The Results of Research
BY RICHARD KAY WORTMAN
[Kay Wortman did not get a date on this item shown under a photograph in COURIER.]
A STAR IN THE PAVEMENT at the northeast intersection of Ninth and Main markes the spot where Capt. H. H. Siverd, Winfield peace officer, was slain in the line of duty in 1893. The star was made from gold and bronze lodge emblems of Captain Siverd's comrades in the various lodges and GAR. He was commander of the GAR post at the time of his death and later the Winfield post was named for him. Shown in the above picture are Officer Fred Childers, Chief Gus Froeming, and Officer Gene Strohl of the Winfield police department.
Note: Unable to find out what happened to money gathered for a monument.
Kay Wortman wrote a letter November 12, 1990, to Richard A. Mills, Kansas Secretary of Corrections, Jayhawk Towers, 700 Jhackson, Suite 500, Topeka, Kansas 66603, re Hugh H. Siverd being murdered by Morgan Wright and Wilbur Norton. [Kay had penned note stating : "Wright sentenced to one year in pen and thereafter to be hanged, and to pay cost of this action of $511.90. The same applied to Norton."
In letter of November 12, 1990, to Mills Kay Wortman stated:
"According to a 1966 report by Charles McAtee, there were no hangings done between November 22, 1888, and March 9, 1944.
"Recently one of the older ladies in Winfield told me that the boys were released in a few years and one of them returned to Winfield, where he died in a few weeks of T. B.
"I have checked with the District Court in Cowley County and the court records end with Morgan Wright and Wilbur Norton being sent to the State Penitentiary.
"Would you please have one of your staff look at the older records to see what was the fate of these two boys? If there is a charge for this service, please advise."
A response came to Kay from Terry Harmon, Assistant State Archivist, Kansas State Historical Society, Center for Historical Research, 120 West Tenth, Topeka, Kansas 66612-1291...Phone: (913) 296-3251. Secondary address given on letterhead: Kansas Museum of History, 6425 South West Sixth, Topeka, Kansas 66615-1099...Phone: (913) 272-8681.
[Historical Society moved into new quarters after 1990.]
Carbon copy of letter sent by Harmon was mailed to Bill Miskell, Kansas Dept. of Corrections [address not given].
Response was dated December 10, 1990.
"Your letter addressed to Richard A. Mills, Kansas Secretary of Corrections, has been referred to me because most noncurrent records of the Kansas State Penitentiary have been transferred to the state archives.
"There is considerable information about Morgan Wright in the records of the penitentiary and also in the pardon and parole records of the governor's office. On January 13, 1913, his sentence was commuted by Governor Walter R. Stubbs 'to 25 years less good time,' and he was released from the prison on May 15, 1913. On December 1, 1913, Governor George H. Hodges granted him the citizenship pardon which customarily was issued upon the expiration of an inmate's term.
"Enclosed are photocopies of several of the numerous documents in the pardon and parole file for Morgan Wright. One of them is a newspaper article which asserts that Norton and a third inmate attempted to impersonate each other when the arrived at the penitentiary. The entries in Prisoner Ledger G, pp. 362-365, confirm that this episode occurred but that it was Wright, rather than Norton, who attempted to switch identities with a third inmate named Charles Roberts, when all three men arriv at the penitentiary from Cowley County on the same day, December 28, 1893. According to this prisoner ledger, moreover, Wright was 21 when he reached the penitentiary, and not 17 as is asserted in some of the letters requesting that his sentence be commuted.
"My search for information about Wilbur Norton left me baffled by incomplete and conflicting entries in the available records. His pardon and parole file is missing (as are those of many other individuals). According to vol. C, p. 26, of the Record of Pardons and Commutations, Norton's sentence was commuted to 19 years by Governor Edward W. Hoch on September 10, 1908. One index says that he subsequently was discharged on March 18, 1909, while another says it was March 9, 1912, but I could not find confirmation of either of these dates in the monthly penitentiary reports of prisoners discharged, which were submitted to the governor's office, nor in a record of prisoners discharged compiled at the penitentiary. The latter two sources indicate that Norton was released on January 14, 1910.
