Louis Bransford McWhirter was a prominent Fresno attorney who found corruption in the local government, exposed it and proved it which made some people very unhappy.
L.B. McWhirter was assasinated outside his home in Fresno, CA. He was married to Nannie Blasingame of the pioneer Blasingame family and had one son LB junior. Nannie went on to marry N. H. Peterson and had 2 more children, Mrs. Gail Kennedy, Amhurst, Mass., and Dr. Houston Peterson, New York City, NY.
In 1893 a man named Richard S. Heath was arrested for the murder. He stood trial twice but a jury was unable to convict him with the evidence presented, eventually releasing him as a free man. You can check out the trial if you have access to the newspaper archives for Fresno County. The first date is August 30, 1892.
L. B. MCWHIRTER, A PROMINENT LAWYER, KILLED
THE MURDER, IT IS THOUGHT, WAS THE OUTCOME OF A BITTER POLITAL FIGHT IN HIS CALIFORNIA HOME--HE WAS OPPOSED TO A RING, AGAINST WHOM HE WORKED.
Fresno, Cal., Aug. 29--The bitter political fight between the Democratic factions in this county culminated this morning in the cold-blooded and dastardly assassination of Louis B. McWhirter, a prominent and reputable lawyer and politician.
The victim and all his friends knew that sooner or later he was to be killed, and death found all his affairs in order. He had insured his life for $50,000, and night and day he went armed and ready to fight for his life.
Mr. McWhirter retired early Sunday night, and at 3 o'clock this morning he was awakened by a noise outside. He was disposed to investigate the cause, but was prevailed upon by his wife not to do so unless he heard the noise again. A few minutes later he got up and, pistol in hand, went out of the front door and around the house.
According to Mrs. McWhirter, he was absent but a few minutes when a fusillade of shots was heard. She immediately ran to the back of the house and, in the pathway leading to an outhouse, she found her husband lying on the ground moaning and unable to speak....Ten minutes later, Mr. McWhirter died.
Mr. McWhirter was a man of personal and political purity and high ability. He was forty years old and born in Kentucky, but spent most of his life in Nashville, Tenn. He was educated in the leading college in Virginia and afterwood took a legal course at the Vanderbilt University at Nashville.
In 1887, he came to California, locating in Sacramento, where he practised his profession. A year later he came to Fresno and edited the Democrat.
Mr. McWhirter had been married for three years and had an infant child.
(Source: Extracted from article in the New York Times published 30 August 1892).
Louis Bransford McWhirter was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, in 1856, but was taken by his parents to Nashville, Tennessee, when quite young, where he spent his youth and early manhood. During the greater portion of the period covered by the Civil War he was inside the Confederate lines, and his father, as well as his uncles on both sides, was an officer in the Confederate service, he spent much of his time about the camps at Dalton, Georgia, and other places.
After attending several excellent schools in Virginia, he took a law course at the Vanderbilt University. Before entering the profession, however, he visited Europe, where he spent a year and a half, traveling extensively through Great Britain and on the continent with Prof. Charles A. Smith, who is now Professor of Green in the Vanderbilt University.
On his return to America Mr. McWhirter began the practice of the law in the office of Guild & Dodd, in Nashville, Tennessee; but shortly afterwards being appointed Assistant Commissioner of Mines, Immigration Statistics and Agriculture for the State of Tennessee, he accepted that position and at once took charge of all the newspaper work in that department. While living in Tennessee he was actively interested in Politics, and became interested financially in more than one newspaper. In 1884 he was appointed Commissioner from Tennessee to the World's Fair at New Orleans, Louisiana, and was reappointed Commissioner to the second Exposition at that place, which kept him in New Orleans a greater portion of the time until the latter part of 1886.
While at this Exposition Mr. McWhirter became so much impressed with the magnificent exhibit from California that he subsequently determined to make California his home, and early in 1887 he left Nashville for the Pacific coast, and has since resided in Fresno. His first venture in this city was in the newspaper business. He helped to establish the "Daily Democrat", and was its editor-in-chief and part owner. Selling his interest in this paper in August 1888, he shortly afterwards became the editor of the "Expositor", owned by J.W. Ferguson.
Louis B. McWhirter, Sr. first married Mary Louise McGavock on February 20, 1877 in Nashville, Davidson Co., TN. She was the daughter of Felix Grundy McGavock and Mary Monoah Bostick. Mary died June 16, 1877, only 3 months after they were married.
In 1889 Mr. McWhirter was married to Miss Nannie Blasingame, a member of one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the San Joaquin Valley. Her father, the late J.A. Blasingame, was a native of Alabama, and served as a volunteer soldier from that State in the Mexican War. he located in California in 1849, and his family have lived in Fresno County since 1857.
Shortly after his marriage Mr. McWhirter engaged actively in the practice of the law, and has since given his entire attention to it. Few men have been as active in politics as he. An ardent Democrat, he has never been a candidate for office, though none have given more time and money for the accomplishment of party success. A Democrat of the Bourbon school warmly attached to Jeffersonian principles, believing that party lines should be drawn in all elections, he demands that the candidates of his party shall always be honest. he regards a public office a public trust, and thinks that a public official should always conduct himself in such a manner as to be above suspicion.
Mr. McWhirter was chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of this county during the heated campaign of 1890, which resulted in a largely increased majority for his party.
In 1891, it was mainly through his influence that a party ticket was nominated in the city of Fresno, the first movement of the kind in the history of the city, and a sweeping Democratic victory was the result.
