On Saturday morning, 8 February, the temperatures were frigid. Henry Flook was up early, hauling wood. As he drove his team past Jane Bower’s cabin, Flook noted immediately that there was no smoke issuing from the chimney and no other sign of activity. By piecing together the newspaper accounts, it can be surmised that a concerned Flook returned at lunchtime with two other local men and found the cabin’s front door open a crack. After knocking and shouting raised no reply from within, the Sun reported that the trio entered and beheld “the ghastly sight of a human body cut into ragged pieces scattered on the floor before them.”
The newspapers went on to print every salacious detail of the murder scene found by Flook and his companions. For example, from the Sun, “The little living room was bespattered with blood and chunks of flesh and bone all scattered in a heart-sickening disorder. From beneath a portion of the woman’s torso, the bloody handle of an axe protruded…. Surrounded by blood-soaked garments lay parts of her dismembered body. In a corner, Flook found the woman’s head, the jagged flesh of the neck telling how the murderer hacked and hacked in his apparent insane desire to sever it from the body. The iron-gray hair was deep-dyed with of blood. Even the walls and low ceiling of the little living room bore evidence of the tragedy in dull garnet blotches. Bits of bone and tatters of flesh were stuck to the window panes …. The mass of flesh and bones, chopped into little bits the size of a marble, presented a sickening sight [that] declared the murderer must have hacked at the body fully two hours before completing his fiendish work.”
After making the terrible discovery, the frightened men went straight to the authorities. The resulting investigation found that “there was little, if any, struggle on behalf of the victim. In the death chamber, there was an overturned chair that seemed to have fallen with the woman when she was struck and killed. In a puddle of coagulated blood was a leather purse containing a little money, showing that robbery was not the motive,” noted the Sun. The beds in the cabin had not been slept in and a wound 24-hour clock was still working on Saturday afternoon—both indicating that the killing occurred late Friday afternoon or evening.
“Officers and others familiar with the circumstances [think it] one of the most brutal and fiendish crimes in the history of this section of the state.”
At Pleasant Walk United Methodist Church (formerly Mount Olive United Brethren), two miles from Myersville, Maryland, visitors may find the grave of Emma Betts, who arrived with the spring of 1900 and departed with summer, lacking even one milk tooth. They may also see the grave of Henry Dusing, a 70-year-old champion violinist who, in 1954, on a dark night, fatally encountered an automobile atop South Mountain. There is also Tiny Dagenhart. In 1913, the five-year-old girl was shot dead in the family’s kitchen by her brother when he dropped his hunting rifle. There are two more vestigial residents of interest for whom no grave markers call out: Jane Bowers and Thomas McPherson. During one week in the winter of 1908, however, newspapers bellowed their names and described in orgasmic detail Jane’s bloody, gore-soaked, and horrifying murder at the hands of her elder brother.
“Mother, mother, where’s your daughter?/ Oh, my laws, she’s gone for water/ Three times daily I must yell her to and from the well….”
In December 1951, Rev. Horace Ehrman Zimmerman wrote of his childhood in Frederick County, Maryland, for the Middletown Valley Register, which printed the story on the 28th of that month. “Of all the memories of [my] boyhood days in Myersville, none are more vivid to the writer than the old Enoch Poffinberger home well, across the street from the Lutheran Church. While not called a ‘village well,’ it virtually amounted to that for that part of the village in which our home was located. There were several other neighboring wells nearby, but none gave forth the clear, cold water that this well produced,” Zimmerman noted.
In small Maryland towns, the public well was not just a source of clean, drinkable water, but was also a social anchor point. “From its platform political speeches were often made; the village wiseacres … whittled and discussed the country’s problems; women gathered about it to gossip … [and] auctioneers cried public sales,” Zimmerman wrote of the common scenes of his childhood during the decade after the Civil War.
During the months before the jury trial of George H. Koogle, merchant George Waters Biddle fully recovered. According to the Baltimore Sun, the gunshot wound to his thigh had nearly proven fatal but the newspaper did not elaborate whether it was from the onset of sepsis or another cause.
Perhaps tellingly, further robberies in Myersville were not reported by the press in the last quarter of that year. This did not mean the little town saw no excitement. On Election Day, 8 November, as President Teddy Roosevelt was reelected, “Some dynamite was exploded [in Myersville] and the shock shattered glass in the Flook, Gaver, Leatherman Bank and in the residence of Mr. George W. Wachtel,” the Hagerstown Daily Mail stated.
A little more than a week later, work was freshly completed on the electric railway between Myersville and Hagerstown. “The railroad runs the full length of the main street of Myersville, the track being laid in the center of the street. The poles and wires are all up and work cars have been running into Myersville from Hagerstown since Tuesday,” reported the Frederick News on 18 November.
