OuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof
What do you think? Does the man in the photo look like a killer? Hopefully, QuickLesson 2 will guide me through a process that will help me better understand a harrowing event in my great-grandfather’s life.
In first half of QuickLesson 2, Ms. Shown Mills offers descriptions of sources, information and evidence. 1 She does this by defining, contrasting and carefully analyzing each element to demonstrate how inter-connected they are in crafting well-reasoned conclusions about the past. In the second half, Ms. Shown Mills uses two original documents to guide the reader through a deliberate and thoughtful analysis process of the information contained within them. It is through a process such as this that allows us to turn information into evidence as we build a case that most closely matches actual past events.
The importance of this analysis process is most relevant in my personal family history when considering a number of newspaper sources that reported on a shootout in which my paternal great-grandfather, Blount Hampton Howle (1853-1921) was involved. This shootout took place in Oklahoma Territory in September 1901 and, according to the news articles, had a most bizarre twist to it.
The shootout in Oklahoma Territory
To date, I have located nine articles from seven different newspapers in various towns in the Oklahoma Territory that covered the shooting. In order to set the stage for this story, it might be helpful to establish who my great-grandfather was and how he came to be in McKnight, Oklahoma Territory, in 1901. Blount was born in Alabama in May 1853. 2 After his first wife, Caroline Burson, died in 1894, 3 Blount married Emma Calhoun Carleton (my great-grandmother) in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, in September 1895. 4 Blount and his family are recorded as still living in Dadeville, Tallapoosa County, Alabama in the 1900 U. S. census schedule. 5
In August 1901, Blount is mentioned in the very first edition of the McKnight (Oklahoma Territory) Leader. The article was written to promote the benefits of living in this tiny fledgling town and noted that “Colonel B. H. Howle of Alabama is one of our most prominent citizens.” 6 So what was Blount doing in Oklahoma Territory at this particular time? He was participating in the second opening of land to homesteaders known as the 1901 Lawton Land Lottery. Although he wasn’t among the more than 75,000 hopefuls who had registered for a lottery ticket, he was there to record the homestead claims of the lucky winners. 7 It was during this chaotic time that his wheeling and dealing in real estate set the stage for trouble.
To date, I have located a series of nine articles published in 7 different newspapers throughout Oklahoma Territory that relayed a story about a shootout that resulted the death 8 of one man. In general, each of the newspapers tell the same story. They describe how a man came into Blount’s real estate office a few days before the shootout asking for his land certificate. Blount told him that he needed a few more days to make sure that the land was properly registered so that the certificate would be correct. One article reported hearsay about what happened next between the two men when it stated, “it is reported that Goree gave notice to Col. Howle that he must leave town in three days or he would kill him.” 9 The article went on to tell that Goree confronted Blount again, this time in the town newspaper office. They argued, Goree knocked Blount down after which “six or seven shots were fired.” 10 Another newspaper did not mention that Goree struck Blount, but instead stated that Goree “made a motion to draw a gun.” 11 A third newspaper also indicated that Goree had moved as if to draw his gun and that “Colonel Howle immediately shot Goree.” 12 All three of these articles reported that Goree died of his wounds, identified Blount as his murderer and went on to state that Blount and another man were hiding out in the nearby town of Lawton.
After a few days in hiding, my great-grandfather, Blount, turned himself in and was charged for murder. But this is where the story takes an almost unbelievable turn. The fourth article that I discovered breaks the news in its headline, “The Man Did Not Die After All.” 13 In this article, we learn that after being shot Goree stumbled down the street and was thought to have died of his wounds in a doctor’s office. When the undertaker arrived and prepared to embalm him, he was shocked to discover that Goree was exhibiting signs of life. 14 The article goes on to state that Goree “rapidly recovered” and that the undertaker left him “sitting up in bed smoking a cigar.” 15
Applying QuickLesson 2
In thinking about all five of these newspaper articles, I found myself going around and around in circles trying to decide if I should consider them as original or derivative sources. I still think of myself as a relative newcomer to the genealogy realm and this is my first experience in meticulously analyzing and evaluating sources. It’s when I find myself in situations like this that I realize that I have a very steep learning curve ahead. I also know that the only way to learn and gain experience is to take a deep breath and take a chance. With that said, I also know that learning is a social endeavor so I welcome feedback.
