial was a patient one, and we will venture to say that there never has been a time in this country when there was a greater chance for an escape from a conviction for murder than at that time. The feeling against capital punishment was very strong here, and although nine out of ten believed Bonham guilty, all thought he had a chance to escape conviction for murder on account of that feeling. Not one in a hundred who attended that trial could help believing it was a clear case of murder. Not one in ten who read Bonham's own account could arrive at any other conclusion. It will not do now to plead that Bonham was not guilty of the murder. Such was the conviction in the minds of all that the murder was clear, that it was supposed Gov. Dodge would not even commute the sentence of death for that of imprisonment for life, and it is even now doubtful whether that commutation would have been made, had not the legislature interfered by agitating the death penalty while the sentence of Bonham was yet hanging over his head.- Racine Advocate.
Source: Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, April 24, 1851, page 2 of 4.
As we predicted - The Milwaukee
Sentinel of Saturday last says:
The Free Democrat offers a reward of "five hundred votes for governor" to any who will "arrest and secure" David Bonham, lately pardoned by Gov. Dewey, &c. The reward can be easily earned by going up to the jail, where Bonham is comfortably installed as jailor! We did not suppose that he would get an office, quite so soon as that, but it is doubtless in strict accordance with "Democratic usages." Source: Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, April 24, 1851, page 2 of 4
Suicide - Yesterday afternoon at about three o'clock, it was reported that James P. Johnson, one of the persons arrested on Thursday night last, for burglary, had committed suicide in the jail.
The Reporter of the Com. Advertiser has obtained the following particulars from Sheriff White:
"A fearful cry heard in the room where Johnston was confined, with seven other prisoners. Mr. Bonham, who had charge of the rooms, immediately sprang for the keys, and entered, where he found him standing up and blood gushing from his throat. He ran and placed his hand over the wound and endeavored to staunch the blood, but Johnston struggled violently to keep him off, until he fell from exhaustion, when it was discovered that his windpipe was cut completely through, together with several of the leading blood vessels, and that all efforts to save his life would be useless."
[Editor's note: There is more detail about Johnston not transcribed; the reason for this entry is to reveal another part of David Bonham's life.]. Source: Democratic State Register, Watertown, Wisconsin, June 9, 1851.
A fire was
discovered this morning, between two and three o'clock, in the Store at
the corner of East Water and Michigan Sts., formerly occupied by S.
This store was entirely destroyed, but the jewelry, &c, - which were in the Sheriff's care - were removed with very trifling injury.
Mr. Bonham, who was in the building, watching the goods, heard a person ascend and then descend the flight of stairs, running up the north side of the store, just before the flames issued forth.
The building formerly occupied by Mr. Chapman, as a Bookstore was damaged some.
The flames did not extend to the Camphine Depot. If it had before the camphine was removed, a terrible conflagration must have been the result......
Source: Wisconsin Free Democrat,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 3, 1851, page 1 of 4.
Gone to the Penitentiary
Between 7 and 8 o'clock this morning, Sheriff White and Deputy Sheriff Shaughnessey, and David Bonham, left here with the two prisoners, Radcliff and Thompson, for the Waupun Prison. They both left in good spirits, and especially Radcliff, who started away singing as merrily as though he was going to his friends, and saying, "three years wou'dn't be long - they couldn't kill him that time." We are confident they will have plenty to do to keep them busy, for there is any quantity of labor to be performed there, to advantage, We hope, however, they well be well fed and cared for.
Source: Wisconsin Free Democrat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 7, 1852, page 3 of 4.
Death of Jonathan Arnold, came to Milwaukee in 1836; was the prosecuting attorney who secured the conviction and sentence for murder of David Bonham. Source: Waukesha Plaindealer, Waukesha, Wisconsin, June 8, 1869
Menomonee - The old saw-mill in which Bonham killed Kean has never run since it was burned down. Waukesha Plaindealer, Waukesha, Wisconsin, January 7, 1873, page 3 of 4.