This march of progress nearly trampled Myersville resident Martin Wachtel, who made “a narrow escape from being killed by electricity while the wires for the new road were being stretched,” the News noted. A wire fell across the street and Wachtel tried to lead a wagon across it, believing it not live. “When the horses stepped upon the wire, they were violently thrown to the ground. Mr. Wachtel … was also severely shocked. The horses were unhitched from the wagon and assisted to their feet when the one horse accidentally touched the wire a second and third time and was thrown each time. The horses were uninjured, excepting a few burns.”
Amazingly—almost miraculously—on 8 August, just four days after the shooting, George Waters Bittle was able to give testimony to Justice of the Peace Christian H. Eckstein whilst propped up in a chair in the bedroom of his Main Street home. Also present during the testimony was State’s Attorney for Frederick County Arthur D. Willard (1872-1959), the counsels for the defense, the accused, Captain Jacob Koogle, Dr. Ralph Browning, Rev. Otto E. Bregenzer (abt. 1877-1920) of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and Mrs. Bittle, the former Mary Elizabeth Routzahn (1865-1936.)
Bittle told Willard and Eckstein that on the night of the attempted burglary, “He had seen the burglar around his place early in the evening [and] though he recognized his walk,” the Frederick News noted. “The party wore a dark slouch hat, dark coat, and trousers. He did not see the face of the man at the door sufficiently well to say it was George Koogle, but he could say from what he had seen of Koogle earlier in the evening and what he could say of the man at the door he thought it was George Koogle, although he was sorry to say so.” The dolorous look Bittle may have given Captain Koogle as he spoke can well be imagined.
Bittle, like his fellow citizens, probably saw Koogle as somewhat of a superhero. For example, the merchant would surely have heard this wartime anecdote from Myersville veteran Daniel Mowen, Koogle’s brother-in-law, who included it in a series of articles he wrote for the newspaper, The Globe: “At the assault of Petersburg, on the 17th of June, 1864, and while the Seventh [Maryland Regiment] was in line, Jacob Koogle, first sergeant of company, saw a shell bounding toward them. He called to the men to ‘look out!’ Watching its course, he attempted to step out of its way when it lodged against his breast. Its force being about spent, he threw it off with his arm without injury to himself and, as it didn’t explode, it injured no one else.” This was before the affair of stealing of the Confederate colors and returning with the secessionist banner and a uniform full of bullet holes. Those twin events could make anyone wonder whether Koogle was divinely blessed.
“About this time, we were visited by heavy thunderstorms. Having shelter, we were obliged to hunt high places upon the ground to spread our blanket, and with knapsack for a pillow, lay down wet and shivering with our gum blanket over us for the rain to beat upon.”
Daniel Hosea Mowen, who lived for many years in Wolfsville, Myersville, and Hagerstown, was born 28 November, 1839, probably in Middleburg, Snyder County, Pennsylvania. He was eldest child of what grew into a large family headed by his father Peter Mowen (1818-1857) and his mother Susan Rebecca Renner Mowen (1815-1861).
Mowen was raised in Greencastle, Franklin County, not far over the Pennsylvania line from Hagerstown, Maryland. Peter Mowen died, aged 39, when Daniel was 17. His mother died in 1861 when he was 22. By August 1862, when he entered the Union army, Mowen had relocated to Frederick County.
According to an interview in the Frederick News of 21 July, 1976, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Mowen’s son Waldo claimed that “For awhile, my father must have debated which side of the war to fight on,” although from the invaluable memoire Daniel Mowen left us, which is the focus of this chapter, one would ever take him for anything other than a strict Union man.
Mowen enlisted in C. F. Anderson’s Company I of the Union 7th Maryland Regiment for a three-year term. During the course of his service, he was wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, heard the last speech of Abraham Lincoln at the White House, did guard duty at the Old Capital Prison on the night of the president’s assassination, and was present during the trial of the conspirators.
The night was hot and sultry, but with a luminous Moon. George Bittle closed up shop but did not go to bed. As he had done on recent occasions, Bittle sat on his front porch, armed with a breech-loading gun, to watch over his store.
On 12 July, 1946, the Hagerstown (Maryland) Daily Mail printed the obituary of local notable George Waters Bittle, who died on 10 July in Frederick City Hospital, aged 79. Bittle was a long-standing board member of the Myersville Savings Bank and had operated a general merchandise store on Main Street for more than half a century. In hindsight, the newly deceased Bittle had likely enjoyed an extra 42 years of life. Against the odds, Bittle survived three bullets fired into him during an attempted burglary of his business in August 1904.
Bittle’s near murder was the byproduct of a series of break-ins in Myersville. Frankly, the town had a crime problem. The young man most likely responsible for these thieveries was the child of another notable citizen—a Civil War hero who’d won the Congressional Medal of Honor for exceptional battlefield bravery—Captain Joseph Koogle.
