could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers

Today is:

The Road Block or The Evils of Alcohol

        In late October 1905 a country school teacher, Mary Bell O’Conner, 17, was on her way to school on horseback in the northern part of the county.  She encountered a road block.  A wagon sat in the middle of the road.  The horses had been unhitched and were gone.  A man sat leaning against the wheel of the wagon, his jug beside him.


        Mary did not want to disturb him so she decided to quietly ride around him.  Roads were narrow in those days so she had to go out in the field.  Riding through a cornfield in late fall cannot be done quietly!  But the man did not stir and Mary rode on to school.  The man was still there that afternoon so again she rode around him on her way home from school.


        The next morning Mary was concerned so she asked her father to ride with her in case the man and his wagon were still there.  But her father was busy and could not accompany her.  The man was still there so once again she rode around him.  He was gone when she came back along the road that afternoon after school.  Someone had removed the wagon and taken the body to the undertaker in Pleasanton.

        Who was he?  He was James Halpin, a farmer in the area.

How did this happen?

About James Halpin


Born in Ireland, immigrated in 1875, age 25

Wife, Matilda, also born in Ireland , immigrated in 1870, age 10

Married in 1885; came to Buffalo County before fall, 1891

2 sons: Thomas, born in September 1891; Robert, born in June 1894

        (there were also two other children who had died)

Halpin purchased a farm in the Pleasanton area.  Then he purchased another 160 acres in 1902.

Over the years his drinking had become worse.  He had his whiskey shipped in to him in jugs “and it seems that whenever a jug arrives [he] endeavors to envelop the entire contents before one drop has a chance to evaporate.”


Events Leading to His Death

Nov. 1903 – The County Sheriff was summoned by phone message from Pleasanton

Halpin had beaten his wife “unmercifully”, “inhumanly”
She hid in a cornfield and crawled to a neighbor's home.
He took her to Pleasanton. After she had recovered she went to her family in Ord

        Meanwhile, Halpin was patrolling his property armed with a shotgun, threatening “to blow the head off any one who set foot upon the place.”  A carpenter who had been working there and had left some tools was not able to get them.  Halpin would not let him on the property. 

        An agent who had enlarged a picture for Mrs. Halpin delivered it.  Mr. Halpin became so angry he burned the picture and some other things belonging to his wife, including her Bible.  He also threatened to kill the agent and his driver if they ever came back.  The driver went to Kearney and swore out a complaint against Halpin asking that he “be put under bonds to keep the peace.”

        A deputy sheriff went out to arrest him.  He found that Halpin had an axe on one side of the door and a pitchfork on the other plus a Winchester rifle leaning against the wall.  He had been sleeping in the cellar for the past three nights because he was afraid his neighbors would come and burn him out.

        Halpin pleaded guilty to the charges and had to put up a bond of $500 to keep the peace.  While he was in Kearney for the court proceedings his two sons were left in charge of the farm with instructions to not let any neighbors come onto the place.  [The boys were 12 and 9 at that time.]

Year and half later – June 26, 1905 – Matilda had been brought to WCTU hospital in Kearney

        She had a complete breakdown, both mentally and physically
        She filed for divorce on grounds of cruelty.

Month later - July 27, 1905 – Is Charged with Inebrity
                                        May be Sent to the Asylum
        Neighbors had filed a complaint that Halpin was a habitual drunkard and he had been arrested.
        Nebraska state legislature had passed a law providing for the committal of “dipsomaniacs and inebriates” for treatment at the asylum upon complaint to the insanity commission and after there had been a proper inquiry into the matter.

            [dip•so•ma•ni•a (d p s -m n - ) n. An insatiable craving for alcoholic beverages.
            in•e•bri•ate ( n- br - t ) n. (- t) An intoxicated person.]

        The Sheriff made the complaint to the commission “charging him with being an inebriate and a dipsomanic and addicted to the excessive use of spiritous and alcoholic liquors.”   A hearing was held and continued for 30 days. In the meantime Halpin was freed.  The commission said he could stay at large as long as he stayed sober.

2 months later – Sat., Sept 30, 1905 –

        The Keaney police chief found Halpin in a barn on 1st Ave “dead to the world” that morning.  When he could not be roused he was hauled to the police station.

