In the 1870’s, the town of Delmar, Iowa, had a problem. They were a railroad town, and with the railroads had come the railroad laborers. While some of them were no doubt polite and well-behaved, there were many others who were not. Many of these ruffians liked to drink.
They liked to drink so much and so often that a completely unintentional industry of saloons and alcohol sellers sprouted up like weeds in Delmar. The townspeople certainly had never planned on that. They wanted the railroad, but they most definitely didn’t want all of this new problem.
Things quickly began to get out of hand. Suddenly, they had a group of drunks on their hands. At first, the town decided to raise the cost of alcohol licensing fees for any peddler or saloon. It didn’t work. It was apparent that they needed something harsher.
In 1877, the town decided to build a calaboose.
Calaboose was really just a slang term for jail, but perhaps it sounded better to the ears of the city council members. No matter what they called it, the purpose was the same – to house drunks, keeping them off the streets and out of trouble.
A squat structure built from native limestone, the calaboose had a rounded top and a heavy metal door to keep the prisoners inside. A barred window on the side provided light, while a wood stove provided warmth inside during the winter.
Fortunately, the calaboose was only ever really used to house drunks that needed to sleep off a night’s hard drinking. Besides for some incidences of horse theft, Delmar and its township, Brookfield, for the part, never had to deal with anything worse than that.
But there are exceptions to every rule.
The residents of Brookfield Township in northern Clinton County trusted each other. When George Scott and his younger brother, Quinton, arrived in the mid-1800’s, the people trusted them, too.
The reasons that they had come to Iowa from their homeland, England, have been lost to time. Most likely, they wanted to join thousands of others from Western Europe and the United Kingdom who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities. The brothers were farmers, and there was plenty of land for sale in Iowa.
When they arrived, there must have been a certain level of wariness on their part. They were new to the area. No one knew them, and they didn’t know anyone who lived there. Fortunately, they probably didn’t have to worry for long.
Many rural people across Iowa and the Midwest lived in isolated areas, and by sheer necessity relied on each other for help on various levels. In those days, neighbors were simultaneously a place to barter or buy needed goods, a social outlet, and an emergency service system all rolled into one.
Brookfield Township took that to a higher level.
While it was not a heavily populated area, the people who lived there seemingly did everything together. They were extremely friendly, and frequently turned necessary, yet highly monotonous tasks, into a grand social event.
In the spring, several of the local farmers would hitch their plowing teams and gather at a given farm. Then, they would spend the rest of the day plowing the fields there, taking that first necessary step toward the annual planting. It wasn’t uncommon for upwards of twenty to thirty plowing teams to be making their way across the fields.
At other times of the year, they would do the same with corn shucking and turkey shoots. For the most part, the locals were more interested in helping to build each other up instead of engaging into cutthroat competition to see who could get the most. Although there was no doubt a few that might have been interested in doing that, for the most part any competition was very friendly.
It was this dynamic that George and Quinton became part of when they bought their farm near the southern edge of the township. They worked hard, and the foundations of a successful farm operation quickly emerged.
When the Civil War began in 1861, Quinton enlisted in the 2nd Iowa Cavalry and left to fight the war. George stayed and continued to farm. Little did he know it, but he was about to meet the woman that was going to change his entire life.
With so many things being made into social events within the township, it’s easy to see how 18-year old Jeanette Gear would have met 34-year old George. In spite of their nearly 16-year age difference, the two soon fell madly in love with only another. On July 8th, 1862, they were married.
For the next twelve years, the couple lived happily on the farm together. As their six children were born, each one in turn was brought into the social fold of the township. Jeanette and George steadily improved their modest farm. Eventually, it would consist of a two-story wood frame house, a barn, and outbuildings for equipment and livestock. While not necessarily wealthy, the family did more than well enough to live comfortably.
As their family and farm grew, so did the county. Where there had only been farmland before, towns slowly began to emerge. Perhaps most importantly for the Scott’s was Delmar.
Delmar was formed almost out of necessity.
One of the chief reasons for Brookfield Township’s social and cooperative atmosphere was also a major hinderance to its economic development: isolation.
Unfortunately, there were no close market outlets where farmers could sell their excess crops. Frequently, the cost of bringing the crops to those outlets would be equal to or more than what they sold for. With little, if any, profit from their farming labors, farming in Brookfield Township was definitely not as lucrative as it was in other places.
While the crops were good and grew well, with no place to sell them, farmers found themselves increasingly worried about being able to pay for their farms. Something had to be done.
In 1871, a group of farmers got together and platted a town on some of their land. Their idea was to attract the attention of one of the various railroad companies and entice them to build lines through the area. The railroad had done wonders elsewhere in the Midwest by giving more remote communities a way to ship their crops to far away markets at a much cheaper cost. If it had worked for them, why shouldn’t it also work for their township?