Milwaukee, Jan. 28, 1873
Friend Pratt - I have read with much interest your account in Tuesday's paper of the commutation of the sentence of David Bonham by Gov. Dodge. In some respects, however, your narrative is not as full as it should have been. I was among those who did not believe Bonham guilty of murder and did not want him executed.
W. H. Barstow and myself called on Gov. Dodge about ten days or two weeks before the appointed time for Bonham's execution to urge the Governor to commute his sentence to imprisonment for life. The lawyers had raised a legal objection against the Governor's acting any further in the premises, for he had already given Bonham a respite of 60 or 90 days , or such a matter. I do not remember what the point was, but it troubled the Governor and caused him to doubt whether he ought to help Bonham further. His disposition was, if possible, to save Bonham's life, and he gave us to understand if that legal objection could be removed and a majority of the Councilors would ask him to commute the sentence he would do so. The first he thought indispensable; the second as merely advisory and for his own
I came home to have our lawyers look the thing up and see whether the legal point was a good one. The next morning A. W. Randall, who was also a warm friend of Bonham's, called on me, and on being told of the difficulty in the Governor's way, said he would look into it and let me know. In about two hours he returned to my office with a couple of law books, and sat down at my desk and drew up powerful, and it seemed to me, an unanswerable, argument in opposition tot he views Judge Whiton and others had given to Gov. Dodge. It was the first time I had ever seen Randall let himself out, and he appeared truly great. He handed me the first rough draft of the letter as he drew it up, and enclosed it with a note to the Governor. Other lawyers here (among them Wells, Holliday and Arnold, I think) sent letters by the same mail backing up Randall's views. The governor's private secretary told me afterwards that the letter of Randall was the first thing the Governor met that showed him clearly he had a legal right to relieve Bonham, and it was his duty.
Gov. Dodge was an extremely honest and just man. He would not screen his own son from the gallows, nor do a wrong net, or violate a law he was sworn to support. While his sympathies were very much moved for Bonham, and his disposition was to relieve him, he had to be fully convinced he could legally and properly act in that direction before he would do so.
The messenger that took the Governor's commutation to the Sheriff of Racine county, was George P. Delaplaine, Esq., his private Secretary. Mr. Delaplaine called on me the evening before Bonham was executed, and asked me to go up to Racine with him, and help advise Bonham of his deliverance. I would not do so, but got H. N. Wells to go in my stead. They arrived at the jail at two o'clock in the morning about twelve hours before the supposed execution was to take place, and I have heard both of them, as well as Bonham himself, frequently since relate the scene which transpired when Bonham was advised of the object of the visit. The excitement occasioned by the news came near during the work which the Sheriff was expected soon to perform. There was in Racine the next day several thousand people to witness the hanging and it was among the jokes of the time that most of them went home as "mad as their skins could hold", because they had not enjoyed the pleasure of seeing a fellow gibbeted; and some of them seriously threatened to break open the jail and hang Bonham anyhow.
J. A. Noonan
Waukesha Plaindealer, February 4, 1873.
The following statement of the proceedings had in
the case, furnished by the governor's private secretary, is given here
Madison, Wisconsin, Aug. 8th, 1883
Jas. S. Buck, Esq., Milwaukee, Wis.:
In reply to yours of the 7th inst., relative to one David Bonham, I have to say that from the records of this office it appears that David Bonham was sentenced to be executed December 11th, 1846.
November 30th, 1846, Governor Dodge reprieved Bonham until Wednesday, February 3rd, 1847.
January 23rd, 1847, Governor dodge issued death warrant, execution to take place Wednesday, February 3rd, 1847.
February 1, 1847, Governor Dodge issued warrant reprieving Bonham until March 3rd, 1847, and commanding execution to be done on said day.
February 27th, 1847, sentence commuted to imprisonment for life.
March 19th, 1851. Unconditional pardon granted by Governor Dewey.
Yours very respectfully,
L. J. Rusk, Private Secretary.
Source: Pioneer History of Milwaukee : from the first American settlement in 1833 to 1841; Volume III, Chapter 1, 1847.
Return to David Bonham's Life page
Historian Seeks Murderer's
May 22, 2006 marks the 160th anniversary of the infamous first murder in Waukesha County, David Bonham, of Lisbon, killing Henry Keene of Prairieville (today Waukesha).
