Scene of the Trial of Rufis Harley Fair for the Murder of W.S. Carver
On New Year Day of 1898, the citizens of Blackwell awoke to the most heinous crime committed in Kay County since the run of 93. The murder of one Professor Winfield S. Carver.
Prof. Carver was a man with fine education, was an expert penman, and taught many classes in his field throughout Kay and adjoining counties. In 1894 he was a candidate for the position of County Superintendent, but stood a no show at the convention. He was a nervous man, not tempered and aggressive. He was also considered very eccentric by all that knew him. He was a bachelor and a claim holder residing two miles east of the city. His claim was in the Weston Section, School District 46, sec. 19, twp 27, range 1.6.
When the towns people looked to the east that morning the could see a large cloud of smoke. Many citizens, along with Deputy Sheriff Alfred Lund, went to investigate. When arriving at the source of the smoke, they found the house of Prof. Carver engulfed in flames. Because of the lack of water and the intense heat of the flames, the fire was left to burn itself out.
Prof. Carver owned a large house which had been bought in from Arkansas City and moved to his claim. The house was over a cellar with an outside door. The cellar was built of brick and housed a furnace which was used in heating the home.
After the house was moved to his claim, Prof. Carver hired a carpenter from Arkansas City named Rufus Harley Fair. According to the Arkansas City Traveler, R.H. Fair was a good hearted young man, who was active in the Christian Church. Fair had a widowed mother, a brother and a sister living in the city. He was also known personally because of his business in the Blackwell and Ponca City area.
Carver had hired R.H. Fair to make carpentry improvements on the house, staying under the same roof. after it was completed, Fair returned home to Arkansas City. He appeared New Year Eve at Carver's home to draw his pay for the work. He claimed the settlement with Carver was satisfactory, and he ended up staying the night again in Carver's home.
The next morning, Carver told Fair to take a horse down to D.H. Edwards land, about a quarter of a mile north, for water. After he watered the horse and started back, he noticed that Carver's house was on fire. He hurried back to the house, and upon going inside, found a revolver lying on a table. Fair took the revolver, went outside, and fired four shots into the air to arouse the neighbors. Fair then began a search for Carver, but was unable to find him, therefore, he began the work of saving the household effects.
After the fire was out, a search of the area was made as to the whereabouts of Prof. Carver. Carver's body was found in the cellar near the furnace door. It lay on it's side with an empty coal oil can near by. Deputy Sheriff Lund notified the Kay County Coroner, Dr. Germain of Ponca City. Upon his arrival, the remains were removed to Blackwell. A Jury was selected consisting of J.L. Lair, Jas. Shafer, Frank Beatty, Fred Gross, Al Savage, and A. Durand, and a inquest followed.
But the jury came to a different decision as people thought it would. After examining the body, Dr. Germain, found a different cause of death, for Carver had been shot by a 38 caliber bullet to the head. After a investigation, the jury came to the decision that it was fired by R.H. Fair and he was immediately arrested by Lund and taken to the County jail in Newkirk to await a preliminary hearing set for January 6, 1898.
On January 3, E.W. Carver of Emporia, Kansas, brother of the Carver, arrived in Newkirk to make an inquiry into his brother's death. There he learned his brother's body was still in Blackwell, being held by authorities. The next day, leaving Newkirk, Carver went to Blackwell, stopping at his brother's claim along the way. In Blackwell he was taken along with Dr. Elliott and Deputy Lund, to view his brother's remains.
Mr. Carver later told a reporter for the Arkansas City Traveler of the gruesome sight.
"Mr. Carver said the body was burned so badly that he couldn't identify it. The left leg and arm was burned completely off. The face and neck were burned beyond recognition. A bullet hole was found in the forehead over the eye. It has been reported that Carver's throat had been cut, but his brother said that the neck was burned so badly that he could not verify this."
After examining the body, Mr Carver took the personal effects of his brothers and returned home to Emporia, Kansas. This outraged the citizens of Blackwell, and the following article was printed in the Blackwell Kay County Sun:
January 5, 1898, Marsh Carver of Emporia, brother of W.S. Carver, who was murdered and burned last week, arrived here Tuesday, presumably to look after the state of the deceased rather than to give him a respectable burial. It is claimed that Carver remained in town but a short time and showed no more respect for his dead brother than animals do for each others. He made no preparation for his brother's burial, saying, that he didn't care what was done with his brother, and left town before the last rites were paid to the unfortunate man."
