“Lark” O’Connor: The Last of the River Boat Captains

Wabash River SteamboatLarkin “Lark” O’Connor, a Civil War veteran, steamboat builder and navigator, was known as “the last of the river captains.” He and his brother, Jim, were household names in Lafayette, where they operated several steamers along the Wabash River for 40 years until 1872.

Along with passengers, their freight included corn, logs, lumber, stone, gravel, sand, and bricks. Captain Lark even built a floating sawmill on a flatboat, which was tugged behind one of his steamboats. A primitive steam engine built with a boiler, smokestack, floppy belts and drive wheels ran the saw.

By the 1880’s the steamboat industry began to dwindle as trains became the preferred method of transportation; however, Captain O’Connor persevered.

In 1884, he piloted a riverboat dubbed, “The George Stockton,” named in honor of aGeorge Stockton prominent Lafayette businessman. (Stockton was also the father of Georgia Stockton, the founder of the local DAR chapter in 1894.)

An old newspaper from April 1881 told the story of how Captain Lark’s steamer, “The Joe Segner,” sank because of an overload 30 miles south of Terre Haute.

In the spring of 1886, after a tornado hit near Attica, Captain Lark offered an excursion downstream so that more than 500 sightseers could view the wreckage along the shore.

Captain Lark, historically referred to as “the colorful Irishman,” lived on the northwest corner of Smith and Wabash Streets, a short distance from the Wabash River. The house was eventually torn down to make way for St. Ann’s School.

Sources:  Bob Kriebel’s column, Old Lafayette, Newspapers.com

Henry Ellsworth: Lafayette’s Connections to a Famous Family

Henry Leavitt EllsworthHenry L. Ellsworth was known throughout the country as a great American history maker.  It’s no wonder that Ellsworth Street in Lafayette, Indiana was named for the famous former resident who changed the course of history for the Greater Lafayette area.  He first changed the course of history for the nation before coming to Lafayette as a land speculator.

Ellsworth was born in Connecticut in 1791 and graduated from Princeton University.  His family connections led to an impressive career.   Oliver Ellsworth, the third Supreme Court Justice of the United States, was Henry’s famous father.  The younger Ellsworth quickly earned a valuable reputation as a bright innovator.  He became known as the “Father of the United States Department of Agriculture.”

President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry to oversee the re-settlement of Indian tribes.  He was tasked with studying the country, marking boundaries, and establishing order and justice.  Ellsworth had compassion for the plight of Native Americans, but the decision to remove them was out of his hands. 

Ellsworth first saw the Wabash River Valley during one of his trips, which sparked an interest in the fertile land.  He amassed over 93,000 acres of land in the Wabash River Valley and developed tenant farming, farm mechanization, and agribusiness, which significantly impacted agricultural progress in Greater Lafayette.  Ellsworth moved his family to Lafayette where he built a lavish 20-room home at the northwest corner of what is now 7th and South Streets.

Ellsworth once served as U. S. Patent Commissioner in Washington, D.C., and was aAnnie ellsworth friend to Samuel B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. Ellsworth’s daughter, Annie, was given the honor of choosing the words for the first telegraph message.  Morse set up his instruments in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Several witnesses observed the moment in history, including Henry Ellsworth, Henry Clay, and Dolly Madison.  Annie handed a note to Morse that contained a message that read, “What Hath God Wrought?”  Annie’s message, a Bible passage, was successfully transmitted via the telegraph, and became an important moment in history that impacted the world.

Note: Annie Ellsworth was a charter member of the General de Lafayette Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution in 1894.  

Sources:  Robert Kriebel’s Old Lafayette Column, Newspapers.Com, Wikipedia

Tippecanoe County Sheriff Breaks Up Multi-County Horse Thief Ring; Marshal Arrested After Attempted Escape

This has all the elements of a great western. It involves a gun being drawn at the Tippecanoe Court House, and pits the Marshall-turned-criminal against Stephen O. Taylor, the hero sheriff of Tippecanoe County. Next up: The Life of Stephen O. Taylor.

