“A Horrible Cutting Affair,” 1874


Life & Death in the Oil Region Logo

Despite the constant reports of violence we are inundateod with every day, we live in a low-violence society compared to the 1800s in the Oil Region! In particular, 1874 was a very violent year. If you have read our posts in the past, you might remember that in 1874, a woman named Ms. Beltzer attempted to murder her daughter and later drowned in a well. Unfortunately, Mrs. Beltzer was not the only woman who attempted murder that September.

On Monday, September 7, 1874, Mrs. Henderson of Concord Township (between Corry and Spartansburg) bludgeoned her husband with an axe. Apparently, axe murders were not all that uncommon in the Corry area…

The next day, the Titusville Morning Herald reported that, “A horrible cutting affair occurred yesterday near Concord, Erie County. It seems that there lives a little south of Concord a man by the name of John Henderson, who is intemperate, and between him and his wife serious quarrels often occur.” Clearly, another theme in these violent events was drink; often the drunkenness of the husband being a factor in either the wife being murdered or committing murder.

The article goes on, “Some time yesterday the neighbors observed the woman leaving the house in a hurry, and supposed, as usual, a family jar had transpired. In the course of an hour two women passing found Mr. Henderson lying on the ground near the house weltering in his gore, his head dreadfully gashed – the brain protruding, speechless though conscious.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about the early days of oil it doesn’t conjure images of men lying in the street with their brains spilling out. Maybe the Oil Region of the 1800s was a bit more ghastly than we imagine it.

Later, Mrs. Henderson was caught attempting to flee. She recounted the event to the police as follows: “She says her husband came home and she got him something to eat, that he went and got his razor and then sat down to the table but soon requested her to take the razor and cut his throat. Upon her refusal, he threatened to cut her throat and started for her with an apparent intention of putting his threat in execution. She fled, and just outside the door he overtook her, when she, in self-defense, seized an axe and dealt her husband blows to the head, which felled him to the ground. She stoutly insists that she acted in self-defense.”

The Herald took the position that Mrs. Henderson was lying and attacked her husband during one of their perennial fights. The paper said her recounting of the event was riddled with “strong improbabilities.”

On Saturday September 19, 1874, John Henderson died. The next day, a jury was called to decide whether Mrs. Henderson should be taken into custody. She was arrested on Monday morning and taken to jail. However, the intrigue does not end there.

The October 3, 1874 edition of the Herald reported that Mrs. Henderson died, a scant two weeks after her husband succumbed to his wounds. It gives no context or story regarding her death. The announcement is included in a small section called “Navigating Around the Circle” with a slew of other local updates. Mrs. Henderson was never even given a first name in the papers.

So, is drink to blame? Spousal abuse? Or did Mrs. Henderson just snap and kill her husband? Or had she planned it and cooked up a story to (unsuccessfully) cover her tracks?

The world will never know.

You may call the Oil Region a lot of things, but boring certainly is not one.

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