The plan worked. Before long, the railroads that they had hoped for had laid their tracks into their new town. The farmers of the township now had a place to haul their crops that was close and relatively convenient, thus allowing them to make the money the needed and save their homes.
George and Jeanette must have watched as all of this unfolded, just like everyone else in the area did. Being a farmer and located not too far from Delmar, he must have been very interested in the business opportunities that the railroad afforded his farm.
The Scott’s must have seemed like an almost idyllic success story. George had come from a foreign land with next to nothing, and now he had a successful business, a loving wife, and was blessed with many children. They weren’t starving and had no money troubles.
For the most part, there was nothing out of the ordinary for the couple. The biggest problems that they seemed to have is that Jean would occasionally become jealous, and George sometimes had a bad temper. They were happy together on their farm. For them, it must have seemed like a small slice of paradise.
By the winter of 1874, however, their carefully woven dreams began to unravel.
Very suddenly, George began to get angry with Jeanette. Instead of letting it pass, he spent more and more of his time infuriated with her for one reason or another. Then, he began to treat her very badly. At least, that’s what Jeanette began to tell their neighbors.
Brookfield Township was still a very social place, and the Scott’s had already grown thick roots into the community. Needing another adult to talk to about her husband’s sudden onset of erratic behavior, Jeanette turned to the neighbors that had already supported her through so many things over the years.
No one could explain how or why this sudden change in attitude and temperament toward his once beloved Jeanette had come over George. None of them could have guessed that George believed that his wife was poisoning him.
In George’s mind, he truly believed that Jeanette was trying to poison him. She put it in his food, so he would barely eat. Instead, he mostly lived off of cheese and whole wheat bread that he hid in a tin trunk in the house. For him, it was either eat that, or die by poison.
George was so convinced of his wife’s ill intent that he actually took some coffee from the house to a local doctor named Sloan. Like all of the rest of the food in the house, he was convinced that Jeanette had poisoned it. Whether to convince himself or someone else, he asked Dr. Sloan to test the coffee for poison.
Needless to say, this would have been an odd request. It’s probably not every day that a farmer asks his doctor to test the family coffee can for signs of poison. Regardless, Dr. Sloan agreed. He tested the coffee, but found absolutely nothing. Sloan told George to relax, and that there was nothing wrong. Everything was fine. No poison, no murderous intent.
George wasn’t so easily convinced. Despite the concrete, scientific proof that he had requested, he continued believe that the food in the house was poison. George’s poor treatment of Jeanette continued, and, if nothing else, became even worse. Jean was terrified, now telling her neighbors that she was afraid that George was going to kill her.
Their formerly idyllic life had become a nightmare. Now George and Jeanette were both convinced that the other was out to kill them. Things must have felt very intense between the two as they carried out the daily routines of farm living. Something had to give, and George had determined when and how that was going to happen.
On the afternoon of February 22, 1874, George said that he was going to go upstairs to take a nap. Jeanette probably didn’t think anything of it, and went about her normal chores. She might have even been relieved that he was out of the way.
It was a simple ruse for George, but it worked well enough. He made his way upstairs, where he quietly took out two shotguns and a seven-shot revolver. Carefully and deliberately, he loaded them. George looked at the guns and mentally re-checked himself, making sure that everything was in order for what he had planned. It was.
George took the revolver, putting it in his pocket. Taking one of the shotguns, he pulled in a deep breath, and called for his wife. He called down for her to come upstairs, that he wanted to talk to her about something.
Jeanette stopped what she was doing and started toward the bedroom. Given the way that George had been treating her, she must have felt tense as she began to climb the stairs. There’s no way to know what was going through her mind as she mounted the top step and strode to the bedroom door.
Was George going to accuse her of something that she hadn’t done? Was she going to yell? Jeanette mentally steadied herself as she put her hand on the knob, turned it, and went inside to face her husband.
Anything that she had been thinking, anything that she had been feeling, must have all melted away as Jeanette Scott looked down the long, steel barrel of the shotgun George had leveled at her. Time must have slowed down for a split second, the cold February world outside fading away as her whole existence focused in on her husband.
George’s cold gaze fixed on his wife as he steadily squeezed the trigger back.
Jeanette blinked, the world suddenly coming to life as the sharp sound of the shotgun hammer slapping down broke her out of her trance. The shotgun had misfired!
In a rush, Jeanette’s natural instincts flooded her with newfound vigor, and she followed them without question. Adrenaline seared through her veins as she turned and ran for her life. As fast as her legs would carry her, Jeanette slammed down the stairs and across the living room. She flung open the front door and went out into the yard.
Jeanette was focused on surviving. She had to get away from George. Her worst fears had come true, and now her beloved husband was trying to murder her.
She was running freely now, trying to reach the front gate. Jeanette could hear George behind her, his footsteps thudding heavily like a shadowy monster from a nightmare. Jeanette was almost to the gate when she must have figured that George was moving too fast for her, and that he was about to catch her.
