About Us
Museum Membership
Event Schedule
Museum Newsletters
Museum Displays


Murder of James Riely, Druggist, By Thomas J. Armstrong

[Note, James Riely, druggist, the murdered man, was constantly going through the problem of having his name printed correctly. At first the Arkansas City Traveler was guilty of this. It was only when Mr. Riely started to advertise his drug store, which he called “City Drug Store,” that they got the name printed correctly. The Winfield Courier never changed, always spelling his name as “Riley.” MAW]
Arkansas City Traveler, May 25, 1881.
                                                       IT IS TOWN TALK
That Kellogg & Mowry, Shepard, Maxwell & Walker, E. D. Eddy, and James Riely are keenly alive to the needs of the drug business.
Arkansas City Traveler, June 15, 1881.
A horse race came off last Saturday between a black pony, belonging to A. Fairclo, and a bay pony, owned by Jas. Riely. The distance was about 400 yards, and was well contested. The black pony got away with the “stakes.”
Arkansas City Traveler, July 13, 1881.
James Riely, a druggist of Arkansas City, was brought before United States Commissioner Lovell Webb, charged with retailing liquor without Government license. The case was set for hearing on Wednesday, July 13th. Telegram.
We think there is some spite work in the above, and, from what we can learn, have serious doubts as to whether the case can be made to stick against Mr. Riely.
Arkansas City Traveler, July 20, 1881.
Mr. James Riely, of the City Drug Store, comes to the front with an “ad” this week. Mr. Riely is the proprietor of one of the best drug houses in the city, and all needing anything in this line, we recommend to give him a call. Don’t forget the place, City Drug Store, on West Summit St., just south of the bakery.
AD: City Drug Store. Pure Drugs and Medicines, Paints, Oils, and Varnishes, Stationery, Lamps, etc. James Riely, Arkansas City, Kansas.
Arkansas City Traveler, July 27, 1881.
The trumped up charge of unlawfully selling whiskey, pre­ferred against Mr. J. Riely, a druggist of this city, by Deputy U. S. Marshall Hess, was dismissed last week, there not being a particle of evidence produced that in the slightest manner incriminated Mr. Riely. The whole transaction bore the evidence of its malicious origin upon its face, and we congratulate Mr. Riely upon the result.
Winfield Courier, July 28, 1881.
James Riley [Riely], the Arkansas City druggist charged with violat­ing the revenue law, had his trial Friday before commissioner Webb and was discharged. There is entirely too much activity among Deputy U. S. Marshals about here. They should have a case before making arrests.
Arkansas City Traveler, August 3, 1881.
Mr. James Riely has taken out a druggists’ license, and will now dispense wines, liquors, etc., when prescribed by a qualified M. D.
Arkansas City Traveler, August 31, 1881. Editorial Page.
                                                       Roll of Old Soldiers.

                    The following is a list of the Old Soldiers of Creswell Township.
NAME                                          COMPANY          REGIMENT        RANK
JAMES RIELY                                     B                        5 Ills.               Sarg.
Arkansas City Traveler, September 14, 1881.
The Fair began at Wellington Sept. 7th. Riely went over with his race horse.
Arkansas City Traveler, October 19, 1881.
The race of one quarter mile between Riely’s stallion and the sorrel horse from Missouri, took place in the Territory, about seven miles southwest of Arkansas City, last Monday, resulting in favor of the Missouri horse. Riely’s horse flew the track, and the race was run again when he flew the track a second time.
Arkansas City Traveler, October 19, 1881.
                               Murder of James Riely by Thomas J. Armstrong.
On last Monday evening about half past 8 o’clock our city was the scene of one of the most outrageous and cold blooded murders ever perpetrated, a deed of blood of the most damnable stripe, and costing the life of James Riely, one of our mer­chants, at the hands of Thomas J. Armstrong, a well, but not favorably known, loafer in these parts for the past ten years.
The circumstances leading to the committal of the tragedy, as near as can be ascertained, are as follows.
James Riely was the owner of a race horse, and the stakes had been put up for a race to take place, somewhere south of this city, on Monday last, which came off and resulted in Riely’s horse losing the race. Considerable excitement prevailed among the parties attending, and was in no wise abated by the liberal supplies of whiskey which was evidently at the command of the crowd. A dispute occurred between Armstrong and Riely during the day, and it is reported that the murderer threatened to shoot his victim before sunset. However that may be, no serious distur­bance occurred, and a number of persons, more or less under the influence of liquor, were gathered in the deceased’s drug store during the evening, discussing the events of the day. Words ran high but no violence resulted until James Riely announced his desire to close the store, to which some of those present, it appears, objected and Riely pushed one or two from the store on the sidewalk, then a sort of a free scuffle took place, in which Armstrong figured prominently, and in the melee drew his six shooter and fired at Riely, who with the ejaculation, “Boys, he has killed me,” sank to the ground and almost instantly expired. The body was carried by several of the witnesses of the tragedy into the store, where an inquest was held and a verdict of murder against Armstrong rendered.
Immediately after firing the fatal shot, Armstrong darted into the darkness, and although large numbers of our citizens turned out in search of him, he has succeeded, at this writing, in eluding his pursuers. We understand that Mr. Riely is a married man, but has been living apart from his wife for several years. The murderer, Armstrong, has lived in this vicinity for years and is known as a quarrelsome fellow, especially when under the influence of liquor, but no one gave him credit for being the ruffian he has shown himself.
A. T. Shenneman came down from Winfield yesterday morning and issued the following notice which has been widely distribut­ed.
                                        ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD

