The story of William D. Steele

Rhonda Chalfant - Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant

Contributing Columnist

A researcher’s life, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, is not always a happy one. Sources of information may disagree, or worse yet, may not even be available. Information about events printed in newspapers may not always be complete or may provide a great deal of information when an ongoing event begins, but give little information about the event’s conclusion. Such is the case with the lawsuit filed by Mrs. Eva Harvey, who sued the MK&T Railroad after her husband died as a result of injuries suffered in the explosion of powder in a train car at the Windsor depot.

The suit, which sought $10,000 in damages, was filed in Circuit Court on June 16, 1909. Attorney C.C. Kelly represented Mrs. Harvey. The next mention of the suit comes in February 1910 when the Sedalia Democrat reported the case had been moved from the Pettis County Circuit Court to the Federal Court in Jefferson City. After that, information about the case does not seem to be available in the local newspapers, but may be available in the court records, which are not available in Sedalia.

On another note, sometimes information may not be available, but sometimes may be found in a variety of places and may provide insight into personalities as well as events. Such is the case in researching the life of William D. Steele II, an attorney from Sedalia and husband of Sedalia musician Helen Gallie Steele.

The U.S. Census of 1870 shows the Steele family living on a farm in Tebo Township in Henry County. The family is large, consisting of William Steele I, his wife Francis, and children Robert, 23, Francie, 21, Joseph, 18, Louise, 15, Willie, 14, Bettie, 10, and Baylis, 6. The collection of Plat Maps at the Missouri State Archives does not include an 1870s or 1880s map of Henry County, so it is difficult to find the location the family’s property.

By 1880, part of the family had moved to Sedalia. Francis was living on Fifth Street with her son William D. Steele II and her nephew Frank Fisher. Steele is at this time a lawyer practicing in Sedalia. He would go on to become, according to information in the Heard Memorial Club House Cookbook, the “best posted and most successful criminal attorney-at-law in Pettis County.”

Steele was active in local affairs. When Sedalia mounted its unsuccessful attempt to move the state capital from Jefferson City to Sedalia in 1896, Steele was an active proponent of the change.

In 1886, the Sedalia Democrat printed an article identifying Sedalia’s eligible well-to-do bachelors. Steele was listed among them and humorously described as “towering up to an altitude of five feet seven inches and tops all these inches with a reddish coat of hair. He wears a red moustache and had freckles on his face.”

Steele was involved in investment in the American West. According to the Democrat, he owned a “bonanza mine” in Colorado.

In 1894, Steele married Helen Gallie, daughter of early Sedalia merchant and civic leader John Gallie. The couple moved into the Gallie house at 604 W. Broadway Blvd.

Next week’s column continues the story of William D. and Helen G. Steele.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

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