1885 Letters · Harvey Keith's Murder

August 6, 1885 letter to Oscar & Mary Ann Keith from Sarah Keith

August 6, 1885

To: Oscar & Mary Ann Keith

From: Sarah Keith, Galesburg, MI

A letter of sympathy in regard to the murder of their son.

Galesburg Aug 6th 1885

Dear Oscar and Mary

O how our hearts go out in sympathy to you this terrible affliction that has come upon you. I find myself asking the question so many times why is Oscar and Mary so tried in the _____ of affliction. I can get no answer. It seemed as though your cup of suffering had been full[1] before this terrible trouble came. It seems to me as though your former trouble was but a drop in the bucket compared to this.[2] Cyrus Streator was here yesterday. I said to him did you ever hear anything against Harvey[3] character. He said no he was one of the best of boys, said he was spoken well of by every one. He thought there must be some object for there killing Harvey besides the one published.[4] We cannot think Harvey was a bad boy. If he done wrong he was enticed into it. We are all liable to err and poor Harvey was human his youth to had ought to be some excuse for him. We do not know what enticements were thrown out to draw him in. Perhaps some older ones that stand ready to condemn him would have done no better than he did if they had been placed in the same spot. Dear Children words of sympathy are meaningless. I do not know what to say to comfort you your trouble is so deep but will say I hope you will be sustained on an arm that is stronger than ours and by One that know why we are afflicted and sympathy with us in all our troubles. Your Uncle Luke[5] is all broken up over Harveys death. He cried this morning if he had the money he should go to Oscars. Helen York[6] is here. She says tell Oscar and Mary they have her heart felt sympathy and so we all feel we can not express to you how we feel for you. Dear Mary try and bare up under this heavy ______ and live for the little ones sake that has no mother but you.[7]

My family all joins with me in sympathy and love to you and your family.

From Your Aunt Sarah


[1] Their two oldest children had died of consumption: Jessie “Nettie” Keith, age 22, on March 13, 1879, and Catherine “Katie” (Keith) Randall, age 20, on May 3, 1882

[2] Their third child, and oldest son, Harvey R. Keith, was murdered on July 28, 1885

[3] Harvey R. Keith was 22 years old

[4] See A Foul Murder – Part 1 at https://lettersfromthe1860s.wordpress.com/2019/07/27/a-foul-murder-part-1

[5] Sarah’s husband, Charles Luke Keith Jr.

[6] Helen (Bradley) York, the daughter of Luke’s sister, Catherine (Keith) Bradley Lee

[7] Her three younger children: James Leon, age 20; Glenn Noah, age 18; and John Herbert, age 12. It also appears that she was caring for her granddaughter, Inez Randall (see May 28, 1882 letter to Sarah Keith from Kate Chaffee) at https://lettersfromthe1860s.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/luke-keiths-diary-entries-of-may-23-28-1882

This letter is among several which were loaned to Jim & Ruth (Stankey) Keith, probably back in the 1980s, by Ella Nola (Curtis) Eaton, whose husband, Clifford Eaton, was the great-great-grandson of James “Oscar” & Mary Ann (Batey) Keith. This is a photocopy of Ruth’s handwritten copy of the letter. Note: Jim Keith is the great-grandson of Charles Luke Keith Jr., who was James “Oscar” Keith’s uncle.

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