James Goodheart is recognized in our local history as the son of two “honored pioneers” as well as for the many experiences he enjoyed due to his long time residency in McLean County.  One of these experiences was being the first man in the county to be elected for two terms as sheriff.

James Goodheart was born seventeen miles east of Bloomington, in Dawson Township to parents William R. and Sarah Ann (Clouse) Goodheart, on March 20, 1830. Goodheart’s father, a native of Scotland, arrived in the United States after a harrowing journey. At the age of fourteen, William left Scotland for Holland where he learned the stonemason’s trade. Due to a strained relationship with his master, William ran off and joined the service on a sea-going vessel. Shortly after William joined the crew the ship was captured by the French. Members of the crew were then told that if they did not agree to enlist in the French army, they would be put to death. Thus William served seven years with the French army under Napoleon followed by an enlistment in the English navy during the War of 1812.   This enlistment brought him to the US via his involvement in the battle of Lake Erie. Not wishing to be returned to Europe after suffering capture in the aforementioned battle, William enlisted in the U.S. army and served until the war’s end in Ohio under General William Henry Harrison.

On August 2, 1814 William and Sarah married and then moved west in 1824.  They first settled in Mackinaw Town before moving to McLean County and to what was soon to be the site of the city of Bloomington. It is here that William established his own reputation as an asset to the community before his son James would come to do the same.

William, a brick mason by trade, is said to have made the first brick in McLean County—an achievement that appears to have had a significant impact on his son James and James’ later career. After years of assisting and observing his father on the job, at the age of eighteen James officially entered the trade of masonry and plastering. Advancements in the technique of plastering (including the advent of Portland cement—a more durable, limestone-based ingredient in concrete, mortar, and stucco) and brick masonry (with a new emphasis on fireproofing) coincided with the time that Goodheart was becoming familiar with the trade. Apart from the three years in which he was enlisted in service during the Civil War and the four years in which he served as sheriff of McLean County, Goodheart remained dedicated to this craft until the time of his retirement.

Despite having only regularly attended school until the age of twelve (at which point his energies were needed on the family farm following the death of his father in 1842) Goodheart’s “enterprising” nature has been credited with “many of the public improvements of Bloomington.” Considered among these improvements is Goodheart’s work in building numerous projects including multiple structures erected as the Phoenix Block following the fire of 1855. The Phoenix Block was a set of seven buildings with uniform fronts located on the south side of the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington.  The sections at 106 and 108 W. Washington Street still stand today.

As mentioned previously, Goodheart was first introduced to his trade by working with his father. In 1847, when he was seventeen, Goodheart left the family farm to make an attempt at the blacksmith trade with his brother William in Meredosia, Morgan County, IL. After a year away, Goodheart returned to Bloomington. Being unable to secure a position as a blacksmith, he resumed his training as a mason and plasterer working under Adam Guthrie. Goodheart worked with Guthrie until 1849 when he began working as a plasterer for Stephen and James Noble. Goodheart continued his career by taking on his own contracts until the outbreak of the American Civil War.

In the summer of 1862 President Lincoln issued a “call for more men,” at which point Goodheart joined Company A of the Ninety-Fourth Illinois Infantry (also known as “the McLean County Regiment”) on August 8 of that year. Goodheart served with the Ninety-Fourth until the end of the war and returned home in July 1865. In an interview with Mme. Annette for The Bloomington Daily Bulletin, Goodheart shared one of his many wartime experiences. This particular account occurred while they were in camp during the siege at Vicksburg in the spring of 1863. Goodheart stated that:

“… day by day one or more of our men were picked off by sharp shooters from a rifle pit to out extreme left and front. Our command determined to dispose of such serious trouble, so a detail of about 100 men was sent to find the cause. I was one of the number assigned to the duty, and never could I forget that night. Its every environment was thrilling, and developments made it more so, in every sense of the word. The night was extremely dark. We were ordered by our lieutenant to crawl on our hands and knees, but to keep in touch with each other, and one hand on the guns. The signal for us to act was a whistle; at the end of about half a mile the whistle blew, we rallied to our commander, though we could not see a man. We were greeted by the expression, ‘We will never surrender to any d—d yankees.’ With that our commanding officer fired, and a man fell back in the pit. Only seven there were who had been causing such fatal results in our ranks. The six surrendered. Four of us were ordered to take the dying man from the pit and carry him on a blanket to our camp. We ascertained from him in so far as we were able, his home, his friends and his regiment. All this was a Christian duty, though he was our enemy, and worse, an enemy had he been in the dark, shooting down our men like dogs. We watched, by the light of our matches, for we had not even a candle, the last gasp of the rebel soldier, who had given his life to the cause as he thought it, best. It was an affecting scene, and lives in my memory today.”