In returning to my newspaper articles as original or derivative sources conundrum, I decided that I needed more information. Since all of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ work offers authoritative guidance with this type of dilemma, I scoured her book and then did a keyword search on her website. I hit pay dirt on the website and located a user-submitted question about this very issue. The editor’s response noted that “most researchers consider a newspaper article to be an ‘original’ source.” 16 But the response continues by pointing out that it is also reasonable to assume that the information in articles may have progressed through several iterations or drafts before it was typeset and published. Therefore, when I carefully read and evaluate these articles, I must keep in mind that each one is an original source to some degree.
Although all five were published on the same day, only the one in You Alls Doins is likely the most reliable source of information about the events surrounding the shootout. The newspaper in which it was published is geographically closest to the town where the shootout occurred. Less distance meant less time elapsed between the shootout and when the story was written and published.
Clearly, I should not view the information included across all five articles as facts. I should, however, regard them as highly questionable in how closely their stories approximate the actual events. In addition, I have no indication of who authored each article and how they acquired their information. None of the articles quote any individual. So I have no clue as to whether each reporter talked to only one source or many. Further analysis of the articles also shows that some of the five newspapers were picking up the story by courier. Each article reveals minor modifications which slightly alters the information and, thus, alters our interpretation of the events.
In conclusion, this process of analysis has helped me to become more deliberate in my approach toward evaluating family history artifacts of all types. By carefully analyzing these newspaper articles, I gained experience in judging the quality and strength of the information contained in them. Finally, as I began identifying which pieces of information were relevant to what happened in the shootout, I realized how critical it was for me to have more than one source. Because I was able to locate and analyze many articles reporting on the same shootout, I am better equipped to write about it for my own family history purposes. But if I truly want to write a story that better represents the actual events of the shootout, then I need to locate the court records associated with it. Hopefully, these records would contain sworn testimonies from my great-grandfather, Blount, and other witnesses.
FINAL NOTE: In case you are wondering whether or not Blount was convicted, here is how the shootout story ends. Because Goree did not die, Blount’s charge of murder was changed and he, ultimately, stood trial for assault. The trial was held almost a year later and my great-grandfather was acquitted.
- Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-2-sources-vs-information-vs-evidence-vs-proof : accessed 20 March 2016). ↩
- 1900 U.S. census, Tallapoosa County, Alabama, population schedule, Dadeville Precinct, p. 146A (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 73, sheet 1, dwelling 1, family 2, Blunt Howle; online image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 March 2016); citing FHL microfilm: 1240041. ↩
- Find A Grave, database with images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 20 March 2016), memorial 38718210, Caroline C Burson Howle (1850-1894), Dadeville City Cemetery, Dadeville, Tallapoosa County, Alabama; gravestone photograph added by R. G. Bradshaw, Jr. ↩
- “Alabama, Select Marriages, 1816-1957,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 March 2016), entry for B. H. Howle and Emma Carleton, 01 September 1895, FHL File Number 1302448. ↩
- 1900 U. S. census, Tallapoosa Co., AL, pop. sch., ED 73, p. 146A, Blunt Howle. ↩
- “Salutation in launching the McKnight Leader,” The McKnight (O.T.) Leader, 23 August 1901, p. 1, Vol. 1, No. 1; Roll No. 24251-80, image copy, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org . ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- This is the “twist” in the story. ↩
- “Killing at McKnight,” You Alls Doins (Lexington, Oklahoma Territory), 20 September 1901, p. 1, col. 4; digital image, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org : accessed 02 December 2014). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- “Shooting at McKnight,” Cleveland County (O. T.) Leader, 20 September 1901, p. 8, col. 3; digital image, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org : accessed 02 December 2014). ↩
- “Hiding in Lawton: Oklahoma Officers Think They Know Where the Murderer of R. I. Goree Is,” The Peoples Voice (Norman, Oklahoma), 20 September 1901, p. 3, col. 5; digital image, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org : accessed 02 December 2014). ↩
- “The Man Did Not Die After All,” The Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie, O. T.), 20 September 1901, p. 5, col. ; digital image, Oklahoma Historical Society, The Gateway to Oklahoma History, http://gateway.okhistory.org : accessed 02 December 2014). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Pamela, “Newspaper obituary source as original or derivative,” Evidence Explained, discussion list, 07 January 2016 (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/cite-online-forum : accessed 22 March 2016). ↩