The Kenney Tragedy

November 14, 1879 
Clinton Public
Clinton, Illinois

Death of Thomas Cooley at the Hands of Ed Wills.

Full Particulars of the Cause of the Fatal Encounter.

More than two years ago the WILLS boys talked about draining some of their wet land into the drain running across COOLEY's land. Cooley objected on the ground that it would necessitate an enlargement and deepening of his ditch, which he contended would damage him; and to prevent it Cooley went to work and filled up his drain on a level with the adjoining ground and threw up a small levee to prevent water coming on him from the Wills' land. This was nearly two years ago. From that time hence the feud waxed warmer, although the Wills did not try to force a drain through Cooley's land. For several months past, Cooley has endeavored to get the Wills boys to make application to the drainage commissioners and have them decide whether they should be allowed to run the drain through his land, and if so to assess the damage. This they objected to doing, choosing, rather than to have trouble, to let the matter remain as it was. At Cooley's urgent request, however, they agreed to choose three arbitrators each and let them decide the matter and abide the decision. The Wills boys applied to several men, who were upright and well known, to act for them, but they knowing of the trouble already existing, and fearing more, refused to act, and the Wills boys so reported to Cooley. From that time forward Cooley became more desperate and reckless than before, and on two occasions has drawn a revolver on Ed Wills and attempted to shoot him. Once, Wills got out of the way by running, and once the shooting was prevented by friends interfering. Cooley has lately threatened to kill both the boys, and in fact all the male members of the Wills family, and has made these threats not only to the Wills but to other persons.

Wednesday evening about dusk, or a little after, Cooley went to Wills house and asked where Ed was, and then went to the barn to find him. He began abusing him and wanted Ed to go down to the public road-one hundred and fifty yards distance where he said he would fix him. Ed refused, and did all that he could to avoid trouble. The above continued probably ten minutes, when Ed finally ordered him off the premises and started to open the barn and yard gate, when Cooley started towards him, thrust his hand in his pocket as if to get his revolver, as he had done several times before. It being on open ground, Ed had no chance to escape or get out of the way, and feeling that it was either shoot or be shot, fired a number of shots.

Four or five shots struck Cooley, but one of which proved fatal. Bob Wills, hearing the shooting, ran down from the house. Cooley was yet on horseback, and as Bob went toward him the horse turned, and probably the horse being scared ran toward him. Bob up to this time thought that Cooley was doing the shooting, and when he saw the horse coming toward him he thought that Cooley was going to attack him, and in trying to get out of the way, Bob stumbled and fell headlong into a hedge fence. While lying on the ground, Bob Wills turned over on his side and fired two shots at random, and it is hardly probable under the circumstances that he succeeded in hitting Cooley.

Cooley's horse then turned around and went toward the rear of the barn ____ Cooley fell off. The Wills family did not go near Cooley after he fell, but sent for Mr. HUMPHREY, their nearest neighbor, and had him come. Mr. Humphrey had Cooley removed to his own house, and physicians were immediately summoned. Cooley died about ten o'clock that night.

Bob and Ed Wills immediately came to Clinton and gave themselves into the custody of the sheriff. They are now in jail awaiting a preliminary examination. An inquest was held on Thursday, but up to the hour of going to press we have been unable to get the verdict.

It is an unfortunate affair, and shrouds two families in grief. The Wills boys have always borne the reputation of being peaceable and gentlemanly in their intercourse with every body. In order to escape from their unpleasant relations with Cooley they have made some efforts to sell their farm and move to some other neighborhood. The trouble between Cooley and the Wills family has been the cause of more than one altercation. Not many weeks ago Ed Wills was sitting in front of a store in Kenney with a number of men when Cooley came up behind him and pounded him on the head with a brick or a stone. Wills tried to get out of his reach, when Cooley drew a revolver and fired at him. There was another trouble between Ed Wills and Cooley, and more than probable this helped to aggravate Cooley against Ed, and the difficulty about the ditch gave him the opportunity to vent his spite.

Cooley lived in Kenney till a few months ago, when he returned to his farm. He is said to have been a man of an excitable disposition, though when there was nothing to arouse his ire he was easy to get along with. He leaves a wife and five children. This case is one that excites sympathy for all the parties concerned. Cooley will be buried this afternoon.

Submitted by Judy Simpson


November 21, 1879
Clinton Public
Clinton, Illinois


Last week we published a notice stating that Ed and Robt. Wills, farmers living near Kenney had shot and fatally wounded one Thom. Cooley. The facts of the case as near as we can learn, are as follows:

As Cooley was coming from Kenney where he had been on business, he rode up to the Wills farm, and into the bar yard. No one seems to know what his intention on doing this, but it was generally supposed that he went there to have a ditch question settled. But failing in this, he used some rough language expressing his opinion of Ed. and Robt. Wills, and then wheeled his horse and started for the gate, but one of the boys saying some thing to cause him to turn his horse and angrily start towards them, where upon one of the boys fired at him, hitting him in the face, the ball coming out from behind his ear. This was supposed to be the first shot fired. In all there was five or six wounds found on Cooley's body. The boys themselves do not seem to know what shots hit him. The brothers immediately started for the city, and placed themselves in the hands of the sheriff. The father of the boys, immediately after the tragedy sent a younger son, for one of the neighbors, Andrew Humphrey, who in the company with another neighbor, Lewis Town, procured a light and found Cooley lying between the cribs, which are located between a short lane and the house, where it is supposed he fell off of his horse. Town and Humphrey assisted Cooley to his home, which is about a half of mile west of Wills, the farmer being in Logan and later Dewitt County.

Mr. Cooley lived about four hours after he was shot. His dying statement is to the effect that Ed. and Robt. Wills shot him without provocation; and that he was totally unarmed. Coroner Ewing was summoned from Lincoln on Thursday, the morning after the tragedy. The jury impaneled by him returned a verdict of "murder in the first degree." The Boys have waived an examination, and their trial is to come off at the December Circuit Court. The feeling in the vicinity where the shooting occurred is mostly against the boys.

The funeral took place Friday, about 300 people attending.

Submitted by Earliene Kaelin