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George Buskirk on Trial for the Murder of Elzie Easton

Blog post by Randi Richardson

After shooting and killing Elzie Easton and gunning down his companion, James Douglass, on Christmas Eve, 1889, George Buskirk, the saloon keeper, escaped through a rear door and headed east to the home of his mother.  He reportedly gave some thought, initially, to turning himself in to the sheriff, or so he said, but feared he might be attacked and killed by a mob.  Instead he got his horse and headed south.

A few days later Elzie’s brothers offered a $50 reward for the “arrest and delivery” of George at the Bloomington jail.  George was described as about 32 years of age with a mustache and sandy complexion, about 6’1” in height, with blue eyes.

On January 8, 1890, the Bloomington Republican Progress reported that George was captured in Sanborn, Knox County, Indiana, at the home of a relative who owned a “little hut on the riverbank.”  Although efforts were made to have the sheriff of Knox County arrest George, he flatly refused to do so.  Soon afterward, a deputy sheriff from Monroe County, along with Wilson, the marshal at Gosport, made for Sanborn.  Upon their arrival, they tried to deputize some of the Sanborn men to assist in the arrest of George.  All said they were “too busy.”  So Wilson went down to the river, slipped quietly up to the hut, pushed a shotgun through the door and commanded George to surrender.

George was sitting by a small stove reading a novel, his trapper kin having gone to Sanborn for “wet goods.”  Taken by surprise, George threw up his hands and was arrested without resistance.  A search of the hut revealed a revolver in George’s pocket and a gun conveniently nearby in a corner of the little room.

courthouse2A month later a large crowd gathered in the Monroe County courthouse to hear the case tried before a jury.  According to a newspaper account of the trial published in the Bloomington Progress on February 5, 1890, the majority of the witnesses were those who testified in the coroner’s investigation.  All had been drinking at the time of the incident and were said to be “still at it” while attending court.

George testified on his own behalf.  He said Elzie, upon his arrival at the saloon, wanted Lee Wampler to treat him to drinks.  Lee didn’t want to and Elzie threatened to shoot him.  George then put Elzie out the door but he came back cursing and demanded beer which George refused to serve.  When Elzie went out again, George reportedly barred the door with a stick of wood.  This prompted Elzie to throw rocks at the door and he could be heard in the street threatening to kill George.  Later that night Elzie got back in along with James Douglass and for a second time demanded to be served.  George refused.  There was a shotgun standing behind the counter.  Elzie said if George drew the gun on him, he would kill him.  Then he drew a revolver and pointed it at George.  This prompted George to fire the gun at Elzie to protect himself.  James was shot by accident.

Most of those at the trial believed that George would be found guilty of manslaughter or else there would be a hung jury.  George even told Sheriff Farr that he wouldn’t be surprised of the jury gave him 15 years.

After the judge read a carefully prepared charge in which the law was clearly set forth as to the citizen’s right to defend his domicile, the case was turned over to the jury.  That was Wednesday evening.  On Thursday morning the jury arrived at their verdict.  “Not guilty.”  A surprise to the majority of the people gathered in courtroom.

Shortly afterward, George gave bond for his appearance at the next term of court to answer for the shooting of Douglass and was set free.  That case came up in September 1890.  After wrestling with the case for a night, the jury brought in a “Guilty” verdict against Buskirk assessing him with a $500 fine for assault.

The next news heard of George was in 1899 when he reportedly killed a native in Central American where he had been working in the timber industry.  His captors, it was said, wanted to burn him at the stake for the foul deed.  William Laughlin added a few new details to the story on page one of the Martinsville Evening Democrat.  According to him, George was tried before a judge who ordered him tied to a tree for safekeeping.  At night, when all had retired and everything quiet, George simply untied the rope and walked away.

Whether or not George was recaptured or made good his escape is not known.  There was no more word of him in the news.