On January 5, 1898, W.S.Carver was buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery south of Blackwell, in Porter field, at the city's expense. The cemetery records shows that $2 was paid for the opening and closing of the grave. On Jan 6th, a preliminary hearing was held in Newkirk before Judge Neff. after reviewing the Coroners's inquest and testimony of key witnesses for the state, it was decided that R.H. Fair should be logged in the county jail to await the action of the grand jury.
This murder of W.S. Carver outraged the citizens of Blackwell. They wanted justice to be done. Since the opening of the Cherokee Strip, there had been 21 murders in Kay County alone. Out of that number, only one had a conviction. So pressure was put on the court to look this case over extremely well.
In Arkansas City, R.H. Fairs's hometown, the citizens believed that he was innocent. They didn't trust the new founded Oklahoma courts because of another murder in October of 1894, in which a man by the name of G.F. Rhor, who at that time was the mayor of Arkansas City, was shot four times with a Winchester at the hands of E.T. Hands over a claims dispute near Kildare.
Mr. Hand turned himself in at Newkirk and was held in the county jail for over a year before getting a change of venue to Noble County. He was found not guilty in November of 1895, because of evidence produced by his wife. The defendant's wife, who was at the scene immediately after the shooting, picked up the dead man's revolver and kept it until she produced it at the trial. Her evidence was supported by one or two witnesses who was also present at the shooting.
Arkansas City citizens didn't believe that story thinking a old gun was just found to bring to court to get a self-defense verdict. They also believe that history was repeating itself again with the gun they found at this scene. They believed if the truth was told that the charges would be dropped. His friend immediately came to his defense. The following article was printed in the Blackwell Times and Records:
January 13, 1898 - "The friends of R.H. Fair, who is in the Newkirk jail charged with the murder of Professor Carver, are talking of raising a purse of money to employ a lawyer to assist in his defense. Persons who have seen Fair in jail say he appears to be happy. He put in his time singing and talking in a jovial manner with acquaintances who address him."
The grand jury trial was held on March 15, 1898, at 1:30 p.m. in Newkirk courthouse under Judge Neff. The state was represented by County Attorney Pinkham and Judge Blevins, while the defendant was represented by Judge Beckham, the most noted criminal lawyer in Kansas, and W.C. Tetirick, one of the best attorneys in the county.
The selection of a jury, at first, looked as though it would be almost impossible to obtained in Kay County, but my the end of the first day of the trial the jury was chosen, consisting as J.H. Smith, foreman, M.B. Arnett, G.A. Eaton, J.H. Pearce, R.H. Revell, J.W. Spoon, Tom Elliott, Dennis Holt, S.Spore, Lou North, Sam Dawson, and J. Haney.
On March 16th, the murder trial began with opening statements made by County Attorney Pinkham for the state and Judge Beckham for the defense. Then the state called it's first witness, Dr. Elliott of Blackwell. His testimony was about as follows:
"He said it was W.S. Carver, examined head and brain by sawing skull and slicing brain, Ball entered near the center of brain, it would have caused almost absolutely certain and instant death, he asked Fair where Carver was, Fair said he didn't know, Said Fair asked him if Carver was in the house if he thought he would be burned so badly that it couldn't be told whether he had committed suicide or been murdered, he said Fair examined hole in head when body was taken out, he said Carver has talked of committing suicide when he had cramp colic, such talk was not uncommon among the sick. said Carver and he didn't agree on polities and had trouble. he thought throat had not been cut."
The next witness for the state was J.S. Houston:
"Said he heard three or four shots and was the first to arrive, the fire was confined to the east room, Fair said he didn't know where carver was but said he was there when he started to water the horse, helped move things out of house, asked Fasir if there was anything in the cellar worth saving, Fair said he thought not as they had moved everything up a short time before, we took out some windows to save them, mentioned cellar windows to save, Fair said we could not get it out as it was fastened on the inside with hinges, and said we better try saving the porch posts, asked Fair if Carver might be gone he said no or he would have taken wheels."
