Madison P. Hopkins
The marker commemorating the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery’s only Civil War veteran is disappointingly vague. It includes no dates, neither birth nor death. The soldier’s name is included, but in abbreviated form. And to add insult to injury, the sparse information that is displayed has been mis-transcribed and published incorrectly on several online genealogy sites. Fortunately, the stone does include the fact that Mr. Hopkins served in Company B of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry—and that single fact was enough information to discover much of his life story.
Madison Hopkins joined the Union Army only after both of his two older brothers perished in the conflict. They succumbed, not to battle, but to diseases that decimated the ranks on both sides. Promoted by their deaths to the rank of eldest son, Madison felt duty-bound to carry on in their absence. He joined the Wisconsin Cavalry as a private in September of 1863. Two of his younger brothers also joined the fight to preserve the Union. One, Albert, served with General Sherman on his famous march to the sea. The other, Edmund, participated in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, with the Wisconsin 37th Infantry. Madison Hopkin’s regiment pursued Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he attempted to flee the South at the war’s end. There’s little doubt that the brothers’ military service fueled many colorful campfire stories for the rest of their lives.
After the war, the three Hopkins brothers returned home to a fractured family. Their mother Nancy Ball Hopkins had died in March of 1862—an early death that spared her the grief of her first two sons’ deaths. Their father Parley and youngest brother Clarence were the only family members who remained to welcome the brothers home to Wisconsin. At a crossroads, the surviving family members made a typically American decision: they would go west to see what opportunities might await them there.
Having made this decision, however, the family seemed to have some difficulty choosing a place to settle permanently. They went first to Iowa, where, unfortunately, their father Parley died at age 52; he is buried in the tiny town of Burr Oak. But there were happy times in Iowa as well. It was during their Iowa years that each of the brothers found a wife. Madison himself married a young lady named Martha Rogers on July 29, 1871.
But by the mid-1870’s, the brothers became restless again. They decided to move on, this time to try homesteading in Dakota Territory. While there, their families grew, but we have no way of knowing how they fared as homesteaders. All we know for certain is that by about 1880, farming seems to have lost its enchantment for the three Civil War veterans. Younger brother Clarence stayed behind, but the older brothers, including Madison, decided to move on to Washington Territory.
Once in Washington, the Hopkins Brothers finally went their separate ways. Brother Edmund settled with his family in Kitsap County. Brother Albert eventually became a fixture in Gray’s Harbor County—he was even elected Mayor of Aberdeen in his later years. Madison and Martha settled in the White River area (as the valley was then called) with their two daughters. They can be found there in the 1880 Federal Census and the 1881 & 1883 Washington Territorial Censuses, the latter of which includes their newborn third daughter Phoebe. In all of these reports Madison’s occupation is listed as “sawyer” or “mill man.” The forests of Washington must have soothed his spirits after years of the flat sameness that characterized the Dakota Territory.
After the 1883 census, the only report we have from the family is an 1886 marriage record for Martha Hopkins (Madison’s wife) to a William Johnson. Although technically a possibility, divorce was a rare event in the 1880’s. The more realistic conclusion is that Martha remarried because Madison Hopkins died sometime between 1883 and 1886.
This narrow date range might have been precise enough for our purposes if not for a short but intriguing entry in a book of Rogers Family genealogy. The volume included a brief listing for Madison’s wife Martha, reporting that she married William Johnson in 1886 after her first husband was murdered. That short but alarming sentence inspired further, deeper research that eventually revealed the story behind Madison Hopkins’ death.
In 1883, as it turns out, the Hopkins family was in transition. By then Martha would have recovered from the birth of her third baby the summer before. With a growing family, she was anxious to live closer to relatives. Her mother and siblings had settled in the Bellingham area, and she and Madison planned to join them there as soon as he had a chance to sell his small sawmill just south of Auburn.
Territorial court records reveal that Madison made an agreement with a much younger man named John P. Stone. The agreement permitted Stone and a partner named Hubbard to buy the mill from Hopkins over time. Unfortunately, Stone & Hubbard missed the first payments on the note, and soon Madison heard rumors that the two men were selling off the mill equipment and dismantling the property. They also failed to pay a company named Shea & Son for an order of saw logs meant to supply the mill.
That summer, Madison confronted John Stone at the sawmill. Although we’ll never know the details of their conversation, we do know that shortly afterward, Madison filed a criminal complaint against Stone for threatening him with a gun (a charge that was later dismissed by prosecutors). Madison also testified against Stone when Shea & Son successfully sued him for payment for the saw logs. In October, Madison engaged the same Seattle law firm that represented Mr. Shea and filed his own suit against Stone & Hubbard for the return of his property based on their default of the purchase agreement.
