Friday, June 15, 2007

A Bad Apple on the Family Tree?

All right, I think all you Overholser descendants had better sit down. This is not easy to say, but there is increasing evidence that Levi Overholser just may have been, well, something of a crook. I was prepared to dismiss his reported willingness to settle disputes with a revolver as just evidence of a colorful character. But now, from the same intrepid historian who turned up the details of Levi's involvement in the railroad business (thanks again!), come these two newspaper items from 1868, when the Overholsers were apparently living in Vincennes, Indiana (which was news to me).

First this one:

The most of our readers have doubtless heard of the failure of Mr. Levi Overholser, of Vincennes, formerly doing business at Palestine. There has been a great deal of gossip as to his real failure, and some suits growing out of the matter in order to test the legality of certain sales of property made by him at about the time of his failure. A week or two ago a suit was instituted in the U. S. District Court, at Indianapolis, to compel him to go into bankruptcy. The following item, which we find in the Indianapolis Journal, would seem to indicate that his failure (?) did not leave him in a penniless condition:
"Mr. L. Overholser, a wealthy citizen of Vincennes, Indiana, lately secreted in his house about $16,000, and contrived to let it become known that he had the money. One night last week the house was entered by burglars, completely ransacked, the money found, and the thieves got safely off with it. The owner would be willing to give $2,000 for the recovery of the money."
--Robinson Argus, April 30, 1868

Then, a week later,

Last week we copied an item from the Indianapolis Journal in relation to the robbery of Levi Overholser of the sum of $16,000. -- Since then we find in the Journal the following item in a letter from Vincennes. Overholser was charged of having acted dishonestly before the announcement of this theft, and if the money was stolen it but confirms these charges. Mr. O. is very generally believed to be the real owner of some $15,000 worth of real estate in this county, and which he very conveniently has in the name of another party in order to keep his creditors from getting hold of it:
"The Overholser robbery seems to have created more excitement out of Vincennes than in it. The business transactions of Mr. O. have not been of the most creditable character. -- When his creditors desired a settlement he seemed to have no money to pay them, and proclaimed himself a bankrupt, though all the time he has been doing a thriving business. No one here seemed to have any confidence in him or sympathy for him, and when the robbery was proclaimed it produced a smile of doubt rather than tears of sympathy. No headlines announced the robbery in our county papers, while the editorial comments made were anything but flattering to the loser. If Mr. O. had sixteen thousand dollars to lose, he would have had many to sympathize with him for his great loss if he had given any indication that he intended to pay his honest debts."
--Robinson Argus, May 7, 1868

So this looks . . . not so good. But you will notice that both of these items--and the previous one about his pulling a gun on a business associate--come from the same newspaper. I think the only thing we can REALLY conclude is that the Robinson Argus was blatantly anti-Overholser and clearly had it in for Levi. Right? Right?

Or maybe he was just a crook. As I told the historian who found the clips, I'd feel guilty about living off his ill-gotten gains if we still had any.

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