Until recently, the primary source of information about the killing and murder trial has come from the publication, "History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, 1880". Recent old newspaper additions to Ancestry.com's databases, have now shed new light on David Bonham's life, the killing, trial, and his full pardon by Governor Dewey of Wisconsin.
As a historian, I felt it my duty to bring this new information to the community's attention, and although there is no doubt that David Bonham killed Henry Keene, and though the Governor of our State, years ago, pardoned Bonham, our community never has. Nor has it recognized him for his contributions to the township.
If it wasn't for David Bonham, the Weaver family probably wouldn't have come here. David was the ambitious one, arriving here in the Spring of 1836, about the same time as Thomas Spencer Redford. David immediately sought out a claim that Spring, then wrote back to his wife's Weaver kin in New York State, describing the wonders of the Territory and about his land. After John and Melinda Weaver received that letter in the Summer of 1836, they packed their bags and sailed to the Wisconsin Territory, arriving in September. This is all revealed in Melinda's Memoirs, also note that Redford's account of the time appears to be in error.
When the Weavers were first moving into their one-room log cabin on April 1, 1837, David was advertising in a Milwaukee newspaper that his "public house" [saloon or tavern] was open for business. Obviously, David had been building already the year before to accomplish this feat. Bonham owned and operated the town's first business. In his advertisement, his location is called "Head of Fox River", this area's first name [which included parts of present day Willow Springs and Lannon].
At the same time Bonham held his first political position in "Head of Fox River", being appointed to a "Committee of Vigilance", basically a peace-keeper. He served in numerous other town, county, and state political positions. He was a strong supporter of education and of "settlers' rights", the latter led to the killing nine years later. Bonham had other firsts; his son's death, and the first plow. Read more on the SLAHS website at www.slahs.org
The 1880 Waukesha County History is incorrect on a number of events, but none more than the killing, his trial and pardon. First, Keene is depicted as the injured party in a land swindle, when in truth he stole the land out from under Abram Nottingham [who leased the saw mill to Bonham]. Bonham tried to protect Nottingham's and his own investment in the mill and property from an unscrupulous land dealer, "settler's rights". Two, Alexander W. Randall is listed as his defense attorney; Randall, later governor of Wisconsin, was Waukesha's prosecuting District Attorney, not his attorney. Randall, who earlier represented both Keene and Phippin [sold his mill property share to Keene] in their land dealings, came forth after the trial to advocate death sentence [by hanging] commutation and later a full pardon. Third, there was a big outrage over the misuse of a temperance petition to the Governor, when, so far, it appears the intended petition received the Governor intact. The newspapers of the time report no misuse.
Bonham supported early settler claims, especially in the often disputed "canal lands"; his "public house" no doubt disturbed the temperance people, and his Democratic political beliefs angered the Abolitionist or Liberty party. And is there a possible coincidence, that Nottingham, an affirmed Abolitionist, a stockholder in the American Freeman, a Prairieville Abolitionist newspaper; a newspaper who trumpeted his death by hanging, somehow not involved in a scheme to discredit Bonham?
Bonham paid his dues with five years in jail, and because of his character, he was a trusted prison turnkey, who tried to save a burning building he guarded, and later attempted to prevent a prisoner's death by suicide. Two Governors of Wisconsin believed in him enough to commute his death sentence, and later pardon him from prison. The only people who haven't pardoned Bonham are residents of the community he helped shape. We'll never no what exactly happened leading to Keene's death, but Bonham didn't appear to be a man who would kill a man in cold-blood.
I'm asking Town and Village residents to voice their opinion on whether the community should pardon David Bonham by casting a vote for, or against. Please send your letter or postcard, to:
P. O. Box 32
Sussex, WI. 53089-0032
Please indicate your choice, YES [to pardon him] or NO, and whether you live in Sussex or Lisbon. Comments are welcomed. I will tabulate the results and report same to this newspaper. Visit www.slahs.org for more historical information.
SLAHS Member and Town Resident