Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Walter Bradt Shooting at Furnessville, 1883

Sensational stories published in newspapers prior to 1900 frequently provide entertaining reading material. Grandiose language, inferences based on either incomplete facts, distorted facts, or no facts altogether commonly appear in news items.

Oftentimes, the a newspaper would not "allege" that a person did something - they, in fact, did it. Individuals were often quickly found guilty in the court of public opinion long before the alleged perpetrator ever reached trial, largely based on reports published in the community newspaper. The Fourth Estate, the press, had profound impacts on legal cases. But a good story sold newspapers. The Walter Bradt Murder at Furnessville in 1883 is no exception.

Front page headline of the Walter Bradt death in Furnessville,
Porter County, Indiana, contained in the Michigan City Dispatch
published in Michigan City, LaPorte County, Indiana.
Source: Michigan City Dispatch, December 20, 1883.

On December 20, 1883, the Michigan City Dispatch published news of the death of Walter Bradt on its front page, citing it as "A FOUL MURDER." Under the subheading "THE FACTS, the article relates what supposedly occurred in Furnessville at approximately 9:00 pm on Saturday, December 15, 1883.

The day following the death of Walter Bradt, December 16, Dayton Clark was interviewed at the Porter County Jail in Valparaiso by a reporter from the Michigan City Dispatch. Clark stated that he was 36 years old and born at Grand Island, Erie County, New York. He indicated that he had been married, but his wife had died earlier in the year on June 14, leaving Dayton to raise an 18-month old daughter.

Dayton declared that Walter Bradt was his brother-in-law and that his sister, Sarah Anne Clark, and Walter had moved to Furnessville in 1855 soon after they had married in Canada. Dayton informed the reporter that he had resided in the home of Walter and Sarah since 1874. He also stated that "I never had any trouble with him [Walter Bradt] until last night [December 15, 1883]."

On the morning of December 15, Dayton and his brother-in-law ventured to nearby Michigan City. The two men spent most of the day drinking, Dayton admitting that they drank until they were very intoxicated.

At 5:30 pm the two men began their journey home and arrived at Bradt's Furnessville farm around 7:00 pm. Upon arrival, Walter requested that Dayton jump off the wagon and open the gate. Dayton did as he was requested and then got back onto the wagon. When Walter was about 30 feet from the house, he fell off the wagon, apparently due to his intoxication.

After falling from the wagon, Walter asked that Dayton drive the team of horses to the stable.  Thus, Dayton unhitched and stabled the horses while Walter proceeded to enter the house. Dayton told the reporter that:
After I put up the horses I went to the house and found he [Walter] and his wife [Sarah] having some words, and I tried to quiet them, but failed. Suddenly, he caught hold of her, throwing her upon the bed, breaking the slats, and completely pulled her hair out by the roots from one side of her head. I remonstrated, when he jumped for me swearing that he would massacre me. I knew him to be a dangerous man when in liquor, and fearing that he would take my life, I drew a revolver which I had taken to town to sell, but failed to do so, and fired, the ball entering the left eye. This was about 7:15 p. m. and he died at 8 p. m. He was never conscious after the ball entered his eye. Dr. Mullen was sent for but arrived too late to be of any service. Deputy Sheriff McNulty accompanied him and placed me under arrest, and brought me to this city [Valparaiso].
Sarah Bradt's statements concerning the circumstances and events of the evening were nearly identical to those made by her brother Dayton. Sarah said that she "noticed that her husband was out of temper, and suddenly he grasped her and threw her upon the bed in a most violent and rude manner, falling upon her with his whole weight."

Sarah recalled that Dayton was sitting behind the stove when she was thrown upon the bed and that he had told Walter that it was "not right to treat his wife in such a manner." According to Sarah, her husband scolded Dayton, telling him "Shut up you son of a bitch," whereupon Dayton went to his overcoat, withdrew a revolver from it, and sat back down behind the stove. Sarah reported that Walter then got up off the bed and moved in Dayton's direction telling him that "twenty men with revolvers couldn't scare him." It was at this point that Dayton shot Walter; Walter immediately dropped to the floor.

Soon after the shooting, Dr. Alexander J. Mullen, a Michigan City physician, was called for to assist in reviving Walter. LaPorte County Deputy Sheriff Patrick McNulty arrived with the physician at the Bradt's Furnessville home, but Walter was already dead.

