An odd lawsuit arose in Owen County, Indiana on 15 February 1842 which involved Eli Shadrack Phipps, referred to in the records as “Shadrack Phipps.” He was born in 1812 and was the twin brother of John Meshack Phips or Phipps. John was called “Shack Phips” by Edward Bonney in his circa 1850 account of the outlaw gang Bonney infiltrated as a detective. Bonney devotes an entire chapter to “Shack Phips” and refers to the twins’ father Jesse Phips, but without naming him.
The plaintiff was Shadrack Phipps. The defendants, those he was suing, were Benjamin Howke and George Hauser. Phipps claimed that Howke and Hauser, with “force and arms,” stole huge amounts of his corn crop, trampled his grass (presumably meaning hay for livestock), broken down his fence, and did other massive amounts of damage.
Phipps claimed what was, at the time, vast sums in damages, but was awarded only $35. In spite of that paltry sum, the defendants asked for a new trial. The new trial was requested for 3 reasons which the court appears to have more or less ignored. The judgment appears to have stood.
The name Benjamin Howke, one of the defendants, also appears in records as Benjamin D. Howk. As expected, the surname also appears as Houk.
Benjamin D. Houk appears to have been involved with the Christian Church of Lancaster, Marion Township, Owen County, Indiana in or around 1842, according to Blanchard’s 1884 county history. He or someone else named Benjamin Houk is also referred to by Blanchard as having served as a preacher in that church at one time or another.
The other defendant was George Hauser. He’s presumably the person of that name who Blanchard refers to as an early resident in Jefferson Township. George Hauser also appears to have been involved with the Christian Church in Owen County.
Were Eli Shadrack Phipps’s allegations true? Did these two local churchgoers rob and destroy Shadrack Phipps’s property at gunpoint? If so, what was the motive?
Although the record could be more clearly written, it appears that he was suing for $400, plus another $400, plus an additional $500, for a total of $1,300. Even if his claims were true, why then did the court only award him $35?
From Owen County, Indiana Civil Court Book 3, pp. 587-589:
Benjamin Howke, & George Hauser,
Be it remembered that heretofore to wit: on the 15″ day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty two, the plaintiff [i.e. Shadrack Phipps] by Champer, his Attorney, files in the office of the clerk of the clerk [sic; phrase repeated] of the Owen Circuit Court, a declaration herein which is in the following words and figures to wit: “State of Indiana Owen County ss. Owen Circuit court March Term 1842. Shadrach Phipps, plaintiff Complains of Benjamin Howke, and George Hauser, (defendants) in custody &c of a plea of trespass &c, for that the said deffs. [i.e. defendants], on the [blank] day of [blank] in the year 1841, and on divers other days and times between that day and the commencement of this suit with force and arms &c broke and entered the close of the plff [i.e. plaintiff], to wit: the North West quarter, of the North west quarter, of Section twenty nine in Township ten North of Range five West, situated lying and being in the said county & then and there forced and broke down his fence and with feet in walking & with a wagon and team trampled upon and consumed and spoiled the grass of the plff. and then and there pulled down and carried away the corn of him the said plff, of great value to wit: of the value of $400.00 then standing and being in the said close and diverted and disposed of the said corn to their own use to the great damage of the plff and contrary to the peace and dignity of the said State: And also for that the said defts [i.e. defendants] on the day & year first aforesaid, with force and arms &c at said county seized took and carried away certain other corn of the plffs [i.e. plaintiffs]; to wit: one thousand bushels of corn of great value to wit: of the value of other $400.00 and then and there disposed of and converted the same corn to their own use, and then and there other great injuries and wrongs to the plff did contrary to the peace and dignity of the State of Indiana, and to the damage of the plff. of $500.00, and therefore he sues &c.
Champer for plff.”
And afterwards to wit: at the March Term of our Owen Circuit Court in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty two, and on the sixth Juridical day of said term, “The plaintiff appears by Champer, his counsel and the defendants by Secrest & Bollmann, their counsel and said defts [i.e. defendants], file their plea of the general issue to the plffs [i.e. plaintiffs], declaration & the plff. his [? (looks like “similiter”)] to said plea, and they are in these words and figures to wit: “And the said defts. come and defend the wrong and injury when &c, and say that they are not guilty of the said several supposed trespasses, above said to their charge in answer and form as the said plff. hath above thereof complained against them, and of this they put themselves upon the country &c.
Secrest & Bollmann for defts.
And the plff. doth the like: [blank space] Champer.” [s.q.?] and the issue being Joined hereupon comes a Jury to wit: John Franklin, Zacheus Chambers, James Reeling, Littleton Hooten, James Evans, Anderson Clark, John J. Cooper, Andrew Evans, James Buchanan, John Moore, John Ellett, & James Wooden, twelve good and lawful men of our county of Owen who being elected tried and sworn well and truly to try the issue Joined herein, & after hearing part of the evidence of the plff. by consent of parties this cause is continued over until monday [sic; Monday] morning next.”
And afterwards to wit: at the term last aforesaid on the 7th Juridical day of said term, “Come the parties and the Jurors aforesaid and after hearing the evidence and argument upon their oath do say, “We the Jury find for the plaintiff, and assess his damages at thirty five dollars. John Franklin, Foreman,” and thereupon the defendants, move the court for new trial in this cause for the following reasons. 1st The jury misconceived the instructions of the Court; 2nd The verdict is against the wait [sic; weight] of evidence 3rd The verdict is against law.
Secrest, & Bollmann, for defts. [i.e. defendants]”
It is therefore considered by the court that the plaintiff recover of the defendants the said sum of thirty five dollars in damages together with his costs by him in this suit expended taxed at.”