MURDER AT BELLS MILL--part 2
By R. Max Gard
Published in the Farm & Dairy Wed. 2 June 1954
When the sheriff sold Ira Marlatts land in January, 1887, Ira became unhappy and disagreeable. He preferred solitude to company, and spent most of his time in the barn or the woods by himself. One of the few people that he would visit was Lodge Farrell, an old soldier of fortune who spent some time in the west when that country was wild. Farrells tales of cowboys and Indians with himself as hero in most of them appealed to Ira. Lodge Farrell had a Navy Colt revolver with which he hunted groundhogs and shot mark. Ira liked to watch Farrell shoot.
In mid April, 1890 Ira rode by the orchard which he had once held deed to. Many of the young trees he had planted were bursting with bloom, and several would bear fruit this fall for Barak Ashton, who now owned the orchard. Ira resolved to avenge the loss of it.
He rode over to Lodge Farrells and asked to borrow his Colt Revolver. Farrell knew Marlatts hatred for Ashton and Bell well enough to know that he wanted the gun for no good purpose, so he crossed his fingers and told him that his brother had the gun. Ira got on his horse and went to Columbiana.
He first went to see Albert Ramnger who operated a drug and hardware store and asked to see his stock of revolvers. Ira had about 5 dollars with him and Ramngers guns started at $7.50 so no business was done at that establishment. He then walked over to Greenamyers hardware store and asked clerk J. C. Bowman to show him the revolvers in stock. He finally selected a cheap little nickel plated 32 calibre rim fire 5 shot revolver which was priced at $3.50. Mr. Greenamyer came over to complete the transaction which also included 2 boxes of shells. He took the gun home and practiced shooting at a target on a big oak tree. His mother asked why he had bought the gun and he told that he got it to shoot rats and groundhogs with.
On May 7th, 1890, Ira got up at six oclock and fixed his own breakfast. He then went to the barn where he loitered quite a while making his plans before he saddled up his horse and rode off toward David Morlans at about 8:30 am. He asked David Morlan (Barak Ashtons son in law) where Barak Ashton was.
Morlan advised him as to Barak Ashtons whereabouts and Marlatt rode over and found Ashton with his other son in law Seth Shaw. Marlatt told Ashton that Lou Bell wanted to see him over at the mill, then he went to the mill himself. Ashton loaded some wheat on a two- horse wagon and he and Shaw started in that direction.
Marlatt told Lou Bell that Ashton wanted to see him, and told Bell where Ashton was. Apparently he wanted to be sure to get them together as part of his plan. Then Marlatt rode in the direction from which Ashton must come. Bell saddled his horse and just got started when he met Ira coming back, who told him that Ashton was coming to the mill to see him. As Bell rode back past his yard he saw his year and half old daughter Ione whose shoe needed fixing and as the cobblers bench was at the mill office he picked her up and took her in to the small room with him. This office had a desk, a cobblers bench, 3 or 4 chairs and a barrel in it. The only entrance was a door about 20 inches wide. Bell with his baby in his arm, unlocked the door and went in. He sat down at the bench to fix his little girls shoe when Marlatt walked in.
Bell said, "Have a chair Ira," and Marlatt took the chair nearest the narrow door.
A few minutes later, Ashton walked in carrying a small sack of wheat and he took a chair by Marlatt and said, "Well Ira, what dost thee want?"
Marlatt replied, "Youll damed soon find out what I want. I want $600.00 damages for that land you took away from me."
Ashton said that he felt that his settlement for the land was fair enough, and besides he had no money with him for damages. Marlatt reached into his pocket, pulled out some notes which he had prepared, tossed them on the desk, backed toward the door, drew his revolver from his belt and ordered both Ashton and Bell to sign the notes.
Bell jumped up with his shoe hammer in his had, but Marlatt aimed the gun at him and said "Ive got you just where I want you, I want revenge and you men will not get out of here alive even if I have to swing for it."
Lou Bell sat down and drove a few pegs to steady his nerves and his little daughter Ione began to cry. He picked her up and said "Well Ira, I must take the little girl out anyway."
Marlatt said "No you dont or Ill shoot."
Then Bell grabbed the barrel of the gun and pushed Marlatt back over a barrel but Ira shot away part of his jaw in the scuffle. He aimed at his face but Lou Bell caught the second bullet in his elbow. Ashton rushed out of the room screaming, "Oh Louis is shot."