"In one of the enclosed documents there is a reference to Norton's having been paroled and then returned to the prison. I have been unable to find any confirmation of this in the monthly penitentiary reports of prisoners received which were sent to the governor's office during the period from 1908 through 1914. There is a comment in an expiration and discharg e record that Norton 'hung himself with wire,' but I have been unable to find a date for that or verify that it actually occurred. If he did commit suicide while in the penitentiary, that would explain why I found no entries for him in the records of citizenship pardons transferred to the archives from tche governor's office.
"It might be possible to learn more about the fate of these two men through extensive research in our large newspaper collection and in other holdings of the State Historical Society. We would be pleased to make these materials available for your research use if you could visit Topeka. I am afraid, however, that I have already devoted more time to this matter than our staff usually can afford to spend on each of the many requests for information which we receive.
"If basic biographical data and physical descriptions of Wright and Norton would interest you, I would be pleased to send you photocopies of the prisoner ledger entries for them at a cost of $2.00. We also could photocopy the additional pages of documents in Morgan Wright's pardon and parole file, but it would cost 25 cents per page for the 181 documents, or a total of $45.25, and I do not believe they would tell you much that is not included in the enclosed photocopies. They are mostly letters and petitions submitted to the governor by persons supporting or opposing executive clemency for Wright, with responses written by the governor's clerk.
"It also might be possible to find glass negatives of penitentiary 'mug shots' from which our staff photographers could prepare photographic prints for you, in accordance with the enclosed fee schedule. We generally wait until we find out whether a patron wants such photographs before conducting the time-consuming search necessary to locate the negatives. A rather cumbersome numbering system was used in arranging them when the mug shots originally were taken at the prison. [Bill, am enclosing sheet referred to...am sure it is now out of date.]
"I hope that your research efforts are successful and that the information I am sending you will be helpful. Sincerely, /S/ Terry Harmon, Assistant State Archivist."
[At top of each document (?) somene had written "709".
Arkansas City, Kansas, Nov. 20, 1908.
Gov. E. W. Hoch, Topeka, Kansas.
Had hoped to hear of Morgan Wright's pardon ere this. As am interested, permit me to urge favorable consideration.
I enclose some clippings from the Winfield Courier. The Editor promised he would not publish anything, but presume he was pressed. However, if carefully read, you will note it does not attack Wright as much as Norton, even conceding that Wright will be pardoned. It also shows how drunk Wright was. I am glad you have pardoned Norton, but nevertheless it is true that the people of Winfield have always had a more kindly feeling towards Wright than Norton.
When Mrs. Leonard started out with the petition, I knew what a stir it would make, and that protests would be hastened to you. The bereaved Siverd family have continued to live in Winfield, and the citizens feel sentimentally bound to fight for them, but in their hearts, many of the wiser ones would be glad to drop the feud. The Wrights were a respected family, and their removal from the city gave the enemy full prey.
In considering the protests you have probably received, please remember they come from citizens who made no effort to suppress the sale of whiskey to these victims, who were ensnared into the crime by the influence of liquor alone. And now they arise in a body and demand you to punish the other fellow, but not to consider them a party to the crime, or trample on their rights of justice or vengeance. Your temperance work in this State has been too grand for me to fear the weight of these protests.
According to law, the penalty for their crime is from 5 to 21 years. The full limit of the sentence would be for the hardened criminal. This was the first offense of a drunken boy, rather than a malicious desperado, and the 15 years he has served would be a very just sentence.
I am eager for this man's pardon, because the golden days of your administration are swiftly passing, and another Governor wil not consider pardons during the early part of his reign. Morgan Wright has waited patiently for his turn, and I hope another may not be allowed to take his place. If he is forgotten, it means more years of heaviness for his sister and father, and a hopeless, discouraged life to Morgan, with most of his friends free, and he left alone to brood over a bitter life. He cannot undo the past, but I know he is trying to live a christian life today. If possible, I beg of you to grant this prisoner a Thanksgiving pardon. There is no one more worthy.
Hoping I may have a favorable reply, I remain,
Yours very truly,
503 W. 5th St.
[She enclosed an undated newspaper clipping, which I gather came from the Courier.]
THE SIVERD STAR.
Bronze Emblem in Walk at Ninth and Main Attracting Attention.
The story of the pardoning of Wilber Norton in Monday's Courier was much the topic of conversation in Winfield Tuesday. Indignation runs high, and condemnation of the governor's act in commuting the sentence is very general. Many have been heard to say that Norton had better be careful to not venture into Winfield after he is discharged. The stern demand for justice made by the citizens the day the crime was committed was held in lawful bounds by the promise that the criminals should suffer the full penalty of their act. It is doubtful if there would be any violence now, fifteen years after the occurrence, but it would be much safer for Norton not to risk it.
