Robert F. Fawcus arrived from Liverpool on the steamship Arizona July 10 1888 as shown in this New York Times clipping. He was shot May 26th 1895 by neighbour Fernando 'Fred' Bozarth in a dispute over water rights near Chimney Rock, Nebraska.
The story of the murder of Robert Fawcus Fawcus is told best by the affidavit of the accused, Fernando Bozarth, as to the expected testimony of Laura Watsabaugh, his sister, who was ill with the cholera in Omaha, and could not attend the scheduled trial. That affidavit is reproduced in full below.
What the affidavit does not say is that Fawcus was one of the incorporators of the Chimney Rock Irrigation, Water Power and Canal Company, the predecessor of the Chimney Rock Irrigation District. The Company was formed and the ditch built about 1889.
Page 1 of Amended Article of Incorporation of Chimney Rock Irrigation and Water Power Company, Oct 28, 1890
Page 2 showing signatories including Fawcus (line 14) and Bozarth (line 19)
Fawcus was an Englishman, and according to Aub, was a "remittance man." That is, he was the second son of a English family, whose eldest brother had offered to pay him a monthly "remittance" if he would leave the country. He came to America thinking himself a cut above the rest of the settlers. The worst aspect of this arrogance was that he took water out of the canal whenever he wanted it, without consulting either the officers of the Canal Company, or the farmers below him on the ditch, John Watsabaugh and Fernando Bozarth. It made no difference to him that Watsabaugh, or his brother, Bozarth, might be irrigating. He would take all of the water, and when he was finished irrigating his crops, instead of taking the dam out and turning the water back down the ditch, he would let the water run into some ponds on his place.
The affidavit details that in the summer of 1894, when John Watsabaugh was at Hemingford working on the railroad, Fawcus propositioned Watsabaugh's wife Laura, who of course turned him down. She told him she was going to tell Fernando, and Fawcus threatened to kill Fernando if he came around to bother him about it.
Nothing happened until the spring of 1895, when Fawcus decided to have a boating party. His ponds were not deep enough for boats, so he dammed up the outlet from the ponds, and dammed up the Chimney Rock canal and cut the bank on Saturday afternoon to fill up the ponds. When he arose on Sunday morning and found the ponds unfilled, he got on his horse and rode down to the canal to see what had happened. He found that the dam had been taken out of the canal and the hole in the bank filled in. He followed the tracks of the culprit and apparently came upon Fernando at or near the property line. (At least the court documents refer to a survey, accomplished by R.H.Willis, later, or maybe even then, Chief Engineer of the Nebraska Water Department.) Fernando shot Fawcus in the back with both barrels of a double barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot, killing him instantly. He immediately rode to Sidney and turned himself in. He was tried for first degree murder. The judge instructed the jury that there was evidence tending to show that there had been trouble between the two men, and that the deceased had attempted to seduce the defendant's sister, but that neither of those facts, even if true, would be sufficient justification for homicide. He was defended by an obviously able lawyer, on grounds of self defense, and was acquitted.
Fawcus had some English friends in the area, including Henry Haig, and Henry Etches. There was a rumor that the English friends threatened to lynch Bozarth. In any event, he went back to Ottumwa, Iowa, and stayed there.
Robert F Fawcus deceased had a dam built in his ditch in such a manner that he could shut off all of the water and turned it out to his land to the exclusion of those below him on the ditch of which [Bozarth] and the said Laura A Watsabaugh were two and that he did so to the great annoyance of herself as well as damage.
She had remonstrated with ... Fawcus as to his actions in the matter and requested him to permit the water to flow down the ditch in such quantity as she was entitled to that she might use it because her crops were suffering from want of it. Some times he would promise to do so and at other times would say if there was more water than he could use she could have it.
Her husband D. W. Watsabaugh was absent from home at Hemingford in Box Butte County, Nebr at work almost all of the summer of 1894. She was that summer cultivating and trying to raise a garden on the land of [Bozarth] about 1 1A miles east from the house of the said Robert F Fawcus under the said the Chimney Rock Irrigation canal and Water Power Company ditch. One day about the middle of August 1894 she was working in her said garden and had sat down to rest when suddenly Robert F Fawcus deceased rode over a little hill from the west to where she was sitting and as he got off his horse she rose up. Fawcus said "don't disturb yourself sit still I have come over to have a business talk with you in this quiet place where we will not be interfered with. Will you not be seated". She told him she preferred to stand and asked him what the business was he wished to talk over. Fawcus then said "I have come over to see if we can not come to some understanding about the matters we have been disputing." He then told her she had it in her power to fix the matter so they would have no more trouble over the matter. She told him she had never asked for more than of right belonged to her and she was entitled to; that he had taken every opportunity to shut the water off from her crops, that when he did not want it for his crops he cut the banks of the ditch and turned it into his lakes that she might not get it when her crops need it and that she did not know what she could do more than to demand her just rights. Fawcus said "Listen to my proposition and if you agree to it we can settle this business at once". He said he knew she had had an unpleasant time of it during the summer living by herself and having the care and bother of everything on her hands and that if she would submit herself to his pleasure and seal the contract by doing so right them she should never have any more trouble with him.
