The date was May 23, 1907. The place was Lowell, Arizona Territory, a small community just outside of Bisbee. Around 6:00am, a shotgun blast shattered the silence of a quiet street near the Palace Livery Stables. R. G. McBride stood looking at George Cason lying in a pool of his own blood before turning on his heel and returning home. At first glance, it appeared to be a random act of violence. Why would this well-respected citizen walk up to George Cason and shoot him in a public street like a mad dog?
Residents of the neighborhood rushed out to see what was happening and found the macabre scene. The police were called and presently the fatally-wounded man was hauled away to the Calumet and Arizona Hospital. Doctors took one look at the man whose face was blown half away and told the police the victim wouldn’t last the day. Nothing could be done to save him. He would later die around 4:30 that afternoon.
Meanwhile, McBride was taken to the jail by officers. The man was stoic about the whole affair and it wasn’t but a few minutes later that Mrs. Hattie Lee swept into the place, announcing she was pressing charges against McBride. She swore she’d been an eyewitness to the crime and that McBride had assaulted Cason with the intent to murder him. She was unaware of Cason’s grave condition. For good measure, she charged Mrs. McBride with threatening to kill her. Mrs. McBride was consequently brought to the jail and arraigned after being told her rights. She was immediately released by posting a $500 bond. Mrs. McBride was not to be trifled with and upon her release, she turned around and accused Hattie Lee of arson and threatening to kill her. Judge Greer had his hands full with defendants that day.
Hattie Lee was hastily arraigned and remained in a cell in Bisbee since she was unable to post the $1500 bond required for her freedom. It was soon discovered, Mrs. Hattie Lee was at the center of the whole mess which had started back in November of 1906.
Hattie Lee was married to J. D. Lee. Both had reputations of violence. Neighbors regularly heard fighting in and out of the Lee residence. When J.D. was drunk, he was jealous, mean, and vicious. He may have been the same without the alcohol. Hattie was no slouch in a fight and the neighbors were heartily sick of the couple’s constant domestic battles. At some point, J.D. Lee went to Globe, Arizona to work, leaving Hattie to her own devices in Lowell. Upon returning home, November 6, 1906, J. D. found Hattie “entertaining” J. L. Davis. Grabbing his Winchester, J.D. killed Mr. Davis then and there. This led to Lee’s arrest for murder. He made bail and wasn’t arraigned until May 2, 1907 at which time he pleaded not guilty.
Although not certain, it seems likely that J.D. went back to Globe or somewhere out of town to work after he was released on bail. Hattie was once again in the market for a man and took up with George Cason. According to Hattie’s neighbors, George Cason was a man of despicable reputation. He was a drinker and brawler—a man of bad character, quite similar to J. D. Lee. He’d been arraigned on the charge of assault with intent to murder at the Tombstone courthouse the same day J.D. Lee had been there. The noise and fighting continued with Cason keeping company with Hattie, which appalled and angered the neighborhood. A few days before Cason’s murder, there was a ruckus at the Lee house. Two unidentified men and Hattie ran from the house, which was suddenly in flames. Arson was immediately suspected by everyone as the hose company came to put out the blaze.
From the time of Davis’ murder, Hattie was on a mission to see her husband convicted of murder. She wanted to be rid of him once and for all. Once she hooked up with Cason, they began a plot to ensure that conviction. R. G. McBride, her neighbor was to be a witness for the prosecution and she cajoled and pleaded for him to change his testimony. What exactly she wanted McBride to say isn’t known, but it would have meant he’d perjure himself. When McBride proved uncooperative, Cason and Hattie employed intimidation tactics against Mr. and Mrs. McBride which included threatening their lives. In apparent desperation, Cason insulted Mrs. McBride to terrible heights of profanity in public, which sealed his fate.
McBride had had enough of Cason, and he was determined to put an end to the reign of terror that morning of May 23rd. On the 24th, the coroner’s jury found that Cason had indeed been killed by McBride and his shotgun. Bond was provided for McBride upon the recommendation of the coroner’s jury. Hattie was able to get her bond covered and was released that day as well. She went to the undertaker to view Cason’s body and it was reported that she wept upon seeing him. The undertakers made inquiries as to next of kin in an attempt to get Cason out of town. After much telegraphing, a brother was finally located, who told the undertakers to bury his brother in Bisbee. He wasn’t coming to get him. The funeral was held at the Palace Undertaking Company on May 29.
It wasn’t until December of 1907 that two unusual murder trials took place in Tombstone. On December 7, McBride was finally tried for Cason’s murder. After a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. R.G. McBride was a free man. After months of uncertainty, his life could go on.
On December 9, J.D. Lee stood before the judge to be tried for the murder of Jack Davis from the previous November. It took some time to empanel a jury due to a number of men who objected to the death penalty and others had already formed opinions about guilt or innocence. Finally, the trial got underway and the prosecution concluded its case in good time. Defense counsel, George Neale then asked the judge to have the jury excused while he argued a motion. The jury was removed and Neale made his argument to the judge that the prosecution hadn’t made its case and his client should be found not guilty. The judge agreed and the jury was brought back in. They were instructed to the shock of all present to bring a verdict of not guilty which they did.
Apparently, some of the prosecution’s witnesses had lapses of memory about the whole event, which makes one wonder about witness tampering and intimidation. However, it led to the happy verdict for Lee who was now living in Deming, New Mexico with Hattie. The expectation was that the trial would take the entire day, but now Lee could catch the train and make it home that night.