will be paid for the arrest of Thomas J. Armstrong, who killed James Riely, at Arkansas City, Kansas, on October 17th, 1881. Armstrong’s age is 30 to 35; height 5 feet 10 or 11 inches; weight 170 pounds; light or florid complected; bald on top of head; first finger of right hand off at first joint and finger curled under; prominent upper teeth; has a snaggle tooth mouth; slight scar on right cheek. Had on, when he left, a heavy blue overcoat, broad rim white hat with black band, light pants, and a dark under coat.
I will guarantee one hundred dollars and endeavor to get the Governor to offer a State reward of $500. A. T. Shenneman, Sheriff, Cowley County, Kansas.
LATEST. A telegram from Hugh Riely, of Brimfield, Illinois, desires that the body be held till he arrives, which cannot be until Thursday next upon which day the funeral will probably be held.
Just before going to press, A. T. Shenneman and posse arrived in town, bringing with them Armstrong, whom they captured on Grouse, on the place of T. Robinson. When he saw himself surrounded, the murderer gave himself up to the officers, who at once brought him to the city where, after having taken a look at the victim, he was placed in a buggy and by this time we presume is safe in the Winfield jail.

Winfield Courier, October 20, 1881.
“Our sheriff is making one of the brightest records of any officer in the state. His reputation as a vigilant officer is already passed beyond the bounds of our county and has become known all over the state. His exploit of Tuesday adds another laurel to his crown. He was notified of the killing of Riely about daylight on the morning of the 18th. He immediately left for Arkansas City, where he went to work. Parties of mounted men were scouring the country in every direction already. The Sheriff set quickly to work gathering clues and taking his bearings, paying no attention to the excited rumors floating around. This took some time and the people began to get restless and wonder ‘why in thunder the Sheriff didn’t go after him.’ Shenneman had thrown all his energy and ability into this chase, and with a knowledge of the actions of criminals and the best mode of catching them, was carefully weaving a chain about the case that was sure of success. He meant that it should not be a ‘wild goose chase,’ and it wasn’t  By eleven o’clock he had settled in his own mind the direction the murderer had gone and about where he could be found. He then quietly ate his dinner, fed his team, got his posse together, and started.
“He didn’t fool around hunting through brush piles and following old roads, but drove straight to the house of Tom Robinson, on Grouse Creek; told Tom that Armstrong had been there that morn­ing, and was somewhere in the vicinity at that moment, scattered his posse out, surrounded the nearest thicket, secured his man, and drove into Arkansas City by four o’clock.
“There wasn’t much foolishness, bluster, or timidity dis­played; but the whole job was done as a careful businessman would plan out a speculation on ‘futures.’”
[Note: To say the least, I was “disgusted” at the write-up by Winfield reporter relative to the murder of James Riely by Thomas J. Armstrong. I have corrected the spelling of the murdered man’s name. MAW]

