In September 1906 the peace of the small town of Auburn, Nebraska was shattered by news of the murder of a ‘prominent farmer’ a few miles east near the even smaller settlement of Brownville. The farmer, Isaac Cock Williams, had been born in the Cornish parish of St Ewe, west of St Austell, in 1850. Brought up in the hamlet of Polmassick, Isaac learnt the butchering trade from his father.
In 1872 he emigrated and settled in Nebraska near the Missouri River. Continuing his butcher’s trade, Isaac met and married Ella Medford, an American. The pair obtained a homestead and began the hard job of farming the prairie and raising a family. However, things were not made easy for Ella and the children by Isaac’s short temper. As head of the household it appears that he brooked little disagreement. A local newspaper wrote that he was ‘a man of ungovernable temper, very cruel and severe in his family and the home relations had always been unpleasant’.
Unpleasantness turned to outright violence one evening in 1906. Isaac’s 18 year old son Charles asked his father if he would stump up the money to allow him to attend what became a local college, principally a teacher training establishment that had been established by the Methodists in 1865. Isaac refused. The row got more heated with Charles’ elder brother, the 22 or 24 year old Clarence, wading in to back him up. ‘In a fit of rage’, the 56 year old Isaac drove his two sons out of the house, then confronted the two in the barnyard with a pitchfork.
But, to amend the old saying slightly, never bring a pitchfork to a gunfight. Charles reacted, pulled out a revolver and shot his father four times. In the heat of the battle, three of his shots missed although one caught Isaac in the arm. Meanwhile, Clarence had got a shotgun and, coming up behind his wounded father, shot him twice in the back. The two young men then telephoned the police.
Clarence was held in jail charged with murder, although Charles was let out on a bond to await trail. Feelings ran high in the local communities and it proved difficult to select a jury. Eventually, in January 1907 Clarence’s trial took place. The jury took three days to reach a decision but in the end Clarence was cleared with the remaining case against Charles also being dropped a few months later.