The star of bronze set in the walk a few feet south of the corner of the Cowley County bank steps that marks the spot where Captain Siver fell, was the object of more attention Tuesday than it has been for a long time. Stories and incidents connected with the happening of fifteen years ago were repeated and one of these, whether true or not, is full of interest, and has not before appeared in print.
It is said by trustworthy persons, that S. W. Chase, of Tisdale, then warden of the state penitentiary, will vouch for the verity of this story. If it is as he is said to have told it, it unfolds a surprising chapter of conspiracy more cunnint than a plot of Dumas. It was no less than a plan to effect the escape of Norton by his impersonating another.
The story is that when the sheriff took Norton and Wright to the pen he took another prisoner, name not now remembered, who had a three year sentence for larceny. With good time off this would be little over two years. When they got to the pen, the sheriff presented the three year [part of clipping chopped off].
[ca. Nov. 9, 1910]
SEE WRIGHT WHEN AT PENITENTIARY, learn of his previous character, who would look after him if paroled, his prison record, and talk with Codding about him.
CASE OF MORGAN WRIGHT. [No. 709]
Wright was convicted Dec. 27, 1893, in the district court of Cowley county of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hung. The details of the crime are set forth in the attached letter from Viola Bishop. Wright was drunk at the time.
A petition is on file for Wright's release signed by about 40 of the business men of Winfield; also a petition from Oklahoma, praying for his release.
Norton was patroled, but violated his parole, and was returned to the penitentiary. He was the accomplice with Wright in the killing. Amrine says he thinks that the fact Norton was paroled will have no effect in obtaining the release of Wright; although both were declared equally guilty, and received like sentences, and Miss Bishop says the people of Winfield regard them as equally guilty.
Wright was only 17 when he committed the crime. Codding thinks she should be shown clemency, as he took up the case with the Governor last Sept. The Governor has not indicated his decision.
In a letter of Nov. 9, 1910, Viola Bishop, of Kansas City, Mo., writes that H. Fair, a carpenter in Kansas City, Mo., will furnish Wright employment, and that both she and Fair will look after him.
R. E. H., Nov. 5, 1910.
[Attached to the above from "R. E. H."]
Arkansas City, Kansas. Jan. 21, 1909.
To the Board of Pardons, Lansing, Kansas.
I desire to state what I know about the case of Morgan Wright: He is incarcerated for killing Captain Siverd, which occurred fifteen years ago. I was across the street at the time, and witnessed the scene, so I can relate it correctly.
Morgan Wright had gone to Winfield, Kansas, in the company of Wilbur Norton. The boys drank whisky they obtained there and became drunk. Captain Siverd, an officer, arrested Wilbur Norton on an old warrant, and Morgan followed after them. Norton asked Wright to shoot the Captain, which he did, as he was drunk enough to do whatever was suggested. Morgan Wright was then seventeen years old, and this was his first offense. The Captain was a favorite among the Winfield people, so the legal faction said they would give the boys all that could be given, which was a hang sentence. This sentence, however, was not legal, because it was not premeditated murder. The boys had tried to pawn the revolver during the day, and had no thought of the course of events. The correct sent4ence would have been murder in the second degree, the limit of which is, I believe, 21 or 25 years. The limit of the law is meant for hardened criminals, and not for the first crime of a very young man, so he has already served a just sentence.
Most of those who were bitter at the time of the tragedy, have become reasonable. Of course, as in every case, there are some who protest, but forty of the busienss men of Winfield have signed a petition for Morgan Wright's pardon, which is on file in the Governor's office, and the Wrights have as many friends in Winfield as the Siverds.
Governor Hoch has commuted the sentence of Wilbur Norton to expire March 1, I believe. I do not know why he should have pardoned one without the other, as their guilt was adjudged the same by the Court, and no one in this part of the country considered there was any degree of difference as to innocence.
I think Morgan Wright has been well punished for his crime. He was hardly responsible for the act. There is only a shade of difference between the way it occurred and an accident, as he did not realize what he was doing. The city of Winfield is as responsible for this crime as the prisoner, as this was where he obtained his whiskey. He fell in the snare they had prepared for him, and has suffered fifteen years of punishment in consequence.
