Off the Hook: The Caleb Wallace Murder

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The grave of Caleb Wallace rests among the ferns in Warren’s Pioneer Cemetery

“I’m assuming that you know where the grave is?” Mike stated as we passed through the gates of Oakland Cemetery. The sacred ground, which is the resting place of many of Warren’s important families, sits on the south bank of the Allegheny River overlooking the city of Warren.

“The good news is we’re not searching for a grave in Oakland Cemetery,” I responded as I drove slowly through the grounds of the cemetery. “We’re actually looking for a grave on the hill behind the cemetery.”

“Oh?” I had caught Mike’s curiosity

“We’re heading to the Pioneer Cemetery located on the hillside behind this cemetery.”

I parked at the rear of the Oakland Cemetery near a simple sign announcing that the “Pioneer Cemetery/Potter’s Field” was an eighth of a mile up the hill along an old road that cut through the forest. A couple steps into the woods sent a doe and her little one running across the road and through the woods and in the distance we could hear turkeys gobbling, making the short walk more enjoyable.

Our walk ended at the twin row of old stones resting just off the roadway among a sea of ferns. The old cemetery was moved here after the founding of Oakland Cemetery in 1863, being moved from its location in Warren in the section of land located between Fourth and Fifth Avenues and from East to Water Streets.

While the names of the Pioneer Cemetery and the Potter’s Field are two names this piece of sacred ground is known in modern times, but the historical name of the cemetery is the Old Fifth Street Cemetery. While this is the historical name, the cemetery is also referred to as the Old East Street Cemetery in some sources, due to its location along East Street.

Originally those living in town were buried on a piece of ground now known as the Wetmore Cemetery in North Warren. In the spring of 1823 the decision was made to purchase two plots of land along the banks of the Conewango Creek and have them laid out as a resting place for Warren’s residents. No sooner was the land purchased than the first burial occurred. That first was Mrs. Patience Gilson on April 4, 1823. Mrs. Gilson was the widow of John Gilson, the first settler in what is now Warren. John had passed away in 1811 and lies in an unmarked grave in the Wetmore Cemetery, along Route 62 in North Warren.

The second burial in the Fifth Street Cemetery was Eli Granger. Only a short time before his death, Eli has pointed out a spot in the cemetery where he wished to be buried if anything should happen to him. After he drowned in the Conewango Creek, he joined Mrs. Gilson in an eternal slumber in the Fifth Street Cemetery.

Many of the early burials in this piece of ground, like those in the Whetmore Cemetery, were not marked and so it is not known how many others buried in this sacred piece of land have disappeared over the years. There are stories to this day about human remains still being found in the yards of the houses that have been built on the grounds where the Fifth Street Cemetery once existed.

The stones from the Fifth Street Cemetery were moved with the bodies to the wooded hill above Oakland Cemetery and reading the stones, the cemetery was active from 1823 to 1854. There were forty-nine burials listed in the old cemetery, but only thirty-one of the graves were marked with stones. The eighteen unmarked graves were either unidentified people, paupers who could not afford a stone, or burials whose stones had disappeared over the years.

I quickly found the stone I sought and read it carefully, taking in the history that is recorded on the stone. “In memory of / Caleb Wallace / Who in the discharge of / His duty to which he was / Caled (sic) by a civil officer / Was inhumanly shot dead / While in attempt to / Arrest Jacob Hook on / The 25th of March 1824 / Aged 28 years”

Caleb Wallace would become the third body buried in the old cemetery and his murder was one of the most talked about events in the early years of Warren County. The man who killed him got away with murder.

Jacob Hook first arrived in Warren County in 1812 and started lumbering in the region. With his brother, Orin (also spelled Orren), he set up a number of lumber mills between four and five miles up the Allegheny River from the town of Warren. Jacob was a bachelor described as having a strong will, lots of energy, very opinionated, and uncultured, which would be the cause of many of his problems.

