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Bloodshed in the Bucket Brigade


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, April 9, 1933



By Howard Burba


     In so far as the “I remember when” reader is concerned, this story is pretty apt to prove a disappointment.  For there doesn’t happen to be anyone living at this moment who can remember that day one hundred years ago when the peace and dignity of the village of Dayton was disturbed by what the little weekly paper referred to at the time as the worst shock in the community’s history.

     It was largely with a view to confirming a belief that human nature hasn’t changed materially within the past one hundred years that I sought and found, a treasured old volume of Dayton newspapers for the year 1833—papers printed here just one hundred years ago.  It was while mulling over the yellowed pages of this old volume that I came across the story of a crime very similar to many committed in this day and age.  And when you shall have read it you will agree that my contention is correct—human nature hasn’t changed to any perceptible degree in the past one hundred years.  Men had hate in their hearts then as now.

     To lay the groundwork for this recital it is necessary to point out that 100 years ago the town of Dayton was without a paid fire department.  It had what was commonly known in those days as a “volunteer department,” and while its members were supposed to operate the small hand-engine, the organization was in reality little more than a “bucket brigade.”  A small brick structure stood on the west side of Ludlow st., on the alley directly across from the rear of the present Industries building, and therein was kept the sole piece of fire-fighting equipment boasted by the populace at that time.

     The event of which I write occurred on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 1833.  Ordinarily it would have been “first page stuff” for the men who make your daily paper of today.  But Dayton had not progressed to the daily newspaper stage at that time; her newspaper, a weekly, was in keeping with her fire department.  As news was then handled, this event found its way to the public—exactly seven days after it occurred—under a single line heading of capital letters in the same size type as that your eyes now rest upon.  The headline, too, bespoke the simple and unostentatious manner in which the news of the day was offered.  It consisted of the single word—“MURDER”—and was buried away on the second page of the four-page issue appearing under date of Sept. 17.

     “On Tuesday last, a deed was done in this town,” reads the first printed account of this historic old crime, “which has shocked the feelings of the community more than anything that ever occurred here before.  Mr. Charles R. Greene, the clerk of the courts, was murdered by a man named Matthew Thompson, by a blow with a large bludgeon, given when his back was turned, and when he had not the least suspicion of apprehension of being attacked as he was.

     “In the morning of the same day about 1 o’clock, an alarm of fire was given, and the citizens generally collected at the burning building, which was an uninhabited frame house near the bank.  Mr. Greene was one of the fire wardens, whose duty it was to form ranks for the purpose of handing water for the supply of the engine.  Seeing Thompson standing apart from the line he ordered him to take a place.  Thompson refused with an oath, and on the order being repeated was still more violent in his language and continued to refuse.

     “Mr. Greene had a splinter of a board in his hand, and with it he first knocked off Thompson’s hat, and upon his continued abusive language struck him a blow upon the head.  Thompson swore vengeance against him, but the affair ended for that time without any further collision.  In the morning Thompson was at the Market House and was asking different persons if they had seen Mr. Greene, threatening that he would have satisfaction and take vengeance for the blow he had received.  He did not meet with Mr. Greene, however, and during the course of the forenoon he went about repeating his threats, of which Mr. Greene was informed several times, and warned to keep out of his way.  Mr. Greene answered these threats with the statement that he entertained no apprehension that Thompson would strike him and so he pursued his usual avocation without the least semblance of anxiety or alarm, and without taking any measures to avoid Thompson.

     “Thompson had become considerably intoxicated, and it was pretty certain that he was urged on by some associates, and his ill feelings raised to a high pitch by their advice.  He went to the office of one of our magistrates and demanded a warrant for Mr. Greene for assault and battery, but the magistrate put him off with various excuses and told him to go and see Mr. Greene and he had no doubt that Mr. Greene would give him satisfaction.  He persisted in demanding the warrant, however, and at length declared that he did not want it for the sake of the law, but that he wished to get him where he could take satisfaction himself and swore that he would no go to sleep until he had ‘put Greene asleep.’

     “The magistrate, however, would not give him a warrant and he finally went to another justice of the peace, who also endeavored to put him off; but he insisted on having a writ issued and said he would not leave the office until it was done.  The justice then told him that he would not issue the writ, at any rate, until he was paid the fees upon it.  Thereupon Thompson went away and procured money, with which he came back and, laying it down before the justice, again demanded the warrant.  Upon this the justice drew the affidavit and Thompson subscribed it and swore to it.  This was between 11 and 12 o’clock.  The justice then told him that he could go away now and return at 1 o’clock, when the business should be attended to.  But immediately afterward Mr. Greene came into the office.

     “One of the Constables had gone over to the court-house where Mr. Greene was in attendance upon the court of common pleas, and informed him that Thompson was at the magistrate’s office for the purpose of getting process against him, and he put on his hat and went over.  When he went in Thompson addressed him and asked what he had struck him for the night before.  He answered that he considered that he was acting in the line of his duty and if the thing was to do over again he would so as he had done before, or perhaps more.

     “Some further words passed between the two men, but they did not seem to be very much excited, or to show much heat, and Mr. Greene turned to go out of the office after two or three minutes had passed.  Thompson was sitting upon a bench and had a hickory stick in his hand, about three feet long and as thick as a man’s wrist—something like a standard of a dray.

     “As Mr. Greene was going toward the door, his back was towards Thompson, who instantly rose up and, with the stick in both hands, struck him with all of his strength upon the right side of the head, about an inch above the ear.  Mr. Greene was immediately taken up and carried across the street to the hotel.

     “He revived in a short time and surgical aid was called in without delay.  A wound had been made near three inches in length, but the skull was not fractured, and although the brain had received a severe concussion, it was hoped, as he retained his senses perfectly, that the injury was not so great as it was.  Frequent and violent vomiting ensued, and he complained of excrutiating pains in the head.  He was removed to his own house, where he continued to suffer more and more until at length he breathed his last about four hours after had had received the wound.  On examination it was found that a considerable quantity of blood had collected between the skull and the brain, where the blow had fallen, and that no operation could possibly have saved his life.