The 1897 Murder of William Henry Sawyer

Transcriptions of newspaper accounts courtesy of the Haliburton Highlands Genealogy Group



Daily Examiner Peterborough Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1897

Brutal Murder of William Sawyer – Jealousy the Provoking Passion

The Victim Beaten to a Jelly –
One of the Assailants Arrested – The Other Still at Large


Stanhope Township, in the northern part of Victoria county, was the scene of a terrible tragedy, resulting in the death of a farmer named William SAWYER. Thomas THOMPSON, and his brother Matthew THOMPSON, are the assailants whose brutality ended his life.

Some time ago, Thomas Thompson betrayed a girl, was arrested, and while in jail, condoned the offence by marrying the girl, the ceremony being celebrated WITHIN THE PRISON WALLS. The couple went to reside in Stanhope, occupying the same house as the unmarried brother Matthew. Recently, Mrs. Thompson went out with a companion to pick berries near a field where William Sawyer was at work harvesting grain. On the way home, it appears that Sawyer, who was going home also, and in the same direction, helped Mrs. Thompson by carrying the baby which she had taken with her, as far as the latter’s gate, when the child was handed over to the mother, Sawyer going on home. This act, coming to Thompson’s ears, roused his jealousy previously excited by sundry reports current in the neighbourhood, to murder point.

Last Wednesday, he and his brother Matthew laid in wait for Sawyer, who they knew was returning home from the post office in the company of his father, an old man of 75 years of age. At a point on the way, Thomas Thompson accosted Sawyer, the brother remaining concealed. The ensuing altercation resulted in a mutual proposal to fight out the matter on the spot. Both removed their coats and the fight began. Sawyer, who was the smaller man, had his opponent down when the brother Matthew appearing on the scene, began a savage assault on Sawyer who was soon KICKED INTO INSENSIBILITY.
Then the father, an old man, interfered, whereupon both the Thompson brothers set upon him and beat him in a most brutal manner, his face being pounded to a pulp. Meantime, Sawyer came to consciousness and was attempting to rise when the Thompsons again assailed him and in his weak and injured condition they had little trouble in so severely beating and kicking him that they left him apparently dead on the ground.

Sawyer was removed to his home in an unconscious condition and medical assistance at once sent for, but neither of the physicians at Minden nor Haliburton were at home – they were in Toronto. Under the circumstances, Sawyer had to lie from Wednesday till Saturday without medical assistance. On Saturday Dr. FROST, of Kinmount, came to see Sawyer, when he found the poor man dying, and death followed Saturday night. And it was no wonder he died. Subsequent examination revealed the fact that the murdered man’s kidney and liver had been kicked to a jelly.

In consequence, Matthew Thompson was arrested, and is now in jail at Haliburton, but the other miscreant, Thomas Thompson, is still at large, though the authorities are diligently looking for him.

The murdered man Sawyer was a widower, and his mother as well as his wife are dead.  Thus five small children are  left doubly orphaned  to the care of  a weak old man of 75 years, who in addition to the shock of his son’s violent death, has hardly recovered from the shock of losing another son, George, who was drowned last fall, the body being recovered only a week before his other son died a violent death, the victim of a murderous assault.

Daily Examiner Peterborough Wednesday September 8, 1897
The Dead Man Claimed to Have Interfered Between Thompson and His Wife -
Old Mr. Sawyer’s Nephew Got Mixed Up in the Fray, Too, and Was Hurt.

Minden Sept. 7. The all-absorbing topic in this vicinity and district to-day is the murder of W.H. SAWYER at Maple Lake, which was reported in this morning’s World. The event has caused great excitement and many drove to the scene of the fight, the home of the THOMPSONs, and to Minden yesterday, in their eagerness to catch any gossip related to the affair.

Maple Lake post-office, the scene of the quarrel, is nothing more than an isolated farm house, surrounded by what is called a settlement, which consists of a few scattered houses, a church and a burial ground. The affair was not witnessed by many persons, and it is not likely that many witnesses will be subpoenaed to give evidence in the case. Dr. GILES, coroner for the district, responded quickly to the telegram sent to him at Toronto, and arrived yesterday. Whilst at Lindsay, he consulted with the County Crown Attorney MOORE, and magistrate DEACON, the  former who will prosecute the case.

The general impression given abroad that the feud between Sawyer and the Thompsons was relative to the game laws is not generally accepted as wholly correct. Thompson’s wife left him soon after they were married, and Sawyer was partly blamed for this. On the evening of the tragedy, after dispatching Sawyer, both the Thompsons visited G. CLARKE, father of Thompson’s wife, and created a great disturbance, threatening to break things generally and assault the household, but nothing came of their threats and they departed.

The rumour that the feud was due to the game laws no doubt arose from the fact that about three weeks ago, one of the Thompsons went into the house of Durlan REDNER, a relative of Sawyer, and saw venison on the table. The game laws of Ontario give the informant half the fine, and Thompson informed on Redner that he had shot deer out of season. The result was that Redner was fined before Police Magistrate FIELDING of Minden $20. The relationship between Sawyer and Redner may have had something to do with increasing the feud. At any rate, the Thompsons were very bitter against Redner and his connections, and were more disposed to have fought with him, had they come across him, than with Sawyer.

On the night of the tragedy. there was with Hiram Sawyer in the buggy, his nephew, Thomas ARCHER, a young man not of the robust sort. When the old man jumped out of the rig to rescue his son from the assault of the two Thompsons, Archer stayed out of the fight, and, seeing the old trapper fare badly, pleaded of the Thompsons not to kill Uncle Hi. For this they knocked the young fellow down and blackened both his eyes.
Jim BARRY, the mail carrier, grabbed one of the Thompsons when he saw the desperateness of their assault.

