I think Joe was hiding something...

Judge Joe Slagle: Chapter Three: His First Five Wives (1832-1851)

Joe Slagle came to Missouri in 1839 from Ohio and sold goods at Cox's Mill, which he bought soon afterward. The mill was on Medicine Creek, then the only water mill in Northwest Missouri. A family source written in 1890 indicates that his property suffered a devastating fire in 1845 and Joe had to rebuild. No other details were provided.

In 1846 he was elected to the official bench of the county and served until about 1850. Joe was also a justice of the peace for many years and officiated at numerous weddings. He was one of the largest property holders in Livingston County, having in his possession some 1,400 acres of land.

As stated in Chapter Two, the “Official 1886 History” was sanctioned by Joe himself and does not match well with other reliable sources on certain key information.  Some of these sources were early genealogy accounts and official Livingston County records from that time. Also some dates on the Slagle Cemetery markers are simply not correct; which doesn’t help matters either.

The following is my current understanding about Joe’s first five wives (consorts) and children born of each union. Also included is my pure speculation as to whether Joe aided and abetted the demise of any of these wives. Since there was never any proof of wrongdoing, why suggest that he may have murdered some or all? Read what follows for my rationale and you decide. Also note where the first three wives came from!

First wife, on January 27, 1832 he married Catherine Long of Greene County, Ohio; she died June 8, 1841. They had five children:

America V. (1835-1853), she never married. Incorrectly listed as a consort of Joe on a cemetery marker. Columbus G. (1836-1906), he married Emma and had two children; although he was the first born son and likely would have assumed the farm/mill operation, he studied medicine and became a prominent surgeon and lecturer in Minneapolis. London E. (1838-1843), he died at age five. Julia A. (1839-1860), she married James Belshe (a prominent Grundy County farmer) and had two children before dying at twenty-two. Joseph H. (1840-1842), he was the first of three boys to be named after Joe. Only Joseph L. (from wife number six) lived to majority.

Catherine had five kids in less than ten years and probably helped run the farm/mill enterprise as well.

Was foul play involved? It’s not likely.

On the frontier, women were considered to be little more than brood mares. They were expected to work alongside their men and have lots of babies. A man that lived beyond sixty in those days typically had three wives.

Second wife, on November 22, 1843 he married Miss Catherine Stone of Greene County, Ohio; she died less than a year later on August 24, 1844. They had no known children.

Was foul play involved? It’s possible.

Third wife, on May 5, 1845 he married Miss Sarah Littlepage of Greene County, Ohio; she died in September, 1847. This marriage produced two children:

Henry, who after clinging to life for two weeks died 4/28/1845; just days before their marriage. Susan Catherine was born two weeks before Sarah passed. Clearly, Sarah had problems giving birth. Susan lived to be 95 years old and had eight children by William Turner of Grundy County.

Was foul play involved? It’s not likely.

Fourth wife, in 1848 he married Elizabeth Crawford of Quincy, Illinois; she died at twenty-two on 8/7/1849. They had a son Joseph who died in infancy. There is a very small and weathered marker in the cemetery with simply an inscription “Joseph Slagle.”

Was foul play involved? It’s possible.

Fifth wife, on May 4, 1851 the records of Livingston County indicate that he married twenty-one year old Elizabeth Crawford of Livingston County. Yes, she was the half-sister of his fourth wife and was also named Elizabeth Crawford! Remember that Mason Crawford had more than twenty children, thirteen by his first wife.

Her half-brother (Benjamin Collins) was murdered in cold blood by Joe in early 1853. This story will be covered in Chapter Four of this series: “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Incidentally, after a Livingston County land transaction between Elizabeth Crawford II and four men named Collins in Sept of 1853 ---I find no record of her existence in ensuing years!

There is no indication that any children were born of this marriage. Of course, this wife was not buried with the first four as Joe chose not to mention her in the official 1886 history. In my opinion, he deemed wife number four to be “Miss Crawford” in that book to inject a bit of confusion.  

Was foul play involved? It’s more than likely.

Once again, in my opinion Joe was hiding something. He emptied both barrels of his shotgun into an unarmed banjo player who was on his way to California (Benjamin Collins.) Benjamin knew too much and was a talker.

Know this, Joe could not have foreseen the technology we have today with ready access to public records and the relentless pursuit of the truth by millions of people doing genealogy. For that matter, no one else in that day could have envisioned our world either; well, maybe Jules Verne.

To be continued