Yours very truly, /S/ Viola Bishop.
[Note penned in after signature.]
"I courteously answered this, but no comments on the subject. /S/ J. S."
[There was a second attachment to this file.]
LETTER AT UPPER LEFT-HAND SIDE:
I. B. DUNLAP & CO.
INSURANCE AND REAL ESTATE
10 West 9th St.
KANSAS CITY, MO.
Nov. 19, 1910
Mr. R. E. Heinselman,
Pardon Clerk, Governor's Office,
Yours of the 10th received, and have been so busy could not answer before this.
Wilbur Norton, Wright's accomplice, tried to help himself by trampling Wright down, and circulated a report that Wright had served a previous term, but his mother told me he had never been in a penitentiary or jail before, and never arrested to her knowledge. I think he was never arrested before. His education is fair. He lived with his father and mother. He was only 17 years old when incarcerated, and I do not know whether he had ever worked for anyone but his own people or not. He had been considered a very good boy, so I have been told, but was enticed away from home by Norton, became intoxicated and committed this crime while in this state. At the prison they say he is industrious. Mr. Fair, whom I mentioned in my former letter, says he is a faithful worker. The Warden and Officers say the same. You will find he has a good record, and I know he is a very worthy prisoner. Please keep me informed as to what progress you make in the case.
2-R. E. H.
The former Pardon Clerk was very much interested in this case and had investigated it quite thoroughly. Think he could tell you much about his prison record.
Very truly yours,
/S/ Viola E. Bishop. 3710 Troost.
[PENNED: Morgan Wright. 709]
Arkansas City, Kansas. April 10, 1911.
Gov. W. R. Stubbs,
A number of times I have gone to Topeka to see you, but you were either busy or away, so I am compelled to write you about my mission.
I am interested in a prisoner by the name of Morgan Wright, whom I hope to have paroled.
When about 17 years old, Morgan Wright went to Winfield, Kansas, one day, in bad company, became intoxicated, and shot and killed an officer—Capt. Siverd. Mr. Siverd did not protect himself against Wright, as he knew the boy and had no fear of him, always having been known as a harmless fellow, but of course Wright's mind was not normal in his drunken state. When the whiskey lost its influence, and he awakened as one from a terrifying dream, he was greatly astonished at his deed. The crime was not a premeditated one. He shot the officer because he was arresting the boy who was with him, Wilbur Norton, and because Norton asked him to. However, they were in the power of the Court, and the Court gave them the unlawful sentence of 1st degree. If Morgan Wright had been given a lawful sentence, he would not need ask for clemency. While the law is not clearly defined on murder in the 2nd dgree, the inference is that 21 years is the limit. Morgan Wright has served that, counting his "good time." I think he has been there some 18 or 20 years. His partner, the chief cause of the crime, was pardoned several years ago; not because he was the better man, but because Wright's case was not properly presented, for even the Siverd family said they would rather have Wright free than Norton. When I ask you for clemency for this man, it does not seem that I am asking for a pardon or parole, but that I am merely asking you to correct an unlawful sentenc, made by an excited, angry Court, whose motive was revenge rather than cool-headed justice. Yet this same Court sustained the selling of the whiskey, which was the cause of the deed. It shifted all the responsibility onto the poor, weak victim, and then shouted "crucify him."
I have been told that Morgan Wright has the best prison record of any life prisoner there. The present Warden and all ex-Wardens speak highly of him. The officers are personally interested in him. All this goes to show he would make a safe citizen. Mr. Amrine, your former Pardon Clerk, was very much interested in Wright, and in fact, perhaps you yourself are under some little obligation to him for helping out with your investigation at Lansing. Mr. Amrine said he was very manly about it.
Morgan Wright has a good trade. He is a skilled tinner. He has a friend in Kansas City, Mo., whom I know to be a good, moral, industrious, prosperous man, who will look after him and help him get started, if released.
Years ago, many of the citizens of Winfield protested against this case, but since then, many have withdrawn their protests, signed petitions, or written friendly letters. Of course, there are soe who always protest in every case. Had you ever stepped in the by-paths, they would protest even against you, simply because there are many who belive in eternal punishment for the other fellow, but demand that their own sins be absolved.
