Thursday, August 22, 2013

RESEARCHING THE ALMANAC TRIAL: DUFF ARMSTRONG'S GRAVE

It was Sunday, and most places were closed, so I decided to try to find the scene of the killing which resulted in Duff Armstrong's prosecution for murder. I knew two things about the scene: (1) It was somewhere near Salt Creek, and (2) it was in a place called either Walnut Grove, Walker's Grove, or Virgin's Grove. I had been told the approximate location of the place by one of the locals, and I felt I could find it. I was wrong. I found Salt Creek, which we in North Florida would call a river, but when I got to the place where Walnut Grove was supposed to be, all I found was a cornfield and a cemetery, and it was nowhere near Salt Creek. It was something of an Oddysey.


Salt Creek

Lane was very patient with me as I drove aimlessly through cornfields and small villages looking for Walnut Grove. It was something like going into a time warp back to the 1950's. We could have been in early twentieth century rural North Florida except that Florida corn cannot hold a candle to Illinois corn. Comparing the corn on the farm where I grew up to Illinois corn would be like comparing wild quail to farm-raised quail. Finally, I decided to give up and go back to the hotel. We needed gas, so I stopped at a gas station in a small town.

When I got out to put my credit card into the gas pump, I found further evidence that we had gone into a time warp back to the 1950's. There was no slot for a credit card. A quick check of the price displayed on the pump reassured me that we were still in the twenty first century, so I went inside the store to prepay. "Oh, you don't have to prepay," said the lady behind the counter, "Just pump the gas and come back and tell me how much it was." I did so. As I was paying, I asked her if she knew where Walnut Grove was. She didn't know, but she knew where I could go to find out. She directed me to a neighboring village and told me to check at the bar on the main street there.

We drove through more cornfields until we came to the small town, and then couldn't find the sign for the bar. I guess the locals knew where the bar was, so there was no sense in spending money on useless extravagances like signs. Using my finely honed detective skills, I deduced that the bar was the only building on the street which had cars parked in front of it. I pulled up and parked and asked Lane if she wanted to come in with me. She didn't.

The inside of the bar looked like the typical inside of a rural bar. I've visited many bars just like it, but when I visited most of those bars, it was in connection with a criminal investigation. I bellied up to the bar next to one of the patrons and the barmaid came over and asked me what I wanted. I told her, and she asked one of the patrons if he knew where Walnut Grove was. They told me that Duff Armstrong was buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery and they knew where it was. Receiving my directions, I exited the bar, got back into the truck, and we were off to find Walnut Grove.

We found the cemetery, and there were some trees in the distance which could have been Walnut Grove, but there was mostly cornfields.


Walnut Grove (?) Cemetery


I put the question mark in the caption above because I'm not certain that the cemetery had anything to do with Walnut Grove. It did have Duff Armstrong's grave, though.


Duff Armstrong's Grave

The picture above doesn't do justice to the lush fields of corn surrounding the cemetery. Duff's grave marker did not bear his date of birth or date of death. It did give the military unit he served in during the Civil War.


WM. ARMSTRONG
CO.C.
85 ILL.INF.

By all the evidence I have been able to muster, Duff died a pauper. The headstone is  a generic headstone given to Civil War veterans. We tried to take a rubbing of the tombstone, but didn't have the proper equipment. Beside the headstone is plastic plaque which is somewhat more legible.

 
WILLIAM DUFF ARMSTRONG
Accused Slayer Of
Preston Metzker
May 7, 1858
Freed By Lincoln In
Almanac Trial


Before we left, we found another headstone that I thought was worthy of a photograph. The gentleman buried beneath this headstone certainly had a nice sense of humor.


PARDON ME FOR NOT STANDING UP