POSTED: Jan. 29, 2002
POLK COUNTY -- At the Polk County Museum, history not only comes alive, it runs frantically through the woods with its legs shackled together.
Anna and Ethan Burgess are intrigued.
The two youngsters found out that these particular shackled legs belonged to a killer. And not just any killer. This killer is buried on their family's property south of Dallas.
The shackles he discarded during an escape attempt are on display at the museum.
Anna and Ethan decided to learn more.
What they learned was the Adam Wimple was hanged for killing his wife, Mary, in 1852. Adam Wimple was 35 years old at the time. His wife was 12 -- only a year older than Anna.
It was a match made a few feet lower than heaven.
Mary's stepfather may well have arranged the marriage. It was certainly in Adam Wimple's financial interest. The new federal Donation Land Act gave married couples twice as much land as it did to bachelors.
Adam Wimple said the little girl he took for his wife was a mean-mouthed shrew who abused him verbally and physically. She obviously didn't like life with the 35-year-old man.
She tried to escape back to her home in Portland. Adam Wimple tracked her down. He was heard threatening her life is she tried to run away again.
The couple moved to a land claim in Cooper Hollow south of Dallas.
On Aug. 1, 1852, William and Margaret Gage discovered the Wimple cabin on fire. As the fire burned out, they discovered Mary Wimple's charred remains.
She was identified only by her jewelry.
Four days later, Adam Wimple was found several miles away near Rickreall Creek. He said he was looking for a stray horse. Authorities knew better. They took him into custody.
He said he beat his wife to death after she fired a shot at him during an argument.
Wimple was taken before Justice of the Peace Thomas J. Lovelady in Dallas who ordered that he be held on a murder charge.
However, there was no place to keep him. Polk County had no jail.
So Wimple, shackled and guarded by four deputized citizens, went to stay with Sheriff Benjamin Franklin Nichols and the sheriff's family.
The arrangement didn't work. The family was away from the cabin Aug. 26, 1852. Wimple feigned illness and asked his guard to brew some tea.
While the guard went out for wood, Wimple escaped. He managed to get out of his shackles and cast them into the Luckiamute River.
Three days later, hungry and tired, Wimple went to a neighbor for food. He was immediately recaptured.
The trial lasted three days. The central issue was whether or not the murder was premeditated or a crime of passion. First-degree murder meant a trip to the gallows.
A crime of passion meant life in the penitentiary.
Wimple, obviously, opted for the latter. He argued a bullet hole in his shirt proved his child bride attacked him. There were no forensics tests back then to prove otherwise.
There were, however, 12 pioneer jurors who knew a lot about bullet holes. They were allowed to examine the shirt for themselves.
It took them about an hour to schedule an appointment between Wimple and the hangman.
The hangman, by the way, was also the sheriff. While waiting for his execution, Wimple once again stayed at the sheriff's house. He spent the final four weeks of his life enjoying the hospitality of his executioner.
Wimple sat on his own coffin as the wagon made its way to the gallows.
The wagon passed Sheriff Nichols' father, who Wimple called "Uncle Bill." He called out to the old man:
"Uncle Ben, ain't you coming to see me get hung?"
Ben just scoffed. "I've seen enough of you, Adam. No, I ain't going."
The only man in town with a personal invitation to the hanging was about the only man who missed it. The rest of Dallas turned out.
A traveling circus was even in town. However, out of respect, circus owners waited until Wimple was good and dead before starting the show.
The shackles were fished out of the Luckiamute River by members of the Lee family. They stayed in the family's possession for generations until historian Arlie Holt convinced the family to donate the shackles to the museum.
The Lee family also buried Mary. Family members took her remains and buried them under an Oak tree on the north side of Falls City Highway west of what is today Liberty Road.
Wimple was buried on his land claim in Cooper Hollow.
Anna and Ethan, both home schooled, were fascinated by their family's connection to history. They've been using the resources of the museum to learn more.
"It's interesting because he's buried on our land," said Anna.
"The shackles, those are most interesting."
This was the murder indictment passed down by a Polk County grand jury against Adam Wimple Aug. 31, 1852:
"Adam E. Wimple of Polk County, yeoman, not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced at the instigation of the devil himself to wit on the first day of August in the year 1853 with force and arms, within the country aforesaid, in and upon one Mary Wimple in the fear of God in said County and then and there being feloniously, purposefull and of deliberate malice killed Mary Wimple."