Springfield History: 1905 saloon shootout left three dead

Marilyn Lynch

| State Journal-Register

print kicker: Sangamon Link

A drunken shootout in a Springfield saloon in 1905 left three men dead and two brothers charged with murder.

The cause was a previous fistfight, followed by a series of telephoned challenges.

Those killed were all from the Berlin area: horse trader Samuel Douglas, farmer John Lawrence, and Charles Casson, a farmhand. James and William Hinman, livestock dealers from Springfield, were found not guilty of killing Casson, after which charges were dropped in connection with the other two deaths.

The dead men were among eight to 10 Berlin men who came to Springfield to confront the Hinmans over the fistfight.

According to trial testimony, William Hinman and another brother, Charles Hinman, had badly beaten a drunken Robert Sandidge of Berlin several weeks earlier. Telephone insults flew back and forth for the next week.

“It is said that all of the men had been in the habit of calling each other up over the ‘phone, and that very often, while one was talking another would get on the line and listen,” the Journal reported. “In this way conversations were overheard by enemies and friends alike.

“The Hinmans have always borne the reputation of fighters in this city, and while they were friendly in a general way with the Berlin people, they would occasionally have bitter disagreements, regarding horse trades and other matters. … Relations existing between them were none too pleasant.”

The Berlin men came to town on Nov. 23, 1905. They wandered from bar to bar until they encountered the Hinmans at the Wright and Lathrop saloon, 114 N. Seventh St. The two groups drank together more or less peaceably for at least a few minutes.

Then, depending on who was telling the story, Lawrence either did or did not take a swing at James Hinman, who pulled a revolver and began shooting. At that, William Hinman also grabbed his gun; it was never clear whether he managed to get off a shot, but a couple of those in the Berlin group grabbed him and beat him unconscious with a blackjack.

Some members of the Berlin group also had pistols. During the Hinmans’ murder trial, their attorneys contended that Casson — the closest thing to an innocent bystander in the whole affair — was killed by a bullet Sandidge meant for William Hinman.

The killings were a local sensation, and feelings on both sides ran high afterwards. Two days after the shootout, the Journal reported:

“The revolver battle Friday … formed the sole topic of conversation among hundreds yesterday. Since the shooting, sympathy has been widely divided regarding the men who participated in it, as most of the witnesses gave conflicting stories in regard to who precipitated the trouble.”

The Hinmans were charged with murdering all three dead men, but prosecutors thought their best case involved the killing of Casson. Witnesses said he was trying to escape the bar when shot.

However, the jury took only 45 minutes to acquit both Hinmans. Aside from conflicting testimony and the defense’s suggestion that it was Sandidge who fired the fatal bullet, the Hinmans benefited from a general feeling that the Berlin men instigated the confrontation.

“Their friends claim that the only men in the saloon at the time who could be depended upon to assist either of the Hinmans in case of trouble was the other,” one Journal story reported.

After the not-guilty verdict, prosecutors dropped charges in the deaths of Lawrence and Samuel Douglas. Both Hinman brothers remained and worked in Springfield for the rest of their lives.

Reprinted from SangamonLink.org, online encyclopedia of the Sangamon County Historical Society.

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