LaPorte Deputy Sheriff McNulty proceeded to deliver Dayton Clark to Porter County Sheriff Charles W. Dickover at the Porter County Jail. McNulty and Clark first traveled from Furnessville to Westville where they stopped for dinner. McNulty reported that Clark was silent the entire trip, uttering but one word. McNulty did not handcuff Clark until Clark became very nervous about one mile from entering Valparaiso.

A large crowd had congregated outside the jail to catch a glimpse of the alleged murderer. When Clark was jailed he "broke down completely, crying bitterly, and turning deathly pale." After regaining his composure, Clark asked to speak to Deputy Sheriff Elias N. Thomas, whom he had known for many years.

Deputy Sheriff Thomas later stated the he knew both Dayton Clark and Walter Bradt for a long time and that Clark was a "good and honest man in every respect," while Bradt had "always been regarded as a very bad man." Thomas' statement was likely to be very important as it pertained to Dayton's case. Elias N. Thomas' father, William Thomas, platted the town of Calumet (later renamed Chesterton) and Elias was held in very high regard in the northern portion of the county.

On Sunday, December 16, the day following the murder, an inquest was held at 3:00 pm by the Porter County Coroner, Dr. Andrew P. Letherman, at the scene of the incident in Furnessville. The inquest took little time to conduct. Evidence that was presented at the inquest was nearly identical to statements previously given by Sarah (Clark) Bradt and Dayton Clark. The verdict rendered at the inquest stated that Dayton Clark had shot and killed Walter Bradt after Bradt had become violent toward Sarah Bradt.

Walter Bradt was described as a "heavy, thick set man, not to exceed five feet six inches in height and weighing fully 180 pounds. His complexion was sandy, and his looks were far from being prepossessing." 

Dayton Clark was described by the reporter from the Michigan City Dispatch as being of "slight build, five feet five inches high, very dark complexion and possessing hardly ordinary intelligence. He is inoffensive looking, and one that would hardly be picked out for a murderer."

On December 24, Dayton Clark was arraigned for the murder of Walter Bradt. He was assigned "good counsel" by the court due to being penniless, and his sister reportedly promised to defend her brother against the charge of murder. Clark and his sister would maintain that he acted in self defense when he shot Walter Bradt.

On February 11, 1884, the following item appeared in The Indianapolis News:
Dayton Clark, who committed a murder in Pine township, Porter county, early in January, and has been confined in the Valparaiso jail, has become insane, and will be sent to the asylum instead of standing trial for murder.
There is no evidence to suggest that Dayton was transferred to the state's insane asylum. 

Dayton's trial for the murder of his brother-in-law began at 2:00 pm on March 12, 1884, at the Porter County Courthouse.

The Porter County Vidette reported in its March 13, 1884, issue that the jury was quickly empaneled and that after the jury members were sworn that "the prosecution opened the case. The prosecution examined all the state's witnesses and rested. Johnson, attorney for defendant, has 2 more witnesses to examine. The defense is insanity. The case is expected to go to the jury sometime to-day."

A week later, the verdict of Dayton Clark's trial was published in the Porter County Vidette:
The jury of the case of Dayton Clark for the murder of his brother-in-law, Walter Bradt, after being out 15 hours, returned the following verdict:

We the jury find the defendant guilty of manslaughter, and we fix his punishment at imprisonment in the state prison for the period of three years and six months.


The council for the defense sought to prove the defendant insane, but this had no weight on the jury whatsoever. Clark took no interest in the proceedings against him, and was very sullen throughout the trial. When he received his sentence he showed no signs of emotion, not seeming to care whether it was acquittal or hanging. His sister, Mrs. Bradt, throughout her testimony, seemed trying to shield Clark, and tried to show that the shooting was done in self defense and that he got into the trouble on her behalf. Clark will be taken to the prison at Michigan City to-morrow.
Immediately following Clark's conviction for manslaughter, there was banter traded between the editors of the Westville Indicator and the Porter County Vidette. The editor of the Indicator questioned why Clark's conviction was for manslaughter rather than murder and why Clark was sentenced to serve only three years in the state penitentiary. He kindly requested a response from the editor of the Vidette.

