M.C. Ellis and the Case of the Chicken Thieves

This is the fourth in the Historical Newsclippings series. As in the previous story of Alva Harvey, this also involves descendants of Martin Loy’s (to America 1741) son John’s son Martin Luther Loy, of the Adair County, Kentucky Loys.  Martin Luther Loy’s son Martin Loy, Jr. and wife Mary (née Brown) were parents of Emeliza Loy, their eldest child. In 1857, Emeliza married John Ellis,  from neighboring Russell County, Kentucky. This was where the newlyweds would reside, as John had recently inherited tracts of land there from his late uncle’s estate. According to terms of his uncle’s will, John was to work as much of the land as he was able, with part of the proceeds going to support his uncle’s widow and John keeping the rest.  After her death, the property and 100% of the income were John’s. The 1860 census shows John having real estate value of $1,200 and personal estate value of $1,000.  (In today’s dollars, that would be close to $35,000 and $29,000.)  John and Emeliza had three children: Martin Clarence (born 1858), Benjamin F. (born 1860, after census), and Surrilda Jane (born 1862).

John served for the Union during the Civil War, in Co. D, 32nd KY Infantry, dying in January 1864. Emeliza applied for widow’s pension and pension for their three minor children until they turned 16. But in 1875, Benjamin died of “the fever,” a little over a week shy of his 15th birthday. His mother Emeliza died of typhoid fever two days later, leaving the two remaining children “M.C.” and Surrilda. In 1880 Surrilda married her mother’s first cousin, Leander Loy. In 1880 Russell County, Kentucky census, these newlyweds were residing with Leander’s parents. Also in the 1880 Russell County, Kentucky census, M.C. was living with uncle and aunt James and Marintha (Ellis) Pierce. Marintha was elder sister of M.C.’s father John Ellis. Sometime between the 1880 census and September 1884, M.C. and the Pierces relocated to Kansas.

M.C. Ellis, and likely the Pierces, seem to have settled first in Cicero, Harmon Township, [Section 29 NE], Sumner County, Kansas. In 1883, Cicero opened its own post office, which would continue until it closed in 1934. After WWII, Cicero became a ghost town.

The  Saturday, 6 September 1884 Belle Plaine News (Belle Plaine, KS) relates the following:

M. C. Ellis, a machinist at Cicero, was in town between trains on Monday.

By the 1885 Kansas state census, M.C. and the Pierces were listed in Belle Plaine, Belle Plaine Township, Sumner County. Although the Kansas state census and Federal census from 1895 to 1940 shows M.C. was again living in Harmon Township. In Section 26 of the same township, not far from Cicero, was the community of Mt. Zion, where the Lawless family lived. The family was also from Russell County, Kentucky, but came to Belle Plaine in 1871 with a group of other settlers. Allen Lawless was born in Russell County, Kentucky, and second wife Eva (Antle) Lawless was born in Adair County, Kentucky. They were in the 1880 Belle Plaine, Sumner County, Kansas census with their four grown, unmarried children (ranging in ages from 18 to 30) and three minor children. Eva’s sister Nancy Antle married John Loy, uncle of M.C.’s mother. And John and Nancy’s son Leander had married M.C.’s sister Surrilda. Martin’s uncle Elijah Ellis had married Adaline Lawless, sister to Allen.

On the 4th of July 1885, Allen Lawless died. Widow Eva died on 29 March the following year. By the time of her mother’s death, the youngest child, Caroline (“Carrie”) Lawless, had just turned 17, the very age M.C. Ellis was when he lost his widowed mother. Carrie’s older brothers, bachelors Jacob and George, still lived on the old home place and, typical brothers, relied on her for their housekeeping. But M.C. offered Carrie a better deal—one husband was a lot easier to pick up after than two brothers—so that August she and M.C. tied the knot.

