According to Cutler’s History of Kansas, the first death in Halstead occurred on May 25, 1874 when John Ashford “dies with his boots on,” killed in a “difficulty over a claim in the vicinity of Halstead,” Kansas. The death date, however, was actually May 24. Samuel Leeper was an early settler of the Halstead area and, even though he admitted shooting his brother-in-law, he was acquitted of the murder. Ashford was buried north of Halstead in the Quaker cemetery.
A Cold-Blooded Assassination
The community about the peaceful neighborhood of Halstead, twenty-eight miles north of Wichita, in the Mennonite settlement, was startled on holy Sabbath morning last, about the house and near by where was assembled the village Sunday School, at the report of fire-arms and the blood curdling scream of an aged victim, who met his fate by violence from the unerring and death sealing bullet. At the assembling of the neighbors about the prostate form of the dead, it was discovered to be the body of Mr. Ashford, and several who had witnessed the fatal shooting said that for years there had existed a family grudge between the two, when, in some way had been revived a few weeks previous when Leeper ordered Ashford to discontinue his old habit of crossing a corner of his land in going to and returning from Halstead. It seems every Sabbath morning Ashford went to town and was warned by Leeper not to return over this land, at his peril. Ashford responded fiercely, even threateningly, and was crossing the land on his return, in defiance, when Leeper unhooked his carbine from its peg in the house and sent an ounce ball through the neck of his brother-in-law who fell mortally wounded, the ball having severed the jugular vein in a descending direction coming out of the shoulder blade, Leeper being above Ashford on the knoll on which his house stood. These are the particulars as far as we can ascertain. Ashford died immediately. A coroner’s jury were summoned and rendered a verdict of willful murder, in accordance with above facts. They also found upon the person of the dead man a flask of whisky (the most dangerous of the two) and an army revolver. Both men are reported as being desperate, as well as bad characters, and they have been held in fear by the neighborhood. The termination of this terrible affair is yet to be written. (The Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas. Reprinted in The Atchison Daily Champion, Atchison, Kansas. Friday, May 29, 1874. Page 4).
Fatal Shooting Affray
Rev. J. Harris informs us of a fatal shooting affray at Halstead. A difficulty existed between John Ashford and Samuel Leper, arising from a claim which the latter occupied. On Sunday Ashford drove across Leper’s garden. On Monday Leper made some endeavors to have Ashford arrested. Ashford, who was a large and desperate, hearing of this, said he would give Leper just twenty minutes in which to leave that claim; and going to Leper told him the same. He then went home and at once returned with a gun. He was met by Leper also armed with a gun, and who warned him not to come any nearer. Ashford replied that the twenty minutes were about up, whereupon Leper fired, shooting Ashford through the neck and killing him almost immediately. Leper was examined before a magistrate and acquitted. (The Peabody Gazette, Peabody, Kansas. Reprinted in The Emporia Weekly News, Emporia, Kansas. Friday, June 5, 1874. Page 2).