Regarding Goodheart’s service in the Civil War, it should be noted that even his enlistment in the army did not keep him from dabbling in the masonry trade. For a short time during the spring of 1863 while stationed at Fort Brown in Texas, Goodheart commanded “a gang of bricklayers” while serving as a civil engineer under Major Hamilton. Goodheart also stated that he was fortunate to have never been wounded during the time of service though he once had a blanket shot off of his shoulder. Despite his ability to avoid injury in battle, Goodheart did become sick with scurvy (a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C) during a fourteen-day siege of Fort Morgan. Goodheart’s illness necessitated his leave from active service except for his brief service with the ambulance corps at Pascagoula in Mississippi and Spanish Fort in Alabama.

Prior to enlisting in the war effort, Goodheart married Catherine O. Fordice—daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth (Lucas) Fordice—on August 26, 1852. James and Catherine both came from large families, with nine and eleven siblings respectively. Maintaining this family tradition, Mr. and Mrs. Goodheart had twelve children of their own: Adalaska, Irene, Luke, William W., Palmer Lincoln, Ida May, Dr. John W., Jesse M., James L., Josephine, Benjamin L., and Mark. Eight of their twelve children lived to adulthood. Of the eight, Luke, Palmer Lincoln, John, and Jesse provided James and Catharine with a total of at least six grandchildren.

Upon his return to Bloomington following the Civil War, Goodheart once again immediately reentered the mason’s trade— this time partnering with Andrew L. Cox.  Together the two men ran the business Cox & Goodheart until the partnership dissolved.  Following his split from Cox, Goodheart won a contract to complete the plasterwork on the Soldier’s Orphan Home in Normal, IL (known as the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children’s School today). Goodheart recalled that he went into debt for this job but “came out pretty well” when the project was completed in June 1869. Around this same time Goodheart also pursued the contract for the third McLean County courthouse that was then under construction; however, he was beaten out by his former partner when Cox underbid Goodheart’s offer by $1,300.

Goodheart only took one other temporary hiatus from contracting when, reportedly “through no effort on his part,” he was elected to the position of McLean County Sheriff over Henderson (Henry) Honscheit in 1874. Though this assessment may not seem representative of Goodheart’s evident commitment to the office to which he was elected, if asked the sheriff himself “always” attributed his election to the “personal influence” of his father. In keeping with his political affiliation, Goodheart was elected on the Republican ticket. In 1876, Goodheart became the first man to serve two terms as sheriff in McLean County. He was re-elected over his then chief deputy Joseph Ator.

As defined by an Illinois act to “revise the law in relation to the sheriffs” put in force July 1, 1874, the duty of a sheriff was to “serve and execute within their respective counties, and return all writs, warrants, process, orders and decrees of every description that may be legally directed and delivered to them.” Ultimately, sheriffs were intended to serve as conservators of the peace.

In an 1899 interview with Mme. Annette for The Bloomington Daily Bulletin, Goodheart recounts a number of tales from his time as sheriff, including a particularly serendipitous apprehension of a wanted Iowan. Goodheart recalled that:

“I was new in the business, and really knew very little about it, but was ambitious and determined. This man from Iowa, one Gaddis, had committed some grievous depredation, and one day, I as sheriff, received a letter with picture enclosed, stating the case. I was on the lookout for the man, but hardly knew how to get at the case. The letter and picture were received on Saturday. Sunday morning I occupied my accustomed pew in church. Soon after I was seated a gentleman came in and was seated just in front of me. I instantly recognized him as the original of that picture, and said to myself, in church as it was, ‘Here is your man.’ At the close of the services the pastor said: ‘If there be any strangers in church this morning, shake hands with them.’ I think I never took a minister’s advice more heartily. I grasped the hand of that stranger, and in doing so earned a cool $100. I asked him his name and he told me outright. I went home, wrote to the sheriff that was after him and asked what reward was offered. Received the answer $100, and I lost no time in getting hold of that. When we finally, after quite a little waiting, captured him in the hotel Windsor, we found on him a teacher’s certificate, some money, watch and revolver. We held him in jail til the Iowa sheriff came for him and I got my $100 all right. That was an instance of luck. I probably would have had a merry chase for the culprit had the Iowa sheriff not been thoughtful enough to enclose the picture at the outset.”

