A drunken shootout in a Springfield saloon in 1905 left three men dead and two brothers charged with murder.
The cause was a previous fistfight, followed by a series of telephoned challenges, newspaper articles reported.
Those killed were all from the Berlin area: horse trader Samuel Douglas, farmer John Lawrence, and Charles Casson, one of Lawrence’s farmhands. James and William Hinman, livestock dealers from Springfield, were found not guilty of killing Casson, after which charges were dropped in connection with the other two deaths.
The dead men were among eight to 10 Berlin men who came to Springfield to confront the Hinmans over the fistfight.
According to police statements and trial testimony, William Hinman and another brother, Charles Hinman, had badly beaten a drunken Robert Sandidge of Berlin several weeks earlier. Telephone insults, compounded by the fact that everybody was on party lines, flew back and forth for the next week. As the Journal explained in one story:
It is said that all of the men had been in the habit of calling each other up over the ‘phone, and that very often, while one was talking another would get on the line and listen.
In this way conversations were overheard by enemies and friends alike, and many are inclined to believe … that all the men from Berlin came to town expecting to have trouble with the Hinmans.
In one of the calls, according to trial testimony, James Hinman said “he wanted to bet $50 that Will could whip Bob” again.
The Hinmans have always borne the reputation of fighters in this city, and while they were friendly in a general way with the Berlin people, they would occasionally have bitter disagreements, regarding horse trades and other matters. The testimony given … relative to the conversation that took place over the ‘phone showed that the relations existing between them were none too pleasant.
On Friday, Nov. 23, 1905, eight to 10 Berlin men came to Springfield to confront the Hinmans.
The Berlin group wandered from bar to bar in the downtown levee district until they encountered the Hinmans at the Wright and Lathrop saloon, 114 N. Seventh St. The two groups drank together more or less peaceably for at least a few minutes.
Then, depending on who was telling the story, Lawrence either did or did not take a swing at James Hinman. Provoked or not, Hinman pulled a revolver and began shooting. At that, William Hinman also grabbed his gun; it was never clear whether he managed to get off a shot, but a couple of those in the Berlin group grabbed him and beat him unconscious with a blackjack. (Both of the brothers also had blackjacks in their pockets.)
Some members of the Berlin group also had pistols. During the Hinmans’ murder trial, their attorneys contended that Casson – the closest thing to an innocent bystander in the whole affair – was killed by a bullet Sandidge meant for William Hinman.
The gunplay lasted only seconds. Everybody in the crowd then piled out of the saloon together, Sandidge said later, “fighting and struggling among themselves”.
Samuel Douglas’ brother John, a constable in Berlin, also was armed. He subdued James Hinman at gunpoint. At the time, Douglas said, he didn’t realize anyone had been hurt in the chaos.
Walking to the city jail, Douglas said, he told Hinman, “‘Jim, you didn’t shoot anybody,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did, and you can put me in a cell and do as you please. I hope I killed the dirty —- —- —‘” (expurgation in the original).
The killings were a local sensation, and feelings on both sides ran high afterwards. Two days after the shootout, the Journal reported:
The revolver battle Friday … formed the sole topic of conversation among hundreds yesterday. Large numbers of the men’s friends from Berlin came to the city and visited the scene of the tragedy, and also the undertaking establishment of Kirlin & Egan, where lay the bodies of the two victims (Lawrence was still alive at that point – ed.) …
Since the shooting, sympathy has been widely divided regarding the men who participated in it, as most of the witnesses gave conflicting stories in regard to who precipitated the trouble.
The Hinmans were charged with murdering all three dead men, but prosecutors had the brothers tried first for killing Casson, which authorities thought was the strongest case. Although Casson accompanied the Berlin crowd to Springfield, he played no role in harassing the Hinmans, and witnesses said he was trying to escape the bar when shot.
However, the jury took only 45 minutes to acquit both Hinmans. Aside from conflicting testimony and the defense’s suggestion that it was Sandidge who fired the fatal bullet, the Hinmans benefited from a general feeling that the Berlin men instigated the confrontation.
“Their friends claim that as a matter of fact the only men in the saloon at the time who could be depended upon to assist either of the Hinmans in case of trouble was the other,” one Journal story reported.
After the acquittal, prosecutors dropped charges in the deaths of Lawrence and Samuel Douglas. Both Hinmans remained in the Springfield area the rest of their lives. Charles Hinman went into the auto garage business and died at age 74 in 1946. James Hinman, who continued to deal in livestock, was 78 when he died in 1954.
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