        Halpin was fined $1 and costs for intoxication on Saturday afternoon. He promised to go home.
        A couple of hours later he was picked up just as drunk as he had been before.  He was locked up over night and then “started home.”

Two Weeks Later - Wednesday, October 17, 1905
        Halpin was in Ravenna where he bought 3 jugs of whiskey.

Next day - Thursday, October 18, 1905 -

        Mrs. Halpin was taken to the hospital for incurable insane at Hastings.

        “The last time he was seen alive was Thursday afternoon, when he was found sitting in the road beside his buggy in the spot where his body was found the following morning.”

        James Halpin was officially declared dead Friday, October 19, 1905 –
        “It is supposed that he got out of the buggy, unhitched the horses and turned them loose and sat down and actually drank himself to death.”

Next day headlines:


Typical End to Ruined Life
James Halpin’s Dead Body Found By the Roadside
Victim of Liquor Habit
Whiskey Had Ruined His Home.
Driven Wife Insane and Now Causes His Death

        “A wrecked home, a wife driven to insanity and confined to the asylum, two little boys of stunted mentality and puny sickly physique caused by neglect and abuse, and finally a man clad in filthy garments, unkempt and loathsome in appearance lying by the roadside dead.  Near by, three jugs which had been lately filled with whiskey, but two of which have been emptied—and the jugs are the key to the whole tragic story.”

He was found by a neighbor 1½ miles from home.

        “Since Halpin’s wife was brought to the WCTU hospital in this city several weeks ago, he has been living with his two little boys at the farm house.  They are poor, neglected little weaklings and since their father’s dead body was found, all efforts to find them have proved unavailing. It is thought, however, they may be found at the home of some of the farmers in the vicinity.”

His farm and crops were neglected.  The neighbors avoided his place as “the poor wife’s reason began to totter. Her health failed and then the children and the house work were neglected….brought to the hospital …but her case was too far advanced for science to do much for her.

After His Death

Oct. 21, 1905 – Verdict of the Coronor’s Jury - Drink and Exposure Cause of Halpin’s Death
        Boys were found in corn field.
        Ages 15 and about 12 but appear to be about 10. Placed in care of neighbor until guardian could be appointed.

Oct. 23,1905 – Wm Halpin, James’s brother from Greeley County, was appointed guardian of the boys and asked that a Pleasanton man, F L Grammer, be appointer administrator of the estate.

Dec 21, 1906 – Matilda died at asylum in Lincoln
            Halpin Boys are Sadly Neglected
            Set to Work by Guardian Instead of Sent to School
            Thinly Clad and Poorly Fed
            Miserable Condition of Children Attracts Attention—Leads to Court Investigation—Testimony Taken

Court activity over next several months ended in change of guardianship to man in Pleasanton

Estate administrator was also changed due to mishandling

June 26, 1907 – Will be Sent to School
Father Daly had been visiting in Omaha and found school in West Point where the boys could get good training for a reasonable cost. They will probably be sent there.

1910 Federal Census – St. Joseph’s Convent, Ward 1, West Point, Cuming County, Nebraska
        Halpin, Robert – 15, boarder

        Halpin, Thomas – 18, boarder

WWI Registration
Buffalo County –

        Thomas Halpin, born at Pleasanton, Sept 28, 1891, farm hand in Cedar Township, medium build, medium height, blue eyes, brown hair

Cuming Co. –

        Robert Halpin, born at Pleasanton June 30, 1895, medium build, slender, blue eyes, blond hair, claims exemption incompetent

1930 Federal Census – Pleasanton, Buffalo County, Nebraska
Halpin, Thomas – 38, [living alone] bachelor, odd jobs

Pleasanton Cemetery – Pleasanton, Buffalo County, Nebraska
Halpin, James 16 Jun 1850 - 19 Oct 1905 Father
Halpin, Tillie 4 May 1860 - 6 Sep 1906 mother, wife of James

Halpin, R L 28 Jun 1894 - 6 Jan 1958 son of James
Halpin, Thomas F 21 Sep 1891 - 27 Jan 1967 son of James

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Revised: 02/07/2018