None of this proved who killed Madison Hopkins, or how, but it certainly pointed strongly in direction of John P. Stone. Confirming this suspicion turned out to be a more difficult matter.
The Kent and Auburn newspapers from the 1880’s are not available in any of the usual local collections. A suspicion that the Hopkins murder might have been covered in the Tacoma newspapers led us to the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library. In their genealogy room, under the elegant, stained-glass dome that graces their older wing, we spent several hours reviewing the microfilm of the 1883 – 1886 issues, hoping for some mention of the murder. We found nothing.
Finally, one of the librarians mentioned that she knew of an Olympia newspaper that had been in operation in 1883 and for a few short years afterward. The microfilm copies of this obscure publication had been filed away from the main collection, but she volunteered to brave the basement’s dust and cobwebs in order to bring us the pertinent reels. It seemed like a long shot, but we finally checked The Washington Standard issues from 1883. It was there that we finally found the following article:
Published Dec. 7, 1883
A man named Hopkins was shot in White River Valley, on the 29th, under these circumstances: He, and a man named J. P. Stone, have long been quarreling, and at the late term of the District Court Hopkins got judgment against Stone. He thought Stone had property belonging to him, and he got a warrant to search his premises. Accompanied by the precinct constable and four other persons he went at that date to Stone's house. Upon stating their errand, and showing their authority, Stone told them to go ahead and search as much as they pleased. He left them, but was soon seen returning armed with a Spencer rifle. With this he fired three bullets into Hopkins, causing wounds that were expected to prove fatal. Pointing his gun at the constable and others, he warned them to keep away, and immediately left for parts unknown. At latest advices from White River, Hopkins had died, and Stone was still at large.
Martha made hasty arrangements for her husband’s burial in the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery before fleeing with her three daughters to her family in Bellingham. The murderer was still at large; perhaps she didn’t feel safe staying in Auburn any longer than necessary.
Unfortunately we’ve been unable to locate any records pertaining to the arrest or conviction of John P. Stone. He may have served a sentence, or he may have remained in hiding for the rest of his life. We simply don’t know. We do know that Madison Hopkins, in addition to having served his country, supported his family and contributed to building the community that would eventually become today's Auburn, Washington. He was 38 years old when he was killed.
Not long after posting the above biography, I was contacted by a great-grandson of Madison Hopkins named Ron Sailer. Mr. Sailer provided a meticulously transcribed set of newspaper articles, all published in November or December of 1883 in the Bellingham Herald and the Seattle Chronicle. The clippings, saved for decades by Martha’s descendants, paint a vivid picture of Hopkins’ Thanksgiving-Day murder. In summary, they state that when John Philip Stone pulled a rifle on Hopkins and the accompanying deputy, the deputy left the scene to seek help from men on a nearby work crew. As he retreated, Stone, apparently egged on by Mrs. Hubbard (the mother of his partner in the mill purchase), shot Hopkins once in the chest, and twice more as he lay helpless on the ground. Then, for unfathomable reasons, the deputy simply stood by as Stone retreated into the house, changed into his “best clothes,” and exited out the back door and into the woods.
Hopkins lingered for more than four hours, fully conscious and in agony. As he was attended by Dr. Hughes, Hopkins discussed his last wishes, even appointing an executor for his estate before he finally succumbed to his wounds. And he repeatedly stated that Stone would not have shot him had it not been for Mrs. Hubbard’s urging.
Although Sheriff McGraw offered a $1000 reward for Stone, seemingly little effort was put into his capture. Outraged citizens called for Stone’s arrest, and the newspapers carried more than one impassioned editorial recommending his lynching once caught. Nevertheless, Stone was never found. Speculation at the time was that he escaped into eastern Washington or secretly boarded a steamer bound for Victoria and from there disappeared, probably to the mainland of Canada.
There is no further report regarding Mrs. Hubbard’s alleged culpability in the murder.
Martha and her three young daughters, then living in a log cabin on the Nooksack River (and not in Slaughter, as I had speculated), were left emotionally and financially devastated. Many of Slaughter’s most prominent citizens donated to a fund for their support. Even the Indians in her area were touched by her plight, taking it upon themselves to see that the family was fed through the winter.
Unlike the article from Olympia, these newspaper clippings reported that the murder weapon was a Winchester rifle (as opposed to a Spencer).
Special thanks to Ron Sailer for contributing to this update by so generously sharing his treasure trove of newspaper articles and additional family research.