Murder Aboard the Ohio Belle

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Above: the Ohio Belle

Crowdsourcing is really the most exciting development in historical research in, oh, the last jillion years. Sometimes institutions set up crowdsourcing efforts, like the toothsome University of Iowa effort I mentioned last time. But sometimes things just crowdsource themselves. The family history movement is a wonderful source of transcribed documents. Just recently I happened upon some murderous doings aboard the side-wheeler steamship Ohio Belle, transcribed out of the Cairo (Illinois!) Weekly Times and Delta, by one valiant Darrel Dexter on Rootsweb. The Ohio Belle itself has an interesting history; it was a Confederate steamship seized by the Union after the Battle of Island Number 10 in the Civil War, as described in this first-hand account. (Note that that account is privately transcribed too!)
But without further ado, the murderous dealings aboard the Ohio Belle, and what happened afterward.  I reproduce the bolded names of the transcription, which help one follow the dastardly developments.  And one has to admire the spirited Miss Heron!

Wednesday, 19 Mar 1856:
Last Friday, Capt. Ed Stevens, clerk of the steamer Ohio Belle was shot through the heart by a man named Joseph B. Jones. All the facts we could gather are as follows: Jones got on the Belle at Smithland, Friday morning and when the boat was opposite Cache Island about six miles above Cairo, Jones went to the office to pay his fine. He handed Mr. Stevens a bill, which Stevens pronounced counterfeit and handed back to him. Jones, at this, became very indignant and commenced using the most violent and abusive language. Stevens took him by the arm, walked him to the door of the social hall and pushed him out, remarking as he did so that his language would not do in the cabin. Jones attempted to return to the cabin, but was met by Stevens, who shoved him back and told him that he should not go into the cabin again. Jones then drew a Colt’s revolver and placing it about against Stevens’ breast, fired. Stevens threw up his arms to knock the pistol off, but missed it. The ball entered between the fourth and fifth ribs passing through the left lung and in all probability through his heart. After the explosion of the pistol, Jones ran on the guard outside the cabin toward the stern and Stevens followed after him until he reached the middle entrance to the cabin, where he fell. An elderly gentleman who was witness to the murder pursued and overtook Jones before he reached the stern of the boat. He knocked him down and held him in durance until the officers of the boat and some of the passengers took possession of him. He had cocked another barrel of his pistol to shoot Stevens the second time. He said it was his intentions to get to the stern of the boat, jump overboard and drown himself. He was under the influence of liquor.
As soon as he was captured, one end of a strong rope was placed around his neck and preparations were rapidly making to string him up, at the juncture. Miss Heron, the actress, who was on board, appeared and made a strong appeal to them in behalf of the young man and insisted upon their turning him over to the laws of the country to be dealt with. His execution was abandoned and he was taken to the engine room, securely lashed to a stanchion and a guard placed over him. The greatest excitement prevailed and it was feared that the friends of Capt. Stevens would take summary vengeance. The boat left here about 5 o’clock with the intention of lodging Jones in jail at Hickman. Capt. Stevens was beloved by all who knew him. He leaves a wife and three children at Newport, Ky.
Jones is an intelligent-looking, handsome young man, apparently about 22 or 23 years of age, says he lives in Marshall County, Mississippi. We do not know how true the statement is. We feel somewhat inclined to doubt it, as he did not seem inclined to communicate anything respecting his name or family connections. We think from what he said, that he has connections in both Memphis and Nashville.

Wednesday, 2 April 1856:
The Columbus Citizen states as a report and the Hickman Argus as a fact, that the body of Jones, the murderer of Stephens [sic], was found floating in the river near Hickman, tied to a chair. The Argus states that on the authority of a wharf boatman, that one of the officers of the Belle, as she was leaving the landing, said that they need not be surprised if they found a dead man floating there about. The only presumption is that Jones was thrown overboard from the Belle, tied in such a manner as to prolong his sufferings and thus drowned. The killing of Stephens was manslaughter; that of Jones was cold-blooded, deliberate murder.

16 April 1856:
The name of the young man who killed Capt. Stevens on board the Ohio Belle was not Jones as he represented, but Cocke. Some years ago he killed a man in Mississippi named Anderson and has been a fugitive from justice ever since. The name of Jones was assumed. His parents live in the northern part of Mississippi, near Memphis and are of the greatest respectability. The father and sister of the young man came up as far as Hickman, looking for his remains, but returned after an unsuccessful search.
The grand jury of Ballard Co., Ky., have indicted Capt. Sebastian of the steamer Ohio Belle for the murder of Cocke.

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