Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Indiana Hero

In 1819, when the State of Indiana was still frontier country, Amasa Fuller, a prominent and popular citizen of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, was courting a young lady of that town. While Fuller was away on business, the young lady’s heart was stolen by a younger man, named Palmer Warren.  When Fuller returned to find that his true love had agreed to marry her new suitor, he challenged Palmer Warrant to a duel. Warren refused to fight so Fuller shot him in cold blood. Though guilty of murder, Amasa Fuller was so popular in Lawrenceburg that, when a ballad was written about the murder, the young lady was cast as the villain, and Fuller was “The Indiana Hero.”

Date:  January 10, 1820

Location:   Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Victim:  Palmer Warren

Cause of Death:  Gunshot

Accused:   Amasa Fuller

"The Indiana Hero" - Anna Underhill

Amasa Fuller was madly in love with a young lady of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, named Catharine Farrar (though court records and other sources refer to her simply as the “young lady.”) Attorney Oliver Hampton Smith, who knew them both when he was a student in Lawrenceburg, described her as “a young, though not handsome girl, with a broad English accent.” In spite of her reported unattractiveness, Amasa Fuller was deeply in love with the girl and they were engaged to be married. Their wedding date was set for January 10, 1820.

In November 1819, Fuller traveled to Brookville, Indiana, on business.  While he was away, Palmer Warren, a younger but also well respected citizen of Lawrenceburg, began calling on Miss Farrar. Within a month, Warren proposed marriage and, though already engaged to Fulller, she accepted.  The middle of December, Amasa Fuller received a letter from the girl in which she renounced all feelings for him and enclosed the ring he had given her. The letter was signed by the young lady, but was written in Warren’s handwriting.

The letter left Fuller in a state of gloom and melancholy. On Friday, January 7, he left Brookville for Lawrenceburg on foot. He arrived that evening and took a room at Coburn’s Hotel, which happened to be next door to the residence of his true love, and in the same building as the office of Palmer Warren. Fuller met Warren several times in the house and attempted to pick fights, which Warren declined each time.

Indiana, 1820
On January 8, Fuller borrowed a pair of pistols, telling the owner he planned to do some target shooting for amusement.  He asked his friend, a Mr. Hitchcock, the best way to load a pistol, and the surest way to kill. Fuller loaded the pistols with powder and four slugs each. Hitchcock said he hoped fuller had no evil designs, to which Fuller responded, “I have not, but I will show you some fun.”

On Monday, January 10 –the day he had hoped to be married—Fuller borrowed a greatcoat with pockets big enough to hold the pistols. He went outside, and when Warren opened his office door, Fuller followed him into the office.  Within a minute, a witness, Mr. Farrar, heard a pistol report from Warren’s office. He tried to open the door, but could not because Warren’s body, lying crosswise, was blocking the door. He pushed open the door to find Fuller standing next to the body in a room filled with smoke and the smell of powder. Warren, not yet dead, was on the floor, struggling in his last agonies.

Farrar grabbed Fuller and exclaimed, “Good Heavens! Fuller, is it possible you have done this?”
Fuller replied, “I am a man, and I have acted the part of a man! I have been ridding the earth of a vile reptile! I glory in the deed!”

On the floor, next to two pistols—one discharged, one still loaded—was a note saying, in effect, that Warren, in the presence of the Almighty God, swore to renounce all pretensions to the young lady, and acknowledged himself to be a base liar and a scoundrel.  After his arrest, Fuller said he had written the note and presented it to Warren to sign. When Warren refused, Fuller offered him a pistol, bidding him to defend himself like a man. When Warren refused this as well, Fuller shot him, point blank, through the heart.

Trial: July 7, 1820

Judge Eggleston
The trial was heard by Judge Miles C. Eggleston during his first term on the Dearborn Circuit Court. Judge Eggleston would be a Circuit Court judge for the next twenty-four years. Amasa Fuller was represented by an army of six attorneys. The defense made several motions for postponing the trial, among other reasons, because popular prejudice against Fuller would prevent a fair trial. While the court did have difficulty empaneling an impartial jury, the populace seemed more equally polarized than universally against Fuller.

With little else to offer in their client’s defense, Fuller’s attorneys advised him to plead insanity. While there was much evidence that Fuller was more gloomy and melancholy than usual, as if something disturbed his mind, there was no evidence of insanity.  The jury deliberated for two hours, then returned a verdict of guilty.

