Historian details long-forgotten history of a Colrain veteran’s murder, a manhunt and a prison escape

Catamount Hill Association historian Prentice Crosier gives a presentation on the 1875 murder of Civil War veteran Joseph Riley Farnsworth during a Colrain Historical Society program on June 13 at the Stacy Barn.

Catamount Hill Association historian Prentice Crosier gives a presentation on the 1875 murder of Civil War veteran Joseph Riley Farnsworth during a Colrain Historical Society program on June 13 at the Stacy Barn. FOR THE RECORDER/ADA DENENFELD KELLY

Catamount Hill Association historian Prentice Crosier.

Catamount Hill Association historian Prentice Crosier. FOR THE RECORDER/ADA DENENFELD KELLY

By ADA DENENFELD KELLY

For the Recorder

Published: 07-05-2024 12:40 PM

The 1875 murder of a Civil War veteran named Joseph Riley Farnsworth is a story that is often forgotten in the annals of Colrain history, according to Catamount Hill Association historian Prentice Crosier.

Farnsworth was coming back from a trip to Greenfield, where he had received a biannual medical exam to collect his injured veteran’s benefits, when he was attacked by two young men, Harry Davenport and Daniel Dwight, who believed that he would have the money with him.

To Crosier, and to many in the audience during a Colrain Historical Society program on June 13, this history is personal. When explaining that Farnsworth was buried in West Branch Cemetery, Crosier paused to mention that it is the same cemetery where he plans to be buried upon his death. At another point in the presentation, Crosier named several jurors, and a man in the audience raised his hand to mention that he is the direct descendant of one of the jurors.

“I grew up on this stuff,” Crosier said in an interview. “But not knowing this story. ... I was middle-aged before I learned this story. I’m a descendant of the settlers up there [on Catamount Hill]. My family came to Colrain in 1780.”

The Stacy Barn, where the Colrain Historical Society holds its events, was so full that some audience members opted to stand in the back. Warm evening light filtered into the open barn as Crosier detailed the history of this murder and its fallout.

Twelve days after Farnsworth’s burial, his body was exhumed. Because Colrain had no coroner at the time, jurors looked at the remains themselves. Crosier stated that one local paper reported Farnsworth’s “skull was fractured ear to ear” from being beaten by Davenport and Dwight.

According to Crosier, after the murder, the perpetrators fled north. They walked through Heath, all the way to North Adams. A $500 reward was offered to anyone who could find the two men, and up to 50 men searched the Colrain woods, “but it was fruitless,” Crosier said.

In Vermont, the men got on a train to New York, where they were inadvertently separated. Davenport was caught, and five days after the murder, Dwight returned to Colrain where he was arrested.

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Dwight and Davenport were incarcerated in Greenfield, until one day Dwight and four other prisoners escaped.

“It was kind of like a typical movie escape,” Crosier said, adding that he isn’t quite sure of the exact mechanics, but that the escape involved using rope and bed sheets to get out through the ceiling.

The men made it to High Street, where their footprints were seen in the snow. The next day, Dwight was found under a hemlock tree in Bernardston.

“Only 14 hours after their escape, they were back in the clutches of the law,” Crosier recounted. That is, all but one of the escapees. Crosier said he never found evidence of that inmate’s recapture.

Dwight and Davenport were both sentenced to hard work in prison for the rest of their natural lives.

Crosier noted that reports vary on the perpetrators’ exact ages at the time of their crime, but the general consensus is that one man was 17 and the other 18.

Dwight was eventually released from prison for good behavior, but The Boston Herald reported that Davenport became insane. According to Crosier, Davenport died in 1939 and was buried without a grave marker, “deliberately forgotten, much like his place in the annals of Catamount Hill.”