“A Surly and Offensive Reply”: Frank Foote Part One

When studying an ancestor’s personal story, I often wonder how the events and actions they experienced impacted the course of their lives. In the case of my 3rd-great-uncle, Frank Foote, Junior, there is little doubt his death was hastened by the violence of his youth. (The Foote surname is spelled Foote and Foot in the historical records.)


Frank Foote, Jr. was born in 1844, though where is still a question as the 1860 Census records him having been born in Germany (along with his father) but subsequent census records indicate his birth in Ohio. His mother passed away sometime before 1860, leaving his father to care for Frank and his five siblings on his own until he remarried in 1864.

Frank Foote, Sr., a German immigrant, had established himself as a merchant in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio as early as 1856. Over the course of his life he operated coffee shops, saloons, groceries, and feed stores. He was operating a coffeehouse/saloon on the corner of Ninth and Baymiller streets in 1861 where his seventeen-year-old son, Frank, Jr., was working as a bartender.

Another immigrant, Samuel Clawson from Holland, had established a timber merchant operation in the neighborhood with his family, and his eighteen-year-old son George worked as a paperhanger. How well the Clawsons and Footes knew each other is unknown, but an exchange of words at the saloon one December afternoon would change both their lives.

Cincinnati Saloon Scene 1870s (Cincinnati Illustrated: A Pictorial Guide to Cincinnati and the Suburbs, 1879).

According to one source, George Clawson entered Frank Foote, Sr.’s saloon around 4 pm on December 26, 1861. Seeing Frank Foote, Jr. behind the bar, Clawson greeted him with a “Merry Christmas” among other pleasantries. Frank Jr. responded to Clawson with a “surly and offensive” reply. Clawson took offense and responded in kind. Frank Jr. drew a revolver and fired three or four shots at Clawson, one of which punctured Clawson’s lung and left him with a fatal wound.

Frank Foote, Jr. was arrested, initially charged with manslaughter and he was at first unable to come up with the $2,000 bail. Given his age he was sent to the Cincinnati House of Refuge rather than prison. As Clawson’s condition quickly deteriorated, the bail amount increased to $5,000. Frank Jr. was eventually able to post bail and, by the time George Clawson eventually died at his parent’s home on January 31, 1862, was staying with his family.

A reference in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper (3 Feb 1862, p-1).

What happened to Frank Foote, Jr. as a result a result of his killing of George Clawson is interesting because it appears that, rather than serve any prison time, Frank Jr. found himself as a Private in Company I of the 70th Ohio Infantry in the Union Army. While his records list his enlistment date as September 1861, the records also indicate only three years of service ending in the fall of 1865. That would seem to mean that he actually began his service in 1862 and on a timeline consistent with his potential conviction for the death of George Clawson. The 70th Ohio was still recruiting in the Cincinnati area until the middle of January 1862.

A reference in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper (5 Feb 1862, p-2.)

Was Frank Jr. given the choice between a prison sentence and military service? Had he enlisted in the time between the shooting and Clawson’s death? The language in the above article is interesting as it states that the “Jury, gave as a verdict, that the deceased came to death by a wound made by a pistol shot from the pistol in the hands of Frank Foote.” No reference is made to the charge of manslaughter which is what appears in the court index, nor is the term murder ever used.

Regardless of how Frank Foote, Jr. found himself in the Union Army, he would serve throughout the war and see some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict. His service in the 70th Ohio Regiment will be the subject of the next post.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.

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