Desperate Horse-Thieves as told by the Muncie Evening Press December 4, 1882

Courthouse postcard 1907 Mrs Larson life sentence (2)“A startling affair, involving criminal matters in Western Indiana, occurred at Lafayette a few days since and has proved extremely dramatic, and will likely lead to surprising results. It is a matter that will interest in particular the honest citizens of Western and North-western Indiana. The press had for several years been called upon to report horse-thieving depredations in Tippecanoe, Clinton, Montgomery, Boone, Benton, Carroll, Warren and other counties in this State. So extensive had these operations become that almost every day the public was informed of horses having been stolen, and in many instances they were not recovered, nor were the thieves apprehended. There has been much evidence showing there is an organized band of horse-thieves plying their peculiar vocation in this section of Hoosierdom, and special efforts have been made to break up the gang and afford relief to the long imposed-upon owners of stock. Over two years ago the present Sheriff of Tippecanoe County, Stephen O. Taylor, made special efforts to unearth the gang, and succeeded partially in accomplishing his object. Among those implicated were Felix Connelly (a Lafayette marshal), Charles Rowe, William Harlan and others, all of whom were indicted by the Grand Jury. One or two convictions were secured, but the thieving operations, although quieted temporarily, broke out afresh again, and have recently raged with the old-time fury. Two arrests were made a few days ago, viz., those of William Roe and James Graybeal. The extraordinary developments just made concerned more particularly for the latter, for whom it was desired to prove an alibi. To do this, Ed Fahnestock and John Hall, ostensibly in the interest of Greybeal, approached Justice of the Peace Applebaugh, and asked him to make a fake entry upon his criminal docket by which it would be shown that Graybeal was arrested and fined for an assault on September 15th, the time on which he wished to prove an alibi. The ‘Squire heard their proposition, and said it could be done. In the mean time, he reported to the Shariff and Prosecuting Attorney, who advised him how to proceed. On Tuesday evening he was taken in a carriage to Hall’s house, where the mock trial occurred. Fahnestock and Hall signing the record and giving the ‘Squire $4. Today, after the evidence of witnesses had been given the ‘Squire was placed on the stand, and exposed the fraudulent trial, to the great surprise and consternation of everybody in the courtroom. Hall and Fahnestock were placed under arrest for forgery and perjury. The son of the prisoner, Roe, attempted to attack Applebaugh, but Officers Summerville and Neville interfered, and the latter was struck in the head. Sheriff Taylor drew his revolver and restored order. It was a thrilling scene, and showed the extreme desperation of the prisoners. The entire city and community are excited over the extraordinary developments, and it is confidently believed that the events of the past week will lead to the unearthing of an extensive gang of thieves and robbers who have made this city a rendezvous, and the entire western part of Indiana, from Greencastle to the extreme northwestern part of the state, the field of their operations. It has been ascertained that the attack on the officers in court was a prearranged effort to effect the escape of the prisoners, but the Sheriff received intimation of the conspiracy, and, when the effort was made, drew his revolver and threatened to shoot the first man who tried to escape. The Sheriff states he will use every effort to convict the entire gang.”””

About Stephen Taylor, a newspaper account:

Stephen Oliver Taylor Jr (2)“Who will probably be his own successor as councilman from the Seventh ward, was born in this city on March 20, 1840, coming from one of the oldest and most sturdy pioneer families of the State. His father, Stephen O. Taylor, Sr., was reared in New York City, but located near Dayton, Ohio. He came to Jackson Township in 1828, and the next year became a resident of this city. He was, politically, a Whig, and also introduced this county the first fine stock from Kentucky. S. O. Taylor, the subject of this sketch, has always been a resident of this county, and engaged in the live stock and livery business, which he has built up to large proportions. Between 1878 and 1883 Mr. Taylor was Sheriff of the county, having been re-elected to the office by the people. He is a leading Mason, and a citizen whose past record is his best recommendation for future positions of trust. Mrs. Taylor was Miss Laura J. Shively, also coming from a pioneer family. Together Mr. and Mrs. Taylor have established on Indiana Avenue (now Elmwood) one of the most beautiful residences in the city, where many a time their friends have been welcomed with rare hospitality. The same generosity has always been extended with unstinted hand in the conduct of his business. No man so poor, or humble, that the resources of the Taylor stable were not freely at his command on any occasion, whether of family affliction or connubial bliss. This life-long kindness of conduct has endeared him to a wide circle of true though humble friends; and this circumstance has its share, no doubt, in building up the strength which Mr. Taylor has always shown at the ballot box in his races; for a right minded man is not likely to soon forget one who befriends him in the hour of sorrow. Mr. Taylor has been a lifelong Republican, and always a generous contributor in political campaigns. His career as sheriff speaks for itself. To his shrewdness and fearlessness is dire the breaking up of the worst gang of horse thieves of which this county was ever afflicted…”

A Sawbuck Worth Twenty Dollars: Forseman Vs. Dryfus

From the Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Sun., Feb. 10, 1895


Sawbuck ClipThe Sawbuck was not the wooden kind, but the slang name for a Ten-Dollar Bill. That is the general acceptation of the term, but in the leading case the ruling was the other way.

The day I was arrested as a tramp in Lafayette, Indiana, was a refreshing day for me. I was a tramp sure enough, in one sense, a tramp printer, but dear knows not a vagabond in looks, for I was worried sick with my inability to get work, and I showed it, which no tramp ever did or does. Nobody but a country Constable would ever have taken me up on suspicion. Taken up I was, however, and I went off to court willingly. I was looking for something to turn up, and this was something. The situation gave me a chance to take a comic view of myself; even if through the Constable’s stupidity I landed in the calaboose there was the satisfaction of knowing that the worst was over; and I couldn’t help reckoning on the chance that Lafayette wasn’t as bad as it looked and that if it found out (through the newspaper) that I was a martyr out of work it might lend me a hand—or a dollar. I head read of Judges who when they discovered a man was a victim and not a parasite on society, helped him to a chance to set himself up in business again. But I struck something better yet—a Judge and a case that gave me something to laugh at for the rest of my days. I was spectator and auditor of the celebrated “sawbuck” case, which has passed into history and law in Indiana. This was the case of Foresman vs. Dryfus, heard before a Justice of the Peace of Lafayette, which settled the value of a sawbuck in all mercantile transactions forever.

The case was this. Joseph Foresman, a cattle buyer, sold stock to Ferdinand Dryfus. Among the lot which Dryfus inspected was a heifer that Foresman intended keeping. Dryfus offered him a “sawbuck” for the heifer, and finally, in view of the fact that the beast was a little wild, Foresman said he would take the offer, though he thought he ought to have more money.

The stock was driven to the slaughterhouse, the heifer among the lot, and an order given to Foresman for his pay. When he received his check, he discovered that he had been allowed but $10 for the heifer. He refused to accept that amount, saying that he had paid $10 for her, and that Dryfus had agreed to pay him a “sawbuck,” which according to custom, was $20.

Dryfus, in his turn, asserted that a “sawbuck” meant a ten, and at that he stuck. So Foresman took the $10 Dryfus offered, declaring that he accepted it only account and that he still held Dryfus responsible for the balance. And then in due course of time he sued.

Court convened at 9 o’clock. There was the usual delay incident to the preparation for the hearing, but the case had no sooner got under way than the whole court was by the ears. I had never heard the term before, and a “sawbuck” might have been either fifty cents or a thousand dollars; I never expected to see that much money again, whichever it was. But to the neighborhood it was a burning question, and I began to reckon there might even be a fight in it. At first all was easy sailing. The lawyers on either side were primed for fun, and they started the ball rolling with appeals to heaven to see justice done and with displays of sly rhetoric, which the listeners enjoyed tremendously. Both the plaintiff and defendant were mad, clear through, and that was a great assistance to the hilarity of the occasion, as it naturally would be. There was no dispute as to the facts, and they simply got up on the stand and contradicted each other flatly as to the value of a sawbuck. One said ten, the other said twenty, and they couldn’t repeat it too often. The lawyers had called no experts to testify; they confined themselves to the face of the transaction. Foresman’s lawyer argued that no man could be such a slack-twisted, turnip-fed, broken-hinged, colander-faced Sheriff’s levy jackass as to sell a heifer for which he had paid $18 for a sawbuck if a sawbuck was only ten dollars.