The next witness for the state was M.N. Porter:
"He said he was the second to arrive, asked how the house caught fire, Fair said he didn't know, asked fair if Carver was in cellar, Fair said no it was locked, said Carver was there when he went to water the horse."
The next witness for the state was W.E. Mowery:
"He asked where Carver was and said maybe he is in the house, Fair said he wasn't as he had looked all through the house, then I said maybe he is in the cellar, Fair said no the cellar is always kept locked, Fair said he and Carver got up the same time and Carver told him to feed and water the horse and he got breakfast, Fair said he came down to get water about thirty minutes ago, Fair said he came down to get a settlement out of Carver and that Carver had given him his horse, buggy and harness."
The next witness was H.D. Edwards:
"Said he lived three hundred yards from Carver's house, Said Fair came down to his house about sunrise, came in and talked a few minutes then we went outside, saw smoke and he said I guessed the boss had kicked the stove over, I couldn't see smoke. Fair watered the horse before, but asked if he could water it, I asked if he had bought the horse, because he said his horse, Carver liked the horse very much and I wondered why he sold it, Fair said he was in a hurry as he and carver was going to Arkansas City, he was at my place about Fifteen minutes, he identified the revolver as Carver's, said Carver generally kept it on the table in his bedroom."
The next witness for the state was Deputy Sheriff Alfred Lund:
"He arrived after the house was nearly burned, asked where Carver was and Fair told him the same story about getting up, watering the horse, seeing smoke, taking out goods, finding revolver and shooting it off, he said Fair started to leave several times, harnessed horse, went to hitch up and I stopped him and told him he must wait until after a Coroner's inquest, I took two razors from Fair after the inquest, one Fair said was Carver's, said Carver gave it to him to take to Arkansas City to have it hollow ground, razor had blood stains on handle, I helped take body out of cellar, examined furnace, doors were all closed showing no indication of explosion, Fair tried to hitch up after I told him that suspicion rested on him, I asked Fair if Carver had any other gun and he said not that he knew of, Lund said that he went over at the request of D.B. McGree who had been out at carver's place and suspected foul play. McGree said things look suspicious and came after me."
The next witnesses were five men for the state that gave short testimony:
"F.C. Gross, member of the Corner's jury testified to the evidence given by Fair."
"Dr. C.B. Mc Laury said he had examined the body and believed the throat was cut."
"Charles Rineys said he was at Carver's place, examined the cellar and found the furnace, carefully examined it too and found large cakes of clotted blood under the furnace."
"Harry Fost, and expert barber, testified that the razor which Fair had when arrested, and he claimed Carver had given him to ground hollow, was already hollow ground and didn't require any grinding."
"James Eiam of Blackwell testified that Fair was at the school the forenoon before the murder and said if he didn't get what Carver owed, he would take it out of his head."
In cross-examination of these witnesses, the defense brought out the following evidence:
"The entire claim of Professor Carver is in wheat. Last fall he hired a boy to plow for him. He and the boy had a disagreement and the Professor struck the boy with a stick. The boy's father took up the trouble up and they had a quarrel. The boy's father was a one armed man and he threatened to kill Carver and said he would get even sometime. However, the trouble blew over and the one armed man left the community and no one seems to know of his whereabouts. It was brought out that a boy was seen in the vicinity of Carver's house by one of the neighbors about the time of the fire. It was also shown that Carver was despondent and asked a doctor a week before last for morphine to kill himself with."
After all the witnesses were called, R.H. Fair took the stand. The following is his testimony:
"Fair said he began work for Carver in august, worked 36 days at $2.00 per day, when he quit, Carver owed him $58.25, said he came down the middle of October and Carver said he must wait six weeks, Gave him $16.00 to spend for Carver, he spent $13.50 and gave carver credit for $1.50, said he came to Carver's on December 23rd to try to collect balance due him when Carver told him he had sent a check for $20.00. Fair went to Blackwell received a message from his brother about receiving the letter, said carver agreed to pay balance by January 1st, or give Fair a horse and buggy, then Fair went home and returned on Tuesday, December 28th and waited until Friday to give Carver a chance to get the money, remained at Carver's every night, returned to literary, Friday night, returned to Carver's talked about the settlement, but had no trouble, both got up at the same time in the morning, Fair dressed and went out to feed and water horse, while Carver was to get breakfast, Fair said he hadn't eaten any breakfast for years, but admitted that he had eaten breakfast since in jail. Fair said he took the horse to water, this was the first time, was gone about twenty minutes, when returned saw the house on fire, put horse in stable, went to the house, looked through every room for Carver, carried out some things, found Carver's revolver on the table, ran out and shot four times, Fair said Carver gave him one of the razors which he had and sent the other by him to have ground. Fair said he didn't start to run off but was going to hitch up and go home, he said Lund didn't stop him but once, said he didn't shoot at or kill Carver."