She then told him that she would tell her brother of his outrageous insult and that he would protect her and see that she had her rights. Fawcus became very angry and answered her by saying, "You have heard my proposition and it is all I will do. You tell your brother if you choose; but be sure and tell him at the same time that if he ever says anything to me about it or if he ever interferes with me in any way or attempts to meddle with the dam in my ditch or the water I will blow out what little brains the stupid brute has. I am only waiting for a chance to do it and always go fixed for it. You will regret this some day." She told Bozarth of what had happened and the insult offered by Fawcus and the threat he had made towards him. Fawcus continued to deprive [her] and her husband of the use of the water as had done before during the spring and early summer of 1895.
Newspaper Clippings and Court Records
Charges placed by Cheyenne County Nebraska September Term 1895
'Murder Most Foul' - Sidney Telegraph June 1st 1895
'Plays The Crazy Act' - Sidney Telegraph June 6th 1895
'In The Circuit Court' - Sidney Telegraph Sept 28th 1895
Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa
Thursday, February 4, 1896
E.W. Curry departed yesterday for Sidney, Neb., where he will defend FRANK BOZARTH who is accused of murdering a young Englishman about a year ago. Mr. Curry will be assisted by Geo. W. Heist, of Sidney. Young BOZARTH was a former resident of this county, and his parents still reside near Davis City. He was always considered an exemplary young man, and it is hard to believe he would murder a man in cold blood as is charged. We gave a full account of the tragedy at the time it occurred.
'District Court Notes' - Sidney Telegraph Feb 15th 1896
Gering Weekly Courier masthead
'Fawcus' murderer on trial' - Gering Weekly Courier Feb 21st 1896
'Citizens Are Indignant' - Sidney Telegraph Feb 22nd 1896
Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa
Thursday, February 27, 1896
As announced in The Reporter last Thursday, the jury at Sidney, Neb. acquitted FERNANDO BOZARTH on the charge of murdering Robert W. Fawcus, a young Englishman in a quarrel over an irrigating ditch. The verdict was a bit of a surprise to not only the friends of MR. BOZARTH in this county, but the citizens of Sidney, for it was the opinion of nine out of every ten that he would be found guilty of murder in the first degree.
It was the greatest case ever tried in that part of Nebraska, as the friends of the murdered man employed the best legal talent in the State to assist in the prosecution, and were ably assisted by Judge Fawcus, of England, an uncle of the murdered man, who is recognized as one of the leading barristers of England, and came to America specially to assist in prosecuting this case. The defense was made almost wholly by Mr. E.W. Curry, of the firm of Curry & McGinnis, of this city, being assisted by only a local attorney at Sidney. The Sidney Poniard, in speaking of the trial says, "Harder work is seldom done in a court than did the defendant's attorneys all through the trial, and in cross examination few men could approach the skill shown by Judge Curry, who almost inevitably punctured the testimony at some vital point by his adroitly put questions."
The defense established the fact that for two years previous Fawcus had been systematically persecuting young BOZARTH, had repeatedly cut off his water supply from the irrigating ditch, and had on several occasions threatened to kill him. That BOZARTH had on more than one occasion left his home and the country on account of his fear of Fawcus, and that when he fired the fatal shots that he believed Fawcus was about to kill him, and that the killing of Fawcus was in self defense.
The jury took this view of the case, and after being out only a short time brought in a verdict of "not guilty." Only two ballots were taken, the first standing l0 to 2 in favor of acquittal. The friends of Fawcus had made their threats that in case of acquittal they would kill BOZARTH before he left town, but the sheriff took the precaution of having thirty armed deputies to escort MR. BOZARTH and his parents to the train that same afternoon. He is now visiting his parents at their farm near Davis City.
A big indignation meeting was held at Sidney on Friday, at which resolutions were passed censuring the jury and also the sheriff for not exercising care and impartiality in selecting the jury.
'Justifiable Homicide' - Gering Weekly Courier
'Bozarth Not Guilty' - Sidney Telegraph
Thanks to Clark G. Nichols for research, and providing copies of court records and newspaper clippings.