Last year’s inaugural Creston Cemetery Walk was a big success, and this year’s follow-up will be even better. The second Annual Creston Cemetery Walk will be 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, in Calvary Cemetery. The Union County Genealogical Society helped research this year’s characters, and talented actors will again tell their stories. Cemetery walks are unique cultural events – each one revealing the lives and legacies of citizens who profoundly influenced the community.
One such hero who lies in Calvary Cemetery is Deputy Sheriff Thomas Walsh. In 1899, Deputy Walsh became the first Union County law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. Since we began researching those at rest in Calvary, his story has intrigued me, and I’ve done my best to learn what I can of him.
Thomas Walsh was the first born child of Nicholas and Ann Walsh, one of three Walsh families settled in the southwest corner of Spaulding Township before 1900. By all accounts, Thomas was a reliable, diligent and honest young man. If news accounts of the day are any indication, his murder shocked Creston and all of Iowa.
The winter of 1899 was one of the coldest on record, but on a Monday morning – Dec. 4, 1899 – Deputy Walsh and J.W. Fuller (newly deputized for the task at hand), set out to a farm about 2 miles south of Creston. It was worked by tenant George A. “Al” Williams. Williams, a father of nine, owed a previous landlord $109 and officials closed in on the seizure of his property as repayment.
That morning at the farm, Williams persuaded Walsh that he could obtain a release from his debt, and left for a Creston law office charged with settling the matter. Accounts vary as to whether Williams secured any relief, but he was enraged to hear that in the meantime, deputies had seized two teams of his horses loaded with corn as they arrived in town. Prior to heading home, while drinking at an Adams Street tavern, he bragged to witnesses that he would shoot Deputy Walsh if he found the latter on his farm.
At about noon, Deputy Walsh did return to the farm, where he and J.W. Fuller were confronted by an angry Al Williams with shotgun drawn. Walsh took the lead in trying to reason with Williams, but at close range, the latter discharged his weapon into the deputy’s temple, killing him instantly. Fuller fled to a nearby farm, and Williams headed into Creston and confessed to killing the deputy.
That afternoon, after the sheriff and an undertaker had retrieved the deputy’s body from where it lay on the farm south of Creston and as news of the murder spread, a party of the deputy’s friends talked of vigilante justice. Late that day, the sheriff hustled Williams out the back of the county jail into a waiting carriage, bound for Afton. There, authorities placed him on an evening train to Osceola, where Williams awaited trial for the murder of Deputy Walsh.
Williams offered some half-baked excuses for shooting the deputy, claiming Walsh first drew on him, and that he’d only drawn his shotgun because he’d seen quail on his way back to the farm. At the trial, he moved for a change of venue, arguing that public opinion was such that he couldn’t receive a fair trial in Union County. Neither the judge nor the jury was convinced, and in April 1900, Williams received a life sentence at hard labor in Iowa’s Fort Madison state penitentiary.
There’s much more to this story, which I look forward to telling another time. However, it is a poignant chapter in local history, and best remembered at Calvary Cemetery. If you enjoyed last year’s cemetery walk, you won’t want to miss this year’s. If you didn’t attend last year, here’s your chance to experience a unique celebration of our history.
So come for the fun. Come for the fellowship. Come to recognize the hard work of our capital campaign committee, which has carefully planned another unique cultural event in the life of the community. Admission is only $10, and tickets are available at the library. All proceeds will be matched by the DEKKO Foundation, so there’s no better time to join Matilda’s warriors in declaring the Creston area deserves a great library and cultural center!