Week 9: #52 Ancestors – Disaster
By Eilene Lyon
By June of 1888, E.G. Millikan returned to Independence from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to attend to some real estate business. May (Stahl) Millikan returned in September, undoubtedly missing all her friends and extended family. Even May’s parents were contemplating another move, perhaps to Kansas City.
In November, Col. J. S. Way “retired,” ceding control of the Main Street Hotel to the Millikans. E.G. took over management and hired a popular clerk from the Hoober House to tend to the transient guests. E.G., May, and May’s sister, Florence, took up residence on the rear of the second floor.
A fire alarm went up in the wee hours of January 14, 1889. The blaze began in the hotel’s front office and by the time it was discovered, it had blocked the stairway to the upper floors. Fortunately, only ten people were in the building at the time.
Two men on the third floor had to jump for their lives. E.G., alerted by the smoke, managed to put on a pair of pants and get into the hall in time to see his blind sister-in-law heading toward the flaming front stairs. He grabbed her and along with May, they escaped down a back stairway.
Again, there were problems with the hydrants, probably partially frozen, and not enough water pressure to extinguish the blaze. The entire interior of the building went up in smoke. An old cracked stove in the office was blamed. The following day, the still-standing stone walls were brought down. It was an unceremonious end to the Main Street Hotel.
Mary A. Stahl was on her way back from Kansas City to collect some of her belongings at the hotel. When she arrived in Cherryvale, she heard the news about the destruction and mourned the loss of her things. Once again, insurance companies paid on the damages. Mary returned to Kansas City where she and her husband had leased another hotel. They loved the business.
After the birth of Kate, their first child, May and E.G. Millikan relocated to Guthrie, Oklahoma. Guthrie was the jumping off point for homesteaders, and the territorial capital. E.G. was soon running a store in the little boom town, and in 1892, he was elected to the position of city clerk. May’s parents had moved to Guthrie and – no surprise – gone into the hotel business.
That summer the city finance board took E.G. to task for lack of diligence in his bookkeeping duties. He seemed to knuckle down to business after that. While he was at it, he began collecting money: $35 in dog taxes, $245 in water usage and tap fees, and over $3,000 in liquor license fees. Unfortunately, he had no authority (except in the case of the dog tax) to be collecting those fees – that was the job of the city treasurer.
The following summer the city determined that the clerk had failed to remit over $6,000 to the city’s coffers. They filed a civil suit and won a judgment against Millikan for over $3,000. Then E.G. stood trial in criminal court for embezzlement and was convicted in September 1894.
Astonishingly, he was allowed to transport himself, unaccompanied, to the penitentiary in January 1895. He made a stop in Independence to see family and friends, then traveled to the prison in Lansing, near Kansas City, and cheerfully turned himself in. He was a model inmate.
Soon a petition circulated to free the genial embezzler, whom many believed to have been wrongly convicted. The petition and letters were sent to the governor of Oklahoma, including a letter from one of Millikan’s prosecutors, and even one from the governor of Kansas. In July 1895, E.G. Millikan received a pardon and went free.
While all this was going on, the Stahls moved a little north to Perry, and began operating the Perry Hotel. They had finally settled somewhere for the duration.
After returning home to Guthrie from prison, E.G. decided to try a little adventure himself. He headed to Cripple Creek, Colorado, which was in the middle of a minor gold rush, and opened a restaurant. He sold out in 1896 and went home, ten days before a fire leveled most of Cripple Creek.
At that point he went into the hotel and catering business in Guthrie. (In the first part of the new century, he catered banquets for the state legislature for several years to high acclaim.) He also spent some time in Perry, expanding the hotel his in-laws were running.
May gave birth to a son, Fred, in 1895 who sadly died in 1896. A daughter, Mary Willene was born in 1897 and joined Fred in 1898. The Millikans were heartbroken over these back-to-back losses. They had one last child, daughter Delma, born in 1899, joining her 8-year-old sister, Kate.
Dr. Moses S. Stahl had a stroke at the Perry Hotel in 1898 affecting the left side of his body, leaving Mary to care for him and run the hotel. Dr. Stahl passed away at May Millikan’s home in Guthrie in December 1902 at the age of 76. After losing her husband, Mary Stahl lost the Perry Hotel to creditors and eventually moved to Guthrie to live with May.
Before long, E.G. got back into the real estate business, opening an office in Tulsa. May and their daughters remained in Guthrie, still running a rooming house. About 1907, the Millikans moved to San Antonio, Texas, and E.G. began developing new town sites outside the city. May headed back to Guthrie with her daughters by 1910.
