Girls Gone Wild – 1800’s style: Phoebe, Hester, and their mother, Hester Lavender DeWeese (52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks)

March 7, 2014 in 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, Barnard

Not every member of a family tree is a hero or a credit to the community in which they live. I have many so-called “black sheep” in my family. Men who abandoned their families, men who abused their wives and/or children, men who went to prison…and women who did the same things. This story is about 3 women, a mother and two daughters, who were bad; two by actual facts and one by association.

The Deweese family is related to me through my mother’s side. Her father, James Spencer Barnard, he of the “musical gene” story, was the grandson of George Washington Barnard. As you may recall, George was murdered by a young man after dance where George had been playing his fiddle. George was married to Phoebe Ellen DeWeese until about 1892 when the couple divorced due to “adultry on the part of the wife.” I don’t know with whom she committed this scandalous act, but it was probably the man she married after her divorce, James Sims. So that’s one bad girl.

Pheobe’s sister, Hester Ann DeWeese Sims married her sister’s husband’s brother, but that was after she served time in prison for murder. Here’s the story:

From the Freeport Journal Standard, Freeport, Illinois, 7 March 1888, page 1:

Murder by Hester Ann Deweese article

“Hardin County Newspaper
February 24 1927
Joe Peck Smith, who was hanged at Shawneetown last Wednesday for the murder of his wife, was the second legal hanging in Gallatin County. The condemned man’s last statement was to the effect that he was innocent. The following was taken from the Gallatin County Democrat:
“The execution of Smith marked the second hanging that ever took place in Shawneetown, and by a strange coincident, the first man hanged here, GEORGE MILLIGAN, paid the death penalty for the same kind of crime—the murder of his wife. This took place in the same jail yard and in the same corner of the yard in which Smith was hanged. The date of the first execution was NOV 23 1888, and was staged about 1:15 o’clock. MILLIGAN was a river and lumberman and had left his wife. Later he got hold of a houseboat and was living in this boat when he shot and killed his wife. He was at the time living with a woman named ANNA DEWEESE. On the day of the killing MRS. MILLIGAN had gone to the houseboat to have MILLIGAN to give her some food. He refused and trouble started. He grabbed his shotgun and shot his wife as she was trying to make her escape over the improvised gang plank. The shooting took place on Saline Creek, near the Hardin and Gallatin county line. At the trial MILLIGAN was convicted and sentenced to death and the DEWEESE woman given a twenty five year sentence in the penitentiary. Before the execution, MILLIGAN broke jail and escaped, but was recaptured the next morning on Eagle Ripple. When arrested he was sitting on a log in his bare feet. The DEWEESE woman, according to memory of old time citizens, died while in the pen.”

Here is her prison record:

Joliet Illinois Prison Convict Register
Name Hester Anna Deweese
Recieved July 7 1889 Recieved at Chester Sept 18 1888
Age 20- Eyes Brown-Hair- Black
Crime and Punishment- Murder- 50 Years
Court County- Gallatin

Talk about a bad girl! But she didn’t serve the whole sentence because she is found in 1900 in the Southern Illinois Hospital for the Insane.

HesterDeWeeseInsane (Click image to view larger. Photo taken from

Hester married Mort Simms in 1902 and lived, for all I know, quietly the rest of her life. She never had any children.

“Hardin County Independent December 19 1940
Anna Simms was born in Indiana Sept 17 1867. She moved to this county when a small child. She was married to Mort Simms in 1902 and lived with him until death. She passed away at her home December 12 1940. Burial was at Peters Creek Cemetery December 13. Funeral conducted by Rev. William Hancock. She was 73 years and 3 months old at the time of her death. She leaves to mourn her loss her husband, Mort Simms, one sister Sadie Bowers of Arkansas and a host of relatives and friends.”

A good end for a bad girl, I think.

Pheobe and Hester’s mother, Hester Ann Lavender, was born in Harrison County, Indiana in 1833. She was the daughter of Thomas Lavender (b. 1801 in Virginia) and Frances Louisa Bowling (b. 1805 in Virginia). The couple married in Virginia in 1828 and made their way to Indiana where Hester was born. In 1849 Hester married Charles A. DeWeese. They were the parents of 8 children, 6 girls (including Pheobe and Hester) and 2 boys. Then Charles died in 1873. (A personal aside here: I will eternally be grateful to Amy Johnson Crow for this challenge as I have been trying for years to find Charles and Hester and their children in census records between 1860 and 1900. That’s a 30 year gap! Today while researching facts for this story, I found Charles and Hester in the 1870 census for Mcfarlin, Hardin County, Illinois. I haven’t found them in the 1860 census yet, or the 1880 for Hester and her children, but finding them in 1870 has had me doing the “geni-dance” in my chair all morning. So thank you, Amy, for helping me find my family.)

In 1881 Hester married Jonathon Belt. Jonathan Belt was the brother of Logan Belt, a most disagreeable and infamous character in Southern Illinois in the 1800’s. There is a book written about the Belt brothers and their doings in Hardin County, Illinois. They were members of the Klu Klux Klan and did not hesitate to murder any man who disagreed with them or was set to testify against them regarding their criminal activities. The book can be read online (click the word “online” to open in a new window), and while not the most easily read book, having been written in 1887, it is both chilling and appalling, most especially when viewed by today’s standards. I’d wondered, while researching the area for my various relatives (The Barnards lived in the same area, and the Oglesbys just across the river from Cave-in-Rock in Union County, Kentucky.), why there were so few black families in that part of Hardin County. Reading just a small portion of the book will easily explain the reason.

Jonathan Belt had been married to a woman named Mary Wilson and together they had 10 children before she died at the age of 59 in 1880. Hester and Jonathan married in July of 1881 and Jonathan died in December of 1882. I have to wonder at the character of Hester that she would take for her second husband a man as brutal as Jonathan Belt is claimed to be. He is also described as extremely pious, a preacher, in fact. This vocation did not stop him from breaking at the very least two commandments:

“ASSASSINATION: Charley KRUPPERT, a German living near Capt. TYNER’s on the Ohio river below Cave In Rock was shot while plowing in his field Wed., the ball glancing his side just sufficiently to draw blood. He stumbled and fell just as the pistol was fired, and the would-be assassin, Ellis MONROE, thinking he had killed him, threw the pistol at his head. KRUPPERT scrambled to his feet, snatched up the pistol & fired one shot at MONROE, who was by this time about sixty yards away in full retreat. The pistol captured by KRUPPERT proved to be Jonathan belt’s, and it was soon ascertained that BELT had given MONROE, the pistol & told him to shoot KRUPPERT. To give the reader an idea of the cause we shall have to go back a few weeks, and state that KRUPPERT told certain persons that he had caught Jonathan BELT in the act of adultery. BELT hearing of this tried to make him contradict his statement, but failed. Since that time KRUPPERT has bee threatened with death if he did not leave the country. He has been threatened with summary vengeance at the hands of the Klan, but stood his ground and his life has nearly paid for his bravery.
Judge TAYLOR issued writs against Jonathan BELT, Ellis MONROE, William MONROE, & Lucinda MONROE, but who will serve them?”

The above is from an unknown newspaper of an unknown date. In trying to find the source, I happened upon and subscribed, hoping to find the paper from which the above story was taken. I didn’t find it, but I found plenty of other stories about the Logan Belt Band.

When women in my family tree go bad, some go very, very bad. This is no cause for me to feel shame: I may share genes with the black sheep in my family, but I don’t share their characters.