James Madison Evans
Madison Evans: A Life That Leaves Many Questions
The story of Madison Evans is one mixed with success and sadness. Rise in personality and prestige can often be overclouded by events that are brought about by things either done to them or events of their own making. Historians quell with shyness at attempting to record much more than the events as they unfolded. The sudden and tragic end of the life of the object of this brief sketch will perhaps leave many with questions concerning his death that will never be satisfactorily answered. Nonetheless the facts remain that one of the most respected preachers, educators, historian authors, lawyers, and elected officials of his day, left this life only to be quickly closeted because of accusations made against him that surrounded his sudden demise.
Madison Evans was born October 24, 1834 in Warrick County, in southwestern Indiana. He was a serious student, and reached the high level of education having been conferred upon with the degrees of A.B., A.M. and LL.B. He served the church of Christ and his community in many and mult-faceted ways. In 1859 he became principal of the Preparatory and English School of Northwestern University (now Butler University) in Indianapolis, Indiana. He served as a tutor in Wisconsin State University, and for a time was principal of a school in New Albany, Indiana.
Madison Evans married Lucinda M. Batterton of Bloomington, Indiana on August 26, 1857.
In 1862 a book was released by the J Challen & Sons Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, having been authored by the subject of this sketch. The book, entitled, *Biographical Sketches Of The Pioneer Preachers of Indiana, included the biographical sketches of twenty-five pioneer preachers from the state of Indiana. The sketches were extensively researched, and presented in such a way as to leave the reader with a very familiar knowledge of the life and person of each character. The volume survives to this day as one of the most important primary sources of information concerning the earliest work of the Restoration Movement in the Hoosier State.
Around the time of the book's release, Evans and his family were living in Bedford, Indiana. The historian was also a member of the Christian church in that city. Though he occasionally made talks there, he was not considered the preacher of the congregation. His work was both as a practicing attorney, and he taught many of the town's children as principal and teacher in the local school. A newspaper article dated January, 3, 1866, just a few weeks before his death says the following: "Prof. Madison Evans, of the law firm of Evans and Dunn, has been appointed Commissioner of the U.S. District Court. No better selection could have been made." (Bedford Independent, 1.3.1866, p.3).
One of his students was a fourteen year old girl by the name of Helen Newland. She was the daughter of Dr. Benjamin and Louisa Newland. The Newland family were members of the Christian Church where Evans attended. Society in Bedford as well as the entire state of Indiana was deeply aware of both Dr. Benjamin F. Newland and Madison Evans as they both held public attention in their given fields of profession. Their relationship came to a very sad and explosive end March 5, 1866. According to Dr. Newland, he was made aware that day that his daughter Helen, now about 17 or 18 years of age, had been violated by Professor Evans. She further claimed that he had been doing so since she was fourteen years old when she was one of his students. This news left the doctor enraged. He was later heard to say, "I don't see how that infernal Evans and I can live in the same world." Very shortly thereafter, he murdered Evans in the streets of Bedford under the darkness of night. When the case later went to trial, the Doctor pleaded temporary insanity. As a result he never spent any time in prison. More information on the trial is available here.
The aftermath of the incident took its toll on both families as well as the community and entire state of Indiana. The shock rang throughout the country, being reported in newspapers across the land. The sadness is that the murder left a man accused of a crime against which he would never be able to defend. Hence, the certainty of the accusations will never be known. Whether false or true, so many people were hurt, and the honor of a man who did so much to help preserve some of the most important historical information of restoration history in Indiana will forever be tainted.
Upon the cruel death of J. Madison Evans, his body was laid to rest in a cemetery, presumably in Bedford, Lawrence County. Just recently a note was found in the Bedford paper from that period stating that the funeral took place in the Bedford Cemetery. Commodore Cauble noted in his volume on the Disciples in Indiana that he had visited the grave once, and that the slab bears the words, "Madison Evans, My Husband. Judge Not Harshly, God Judges Mercifully." This record is all that survives, as the stone does not appear to have survived. It is thought that someone sympathetic to the players involved in the event either stole or destroyed the marker, forever losing the location of the gravesite of Madison Evans. Death records back to the time have been lost as well. Thus, it may never be known with certainty where the burial site of Madison Evans is located.
Historians today are known to dress in 1860's clothing, and tell the story at public gatherings in the Greenhill cemetery where Dr. Newland and his family are buried. This story has become a part of historical lore in that region of Indiana.