In the spring of 1824, a suit was brought against Jacob Hook by a hired hand who was in a quarrel with Jacob over unpaid wages. Hook was accused of lying about the unpaid wages and a warrant was issued for his arrest for the perjury.

On the morning of March 25, 1824, Deputy Asa Scott (who was acting as sheriff due to Sheriff Littlefield being sick at the time) approached Hook’s cabin and asked him to return to town with him. Jacob was irate. Not because of the warrant, but because he had been in Warren every day the week before for business and nothing had been done about the warrant while he was in town. Instead they were bothering him on the one day he didn’t want to go to town and that he would be in town Monday to answer the charges.

Scott returned to Warren to report Jacob’s response. After Deputy Scott conferred with a number of sources, he was encouraged to form a posse to bring Jacob Hook in. The posse consisted of Deputy Scott, Caleb Wallace, Perry Sherman, James Arthur, and two or three other men who are not identified.

The posse arrived at the cabin of Jacob Hook after dark. Arthur, who was on friendly terms with Hook, approached the cabin and begged Jacob to return peacefully to Warren with the men. Hook told Arthur that he was not going with them and any attempt to enter his cabin would be met with violence.

After Arthur returned with Hook’s response Scott, Wallace and Sherman approached the door and found the door locked. Scott broke the door down and the trio was met with a musket blast of slug shot. One of the slugs caught Wallace in the chest and killed him instantly. Other slugs hit Sherman in the arm, shattering it. The only thing that saved Deputy Scott’s life was the fact he fell to the floor when the door was forced open.

The posse retreated that evening to a neighboring house to watch Hook’s cabin. The next morning Hook awoke and stepped outside to see the aftermath of the previous night’s events. Though he was aware he had wounded somebody he claimed he had not realized that he had killed anyone when he fired the gun.

The next day, Jacob Hook surrendered himself. He was arrested and placed in prison for Wallace’s murder.

On June 2, 1824 the trial of Jacob Hook began. On June 14 the jury returned after a twenty-minute recess with the verdict of “not guilty.” Hook’s lawyer argued that Deputy Scott was not under seal; even though the warrant was valid, Deputy Scott had no right to enforce it so the men in the posse had no legal right to enter Hook’s house to serve the warrant. The men breaking into Jacob’s house that evening were trespassers and Hook’s lawyer argued that Hook had the right to defend himself from an armed posse.

In a strange turn of events, which may be the reason behind the quick decision by the jury, Jared Dunn, who was one of the men on the jury, committed suicide the day after the trial. It was said he suffered from a weakness of the mind. He had been heard saying that he had accepted a bribe to find Jacob not guilty and he was no better alive than dead. When he was asked how much he received he responded with no more than the rest of the jury and accused the judge at the trial of taking money from Hook. He was survived by a wife and seven children. His wife did affirm that she had discovered a large sum of money after Dunn’s death, but did not know how he had received it. Note: Every newspaper article refers to the juryman as Jared Dunn but Schneck refers to him as Jeremiah Dunn in his history of the county. I’ve seen Jeremiah abbreviated as Jer’h and Jerm’h, which could explain why the newspapers thought the name was Jared.

I stood there paying my respects to Caleb and could not help but feel sorrow and anger at his murder and the fact that Jacob Hook got away with it. How Scott, an officer of the law, was not allowed to enforce the law mystifies me. Jacob might have been found not guilty in the eyes of the court, but public opinion remained against him and he was publicly shunned and criticized by the residents of Warren. Hook would only enjoy this victory for a few more years. He would die in 1827 while in Pittsburgh on business due to the effects of a swelling on his neck.

I finished paying my respects to Caleb and the others buried here before Mike and I left this sacred place in silence as those of long ago continued their eternal slumber beneath the forest canopy.

As with any and every cemetery, please be respectful and use extreme caution while visiting. Due to the age of the stones, they are fragile and a misstep could cause the stones to break.

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