12 such murder cases in 70 years: Dec. 18, 1869 thru Dec. 9, 1939

Charles Clarke -- 1 of 12 Men Convicted of
Murder in Cattaraugus and Executed

Finishing the Carpet She Had Been Weaving Became Mrs. Clarke's Finish

Martha Marble of Farmersville was only about 16 years old when she married Charles Clarke, 26, in 1878. Charles worked on the same large farm that Martha's family did but their homes were "about 30 rods" apart.

In the autumn of 1883, after having endured five years of marriage, she left Charles because, as the New York Times in its Dec. 3, 1883 story succinctly summed up his character, he was a "drinking, worthless fellow." When she left, Martha returned to her father's house nearby, taking many household furnishings with her.

Above is a cropped and sepia-tinted version of an illustration of the 1868 Little Valley court-house and jail in L.H. Everts' 1879 History Of Cattaraugus County, NY on the Cattaraugus web site that is part of the US GenWeb/NY GenWeb system. Click the image to access the illustration from which it is derived. Scroll down the page thus accessed to "The County Buildings" for more details about the court where Charles Clarke was tried and the jail behind it where he was held.
Claiming some of the things were his, Charles initiated a suit in replevin. The families settled the case concerning the furnishings but that did nothing to resolve his anger at her for refusing his demands she return to him, his home and his bed. Apparently the latter had figured into the tensions between them, especially perhaps some demands he would make when he was drunk.

What Martha was reluctant to leave behind, what she kept returning to in her former martial home was a carpet that she had been weaving prior to quitting his bed and board. It had not been in any condition to be hurriedly carried off when she left.

But after the settlement of the replevin suit, she would regularly return to that house -- with a member of her own family -- and work on completing the carpet.

On Saturday Dec. 1, 1883, she returned with her brother to her former residence to continue her carpet weaving. She wanted to finally finish it that day so that when done, she could take it with her, never to have reason to return again.

Charles came into the house, stayed and waited as she wove the carpet. After two hours, Martha's brother had to step away for a few minutes to tend to some cows. When he returned, he saw Clarke heading into nearby woods and found Martha mortally shot and stabbed. There were choke marks around her neck too.

Above is a modified detail of Google map showing the relative locations of communities that figure in the case: Farmersville, Lyndon and Rawson.
Later investigation indicated that after fleeing the bloody scene, Clarke ran to his own father's house about a mile away in Lyndon where he changed clothes. The blood-stained ones were found still wet from unsuccessful efforts to wash them clean.

Deputy Sheriff Waring discovered that at the Rawson Post Office Charles had cashed a money order to which he forged his father's signature. A $250 reward was posted by Sheriff John Little Jr. for Clarke's capture.

Charles was arrested at his father's house in Lyndon Dec. 7 and attempted to cut his own throat as the capture was made. "But the wound was not fatal," the New York Times reported in its Dec. 8, 1883 story datelined Bradford, Pa.

On May 18, 1884, then Gov. Grover Cleveland (elected President later that same year) refused to interfere with Clarke being hanged in the Little Valley as sentenced.

In keeping with the 1835 law banning public viewing of executions, the gallows area was walled off between the court and the jail. Armed Civil War veterans were pressed into service to help to hold back the crowd of would-be spectators who had gathered.

Above is a compressed version of the title page of L.H. Everts' 1879 History Of Cattaraugus County, NY on the Cattaraugus web site that is part of the US GenWeb/NY GenWeb system. Click the image to access the illustration from which it is derived. That illustration is on a web page with links to histories about various Cattaraugus communities including Farmersville and Lyndon which figure in the Clarke murder case.
About 100 invited guests witnessed the May 23rd execution. The sheriff's wife and her friends watched from the second floor of the jail.

The gallows was borrowed from another county and employed a weight instead of a trap door.


-- To help the New York Correction History Society with this project, the Cattaraugus County Historical Museum and Library very generously provided copies of jail-related and sheriff-related materials from its vertical files.

