1885 Letters · Harvey Keith's Murder

November 8, 1885 letter to Oscar & Mary Ann Keith from Sarah Keith

November 8, 1885

To: Oscar & Mary Ann Keith

From: Sarah Keith, Galesburg, MI

Letter sympathizing on the ordeal of the trial of Harvey Keith’s murder.

Galesburg Nov 8th 1885

Dear Oscar and Mary[1]

I hope you do not think because I have not written you we have not thought of you or the _____ ordeal you have been passing through. Nancy[2] writes from Galesburg Ill and says I feel so sorry for Oscar and Mary it seems to me as though the trial would be terable for them to bear to – to have every thing brought to their minds so vividly and see those demons in the shape of men that have caused them a life time of trouble. Dear Children we also feel to sympathize with you but I have thought that words of sympathy were nothing when passing through such anguish of mind as you have been compelled to endure the past few months and will I am afraid be the cause of you not living your allotted time will bring you to a premature grave but I hope not. I do hope you may have spiritual strength and help give you so that you can look up and see a light spot beyond the dark cloud envelopes you. I feel that your Harvey[3] is better where here he is out of his suffering, has joined his dear sisters.[4] If the change could have come to him as it did to them it would have been so much easier for you to bear up. It is aggravating all we have seen of the trial we saw in the weekly Telegraph. I would like to have seen Mrs Barker[5] as for that matter both of the Mrs[6] brought up for trial. I think if they would tell the truth we would find out that Marsh B-[7] did not tell it just as it was. It looks to me as though these women understand it if they did not why were they as anxious to get Harvey to Mr B- that afternoon. I cant or dont want to think that thought their husbands[8] were a going to kill Harvey but they conspired together to get him to their house, that is the women were to get him and the men were to come on Marsh and tell him he had caught him there and he would report ___ as about him if he did not give him the fifty dollars. Harvey knew he had done nothing wrong and probably refused Marsh, was not going to give in that way the fifty dollars he must have if he had to take kill for it and so poor Harvey had to loose his life for it but I had rather stand where you and he does than to be in the Barkers on their womens places. I feel the women are murderers and ought to be dealt with. They were accessories. The men could not have done what they did without their help.

We would both like to have went to see you this fall. I could not go for we had no one to leave at home if I had had the means but I want Luke[9] to go and he wanted to. He had little money due him if he could have got it he wanted have went he would like to have been at the trial. He was in hopes before it came off it would be so he could go but nothing turned up. He had to give it up. The fore part of the full his health was poor but is better now. Ethan[10] has his ups and downs, works most of the time. Were to Aunt Kates[11] two weeks ago. She was doing the work but was real miserable. Hellen[12] has been gone about four week. Aunt Patty[13] had a bad spell this fall the rheumatism whent to her heart. Last April Henry Brown[14] went to Galesburg Ill. Nancy and children[15] followed in June. Henry lived out in a gallery for twenty-five $25 per week for one year. Hannah[16] went in ___ expects to stay the winter. We heard Glen[17] was up to the state fair why did not come here, we would like to have him come ever so well.

Oscar if you Mary or any of the children[18] should come out be sure and come here. How does Kate and her family[19] get along. When you write just let me know. Yesterday was the only pleasant day we have had for nearly two weeks. Will close with love to you and family. Please excuse mistakes.

From your Aunt Sarah Keith


[1] James Oscar Keith and his wife, Mary Ann (Batey) Keith

[2] Her daughter, Nancy (Keith) Brown

[3] Oscar & Mary’s son, Harvey R. Keith, who was murdered July 28, 1885

[4] Oscar & Mary’s daughters who had both died of consumption: Jessie “Nettie” Keith, age 22, on March 13, 1879, and Catherine (Keith) Randall, age 20, on May 3, 1882

[5] Lillian (Hogmire) Barker, Marshall Barker’s wife

[6] Eliza (Alger) Barker, wife of William Barker

[7] Marshall Barker, who killed Harvey Keith

[8] Marshall Barker’s brother, William Barker, who helped Marshall dispose of Harvey’s body

[9] Her husband, and Oscar’s uncle, Charles Luke Keith Jr.

[10] Her son, Ethan Keith

[11] Her sister-in-law, Katherine (Keith) Bradley Lee

[12] Aunt Kate’s daughter, Helen (Bradley) York

[13] Her sister-in-law, Martha “Patty” (Keith) Sprague

[14] Her son-in-law, and Nancy’s husband

[15] Claude, Lela and Bess Brown

[16] Her sister, Hannah Keith

[17] Oscar & Mary’s son, Glenn Noah Keith

[18] James, Glenn and John Keith

[19] Oscar’s sister, Frances Catherine “Kate” (Keith) Chaffee, and her husband, Thomas Jefferson Chaffee Jr., and their children, Stephen, Mertie, Minnie, Mabel and Mark


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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