Fight at party results in shooting, trial

Hurricane Township, in the northwestern corner of Fayette County, was a hotbed of Southern sympathy during the Civil War.

There was a great deal of unrest throughout the county because a group of outlaws, numbering in the hundreds, roamed throughout a five-county area, including Bond, Montgomery and Fayette counties, terrorizing the inhabitants, murdering, thieving and burning bridges.

The murder of an aged Sears couple near Bingham was one of the byproducts of the reign of terror visited on the citizenry because the soldiers of the 41st Illinois Infantry, who murdered the Sears while there looking for their son, Tom, a known associate of the Clingman Gang.

The following story was shared with me by Audrey Probst and Jean Vail, and took place at the home of Elias Richmond on ‘Richmond Hill,’ on the eastern edge of the village of Fillmore.

As the story goes, 20-year-old Pvt. Benjamine Franklin Halford, grandson of the aged Sears couple mentioned above, was home on leave and decided to attend a party at the Richmond home. Also there that night were brothers John and James Allen.

The party was in full swing when Benjamine arrived. Several persons attested to his good behavior throughout the evening.

During the evening, a man by the name of Hicks and the Allens began an argument in the dancing room.

What happened next comes from ‘The Independent Press’ of Taylorville, submitted by Judge H.M. Vandeveer, Halfords attorney.

‘Hicks and the Allens were quarreling in the dancing room, and John Allen drew from his breast pocket a revolver, put it in his side coat pocket. At this juncture, Halford came up; James Allen advanced up to him and ordered him to leave the house.

‘John Allen turned upon him, still holding his right hand in his side pocket, and with his left clenched fist, struck Halford and thrust him out of the room on the porch; that the porch was 10-12 inches lower than the room floor; that Halford partly fell on one knee; that both of the Allens were advancing upon and were partially over him when Halford fired three shots in quick succession.

‘One shot took effect in the left side of John Allen and one shot took effect in the left breast of James Allen, killing him in a few minutes. The third shot struck the ceiling of the house.

‘John Allen, thinking he would die from his wounds, said he could have shot Halford first but his handkerchief prevented him from drawing the pistol.’

Almost immediately, Benjamine returned to his unit. When he was discharged two years later and returned to Montgomery County, he stood trial for murder.

The trial, which lasted three days, was held in Bond County on a change of venue, and began April 25, 1866. The jurys verdict, reached after a 30-minute conference, was that Halford acted in self-defense.

From ‘The Greenville Advocate, we learn that the incident took place ‘in that section of the county where copperheads, Missouri refugees and the lowest characters of the country, congregated and organized themselves into bands, with the avowed purpose of resisting the draft, committing robberies and outrages of every character upon loyal citizensthese Allens were associated with these scoundrels [and] Halford, the accused, was a Union soldier.

After his acquittal, Benjamine moved to Edinburg, where he married Mary Ann Prater, a granddaughter of early Fayette County settlers Paschal and Clarissa Sears Isbell.

By 1880, they had moved to Chicota, Lamar County, Texas, and there, Benjamine died on Jan. 15, 1896. They were parents of six children, Elizabeth, Mary, Lucy, Martha, Joseph and Oral Halford. Mary Ann moved to Soper, Okla., where she died in 1923.

An interesting side note to this story is that Audrey Halford Probst was a relative of Benjamine Halford, while Jean Vail is kin to the Allen family.

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