Barber County Kansas

John Garten

A Whiskey Murder

From When Kansas Was Young, pages 73 - 76.
by Thomas Allen McNeal

Medicine Lodge never acquired the reputation of being a wild and wooly town in the sense that that name attached to Dodge City, or Wichita in its early days, or Newton or Abeline when they were the end of the Texas cattle drive, or Caldwell or Hunnewell in the days of their pristine glory. Before the railroad reached Medicine Lodge, the day of the cattle drive was passed, and while a bad man occasionally sojourned there for a night, or maybe a week, there was no congregation of killers. Medicine Lodge never had a dance hall such as flourished in each of the other towns, when they were the objectives of of the vast plains of Texas on their ways to the markets of the North and East.

Still there were some tragedies, and this story relates to one which I think had something to do with the fact that in the election of 1880 this frontier county gave a majority for the prohibitory amendment to our state constitution. While there was not so much of it sold as in some of the towns, the quality of the whisky sold in Medicine Lodge was as bad as the worst. I have known men who were ordinarily quiet and peaceable when sober, after imbibing a few drinks of the beverage, to go stark mad for the time being and become more dangerous than Bengal tigers. I know a most reputable man, kindly, law-abiding and in every way a model citizen for many years past, who confesses that he shudders when he thinks of how near he came to being a murderer when crazed by a few drinks of border drug store whisky. But that is another story.

One May day in 1879 a country boy, perhaps nineteen or twenty years of age, rode into town. John Garten had not been known as a "bad man". He was just an ordinary, gawky, green country boy, who had reached the age when he probably thought it would be smart to show off and also an indication of manly quality to fill his hide with drink. It was probably this ambition, rather than any confirmed appetite for liquor, that caused him to take on several drinks. Probably at that, nothing serious would have happened if he had not been filled with another ambition, and that was to carry a gun and acquire the ability to draw and shoot like one of the gun fighters he had heard about.

It was along toward evening of the long beautiful day in the latter part of May, that young Garten mounted his horse, probably at the suggestion of the town marshal, and rode out of town, emitting a few "whoops" as he rode. A few miles west of the Lodge, at a crossing of one of the little tributaries of the Medicine, he overtook two women, a mother and her daughter. They stepped to the side of the road to let him pass. He rode past them a few rods and then with a drunken howl pulled his pistol from its holster and fired two shots in the direction of the women. With a cry of anguish the younger woman, Mrs. Steadman, fell mortally wounded. It is quite possible that young Garten did know know that he had hit either woman, for hte rode on without further looking backwards, stopped at the ranch where he had been working, unsaddled his horse and made no effort to escape. He expressed great surprise when a few hours afterward the tall, gaunt frontier sheriff rode up to the ranch house and said quietly, "John, I want you for murder."

Garten protested that he had just intended to give the women a scare and didn't suppose he had hit either one of them, and quite probably he was telling the truth. The murder aroused a storm of indignation when young Garten was brought into town. An inoffensive, popular young woman had been shot down without any provocation and there was talk of the law of the border. There were mutterings of vengeance and knots of men gathered and conversed in low earnest tones, more dangerous than loud threats or bluster. A few hours afterward the big, lank weatherbeaten sheriff with the prisoner in charge, rode away through the moonless night to the northward and put Garten for safe keeping in the Rice County jail to await his trial. In those days there were only two terms of court in Barber County and before the time for Garten's trial he escaped from jail and, it was believed, fled to the mountains of New Mexico.

The father of the murdered woman was a lean, powerful man by the name of Champion, a typical frontiersman. I think he had come originally from the mountains of Kentucky or Tennesse and if so was born to believe in the doctrine of the blood avenger. Sparing of speech and stern of face, Champion made little demonstration of his grief, though it was understood that he possessed a quiet and deep affection for his children.

When the news came that Garten had broken jail, Champion said nothing, but those who were in his confidence knew that he had gone to New Mexico. For almost a year nothing was heard from him, but there was a persistent rumor that he was playing the part of the avenger of blood; that he had gone on a relentless, tireless man hunt for the slayer of his first born.