With running no longer an option, Jeanette suddenly turned and grabbed the shotgun in her husband’s hands. Viciously they began to fight for it, their battle turning primal as they struggled for control of Jeanette’s very life – her to save it, and George to end it.
Without warning, the gun roared, discharging its deadly shell harmlessly into the air. Jeanette took her opportunity and broke away, running again. George chased her, quickly gaining ground.
He caught up to her in a few more strides, and again Jeanette spun around, trying to grab the shotgun. This time, George was ready. He fired as she turned, the shotgun blast finding its mark. Jeanette screamed in pain as she felt a section of her right breast being torn away.
George threw the shotgun to the ground and pulled the revolver out of his pocket. Despite her wound, Jeanette had plenty of fight left in her. She threw herself at George, grasping for the handgun. Soon, Jeanette’s chest wound began bleeding profusely. The blood loss weakened her, but still she struggled on. To lose would mean certain death.
As they grappled, the revolver went off, hitting Jeanette in the right hand. Again, she broke away, running. Jeanette saw the barn, and headed to it as fast as she could. Maybe she could hide there, or maybe even find a weapon of her own.
This time, George didn’t follow. Instead, he took a deep breath and raised the revolver. Taking steady aim at Jeanette as she began to turn around the corner of the barn, he squeezed the trigger and fired.
The bullet slammed into her head, just behind the right ear. Jeanette stopped, dazed. The revolver barked again, striking home above Jeanette’s ear and exiting through her forehead.
Jeanette had nothing left. She had tried her best, but it hadn’t been enough. She went slack and slipped to the ground.
George walked over and stood over his wife. She had tried to poison him, but he had fought back. With wounds like that, she had to be dead.
Satisfied, he raised the revolver, placing it firmly against the side of his head. He had completed part of his work, and it was time to finish it. George squeezed the trigger one last time, ending his life
The children had watched as their parent’s marriage ended in one awful, tragic event. While the other children stayed at home, the oldest son, Lorenzo, ran to the nearest neighbor for help. He had spent his whole life in Brookfield Township and knew that he could rely on the neighbors for help.
When he arrived at their farm, Lorenzo quickly explained what had happened. Horrified, they went quickly to the Scott farm to see what could be done.
True to the boy’s story, they found George near the barn, dead. But Jeanette was nowhere to be seen. If she was dead, where had she gone? The neighbors began to search for the poor woman.
To their immense surprise, they found Jeanette inside the house, bleeding profusely from her head and chest, but still conscious and aware. Impossibly, she had come to her senses shortly after her husbands’ suicide. She had stood up, and walked back into the house under her own power. A doctor was summoned to treat Mrs. Scott’s horrible wounds, along with law enforcement officials.
A coroner’s inquest was held the next day. Jeanette, although badly wounded, was still able to testify during the proceedings, but only just.
Investigators searched the house and grounds, looking for a possible motive behind George’s sudden attack. They initially suspected that it was money troubles that had pushed him to murder. It hadn’t been that long since farmers in the township were looking at losing their farms, and it was possible that George was one of them. However, an examination of his finances showed that he was on solid ground. Something else must have been motivating him, so they kept looking.
It didn’t take them long to find his tin trunk with his food inside. The trunk also contained two bottles of strychnine, and a kind of diary George had been keeping. Authorities also found a little over $910 in cash, along with $1100 of other assets. They were sure that money hadn’t been a factor in the slayings.
An examination of the diary revealed that George had been convinced that Jeanette had been having affairs. He also believed that she secretly thought he was doing the same thing. The entry had been dated about 1872. Had insanity been creeping into George’s mind all that time, finally blooming bitter fruit about two years later? No one had any answers.
In an amazing display of will and physical constitution, Jeanette recovered from her wounds. By 1880, she had remarried, putting the events of that awful winter behind her as much as she could. Ultimately, Jeanette had won. She was alive, and George was dead.
The attempted murder of Jeanette Scott and the subsequent suicide of her husband, George, was by far the worst crime to take place in Brookfield Township for the rest of the 19th Century. It was a shocking crime that took the peaceful and cooperative residents of Brookfield Township by surprise.
One of their own had committed this horrible act. George had been one of them. If this could happen to him, then it might happen again.
When the alcohol problem got so bad in Delmar a few years later, they built the calaboose to take care of their problem. At least some of those who had voted to build it probably remembered George Scott. If so, then maybe they thought that a jail might need to be used to handle something more sinister than a group of drunken railroad men.
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“The Delmar Tragedy.” Daily Davenport Democrat, 2/25/1874
The Morning Democrat, 2/25/1874
“The Delmar Sensation!” Daily Davenport Democrat, 2/26/1874
Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, 2/26/1874
Des Moines Register, 2/26/1874
The Daily Democrat, 5/22/1874
U.S. Census Records
Iowa Marriage Records