Winfield Courier, October 20, 1881.
                                 Whiskey and a Horse Race at the Bottom of It.
Almost the first thing we heard as we stepped on Main street Tuesday morning was that a man had just come up hastily for the sheriff, and that John Riely had been murdered in his own store at Arkansas City. But few particulars could be learned, and at eleven o’clock a reporter took the train for the scene of the tragedy to gather and place before the readers of the COURIER all the facts connected with the sad affair. Arriving at Arkansas City, he found the people in a fever of excitement. Little knots of men were gathered here and there discussing the matter, and loud and deep were the imprecations heaped upon the perpetrator of the deed. In company with Mr. John Walker, we visited the room where the corpse was lying. In the low, one-story frame building where only the evening before James Riely had dealt out drugs to his customers and laughed and chatted with his friends, we found him lying cold and still “in the silent embrace of death.” His features wore a natural expression, such as we had seen him wear when occasionally he had called on us during his visits to Winfield, and outward appearances showed no signs of a violent and tragic death.
The cause of the trouble, which hurried one man into eterni­ty without a moment’s warning, and makes another an outcast with the blood of his fellow-creature on his hands, is traceable to the same old demon that has filled graves and made murderers for centuries: liquor. Riely was the owner of a horse that he set great store by. He imagined that the horse was fast, and made a race with some Missouri parties. Much interest was manifested in the race, and considerable feeling indulged in. The race was run on Monday and Riely’s horse was beaten.
Tom Armstrong attended the race, and appeared to be somewhat under the influence of liquor. He bet against Riely’s horse, and he and Riely had some words on the track. Parties stated that Armstrong swore he would kill Riely before night, which, however, does not appear in the evidence at the inquest.
After the race, in the evening, a number of persons gathered at Riely’s drug store, among whom were Armstrong and a chum of his by the name of Adams, who once worked in a harness shop here. In the store some little bantering was indulged in, and about half past ten Riely said it was time to close up, and asked the crowd to clear out. Armstrong and Adams were among the last to go out, and were rather slow about it. Riely told them to get along out, and pushed Adams through the door. Armstrong then made a motion as if to take Adams’ part and someone on the sidewalk near him pushed him off into the gutter.
Meanwhile Riely came out of the store and stood on the sidewalk with his left hand on an awning post. Armstrong straightened up, and with an oath drew his pistol and fired. The ball struck Riely in the left breast, passing through the corner of his upper vest pocket and through his heart. He cried out, “I’m dead! I’m dead!” and fell in his tracks. He was picked up and carried into the store, but was dead before they laid him down. After firing the shot Armstrong ran up the street to a barn, got a horse, and left town. Tuesday morning the horse came back. In half an hour several parties of men were in the saddle in hot pursuit.
Armstrong is about 40 years old, tall, raw-boned and clumsy, red-faced, with teeth that protrude from under thick lips, has sandy hair and mustache. His right forefinger is bent back and nearly touches the palm of his hand, and he has a scar on his face.

Mr. James Riely has been in Arkansas City since a year ago last May, was a man of pleasing address, and had many friends. He was about thirty-six years old, and it is not known whether he had a family living or not. Some of his more intimate friends have heard him speak of his wife, but farther than that nothing is known. He has a brother living near Peoria, Illinois.
Armstrong lives in Bolton township, and owns a farm there.
Armstrong was captured Tuesday afternoon about 4 o’clock by Sheriff Shenneman and posse, on Grouse creek. After reaching Arkansas City and making careful notes of the direction taken, the sheriff found his trail and followed it to Grouse creek. Here he came across a man by the name of Robinson, whose actions indicated that he knew something about the fugitive. A thorough search was made of the neighborhood, and at last Armstrong was found in a thicket. He surrendered without resistance, giving up the little pistol with which the killing was done. It is a small No. 8. I X six barreled revolver, carrying a 32 cartridge. He requested especially not to be taken to Arkansas City, but Sheriff Shenneman thought best to come through there in order to change teams.
When the news was whispered around town, a large crowd gathered; and for some little time, things looked squally. At last the crowd sent up a paper signed by a large number of citizens, asking that Armstrong be taken to view the remains of his bloody work. He begged piteously to be spared this ordeal; but the people were determined, and the sheriff advised him to yield to their wishes. When he saw his victim lying dead before him, he broke down completely, and cried like a child. Turning to one of the officers he said, with tears streaming down his cheeks, “If I could have his life back, I would willingly give mine.” He says he wishes it was made a penitentiary offense to carry a pistol, and that before that day he had not had a pistol on his person for years.
This case offers many points that it would be worthwhile to carefully consider and might perhaps help some erring brother to steer clear of the shoals on which so many lives have been lost and hopes blasted. Had James Riely shown at all times a just regard for the laws of our State regarding the sale of intoxicat­ing liquor, he might not now be filling the early grave. The liquor that was unlawfully dealt out over his counter was the same liquor that made a devil of Armstrong and prompted him to do the deed that puts him in a felon’s cell. It was the same liquor that incites the father to butcher his offspring, and the child to murder his parents, . . . .
“There is a law on our statute books against carrying concealed weapons. The only trouble is that the penalty is not strong enough. It should be made a penitentiary offense. Men who cannot control their appetites should at least be compelled to observe the safety of their fellowman and not go about ‘thrice doubly armed’ for his destruction.”
Winfield Courier, October 20, 1881.
The posse that captured Armstrong was composed of Sheriff Shenneman, Deputy Geo. McIntire, Ed Horn, Lew Senate, Capt. Rarick, Lew Stanton, and Chas. Hawkins, of Silverdale township. The boys say that when Hawkins first saw Armstrong, he yelled like an Apache Indian. Ed Horn was the first to get his six-shooter on him and make him throw up his hands.
Arkansas City Traveler, October 26, 1881.