Finally he returned. He said nothing for publication, but there was the look on his face of a man who had accomplished his task and fulfilled the old law, the law still of the mountains, an eye for an eye, a life for a life. No one outside of Champion and his few confidants knew what had been the result of that long year's hunt through the mountains and over the burning desert sands, but Garten was never found by the authorities or returned for trial.

Those who knew the boy never believed that he was a willful and deliberate murderer. His crime was the direct result of the villianous liquor that was sold in the frontier town. At the next election the question was up to amend the constitution so as to make the sale of whisky as a beverage forever unlawful. The rough bearded men riding the range, with ample time to meditate as they rode, considered the case of the boy Garten, the murdered woman, the lean-faced, stern, unsmiling close-lipped frontiersman on his lonely vigils in the mountains, searching with indomitable will and marvelous patience for the man he meant to kill. They considered and voted for prohibition.

The Cresset

Young John Garten

On last Saturday our quiet community was shocked by an occurrence so terrible and so unexpected, that it could not but hold its breath in pitying horror as it noticed this fresh entry in the records of crime. The following, as near as we can learn, is a true statement of the
On the evening of Friday, the 23rd of May, Mrs. Steadman and her mother, Mrs. Champion, were returning from hunting their cows. When they neared the river on the north side, they saw a young man by the name of John Garten, on the opposite side, riding toward the river yelling and
As he rode into the stream he fired once into the water, then rode across, still holding the weapon in his hand. On his coming up to Mrs. Champion and her daughter, one stepped to one side of the road, and the other to the opposite side, to let him pass. Garten rode by but had gone only a few paces when he turned in his saddle and
snapped it at Mrs. Champion. The pistol missing fire, he turned on Mrs. Steadman, again drew the trigger and shot her through the breast. Mrs. Champion heard her exclaim:
as she fell to the ground, and before she could reach her daughter's side the bullet had done its work and her pulses were stilled forever. Garten, not seeming to realize what a terrible deed he had committed, rode on home, ate his supper, and then went back to Parson's Ranch. Here he spent the rest of the evening and the night. Nothing unusual was noticed in his actions and his companions at the ranche had no intimation of the shooting until about day break, when Sheriff Simmons arrested Garten on the charge of murder. The Sheriff brought his prisoner to Medicine Lodge and placed him in the structure which passes for a jail. About 11 o'clock he was taken before Squire Wise, but waived examination, and about one o'clock the Sheriff and his deputy, started with the prisoner for safer quarters, there to wait his final trial. We would also say that Garten says he did not know his revolver was loaded, and claims to have no recollection of the occurrence.

Mrs. Steadman, daughter of Gilbert and Octavia Champion, was born in St. Clair County, Mo., on the 21st day of November 1860, where she resided with her parents until the spring of 1875 when the family moved to Barbour county Kansas. On the 12th day of August 1876, she was married to George Steadman, and on the south side of the Medicine river Mr. Steadman and wife settled and built for themselves a home. Here they lived in quietude and peace until the evening of the 23 of May, when she was shot by John Garten. Mrs. Steadman leaves a small child, a tenderhearted husband and numerous friends to mourn her sad and untimely loss.

Lesson of the Tragedy
Now that a few days have past and the shock of the first surprise and horror, caused by the shooting of Mrs. Steadman on last Friday evening, has in a measure subsided, it would seem to the better part of wisdom to reflect a little on the harsh lessons to be learned from this bitter experience. Their import is so plain and their moral so evident that one cannot fail to comprehend their significance. We are not able to say whether the young man, Garten, was under the influence of whiskey on last Friday evening or not, but we do know that drunkenness was urged as a palliation of his crime. Others deny that he was drunk, and say this could not be used as an excuse. In either case there is a virtual acknowledgement that whiskey might have caused the deed. If this is true then whiskey is a murderer and a fiend. People of Barbour County, is not that the logical conclusion? We leave it to your own honesty to answer. There is another matter which we wish to speak of in connection with this, and it is a matter, we think, which cannot be spoken of too strongly. It is evident that if Garten had not carried a revolver he would not have been guilty of this crime, and the question now arises, would every man or boy, whether drunk or sober, whether a sensible man or a fool, be allowed to carry these deadly weapons at their pleasure. There are plenty of men who have judgment enough to carry a revolver when necessary and lay it off when they have no need for it, but we enter our protest against allowing every one to carry these deadly weapons whenever it suits his fancy. It is not long since we have seen an instance of the evil liable to result from this carrying of revolvers. The mere twiching of a muscle, the movement of a finger would have destroyed a mans life and another would have been left to repent at leisure the rash act he had committed in a moment of passion. If it is necessary for a man to go armed in order to protect his life and property, we have no objection to his so doing, but unless he has good reasons for believing there is such a necessity, for the sake of the example, if nothing else, he should lay off his six-shooter. Whether or not, in this case, we are speaking public sentiment, we do not know, but we feel the green grass and beautiful flowers, which shall be spread by Nature's kindly hand, as a robe over the new made mound, will be mute witnesses to the truth of what we have written. The wind will speak it as it sighs past the lonely home or stirs the boughs by the swift running river the unconscious witness of the tragedy.