Marlatt got to his feet again and shot Ashton through the lung. As Lou Bell rushed out of the mill carrying his baby Marlatt shot him a third time through the shoulder. Bell placed his daughter on the ground and told her to go to the house when the team belonging to Ashton was frightened by the noise and started to run away. As he was chasing the team,
Marlatt emptied the last shell in his revolver at him but missed.
Bell had just caught the team and tied them when he saw Barak Ashton stumble and fall across the township road from the mill just below the old Quaker Burying ground. Lou Bell rushed to pick him up and the last words anyone heard Barak Ashton say were "Oh Louis, Im shot."
In the meantime, Marlatt reloaded his chap revolver on the mill platform and started to shoot at them again but at that distance missed. Bell laid Ashton down on the soft grass, dead and ran for a rock-pile. Marlatt fired again several times and missed but one of Lou Bells rocks thrown with his right arm which had not been wounded his Marlatt in the gun hand and bounced off onto his chest, stunning the murderer temporarily.
Albert Hunsicker, a native of Switzerland who worked as a hired man for Lou Bell came up about this time and Lou hollered for him to go to the house and get the shotgun. When this happened, Ira had only one shot left in his gun so he ran to get onto his horse. As he rode down the road, Hunsicker shot at him with the shotgun and missed. Marlatt shot his last bullet at the Switzer but missed him and made a pig squeal in the pen nearby. In all, eleven shots were fired. The shooting started about 10:15 am and was over by 10:30 am on May 7th, 1890.
Ira Marlatt reached home about eleven oclock wild and excited. He told his mother that he had a fight with Bell and Ashton. He grabbed some food and a hammer and went up to his room. Here he nailed the door and windows shut, pulled down the blinds and ate. Lem Lyder went for the sheriff, and a crowd of about 75 people gathered in the Marlatt yard.
When Sheriff John W. Wyman arrived, Iras mother and a friend of the family, Fred Heacock pled with Ira to give himself up. Ira replied, "If the sheriff wants me, he will have to come and get me."
Sheriff Wyman then broke the door down and Ira shot him, but the big key wind watch in Wymans pocket caught the bullet. He threw Ira to the floor as he shot once more and missed. Lem Lyder helped the sheriff to handcuff and disarm Marlatt. He was taken to the Columbiana County Jail at New Lisbon.
Barak Ashton was buried a few days after he was killed in the old Quaker Burying Ground with a hundred feet of where he died.
C. S. Speaker of New Lisbon was hired to defend Marlatt in the trials that followed. The case was tried in New Lisbon court and later in Youngstown where he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary for life. Speaker insisted that Marlatt should not be hanged because he was insane, but the jury committed him to the penitentiary in Columbus. About 2 weeks ago I was in Columbus and while there I talked to an elderly guard that knew Ira Marlatt well. He told me that at first Ira was very arrogant and was forced to spend a lot of time in solitary confinement. Toward the end of his life though, Ira Marlatt became a model prisoner and was often visited by his relatives and friends. He lived to see his idea of attaching a motor to a buggy developed by others and become big business. What a thin partition sometimes separates insanity from genius.
Several times he wrote to C. S. Speaker to see if there was some way that he could be released on parole, but he served his full sentence in the penitentiary.
NoteI am grateful to Wm. H. Vodrey of East Liverpool for prompting me to write the story of the Bells Mill incident, and particularly to Ross Bell, Lou Bells son for making the details available. Ross was in school the day of the murder but heard the story repeated so many times by his father and other principles involved that he was able to provide a complete story of the event.
Our friend, Ed. F. Stratton of Salem, Ohio, has called our attention to an error in last weeks story on the old Bells mill and the Elk Run Friends Meeting House situated in Elk Run township, Columbiana county, Ohio, but located on Bull Creek.
This meetinghouse was not the original home of the Middleton meeting. The first meeting-house was located just north of the present Kirk Orchards in Section 26 of Fairfield township.
Mr. Strattons notes are as follows and are taken from the official records of the Wilbur Friends meeting in Salem:
In the article in the current Record and Farm and Dairy you spoke of Elk Run meeting being the first meeting set up by Friends in Columbiana county. This is an error as Elk Run Preparative meeting was not established until in the 11th month 1808 and was set up by Middleton Monthly meeting.
Salem Preparative Meeting was established in 10th month, 1804, and Salem monthly meeting was started in the 11th month, 13th 1808. This is now the meeting in Winona.
From the above dates it appears that Elk Run meeting was about the fourth meeting started by Friends in Columbiana.
In an article written a few months ago you mentioned that the Friends meeting established at the head of Little Bull Creek was Middleton Monthly Meeting which was established 9th month, 5th 1803.