Scoundrel Whose Heart Is Black As The Pitch That Drips From The Axles Of Hell

Why do people think that others are supposed to be perfect and then condemn them when they fail? Humans as a species have always put others on pedestals and then tear them down when they make a mistake. We put our trust in people and then get hurt when they don't live up to our expectations. This is exactly what happened in Missouri, 1908. The town of Elsberry had faith in a man named Clyde Gow but he betrayed their trust. He had sex out of wedlock with Elizabeth Gleason, the granddaughter of the founder of the town, she got pregnant, and he convinced her to end the pregnancy through a medical procedure. Neither likely knew that Ms. Gleason would soon die from complications as a result of that procedure. The ensuing trials, tribulations and news coverage reflect the shifting morality at the turn of the century.

According to an article by the St. Louis Dispatch, abortion was considered second-degree manslaughter if committed after the quickening. Until 1973, abortion was illegal after the quickening, the first movements a fetus makes (National Abortion Federation). Not only was it illegal, but to many, it was simply just unethical.

At the turn of the century, America began to witness a shift from the conservative Victorian era to the modern. Spectator sports were becoming more popular, the demand for free public education started to rise, and the beginning of the country saw the rise of feminism (Henretta et al 561-563, 564, 572). For many, morals were changing right along with America.

Elsberry was not exempt from these changes. Everything that they were used to and everything they had known had started to change. With a change in society comes a change in mind. While some attitudes may have begun to shift, Elsberry, as a whole, still reflected the more conservative worldviews of its founders. As a result of the abortion operation, Elizabeth Gleason died. Ms. Gleason told her mother what she had done but made her swear to secrecy unless she was to die. After her death, her mother immediately went public with what had happened. From California (Preacher is Unfrocked) to Florida (Preacher is Expelled), newspapers were covering the story. The town was furious. The nation was furious. In fact, a reporter in North Carolina called Gow a “scoundrel who’s heart is black as the pitch that drips from the axles of hell” (No Hell You Say).

Elsberrians demanded justice, and formed a mob to go after Gow. He left town out of fear of his life. He was eventually placed in Troy’s county jail. People were angry that their trust had been broken, they were hurt. They were lashing out and they wanted him to pay. It took three years before his four-year sentence in a federal prison was handed down. This shows that morals and thoughts were different about this case. The verdict was surprising, especially since the doctor who performed the operation was only sentenced to serve three years. People let their feelings determine their judgment. Gow betrayed their trust and for that, they decided that he should have a harsher punishment than Dr. W.A. Hemphill. The citizens took this break in trust to heart. Two years later, even though he was a model inmate and a medical assistant, the state board of pardons refused to recommend Rev. Clyde Gow to the Governor of Missouri, for pardon (Rev. Gow Is Denied Pardon).

The punishment for Rev. Gow’s actions was very harsh. Not only the sentencing but the way that the community treated him. The town’s conservative way of thinking had been challenged and as a result, all of his peers and mentors turned their backs on him. Their trust had been broken and for that, all of their ties to him had to be broken as well. They weren’t ready to change so they had lashed out at him. That’s what humans do.