The $100 reward for the arrest of Armstrong will be paid by the Riely estate and will be divided equally among the posse who accompanied the sheriff. A. T. Shenneman of course receives no share.
Arkansas City Traveler, October 26, 1881.
                                                          THE LAST RITE.
“The obsequies of the late James Riely were held in the M. E. church, of this city, on last Thursday, October 20th, 1881, and were attended by a brother and niece of the deceased, from Brimfield, Illinois, and a very large number of our citizens, who thus showed their respect for and regret at the sad fate which had overtaken their young fellow citizen in the hey-day of life. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Laverty and was very impres­sively delivered. The interment was held in accordance with the ritual of the Odd Fellows, of which society the deceased was a member, and the cavalcade which followed the remains to their last resting place was undoubtedly the largest that ever wended its mournful way toward the cemetery from our city.”
Arkansas City Traveler, October 26, 1881.
                                                                I. O. O. F.
                              RESOLUTIONS OF RESPECT ON THE DEATH
                                           OF BROTHER JAMES J. RIELY.
WHEREAS, It has pleased the Supreme Being to remove from our midst our late Brother James J. Riely, and
WHEREAS, It is but just that a suitable recognition of his many virtues should be had.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by Arkansas City Lodge, No. 160, I. O. O. F., that while we bow with humble submission to the will of the most High, we do not the less mourn for our Brother, who has been taken from us.
RESOLVED. That in the death of Brother James J. Riely, this Lodge laments the loss of one who was ever ready to proffer the hand of charity, and the voice of sympathy to the needy and distressed of the Order, an active member of this Lodge, who ever worked for its welfare, a friend and companion who was near and dear to us all.
RESOLVED. That the heart-felt sympathy of this Lodge is hereby extended to his relatives and friends.
RESOLVED. That we, as a Lodge, wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days, and that our hall be draped in mourning for the same time.
RESOLVED. That these resolutions be spread upon the records of the Lodge and a copy thereof be transmitted to his relatives and a copy furnished each of the city papers.
Winfield Courier, October 27, 1881.
Mr. Riely, brother of James Riely, who was killed at Arkan­sas City last week, arrived just in time to take the last look at the remains before burial. He tells us that James Riely was married over four years ago, and divorced from his wife after six months. He gave her some five or six thousand dollars worth of property in Peoria, Illinois, where she is now living under her maiden name, Kate Hogan. He formerly ran a grocery at No. 119 North Adams street.
Winfield Courier, November 3, 1881.