What the brothers did next is explained in the Saturday, 4 September 1886 Belle Plaine News (Belle Plaine, KS):

Mt. Zion Items

Lawless Bros. have sold the farm known as the Mrs. Brown farm, to its recent owner, and Jacob and George have gone west to look for a home. The boys are hard working and can endure a new country. It is hoped that they may find them a comfortable and enjoyable place, for since the marriage of their sister Carrie to Martin Ellis, the boys are left without a housekeeper.

M.C and Carrie were quite prominent in the community, enough to be mentioned many times in the local about-town news. In 1896, Carrie was mentioned having entertained a number of (female) friends at a quilting, where they finished two quilts and several carpet rags. Reading the list of names, it seems more like a family reunion: among the guests were those with Lawless and Pierce surnames. According to the Thursday, 1 December 1904 Belle Plaine News (Belle Plaine, KS), M.C. and Carrie went to Wellington the previous Monday on business. While there, they also stopped at French & Hitchcock, a furniture company, and bought an organ which was delivered to their home that evening.

In 1912, another 4th of July tragedy came to M.C. and Carrie when their married son Emery Vivan Ellis (known as “Vivan”) died while swimming with friends. He would have been 23 years old at the end of the month. His wife Fern and other young friends had been swimming and playing in the Ninnescah River. He remained in the water while the others went back to land. They heard him shouting, but thought he was laughing and didn’t take it seriously. By the time they realized he was in distress, it was too late and he died. Some news accounts attributed his death due to swimmer’s cramps. But later, authorities concluded he died from “heart disease” (perhaps this meant heart attack?) and not from drowning. At the time, he and Fern had one year old daughter, Noreen Edith Ellis. Besides Vivan, M.C. and Carrie had only one other child, Amanda Edith (Ellis) McMillan. “Mandy” was older than her brother Vivan and in 1988 died just a few months short of her 101st birthday.

The following was based on the Thursday, 4 March 1926 Belle Plaine News (Belle Plaine, KS):

It was a pre-spring day in the first week of March 1926. M.C. and Carrie made a trip to Belle Plaine, likely a routine shopping trip to stock up on food staples and farm supplies. The town was situated northeast of their farm. Returning home, as they drove up, to their surprise they noticed a strange car parked near their house. And coming out of their house was a man carrying a large sack. Upon seeing the homeowners’ unexpected return, the startled robber dropped the stolen booty, dashing to his accomplice waiting in the getaway car. As the bag fell, revealing its squawking contents, M.C. and Carrie realized these men were chicken thieves!

Carrie hurried out of their car to phone the authorities — as cell phones weren’t yet invented, she had to use landline in the house — meanwhile M.C. started in hot pursuit after the speeding getaway car and remaining stolen chickens. Despite his efforts, the culprits eluded him and he had to give up the chase. However, Carrie began doing some detective work with her phone calling. She learned that men with the same description of these two thieves had stolen chickens from another farmer, who lived west of Riverdale, in Seventy-Six Township. Joe B. Sylvester, a 58-year-old farmer born in Illinois, had knowledge that his stolen chickens had been sold to the Barrett Brothers Feed Store, located in Wichita, Kansas.

Immediately, Carrie telephoned the feed store in Wichita. When the shopkeeper answered, she gave him a description of the chicken thieves and asked if he had seen them in his store recently. No, he hadn’t. But 20 minutes later, the feed store owner called. Yes, men answering to that description had just come in, trying to sell the chickens. He was holding them there until the authorities arrived to arrest them. They were later identified as Ira Moore, of Argonia, Dixon Township, Sumner County, Kansas, and Max Laird, of Arkansas City, Cowley County, Kansas. On Thursday morning, the 4th of March, M.C. pressed local charges against Moore and Laird, for theft of $42 worth of chickens (about $570 today). The prisoners were currently being held in Wichita’s Sedgwick County Jail. The trial would take place in Wellington, Sumner County. It was figured the thieves had sold more than $125 (about $1,700 today) worth of “hot” chickens to this Wichita feed store within the past four weeks, and several hundred dollars worth prior to that.

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