The genesis of these ribbing statements was due to remarks that the editor of the Vidette had published several months previous to Clark's conviction criticizing the apparently light justice taking place in LaPorte County courtrooms. Specifically, the Vidette editor was extremely critical of the two year sentence that Leo Martin received for murdering August Groehler (erroneously published in the Vidette as Gust Radke) in LaPorte County.

Unfortunately, the editors' comments published within the pages of their respective newspapers seems to have made a mockery of the Dayton Clark case, as well as failed to recognize that Dayton Clark was either suffering from mental illness or had an intellectual disability leading him to be cognitively deficient.

Dayton Clark began serving his sentence in the state prison at Michigan City on March 15, 1884, less than three miles from the location of the incident. He was released from the prison on January 14, 1887. Upon his release, he began working as a laborer on various farms in the northern portion of Porter County. Tragically, Dayton died at the age of 52 as the result of heatstroke on July 9, 1897; his death was reported in the July 17, 1897, issue of The Westchester Tribune, as follows:
Dayton Clark, a farm hand in the employ of Robert Johnson, the milkman, was overcome by the intense heat on Friday of last week while working in a hay field, and died fifteen minutes after he first fell. Clark was 52 years old, and unmarried. He had been in the employ of Mr. Johnson for four and one-half years, and was a hardworking man. He was mentally deficient, his mind being affected, and was subject to dizzy spells. Notwithstanding, he was entrusted with duties of responsibility, and always proved trustworthy. The funeral was held Sunday.
The newspaper notice concerning Dayton's death makes no mention of the Walter Bradt incident. However, it repeats facts that were stated during Dayton's trial; namely, that Dayton was "mentally deficient" - perhaps insane. At the time of Dayton's imprisonment, the State of Indiana had not yet introduced psychiatric treatment into the state's penal system. Thus, during his incarceration, Dayton received no psychiatric care. It is very doubtful that the prison environment provided relief for Dayton's condition; rather, it likely exacerbated his inability to function normally.

It is assumed that when Dayton died that he was poor. No records can be found indicating his location of burial. It is likely, however, that he was interred in either the Chesterton Cemetery or the Furnessville Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Bradt and Clark Genealogies
Walter Bradt was born in Canada about 1830, the son of Walter Andries Arentse Bradt and Elizabeth (Wemple) Bradt. Walter had at least two brothers, these being Butler Bradt (b. 1833 in Ontario, Canada) and Jacob Bradt (b. 1837).
Walter married Sarah Anne Clark in 1855.

Walter and Sarah Bradt were residing in Pine Township in Porter County, Indiana, as early as June 3, 1863, as Walter appears of an enumeration of men "subject to military duty in the Ninth Congressional District of the Counties of Lake and others, State of Indiana."

Civil War draft registration record listing
Walter Bradt, enumerated June 1863.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
Record Group 110, Identifier 4213514.

Eventually, Walter was drafted into service during the Civil War. He served for a few months as a private in Company A of the 35th Indiana Regiment Infantry, commonly referred to as the "First Irish" and "Fighting Irish" due to the large number of Irish-Americans serving in the Regiment. Bradt mustered into the service on January 16, 1865, at LaPorte, LaPorte County, Indiana, and mustered out on June 2, 1865.

After he was killed by Dayton Clark in 1883, Walter was interred in the Furnessville Cemetery; a Civil War veteran tombstone marks his burial location. Walter's tombstone was ordered on July 8, 1887, and manufactured by Sheldon & Sons of West Rutland, Rutland County, Vermont.

Record card for Walter Bradt's headstone provided
for deceased Union Civil War veterans.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
Record Group 92, Microfilm M1845.

Interestingly, Walter Bradt had filed a claim for an invalid pension on October 27, 1883, seven weeks prior to being dispatched by Dayton Clark (Application No. 498609). Former Union veterans of the Civil War could obtain a pension from the federal government if they could prove that they were invalid due to circumstances related to their service during the war. Hence, at some point during Walter's 20 weeks of service as a private in the Civil War, he apparently suffered some form of injury that impaired his ability to earn a full living in 1883.

On March 26, 1884, soon after Dayton's conviction for manslaughter, his sister, Sarah Bradt, filed for a widow's pension from the federal government (Application No. 314022), which she was entitled to receive due to Walter's service in the Civil War.

Hattie Minnie Bradt was born to Walter and Sarah on September 27, 1867, presumably in or near Furnessville.