When James Hard died on 12 March, 1953, in Rochester, New York, the final firsthand battle memories from U.S. Civil War were forever lost. Hard was the last verified soldier on either side of the conflict who actively fought—in his case, as a teenaged infantryman in the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment—at First Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg.
There were others still alive, however, such as John Caleb Leatherman, who were children and teens during the war years. In Maryland’s Frederick and Washington Counties, and just across the Potomac in West Virginia’s Shepherdstown, these elders possessed indelible memories of South Mountain, Antietam, or Monocacy lain down through civilian, juvenile lenses.
One example was Jacob E. Eavey. On 15 August, 1948, he died in the Guildford Nursing Home in Boonsboro at age 97 after a professional life spent running a grocery shop at 29 North Main Street, Keedysville. Eavey was the son of Samuel Eavey (1828-1911) and Catherine Ecker (1828-1868) and was born in Porterstown on 21 October, 1850. He would marry Clementine Eugenia Keedy (1850-1929) and father five daughters and one son.
Like John Leatherman, Eavey kept vivid memories of 16 September, 1862. Whilst John spent the 16th in Middletown, helping his mother nurse wounded soldiers from the previous day’s fighting, 12-year-old Jacob spent it “sitting on a fence beside the road, watching the soldiers striding down South Mountain” on their way to meet their individual destinies at the Battle of Antietam, reported the Hagerstown Daily Herald of 16 August, 1948. When fighting kicked off at Sharpsburg on the 17th, Eavey stood near his parent’s smokehouse in Porterstown, just to the east of Sharpsburg, as a Rebel shell tore through and wrecked the building but spared his life.
“Young John sat fascinated all day, watching the trajectories of shells above the trees of the mountain, followed by the little puffs of smoke that marked their targets.”
Just short of his 97th birthday, in May 1950, John Caleb Leatherman spoke to reporter Betty Sullivan from the Hagerstown Daily Mail about his life and boyhood memories of the Union blue and Confederate grey armies’ descent on Frederick County, Maryland. The interview he gave is a boon for historians, as firsthand accounts from the Jackson and Catoctin districts—including Myersville, Wolfsville, Ellerton, Harmony, Jerusalem, Pleasant Walk, Highland, and Church Hill—are almost nonexistent. I recounted two of these pertaining to George Blessing, “Hero of Highland,” in a previous article, and Leatherman’s secondhand testimony was also integral to that reportage, as the Leathermans and Blessings knew each other well.
John Leatherman was born 15 December, 1852, in Harmony (also known for a time as Beallsville)—a nascent town that never fully took root. Today, it is a series of farms and old buildings set along Harmony Road. John was the son of farmer George Leatherman (1827-1907) and his wife, Rebecca Elizabeth Johnson (1827-1908), who married 16 December, 1847. The 1860 Census records that George Leatherman’s farm was worth more than $8,500 and his personal estate more than $4,000—some $360,000 in today’s dollars. At that time, the family had six children, the oldest of whom, Mary (b. 1848) was enumerated as deaf and mute.
Although he was listed in several Union draft registers of the Jackson District, it’s likely that Leatherman, who was in his 30s during the war, would have opposed serving. He was a devoted member of the Brethren, a pacifist German Baptist sect also known as the Dunkards, was elected to the clergy of the Grossnickle Meeting House in 1865, and would become a church elder in 1880. In an earlier article about Robert Ridgley, the longhaired still-breaker of Myersville, I wrote that Ridgley wanted to be buried near Leatherman, of whom he said, “I feel that I owe practically all from a spiritual standpoint to this Grand Good Man.”
“I am presently living with Hans Hemmig and have taken service with a shoemaker for one month. He promised to pay me £10.”
On 5 October, 1722, in Ziefen, Canton of Basil-Land, Switzerland, a healthy male infant was born and christened Peter Recher. Either before his birth or slightly thereafter, his Anabaptist father, Martin Recher IV (1692-1760), was exiled from the canton. This was probably at the declaration of the Anabaptist Bureau, which was, in 1699, created to capture and banish members of the then-heretical group now known as Mennonites. Anabaptists believed that a public confession of sin and faith followed by an adult baptism was required and that infant baptisms were meaningless because babies were incapable of choosing baptism freely. Little Peter may not have seen his father until 1730, when Martin was allowed to return from exile in Oberdiessbach, Canton Bern, after his unorthodox beliefs were either pardoned or abandoned.
Martin Recher, and probably also his wife, Elizabeth Rudy (1690-1748), were lacemakers. The desire for lace, ribbons, trim, and bows was strong, but lacemakers often struggled to profit from the detailed, time-consuming craft. The Rechers had a number of children, so providing for them was probably always challenging. However, the family did have a solid home, built in 1610 by an earlier generation. It was more than 110 years old when Peter was born, and now, almost 300 years later, it is still lived in by modern-day Rechers.