William Tell, Revisited | Zeiglers on the Wrong Side of the Gun

William Tell statue in Altdorf, Switzerland

One Zeigler Shooting Solved, An Older Case Still Open

I hadn’t intended to begin the new year by falling silent for so long in this space.

So, let’s get back on target with a bit of family lore that involves gunplay — and good marksmanship gone bad.

In a post last summer, I shared news of another errant shot — at least when it came to my genealogy research. A Case of Family Tree Pruning recounted my misadventures deciphering the misspellings of my great-grandmother Laura Zeigler Foutz’s maiden name on various documents of record. Transposing the “e” and “i” led me, among other places, to a Catholic cemetery in which none of the relatives I sought were, in fact, actually buried.

But armed with collected newspaper clippings Grandma Erma Foutz had dutifully saved, the real branches of the family tree were uncovered, and the grafted ones lopped off. Welcomed to the fold were actual great-great grandparents Johann Jakob (John Jacob, or J.J. to you) Zeigler and Elizabeth Duerr. Both German immigrants. Both members of farming families who settled in the Ruslin Hills outside Dover, just down the road a piece from Bolivar and Zoar.

Identifying the correct J.J. Zeigler also brought to the surface a family mystery: who shot and killed him?

In my grandma Foutz’s papers was a typed note from her sister-in-law, Louise, recalling some of the details of their mother-in-law’s childhood. Laura’s mother, Elizabeth, spoke only German at home, the note said, and raised her ten children largely on her own. Laura’s father, the note said, was shot and killed when she was a little girl. The murderer was never identified, according to Aunt Louise.

J.J. Zeigler graveston Ruslin Hills Cemetery

Untangling Family Legend from Strange Fact

Aunt Louise’s cryptic note seemed to confirm a macabre tale my Uncle Bob had never forgotten. On the origins of the Hagloch-Zeigler Feud: that both families were neighboring farmers, and that one day, while passing the hooch in the barn, they played a game of William Tell. Zeigler stood with apple on his head; Hagloch took aim. Zeigler ends up dead; Hagloch goes to prison. But bad blood is stirred between the families as the Haglochs swear — Zeigler jumped, just to make them look bad!

Could this, Uncle Bob wondered, have been the story behind J.J. Zeigler’s death?

There were a couple details that didn’t jibe with Aunt Louise’s recollection. First, the killer in the family feud legend had been caught and punished. Second, my own research into newspaper articles published around the time of my great-great grandfather’s death pointed to something far murkier, and perhaps more sinister.

The gravestone above, though highly worn, pretty definitively puts Zeigler’s death as having occurred in June 1897. The inscription below is worn beyond legibility, and may say something of his tragic demise. But all I’ve turned up thus far is from published account more than one year prior to his death. From The Ohio Democrat of New Philadelphia, January 2, 1896:

ZOAR, Dec. 21 – Four men with blackened faces, carrying dinner pails and armed with revolvers, help up Leo Kern of this place 3 p.m. Thursday. They demanded his money or life. After relieving him of his money he was allowed to depart. This occurred on the public highway between Morehart’s farm and Jenning’s bridge, near where Mr. and Mrs. Zeigler, the people who were shot last Friday night, live.

In a June 1896 follow-up, one of the suspects is identified as Jacob Morehard, “a brother of Mrs. Zeigler.” But he is released. Another man, Jacob Senger, is booked into prison on charges of “shooting with intent to kill”. So, whoever endured this incident, seems to have survived. And it is a matter of recorded Ohio fact, that J.J. Zeigler’s eldest son, Johann Heinrich, married Sarah Morehart. (She had a brother, two years older, named Jacob, after their father, according to the 1850 census.)

But if this horrible confrontation befell J.J.’s son, who’s to say he didn’t also fall victim to a similar armed robbery attempt more than a year later?

Edward Zeigler and Pearl (Schilling) Zeigler

A Shot off the Mark

One thing we now can state with certain, is that J.J. Zeigler was not our unfortunate relative who died down the sights of a would-be William Tell. That rather dubious distinction belongs to a grandson, Dale Earl Zeigler, son of Jacob Phillip and Helen (Flaim) Zeigler.

In the interval between my last posts, I was fortunate enough to trade notes with a fellow researcher who shares a connection to the Zeigler family, at least on her in-law’s side. John “Pat” Welsh married Ora Schilling, a sister to Pearl Schilling, who married Edward (see them above), Jacob Phillip’s brother. Here’s how John Welsh retells what happened to Edward’s nephew, Dale Earl Zeigler:

Charley Pfeifer and Dale Ziegler (sic) were long-time drinking companions. One day they were playing cards and drinking. They started shooting at some targets. As Charley Pfeifer was a crack marksman with his .38 caliber pistol, they started competing. Next thing you know Dale had an apple on his head and Charley was going to show everyone his skill. Next thing you know, Dale has a bullet right between his eyes. Charley went to the Ohio Pen on Spring St. here in Columbus. He served 2 1/2 years of a 4-year sentence.

This version was further corroborated — and the Hagloch connection solidified — when my Uncle Bob’s buddy Joe Hagloch wrote this week to clear up some of the details:

Charlie Pfeiffer, my paternal great uncle, shot your ancestor in the head while playing William Tell in a barn. I think, too, that that ‘feud’ might be too strong of a word. Actually they were all boozed up and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We’ve all been there, though, luckily, without firearms! My family joked that he jumped just to make Uncle Charlie look bad. Apocryphal? Probably.