                            Cowley County, Kansas, November A. D. 1881 Term.
Judge: Hon. E. S. Torrance.
County Attorney: F. S. Jennings.
Sheriff: A. T. Shenneman.
Clerk: E. S. Bedilion.
                                        FIRST DAY - CRIMINAL DOCKET.
                                STATE VERSUS THOMAS J. ARMSTRONG.
Arkansas City Traveler, November 16, 1881.
Lucius Knight has returned to Kansas. Mr. Knight is now in Winfield reporting the testimony in the Armstrong case.
Arkansas City Traveler, November 16, 1881.
The Armstrong trial trails its slow length along. The Jury was sworn on last Thursday, and one witness examined. The witnesses for the most part have been placed under a rule to hold no intercourse together during progress of the trial, and are excluded from the courtroom excepting when called. This case will probably occupy this entire week.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Mayor Kellogg, of Arkansas City, testified in the Armstrong case Monday.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Hon. Timothy McIntire, editor of the Democrat, made us a pleasant call Monday. He is one of the many witnesses on the Armstrong case.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
The jury on the Armstrong case was kept in charge of the bailiff over Sunday, not being allowed to separate. It was very hard on them, but the boys managed to pass the time pleasantly with the assistance of such outsiders as they could get hold of during the day. Most of them were taken away from their farms and houses without a moment’s preparation, and several were caught with their teams in town and had to hire someone to take them home and “do the chores” until the case was finished.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Judge Torrance delivered his charge to the jury in the Armstrong case Tuesday evening. It was a masterly document and set forth the law in the case clearly and in language that could not be misunderstood.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Courts don’t wait till a witness has time to attend. Mr. J. D. Guthrie, of Bolton, left the threshing machine cleaning out his wheat crop last week and came up to attend. Fortunately he was let off without much tedious waiting.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Arkansas City has almost taken the “hub” for the past week. Many of her citizens are here attending the Armstrong murder case. Among these we notice Charlie Holloway, Mayor Kellogg, Cal. Swarts, Joe Houston, the Fairclo boys, liveryman McIntire, Solicitor Holland, and Mr. Adams, supported by a number of other prominent citizens.
Cowley County Courant, November 17, 1881.

About fifty names were drawn before a jury was empan­eled in the case of the State of Kansas vs. Thomas J. Armstrong, who is arraigned under the charge of murder of one James Rile [Riely], at Arkansas City, on the 17th of last month.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
The jury in the Armstrong murder case is one of the best ever empaneled in this county. If law and justice are not safe in the hands of twelve such men as Seth Chase, Sam Watt, J. H. Land, W. O. Welfeldt, G. W. Sanderson, A. McNeil, T. L. Thompson, John Radcliff, L. K. Bonnewell, J. H. Lovey, J. S. Grimes, and E. F. Widner, we don’t know where you can find safety.
Winfield Courier, November 17, 1881.
Attorney Jennings and Mr. Asp on the one side and Mr. Hackney and Joe Houston on the other are fighting the Armstrong case step by step.
Arkansas City Traveler, November 23, 1881.
The Armstrong murder case was terminated by a verdict of “murder in the second degree,” and Judge Torrance sentenced the prisoner to fifteen years in the penitentiary. The evidence was only a revival of the facts given in the TRAVELER at the time of the murder, and therefor it is unnecessary to republish them here.
Cowley County Courant, November 24, 1881.
The motion for a new trial in the Armstrong case, which was argued Monday, was overruled, and sentence was pronounced, and was that Thomas Armstrong be kept at hard labor in the penitentiary for fifteen years and to pay the cost of prosecution.
Cowley County Courant, November 24, 1881.
The trial of Thomas J. Armstrong for the murder of James Riely at Arkansas City on the evening of the 17th of October last, was concluded last Wednesday, in the District Court, the jury returning the verdict of murder in the second degree, Thursday morning, after having been out about ten hours.
It appears from the testimony in the case that there had been a horse race in the Indian Territory on the afternoon preceding the evening of the murder, and that Riely owned one of the horses. During the race some misunderstanding arose regard­ing the starting of the horses, Riely and his friends claiming that the word at which the horses were to be started had not been given, and Burch, the owner of the other horse, and his friends claiming that it had. Armstrong, who had been betting on Burch’s horse, was heard to make threats against the deceased during the controversy.
After the conclusion of the race, the parties had returned to Arkansas City. In the early part of the evening, Armstrong, in company with a man by the name of Adams, went into Riely’s store, and shortly after they got in there, Armstrong invited Riely to have a cigar. Riely replied that he would not smoke with anyone who would bet against his horse. Armstrong said he couldn’t smoke with a better man, as he thought he was the best man in town.
Riely remarked that he would bet him twenty or twenty-five dollars, whereupon both parties put up the money. Several parties who were standing by induced them to put away their money.