One of those information sheets is the source of the image from which this page's head-&-shoulders of Sheriff John Little Jr. (below) is derived as well as the details about the execution.

However, our narrative places the crime scene inside the victim's former martial residence whereas the museum vertical file's information sheet places the crime scene elsewhere.

It said:

"A short time later [after the couple had separated], he came to where she was staying and shot her, then choked her."

We rely instead on The Hornelville Tribune/NY Times report.
Sheriff John Little Jr., above, handled the Clarke murder case and execution. The image is a sepia version of one on the copy of a vertical file information sheet sent by Cattaraugus County Historical Museum and Library to help the New York Correctional History Society with this project.

It said:

"The house where Clark and his wife had lived, and where the crime was committed, was only about 30 rods from Mrs. Clark's father home, and was on the same farm.

"Mrs. Clark was in the habit of going to the house to weave a carpet. On Saturday she was intending to finish it."

-- The brother accompanying Martha returning to her former martial residence was perhaps more for the sake of appearance than for her safety.

If protection was the major consideration, the brother would not have left her alone for the few minutes while attending to cows or she would have accompanied him while he performed that task.

Rather, social propriety was perhaps seen as requiring a family member accompany her so as to remove any suspicion that, in returning to her estranged husband's house, she was returning to his bed.

-- This web page's reference to martial bed tensions related Charles' drunken demands is an interpellation of an allusion in the brief entry on the case by Daniel Allen Hearn in his Legal Executions in New York State. The entry focused on her refusal to perform a particular sex act she regarded outside the natural order. His book's citation list mentions for this entry the May 24, 1884 Page 1 story in the Olean Herald.

-- Some accounts spell Charles' family name as "Clark" without an "e" at the end; other accounts add an "e." Except where quoting from a source that uses "Clark" without an "e," this presentation uses "Clarke" since that is the spelling in the Hearn's book.

-- John Little Jr, the Sheriff of Cattaraugus County 1883-1885, was born Jan. 1, 1847, the son of John Little and Elizabeth Shearer of Franklinville. He various lived in Franklinville, Little Valley and Olean. He finished his working days a "Keeper of the Cattaraugus Alms House in Machias," according to one family genealogist. He was married to Christina McVey and they had five children. He died Nov. 2, 1902

John Little Sr was a Justice of the Peace in 1854 and the Postmaster in Franklinville from 1861 until his death in 1886.

Above is a sepia version of a vintage photo of the Cattaraugus County Poor-House in Machias, the last surviving building from a complex of four that from the mid-1800s was a residence, asylum and working farm to serve the County's poor and insane. In 1860, County Supervisors commissioned the Machias Stone House to be built to serve as the centerpiece on a self sufficient farm that cared for the poor and mentally insane of the county. The Stone House, as it is called today, is situated on NYS Route 16, in the village of Machias, NY. It is located on property owned by the county, where a nursing facility has been located since the first half of the 19th century. Click the image for more Stone House history on the web site of the Cattaraugus County Historical Museum and Library that makes its home there.

-- The family genealogist cited above is Terry Schliewe who placed a Nov. 7, 1907 Chronicle obit about John Little Jr. on Linda M. Crannell's marvelous The Poorhouse Story web site. It reads in part:

"John Little was born in Franklinville January 1, 1848 and was a resident of this village until he entered the county sheriff's department when he removed to Little Valley where he served as under sheriff during the term of G. L. Moshier. In November 1882, he was elected sheriff of the county, succeeding Mr. Moshier.

"At the expiration of this term of office he removed to Olean, being stationed there as under sheriff, which position he held for nine years under Sheriffs Darrow, Pratt and Hughes. He served as supervisor from the first and fifth wards of Olean during the years 1884 to 1896.

"For the last six or seven years he has been the keeper of the almshouse at Machias.

"The most of his active career has been spent in public service and the duties of whatever position he has occupied have been performed faithfully and well. He was particularly well liked at Machias where his kindness and consideration for the unfortunate of the county made him many friends."

Thomas McCarthy,
General Secretary/webmaster
NY Correction History Society
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