Walter Bradt appears in the 1870 Federal Census enumeration for Westchester Township in Porter County, Indiana, as a 37 year old born in Canada employed as a "saw mill hand." He was likely employed by Henry R. McDonald, who owned extensive timberland holdings in the Furnessville area and operated a sawmill there for many years. Sarah Bradt is described in the same census as a 30 year old born in Canada, while his daughter "Hetty" is described as being 3 years of age and born in Indiana.

Ten years later, Walter Bradt appears in the 1880 Federal Census enumeration for Pine Township in Porter County, Indiana. In this census, he is listed as a 50 year old day laborer. He is residing with his 40 year old wife, Sarah A. Bradt, and his 13 year old daughter "Hettie." The census indicates that both Walter and Sarah were born in Canada and that their daughter was born in Indiana.

It is unknown when Sarah Ann (Clark) Bradt passed away. Some genealogists list her date of death as June 30 or July 1, 1915, as a death certificate issued by the state of Indiana exists for a Sarah Bratt who died in 1915 in LaPorte County. This Sarah Bratt from LaPorte County, however, is not Sarah Bradt from Furnessville, as the maiden name of LaPorte's Sarah Bratt was Goodwin.

Sarah Bradt may be buried in the Furnessville Cemetery; if she is, then her grave is currently unmarked.

Walter's daughter Hattie Minnie Bradt married Charles James Packer on September 20, 1887. Together, Charles and Hattie were the parents of five daughters and two sons. Their children were:
  • William Packer - b. August 5, 1888, at Diller, Jefferson County, Nebraska; d. December 5, 1888
  • Hettie May Packer - b. January 6, 1890, at Diller, Jefferson County, Nebraska; d. January 1, 1919, at Odell, Gage County, Nebraska
  • John James Packer - b. March 1, 1893, at Diller, Jefferson County, Nebraska; married Etta Mae Pelton on September 7, 1920, at Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska
  • Margaret Ada Packer - b. November 29, 1896, at Diller, Jefferson County, Nebraska
  • Nettie Ella Packer - b. January 20, 1899; married Fredrick Edward Iwohn on October 5, 1920
  • Cora Ethel Packer - b. August 3, 1901, at Beloit, Mitchell County, Kansas
  • Nellie Ann Packer - b. February 11, 1905, at Gage County, Nebraska; married Floyd Coons on February 11, 1926; d. June 22, 1991, at Belleville, Republic County, Kansas
In 1930, Charles and Hattie were residing at Midland, Mitchell County, Kansas.

Charles J. Packer died on November 22, 1932, at Belleville, Republic County, Kansas. Hattie Minnie (Bradt) Parker died shortly thereafter on December 9, 1934.

Very little genealogical information can be found concerning Dayton Clark. Various sources suggest that Dayton Clark was born between 1845 and 1850. Following the murder of Walter Bradt, Dayton informed a reporter that he was born in Grand Island, Erie County, New York. However, census data conflicts with Dayton's statement and suggests that he may have been born in Canada. Note that Erie County, New York, is situated along the Canadian border.

The 1880 Federal Census for Westchester Township, Porter County, Indiana, shows that Dayton Clark was living in the Edwin Leigh Furness household; the community of Furnessville was named after Edwin. This census lists Dayton as a 30 year old born in Canada and employed as a farm worker. Apparently, Dayton had not yet married when the 1880 census was taken.

Some newspaper reports concerning the death of Walter Bradt mention that Dayton Clark was a widower, his wife passing away on June 14, 1883, leaving him with a daughter born in 1882. An extensive search through a wide variety of genealogical records, however, fails to lead to an identification of Dayton's wife and child. It is conceivable that the newspaper reports were factually incorrect, a contention that is supported by the fact that Dayton's death notice states that "Clark was 52, and unmarried." The death notice also fails to mention a daughter or any prior marriage.

