A quarrel over a “bee tree” in Harmony (Frederick County) between two farmers in August 1889 ended with one dead and another on trial for manslaughter.
T.W. Show shot and killed John William Hooper after a confrontation regarding a tree on a neighbor’s property. “…Show found a bee tree in the woods on the land of a Mrs. Gaver,” according to an article in The News. He asked Mrs. Gaver if he could cut it down, and she agreed, even lending him an ax. Show gave her some of the honey in the tree and took the rest.
Hooper was angry when he found out about the incident, claiming he had already found the tree and marked it. “It is an unwritten law in that neighborhood for the finder of a bee tree to claim the honey provided he cuts a certain mark on the tree,” explained The News article.
Show claimed that the tree was not marked and that he had asked Mrs. Gaver, so he was in the right in the matter. He stopped by Hooper’s home one evening shortly after the incident “…and said that if he was in the wrong he would apologize,” according to an account in The News. The men exchanged words that evening.
Then Hooper came by Show’s home another evening wanting to discuss it further and began talking to Show’s wife, who was outside the home. She told him to go home and to stop arguing about the tree. “[Hooper] then became somewhat boisterous and applied some profane language to Mrs. Show,” per the article.
According to accounts of the case, Show heard this exchange and came over to Hooper. Hooper pointed a revolver at Show and threatened to kill him, but Show managed to get him to put his gun away. They started discussing the matter again and Hooper again got angry and pulled his gun. Show went in his home, got his shotgun and told Hooper to leave.
Hooper again relented and put the gun away. But the argument continued, this time between Hooper and Mrs. Show, and “… becoming exasperated, she picked up a stone and threw it at Hooper, which he dodged,” the article claimed.
Hooper then raised his gun at Mrs. Show. Seeing this, Show shot Hooper, who was hit in the head and neck and died almost instantly.
Show turned himself in to the police and was charged with manslaughter. The newspaper interviewed him while he was in jail. “He seemed to be very sad over the affair and said: ‘It was an awful thing to be compelled to do what I did, but I couldn’t stand by and see my wife killed,’” the paper reported Show as saying.
Show pleaded not guilty and was tried in October of the same year. During the trial, the prosecution and defense argued over if and when Hooper had a gun and if and when it was pointed at the Shows. The defense alleged that Hooper was drunk during the incident and witnesses testified that he was mean under the influence of alcohol.
The jury voted six times before reaching a unanimous not guilty. In the first and second ballots, eight voted to acquit and 4 to convict; the third and fourth ballots saw 10 voting to acquit and two voting to convict; the fifth ballot was 11 to acquit and one to convict; and the sixth vote was unanimous.
“As soon as the verdict was announced the wife and children of the traverser rushed towards him, the latter saying, ‘Oh! Papa, I’m so glad you may go home with us tonight. His wife took him in her arms and not only she, but the prisoner and the audience, began to shed tears,” reported The News.
Sources: The News, August 26, 1889, October 23, 1889, October 24, 1889, October 25, 1889