John Garten has been taken to the Rice county jail on account of the Reno county jail having been condemned as unsafe.

Sheriff Simmons returned from Rice county last Friday evening. He reports young Garten as much depressed in spirits. Garten sent, with the Sheriff an order on his former employer, L.C. Rock, for the amount necessary to cover the funeral expenses of Mrs. Steadman.

There is a probability that the attorneys for John Garten will make motion to have him released by a writ of Habeus Corpus.

Jail Bird's Escape.
On last Monday night Pinky Bedford and John Gartan (sic), of this place, and W.W. Carr, of Rice County, escaped from the Rice County jail, in what manner, we are not informed. A reward of $200.00 is now offered by our officials for Bedford and Garten and an application has been made to Governor St. John to offer additional rewards, which we believe he will cheerfully do. Every good citizen must desire to see these men suffer the penalty of violated law.

$1,200.00 Reward
Escaped from the Rice county Jail, Jan. 19, 1880, Henry Bedford and John Garten, charged with murder in Barbour county, 1879. Garten, is 20 years old, awkward and slow of speech; beardless; blue eyes and dark hair. Bedford, is small, compact and wiry; squinty eyed; about 38 years old but looks younger; thumb off of left hand, caused by felon; has a slight stoppage in his speech and a habit of rapid spitting.
Barbour county will pay a reward of $200.00 for the delivery of them to the Sheriff of Rice county or the Sheriff of Barbour county, or $100.00 for either of them. J.T. Taylor, Sheriff of Barbour county

Gov. St. John's Reward

Byron P. Ayers, County Attorney & c., Medicine Lodge, Kas.
Dear Sir: Your communication of the 22nd inst., with enclosures, has been duly received, and in reply thereto, will state, that I will at once offer a reward of five hundred dollars each for the capture and conviction of Bedford and Garten, John P. St. John, Governor.

Response from Bonnie (Garten) Shaffer
to an email from Jerry Ferrin asking
"Who was this John Garten?"

John Stanley Garten, the son of Stanley Earl Garten was a cousin. He was a son of John Henry and Malinda Garten, and a brother to Spice (Bud) Garten. He died in August of 1968, shortly after my dad, Guy William Garten, died. His son, Jerry, lives in Liberal, KS.

The John Garten involved in the shooting was the son of Charles W. Garten, and Nancy Ellen Pendleton. She is buried in the Forest City Cemetery. Charles W. Garten was a son of George Goodall Garten and Elizabeth Jane Ballengee, and a brother to John Henry Garten.

From the information I have, this John Garten was one of 10 kids, and had a brother by the name of Will Garten who was 2 years younger, married to an Ada Marr. I've been told that Will shot his wife and another man in Woodward, Oklahoma, and escaped, never to be seen again!

Guess there are skeletons in all our closets! I don't have much information on the Medicine Lodge Gartens, but will see what I can dig up.

Hope this clears up some of the confusion!

Bonnie (18 October 2005)

Henderson Franklin Garten, son of Nancy Ellen (Pendleton) Garten, brother of John Garten.


Thanks to Kim Fowles for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

Thanks to Bonnie (Garten) Shaffer for her explanation of the relationship of this John Garten to the family of John Henry Garten.

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