They Left Their Mark In Oakford, 1872

Duff Armstrong
Page 7

" 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 exciting trial.

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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