Hattie was counting on her husband's absence the evening of December 9, and invited yet another paramour to visit her while J. D. was safely in Tombstone. When J.D. entered the house, surprising the occupants, he found former Lowell resident, Jonas Harris carrying on with his wife. He’d warned Harris before to stay away from her according to reports. Pulling out his Colt .45, he shot Harris through the neck, severing his spinal cord and killing him instantly. You cannot make this stuff up.
No further information has been found about the Lees and what happened after this particular murder. One can only wonder how many other men met similar fates after succumbing to the questionable and deadly charms of Hattie Lee.
Resources: The Tombstone Epitaph and the Bisbee Daily Review.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. Matthew 10:29
Research for the next book has me plumbing the depths of my hometown’s history in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This exploration of another time has also jarred loose some memories of people who influenced my life in the 1960s. They were quite old at that time—or at least it seemed that way to me. One such person was a tiny, gray-haired lady called Mrs. Norton.
Her hair was parted down the middle and it was scraped back into a bun held in place by hairpins and hairnet. She had a thin face and sharp eyes aided by wire-framed spectacles. Her voice wasn’t what I’d call melodic, but more like an irritated chipping sparrow. Her clothes were old-fashioned; a long dark skirt with a white blouse was often her ensemble. Despite her diminutive size and drab appearance, she was a force to reckon with when it came to storytelling.
My fondest memories of Mrs. Helene Norton were during summer Vacation Bible School at our church or during Released Time on Friday afternoons. Released Time was an hour of religious education on Fridays—probably from 1pm to 2pm throughout the school year. With parental permission, students in grades one through six walked from the school to either the Baptist church or Community church for this hour away from school. Sidewalks on opposite sides of the street were filled with kids trooping down to either the red church or the white church (as the two churches were referred to) in the village whether in sunshine, rain, or snow. It was good to flee the classroom on Friday afternoons.
Mrs. Norton regularly taught at the Baptist church which I attended. She either told us a Bible story full of adventure or a missionary story equally exciting. This tiny woman commanded the attention of all when she began to put flannel-graph figures and elements on the big board. The scene would be set either in the desert, the mountains, a pasture, or on the sea. Then she’d place the animals in the scene along with the people. Sometimes she used colorful cutout figures glued to toothpicks to stick on foam boards for a more 3D telling of a story. Boy, did I love those multilayered scenes! And I listened to every word.
In her reedy, chirping voice she recounted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Jonah, David, Jesus walking on the water, and many more. Even those troublemaker-type boys were mesmerized by her storytelling. Sometimes they got a bit out of line, but Mrs. Norton could bring them back to the fold with a wagging finger and a stern warning without missing a beat. Her warmth and passion in teaching us the most important stories we’d ever hear was evident in her delivery and the care with which she had prepared.
These memories of Mrs. Norton surfaced when I ran across her name and that of her husband in a local history book. I’d never known the details of her background—which was always a bit mysterious and being one who enjoys solving a mystery, I began digging into her past.
The first appearance in official records of Mrs. Norton was when she was eight years old and was Helene Daily. She lived at the Castile Sanitarium, Castile, NY in 1900 with her adopted mother who was employed at the Sanitarium. The Sanitarium is a whole other story, but it was specifically for women who had various ailments (some quite serious). They were under the care of Dr. Cordelia A. Greene and Dr. Mary Greene, who I’ll tell you about another time. They were fascinating people as well.
The census record has Helene Daily born in Canada of a Canadian father and English mother. Her adoptive mother, Jennie Daily was from Ireland and a single woman. Helene immigrated to the United States from Canada in 1897 with her adoptive mother when she was five years old. Time went by and eventually Helene was sent to Smith College in Geneva, NY for her education. She returned to Castile and became the librarian of the Cordelia A. Greene Library which was located right across the street from the Sanitarium. Helene was also an active member of the Castile Presbyterian church and was heavily involved in its activities. It was during her time as librarian that Mr. and Mrs. John Norton arrived in Castile and they became acquainted.
Mrs. Norton was seriously ill and was a patient at the Sanitarium for over two years. She was confined to a wheelchair and her bed, but she was known for her cheerful and positive outlook despite her ill health. The Nortons had come from Canada where John had been an organ designer and builder. As you might imagine, he was also an organist. He was a native of England and a member of the Anglican Church.
In May of 1924, Mrs. Norton died and the funeral services were held at the Sanitarium. In September of 1924, the engagement of Helene Daily to John Norton was announced in the paper. By December, 1924, they were husband and wife. This was when a new adventure began for the new Mrs. Norton. John felt a call to become an evangelist and the couple soon left for Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. They both graduated and returned once again to Castile where they made their home on South Main Street. From about 1929 until 1939, the Nortons traveled around the United States and Canada—he to preach and Helene to teach the children with Bible stories and object lessons. John was known for his wit and sense of humor in preaching the gospel and Helene for her teaching ability.
In 1960, when John was 86, he took a fall and passed away a few days later at the Sanitarium. Helene, who was much younger—about 17 years younger, continued to teach children at the churches in Castile throughout the 1960s. The Community church (now Castile UCC which was previously the Castile Presbyterian church) and also the Castile First Baptist church down the street, welcomed her to help with children’s ministries.
She and John never had children and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the local churches helped her secure healthcare and assistance as her health failed. The Castile community became her family in those difficult years. Mrs. Norton went to meet her Savior in 1985 having lived a long and full life of service to her Lord and to the children of Castile.
I’m oh, so grateful for Mrs. Norton’s humble and faithful retelling of the stories of Jesus and those heroes of the Bible. She made them come alive and I can still see her on the platform, pressing the next figure on the scenic flannel board. She may have been a sparrow in appearance and background, but extraordinary as a daughter of the Heavenly Father.