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
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
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
Events Leading to His Death
Nov. 1903 – The County Sheriff was summoned by phone message from
Halpin had beaten his wife
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
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.
(d p s -m n - ) n. An insatiable craving for alcoholic beverages.
( 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
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
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
“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
are Sadly Neglected
Set to Work
by Guardian Instead of Sent to School
and Poorly Fed
Condition of Children Attracts Attention—Leads to Court
Court activity over next several months ended in change of guardianship to
man in Pleasanton
Estate administrator was also changed due to
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
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
Halpin, Thomas F 21 Sep 1891 - 27 Jan 1967 son of James