Window to the Past

Murder on the Canal


(From the Delphos Herald of Feb. 13, 1873)

On July 1, 1872, a fracas occurred at the entrance of the canal lock in Delphos, (present 3rd Street lock), between John Helt of the canal boat Ricketts and Sam Morehead, a boatman.

The Ricketts, being entitled to the lock, was interfered with by Sam Morehead, who was running a small boat, and attempted to take the lock. The two boats became jammed at the entrance of the lock, when Morehead commenced a tirade of abuse against John Helt, which attracted the attention of a number of citizens. Helt maintained his right to the lock in a firm but cool manner, which so exasperated Morehead, that he picked up a shotgun and pointed it at Helt, at the same time threatening to shoot. Fortunately, the gun was not loaded, otherwise the threat would have been executed.

Morehead then approached Helt with a large club, and was in the act of striking when the city marshal arrested and brought him before the mayor, who fined him $10.

The Ricketts proceeded to the stillhouse, below town, (whiskey distillery north of Pohlman Road), to take on its load. Morehead, with his boat, soon after left town, and when passing the Ricketts, tried to renew the attack, but Helt paid no attention to him, pretending to be asleep. Morehead, with the most profane curses, avowed that Helt should never go through Paulding County alive.

The Ricketts started on its trip north on Tuesday morning, and overtook the Morehead boat at about 10 o'clock that night, near Charloe.

Morehead was waiting his opportunity and when the Ricketts approached, he called loudly for Helt, and in answer to his calls was informed that John Helt was below and asleep. This answer was made by John himself, who had tried to put on a disguise and avoid any trouble. When the Ricketts arrived opposite the Morehead boat, a lantern was held up by Milo Morehead, the reflection thrown into Helt's face, and the word was given to Sam that, "that is the son-of-a b---, go for him Sam." Sam immediately threw some substance at Helt, and was in the act of following it up, when Helt took up a shotgun, loaded with buckshot, and fired it at Sam Morehead. The shot was well directed, and took deadly effect. Morehead lingered until the next afternoon at 4 o'clock, when death ensued.

Helt left his boat and going to Junction surrendered himself to the officers of the law, at a preliminary examination he was held for his appearance in the sum of $2,000. At the following term he was indicted for murder in the first degree.

The case was formally presented by the prosecuting attorney, when the following witnesses were called to testify as follows: John L Tucker, "On the evening of the second day of July, I was in Charloe in Mr. Ayers store; Sam and Milo Morehead were there trying to get law for damages done to their boat at Delphos by Helt's boat; went out with Sam and saw a light coming down the canal. Sam said 'what boat is that?' and the driver of the Helt boat said it was the Ricketts; they said no more until the bow of the boat got to them. Sam said, 'John Helt is that you?' John said 'no, he's down in the cabin asleep.' Milo picked up a candle to see who was steering one of the Moreheads said, 'yes, it is John' I want you to pay me damages for injury to my boat; John told him to go away, then the Moreheads walked back to the stern of the boat, and Sam said to John: 'If you step out on the bank, I will give you the best licking you ever had.' Sam stepped off of his boat to the heel path; did not see him after that. Had not much more than stepped off until I saw the flash of a gun. Then I ran out to where Sam was standing and saw the blood running down, and I called to the men on the Ricketts to come back and help take care of Sam. By this time the folks were gathering in pretty quick. The constable and some others went to stop the boat; the boat got about a mile before we overtook it; the constable told him to Stop. George Helt said 'we will abide by the law, John is not on the boat.' We had the Ricketts pulled back to where the shooting took place, and then took the men in to Sam, and asked him of either of those was the man who shot him; he said 'no, it was John Helt that shot me.'

H.M. Ayers: "I am a physician and surgeon, practiced since 1857. On July 2nd about 9 o'clock, was called to the canal to see the deceased. (Here the nature of the wounds were described). Helt said 'I had to kill him to save my life, he had thrown a club at me and then ran back into the dark so that I could not see him distinctly; I did not know what he was going to do next; I thought now was my chance to save my life. I grabbed the gun and fired and happened to hit him.' At the time of his arrest he expressed great sorrow, and when I told him Morehead was dead, he dropped his head and said 'I am sorry, sorry.'

William Richardson: "I practice medicine and farm a little; was called in to examine Sam Morehead; found him wounded with buckshot. Sam said, 'Helt the son of a b--- has been trying to kill me.

Darias Barnard: "Assisted in carrying Morehead home; carried him on a blanket; Sam said he knew he would die; he repeated, 'what did Helt shoot me for?' Did not see Helt until I saw him in jail. Morehead was making threats all the time; I told him he had better be making preparations for his death; he said, 'I just want to live long enough to take Helt's heart's blood.'"


J.W. Feely: "Have been acquainted with Helt 18 years; character good. Knew Morehead 10 years; bad character." After more examination, witness was excused.

William Crist: "Morehead said to me, 'Bill, (using the most profane language) I am going to kill John Helt before he gets through Paulding County.' Morehead scarcely ever came to town that he did not get into a quarrel or fight; knew him since he was a small boy; was a bad character. Knew John Helt since '58 or '59; his general character is good."

Dr. Chamberlain: "Live at Ottoville; heard threats; with an oath Sam said he would kill Helt before he got through Paulding County; he ran about a mile below town, tied up his boat. Saw John the next day when he came into Otte's store and asked if any threats were made. He was told that Sam said he would kill him."

Henry Wegesin: "Am Marshall of Delphos; knew Morehead 10 years; was a bad character. When Morehead was fined in Delphos, he was put in my charge; he had no money and said, 'by G--d, I will cut him into shoestrings if he does not pay me back the $10 fine.' I told Helt of the threats."

Chas. Carpenter and S. F Conklin gave same testimony as other witnesses.

Harry Weible, F.J. Lye, J.M.O. Marble, Dr. O.A. Evans, T. Wrocklage, Fred King, P.W. Morton, John Hipps, Adam Wilhelm, W.W. Backus, J.A. Ferguson, and others all testified to the good character of Helt and to the bad character of deceased.

The case occupied the attention of the court two and a half days. At 5 1/2 o'clock Thursday evening, the jury came in, after having been out about 30 minutes, with verdict of acquittal, justifiable homicide.

When the announcement was made, Helt was seized, borne over the crowd in front of the judge's seat, out of the courtroom and then a shout of exultation went up. But the promptness of Judge Latty made the scene short. Helt was soon presented to his honor, who formally discharged him.

Compiled by Robert Holdgreve
Delphos Historical Society

January 29, 2000 Delphos Herald Newspaper

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