William Owen Cawlfield1

M, (1849 - 1 March 1894)
     William Owen Cawlfield was born in 1849 at Ash Grove, Greene County, Missouri.1 He was the son of William Cawfield and Levicia Boone.1 William Owen Cawlfield married Sarah E. Howard, age 20 on Thursday, 16 September 1875.1 William Owen Cawlfield died on 1 March 1894 at Ash Grove, Greene County, Missouri, at age 45 years.1
     The following article about William Owen was published on 2 March 1894 in the Springfield Daily Republican, printed in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri. This article stated:

Ash Grove the Scene of a Tragedy Yesterday Morning.
The Killing Regarded as Justifiable

     Yesterday the little city of Ash Grove was the scene of a murder that created the wildest excitement at the time of the tragedy as it occurred on a principal street and in the midst of the business center at a busy hour of the day.

     The victim was W. O. Cawlfield, formerly constable of Boone Township, in this county, in which Ash Grove is situated, and his slayer was A. F. Van Pelt. Cawlfield on the 6th of last May while serving as a peace officer at Ash Grove had arrested a man named King for disorderly conduct and was conveying him to the lock-up when David King, a brother of the prisoner, attempted to rescue him. Cawlfield shot and instantly killed David. After a trial he was exhonerated and continued to serve as constable. This affair secured for him the reputation of being a fearless and resolute man, and whenever he was in his cups, which was not infrequently, this reputation was increased to such an extent that people avoided him as dangerous. Not long after the killing of King, Cawlfield, in a drunken row with Van Pelt, the man who killed him yesterday, shot and seriously wounded him, and for this offense he was lodged in jail to await trail for assault with intent to murder. Here he remained for a considerable time before friends succeeded in putting up the heavy bail required to secure his liberty. Once released he surrendered his position of constable and left for the west, where he remained to take advantage of the rush into the Cherokee strip last summer and only recently returned to the old haunts in Ash Grove. Last Saturday, it appears, Cawlfield started on a spree, and memories of his old trouble with Van Pelt began to fire his brain. He hunted up his old antagonist with the avowed intention of 'doing him up this time.' It was not difficult to find him as Ash Grove is Van Pelt's home and the home of his people, who are highly, respected citizens all around. When they met, Cawlfield pulled his pistol and fired two shots at Van Pelt but his aim was bad and Van Pelt quickly got out of the way. Since then Cawlfield continued his drinking and made numerous threats to kill Van Pelt. The latter heard of these threats through friends and finally resolved that he would stand it no longer and armed himself with a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot, prepared to go out on the street and quickly attend to his necessary business affairs, and, in case he encountered Cawlfield, who he knew was hunting for him continually to settle him for good. That he did so most effectually appears from the testimony given before a jury empanneled by Coroner Diemer who was called to Ash Grove to hold inquest over Cawlfield's dead body. After the shooting Van Pelt walked leisurely away and later surrendered himself to the officers and after a preliminary examination was admitted to bail.

     Coroner Diemer having reached the scene in the early afternoon, charged W. H. Turk, W. W. Robbins, G. William Kelley, J. M. Comegys, E. C. Myers and John Beck with the duty of inquiring into the cause of Cawlfield's death, and after hearing the evidence, the jury brought in a verdict that he came to his death at the hands of A. F. Van Pelt. The evidence, of course, only related to the bare facts of the killing, as witnessed by bystanders and summarized it was as follows:

     'Judge Blackledge testified that he was standing on a street corner, and, looking up, heard the crack of a pistol or gun and saw Cawlfield fall. He then looked around again and saw Van Pelt take a gun down from his face, and after Cawlfield had fallen he shot again at the body. Van Pelt then walked away across to the opposite corner still having the gun in his hand. The weapon looked like a double barrel shot gun. Cawlfield fell face foremost and had his hands in his pockets. He was beyond Van Pelt and across the road when shot. This was about 10 o'clock in the morning. Witnesses had not heard any threats exchanged between the two men.

     James G. Turpin, who is in the saddlery and undertaking business at Ash Grove, testified that he was on the sidewalk, not far from where Cawlfield fell, conversing with some friends, when the shot was fired and he saw Cawlfield fall immediately afterward. He also saw Van Pelt as he recovered the gun after his first shot and saw him send the other load into Cawlfield's prostate body and then depart through an alley near by. L. H. Musgrove and J. O. Waddell, two other citizens, testified to about the same facts.

     The first shot took effect in the back of Cawlfield's neck and was instantly fatal, as it virtually severed the spinal cord.

     The sympathy of the community is largely with Van Pelt, and it is thought he will have little difficulty in making out a case of self-defense or justifiable homicide. There is rather a feeling of relief that Cawlfield's dangerous presence in the usually peaceful town will no longer create uneasiness as it has done for a long time now.

