Local History and Genealogy

Friday, June 4, 2010

Silas Doty

Silas Doty, Noted Character of the 40's, Tried for Murder Here

Nearly 100 years ago there roamed over the hills of northeastern Indiana a notorious character bearing the name Silas Doty.  He was born in St. Albans , Vermont, May 30, 1800.  His parents were Christian people.  But in spite of their teaching he grew up an incorrigible boy.  The exploits of his early life began in the state of New York and extending into Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, embraced burglary and every kind of larceny and the making and disposing of counterfeit money.  IN 1825 while living in Franklin County, New York he married Miss Sophia Adams, a girl of good family, and for a time refrained from his evil ways. Later, falling in with some old companions he drifted again into his old ways.  He was at different times arrested but manage to escape conviction by means of false testimony given by confederates.  In 1834 he removed his family to Lenawee county, Michigan.  Here he resided for five years, during which time he became allied with the Black Legs who operated in southeast Michigan,  northeast Indiana and western Ohio.  He and a companion named Wickes stole a number of valuable horses and other property.  While living here he managed to escape arrest.

In April 1839, he and his family moved to Steuben county, Indiana not far from the little village of Jamestown.  Here he bought a piece of land and set about making it his home,  That summer a young man named Lorenzo Noyes came along looking for work.  Mr Doty employed him for the season.  He was a good ox teamster and gave good satisfaction as a laborer.  He was a young man, probably little more than 20 years of age and had no relatives in this part of the country.  He was one of that type not easily influenced and as he got next to Doty's way of doing things they failed to agree and frequently quarreled.  One day Doty threatened to whip him.  He received a cordial invitation to pitch it.  But mauling men was a different proposition from stealing and Doty who was of a rather light build, did not make any move to carry out his threat.  Some time after this they had another quarrel and Noyes called Doty an old thief and threatened to expose him.  Finally he said he would leave and gathering up his clothes he started west.  Doty who did not like to see him leave in such an angry mood followed him and tried to conciliate but the more he talked the more angry Noyes became and finally turned around and began to call Doty hard names and said he would tell all he knew about him.  Doty, who was greatly excited, struck him over the head with a heavy cane.  Noyes fell to the ground, quivered a few minutes and then laid perfectly still.  Doty worked several hours to bring him to but in vain.  The man was dead.  With the taking of this man's life, a terrible feeling of remorse took possession of Doty.  He was at a great stand as to what disposal to make of the body.

About 40 rods north of where the killing took place was a tamarack swamp.  Doty managed by carrying and part of the way dragging to get the body there.  Finding a soft mirey place he forced the body down into it, out of site.  He then covered the place with brush and other rubbish.  He then returned home where he washed the blood stains from from his clothes and went about his business as usual.

When asked by the neighbors concerning Noyes, he replied that he got mad and left.  It was not until 1842 that Noyes body was found.  On the 12th of May that year parties hunting for cattle found the remains.  The coroner of Steuben county was notified and held an inquest at that time.  It was found that the deceased came to his death by violence, namely a fractured skull, and that it was believed that the body was that of  Lorenzo Noyes.  Dr D. B. Griffith, who was present at the inquest, took charge of the body and  it is said preserved the skull for many years.  Suspicion at once rested  heavily on Silas Doty.  In the meantime that character was in trouble again, having stolen a horse on the edge of Michigan.  For this crime he was arrested and sentenced to prison for two years.  Late in 1842 the grand jury returned an indictment for murder against Doty.  The prosecuting attorney of Steuben county was at this time Robert Douglas.  As Doty's sentence did not expire until April 9, 1844, the matter rested for a time.  Doty however, managed to secure able defense council for his defense, John B. Howe of Lagrange county and David H. Colerick of Fort Wayne.  This, the first murder trial in Steuben county, began April 7, 1844, and continued several days.  The counsel for the defense put forth great effort and the result was that the jury failed to agree, eleven of the jurors being for acquittal. It is said that the crowd was so great that it swayed the court house to the east several inches.  On the prayer of Mr. Doty his case was taken on change of venue to Allen county.  He remained in jail at Angola until fall when his trial was held at Fort Wayne.  This trial was full of interest as the former one, many witnesses from Steuben county being present and even the skull of the murdered man was brought in as evidence.  The result of this trial was that Doty was found guilty of murder in the second degree, and was given a life sentence.  He was taken to Jeffersonville where he remained a year or more at hard labor.  His attorneys, after some delay, got the case before the Supreme Court, where the decision was reversed.  Doty was granted a new trial and returned to jail in Angola.  As Mr. Colerick and Mr. Howe did not want to risk another trial in Steuben county, they got a special act of the legislature for a trial in LaGrange county.
About this time Doty broke out of jail by sawing a hole through the floor.   He was soon captured  and brought back.  With a view of making escape impossible, a pair of fetters connected by  12 inches of chain weighting 19 1/2 pounds were riveted on his ankles, Doty had secreted two steel case knives under his clothes, and with these which he fashioned into saws, he sawed the iron bars of his prison window loose and again made his escape.  Going to the prosecuting attorney's barn he took his horse, which was an unusually good one, and rode to his home, riding sideways on account of his fetters.  Here, with a cold chisel he soon removed his shackles,  Bidding his family adieu, held the country.  At this time the Mexican War was raging and Doty did not stop until the borders of that country were reached.  He joined General Taylor's army and served till the close of the war.  He then drifted back to Michigan where his family was living near Hilldsale.  Here he seems to have got in bad again as he was soon arrested, probably for stealing.  His trial was held at Hillsdale and the judge, knowing something of his past activities gave him a 17 year sentence.  By good behavior he was released after 15 years.  Strange to say, after his release he soon got into trouble again and served two other terms, one of two  and one of four years.  He was now in the late autumn of life with it's sear and yellow leaf and winter's frosts were settling on his withered brow.  A third of his life had been spent in prison.  After he finished his last prison term in went to the home of his son in Reading.  Here he died March 13, 1876.  In his last days he confessed to much of his ill doing and came to a full realization that his life emphasized the truthful saying, "The way of the transgressor is hard."

Silas Doty was a man, in many respects, of more than ordinary ability and might have made a record in a legitimate line of business that would have been a source of pride to his relatives and friends.  His children seem to have inherited their mother's traits of character rather than his and were all highly respected citizens.

Written by Homer H. Brown
Steuben Republican January 5, 1938

Old Sile Doty

Old Sile Doty is dead.  He died at the residence of his son, William Doty, in Reading, Michigan last Sunday evening, the 12th aged 77 years.
Who does not remember Old Sile Doty?  The widely known, inveterate and persistent old thief that ever infested this part of the world, so peculiarly constituted that he would steal for the fun of it, steal from wealthy or well-to-do and give generously to his poor or destitute neighbor - for he was kind and generous.
Old Sile Doty has been for the last thirty-five years, in his line, the most notable character we have ever had in our midst.  His career in this county and in the counties of Hillsdale and Branch has been so well known that the announcement that it has now come to an end will revive in memory the old time of his many peccadillos.  More than half his life has been spent within the walls of prison, but he hardly took his incarcerations as punishments.  He regarded the penitentiary as his home and was ill at east outside it's walls.  But his body has now reached its last great earthly prison, and will not be released until the lapse of time shall usher the resurrection day and the last sentence pronounced to a court far above that of human wisdom or mercy.

Steuben Republican March 15, 1876