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P.W. Hawes found coal business both lucrative and challenging

This photo is identified in the “Story of Hannibal” by J. Hurley and Roberta Roland Hagood as taken during the Hannibal flood in 1903. The iron horse drinking fountain, located between Main and Front streets, is pictured at right. At left can be seen a sign advertising the P.W. Hawes Athens Coal and Wood yard, located at 112 Broadway. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION


On March 23, 1903, a coal mine catastrophe occurred at Logan County, Ill., some 100 miles to the east of Hannibal, Mo. Six employees were killed in an explosion at the Athens Coal Company’s mine, located 20 miles north of Springfield, Ill.

At the time of the explosion, coal from this plant, advertised as clean and free of clinkers, was sold in Hannibal by Perry W. Hawes, doing business at 112 Broadway. The “economic aftershock” of the mine disaster literally reverberated through Hannibal, sending this well-known and respected businessman scrambling for a new means of supporting his family.

Illinois native

Perry Wilson Hawes was born at Atlanta, Ill., in 1856, a son of Logan County pioneer settler and dry goods merchant Jacob Perry Hawes and his wife, Elizabeth. As a young adult during the decade following the end of the Civil War, Perry W. Hawes moved west, where in 1877 he attended Normal school training and was employed as a teacher in El Dorado, Kansas. It was during this time that he met Miss Susie R. Dutton, who trained as a teacher with the first class (1877) of the Teachers institute in Butler County, Kansas. She was the youngest daughter of Maj. J.S. Dutton and his wife, Martha Chesney Dutton, among the early settlers in this part of Kansas in 1871.

P.W. Hawes and Susie Dutton married on Jan. 6, 1880, and moved back to Logan County, Ill., enticed by Jacob Hawes’ offer of a lucrative business opportunity for his son.

Once in Illinois, P.W. Hawes clerked for his father’s mercantile business in Atlanta, for a time, and then circa 1883 moved with his wife and their firstborn, to Hannibal, Mo., where he managed the Athens Coal Company’s Hannibal branch.

P.W. Hawes’ Atlas coal business, first located at the foot of Bird street, and by 1895 relocated to 112 Broadway, flourished. Two children later, in 1894, the Hawes were financially able to build a stately, two-story frame house on the southeast corner of Bird and North Maple, 216 N. Maple.

But life wasn’t always easy for the Hawes family or their business ventures in Hannibal.

Main Street murder

The report of a pistol was heard at 7 p.m. in late February, 1886, attracting the immediate attention of those in the area of the north end of Main Street. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Jack Johnson, a teamster for the P.W. Hawes’ Athens Coal Company, had been shot in the left side of his chest. Witnesses said that Johnson had run about 20 feet after he was shot, then fell to the ground, dead. Johnson had just finished stabling his team for the night behind J.P. Rayne’s carriage shop, 412 N.Main, when the shooting took place.

The Quincy Daily Whig described the shooting victim: “Johnson was a Swede and quite a peaceable fellow, seldom indulging in fights, though somewhat addicted to liquor.”

Burglary attempt

In June 1886, Hawes, concerned about safety at his business establishment, secured the services of a watchman to inhabit the premises at night.

The Sedalia (Missouri) Weekly Bazoo noted that two burglars attempted to gain entrance to the building about 1 a.m. Monday morning, June 21, 1886.

“They had succeeded in removing a pane of glass from the rear window when the watchman, Bennett, opened fire on them,” the newspaper reported. “They beat a hasty retreat and made good their escape as Bennett had but three loads in his revolver, and on that account did not follow them.”

One of the bullets struck the window casement where the burglars were working.

Steamer’s coal bill

In November of 1886, P.W. Hawes was forced to turn to the courts in order to collect a debt of $96.98 from the operators of the Mississippi River steamer, Gem City.

The steamer, owned by the St. Louis and St. Paul Packet Company, made regular runs along the northern Mississippi River, and at least once purchased coal on credit from Hawes at Hannibal. The St. Louis Globe Democrat on Nov. 12, 1886, made note of the fact that Hawes had made repeated requests for the money owed, but was “put off from time to time with promises.”