Turning around quickly Thompson said “What do you want here?”
“I want to make peace,” rejoined the mail carrier.
“Then let go of me,” replied Thompson, struggling.
Thinking discretion the better part of valour, Barry let go and the murderous assault continued.

Three charges will be laid: one for assault on Hiram Sawyer, another for assaulting Thomas Archer, and a third for killing W.H. Sawyer. Probably the first two charges will culminate in the latter.

The prisoner, Matt Thompson, took his arrest carelessly, and whittled cheerfully in the cells until he was told of the death of the victim. He then became serious.

Canoe Lake, Ontario. Sept. 7. Thomas THOMPSON, wanted at Minden for the murder of William Henry SAWYER, was arrested here this evening by the park ranger. A young boy named BARRY knew Thompson, and when he heard he was wanted for murder said he saw him in one of Gilmour’s camps on Saturday. This information was at once given to Park Superintendent SIMPSON, and the arrest followed.

Minden, Ont. Sept. 7, 1897. An inquest was opened at Stanhope to-day on the death of William H. SAWYER, who was kicked to death last Wednesday, before Dr. GILES, the coroner, who ordered a post mortem examination, which was made to-day by Dr. CURRY of Minden, and Dr. FOSS of Kinmount, who testified that sufficient injuries were found on the body to cause death. The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow at Pine Lake School, West Guilford, for further evidence.

Daily Examiner Peterborough Friday, September 10, 1897
Hiram Sawyer describes the fight between his son and the Thompson brothers

Haliburton, Ontario. Sept. 8. The inquiry into the killing of W.H. SAWYER at Maple Lake was continued here today. Hiram SAWYER, father of the deceased, was the first witness, and on being sworn said:
“Me and William Henry Sawyer drove from my farm to Maple Lake post office, in the Township of Stanhope, on Sept. 1, about 1 o’clock p.m. While we were at the post office, Matthew and Thomas THOMPSON came for their mail and went away. After they were gone some time, we started for home, and overtook the Thompsons about half a mile from the post office. When we overtook them, we stopped our buggy and said “Good evening”.

William Henry Sawyer said to Thomas Thompson that he understood that Thomas Thompson has misused his (Thompson’s) wife on account of her being picking berries with him. W.H. Sawyer said, “If anyone told you such, he is a ---------- liar”. Thompson replied, “Can you back it?” He said yes. “Come out of the buggy.” W.H. Sawyer jumped out of the buggy and said, “I’ll tie the horse”, and took the horse by the head, and Thompson sprung and kicked Sawyer on the hip. Then Sawyer sprung from the horse, and Thompson struck him about the shoulder. Then Sawyer  faced Thompson and  knocked him down. Sawyer went to  get on  Thompson, when Thompson threw up his reins into his face. Then Sawyer caught Thompson by his legs and threw him to one side, and  got on top of Thompson. With that, [brother] Matthew Thompson grabbed Sawyer by the back and pulled him back, helping his brother at the same time to get up. Sawyer told [Matt] Thompson to keep back and give him fair play. Sawyer jumped to his feet, and T. Thompson kicked him in the stomach while he was rising to his feet. Sawyer again faced him (Thomas Thompson) and knocked him down. The inquest was continuing this evening.

Daily Examiner Peterborough Friday, September 10, 1897
For Killing William Sawyer at Maple Lake on September 1st,
Medical and Other Evidence strong Against Them

Haliburton, Sept. 9. At the resumed inquest on the cause of death of W.H. SAWYER, Hiram SAWYER, father of the deceased, continued his evidence. He said that Matt THOMPSON jumped him while defending his son, and had kicked William Sawyer twice on the head. The witness then sprang at Thompson, and was attacked by both the brothers, who kicked and struck him several times. Sawyer was driven home after the fight and became unconscious. In half an hour he revived, but remained stupid all night, only saying that Thompson kicked him twice in the head. Friday morning Sawyer again became unconscious, and on Saturday, died.

Dr. FROST told of having visited William Sawyer on Saturday afternoon, and found bruises on the forehead, the right side of the neck, and on both sides of the body. He thought his patient’s condition resulted from the abuse received in the fight. Dr. CURRY swore he thought the injuries to the side sufficient to have caused death, though those to the brain might have been sufficient. Dr. Frost corroborated this opinion.  The evidence of Hiram Sawyer was corroborated by James BARRY, who said he saw Matt Thompson kick deceased once, and T. Thompson twice.

Thomas ARCHER swore to having seen M. Thompson on top of H. Sawyer. Thompson got off and went and kicked deceased twice, when lying with his head on his hand. He then turned and knocked down the witness [Archer] and kicked him several times. At CLARKE’s, the witness said he met the Thompsons, and Matt said he guessed the Sawyers came for a fight, and got it.

Clara CLARKE told of having heard M. Thompson say that anyone having quarrels with Tom would have to deal with him. After the fight, the Thompsons came to where the witness was standing with her sister and said there were four against them but they could thrash a dozen like them. When they went to Clarke’s, Tom Thompson told his wife that she might yet die with a sorry heart.

Mrs. John ARCHER said she saw Mr. Sawyer at his house on Thurs., Sept. 2. He was stupid all day, vomited blood and had pains in his stomach and left side. Sawyer told her he had Thomas Thompson on the ground and Matt Thompson kicked him under the right ear. After that he remembered nothing.

Hamilton BOYCE was at W. Thompson’s the day after the fight, and Matt Thompson told him he kicked and kicked --------- good.

The jury’s verdict was that deceased came to his death from kicks and hurts administered by Matt and Thomas Thompson on Sept. 1, 1897.