Killed by His Own Bank

When war broke out in 1861, fifteen-year-old James Beacom enlisted in the 3rd Iowa Cavalry, with his guardian’s consent.  The following year his scouting unit in Arkansas was caught in an ambush and nearly wiped out.  

Although Beacom was reported among those killed, a burial detail sent to the scene that evening failed to locate his body.  It was learned that Confederate soldiers had found the boy barely clinging to life and brought him to a field hospital.  Within a few months Private Beacom was returned to his unit in a prisoner exchange and served out the remainder of his enlistment.

After the war he taught school, became a salesman, married, and moved his family to a homestead in Smith County, Kansas, where he served as county clerk and postmaster, later buying an interest in the Smith County Pioneer.

To his friends at Smith Center who knew him well it seemed inconceivable that the affable 48-year-old who had survived a hail of bullets in the Civil War, would have his life ended by a solitary bullet, one fired by his own hand.  Headlines in the Kansas press suggested that it was really Beacom’s new bank that killed him.

Some six weeks ago he organized the Famers’ and Merchants Bank of Watonga, (Ok.) in company with his son Charles who had been court reporter for District Judge Burford.  

He recently made an investment of $10,000 in Blaine county scrip and being unable to dispose of it the bank was placed in an embarrassing position.  A large number of the bank’s drafts are said to have been protested in Kansas City and various parts of the country for lack of deposits at the banks checked upon.  

These were returned until Mr. Beacom Sr., became distracted and shot himself, on Sunday.  His son is absent and is thought to have left the country.

The mention of a son who was hurrying away from the scene was probably meant to raise some eyebrows.  It was young Charles Beacom, Cashier of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Watonga who was making risky decisions on behalf of his father, the bank’s president, who lived 300 miles away at Smith Center.

James Beacom had hurried to Watonga to investigate the mismanagement of his bank, boarding with the Lane family whose farm lay at the edge of the new town of Watonga, founded only two years earlier.  Father and son exchanged heated words just before Charles left to catch a train.  

After having dinner with the Lane family James Beacom borrowed his host's revolver for some target practice in the yard.  He fired a few disappointing rounds, lamenting that he was much out of practice.  The two men walked toward town for a moment before Beacom turned suddenly, saying he had left something at the house.  He took only a few steps before putting the muzzle to his temple and pulling the trigger.

The financial mess at his bank had not been the only matter troubling James Beacom.  His son had previously enjoyed a run of luck speculating in stocks and commodities, but Blaine County specie, a sort of local currency issued in the wake of the Panic of 1893, had been a risky investment.  Worse was how Charles seemed to trying to cover his losses.  James had examined some of the returned checks, drawn on non-existent accounts at his bank, and may have recognized the handwriting.

No one should have been surprised at the spate of news items that began to appear a month after James Beacom’s funeral.  

C. W. Beacom, cashier of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ bank was brought before Probate Judge Martin for trial.  He waived examination and being unable to give bail in the sum of $4,000 now languishes in jail

A change of venue in the case of C. W. Beacom before Judge Burford at Watonga was granted.

Judge Burford had been the judge Charles Beacom clerked for before deciding to become a titan of finance in the Golden Age.

The grand jury has returned indictments against John C. DeLana and Charles Beacom for forgery and the men were arrested and placed under bonds of $500 and $1,000, respectively, for their appearance for trial.

All three of the items printed above appeared between September 6 and December 18, 1894.  It would be more than a year later before the press had an update on the case, by which time there were additional charges.

Charles W. Beacom, son of the late J. N. Beacom, for many years editor and postmaster of Smith Center, is wanted at Kingfisher, Ok., for a $9,000 forgery.  

Young Beacom was seen in Smith Center one night last week, but before Sheriff Jarvis could get his clutches on him a friend aided Beacom in eluding the officer.  

Beacom was driven to Portis, where he took the train for parts unknown.  A big reward has been offered by the Oklahoma authorities for his arrest.

And that is the last word on Charles W. Beacom that I can find in the Kansas press.

© Dale Switzer 2023