The Murder of Francis E. Staley

Remember that little cemetery I was talking about in The Staley-Schultz Cemetery post I did a few days ago? Well… you know me- I decided I needed to know the ancestry of the people that would have lived next door to me if my family and I had been living there in the 1800s. (I couldn’t help it. I’ve always wondered this)

So I started doing some research. I actually have the family tree, as far as I have traced it, below. It is hard to see, and I apologize for that. Would you believe that there are only 22 people in this family tree? About half of what you see are duplicates; two brothers (the Staley brothers) married two sisters (The Kettering/Catron sisters) and their children (who were first cousins, married) But enough about close family ties– this story is about Francis E. Staley (1803-1877). He is the far left blue box on the bottom row of this chart.


While researching the ancestry of the family, I came across this newspaper article:



A little while ago, this writer had the opportunity to visit the last resting place of Francis Staley, finding his grave in a secluded place, about three miles southeast of Belle Union, in Jefferson township. On that trip, the reporter was fortunate in having the guidance of Herbert Blue, of that neighborhood, Mr. Blue being a grand-nephew of Mr. Staley. Sampson Staley, who was the father of Mr. Blue’s mother, was a brother of Francis Staley. To be exact, the old Staley burying ground is in the southeast corner of the northeast quarter of Section 25, Township 13 North, Range 3 West. As it is located in a rather lonesome spot, being three-fourths of a mile from the highway, many people in that part of the county, especially the younger generation, are unaware of its presence. After driving some distance down a lane, we had to leave the car and walk about half a mile farther. The route was through pastures up hill and down hill, around briars and trees when suddenly we came upon or almost passed this old pioneer graveyard in it’s solitude, overgrown with trees and saplings.
The number of marked graves total only six, but Mr. Blue stated that there were some unmarked graves, containing the remains of people who died while passing through the country in early days. One stone was erected for Abraham Staley, born in Virginia in 1780, died in 1858, and his wife Margaret, born in 1782, died in 1835. This Abraham Staley was undoubtedly the ancestor to all Staleys in that part of Putnam county and those in Morgan county. Nearby and surrounded by an iron fence were the graves of Nicholas Shultz, born in Germany, 1830, died 1900. and his wife Sophia, born 1820, died 1894. Sophia Shultz, Mr. Blue explained, was the daughter of Abraham Staley and a sister of Sampson and Francis. Beneath another stone was buried Sampson Staley, the inscription stating he died Oct. 22, 1854, age 41 years, 5 months .and 15 days. Beside his parents was the grave of Francis E. Staley born in 1813 and died Aug. 1, 1877, being the victim of a murderer the persons or persons who killed him never being identified from that day to this. A few years ago the Banner contained a review of his murder from the Banner of August 9. 1877. However Mr. Blue told of the crime as he had heard it. Francis or Frank Staley was an elderly, eccentric bachelor who lived alone on the farm where the graveyard is located. One night while he was eating his supper he was mysteriously shot, the shot being fired from the outside his cabin by a person whose identity was never known.
Robbery was believed to have been the motive as: his money box was found rifled some distance from the house. However Staley had always feared that someone would kill him and therefore kept his guns loaded. He had been helping his brother-in-law, Nicholas Shultz, make hay the day before and the next morning on his failure to arrive, Shultz sent Ed O’Neal to see what was the matter. O’Neal found Staley dead with a cucumber pickle in his hand and his body in a position which indicated that he had made a last desperate attempt to reach his gun.
A few days before, a neighbor, Nelson Wright, going after his cows in the woods near a certain house, had overheard a woman pleading with her husband not to go somewhere the night of the murder : This threw suspicion on the husband and his friend with whom he had been involved in considerable trouble. On her death bed this woman acted as though she had something to confess but the truth was never told.
Mrs. Alpha Hill, who lives a short ways west of Belle Union, is one who has a vivid recollection of Frank Staley’s death. Her father was Ed O’Neal who found Staley dead. They lived on the Nicholas Shultz farm, which adjoined Staley’s farm, and the house in which they lived was between the homes of Shultz and Staley. Mrs. Hill, who was eight years old at the time, recalls that her father had been up with one of the children who had been crying, and before going back to sleep, he heard a shot. This happened about nine o’clock one hot, sultry night. Mr. O’Neal never gave the shot much thought but when reporting at the Staley cabin for work the next morning, found Staley lying on the floor dead. He hurried to a neighbor’s. James Meek, and on returning they examined the victim and sent for the coroner.
As there were no telephones in those days, the coroner never arrived until in the afternoon. Staley was buried about dusk on the same day and Mrs. Hill remembered the burying party passing their house going to the graveyard in the corner of the farm. About a week or two later the body was exhumed for examination and the bullet removed, a month or so later, there was considerable digging around his house and spring for buried money.
Samuel Vermillion who lives south of Belle Union was a small boy when Frank Staley was shot, but he remembered it well Mr. Vermillion recollects that his father John was busy haying when he heard the news and as soon as he finished a slack, he rode a horse to the scene of the crime. It was night when he returned and being rather exited, he turned his horse loose without removing the saddle and it ran in the pasture all night with the saddle on. William Haltom is another yet still living who remembered the tragedy. Mr Haltom was born in 1859 on the farm that was immediately south of Frank Staley’s and visited the old pioneer often. Staley’s method of smoking tobacco, as Haltom recalls, was to set some tobacco on fire in the house and breathe the fumes.

  And there the article ends. The mention of another two articles regarding Francis Staley, unfortunately, turned up a dead end- I can’t find the newspaper from 1877 nor the second article, which isn’t given a date. I wish I could get my hands on them- in between the veritable mish-mash of information is one line I need to understand: “there was considerable digging around his house and spring for buried money.” If there’s a chance that there’s a civil-war-era fortune buried somewhere near where my parents live, you betcha I’m going digging next time I visit.
Remember that marble I found? Yeah. I’m more convinced than ever it was from this time period.

Also, anyone have any theories? This seems like a genealogical mystery just waiting to be solved!


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