Was Foresman to sacrifice this beautiful animal—a full-blooded—Jersey—for a little more than one-half of what she had cost him as a calf, and without recovering for her feed and keep for a year or more? “Preposterous! Absurd! An outrageous imposition upon the face of it!” vigorously cried the lawyer. In replay Dryfus’ attorney pointed to the damaging fact that Foresman had put the ten dollars in his pocket, and that the whole transaction was nearly ten years old. “If a sawbuck is twenty dollars,” he asked in great indignation, “why does this man Foresman put ten dollars in his pocket and go about spending in riotous extravagance for nigh ten years before he finds he’s hard up and don’t know where to look for any more money unless he can squeeze some out of my client here. Sawbuck? Of course, a sawbuck is ten dollars. Your Honor knows that well enough.”

This was all very gay, but in the meantime the inhabitants of Lafayette had begun to take sides. Officers, lawyers, fledglings, hangers-on and even the culprits awaiting to be tried fell to arguing about the matter. Soon the courtroom was a babel of voices. The face of the Judge was a study of judicial perplexity, the pandemonium increased, and the noise was likely to attract the entire population to the court. Every man in Lafayette seemed to have a different opinion as to what was meant by a sawbuck. The noise increased. Pandemonium reigned and a riot seemed imminent that would arouse and embroil the entire population of the town. Suddenly the clang of the town bell hushed everyone into silence. The clerk, after vainly pounding his mallet on the desk for silence, had thought of the bell as a happy inspiration and pulled the bell-rope, which hung against the wall almost immediately back of him.

The “Squire” roused from his reverie and himself vigorously pounded his desk for order.

When the noise had subsided sufficiently for his voice to be heard, his Honor gave out his decision. He said it was a new point to the Court, as had no list of Supreme Court decisions to guide him in arriving at a judicial definition of the word. After hearing all the evidence, however, and revolving the matter over in his mind, the Court gave Foresman judgment for $10, the balance due, with interest from the date of the sale, which ran up to something like $12. To this, he added the costs of the court and Foresman’s attorney’s fees.

This, I believe, to be the first instance on record where the definition or moneyed value of the expression “sawbuck” has ever gotten into the courts and been fixed by judicial fiat. The term is common in the West, so I found, and most people understand it to mean a ten-dollar note. Possibly from the fact that the sawhorse generally has two Xs-one at each end of a round inserted through the middle of each X, where they are spliced—the Court may have taken its cue as to the meaning of the agreement between Foresman and Dryfus. A sawhorse with but one X to stand upon would not amount to much. Tho fact, too, that Foresman had said at the time that he had paid $18 for the animal and that $20 was not really enough to pay him for his trouble may have had weight with the “Squire” in rendering his finding. I do not know whether or not the case was appealed or whether or not the costs were paid, and the question dropped.

When it came to my turn, the Squire was no longer puzzled. A sawbuck might throw him off his balance, but for all that he was more sensible than his Constables, and the moment his eyes lighted on me he said: “You are no tramp.” I saw my opportunity and pitched in with my hard luck story as best I knew how.

The Squire listened attentively. He was evidently something of a character, and I could see by the way he looked at me that he was meditating on something original to spring on the courtroom. At last he said: “Look here, young man, thar ain’t no doubt but that you’ve been tramping, and so I ought to fine you. On the other hand, thar ain’t no doubt but what you ain’t a tramp, so I ought to let you off. So, I tell you what I’ll do. You put me in mind of a piece of poetry a tramp once made who asked me for a meal an’ swore he was lookin’ for work. As yours is the last case, I’ll just sentence you to listen to it an’ then you can sit.”