Uncle Charlie was kind of a ‘Mountain Man” born out of time. At one time, he lived near Bolivar and a family nearby was near starvation. He rustled and butchered a neighbor’s steer and gave the meat away. He was wild, but not always evil.

And to further solidify this layered cement as fact, we have published accounts in the Lima News and Coshocton Tribune, as well as his death record:

According to his death certificate, Dale Zeigler lingered in Union Hospital for some two days following the incident. Not to embellish the legend further, but it seems our William Tell was dared by Dale Zeigler to shoot a glass of water from his head. But otherwise, memory supports the myth rather well.

As to what befell Dale Zeigler’s grandfather, the mists still swirl. But this pair are not the only Zeiglers to greet death in an unusual way. Of J.J.’s children, two — Gottleib and Samuel — died young, at 17 and 12, respectively, and of causes not uncovered in my research. Charles William Zeigler, a farmer like his father, died in a 1938 car accident that fractured his ribs and sternum, and punctured his heart. Jacob Phillip Zeigler, a farmer and bricklayer (and Dale’s father), died in 1942 after suffering a wheelbarrow accident at work that fractured his ribs and caused a cardiac embolism.

In fact, as a group, Zeigler women tended to live longest, with Laura and sisters Anna and Bertha living to the ripe ages of 70, 81 and 97, respectively. Their mother, Elizabeth Duerr, lived to 82.

Categories: Foutz, newsletter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “William Tell, Revisited | Zeiglers on the Wrong Side of the Gun

  1. Jeannine Hoffman

    Hi! Imagine my surprise..my son called me this evening, telling me about your blog. My late uncle was Dale Earl Zeigler, and Grandma Helen Flaim Zeigler my grandma!. I was told that Dale was out hunting, and drunk, with a friend…he dared the friend to shoot an apple off his head ala William Tell..you know the rest of the story. My mom and Grandma talked about a Laurie Foutz, who had passed away, when I was very young, probably an early teen. Of course, I had no idea who she was or couldn’t connect a lot of people, simply because nobody said much about them. My niece was heavy into genealogy, and she traced the Zeigler’s back to Germany in the early 1700’s, plus I have a copy of a church directory from way back…1874-1903 from the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paul’s Church (Ruslin Hills). It is rather fascinating! My mother needed a birth certificate for some reason years ago, when I was small..about 10 or so…she never had one, so she had to have a lawyer go through a long process to get her one. She said the only record of her birth she knew about was entered in the Cradle Roll at the church. Of course, there is no known record of that cradle roll that I am aware of. This is just so cool!!! My name is Jeannine (nee Lindeman) Hoffman. My mother, Alice Marie Zeigler was the daughter of Helen and Jacob Zeigler. Of course, Dale was her brother. This is such a small world! If you want to e-mail me, feel free…my son, Scott Hoffman, is 34 years old and a Marine…my younger son is Kiel Hoffman, married to Miriam Zimet, and is 28 years old, a Marine also. Scott has been in the Marines for 16 years and will go for his 20. He is a CH-46 mechanic who has transitioned squadrons who are transitioning to the Osprey, so he is in school in North Carolina for a few months to bone up on repair of these planes. Kiel has been in the marines for 10 years and has a few to go and will muster out. He is an intelligence analyst, worked for the DIA for three years…currently deployed to Afghanistan and due home at the end of the month. He will go to work for the DIA as a civilian after his enlistment is up. He met his wife at the DIA. She is a senior intelligence analyst and is a government employee. My husband, Michael Hoffman, has worked for the Sanitary District of Michigan City for 23 years. Before that, he worked for Josam, making drainage products. Hee Hee! You go from drains to sewers..how interesting is that? Myself, I worked as an RN for 30 years…I have been doing medical transcription from home for the past 13 years and really enjoy it. Keeps my fingers in the pie, so to speak. Oh well, I better cut this short before you end up with eye strain.

    So, Take Care, e-mail if you want to.
    It was good hearing from someone who is a part of the family!

    • David Flaim


      My grandfather, Charles A. Flaim, was the brother of Helen Margaret Flaim Zeigler. Helen’s father’s name was John and mother’s name was Mary. When I was a child, I remember my grandfather (Charles) always saying that he was going to Dover to visit his sister (Helen). So, you and I are connected via Helen Flaim Zeigler – your grandmother and my great aunt ?

      Our oral history passed on through the Flaim side has it that Mary Flaim’s maiden name was “Plunker”. Mary was from Germany. As far as I can tell, John and wife Mary immigrated to the United States with Helen in tow. Helen is reported to have been born in Germany and my grandfather (Charles) was recorded as being born in Clinton, Indiana – apparently an early site of settlement of the Flaim’s soon thereafter in 1895. The Flaim family moved to the Tuscarawas area a little after that. By 1920 in the U.S. Census, Helen is no longer listed in the Flaim household in Tuscarawas, Co., Ohio. Instead, by 1920, she is listed as being the spouse of Jacob Phillip Zeigler in Dover.

      Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Mendocino College and College of the Redwoods in Mendocino County, CA.

  2. I was very excited to read this post, as you can imagine. 🙂 For one, it has my Duerr connection! Also, I’m glad to see that you figured out who it was that was shot. I’m sure you will figure out what (or who) happened to cause J.J.’s death…you are very diligent in your research. I have to say the death certificate caused me to laugh…death…”due to pistol”. Maybe that’s my sick genealogical mind working. I do so enjoy reading these, and someday I hope to add to my blog.

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