Since this post was published, I’ve located more information – see below for the update!
A wealthy man and a postmaster
An argument over a ditch
A revolver came out and several shots fired
Some of them never hit
A shed to hide
The story of the attempted murder of John James Johnson by Coleman Hawkins in a nutshell. Just who were these men? Were they more than just neighbors?
John James Johnson
John J. Johnson, oldest son and third child of Jacob and Ann (Shields) Johnson, was born on October 8, 1821 in Byrd Township, Brown County, Ohio. He moved with his parents and siblings to Rush County, Indiana by 1840 and married Dolly Mullis on March 4, 1848 in Union Township of that county. Dolly was the sister of Amanda Mullis, wife of John’s brother, James Wilson Johnson.
The couple were enumerated in the 1850 US Census living in Marion Twp in Rush County with their one year old daughter, Ann M. Johnson. John, 27, listed his occupation as a Farmer. They aren’t easily found in the 1860 Census but they had moved to Stoney Creek, Madison County, Indiana by 1870. Two children are living with them – Rosa, age 12, and John, age 7. Dolly’s siblings, Sophia (age 55) and Thomas (age 42) are also residing in their household. By 1880 Rosa had married and was widowed. She and her son, Edward Milburn, age 3, were living with John and Dolly as well as brother, John.
Elizabeth was born to John and Mary Ann (Nelson) Blazer in the mid-1840s. She was enumerated with her parents on the 1850 Census living in Fall Creek, Madison County, Indiana. For a long time she was “missing”. She would have been more than 20 in the 1860 Census and probably married, yet the name of her husband was unknown. Unbeknownst to me – I had found her in the 1870 and 1880 Censuses – I just didn’t know it yet!
This man was born about 1832 in Virginia. I only knew about him through newspaper articles and biographical data from “The History of Madison County”. He is living in Stoney Creek Twp, Madison County, Ohio in the 1870 Census. His residence was adjacent to the John James Johnson family. He had a wife and eight children. In the 1880 Census, Mr. Hawkins and his family are living in the same spot. Seven of the older children are still living there along with two that had been born since the 1870 Census. Coleman Hawkins would not see another census.
Historical sketches and reminiscences of Madison county, Indiana (John L. Forkner, Byron H. Dyson; Publisher: Forkner; 1897; pages 965-968) recounts that Coleman Hawkins, a very wealthy man, had been a resident of Stoney Creek township for a number of years and lived close to the postmaster, John J. Johnson. The Midland Railway – near Johnson’s Crossing, was in the vicinity of their homes. Hawkins and Johnson had maintained a good relationship for many years until 1888. At that time a ditch had been constructed that ran through the neighborhood. On December 5, 1888 Johnson took a mail pouch to the train and saw Mr. Hawkins there. Once the train had left the station, Hawkins inquired whether his neighbor could stop the construction of the ditch. Apparently similar conversations had occurred prior for Johnson told him that he’d already answered that question. Hawkins obviously wasn’t happy with that answer and pulled a revolver on Johnson, who turned and walked away – possibly not believing that the other man would really fire at him. Yet Coleman Hawkins did just that.
“. . . the shot taking effect in the back just left of the spinal column and below the shoulder blade. Johnson ran into the stationhouse and closed the door after him. As he shut the door another pistol shot was fired, the ball just passing the door. Hawkins then rushed to the window, about six feet from the door, broke out a pane of glass, and fired four or five additional shots, two of which took effect in Mr. Johnson’s body, one on the left side of the face and the other in the forearm. One shot passed through the stove pipe in the room and another through the ceiling. Johnson now opened the door and ran out past Hawkins into a field that led to his residence. Hawkins, having emptied the chambers of the revolver, drew a second one and resumed pursuit of his victim. He fired four additional shots, one of which lodged in Johnson’s right shoulder. Four bullet holes were found in his coat in different places where his body had escaped injury. Johnson ran until his strength was fast failing, when he turned upon his pursuer and clinched him, forcing him to the earth.”
At that time Rosa Johnson, John’s daughter, ran toward the two farmers after she had heard the gunshots. Without thought to her own safety, she wrangled the gun out of the hands of Coleman Hawkins. Another neighborhood resident had heard the commotion and came to the two men. Both men agreed to let each other go.
What should have been the end of the violence – was not. Apparently Hawkins was either still enraged or looking toward the future of being tried for attempted murder, that he entered a barn on his farm and shot himself. His wife and son, Rufus, had tried to follow him when they saw him go toward the barn but they didn’t reach him in time.
The ditch that seemed to lay at the center of the quarrel had been awarded by the court so that Johnson could drain his land. He had requested Hawkins give him an outlet for three to four years but had been refused. So Johnson had turned to the court and the court had forced the construction of the ditch through Hawkins’ land.
It was also discovered that the pistols that Hawkins had used to fire upon Johnson and to commit suicide had been purchased the day prior to the incident at the railway station.