Riely or his clerk at this time informed the crowd that they wanted to close the store and proceeded to blow out the lights. The crowd started out of the building and Adams had got nearly to the door, when he was pushed out by Riely, but turned and at­tempted to re-enter the building, and was again pushed out by Riely and fell upon the sidewalk.
Riely went up to where he had fallen, kicked, or attempted to kick him. Armstrong, who was standing a few feet from Riely, started towards him and told him to not kick Adams, that he was drunk. Just as he started he was caught by Marshal Fairclo, who told him to hold, that there was no use of there being any difficulty between him and Riely. Armstrong attempted to get away and was pushed by Fairclo into the street. Immediately on arising to his feet Armstrong told Riely not to do that again and Riely kicked at him. Armstrong advanced toward him and Riely threw off his coat and stepped a few feet north of where he had been standing to a post which supported the awning. Armstrong at about the same time stepped in the same direction and when within a few feet of Riely used some opprobrious language and fired, the ball taking effect in Riely’s left breast, killing him almost instant­ly.
Winfield Courier, November 24, 1881.
The prisoners were sentenced Monday.
Armstrong, for the murder of James Riley [Riely], gets fifteen years in the penitentiary.
Winfield Courier, November 24, 1881.
The agony is over. The Armstrong trial is finished. Twelve good men have carefully weighed the evidence and decided that Tom Armstrong, while in the heat of passion, deprived James Riley [Riely] of his life. The array of witnesses have returned to their homes, and curious lookers-on no longer haunt the courthouse halls to speculate as to the verdict and refix the penalty as each succeeding witness leaves the stand. In a few days the prisoner will receive his sentence and be consigned to a living death behind gloomy prison walls, walls his victim sleeps the sleep that knows no awakening.
This tragedy will always remain a black page in the history of Arkansas City. James Riely came to that place two years ago and opened a drug store. He seemed to be a young man of more than ordinary intelligence, and, although at times quarrelsome, his general manner was prepossessing, and he gathered about him a circle of friends and admirers. His business prospered, and a bright future lay before him. Away from home, and its restrain­ing influences, with a nature passionate and high-strung, it is no wonder that he looked lightly upon customs and laws, a strict observance of which is necessary to the well-being of every citizen.
Fearless in the face of enemies, but generous and open-hearted with friends, Riely cared little for the wishes of the former and was confident of support from the latter. Soon he came into the possession of a horse and seemed to have formed a great attachment for the animal. A man from over east came along and a race was made. Riely was backed by his friends to a man, and the subject was talked over and over again, until an unusual interest was felt in the result. It was what horse men call “a race for blood.” The day set for the race came around, hacks and carriages were brought forth, and everyone of a sporting disposi­tion turned out.

Here Armstrong enters upon the scene. He goes to Riely’s drug store and purchases two pint bottles of liquor. Armed with these he gets into a hack with four others and starts for the race track. He drinks several times on the road down. A crowd from one- to two-hundred are congregated to witness the race. Armstrong bets against Riely’s horse and stations himself near the outcome. The horses are started. Riely’s flies the track and the other goes through alone. Then there is much discussion as to whether the race was a fair one, or not, in which Armstrong takes an active part. Naturally of a braggadocio disposition, and inflamed with liquor, he seems desirous of impressing every­one around with the idea that he is “cock of the walk” and responsible for a large share of the fun.
Riely and the owner of the other horse are talking together apart from the crowd. Armstrong approaches them and volunteers some advice on the matter of the race. Riely says, “Go off, Tom, we’re running this race,” and Tom goes off. Soon he gets among a crowd of persons, talks loud, and offers to bet his coat. The name of Riely is mentioned, and he says, “G_d d_m him, I’ll kill him. By G_d, I’ll have him for breakfast.”
After awhile Riely gets mad and calls someone a liar.
This is told to Armstrong, and he says, “I wish he would call me that: I’d like to knock a hole through him.”
Soon the owners of the horses decide to run again, and Armstrong bets his watch with Riely against ten dollars. Riely is handed the watch, but turns it and the ten dollars over to Rile Fairclo, as stakeholder. The race is run and Riely’s horse is beaten. Armstrong asks Riely for the watch and money, and is referred to the stakeholder, who gives him the property.
Another circumstance happens between the races that bears upon the case. Armstrong is informed that Adams, a boon compan­ion who came with him to the race, is lying under the hedge close by dead drunk. He goes out with a friend, they pick up the inebriate, and put him in the hack. While doing so Armstrong discovers a revolver in Adams’ pocket, which he transfers to his own, with the remark that he (Adams) had better not have it while in that condition.
The race is over! Riely’s horse is beaten; he has lost his money and his pride is wounded deeply. Human nature is much the same and he felt only as other men would feel under like circum­stances: chagrined, defeated, and disposed to think harshly of those who helped to bring this disgrace upon him.
Armstrong had been loud-mouthed and arrogant, and his conduct was calculated to rankle in the mind of one more even tempered than Riely. On the other hand Armstrong had won. He had money in his pocket and must have gloried with the proud satisfaction of a successful bully over his success. A bully can make victory out of defeat by pure force of wind, and takes savage delight in administering draughts of gall and wormwood to the defeated when chance throws him on the winning side. Armstrong was a bully and Riely the least liable to take the draught without wineing. [HE WROTE WINEING.]
It is the evening of the day of the eventful race. Riely, the two Fairclo boys, Capt. Rarick, D. A. McIntire, and Charley Holloway, Riely’s clerk, are gathered in the low one-story frame store, talking over the incidents of the day.