Goodheart’s four years as sheriff were characterized by the highest report of criminal activity that had yet occurred in the area. Goodheart remembers one year there being “1,400 criminal cases on docket for one term of court.” When asked how the percent of crime in 1899 (the year he was interviewed by Mme. Annette) compared to the time in which he was in office, Goodheart responded saying, “I think there is just as much meanness, if not more. But people are smoother, slyer, and less easy to get hold of. The modern golden rule to ‘do everybody’ has a host of followers, but they are clever enough, many of them, to cover their tracks.”
A number of criminal cases from the time in which Goodheart was sheriff remain unsolved. Of those cases, the murder of Jim O’Neil “attracted the most attention.” Goodheart recalled that:

“It was in the winter of ’77 and O’Neill (sic) was coming home, just off his run, and was walking up Chestnut street, his home being a block south of Chestnut on Mason street. This was about 2:30 in the morning. Just as he turned the corner at Mason street some one arose from behind some bushes and fired a shot through his heart. Uttering a wild yell Jim sank to the ground dead. Charles Wheaton, who was then night yardmaster of the C. & A. in Bloomington, was arrested and charged with the crime. His wife was also arrested, but nothing definite could be proven against either one. The files of the Pantagraph give a detailed account of this murder and tell of the great excitement this foul crime caused among the residents of Bloomington and of the West side especially. O’Neill (sic) was very popular and had no trouble with anyone, so far as could be discovered. The bullet fired fitted exactly to the barrel of a Colt’s revolver owned by Wheaton, and in spite of the fact that some damaging testimony was submitted to the jury, and Mrs. Wheaton, whose reputation was not of the best, turned on her husband in giving evidence, the mystery was never cleared up. Over $3,000 was offered as rewards.’”

    James (Jim) O’Neil was a well-known passenger locomotive engineer for the Chicago & Alton (C. & A.) Railroad in Bloomington, IL. According to a report printed in The Pantagraph on the day of the murder, O’Neil was a “great favorite with the Irish people, and the West Side folks in general, …” The general favor that O’Neil enjoyed on behalf of the residents of Bloomington is evident in the noticeable tendency of the journalists initially reporting on the details of the offense to emphasize the “foul” and “cold-blooded” nature of the crime, and going so far as to suggest hope that “in the good time coming the assassin may swing from the first gallows, impromptu or legal, ever erected in McLean County.”

     In the days following the shooting, suppositions arose that a dispute between O’Neil and Wheaton over a woman was likely motivation for the crime. This early hypothesis was apparently corroborated when it was reported soon afterward that O’Neil was engaged in an affair with Mrs. Wheaton, the wife of his suspected killer. Mr. Dwight E. Wheaton supposedly knew about the affair and had threatened O’Neil’s life on more than one occasion. As was typical of most matters in the O’Neil case, claims were made but they were never proven. Mrs. Wheaton never admitted to sustaining a relationship with O’Neil, and Mr. Wheaton never substantiated the allegations concerning his supposed threats on O’Neil’s life. Over the course of the investigation, most of the accusations were both made by, and directed at, Mr. and Mrs. Wheaton.

     As referenced above in Goodheart’s account, one of the most dramatic turning points in the case occurred on February 27, 1878 when Mrs. Wheaton delivered an official statement to police at the site of O’Neil’s grave. According to a Pantagraph article reporting on the content of the statement, Mr. Wheaton had accused his wife of attempting to poison his coffee following a reported row between the couple and had suggested to her that it was maybe she who killed O’Neil. It was at this time that Mrs. Wheaton in turn formally identified her husband as the killer of the deceased railroad worker. Despite the wealth of seemingly incriminatory evidence collected throughout the investigation (including Mr. Wheaton’s possession of two revolvers that closely matched the description of the weapon used to kill O’Neil), investigators could not produce a sound enough case against any one party involved.

     Ultimately, the only hard evidence that the prosecution had against Mr. Wheaton was the matching revolver and bullet casings; this was not, however, enough to compensate for the inability of the investigators to verify the exact whereabouts of Mr. Wheaton on the night of the murder. On March 16, 1878 The Pantagraph reported that “the evidence will not warrant an indictment” and that “the murder of James O’Neil remains wrapped in mystery to the outside world—mystery as impenetrable and opaque, as it was on the morning when the life’s blood of the murdered O’Neil welled out from his brave heart upon the fatal sidewalk of Mason street.” Despite this early printed dismissal, however, the case did eventually come up for trial on March 20, 1883 after “several postponements and continuances.”

