One of the stops on my initial Prospect Hill Cemetery tour was for John Ahmanson. Mr. Ahmanson is known for many things and he contributed a great deal to Omaha. He published a Scandinavian newspaper in Omaha, became a doctor, and represented Douglas County in the 8th Nebraska State Legislature. The reason I stopped at his grave was to tell a story that had nothing to do with these accomplishments.
I found an article in the Omaha Daily Herald on Nov 9, 1885 that included a letter from Mr. Ahmanson. This letter was in response to a man’s plea for sympathy – one Mr. James “Jim” Burke, who was in the penitentiary serving a 12 year sentence for murder. Mr. Ahmanson had witnessed the event and had not been called as a witness during the coroner’s inquest nor at either of the two trials held. Mr. Ahmanson’s letter stated he felt it was his duty to share what he witnessed that day.
Upon further investigation I have learned that while Dr. Ahmanson was not called as a witness, there were a multitude of witness’ at the scene. 10 on-lookers were called to the coroner’s inquest. Multiple individuals were called to testify as to what they saw, heard and knew of the event during the two trials. When reading Dr. Ahmanson’s letter now it is clear to me why he wasn’t called as a witness. There were so many other people who had a better view of the event.
However, the squirrel was out of his cage and I gave chase. Did he or did he not get his pardon?
Thanks to the Nebraska State Genealogical Society, I found Mr. Burke's information in the Nebraska Prison Records 1870 - 1990 Index. I used that information to order his prison record.
Jim Burke was granted his pardon, but not until May 13, 1887. Another interesting tidbit in this record was that Burke had a large scar on his right cheek. I wonder if that came from the day he killed Morris Weils, when Weils slammed Burke's face into the display counter in Collins store.
In the end this story did not turn out the way I expected, but do they ever ;)
Charles W Martin, “John Ahmanson vs. Brigham Young: A Nebraska Legal Controversy, 1859- 1861,” Nebraska History 64 (1983): 1-20
Chronicling America - this resource is free to all, thanks Library of Congress! - Chicago Daily Tribune 8 Sep 1878
Omaha World-Herald Digital Archive - you must have an Omaha Public Library card to access this resource; Omaha Daily Herald 11 Dec 1878, Omaha Daily Herald 13 Dec 1878, Omaha Daily World 9 Nov 1885,