" Duff" Armstrong
Was a Client of Abraham Lincoln---
Short History of the Case
Friday night, May 5, William
Armstrong, better known as
"Duff," died at Ashland, this
county. He was born January 23, 1833,
and has lived there greater part of his
life in this county.
He became a noted character because
of having been a defendant in a murder
trial brought to this county by change
of venue from Mason county, in which Abraham Lincoln defended him. On
August 20, 1857, in the county of Mason near a camp ground where a meeting
was being held, the deceased William Armstrong and one James H. Norris
became involved in a fight with one James Preston Metzker, which resulted in
Metzker's death and out of this killing grew the case which has gone down
in history as a most remarkable one because of the fact that Abraham Lincoln
acted as the attorney for Armstrong and succeeded in clearing him after a most
The circuit court record of the case
on file in this county shows that James
H. Norris and William Armstrong were
indicted for murder at the November term
1857 in Mason county. John H. Havighorst
being foreman of the grand Jury,
James Harriott was circuit judge and Hugh
Fullerton was states attorney.
The indictment contained three counts;
the first count charged in substance that
Norris had struck Metzker in the back
of the head with a certain piece of wood
three feet long and two inches in diameter
(which was a wagon neck-yolk)
and that William Armstrong with a certain hard metallic
substance called a sling-shot, hit Metzker upon the right
eye causing the death of Metzker on September 1, 1857
The second count charged that Norris and Armstrong
assaulted Metzker with a slingshot upon the right eye
which caused his death.
The third count charged that James H. Norris
and William Armstrong with a certain stick of wood
three feet long and two inches in diameter struck Metzker
in the back of the head and caused his death.
The case was called for trial in Mason
county, in November 1857, and Norris not
being financially able to employ counsel, Judge Hariott
appointed James Walker to defend him.
Dilworth and Campbell as attorneys for Armstrong
asked that Norris and Armstrong be
tried separately and it was so ordered.
The jury found Norris guilty of manslaughter
and he was sent to the penitentiary for 8 years
and out his time. A change of venue was taken
by Armstrong to Cass county. On May 7, 1858
his trial was called at Beardstown and Abraham
Lincoln appeared as attorney for Armstrong.
The jury which tried the case were
Horace Hill, Milton Logan, Nelson Graves,
Charles D. Marcey, John T. Brady,
Thorton M. Cole, George F. Sielschott, Samual W
Neely, Mathew Armstrong, Benjamin Eyre, John M.
Johnson and Augustus Hoyer. The verdict was as follows
"We the jury acquit the defendant from all charges
prefered against him in the indictment."
Milton Logan, Foreman
In the trial of this case Mr. Lincoln is said to
have to have taken part in it because of
and old friendship for Armstrong's mother.
In the early days when Lincoln was a young
man working hard to get along as a surveyor,
he boarded with Mrs. Armstrong and a strong
friendship resulted. She is what might justly
be called a rugged type of the early pioneer
woman of the country at that time honest,
fearless, with a keen insight for human nature
and we are told by one who knew her well that
from the time Lincoln first came to board with
her that she liked him and took quite an
interest in his behalf.
She did his washing, patched his
clothes and did many things which made
Lincoln the tall, lank appearing young
man feel at home at her house.
Therefore in later years when Lincoln
became a great lawyer and the son of his
old motherly friend got into trouble, the traits
of Lincoln's character are well shown when he came
forward to defend her son for murder.
How well he succeeded is a matter of history which
has been written of and talked over time and again
in this country. Even the wording and style of the
verdict of the jury shows that the jurors were without
doubt in the premises.
The only two papers now on file in
the case that are in the handwriting of
the immortal Lincoln are two instructions
to the jury given by the court are as follows:
"The court instructed the jury that if they have
and reasonable doubt as to whether Metzker
came to death by the blow on the eye or by the
blow on the back of the head, they are to find
the defendant "not guilty," unless they also
believe from the evidence beyond reasonable
doubt that Armstrong and Norris acted by
concert against Metzker, and that
Norris struck the blow on the back of
the head." "That if they believe from the
evidence that Norris killed Metzker,
they are to acquit Armstrong, unless
they also believe beyond a reasonable
doubt that Armstrong acted in concert
with Norris in the killing or purpose to
kill or hurt Metzker."
The clearing of Duff Armstrong from
the charge of murder was not the last
kindness that Lincoln did for
Mrs. Armstrong. When he was elected
president and the war of 1861 to 1865
was on, in answer to his first call for
soldiers, all the sons of his old friends
Mrs. Armstrong, some four or five
enlisted and went to the front, leaving
the mother at home with, as she said,
all the work and chores to do. This
did not suit the old lady, so she went
to Petersburg, Illinois one day to Mr.
Wright's store where she usually did
her trading, and not being able to write
herself she said to Mr. Wright "I want
you to write a letter to Abe for me."
"What" said Wright, "do you mean
you wish to write a letter to President
Lincoln" "yes," she said, "I want to
tell him that all the boys are gone in
the Army and left me at home to do all
the work and chores and I am not able
to stand it and I want Abe to send one
of them home right away." "Why,"
said Mr. Wright, "that won't do any good
the President is a very busy man, he will
never get to see the letter and if he did he
would pay no attention to such request and
I don't want to write him such a letter."
"Now," said the old lady, "I do all my trading at
your store and if you don't write that letter
I'll quit you right now." The result was that
Wright wrote the letter just as she dictated it
and mailed it to the president. The result was
that in a very short time Duff Armstrong was
honorably discharged and came home to look
after his mother. A soldier who served in the
same company with Armstrong told the
writer that Duff's discharge came in a very
unusual way; that it came direct from the
president, the usual way being that a discharge
started from the company and went up to the
President. With the discharge was the letter
telling Duff to go home and take care of his mother
and pinned to the letter was a $20 bill.
The death of Armstrong closes the
list of those prominently engaged in
the trial of his case. Mr. Lincoln was
among the first; since then the judge,
clerk, lawyers and jurymen, together
with the witnesses, have all gone.
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