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One family, two sheriffs, fight against ‘mad’ dogs

J.T. O’Connor, pictured front row, third from the left, (with the beard) was city marshal when this picture of members of the Hannibal Police Department was taken, circa 1904. Linda Ham Thompson submitted this photo. Her great-grandfather, George Ham, is seated in the wagon, third man from the left.


During the cold of winter, February 1887, a “mad” dog created quite a stir on the O’Connor farm, located on the state road just to the west of Mount Zion Church in Miller Township, Marion County, Mo.

Dick Monroe, (age at the time estimated at 72) a man of color who worked for the O’Connor family for much of his life, heard noise coming from the stable, and investigated in order to learn the source of the commotion.

He at first saw a dog nipping at the heels of the horses, according to a story in the Palmyra Spectator newspaper, and then the dog turned on Mr. Monroe, biting him several times. Mrs. Monroe, in trying to rescue her husband, was also bitten. The dog then ran into the couple’s home nearby, and subsequently bit one of their children.

J.T. (Thomas) O’Connor responded to the frightful scene with his rifle. He found the dog lying in a fence corner, with frothing of the mouth. He shot and killed the dog.

In order to treat the Monroes, “A madstone was procured and we are informed adhered to the wounds for some time,” the Marion County Herald reported in its Feb. 18, 1887 edition. It is known that Mr. and Mrs. Monroe survived their ordeal.

“Mad” dogs, or those with rabies, posed a serious threat to farmers of this era. Stray dogs affected by the disease became aggressive, prone to attack animals and people alike. Once the rabid dog bit another animal, the disease spread.

Another encounter

In early August 1900, the O’Connor family had another encounter with the disease.

E. Simms O’Connor, who was then serving as sheriff of Marion County, reported that he lost a cow on his farm due to a bite by a rabid dog; it was the second of his cows to die within a month.

In addition, his brother, J.T. O’Conner lost a valuable steer to a bite from the same dog.

The Quincy Daily Journal explained on Aug. 2, 1900: “When the cattle are first taken with the malady they become sluggish and refuse to eat or drink. In a day or so they become mad and attack anything and everything that comes in their way.”

J.T. O’Connor learned this lesson the hard way. The newspaper continued: he “was attacked by one of the mad bovines the other day while he was out in his pasture in a buggy and he was obliged to run his horse to get out of the way of the mad animal.”


The preferred treatment of rabies in humans at that time consisted of the application of a “madstone” to the area of the bite.

At the turn of the century, Dr. Fred Vernette of Hannibal, Mo., had such a stone, and was often called upon to apply the stone to wounds inflicted by an animal suspected of having rabies.

(Dr. Vernette’s story is included in “Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri” by Mary Lou Montgomery, available on

O’Conner brothers

James Thomas and E. Simms O’Connor were sons of George W. and Mildred (Jameson) O’Connor.

J.T. served as Marion County sheriff from 1888 to 1892, and his younger brother, Simms, served from 1899 to 1903.

When James T. O’Connor left office at the end of 1892, he moved with is family to Hannibal, he told the newspaper, because there were no houses for rent at the time in Palmyra.

Once in Hannibal, he worked for the next few years in law enforcement, for a time serving as marshal for the City of Hannibal. He also occasionally did deputy work for his brother.

J.T. O’Conner’s wife, Sarah A. Boone O’Connor, died in January 1896, at about the age of 50. She was the daughter of Daniel Boone of Ely, Mo.

According to burial records found on Findagrave, she was preceded in death by four children, Boone, Newton, Ella Mae and Frederick. Survivors included her husband and one daughter, Anna O’Connor Moss, who died in 1954 and is buried near her parents in Greenwood Cemetery at Palmyra.

Simms O’Connor never married. After his tenure as sheriff, he returned to his farm near Mount Zion Church. He was raised and died on that same Miller Township farm. His death came in May of 1924.

The Monroes

According to the Marion County Herald newspaper, Rachel Monroe, wife of Dick Monroe, (both of whom were bitten by a mad dog in 1887) died Jan. 17, 1911, at the Marion County Infirmary in Palmyra. Her husband died less than two months later, on March 3, 1911. According to a notation in the O’Connor family bible (as reported by the Palmyra Spectator) Dick Monroe was 96 years old at the time of his death.

When he died, Dick Monroe owned a small piece of property in Township 57 North, Range 5W, Section 10, fronting the state highway between Hannibal and Palmyra. The land was located on the north side of the highway, a short distance to the east of Mount Zion Church, which Mr. Monroe attended.

In 1912, the Monroe family descendants sold the land to W.O. Rigney for $300.

A grave marker has been installed by descendants Greenwood Cemetery in Palmyra, in honor of the Monroe family.

1913 Marion County atlas, showing the O’Connor farmland. To the right, circled, is Mount Zion Church, and to the right of the church is the small acreage that belonged to Dick Monroe. Oaty Rigney purchased the Monroe property in 1912.

The red outline shows the boundaries of the “O’Connor farm” as illustrated in the 1875 Marion County, Missouri, atlas. Circled in red is the Mount Zion church. G.W. O’Connor, father of former Marion County sheriffs J.T. and Simms O’Connor, owned a portion of the farm, as did his sister, Mary E. McCormick, and a brother, Joseph O’Connor. The northern boundary of the farm fronted the state highway, between Hannibal and Palmyra, Mo.

This trustee sale advertisement for the O’Connor Farm was published in the Palmyra Spectator on Nov. 28, 1884, in order to settle the estate of George W. O’Connor, who died the year before.

Marion County farmer, Oaty Rigney, purchased the Dick Monroe acreage, fronting on the state highway between Hannibal and Palmyra, in 1912 for $300, following the death of Mr. Monroe. Rigney family photo.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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