Finally, Hawes turned to the Marion County court for assistance. Deputy Sheriff John Carber (who lived at 402 Jefferson in Hannibal) met the steamer when it docked at Hannibal at 10 p.m. “After some little hesitation the amount was paid and the steamer proceeded on its way.”

Frequent traveler

During their residency in Hannibal, Mrs. Hawes made several trips to visit her extended family. Her father and mother, who had just marked their 50th wedding anniversary, died within 12 days of each other, Mr. Dutton passing on Aug. 17, 1886, followed by his wife on Aug. 29, 1886, in El Dorado, Kansas.

Her siblings included:

Sarah Ann (Sallie) Mickle, the wife of Probate Judge Melvin Mickle of El Dorado, Kansas.

Keziah Dutton Sandifer, of El Dorado, Kansas.

Clarence P. Dutton, postmaster and editor in Rush County, Kansas.

Josie Dutton Wilson, active in YMCA work in Denison, Texas (died of the Spanish Influenza in 1918.)

Sherrod W. Dutton, physician, McCracken, Kansas.

Martha Chesney Dutton Satterthwaite, wife of J.M. Satterthwaite, editor of the Douglass (Kansas) Tribune for 48 years.

Mary E. (Mollie) Turner of Louisville, Ky. (Mrs. Hawes left Hannibal via the Burlington Route in January 1895 to visit her sister in Louisville. St. Louis Globe Democrat, Jan. 22, 1895.)

New business venture

After the closing of his coal business circa 1903, P.W. Hawes and his eldest son Jacob D. Hawes, launched a land management company at the same location as the former coal company.

On July 16, 1904, P.W. Hawes advertised investment farm land for sale in the The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

“I have a large list of splendid farms in Northeast Missouri for sale and exchange. We have land here that is as good as land that is selling in Illinois at $100 to $150 per acre, that I can sell or exchange at $40 or $60 per acre.”

Farms for sale included:

100 acres, all bottom land, in Sni (sic) Valley, 4 miles from Hannibal, 1/2 mile from railroad switch, Pike county, Ill. $45 per acre.

80 acres, nice little farm, 6 miles from Hannibal. $45 per acre, cash only.

745 acres, a model stock farm, in Ralls county, Missouri, 20 miles from Hannibal. $45 per acre.

265 acres, 7 miles west of Hannibal on gravel road. $52 per acre.

Final summons

“The dark winked messenger of death” visited the Hawes home on July 15, 1905. The news of P.W. Hawes’ death at the age of 48 was prominently reported in the July 28, 1905 edition of the McCracken (Kansas) Enterprise, of which his brother-in-law ,C.W. Dutton was, at the time, editor.

Funeral services were held at the family home in Hannibal, with burial in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

P.W. Hawes left behind his widow and three children:

Jacob D. Hawes 21 (+/-), born 1883 in Illinois

Helen Chesney Hawes, 19 (+/-), born 1885 in Missouri

Perry W. Hawes 14 (+/-), born 1891 in Missouri

The “guard of honor” to the burial site was composed of Messrs W.F. Chamberlain, R.R. McIntyre, J.J. Henderson, John Miller, Charles Strode and C.O. Mayers.

Dr. U.S. Smith

Four years after her father’s death, Helen Chesney Hawes was united in marriage to Dr. Ulysses S. Smith, a Hannibal eye, ear and throat specialist.

A generation later, in August 1936, their daughter, given the first name of Chesney, married Crawford Smith, the son of noted Hannibal mortician Wm. Smith, originator of the Smith Funeral Home in Hannibal. The wedding ceremony took place at Hannibal’s First Christian Church on Broadway.

Note: Susie Hawes traveled via the Burlington Route in January 1895 to visit her sister in Louisville. Also aboard the train leaving Hannibal were Dr. J.N. Baskett and family, and Miss Annie Drescher, destination New Orleans; and Dr. C.H. Yancey, destination St. Louis. (St. Louis Globe Democrat, Jan. 22, 1895.)

The historic Perry W. and Susan Hawes house, located at 216 N. Maple, (also recorded as 1129 Bird) in Hannibal’s Maple Avenue Historic District. The Hawes are believed to be the first occupants of this house, the family living there from 1892 until at least 1912. Photo and information obtained from the National Register of Historic Places, Marion County, Missouri, compiled by Esley Hamilton.

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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