E.G. remained in San Antonio to manage his real estate business. He had become reacquainted with a traveling salesman named Edward L. Bennett, whom he first met back in Guthrie. Bennett had divorced and remarried, to Grace Kellogg, since E.G. last saw him. Millikan encouraged Bennett to invest substantial sums in real estate. He also visited the Bennett home many times and they all became good friends.
Bennett, a smaller and younger man than Millikan, was in and out of the hospital for surgery, and didn’t object when Grace and Millikan went out together a couple times. However, when she said she was going with Millikan to the pool at Sutherland Springs, he asked her not to go, saying Millikan had a bad reputation for taking grass widows to the pool.
Upon learning of this, Millikan became incensed at the slur. He began threatening Bennett and challenging him to a shoot-out, saying that the next time they met, one of them was going to die. Bennett demurred – he didn’t even own a gun. Bennett told a friend that if he killed Millikan, he would put up $10,000 toward his defense. What Grace knew about all this is unknown, but she reportedly filed for divorce.
On August 21, 1915 at 7:15 a.m., Bennett came out the door of the International and Great Northern Hotel, part of the train station, heading to breakfast. Unexpectedly, Milliken, carrying a newspaper, came around the corner and they recognized each other simultaneously. When Millikan made a move, Bennett assumed he was reaching for a gun.
Bennett, fearing for his life, drew a gun, and fired a shot. Millikan dodged and Bennett fired twice more, one bullet entering Elon G. Millikan’s heart. He stumbled into the saloon, collapsed and died within minutes, never speaking a word.
Bennett immediately called the police to turn himself in and said nothing further.
After the shooting, Grace’s father, in a letter to Clark Millikan, asserted that Bennett was pressuring Millikan to help him hide assets from Grace so he wouldn’t lose so much in the divorce, but Millikan had refused. Some speculated that Grace and E.G. had an affair. Mr. Kellogg categorically denied it: Grace had been living with her parents the past two years.
The lengthy trial did not take place until April 1916; meanwhile Bennett was free on bail. Bennett claimed that he fired in self-defense. On the stand, he detailed his and Grace’s long business and personal association with Millikan and the threats Millikan had been making. The prosecution brought in character witnesses to uphold the reputations of Elon Millikan and Grace Bennett.
When deliberations began, the media speculated a hung jury would be the result. About 27 hours later, the jury returned a verdict: guilty of manslaughter. Bennett received a 3-year sentence and immediately appealed. The appeal was denied on a technicality.
Bennett’s testimony: San Antonio Express TDNP April 14,1916 p24
Mr. E. A. Kellog’s claims: Letter to Clark Millikan
An amusing anecdote about Elon G. Millikan: The Catsup Caper
Feature image: International and Great Northern Depot in San Antonio, Texas, where Edward L. Bennett killed Elon G. Millikan. (Wikimedia Commons)
Newspapers accessed at Newspapers.com and Texas Digital Newspaper Project:
The Independence Kansan
South Kansas Tribune (Independence, KS)
The Cherryvale Globe (KS)
The Weekly Star and Kansan (Independence, KS)
Independence Daily Reporter
The Caney Chronicle (KS)
Cherryvale Globe and Torch (KS)
The Weekly Republican (Cherryvale, KS)
Cherryvale Champion (KS)
The Coffeyville Weekly Journal (KS)
Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie, OK)
The Guthrie Daily Leader
The Perry Weekly Times (OK)
Daily Enterprise-Times (Perry, OK)
The Democrat Patriot (Perry, OK)
The Daily Free Press and the Times (Independence, KS)
Lincoln County Democrat and Telegram (Chandler, OK)
The Stroud Star (OK)
The Indian Republican (Tulsa, OK)
Noble County Sentinel (Perry, OK)
The Weekly Advocate (Victoria, TX)
The Austin American (Austin, TX)
The Guthrie Daily Leader
The Evening Star (Independence, KS)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
San Antonio Express
U.S. Census records, birth-marriage-death records, and other databases on Ancestry.com.
Land records for Montgomery County from FamilySearch.org.
Shinn, Benjamin G., ed. 1900. Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. The Bowen Publishing Co., Chicago, pp. 249-250.
Cutler, William G. 1883. History of the State of Kansas (Montgomery County section). A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL. Online at: https://www.kancoll.org/books/cutler/montgomery/montgomery-co-p1.html
Ivey, Darrell L. 2019. The Texas Rangers: A Registry and History. McFarland, p. 144.
Texas Ranger Indian War Pensions. 1975. Abstracted By Robert W. Stephens.
Oklahoma Supreme Court. 1897. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Oklahoma Territory, Volume 4. State Capital Printing Company, pp. 287-302.