If I could go into the details of the case, Icould show you it is full of merit, but in a letter, I can only point out to you the following:
Morgan Wright was a good boy previous to this crime.
It was committed when very young, and when drunk.
He has served a long sentence.
He has a good prison record.
He is a skillful laborer.
He is very industrious, and capable of taking care of himself.
He has repented, and desires to live a good life.
He has friends who will gladly look after him.
He has served his sentence had it been lawful.
He helped your administration to uncover crime.
His partner, a much worse man, was released long ago.
He has been sufficiently punished.
Is there any good reason why this man should be imprisoned any longer? Will it benefit anyone else? It might appease the vengeance of a few, but is that sufficient reason for keeping him there? He has been more of an unfortunate caught in the world's traps, than a criminal. Don't you think he ought to have a chance in life, and wouldn't you like to give it to him?
I promised his mother, a sweet, gentle woman, that I would look after the case after her death, and now is such an opportune time, as Mr. Amrine can tell you all about the man, your present Pardon Clerk is somewhat familiar with it, and Warden Codding knows Wright thoroughly. If you put the case aside, to fall into strange hands later on, it means going over and over our years of labor with others.
I hope you will not be too preoccupied to carefully consider this case, as I feel quite convinced that its merits deserve favorable consideration.
Very truly yours,
/S/ Viola E. Bishop, 511 N. 5th St., Arkansas City, Kansas.
[Next item has written in pencil at top [Convicted Dec. 27, 1893.]
Then someone got busy with a pencil doing some subtracting:
Morgan Wright was 17 years old when in a drunken condition he shot a man at Winfield, and was sentenced to the penitentiary for life. The circumstances of the killing, so far as can be gathered from the papers on file and from a conversation with Wright, are as follows:-
Wright had been visiting an uncle in Joplin, Missouri, and started West to go to California to visit another uncle who is in business there. He got as far as Winfield, when he met a friend by the name of Wilbur Norton. Wright had formerly lived in Winfield. These two young fellows got to drinking and became quite drunk. Captain H. H. Siverd, a man highly respected in Winfield, attempted to arrest Norton, and started off with him under arrest. Norton called to Wright to shoot Siverd, which Wright did, killing him. Siverd, it is said, had spent much time in the enforcement of the prohibitory law, and left a wife and children, and the community in Winfield were much incensed over the shooting, and the jury gave Wright and Norton the heaviest sentence possible.
Up to this time, Wright's life had been as follows: He was born at Winfield, and lived there with his parents for about 13 years, when they moved to Oklahoma, and Wright lived there with them until nearly 18, when the present trouble occurred. His home inflences were not good, his father apparently being a drinking man, and surroundig his son with a bad moral influence. Wright says that in Oklahoma he worked on a farm with his father.
A petition of 40 names from Winfield is on file, asking for commutation of sentence in this case. The signers are mostly business men, so stated by Viola Bishop, who gives the occupation of each in a separate letter, and it is said they were all, with one or two exceptions, living in Winfield when the tragedy occurred.
October 29, 1908, W. P. Hackney, who was the prosecuting attorney in the case, wrote to Governor Hoch, enclosing a protest against a parole for Wright, containing about 290 names, said to be residents of Winfield, but nothing appearing as to their occupation or representative character, except that one is marked county clerk.
C. M. Cade, Republican National Committeeman for Oklahoma, wrote a letter in December, 1908, asking that the case be given careful consideration, as he thinks the age of the boy and the time he has been in prison should be sufficient to satisfy the law.
20 residents of Oklahoma City, including several deputy sheriffs and deputy treasurer, petitioned in 1903 for a commutation of sentence, saying that Wright was a resident of that city, and they knew him and believe his crime was not due to wickedness of heart or intentional lawlessness.
Wright's mother is dead; and his father, brother, and sister live at Shawnee, Oklahoma, and if paroled, Wright says he could go there and work in a furniture store, or could go to Kansas City, Missouri, where a friend of his by the name of H. Fair, a carpenter, could give him employment, or could go to his uncle in California. Wright, it is said, is an expert tinner.
This man was convicted December 27, 1893. He is now 36 years old, and has served half his life in prison. He has made a good record, the Warden believes he will make good, and he appears to be sincere and to have settled down to business, and as one who, if he secured the proper start upon being paroled, would make a good citizen.
R. E. H., 4-18-1911.