Mr. McWhirter was a native of Kentucky and was associated with Vanderbilt University before coming to California. In 1884, he was appointed commissioner from Tennessee to the World's Fair in New Orleans, impressed by the outstanding California exhibit, he eventually left Nashville for the Pacific Coast and from 1887 lived in Fresno. His marriage to Nannie Blasingame took place in 1889.
McWhirter practiced law for a short time, and then turned to newspaper work. He helped establish the "Daily Democrat". In 1889 he moved to the editorial staff of the Expositor. He was a reform politician and became associated with the Bourbon politician wing of the Democratic Party. Through his efforts in 1891, a Democratic ticket was nominated in Fresno County, a first in the county's history.
A sweeping Democratic victory after a heated campaign may have led to the unsolved murder. On the night of August 18, 1892, McWhirter was ambushed and shot in his own yard at an early hour. The assassination was believed by most to be political and roused widespread interest and indignation. Newspapers all over the state carried the story.
Although a substantial reward of $25,000 was offered by the citizens of Fresno and the Blasingame family, it was never claimed. Two suspects were brought to trial. Although three trials were held the juries were unable to reach a conviction for either suspect. There were many rumors that the murder was really suicide. McWhirter was known to be in serious financial difficulties and had taken out large insurance policies on his life. Lawyers for the defense promoted the suicide theory, but the widow was able to collect as there were no suicide clauses in the policies.
The McWhirter Home - 1618 L Street
With an unsolved mystery in its past, this spacious home faces an uncertain future. Built about 1891, it was the home of Louis Bransford McWhirter and his wife, Nannie Blasingame McWhirter. Mrs. McWhirter was a member of one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the Fresno area. Her father, J.A. Blasingame, had located in Fresno County in 1857.
March 23, 1987 Knox is interviewing 'Sonny' Blasingame, the oldest surviving male of the Blasingame family living in California. Sonny was 77 at that time.
(Sonny had apparently found a picture of L.B. jr. and offered it to Knoxie which lead to the following)
Sonny: Come again and I'll get those pictures for you. You take Louis McWhirter along there. Oh, he was quite a guy! Joy and Houston Peterson. She married and taught school at some Eastern college and her husband was the son of the head of the college. Joy, I wouldn't know her if I saw her. It was so long ago. Houston, he was a philosopher of love for a bunch of outfits and wrote a bunch of books. He toured England on bicycles. He was married five or six times. He toured England, him and one of his wives on bicycles getting the dope on Haron Rock Ellis. His book was 'Haron Rock Ellis, Philosopher of Love.' I never read it or nothing. He left it here for awhile. Louis McWhirter. Louis B. McWhirter. There's a book here on dope and datat and stuff on outstanding events before and during the Civil War. It's in bad shape, but a person is careful with it I guess it won't come apart. It hasn't come apart yet. There are three or four bill of sales on slaves in there written by hand. Tells the amount of money and the nigger's name and height and age and
Knoxie: Where did this take place?
Sonny: In Tennessee. He was Major McWhirter. He was a major , this uncle of Louis McWhirter. On his father's side. He [Louis] got killed in a cloud burst coming through Arizona in the war time.
(The tape is stopped and started several times here, but I think Sonny was still talking about LB.)
....get in a card game. He had to try to get rich. He had to get in a card game and he lost his ass in most of them 'cause they'd drink. I don't say he'd get drunk. I've seen him a little silly, but he could drink a lot of whiskey. That was all he wanted was a meal or two here. He never stayed all night much 'cause he'd beat it down to Uncle Will's. There was liquor there and there is not liquor here. When the depression came he took the last of his money, I mean the stock market crash in the fall of '29, he bought a Packard Sports Roadster. It had red wire wheels and a white top and a black body and it had a rumble seat. He left it here for about two weeks. I drove it around. Then he borrowed $20 off me. So it cost me $20 in the depression time to make an ass out of myself. Oh, he kept it nice and clean. It was a swell running thing. It would get up to 100 mph right now! Big heavy and hold the road. A Packard Sports Roadster, yeah.
I know it's not much, but. I don't know what happened to his pictures of that book. He died several years ago and there was a big mess with his estate.
(Bio by Glenda McWhirter Todd and Jesse McWhirter)
The following was taken from a book, "San Francisco Chronicles of 1892". There are 20 pages of newspaper articles about Louis B. McWhirter's murder and his wife.
THE FUNERAL - Louis B. McWhirter Laid in His Last Resting Place.- Fresno, Aug. 31. - The funeral of the late Louis B. McWhirter was held this morning from the family residence, 1818 L Street.
Early in the day great throngs gathered at the house, anxious to take the last view of the martyred man. It is estimated that fully 1000 persons, embracing the most prominent people of Fresno and many from San Francisco and other points, paid tribute to the last act in the drama of the lamented man's life. Prayer was offered by Rev. W.H. Martin. A sermon was delivered by Rev. T.H.B. Anderson, who deplored the tragedy and denounced the base conspirators who had taken this noble man from the community. He paid a glowing tribute to the deceased. An excellent choir sang appropriate selections.
Mrs. McWhirter was inconsolable and nearly distracted. Her grief was pitiful.
The body was inclosed in a black cloth-covered casket, with heavy oxidized silver bars and handles. On the plate were inscribed the age and name of the deceased.
The interment was made in the family plot in Mountain View Cemetery. The remains were laid in a brick-lined vault.
Nancy Sophronia Blasingame McWhirter (1865 - 1922)*
Louis Bransford McWhirter (1889 - 1941)*
Mountain View Cemetery
Plot: Blasingame Plot
His marker is located in the Blasingame plot with the Blasingame markers at Odd Fellows in Fresno