CONNECTIONS: Murders most opportune

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By Tuesday, Mar 7 Life In the Berkshires
The second county courthouse in Lenox was completed in 1816. The building is now home to the Lenox Library. Photo courtesy Lenox Library

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.

Samuel W. Bowerman (1820 – 1887) was a well-respected member of the Berkshire community. He was born in North Adams, attended Williams College and, in Pittsfield, studied law with future United States Senator Henry L. Dawes.

Bowerman’s obituary reads in part, “His reputation as a lawyer was of a very high order, his knowledge of the law was large, his application of its principles acute, and his eloquence before a jury wonderfully effective. He, however, did not greatly enjoy its practice except in cases of magnitude that enlisted his sympathies…”

Like his mentor, Henry Dawes, Bowerman sought and held public offices including Lieutenant Governor, and “did not trouble himself” with the practice of law. So one might wonder: what compelled or enticed the 42-year-old Bowerman to represent Henry Pratt against the charge of murder at the court in Lenox (Lenox Library today) in 1862?

One can only guess. Here is the story; let the reader decide.

The chimney and stone foundation are all that remain of the Mallery homestead in New Ashford, the site of the 1861 murder of Eunice Vanderwalk. Photo: Joe Durwin/These Mysterious Hills

The chimney and stone foundation are all that remain of the Mallery homestead in New Ashford, the site of the 1861 murder of Eunice Vanderwalk. Photo: Joe Durwin/These Mysterious Hills

The first homestead in New Ashford was built by Uriah Mallery in 1794. The house and farm passed to his son and then his grandson.

In June of 1861, the grandson, Van Schaak Mallery, hired Henry Pratt, 21, and Eunice Vanderwalk,17, a young married couple from Osceola, New York, to work as household servants.

From the first, something was amiss. Joe Durwin, in “These Mysterious Hills,” credits the cleverness of Mrs. Mallery in discovering the truth. In whatever manner the truth came out, when it did, there was a lot of it.

First, Osceola, New York, is a fair distance to come for domestic work and, second, they were not actually married. Taking things one at a time, Mrs. Mallery overlooked the flight from New York and the reason, but insisted they marry. Once that was accomplished, it seemed things could and would settle down — but it was not to be.

In no time, Mr. Vanderwalk, Eunice’s father, arrived and there were more revelations. Henry was Eunice’s uncle, the brother of her mother, and the elopement was not sanctioned. In fact, Vanderwalk had been in hot pursuit and now insisted Eunice return home with him. He wanted the marriage annulled. Eunice refused. She was a married woman, her husband was kind to her, and she intended to stay with him.

The negotiations continued, increasing in vehemence. Tempers flared; voices were raised as father and daughter became increasingly adamant and upset.

Finally, things calmed and quieted. Henry took Eunice aside; the couple conversed. When they rejoined the father, they agreed that Eunice would return with him but requested a brief time alone in their room to say their farewells.

The father did not wish it but was prevailed upon. Time passed. Mrs. Mallery was asked to fetch Eunice. She went to the bedroom door and knocked but there was no answer. Others went upstairs and knocked. Finally, the door was forced open. The couple was on the floor in pools of blood, apparently dead.

In fact, Eunice was dead, her throat slashed with Henry’s pocket knife. Henry was injured but still alive.

The Berkshire Court-House in Lenox. Photo courtesy

The Berkshire Court-House in Lenox. Photo courtesy

He said, “She wishes us to die together.”

The news aroused the feelings of New Ashford residents and a lynch mob formed. However, the household managed to treat Henry’s wound and protect him from the mob.

Henry was taken to Lenox where he was tried on May 19, 1862, and represented by Bowerman.

The case for the defense was that Eunice had cut her own throat and, in despair, Henry cut his own throat afterward.

The only supporting testimony was what those present had heard Henry say when he was found, and Mrs. Mallery’s testimony that Eunice told her she would rather die than return home.

Nonetheless, Pratt was found guilty and sentenced to hang. It was a clear loss for Bowerman, but he was able to get the sentence reduced from the death sentence to life in prison. Pratt died in prison in 1868. If he was 21 when he arrived at the Mallery’s house, then he was 28 years old when he died.

Some said Bowerman neglected “seeking opportunities.” Others said he had delicate health and had to be careful not to overexert. For whatever reason, he took few cases and he took this one. Though history does not tell us why, it does tell us this: Samuel Bowerman’s career was furthered by it. He was languishing in practice in Adams, had recently decided to move to Pittsfield, and then gained recognition for the job he did at the court in Lenox.

The juxtaposition of murder and the fortunes of both father and son is interesting. Bowerman Sr. prospered after 1862. Samuel Bowerman Jr. built the Wendell Hotel in 1887. It was not a successful venture until the murder of Miss Mae Fosberg in 1900 filled its rooms, restaurant and bar.

Father and son were quiet, respected and dedicated churchmen. Oddly, both benefited from their brushes with murders.

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