"Fair said when he came down, carver didn't want to give up the horse and buggy, so he waited all week to let carver get the money, but could not, so they settled up Friday night by Carver turning over horse and buggy and he receipted him in full, he said basement was locked that there was nothing in the basement worth saving. He got mixed up on some of the check statements, Fair said he went to feed the horse and then changed is mind and took them to the well to water. He said when he went to feed the horse, carver was still in bed. He also was undecided on questions about the razors and the fact that he ate no breakfast before the time."
By late evening all the evidence was in. The judge gave his instructions to the jury at half pass three. The pleading of the lawyers followed and the case was given to the jury. The trial resumed on March 17th at 1:30 p.m. Here Judge Neff asked the jury foreman, J.H. Smith if they ad reached a verdict. He responded with, "Yes, your Honor." Asking the defendant, R.H. Fair the rise and face the jury the verdict was read:
"We, the jury, do upon our oaths, find the defendant guilty of the crime of murder as charged in the indictment, and fix the punishment at imprisonment for life in the Territorial Prison at hard labor."
In Oklahoma in the late 1800's, in murder trials, the jury makes the decision whether a man receive the death penalty or life imprisonment for life, at the time the guilty verdict is read. The jury gave the sentence as life imprisonment. R.H. Fair showed no sign of emotion and neither did member of his family. The Arkansas city Traveler published the following article:
"Many of our people believe Fair innocent, and about an equal number thought him guilty, whether he is or not nobody knows except himself. Circumstantial evidence is strong against him, that it would have been impossible to secure a different verdict. Judge Beckman made a hard fight for Fair and those who heard him say his speech yesterday was an able effort. He will try to get a new trial for Fair."
On Saturday afternoon, March 21st, Judge Beckman tried to get Fair that new trial. Judge Neff reviewed the case and said the verdict was without doubt. Judge Beckman said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.
On March 22nd, Kay County sheriff Pierce with Deputies Alfred Lund and Jennings started to Lansing, Kansas with four prisoners, R.H. Fair, Tooman, Conrad and gray. At Newkirk Santa Fe train station, an Arkansas City Traveler reporter reported the scene:
"March 22nd - A number of Fairs friends were at the train to bid him goodbye as was also his mother and little sister. The scene was that he seemed cool as if he was going on a pleasure trip. His mother didn't seem to take it very seriously but to accept her son's fate in a very matter of fact manner. To this reporter of the Traveler, Fair Said, "I didn't have a fair trial or chance in this kangaroo court at Newkirk, bit I will show them what I can do!"
The citizens of Blackwell were delighted by the Grand Jury's decision on the case. They felt that justice had been served. It was said that Fair had an ungovernable temper and on occasions had been known to let it get the best of him, and do things which afterward he would regret. This must had been on of them times.
But was R.H. Fair really guilty? Nothing was heard of him until 1901, when the Blackwell Kay County sun printed the following article:
IS HE INNOCENT?
November &, 1901 - Rufus H. Fair's mother and two attorneys were before Governor Jenkins yesterday asking for a pardon for Rufus H. Fair, who was convicted in Kay County in 1898 for the murder of a man named Carver, and sentenced to the penitentiary for life. A petition with something like 1,100 names was presented to the Governor and left in his possession. The attorneys claim that they have received information from Alaska that a man there confessed to the killing of Carver and that another man is now serving a life sentence in the penitentiary for the crime. The case attracted considerable attention and the statement was made that some of the evidence on which Fair was convicted was circumstantial. Governor Jenkins informed the interested parties that he would take the matter under consideration.
This is the last word of this case found, as it passed into history. R.H. Fair could have received a pardon, because it wasn't unusual for criminals at that time to be pardoned for crimes as serious as his. Today, only Professor Carver tombstone stands to remind us of this heinous murder.