Men of Faith And Action
Madison Evans. Very little has come down to the present generation concerning Madison Evans. He taught English in North Western Christian University. Later, because of the Civil War cutting down the teaching force he went to Bedford and became superintendent of schools. A little later he entered a law praternership with Moses F. Dunn. He was a very brilliant man. He is the author of The Pioneer Preachers, published in 1862. His life ended on March 6, 1866, in one of the most shocking tragedies that ever happened in southern Indiana. Judge Robert N. Palmer who is living at Bedford today was the first man to reach him after his untimely death. He took the author to the grave recently and gave him the story. The widow had erected a slab stone at the head bearing the words, "Madison Evans, My Husband. Judge Not Harshly, God Judges Mercifully."
Source: Cauble, Commodore Wesley. Disciples of Christ in Indiana: Achievements of a Century. Indianapolis: Meigs Publishing, 1930, page 202.
The Murder Of Mat. Evans
A correspondent of the Indianapolis Herald, writing from Bedford, under date of the 13th inst., gives the following additional particulars of the murder of Mat. Evans:
"Although the town is full of the wildest rumors, I am able to glean but little that is new, and at the same time authentic, in regard to the terrible affair. Pr. Ben. Newland, who is personally known to many of your readers, is a large, portly man, with a fair, florid complexion, thin nose, a little aquiline in its formation, a little bald on the forehead, which gives that feature the appearance of unusual height, he wears a full beard and moustache, dark brown in color, and slightly tinged with grey. His countenance, though composed in appearance, bears the impress of the dreadful experience of the past ten days. His daughter. Miss Helen Newland, whose prospects in life have been thus cruelly blasted, is described as a fine looking, intelligent and amiable young lady of eighteen. She had graduated at the St. Agnes Institute, Terre Haute, having been thoroughly educated in the usual branches, she was completing her studies of music, I believe, at the .same institution, up to the time when her unfortunate situation rendered her retirement necessary. A letter, written by Evans to Miss Newland, and sent to Terre Haute, failed to reach her, was remailed to Bedford, and is now in the hands of the defense, and will be offered in testimony. The letter is eight or nine pages of note paper in length, and in it Evans hopes to make an arrangement sometime in May to protect Miss N.'s character. What is the nature of the "arrangement" is not shown.—Evans also assures Miss N. that her father suspects nothing, and says that under pretense of borrowing a book, he had gone to Newland's house, for the purpose of ascertaining if his suspicions had been aroused.
Madison Evans is described as a man not particularly striking in his personal appearance, but smooth spoken, oily and insinuating in his manner. He was a member of the Christian church, in good standing up to the time of his elopement with Mrs. Johnson, a couple of months since.—Although formerly in the habit of exhorting occasionally, he never was a preacher in the church. As a politician he was violent and bitter in denunciation of his opponents, and had considerable reputation among the Republicans as a public speaker, having been an elector on the Lincoln ticket in 1861. His wife is described as an amiable and intelligent woman, highly educated, and, though apparently timid and reserved in deportment, really a lady of considerable force of character, Her maiden name was Batterton, and Evans married her in Bloomington. Having adhered to the fortunes of the deceased, with unreasoning fidelity and love, throughout his previous difficulties, she is now almost heart broken.
Evans lived on the hill, about one fourth of a mile north of town. After calling at the house, on the fatal night, Newland started back to town, and met Evans at the foot of the hill. There were no witnesses, but parties living near are reported to have heard the challenge, the reply, the shooting, the voice of the dying man, imploding to be allowed to go home to die, the frantic imprecations of the avenger, and the death struggle which ensued. There is a great deal of wild talk about this matter, which is not sufficiently authentic to bear repetition,
Mrs. Evans is said to have suspected nothing from Dr. Newland's visit, and did not hear the shot in the hollow, below the house. The first intimation she is said to have had of anything wrong, was a visit about nine o'clock from Elder Mathes, accompanied by some few female friends. Knowing that the unusual visit portended evil tidings of some sort, Mrs. E. first thought; that her father, who had been quite sick, was dead, and her first exclamation was, ‘My God, is father dead?’ She was told that it was worse—that Dr. Newland had killed her husband Frantic with grief, horror stricken, the woman's love of the woman still clung to the unworthy man who had brought shame upon her, and disgrace to another happy household, and she entreated, them to bring the body to the house. In the meantime the lifeless and mangled remains of the libertine were taken to his office, washed, cleansed of its blood stains, and dressed, so as to present a less ghastly appearance.—The dreadful gashes in the throat, were sewn up, and his cravat so arranged as to hide the wound, in which condition he was taken home.
