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The Secret Life of Huston I. Chapman

Updated: May 17, 2023

History is a mystery, and historians are detectives at heart. Like criminal investigators, professional historians are trained to ask and frame questions in a particular manner and look for answers in places others might overlook. Regarding the topic of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, it is safe to say that most, if not all, of the proverbial rocks, have been turned. During the last seven years, I have turned over many “rocks” myself, usually discovering the tracks of other researchers already there. That certainly does not mean that I am not still searching for new clues to some of the remaining mysteries behind the Lincoln County War, but my expectations have certainly been tempered over time. In this case, researcher Fred Nolan had under this particular rock before, but the information was still new and exciting to me.

Map showing the progressive extent of the McBride fire by April 15, 2022.
Report of Huston Chapman's Death, Lewiston Daily Teller Lewiston, Idaho · Friday, March 21, 1879

The tragic story of Lawyer Huston I. Chapman has always tugged at my heartstrings. His cold-blooded murder on the street in Lincoln was ruthless and senseless, even by Lincoln's standards. When you add that the law never brought his killer, Billy Campbell, to justice, the tragedy of the crime is amplified. Chapman’s dedication to Susan McSween and her desire to bring down her husband’s killers is admirable. Mrs. McSween hired the young man to help settle her late husband’s estate, but Chapman was willing to go much further than that. Whether motivated by Mrs. McSween, his sense of honor, or both, Huston Chapman set his sights on destroying the career of Lt. Colonel Nathan Dudley, whom Susan McSween largely blamed for the death of her husband and the destruction of her home. Chapman went straight to the top, sending a letter to Territorial Governor Lew Wallace accusing the Army Officer of being criminally responsible for McSween’s death.

Left to Right- Susan McSween, Alexander McSween, and Nathan Dudley

Wallace took the accusations seriously and worked through the Army’s chain of command, requesting that Dudley be removed from command at Fort Stanton and that the Army assemble a Court of Inquiry to investigate the allegations. In the meantime, Chapman and McSween returned to Lincoln, where Huston began a calculated campaign to find justice for all those harmed during the recent Lincoln County War. Not everyone in Lincoln saw Chapman’s efforts as productive, fearing his persistence would reignite the flames of war. Officers from nearby Fort Stanton were especially concerned over the young lawyer’s attempts to blame their commanding officer, and the old battle lines from the previous summer seemed to be reforming.

After holding a mass meeting of Lincoln's citizens in December 1878, Chapman traveled to Santa Fe, where he met personally with Governor Lew Wallace. Wallace pledged to support Chapman’s endeavors, and the lawyer returned to Lincoln on February 18th, 1879, with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence.

The rest, as they say, is history. Chapman died an undignified death far away from his family, and his only friends in Lincoln buried him along with other casualties of the Lincoln County War, including Alexander McSween and John Tunstall. I have always found it ironic that Chapman died exactly one year after John Tunstall. It is one of those historical coincidences that I cannot seem to get out of my mind. As strange as this twist of fate is, I was equally flabbergasted when I discovered (by per happenstance) that February 18th, 1879, was also the day after Huston Ingraham Chapman’s third wedding anniversary!

An Unassuming Clue

While working on the scripts for our upcoming "Lincoln After Dark" Tours, I stumbled across a marriage record from Knox County, Illinois. On February 17th, 1876, a man named Huston I. Chapman married a woman named Agnes Ingraham. At first glance, I did not think much about the record as I had never previously read about Chapman being married and had no reason to believe he had spent time in Illinois. However, the bride's maiden name, "Ingraham," seemed too much of a coincidence. Chapman's mother's maiden name was Ingraham, hence his middle name. A brief search of records for Agnes Ingraham-Chapman returned some fruitful results. The hunt was on...

Agnes Chapman's Virginia Death Certificate (Note her place of birth as Burlington, Iowa!)

A Husband

In searching for more information regarding the life of Agnes Chapman, I again stumbled upon another Virginia death certificate, this time belonging to her SON!! Agnes' death certificate revealed her birthplace as Burlington, Iowa, the very same as Huston Chapman. There was now no doubt that Chapman was married at the time of his death...but why had Agnes not accompanied him to New Mexico when he took the job with the Atchison-Topeka-and-Santa Fe Railroad? The likely answer was as surprising as his secret marriage.

A Father

According to the death certificate, Agnes Chapman had one son, born on November 27th, 1877. His name was Winfield Harra Chapman, a unique name by any right. The boy's name stood out immediately...Huston Chapman had four brothers, two of them his junior. Their names were Winfield (born 1850) and Harra (born 1853), often misspelled as "Harry." Historical research rarely leads to "smoking gun" moments, but this discovery indeed came close. I immediately contacted fellow researcher Scott Smith to see if he could help corroborate my findings. In true Scott fashion, I received an email within minutes with his agreement that this was indeed authentic information. He and I both suspected the marriage might have been partially secret for some reason, and one very likely motive surfaced.