     Late in the morning Van Pelt, accompanied by relatives and friends, came to Springfield and, after a hearing before Judge J.J. Gideon, of the criminal court, he was admitted to bail in the sum of $2,000 to answer to the next term of that court which indicates that the evidence is regarded by the judge as strongly exculpatory.

Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, March 2, 1894.2
The following article about William Owen was published on 11 March 1894 Springfield, Greene County, Missouri. This article stated:

     Cawlfield's Slayer Admitted to Bail Without Examination
     Steps Now Taking to Sift the Tragedy to the Bottom---What Attorney Robertson Says About it.

     John Cawlfield, brother of the murdered ex-constable of Boone Township, W. O. Cawlfield, was in the city yesterday, accompanied by the widow. They consulted J. H. Duncan, prosecuting attorney, to ascertain if they could have A. F. Van Pelt re-arrested on the charge of murder so as not to have him held under the insignificant bond of $2,500. It is learned that the prosecuting attorney advised them to let the matter rest until the preliminary examination set for the 23 inst. At that time Mr. Duncan will be in Ash Grove and if the evidence shall be as he is informed it is, he will insist on defendant not being admitted to bail any longer.

     W. G. Robertson, who has been retained by relatives of Cawlfield, to assist in the prosecution said to be a Republican reporter last night:

     'There are some strange features involved in the case. To think that a man can coolly and deliberately assassinate one of his fellow men and then be admitted to bail without any evidence being heard is very peculiar to say the least.'

     The trouble originated between the men while W. O. Cawlfield was constable of Boone township in 1891 or thereabouts. A warrant was placed in the hands of Cawlfield for the arrest of A. F. Van Pelt on a charge of mayhem, he having jumped on a decrepit man and kicked a lot of his teeth out. After the prisoner was arrested on this grave charge -- a penitentiary offense -- the generous officer prevailed upon the prosecuting attorney to let him plead guilty to simple assault and pay a nominal fine. Then it became Cawlfield's duty to collect the costs. While the constable was discharging his official duty Van Pelt became offended at him.'

     'Afterwards Cawlfield again arrested Van Pelt on the charge of waylaying and assaulting a preacher named Hinkle with a rock. From this time Van Pelt's enmity became more bitter and increased toward Cawlfield because of the previous arrests, and at different times he made threatening remarks about what he was going to do to Cawlfield until it finally terminated in a shooting affray at Ash Grove last summer. As a result Van Pelt was wounded in the abdomen and for a time it was thought he would die.'

     'The wounded man recovered and Cawlfield was indicted for felonious assault and placed under $2,000 bond to appear at the March term of the criminal court. Cawlfield then returned home to his family at Ash Grove and since that time has been working in the lead mines near town. He has never spoken to Van Pelt since; but at all times tried to avoid meeting him. He has never been known to carry a weapon since the trouble, except a common pocket knife.'

     'On the morning of his death he was en rout to his work and was crossing the street east of Crane's harness ship when Van Pelt stepped out at the back door with a double barreled shot gun loaded with No. 1 buckshot and, without warning, while deceased was walking with his back to him, fired, the first shot striking the back of Cawlfield's neck and head, killing him instantly. One shot passed entirely through the head, coming out just above the left eye. After Cawlfield fell his slayer advanced two or three steps toward him, firing the other load of buckshot into his abdomen and hip. About twenty-two shots entered the body and head.'

     It is rumored in Ash Grove that Van Pelt had been watching in the back part of Crane's harness shop for Cawlfield to pass the way for more than a week prepared with his loaded gun.

     From all that can be learned about the killing so far, it appears to be one of the most dastardly, cold blooded, assassinations that has stained the soil of Greene County since Sarah E. Graham was brutally murdered and the body thrown into an abandoned well on the Molloy farm, four miles west of Springfield, which so enraged the people that one night a mob called at the jail, overpowered the guard and the lifeless body of George E. Graham was found a short time afterward hanging to a tree as a terrible warning.

     The fact that Mr. Robertson will assist in the prosecution is a guarantee that no stone will be left unturned.

Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, March 11, 1894.3

Children of William Owen Cawlfield and Sarah E. Howard

Last Edited=9 Jan 2012


  1. [S2206] Donnelly J. Johnson, Cawlfield Family, online http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/17099031/ (Richardson, Texas: page last updated 2011) viewed on 9 Jan 2012.
  2. [S2204] A. F. Van Pelt, "W. O. Cawlfield Shot Down," Van Bibber Pioneers E-Newsletter vol. 4, no. 10 (August 2001): pp. 4 - 5, held by Kevin Leonard Sholder, Dayton, Ohio, USA.
  3. [S2205] A. F. Van Pelt, "Cawlfield's Slayer Admitted to Bail Without Examination," Van Bibber Pioneers E-Newsletter vol. 4, no. 10 (August 2001): pp. 5 - 6, held by Kevin Leonard Sholder, Dayton, Ohio, USA.