Armstrong and Adams come in. Adams is still drunk, although able to navigate. Armstrong is happy and doesn’t care one cent whether the white-winged angel of peace is within one mile or fifty of the spot. He would like to see Riely squirm on general principles; and he proceeds to gratify this desire in the most subtle manner. He goes to the cigar case, calls out cigars for himself and Adams, and then turns to Riely with the query: “Riely, won’t you smoke with me?” You who have studied human nature can analyze the feelings of these two men as they stood there eyeing each other over the cigar case: the victor, self-important at the other’s expense, and spending with a lavish hand the money he had won.
No wonder Riely answered: “No. I won’t smoke with any man who bet against my horse.” A man of less spirit might have accepted the cigar as a peace offering; but no son of Erin would ever do it. He would hold out to the end and neither ask nor grant quarter. Hence, it is not strange that when Armstrong said, “You cannot smoke with a better man,” that Riely was ready with money to “bet he was a better man than any two in town.” This is the Irishman’s way out of any difficulty; and if he can only have the privilege of fighting two, or ten, or a dozen, he will come up smiling at the end, and whether he carries the scalps or the bruises, will feel all the better for it.
Here the situation seems to have been comprehended by those around. Capt. Rarick told them to put up their money and Charley Holloway suggested that it was time to close up the store. Riely said, “Yes, boys, let’s close up,” and began urging them out while Holloway commenced putting out the lamps.
Armstrong and Adams are among the last to go out. Adams is drunk and moves slowly: he gets almost to the door and Riely gives him a push and sends him out. He turns around and tries to come in again and Riely gives him another push and he falls over at full length on the sidewalk. Riely steps up and makes a side kick at him. During this time Armstrong has gone out and is standing near the south awning post in front of the building. He sees Adams come reeling out of the door and fall on the sidewalk, and Riely follow him up and kick at him.
Armstrong starts forward exclaiming, “Hold on, Riely: I can’t stand that!” Riely takes a step forward, but before they come together, Marsh Fairclo seizes Armstrong and hurls him off the sidewalk down eighteen inches into the street, where Armstrong falls on his hands and knees.
Riely sees that a fight is imminent and in an instant his coat is off and thrown against the side of the building. He sees Armstrong get up and face toward the north awning post, and he walks around in front of him and puts his left hand up against the post with the right thumb in the armhole of his vest and kicks out toward Armstrong, and says, “Go off home, Tom!”
Armstrong sees Riely step in front of him and sees him kick. He is blind with rage and a desire to teach people not to fool with him. He has the revolver he got from Adams in his pocket, and quick as lightning, it is brought out. The arm is raised, a loud report breaks out upon the still night air; and as the smoke clears away, he sees his victim sink down on the pavement, and the thought flashes across his mind that he is a murderer. He rushes away out into the darkness, while the bystanders carry Riely’s lifeless form in and lay it on the coun­ter.
These as near as we can write them, are the salient points brought out by the evidence. The jury brought in a verdict of murder in the second degree, and no more just and legal verdict has ever been rendered. That Armstrong intended to kill Riely ten seconds before the deed was done, we do not for a moment believe, nor do we think there was a particle of evidence to show that he did. The threats made on the race track were but in accord with the general character of the man, such as one would expect at the place and under the circumstances.