Verdict: Guilty of murder in the first degree


Judge Eggleston sentenced Amasa Fuller to be hanged on March 31, but the date was postponed so the case could be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court, but by this time popular sentiment had turned in Fuller’s favor. The people of Dearborn County, almost unanimously, signed a petition to the Governor for the pardon of Fuller. Fuller was so sure that he would receive a pardon that, when an opportunity arose to escape jail, Fuller opted to stay in jail. He did not receive the pardon, and on August 14, 1820, in front of a crowd of thousands, Amasa Fuller was hanged.

Not long after the execution a ballad began to circulate which compared Fuller to Samson and elevated him to “The Indiana Hero.” In the song, Fuller goes to the gallows with great dignity:
When the morning came that brave Fuller was to die,
He smiled and bid the world adieu.
Like an angel he did stand, for he was a handsome man;
On his breast he wore a ribbon of blue.
And his fickle mistress is chastised:
Of all the ancient history that I can understand,
Which we're bound by the scripture to believe,
Bad women are essentially the downfall of man,
As Adam was beguiled by Eve.
Smith, Oliver H. Early Indiana Trials and Sketches: Reminiscences . New York: Moore, Wilstach, Keys, 1858.

Wheeler, Jacob D.. Reports of Criminal Law Cases with Notes and References; Containing, also, a View of The Criminal Laws of The United States . New-York: Gould and Banks ;, 1825.

Website:  1820: Amasa Fuller, the Indiana hero

"The Indiana Hero" - Anna Underhill
Ballad Lyrics (from Mudcat Cafe)

"Fuller and Warren (aka The Indiana Hero)"


Dalillama says:
May 7, 2014 at 12:12 PM

I notice that the date of the trial is given as 1845, surely thats meant to be 1820?

Dalillama says:
May 7, 2014 at 12:14 PM

I notice that the date of the trial is given as 1845, surely thats meant to be 1820?

Robert Wilhelm says:
May 7, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Thank you, you are right, it should have said 1820. I have made the correction.


gerntz says:
August 13, 2014 at 9:07 AM

The young lady's name is not lost to history. She was Catherine Farrar Warren Schell and sister of my great-grandfather Samuel Farrar. The Mr. Farrar of the story was one of her uncles. The family was from England. She was born in 1798. She had six children. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Southgate, Ky.

gerntz says:
August 13, 2014 at 9:16 AM

LOL to Miss Farrar being unattractive. Hotly pursued by two men simultaneously & marries a third shortly thereafter? Really, folks?

Robert Wilhelm says:
August 13, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Thank you for the information on Ms. Schell it was not readily available when I wrote this. If I can verify I will change the post.

As for her looks, I can only rely on witnesses at the time, but after 5 years of blogging I have learned that everyone's relatives are innocent and beautiful.

gerntz says:
August 23, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Is just a wee bit possible that these witnesses were biased in favor of Mr. Fuller and thus inclined to disparage Miss Farrar and her looks? We know how unreliable "eye witnesses" can be. How can you use the word "unattractive" to describe her when three men were hotly pursuing her? It's absurd on its face. She may not have been the best looking, but she was clearly attractive. Stick to the facts.

Robert Wilhelm says:
August 24, 2014 at 9:48 AM

The ONLY indication I had of her looks is a direct quote that called her "not handsome" If there was a quote that called her beautiful I would have used that as well. I commented on her "reported unattractiveness" I have no idea how she looked but I reported the only description I could find. If you have a better written description please provide it, otherwise, the fact remains that she was reported to be "not handsome"

gerntz says:
November 19, 2014 at 5:36 PM

"Thank you for the information on Ms. Schell it was not readily available when I wrote this. If I can verify I will change the post."

You might try the 10 Feb 1884 Cincinnati Enquirer article by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. S.F. Schell - S.F. being Samuel Farrar. Catherine "Kitty" is buried about 50 yards from her brother Samuel.

gerntz says:
October 21, 2015 at 7:51 PM

Further evidence that Amasa Fuller's and Palmer Warren's bethroth's name was Catherine Farrar:

She is listed in her deceased father Joseph Farrar's 1826 probate case as the wife of Elisha Warren.

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