Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black Sheep Sunday: Harry Pierpont

Mug shot of Harry Pierpont
Last week, after watching Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, I turned to Wikipedia and began reading about the lives of John Dillinger and other members of his gang.

When I read the entry for Harry Pierpont, I can across this line which made me stop in my tracks:
"Born in Muncie, Indiana, to J. Gilbert and Lena Orcutt Pierpont..."
Orcutt....Orcutt...why did that name sound so familiar?  Turning to my database, I quickly found my answer.  My paternal 2nd-great grandaunt, Samantha E. METZNER had married James ORCUTT on May 12, 1878 in Jay County, Indiana.  Jay County is just north of Muncie.  Could there be a connection?

Thus began my search of Google and other sources.  I quickly found the website which had a lot of information on Harry's criminal history and his family tree.  Turns out his mother, Lena, was the daughter of James and Samantha!  Harry was my paternal 2nd cousin 2 times removed.  Harry's grandmother, Samantha, had died when his mother, Lena, was only 7.  James ORCUTT remarried and moved to Muncie, Delaware County, Indiana.

My grandmother would have been Harry's 2nd cousin, and I wonder if she knew they were related when she read about his exploits in the headlines.

The Dillinger era in Indiana was a wild and tumultuous time.  Reading the activities of the "Terror Gang" is fascinating.  The times were much as they are today - the populace not trusting the banks, etc.  The fact that Harry robbed banks in my neck of the woods makes me want to dig deeper into the history of this time period in the midwest.

I've spent much of the last week scouring the newspaper articles at and surfing the web reading about the criminal acts of my cousin and other members of his gang.  Though the portrayals in the movie Public Enemies took liberties with history - Harry Pierpont did break out of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City and then busted his pal John Dillinger out of the Allen County, Ohio jail in Lima.  It was during this breakout that Harry shot and killed the sheriff.  It was this crime that he was ultimately executed for by the State of Ohio.

Harry died October 17, 1934 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio by legal electrocution.  A copy of his death certificate was found at the FamilySearch website:

Harry was buried at the Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, next to his older sister, Fern.  Later his mother, Lena, was buried there as well.

As I piece together the rest of the story, I hope to connect with others who may be related to this family and may have more stories to tell.

Black Sheep Sunday – create a post with the main focus being an ancestor with a “shaded past.” Bring out your ne’er-do-wells, your cads, your black widows, your horse thieves and tell their stories. And don’t forget to check out the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists (IBSSG). This is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.


Kathryn Doyle said...

That looks less like a "mug shot" and more like a post-mortem photograph. Am I wrong?

Travis LeMaster said...

That's his intake photo at the Ohio Dept. of Corrections. He was known to close his eyes in mug photos as an act of rebellion. Just didn't care too much for authority, it appears.

Rhonda said...

My co-archivist here in Brown County, IN is researching one of the gang members, Jenkins, who was shot and killed here. He shot her grandfather. She's also looking into the story that Dillinger stayed in Brown County for a short time.

Travis LeMaster said...


Would love to share information with your co-archivist. Please let them know about my interest. I've been working on the early days of Harry's career, while my dad has been researching his trial from Lima, OH newspapers. Should make for an interesting family reunion.

Rhonda said...

Check on this blog for Diana Biddle, Brown County Genealogist. Her grandfather was shot by Jake Jenkins, a friend of John Dillinger. Jenkin's sister was John Dillinger's girlfriend. Jenkins fared from Bedford, Indiana and is buried there. Mrs. Biddle will be giving a talk on the Jenkins death in Brown County and his connection to the Dillinger gang on August 9.
P.S. I sent you a Facebook friend request.

Kari said...

Hi Travis,
Harry Pierpont is my great great uncle :)

Travis LeMaster said...

Kari - Nice to hear from you. Would love to know of any stories from your family you might have about Harry.

Clayton Brown said...

Harry is my 3rd cousin.

Travis LeMaster said...

Clayton - Nice to hear from you, too. Would love to share any information you might have.