John Meshack Phipps: An 1842 Bad Debt

An 1842 Owen County, Indiana legal issue concerned a debt owed to James F. Miller by “Meshach Phipps” (John Meshack Phipps or Phips) and his brother Matthew or Mathew. Mathew Phips, who ran a store in Bowling Green, Clay County, Indiana while owning a farm in adjacent Owen County, was declared dead the previous year under extremely suspicious circumstances, and evidently without any indication of the presence of the corpse anywhere.

“Meshack Phipps” is the individual who detective Edward Bonney discusses at length as “Shack Phips” in Bonney’s period account of the outlaw gang that involved members of the Phips family. The debt issue arose on 4 March 1842. Just 3 years later, on 4 July 1845, Col. George Davenport (for whom Davenport, Iowa was named) was murdered by close relatives of Meshack Phipps.

Edward Bonney tracked down the murderers by infiltrating the outlaw gang. His biggest success in that endeavor came when he managed to convince John Meshack (“Shack”) Phips or Phipps, along with Shack’s wife and mother in law, that he (Bonney) was an outlaw himself. All of this is detailed in Bonney’s book, The Banditti of the Prairies – A Tale of the Mississippi Valley: An Authentic Narrative of Thrilling Adventures in the Early Settlement of the Western Country.

The matter of ringing up large debts and then not paying them has come up at other early times and in other places in connection with some members of this family. This may have been why Shack and Mathew’s brother David later moved from Missouri to Oregon.

John Meshack (“Shack”) Phips or Phipps was the twin brother of Eli Shadrack (“Shade”) Phipps or Phips. The latter was discussed a couple or so posts back.

From Owen County, Indiana Civil Court Book 4:

[p. 22:]

James F. Miller.
Meshach Phipps.
In Debt:

Be it remembered that heretofore to wit: on the 4th day of March in the year A. D. 1842, The plff. [i.e. plaintiff, James F. Miller] by H. H. Throop, his attorney files in the office of the clerk 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 A. D. 1842: James F. Miller, plaintiff, complains Meshach Phipps, Defendant, in custody &c of a plea that he render to the said P H. H. Throop, [p.?] q.”

And afterwards to sit: at the March Term of our Owen Cicuit Court in the year A. D. 1842, “Comes the plaintiff by Mr. Throop, his counsel and on his motion the court order that this cause be continued by operation of law.”

[p. 23:]

And Afterwards towit at the Sptember term of our Court towit, our Owen Circuit Court in the year A D 1842

“Comes Now the plaintiff by Throop his attorney & the defendant though thrice called comes not but makes default, and it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that said defendant has been duly served with process more than ten days before the first day of the present term of this court and the evidence being seen and the court being sufficiently advised of the premises, It is therefore considered by the Court here that the plaintiff recover of the defendant the sum of seventy one dollars debt and four dollars sixty one cents damages being interest now due on said debt making together the sum of seventy five dollars sixty one cents and costs of suit taxed at”


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