The conclusion of the story read, “The remains of Coleman Hawkins were interred in the Anderson cemetery, over which was erected a handsome granite shaft that can be plainly seen from the Alexandria road as the traveler turns to the right after passing out of the iron bridge crossing White river. The widow of Coleman Hawkins yet resides on the old farm, and has earned for herself the reputation of being one of the best farm managers in the county, having carefully preserved the fortune left her by her husband.”
The son of Coleman Hawkins born about 1860 ended up marrying the niece of John J. and Dolly (Mullis) Johnson on July 30, 1881. Olive Belle Johnson was born in August 1865 to James Wilson and Amanda (Mullis) Johnson. The couple had three children – Urmine, Vesta and Lucy. It is believed that George died between 1884 and 1887 since Olive married again.
John Lafayette Johnson and Katie Blazer
My maternal great-grandparents resided in and married in Madison County, Indiana. Katie’s father, Franklin Blazer, had died when she was a small girl. I found her uncles, John and George Blazer but her aunts – Mary Jane and Elizabeth still remained elusive. Or were they?
I re-read a letter my grandfather, Glen R. Johnson (son of John and Katie), had sent to my cousin’s mother.
“My uncle on my mother side Uncle Cole Hawkins shot Uncle John Johnson and then killed himself. My mother was a young girl at the time this happened and she worked for Aunt Lib Hawkins and Uncle Cole. Uncle John Johnson did not die from being shot but he carried the bullet in his body until he died several years later.”
Somehow Coleman Hawkins and his wife, “Lib” (Elizabeth), were related to my grandfather through his mother. Could Elizabeth Hawkins be Franklin Blazer’s sister, Elizabeth? I didn’t have enough documentation to say for sure but I was going on the assumption that she was. I couldn’t find any other relationship other than through the Johnson side and the marriage of my grandfather’s aunt to the Hawkins’ son, George.
I had spent some time earlier in my research to dig up information on the children of Coleman and Elizabeth in case I could verify any other relationships.
Mary Jane Blazer
Then I ran across a listing in the 1870 US Census for an “MJ Webb” living next door to Franklin’s brother’s family. “MJ” and her husband, Marion, were enumerated with four children. The only reason this jumped out at me is because in the George and Amanda Blazer household is “Jas Webb, blacksmith”. Going back to the Historical sketches and reminiscences of Madison county, Indiana, I located an entry about Jasper Webb as a blacksmith. The Blazer family obviously had close ties with the Webb family. Could “MJ” Webb actually be Mary Jane Blazer? The 1880 Census for the Webb family lists Marion Webb, age 40, living with his wife, Mary J. Webb, age 38, and children, Tena, Rufus, Lydia, Wilson, and Horace. By the 1900 Census, Mary J. Webb is widowed and lists herself as a mother of 6 children – all living. Living with her is her son, Horace, and daughter, Maud. Mary J. Webb is also found in the 1910 Census and living with her is her daughter, Maud, with husband and small daughter. The last census she is found is the 1920 Census living with her widowed son, Rufus. The Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library shows that Mary J. Webb’s obituary was published in the June 7, 1929 edition of the local newspaper.
I’ve had a photograph in my possession for quite sometime of Elizabeth Hawkins and Tena Stanley. Trying to figure out how Tena Stanley fit into my family tree, I’d contacted the Indiana Room for Tena’s obituary. They emailed me four news accounts. I went back over each one. The one published in the Anderson Herald on April 8, 1942 listed her survivors as one brother, Horace Webb, and a sister, Maud Peterson. BINGO!
That was more documentation that Tena Stanley had once been Tena Webb. And with the picture I had of Tena and Elizabeth – that led me to believe that Tena and Elizabeth were related – which it appeared that Elizabeth was Tena’s aunt – sister of Tena’s mother, Mary Jane Blazer Webb.
So the tangled family tree looks like this:
Katie J. Blazer: My maternal great-grandmother’s uncle by marriage, Coleman Hawkins, who was married to her father’s sister, Elizabeth Blazer, shot her husband’s (John Lafayette Johnson) uncle, John James Johnson. My great-grandfather’s aunt, Olive Belle Johnson, married Coleman and Elizabeth’s son, George Hawkins. Tena Webb married for the last time to Nelson Stanley, and was the niece of Elizabeth Blazer Hawkins and Franklin Blazer and first cousin to my great-grandmother, Katie J. Blazer.
So what happened to John James Johnson? He lived four more years after being shot by Coleman Hawkins, dying from heart disease in an instant.
UPDATE: Not only did Olive B. Johnson marry into the Hawkins family, but so did her cousin, John Marshall Johnson, son of John James Johnson - the man Coleman Hawkins shot! Marshall – as he was known – married Hawkins’ daughter, Rosa Jane. There was probably quite a bit of tension in the Marshall and Rosa Johnson household after the shooting incident – yet the couple, who married on December 17, 1881, remained married until Marshall’s death in 1921. Their union produced seven children – Walter, Roy, Grover, Alta, James Leroy, Georgia and Arris.