On the other hand, a death notice for a Lillie Clark of Chesterton appeared in the August 3, 1882, issue of the Porter County Vidette, as follows:
The sad intelligence reached us on last Sunday of the death of Mrs. Lillie Clark, of Chesterton. Her many friends of this place extend their heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved husband and relatives in this their hour of sorrow.
Another notice was published the following week in the Porter County Vidette (August 10, 1882), presumably for Lillie Clark. This death notice reads:
It becomes our painful duty to chronicle the death of one of our most esteemed and honored citizens. Mrs. Clark departed this live on Saturday, July 29th. She leaves a child, husband and many friends to mourn their loss. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. Knapp and the remains were conveyed to the Chesterton cemetery.
No burial record exists for Lillie Clark in the Chesterton Cemetery. To add to the confusion, a Lillie Beck is buried in this cemetery who died on the exact date as Lillie Clark, as reported in the Porter County Vidette. Furthermore, a Lillie Beck married Oliver W. Clark on May 1, 1881, in Chesterton, with Reverend John Smith of the Methodist Episcopal Church officiating the marriage.

Is Lillie Beck the Lillie Clark mentioned in the newspaper death notice? Was Lillie Beck the wife of Dayton Clark? Was Dayton Clark also referred to as Oliver W. Clark? And who was the child of Dayton Clark?

Source Material

Baldasty, Gerald J. 1992. The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. 240 p.

Dicken-Garcia, Hazel, 1989. Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. 343 p.

Newspapers (listed by date of publication)
Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 3, 1882; Volume 26, Number 31, Page 1, Column 5. Column titled "The County, Furnessville."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 10, 1883; Volume 26, Number 32, Page 8, Column 1. Column titled "The County. Chesterton."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; February 22, 1883; Volume 27, Number 8, Page 1, Column 4. Column titled "The County. Furnessville."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; February 22, 1883; Volume 27, Number 8, Page 1, Column 6. Column titled "August Grockler."

The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; December 17, 1883; Volume 43, Page 6, Column 3. Column titled "Indiana. Farm Murder."

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio; December 17, 1883; Volume 41, Number 351, Page 4, Column 7. Column titled "Domestic Tragedy. An Indiana Farmer Killed by His Brother-in-law -- Self-Defense Alleged."

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania; December 17, 1883; Volume 53, Number 34, Page 1, Column 8. Column titled "A Brutal Husband Killed."

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin; December 17, 1883; Volume 16, Number 286, Page 1, Column 1. Column titled "Avenges His Sister."

Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, Washoe County, Nevada; December 17, 1883; Volume 16, Number 66, Page 2, Column 3. Column titled "Brotherly Attention."

Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Sacramento, Sacramento County, California; December 17, 1883; Volume 18, Number 100, Page 2, Column 3. Column titled "Brutal Husband Killed by His Wife's Brother."

The Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Porter County, Indiana; December 19, 1883; Volume 29, Number 46, Page 4, Column 4. Column titled "Killed His Brother-in-Law."

Michigan City Dispatch, Michigan City, LaPorte County, Indiana; December 20, 1883; Page 1, Column 5. Column titled "A Foul Murder. Killing of Walter Bratt by Dayton Clark, His Brother-in-Law. Pine Township, Porter County, the Scene of the Tragedy, and Saturday Night the Time."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; December 20, 1883; Volume 27, Number 51, Page 2, Column 3. Column titled "Shot by His Brother-in-Law."

Westville Indicator, Westville, LaPorte County, Indiana; December 20, 1883; Volume 2 Number 32, Page 1, Column 4. Untitled column.

The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana; February 11, 1884; Volume 4, Number 57, Page 3, Column 3. Column titled "State News."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; March 13, 1884; Volume 28, Number 11, Page 5, Column 4. Untitled column.

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; March 13, 1884; Volume 28, Number 11, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Latest Local Items."

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; March 20, 1884; Volume 28, Number 12, Page 4, Column 1. Untitled column.

Westville Indicator, Westville, LaPorte County, Indiana; March 20, 1884; Volume 2, Number 45, Page 1, Column 6. Untitled column.

Porter County Vidette, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; March 20, 1884; Volume 28, Number 12, Page 7, Columns 1-2. Column titled "Sentenced."

The Westchester Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; July 17, 1897; Volume 14, Number 14, Page 5, Column 5. Column titled "Porter Pointers."

© 2016 Steven R. Shook. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Hi Steve - fascinating article! We are related to the Bradt family. To long of a story to relate here. Where did you get Walter's father and mother's names? We have traced a Walter Bradt with the same parents from Ontario CA, and think he ended up in Corrine UT in 1872. Possibly the brother you mention as Butler in this article. Thanks Steve & Vera - Lander, WY

  2. The parents of Walter Bradt were determined through a family genealogy posted on Date and location of Walter's birth was based on census data.