There is some difference of opinion as to whether Newland fired one or two shots. At any rate, one shot took effect in the side, just above the hip, passing though the intestines, and lodging under the skin on the other side, inflicting a mortal wound. There is another wound in one of the arms, believed by some to have been a pistol shot. In addition, there was a heavy gash on the chin, and two others, frightful in extent in the throat—one below the chin, as if the knife had been struck through just back of the artery and ripped out, and another of the same character lower down. One of the hands was cut to the bone, as if the dying man had grasped the knife, and there were also numerous small stabs in the back of the neck and shoulders. The knife used was a long, two edged, and sharp instrument, called by surgeons a catling, and used in operating. It is a fearful instrument in the hands of a determined man, but so highly tempered as to be, liable to break, as did this one.
About ten o'clock this morning Dr. Newland was brought into court for trial, A great amount of legal talent is arrayed on each side, and there are plenty of means at the command of the prosecution, as well as the defense. The prisoner is represented by A. B Carlton, T. R. Cobb, N. F. Malott, E. D. Pearson, A. C, Voris, and D. W. Short, of Bedford; Col, Dick Thompson, Governor Dunning, Judge James L. Hanna, and Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham. It is also thought the Hon. Daniel W. Voorhees will be retained. For the prosecution, appears Moses Dunn, of Bedford, partner of Evans; District Attorney Thomas M. Brown, General Morton C. Hunter, and Jonathan W. Gordon, of this city.: Hosts of witnesses have been summoned, including most of the young ladies of Bedford,
The court room was crowded with excited spectators, when Mr. Cobb arose and presented an affidavit of the prisoner, supported by the affidavit of numerous citizens, alleging that such a feeling existed in the community that the prisoner could not get an impartial trial, and asking for a change of venue. The most profound stillness prevailed dur ing the reading of the affidavit. Judge Bicknell, after taking the matter under advisement, decided that the affidavit of the defendant alone was justification for granting the demand, and accordingly changed the venue to Floyd county, fixing Tuesday, the 8th day of May, as the day for trial, Washington county was at first suggested, as it was understood that both prosecution and defense were anxious for a speedy trial, but there being already two murder cases already in "Washington counter, Floyd was finally accepted—that being the last county of the circuit, so that the case may be continued by adjournment until the case is finished.—The defendant was admitted to bail in the sum of $40,000.
As evidenced by the application for change Of venue, there is a strong feeling in Lawrence county against Dr. Newland.— Unfortunately the affair has assumed something of a political, cast, both men having been very strong partisans. The trial, -when it comes off it will be hotly contested, and no effort will be spared on the part of the prosecution to compass a conviction, if it is possible to conflict a man tinder such circumstances.
-The Gazette, Worthington, Indiana, March 28, 1866, page 2
Dr. Newland Acquitted
New Albany, May 15.
The Dr. Ben Newland trial for the murder of Matt. Evans is at last ended, and a verdict of acquittal rendered. The jury was out about three hours, and came in about half past 3 o'clock this afternoon, when the Court asked them if they had agreed upon a verdict, and upon being informed that they had he ordered the Clerk to read it, which he did in the following words"
"We the jury, find the defendant, Benjamin Newland, not guilty as charred in the indictment." Signed, John Jones, Foreman.
Some stamping of feet followed the reading of the verdict, and the friends of Dr. Newland crowded around the defendant to congratulate hime, after which he shook hands with each of the jurymen. About two hundred person were present when the verdict was rendered.
-The Gazette, Worthington, Indiana, May 23, 1866, page 2.
Web Editor's Note: Efforts have been made to locate the grave of Madison Evans. According to books in the Lawrence County Library, very few "Evans" are buried in the county. Where one would assume that the body was laid, the Green Hill Cemetery in Bedford, there is no record of Evans being buried there. The only one listed in the county was at the old Judah Cemetery, Marshall Township, in the north end of the county. No records we could find showed the comments that Cauble said he saw on a monument discussed above. The information from the Bedford Independent, in the section below, helps to shed light on the location of the grave to some degree. There was mention of the funeral taking place in the Bedford Cemetery. The question now is which cemetery was then referred to as Bedford Cemetery, for none of the cemeteries in Bedford are so named in this day in time. It was either Green Hill or Beech Grove cemeteries in Bedford, Indiana.
Burial Information On Madison Evans
Circuit Court: Judge Bicknell presiding, adjourned at
10 o'clock A.M., on Wednesday, to take part in the
funeral ceremonies of Madison Evans. The number
of persons in attendance was much the largest we
have ever seen together in the Bedford Cemetery.
-Bedford Independent, March 14, 1866, p.3