1856 Iowa State Census Showing One-Year-Old Agnes Ingraham, daughter of John Ingraham

A Family Affair

Huston I. Chapman and Agnes Ingraham were first cousins. Huston Chapman's mother was Margaret F. Ingraham (born 1816). Margaret's brother, John (born 1807), was the father of Agnes Ingraham. Huston Chapman relocated to Oregon Territory with his family the same year he was born (1847). It is unclear if he spent much time with his younger first cousin during his youth or when he left Oregon to head back to the Midwest. What is certain is that Huston and Agnes were married on February 17, 1876, in Galesburg, Illinois. One of the first questions that emerged from this research was why Galesburg? The town is home to Knox College, founded in 1837, and at first, I thought that Chapman might have been a student there. However, he was thirty years old in 1876 and beyond the typical age of a recent college graduate. Knox College did have a female seminary in 1876, so there was a chance that Agnes was a student or recent graduate. I contacted the Special Collections Library at Knox College to inquire whether Huston or Agnes had ever attended the school...the answer was no. So the question remained, why were they married in Illinois? A quick look at a map (which we conveniently already had!) revealed that Galesburg was the closest County Seat over the border into Illinois. If a couple were looking for a convenient place to elope outside of Iowa, Galesburg would be the most logical choice. It seems likely that Agnes' family was not thrilled that she planned to marry her first cousin and that the two married secretly before they could be stopped.

Galesburg was only a short railroad trip east from Burlington along the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Along the route also sat Monmouth, Illinois, the birthplace of legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.

Lingering Questions

There is no question regarding whether Agnes and Huston Chapman were married and that they had a son, Winfield Harra, who lived until 1963. The question remains: did Huston's family know about the marriage and his child, and did Agnes know about her husband's brutal murder on the street in Lincoln? Huston Chapman's death was reported in New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington newspapers but not in Iowa. However, Agnes identified herself as a widow on the 1880 census, so she most certainly knew that her husband was dead. It is unclear if Agnes or any of Huston Chapman's family made attempts to visit him while he was in New Mexico or if they tried to have his body brought back home to Iowa or Washington. Then, in 1894, a title dispute in Washington State erupted involving a plot of land deeded to Huston Chapman sometime before 1871 by a relative, John M. Chapman. In 1894, the suit's plaintiffs included Agnes Chapman and Harry W. Chapman, another relative of Huston's. In this case, Agnes' involvement proves that the Chapman family's Washington and Oregon branch was aware of her relationship with Huston and, presumably, the child they had together.


1907 Burlington, Iowa City Directory Showing Winfield and Agnes Living at 209 Winter Street

Agnes and Winfield lived in Iowa until after the turn of the century, along with Agnes' mother, Sarah. Winfield later listed that he had completed at least two years of college, following in his father's footsteps and finding employment with a railroad company, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy. After Sarah Ingraham died in 1900, Winfield and Agnes moved to Des Moines and lived there during the 1905 state census but were back in Burlington by 1907. Between 1907 and 1910, Winfield bought a farm in Knox County, Missouri, and Agnes moved there with him. Farming must not have been profitable for Winfield because, in 1917, he was living in Norton, Virginia, and working as a store clerk. At that time, his mother still lived in Missouri but joined her son in Virginia by 1920. Agnes passed away on June 10, 1925, in Wise County, Virginia, and was buried near her parents at the Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington, Iowa.

Clairborne County Marriage Record for Winfield Chapman and Lydia Hawkins, 1925.

Following his mother's death, Winfield married Lydia Hawkins in Claiborne County, Tennessee, on November 26, day shy of his 48th birthday. Winfield and Lydia had one daughter, Mary, born in 1927. Mary, a teacher, married Billy Gene Morris in 1950 and potentially had two children. Winfield Harra Chapman died on February 8, 1963, at 85. Modern records are more difficult to track down due to understandable privacy laws, but attempts are being made to contact the descendants of Winfield, Agnes, and Huston. As this family information has remained hidden from researchers this long, there is a good chance that his family is unaware of their ancestor's role during the aftermath of the Lincoln County War. We have reached out to some of Chapman's descendants, and hopefully, we can help fill in some of the gaps in their family history, and perhaps they can shine some new light on the man that stood up against the Santa Fe Ring and paid with his life.

Winfield Chapman's Obituary from the Bristol, TN Herald.

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