You think I’d better go to work? Well, that’s my own idea:

I’ll do it w’en I find the work that’s suitable fer me.

Won’t give me bread because ye think I’m strong enough to work?

Well, w’en I find my kind of toil, I’ll labor like a Turk.

“Keep strugglin’ on,” our pastor said, “Keep strugglin’ in life’s race.

For ev’ry man who toils an tries, will allus find his place;

For natur’ never made a man, but at the same time, too,

She made some fittin’ special work for that same man to do.”

An’ so I started out in life resolved to never shirk,

To hunt the wide worl’ up an’ down to find my special work.

I started out to find my work, all ready to begin it.

But all the work I ever foun’ had too much labor in it.

At first I worked on father’s farm, but soon I come to see

That never was the kind of work that natur’ meant for me.

She surely never meant that kind for sich as me to do.

For work was far too numerous an’ rest was far too few.

An’ next I went into the store at Deacon Is’rel Brown

For opportunities ‘twould give for rest an’ settin’ down.

But customers kep’ droppin’ in to wake me from my doze,

An’ they broke in on my sleep so much I couldn’t have repose

An’ then I lef’ the deacon’s store an’ run away to sea,

“I’m boun’ to find the work,” says I, “that natur’ meant fer me.”

I kinder liked to sail aroun’ beneath them foreign skies,

But sill I foun’ that work was mixed with too much exercise.

Sense then I’ve tramped about the yearth to try if I could see

Some kind of unlaborious work that natur’ meant fer me.

And so to help a brave young man to boldly push ahead

I frankly ask ye fer a loan of jest a piece o’bread.

That’s right! I knew you’d fetch it out soon ‘s my tale was tol’,

You are a gent at’s glad to aid a strong an’ ‘ungery soul,

Neow you might fetch, to quench my thirst, I’m feelin’ rather dry,

A glass er milk, some jelly cake, an’ sev’rul kinds of pie.

During the respectful silence that greeted the delivery of these lines, I edged myself as close as possible to a red-headed youth whom I had already spotted for the reporter of the local newspaper. As soon as the Squire finished and discharged me, I fastened myself to the red-headed man’s side. I set myself to striking up an acquaintance with him, which did not prove difficult. As he was in a very good humor, he made no objection to my accompanying him to the newspaper office, and there his good offices secured me a temporary job.


From the Journal and Courier, January 13, 1936

Who Was Ferdinand Dryfus?

Ferdinand Dryfus was born in Bavaria, Germany on March 26, 1860 and died January 10, 1936 in Lafayette, Indiana. He was an esteemed member of the Jewish and Greater Lafayette community.

Ferdinand Dryfus, who has just passed on at the age of 75, had been a resident of this city 61 years, coming to Lafayette when 14 years of age, in 1874. Few citizens have rendered over so long a period such valuable service as that given by Ferdinand Dryfus.

Through his constructive activities in the packing industry, in connection with a company started by his brother, Leopold Dryfus, in 1871, Ferdinand Dryfus contributed in a very large way to the upbuilding, prosperity and stability of the community.

As a public official, serving the people in the city council for 20 years, Mr. Dryfus not only distinguished himself as a faithful public servant, but endeared himself to the citizenry as an exemplar of duteous and honest governmental performance.

Popular confidence in the leadership and sterling worth of Ferdinand Dryfus was expressed in many ways. He was welcomed into financial and banking councils and gave of his abilities to various enterprises having to do with the advancement of Lafayette as a business center. At the time of his death, he was a director in the Lafayette Union Stock Yards, the Citizens Building and Loan Association, and the Lafayette Telephone Company. Also, he was a member of the American Meat Packers.

The record made by Ferdinand Dryfus as a loyal and useful citizen and civic leader will long be treasured in memory and the business monument he helped to erect will be an enduring reminder of his forcefulness, his integrity and his high character.