Did You Know? (Nutt/Dukes Part 3)
By June of 1883, the eyes of the entire country were focused on Uniontown,
Pennsylvania. Six months earlier, on December 24th, 1882, a Pennsylvania state
legislator-elect shot and killed the Cashier of the Pennsylvania State Treasury
at a hotel in downtown Uniontown.
N.L. Dukes, the man who killed Capt. A.C. Nutt, had refused to marry the dead
man’s teenaged daughter, Lizzie Nutt, after he’d claimed she’d been promiscuous.
His refusal was sent in the form of letters to N.L. Nutt, and they implied
Lizzie Nutt was pregnant – and in need of an abortion.
What had begun as a private squabble became a bloody national story soon after
Nutt paid a visit to Dukes, and was shot and killed. Dukes’ acquittal on the
grounds of self-defense met with outrage across the country.
Soon after the murder trial, angry citizens warned Dukes to either leave town or
face severe consequences. Dukes failed to leave town. On June 13th, Nutt’s
oldest son, James, walked up to Dukes at Uniontown’s “round corner” and, without
warning, fired five shots. Dukes died within minutes. “A SON TAKES VENGEANCE,”
read the headline in the Bucks County (Bristol, Pa.) Gazette the following
Below that headline were the gruesome details of the killing that detailed where
on Dukes’ body each of the three fatal bullets had been lodged.
Ironically, the pistol Dukes used to kill A.C. Nutt was found on him.
The New York Times reported that a Coroner’s jury had already been convened. One
of the jurors, George C. Marshall, Sr., was the father of a two year-old, who
shared his name, and who would eventually become the only military man ever to
win the Nobel Peace Prize. “The shooting had scarcely taken place before the
whole community had heard of it, and people rushed to the scene by hundreds,”
that report said.
The Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada) Free Press wrote that “Young Nutt gave himself
up and is now in jail. He was calm, but as pale as a sheet.”
On June 15th, the New York Times claimed that “a feeling of relief is apparent
now that the last chapter of has been added to the sad tragedy.” Contrary to
that opinion, it would not be the last chapter. There would be a highly dramatic
trial, based on the verdict of the Coroner’s jury verdict that James Nutt had
But this time, newspaper readers across the country seemed to fully support the
young man who’d done what they may have done themselves – he killed Dukes at
By the time James Nutt’s trial began in Uniontown, the local emotions had risen
so highly, that potential jurors were called, and so many had expressed their
strong feelings about the case, that the trial was moved to Pittsburgh. There
also arose rumors that Jimmy Nutt would get a pardon from the governor for his
actions. No such pardon had ever been given, it was written, besides for the
killer of the outlaw Jesse James – Robert Ford. No pardon for Nutt would be
Adding to the furor was a letter printed in Connellsville’s Keystone Courier on
August 18th, 1883, that was written by Dukes, and was to be published only in
the event of his death. Dukes went into great detail about his involvement in
the killing of A.C. Nutt. It was, as far as he was concerned, self-defense –
He also went to great lengths to attack reporters for what he thought was their
bias against him. “The reporters colored all of the testimony against me, and
suppressed all of the evidence that tended to my vindication,” he’d written. But
once again, he made statements that didn’t help his image in the eyes of the
public. On the subject of Lizzie Nutt, he wrote, “I have been held up to public
gaze as the destroyer of an ‘innocent little girl’. If her reputation is
destroyed I am not responsible for it.”
In January of 1884, the trial of James Nutt got underway in a packed courtroom
in Pittsburgh.The judge in the case had to admonish Nutt’s well-wishers not to
bring anymore bouquets into the courtroom and lay them on the table where Nutt
was sitting. Curiously, Nutt was defended by a sitting U.S. Senator – Daniel W.
Voorhees – of Indiana.
Even though there was a wealth of testimony that had established some sort of
premeditation (he’d been spotted the day of the killing, at his home engaged in
target practice), the jury returned a verdict of not guilty “for reason of
The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette carried the story of the excitement
greeted by the not guilty verdict. The train carrying the Nutt family from
Pittsburgh to Uniontown was met by “100 prominent citizens, who acted as an
escort to the party, who were conveyed to their residence in a carriage drawn by
four white horses,” the article said.
That should have been enough. But as unsettling as the first trial had been for
Uniontown, the James Nutt verdict produced a near citywide victory celebration.
“Cannon(s) were fired, bands played, and business for the time being was
suspended,” the article said. And there is still much more to the story. The
drama would continue despite young Nutt being quoted as wanting to “make
something of himself,” in the Indiana (Pa.) Weekly Messenger on January 30th.
In the early fall of 1884, there were published reports that two members of the
Nutt family had been mysteriously killed by poison. The Connellsville Daily
Courier, however, debunked the stories calling them the work of the “that
ever-ready peddler of fiction – Dame Rumor.”
And when it seemed possible the headlines bearing the name Nutt and Dukes would
finally disappear, in 1886, there was another shooting.
This time James, who’d moved to Kansas and lived on a farm, shot two more
people. When he was placed on trial, once again, he tried the “insanity
His luck had run out. He was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder and
he was sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence. And there’s more.
In August of 1903, the Salt Lake City Tribune published a detailed story about a
newspaper publisher in Kansas who’d written about the Dukes/Nutt killings and
trials a number of years after they’d taken place.
He’d been paid a visit by James Nutt who happened to be living in the area and
had read the article. He’d apparently gone there to kill the publisher. The
publisher, however, talked him out of it.
The publisher believed, according to the 1903 article, that the term “Nutty” was
fitting for a family with the name Nutt with such “a living history tinctured
with the odor of death.”
To a newspaper publisher, he claimed, those who are “Nutty” are far more
dangerous than a libel suit.