Arkansas City Traveler, December 21, 1881.
FARM FOR SALE. The Thomas J. Armstrong farm, in Bolton township, will be sold low if application is made at once to A. H. Green, Winfield, Kansas.
                          From Cowley County. First Index, Alphabetical Listing.
1) Date of Conviction. 2) Crime. 3) Date Received. 4) Term of Sentence. 5) Age.
6) Occupation. 7) Height. 8) Nativity. 9) Habits. 10) Married or Single. 11) Times in Prison. 12) Conduct. 13) Days Commutation Allowed. [Quite often, not filled out.]
14) How Discharged. 15) By Whose Authority.
                        [Skipping Race, Color of Hair, Color of Eyes, Complexion]
2559 Armstrong, Thos. J.
1) November 21, 1881. 2) Murder 2nd Degree, 3) November 22, 1881.
4) 15 Years. 5) 36. 6) Carpenter. 7) 5'10-14" 8) Ohio. 9) Intemperate.
10) Single. 11) First Time. 12) Good. 13) [Not filled out]
14) Pardoned by Governor Martin September 2, 1885.
Winfield Courier, Thursday, January 15, 1885.
We have just received the biennial report of the directors and warden of the Kansas State Penitentiary for the fiscal years 1883 and 1884, says the Democrat, and upon looking over its contents we find Cowley County quite well represented. She has twenty-five in this institution, whose names, ages, date of sentence, and crimes committed are given as follows.
Thomas J. Armstrong, age 36 years; sentenced Nov. 21st, 1881; term 15 years; crime, murder in the 2nd degree.
Arkansas City Traveler, September 9, 1885.
Pardoned. Tom Armstrong, who figured as principal in the shooting scrape whereby James Riely met his death in this city four years ago, and who was sentenced to fifteen years in the state penitentiary for the offense, has secured a pardon for good behavior and now appears on our streets again. His conduct in prison is said to have been exemplary, and he so won the confidence of the warden that that officer would entrust his prisoner with the execution of outside business and allow him to visit Leavenworth in citizen’s attire. This good behavior was ascribed to his credit, and a numerously signed petition to the board asking his release, was favorably considered, and Tom Armstrong is a free man again. It is to be hoped that this painful experience will keep him from evil companions and bad habits the remainder of his life.
                                                      FREE ONCE MORE.
Winfield Courier, Thursday, September 10, 1885.

Tom J. Armstrong, whose terrible tragedy, resulting in the murder of James Riely, the Arkansas City druggist, in 1881, created one of the biggest sensations of Cowley’s history, came home from the penitentiary yesterday, having been freed by the State Board of Pardons. His sentence was for fifteen years, four years of which he had spent. His freedom makes him one of the happiest mortals on earth—gleefully happy; so happy that at first it seemed to him all a dream. He was one of the top-ground coal shafters. He had got an inkling that his Arkansas City friends had placed his case before the Board of Pardons, but hope was so dim as to scarcely flicker, though while there is life there is hope. Last Thursday morning the officer in charge of his ward came up to his cell with a paper in his hand and said: “Let’s see; what is your name?” “T. J. Armstrong,” was readily responded. “This is your name, isn’t it?” said the officer, holding up a paper. Tom saw it and said, “Yes,” as his heart went down into his boots. He thought he had been reported for a misdemeanor, and this was the precursor of punishment. “Come with me, then,” was the sequel, and Tom was marched into the Warden’s office and told that he was a free man. The stripes were taken off, a new suit of citizen’s clothes given him, with the three cents a day allotment during the four years, and he was again in the world as other men. Joy danced all over his countenance as he related his feelings to our reporter. He could eat nothing all that day and slept none that night. The next morning he realized all soberly and lit out for home. The circumstances of the murder are fresh to all old settlers. It was simply the old story of whiskey. Crazed with drink, he killed his best friend. These simple facts, a world in themselves, secured his pardon, after four years remorse and solitude as punishment. Never again will Tom Armstrong, he says, touch whiskey. The lesson was bitter and life-long. He went down to Arkansas City Saturday, where he will again make his home.
Arkansas City Republican, September 12, 1885.
Tom Armstrong, the man who murdered James Riely, was in the city Saturday seeing his friends of former days. Armstrong was pardoned by the Board of Pardons several days ago on account of his good behavior. He was sentenced for 15 years, but served only four.
Arkansas City Republican, Saturday, December 19, 1885.
                                                          East Bolton Items.
Thomas Armstrong was pretty badly used up by being thrown between the box and wheels of a buggy while the horse was running away, it being the first time the horse had been hitched single.
Arkansas City Republican, April 10, 1886.
                                                          East Bolton Items.
Thomas Armstrong has been in the east end for a few days resting up. Mr. Armstrong built a fine house for Budd Beck one mile southwest of Arkansas City, and is taking a little rest before going upon another job.


Cowley County Historical Society Museum