Sunday, December 4, 2011

Doc Middleton and the Niobrara River Settlers

A follow-up to Susan Ingraham's information:
We know from history that for a number of years Nebraska's Niobrara River area was the home territory for many horse thieves, including the notorious D.C. "Doc" Middleton.  The terrain made the area ideal for hiding.  Vigilante committees were formed to hunt down anyone who seemed even slightly suspicious.  As a result, neighbors sometimes would suspect neighbors and any little action suddenly became the grounds for accusations.
It was said that Newt Turpin, as well as other neighbors, stayed "on friendly terms" with Middleton.  Rock and Brown County were sparsely settled and people had to depend on one another.  If someone wanted to steal your horses, they could.  If they wanted to be good to you, they could.  The law was too far away to act as a referee.  Harold Hutton’s book The Luckiest Outlaw (The Luckiest Outlaw: The Life and Legends of Doc Middleton, Harold Hutton, Lincoln: Bison Books, 1992) explains that the settlers in northern Nebraska were aware that Doc expected friendliness and frequently could be good-hearted in return.  Hutton also described how the Tienken brothers, Holt County’s German settlers, did not have the right attitude and suffered at the hands of Doc and his friends.
It was told in our family that Middleton occasionally would come to the Turpins’ to stay the night or get a hot meal.  Newt considered it a preventative measure, as he prized his twelve horses and didn't want them stolen.  His livelihood as a freighter between O'Neill and South Dakota depended on his animals.
So it would be interesting to know more details of this incident.  I remember my mom (Letha Turpin Stewart) telling that her grandfather was killed by horsethieves.  After talking with others in the family, the story was that Goochey thought Newt Turpin was a horsethief.  I've looked for other news articles in other newspapers on microfilm at the Nebraska State Historical Society but so far have found nothing to shine more light on the topic.

Louis Goochey had filed for a homestead but then appeared to have abandoned his claim after this incident.  In the 1900 census he is found in Greeley County, Nebraska with his family.  After reading Harold Hutton's book, I have some sympathy for Goochey -- it was a test of one's fortitude to homestead in this country.
This story was passed down in our family about Doc Middleton and Mary Ellen Leonard Turpin.
It happened that one day the Turpin children were out for some good-natured fun.  They would run up and knock on the door to their home, then run and hide.  Mary Ellen their mother would answer the door and find no one there. Then a short while later it would happen again.  This continued on until finally, her patience dwindling, Mary Ellen threatened that she'd take a broom to the next one who knocked on the door.
It was no surprise to her when before very long she heard the next knock at the door.  Broom in hand, she threw open the door and clobbered, not one of her children, but Doc Middleton.  So much for staying on friendly terms with outlaws.

1884 Nebraska Map - Mariaville is close to the Turpin homestead

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