shooter was none other than her ex-husband, Winslow D.
Morgan. The coroner of Birch Creek, Montana, soon convened an inquest jury of local men who concluded, based
on provided evidence, that Fred had died at the hands of Mr.
Morgan. A judge promptly issued an arrest warrant. Unfortunately Morgan was not immediately available, having apparently fled the jurisdiction.
In August 1885, the Tribune
noted that the governor of Montana had
offered a $1,000 reward for Morgan’s
apprehension. Accompanying the
reward was a detailed description of
the suspect: "About 38 years old, dark
complexion, dark brown hair inclined
to curl, slightly gray at the sides; wore
dark brown moustache when last seen;
blue eyes; scar over right eye, caused
by a burn; one upper tooth out in front;
forefinger (missing) left hand; toes
all (missing) right foot; knee-cap displaced on left leg; height about 5 feet,
Wild West lore tells of cantankerous gunslingers in dusty saloons and justice served at the end of a gun barrel. Still, a fledgling legal system anaged through fits and starts to interpret and enforce the rule of law in an otherwise
lawless frontier. Take the sordid experience of my grandmother, Eola McCarthy, who at a tender
age found herself at the heart of a case
that challenged the court to carry out
due process during the fractious period
between frontier justice and jurisprudence.
My grandmother was born Oct. 27,
1882, in Dillon, Montana. She lived a
long life mostly in Seattle and had three
children, one being my mother. There
were several marriages, and although
life was not all that easy, she was blessed
with a good mind, great sense of humor,
lots of wisdom, and an infectious laugh.
She died Nov. 22, 1961. From the age of
three, Eola Nichols (her maiden name)
was known as a curious and precocious
little girl who could never sneak up on
you on a wooden floor. She was missing
her leg from right above the knee. She
was pretty tough for such a young child.
Artificial limbs were not then what they
The story of how Eola came to be
missing her leg starts in 1885, when law
and order in Montana was dealt from
far-flung courthouses by itinerant lawyers chasing cases from town to town.
According to the July 11, 1885, edition
of the Dillon (Montana) Tribune, the incident occurred on the
Fourth of July, as the Nichols family was returning home after
a late night of local festivities. As they neared home in the early
morning, they saw something up ahead that looked like a cow.
As they neared the peculiar bovine, they suddenly discovered
it was no cow, but a man covered in a blanket. Eola’s uncle Fred
Haining was carrying her in his arms, when suddenly the man
stood up, threw off his blanket, aimed and fired a high-caliber,
repeating rifle at Uncle Fred. A bullet passed through one of
Fred’s hands, striking Eola in the leg, just below her knee. Fred
was mortally wounded, but managed to draw his revolver and
fire at his assailant. The newspaper reported that just before
falling to the ground dead, Fred declared, "I think I hit the son-of-a-bitch." More gunfire ensued, but the gunman managed to
escape. Eola unfortunately lost her leg despite the valiant efforts of local doctors.
The gunman’s identity was a mystery until Fred’s wife
at the time, Samantha, came forward with the news that the
Left: Eola McCarthy and her daughter Grace.
Below: The Dillon Tribune newspaper article
about the shooting in Dillon, Montana Territory,
July 5, 1885 (Image: Library of Congress,
Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.