May 7, 1905

The Washington Post from Washington, District of Columbia · Page 37

 

May 19, 1905

The Muskogee Times-Democrat from Muskogee, Oklahoma · Page 3

 

MAINE'S IDIOT COLONY

The Hard Cider Murder--Bangor, Me.

“The hard cider murder, as the killing of William Knights at West Athens last Thursday night is called, has again brought to public notice the colony of paupers and idiots long known in Maine as ‘the Somerset wild men’ and it is probable that an effort will be made to disperse these unfortunates and provide for them in almshouses or other institutions, where they may be comfortably cared for and kept under control. In a barren region of West Athens, Somerset County, are gathered some scores of wretched mortals--paupers and descendants of paupers from several towns of the vicinity, who make a pitiful attempt at farming and are kept from starvation only by assistance from the poor funds of the towns where they belong. The present population is composed almost entirely of two families - the Browns and the Tuttles, whose members have intermarried for generations, with the result of producing monsters and idiots, some harmless and some as dangerous as wild beasts. On Thursday night last, Rufus Brown Jr., aged 20, killed William Knights of Bingham and has since been arrested and has confessed the crime. According to Brown's story, Knights visited the home of the Browns, where, with others, he was entertained with hard cider and other refreshments. Brown became jealous of Knights. He got a loaded shotgun, and fired both barrels at Knights and Mrs. Brown, neither of whom was wounded. Brown then ordered Knights from the premises and as Knights went through the door, struck him upon the head with the stock of the gun, killing him instantly. Knights was fifty-nine years old and leaves a wife and six grown children.

 

Strange Community of Paupers and Degenerates

The oldest pauper of that colony is Jed Brown, who is ninety-five. He was born a pauper on the farm where he now lives. Jed’s son, young Jed and young Jed's children are paupers.

 

Sudden Outbursts of Temper

The people are not vicious except at long intervals. Ordinarily they are tractable and inoffensive, but they have outbursts of temper when molested or annoyed. The court records show that in the past they have troubled the farmers considerably by petty thieving, coming down from the hills and mountains above Brighton, like the Scottish Highlanders to raid the country. They know what the law is, but haven't the strength of mind to resist a good fat sheep or tempting farm products. Abe Brown is the most picturesque of them all. He is about fifty years old, is black, hairy and has been foolish from birth. He is unable to talk, his vocabulary being confined to a few guttural sounds, but he can yell like a wildcat. He has gigantic strength and has been used as a beast of burden for many years. He has frequently been seen pulling ahead of oxen on a break up plow, getting an occasional jab with the goad. He has hauled flour and groceries from Brighton and Athens for years and frequently in winter drags the women of the family down to the village of Brighton, five miles away on a sled. He used to amuse the children in the village by prancing and kicking like a horse. At one time he got it into his head that he must be tied every time that he went to the village to prevent his running away and while the woman he brought to town were trading in the store, he would gnaw the hitching post outside like a horse. He will obey commands implicitly and mischievous people have frequently set the poor chap to tasks which have caused serious results to himself and other people. If anyone, no matter who, has told him to take an article, Abe has picked it up and religiously lugged it home to his mother. He is as easily influenced to deeds of violence.

 

Rushed on Officers with Ax

Some years ago, the authorities of the town of Cornville thought it would be better to support the Browns on the Cornville town farm than in Brighton and so they sent up officers to compel the wholesale exodus of the family. The order caused a mighty uproar. Old and young were panic-stricken. Some of the family informed Abe by signs of what was going on and he fell to blubbering like a great baby, but suddenly one of the women put an ax in his hands, punched him and shouted: "Mow 'em, Abe!" Instantly Abe was transformed into a maniac giant. With fire in his eyes he dashed upon the officers and would assuredly have cut them all up had not someone shot him in the leg. Since then he has had a mortal fear of a gun and will run like a deer if anyone makes believe to take aim at him. The women of the Brown family are not exactly of the clinging variety. When a deputy sheriff of Athens a few years ago went up to the Tuttle borough after some cattle, Mary Tuttle blasted away at him with buckshot and was only driven out of the field by the grit of that officer, who secured the cattle and drove them away before him. It is a dismal region where the wretches exist. Once there were good farms there, but in many places the soil has become rusty and thin. Several farms have been abandoned. Others are occupied by the shiftless people, who care only for bare existence.

 

Land of Exile for Paupers

For four miles along the highway leading toward old Jed Brown's, there are numerous families, but everyone Is supported wholly or in part by some town in which the people have gained a residence. It is as though the region were a land of exile for the paupers. Some of the men are able-bodied and strong, but they lack the faculty of making a living for themselves. The people have been driven back to the outskirts of civilization, beyond the reach of good influences and with the curse of heredity to haunt them and their children. They work on their farms, but whatever stock or crops they produce is sure to be gobbled up by someone with whom they trade and when winter comes on they are destitute. They are invariably worsted in a dicker, but they can't resist the temptation to swap. What to do with the wild men of Somerset is one of the greatest social problems in Maine today. No one seems much interested in its solution, although every year the Christian people of the State contribute liberally to funds for the benefit of heathens in distant lands.”

 

August 20, 1905

St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 5

Special to the Post-Dispatch

 

Prohibition Maine Come Strange Stories of Murdered Man's Spirit

WEST ATHENS, Me., Aug. 19

The little hamlet of West Athens, known in late years as "Happy Hollow," no longer deserves the name. Since the murder of “Old Bill Knights" last spring the place is believed to be haunted. John and "Mittie" Avery, at whose house Bill usually made his headquarters, solemnly swear that Bill has been there since the murder, once dragging the bedclothes off them in the night. Rufus Brown Jr., who is charged with killing Knights, says he sees "Old Bill most every night," but adds: "I hain’t afraid of him." Others in the valley tell the same story and agree that "Bill" appears in his nightly visits to Happy Hollow just as he looked after death, head broken in and blood and each usually adds: "I hain't 'fraid of him. I never done nuthin' to him." But it is evident to all who talk with them that the residents of Happy Hollow are in mortal terror of the ghost of "Old Bill Knights”.

 

SOMERSET COUNTY – STATE vs. RUFUS BROWN, JR.

“On the evening of April 20, 1905, at Athens, Somerset county, William Knights was assaulted and killed. Investigation disclosed that the affair took place in the neighborhood known as “Happy Hollow” in said Athens and some twelve or fifteen miles from Skowhegan. It was discovered at once that the deceased was undoubtedly killed by Rufus Brown, Jr. Brown was arrested and at the preliminary hearing in the municipal court in at Skowhegan, April 26, 1905 was held to await the action of the grand jury at the September term following.

 

Brown claimed that Knights was in his (Brown’s) house and in compromising relations with his (Brown’s) wife. Brown went to a neighboring house, obtained a gun, returned to his home, shot at the house and as Knights was coming out of the door, assaulted him with the gun, clubbing him so as to cause the latter’s death.

 

Possibly the evidence might have justified an indictment for murder but after a thorough investigation and consideration of the case by the county attorney and the grand jury, the grand jury evidently thought it best to return an indictment for manslaughter, the county attorney apparently having the assurance that the respondent would plead guilty to the charge. Accordingly, at the September term, 1905, Brown was indicted for manslaughter, arraigned and pleaded guilty. On the 28th day of September 1905, he was sentenced to twenty years in State prison to which he was committed October 6th, 1905.”

 

 

Views: 71

Comment by Julie on May 5, 2018 at 4:43pm
Thank you for posting this story. I looked for more news clippings about Rufus Jr and found more yellow journalistic coverage in the Bath Independent and the Kennebec Journal. How much did these reporters embellish this story, I wonder?

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