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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  April, 2009

Did You Know?  (Nutt/Dukes Part 3)

By June of 1883, the eyes of the entire country were focused on Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Six months earlier, on December 24th, 1882, a Pennsylvania state legislator-elect shot and killed the Cashier of the Pennsylvania State Treasury at a hotel in downtown Uniontown.

N.L. Dukes, the man who killed Capt. A.C. Nutt, had refused to marry the dead man’s teenaged daughter, Lizzie Nutt, after he’d claimed she’d been promiscuous. His refusal was sent in the form of letters to N.L. Nutt, and they implied Lizzie Nutt was pregnant – and in need of an abortion.

What had begun as a private squabble became a bloody national story soon after Nutt paid a visit to Dukes, and was shot and killed. Dukes’ acquittal on the grounds of self-defense met with outrage across the country.

Soon after the murder trial, angry citizens warned Dukes to either leave town or face severe consequences. Dukes failed to leave town. On June 13th, Nutt’s oldest son, James, walked up to Dukes at Uniontown’s “round corner” and, without warning, fired five shots. Dukes died within minutes. “A SON TAKES VENGEANCE,” read the headline in the Bucks County (Bristol, Pa.) Gazette the following morning.

Below that headline were the gruesome details of the killing that detailed where on Dukes’ body each of the three fatal bullets had been lodged.
Ironically, the pistol Dukes used to kill A.C. Nutt was found on him.

The New York Times reported that a Coroner’s jury had already been convened. One of the jurors, George C. Marshall, Sr., was the father of a two year-old, who shared his name, and who would eventually become the only military man ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. “The shooting had scarcely taken place before the whole community had heard of it, and people rushed to the scene by hundreds,” that report said.

The Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada) Free Press wrote that “Young Nutt gave himself up and is now in jail. He was calm, but as pale as a sheet.”

On June 15th, the New York Times claimed that “a feeling of relief is apparent now that the last chapter of has been added to the sad tragedy.” Contrary to that opinion, it would not be the last chapter. There would be a highly dramatic trial, based on the verdict of the Coroner’s jury verdict that James Nutt had committed murder.

But this time, newspaper readers across the country seemed to fully support the young man who’d done what they may have done themselves – he killed Dukes at close range.

By the time James Nutt’s trial began in Uniontown, the local emotions had risen so highly, that potential jurors were called, and so many had expressed their strong feelings about the case, that the trial was moved to Pittsburgh. There also arose rumors that Jimmy Nutt would get a pardon from the governor for his actions. No such pardon had ever been given, it was written, besides for the killer of the outlaw Jesse James – Robert Ford. No pardon for Nutt would be forthcoming.

Adding to the furor was a letter printed in Connellsville’s Keystone Courier on August 18th, 1883, that was written by Dukes, and was to be published only in the event of his death. Dukes went into great detail about his involvement in the killing of A.C. Nutt. It was, as far as he was concerned, self-defense – period.

He also went to great lengths to attack reporters for what he thought was their bias against him. “The reporters colored all of the testimony against me, and suppressed all of the evidence that tended to my vindication,” he’d written. But once again, he made statements that didn’t help his image in the eyes of the public. On the subject of Lizzie Nutt, he wrote, “I have been held up to public gaze as the destroyer of an ‘innocent little girl’. If her reputation is destroyed I am not responsible for it.”

In January of 1884, the trial of James Nutt got underway in a packed courtroom in Pittsburgh.The judge in the case had to admonish Nutt’s well-wishers not to bring anymore bouquets into the courtroom and lay them on the table where Nutt was sitting. Curiously, Nutt was defended by a sitting U.S. Senator – Daniel W. Voorhees – of Indiana.

Even though there was a wealth of testimony that had established some sort of premeditation (he’d been spotted the day of the killing, at his home engaged in target practice), the jury returned a verdict of not guilty “for reason of insanity.”

The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette carried the story of the excitement greeted by the not guilty verdict. The train carrying the Nutt family from Pittsburgh to Uniontown was met by “100 prominent citizens, who acted as an escort to the party, who were conveyed to their residence in a carriage drawn by four white horses,” the article said.

That should have been enough. But as unsettling as the first trial had been for Uniontown, the James Nutt verdict produced a near citywide victory celebration. “Cannon(s) were fired, bands played, and business for the time being was suspended,” the article said. And there is still much more to the story. The drama would continue despite young Nutt being quoted as wanting to “make something of himself,” in the Indiana (Pa.) Weekly Messenger on January 30th.

In the early fall of 1884, there were published reports that two members of the Nutt family had been mysteriously killed by poison. The Connellsville Daily Courier, however, debunked the stories calling them the work of the “that ever-ready peddler of fiction – Dame Rumor.”

And when it seemed possible the headlines bearing the name Nutt and Dukes would finally disappear, in 1886, there was another shooting.

This time James, who’d moved to Kansas and lived on a farm, shot two more people. When he was placed on trial, once again, he tried the “insanity defense.”

His luck had run out. He was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder and he was sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence. And there’s more.
In August of 1903, the Salt Lake City Tribune published a detailed story about a newspaper publisher in Kansas who’d written about the Dukes/Nutt killings and trials a number of years after they’d taken place.

He’d been paid a visit by James Nutt who happened to be living in the area and had read the article. He’d apparently gone there to kill the publisher. The publisher, however, talked him out of it.

The publisher believed, according to the 1903 article, that the term “Nutty” was fitting for a family with the name Nutt with such “a living history tinctured with the odor of death.”

To a newspaper publisher, he claimed, those who are “Nutty” are far more dangerous than a libel suit.