     Following his release from custody after the initial investigation into the events of December 1877 was completed, Mr. Wheaton left Bloomington only to be found guilty of highway robbery in the state of Indiana. Approximately five years separated O’Neil’s murder from the time that the case went to trial; four of which Mr. Wheaton spent in the Michigan City penitentiary. During this time, Mr. Wheaton allegedly admitted his complicity in the crime against O’Neil to fellow inmate William Albertson.  The prosecution would later attempt to invoke this admission, along with the testimonies of numerous fellow railroad workers and family of the deceased, as evidence of Mr. Wheaton’s guilt. The defense responded simply by saying that “[t]he defense have not any theory about the case as the prosecution has. The defense simply is, that Wheaton did not commit the murder, and does not know who did; and that whatever testimony criminates Wheaton equally criminates his wife.” When Mr. Wheaton was asked to deliver his testimony on the last day of the trial, he refuted any claim that he had confessed his guilt to Albertson.

     On March 26, 1883 The Pantagraph reported that the jury was “not long” in making their final decision concerning the guilt of Mr. Wheaton in the murder of O’Neil. Within the timeframe of forty minutes the jury had reached their verdict: not guilty. Wheaton is described as being a “very happy man” when the verdict was announced. “He left the court a free man, the first time he had been such for several years, and the first time since the morning of December 27, 1877 that he had been free from arrest for the murder of James O’Neil.”

     Of interest regarding Goodheart’s involvement with the trial of Mr. Wheaton, on the third day of the trial the sheriff was “called [by the prosecution] and was asked to describe the appearance of Mrs. Wheaton, but upon objection being made by defendant’s counsel, he was not permitted to proceed.”

     As with the O’Neil case, another murder—that of West Virginian native Albert A. Anglin—claimed the attention of the reading public in the late fall of 1877. On the morning of November 4, the beaten, shot, and partially stripped body of Anglin was found in the meadow of a farm just outside of Towanda. As reported by The Pantagraph, “the back of the head was completely crushed as if by repeated blows of a bludgeon. A pistol ball of heavy caliber had entered the left side of the back … and had passed completely through the body, … Another pistol ball had entered the right cheek … The body was a mass of gore.” Evidenced by the condition in which it was found, the body was suspected to have been out in the elements for a number of days.

     After some preliminary investigation, robbery was deemed to be the impetus behind the crime. Multiple items, including a pair of boots, were apparently stolen off of Anglin’s body and subsequently switched with similar possessions of the killer. Initial difficulty in identifying the culprit due to the publication of an inaccurate physical description was eventually rectified after an examination of the boots that were discarded.  The culprit adopted Anglin’s pair as his own which resulted in the discovery of a distinctive patch that served to identify the murderer as Bohemian Karl O. Klusty. Though the identity of the criminal was then known, The Pantagraph unwittingly foreshadowed a complication in the case against Klusty when on November 15, 1877 a news reporter stated, “unless, during the interval between the killing and the discovery of the body, Klusty has succeeded in leaving the United States, there can be but little doubt that he will be captured.”

     Six months after the crime was committed, officials located Klusty in Bohemia. Prior to this development, Goodheart revealed in an interview that 10,000 descriptions had been sent out and over 200 men across the country had been arrested in the search for the killer. At the request of Goodheart, Klusty was held in jail overseas for eleven months. However, “on account of technicalities in the extradition laws and the great expense connected with bringing the criminal to trial,” in the end the case was dropped and Klusty was released from prison.

     Though an admittedly less gruesome affair, Goodheart also witnessed the bankruptcy of the Phoenix Nursery in 1877 during his time as sheriff. Phoenix Nursery, owned and operated by renowned nurseryman Fred K. Phoenix, was the “largest nursery in the ‘West’ and one of the largest in the country.” At one time the nursery “covered about six-hundred acres of land, occupied 13 green-houses, and employed at times from 150-250 men and boys.” Phoenix Nursery was a highly lucrative venture until the late 1870s, the majority of profits made in the sale of Phoenix’s reputable fruit trees. Due to the generally known success of the business and the reputation of Phoenix himself, the bankruptcy of the nursery was a relative shock to the community. Though the exact details of the Phoenix failure remain unclear, it should be noted that the city of Bloomington was not immune to the economic complications that were a result of the internationally felt Panic of 1873. The conditions perpetuated by the depression may have contributed to deterioration of the business. Reportedly, Phoenix “invested largely in land for his nurseries and also in nursery stock, both of which depreciated very largely owing to the readjustment of values arising from the resumption of specie payment and owing to the general financial derangement, neither lands nor stock were saleable and in 1877 he failed and the business was closed out in a court of bankruptcy, …” Goodheart recalled that at the time he came into the office of sheriff, Phoenix was “badly involved.” At the time of the nursery’s failure, Phoenix was in debt twenty dollars to the previous sheriff for holding a delivery bond. This debt became Goodheart’s responsibility upon his acceptance of the office of sheriff in accordance with section 24 of the 1874 act on the law in relation to sheriffs. One day upon leaving Springfield, Phoenix encountered Goodheart and relayed information that his “creditors were about to close in on him.” Before Goodheart could do anything to assist, a number of local constables confiscated “sixteen head of horses, wagons, farm and nursery utensils, the wagons being full of every kind of truck imaginable.” Goodheart knew that if he did not recover the materials, he would “lose enough to about wipe out [his] salary for [his] entire term” per sections 22 and 23 of the Sheriff’s code of the 1880 Revised Statues of the State of Illinois. In his description of the event Goodheart recounted:

“We hitched up the horses and got the wagons already to move when the constable got wind of my scheme and swooped down on us. They unhitched the horses and threatened us. Constable Peter Guthrie was astride one horse when I ordered him down. He wouldn’t get off so I pulled him off. Pete was mad and threatened to shoot me but he cooled off.  … Mr. Phoenix afterwards went into the bankruptcy court. Lawrence Weldon … was appointed commissioner in the case by Judge Treat of Springfield. He decided that the property was rightfully mine … The affair at the time attracted considerable attention and there was much good natured bantering between the sheriff’s office and the constables.”

     After completing his second term in office, Goodheart was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshall and detective for the Southern District of Illinois under U.S. Marshall E.R. Roe. The primary function of the offices of U.S. Marshal and Deputy Marshal, created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, was to “support the federal courts.” Ultimately the agency provided a means for the federal government to maintain representation at the local level. The duties of appointed marshals included serving the subpoenas, making arrests, disbursing funds, paying the fees of those involved in the judicial process, renting courtrooms and jail space and hiring courtroom personnel.
Following his time in service to the county, Goodheart returned to the business of plastering. For one or two years, he rented the Berry farm located near the south edge of Normal. After failing to be able to purchase the property, Goodheart moved back to the center of town and took up residence at 105 S. Lee Street. Goodheart resided at this address until the time of his death.

     As indicated by numerous references to his health and stature (he stood at 6ft. 1½in. tall), Goodheart’s physical presence appears to have made an impression on many of those with whom he came in contact. As reported by The Pantagraph in an article celebrating his seventy-fourth birthday, “Mr. Goodheart has always enjoyed good health. He is a man of massive frame and in his younger days was one of the best muscled men in Bloomington.” According to his biography in The History of McLean County, “…he [was] a man of fine physical powers and good business ability.” Goodheart is also reported to have been a “consistent anti-slavery man.” Among his other activities and affiliations, Goodheart was a member of the Free Masons Bloomington Lodge, no. 43, as well as a member of the William T. Sherman post (post #146) of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R). At one point Goodheart served as commander of the post.

     Goodheart was also an ardent supporter of the Temperance movement. At the age of twelve he joined the Juvenile Temperance Society. According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McLean County, Goodheart joined the society that had “just been formed at his church, at the solicitation of his father, who was then lying on his death-bed, passing away forty-eight hours later.”

Thirteen years later at the age of 25, Goodheart demonstrated his continued commitment to the Temperance movement and proved his reputation as a “strong temperance man” by taking a “leading part in Bloomington’s first whiskey war in 1854.” He, along with roughly two hundred other men, formed the Temple of Honor with the intent to cease all sales of alcohol in Bloomington. The Temple of Honor was a temperance-oriented secret fraternal organization.  Many in this society were also members of the American or “Know Nothing” Party.   The American Party was also known for a focus on anti-immigration legislation. It is unclear if Goodheart was a member of the American Party as well.  The Temple of Honor successfully elected a City Council entirely of Templars and sought to close all saloons within the city limits. This effort on the part of the council was eventually deemed unconstitutional despite Abraham Lincoln being called upon to provide defense for the ordinance. Ultimately the first prohibition in Bloomington was short lived, lasting only from 1854 to late 1855.

Both James and Catherine came from devout Methodist families. Goodheart, like his father before him, was active in the life of his home church, the First Methodist Episcopal church of Bloomington. According to The Biographical Record of McLean County, Goodheart “held every office except that of licensed preacher.” Joining the church at the age of ten, in 1908 The Pantagraph reported that Goodheart held the oldest membership in the church.

James Goodheart died at his home on December 20, 1913. According to the obituary printed in The Daily Pantagraph, “he had been gradually failing in health for several weeks with a general breaking down of his physical powers due to old age.” Prior to his death, Goodheart was immortalized in The Biographical Record of McLean County as “a strong man, strong in the consciousness of well-spent years, strong to plan and perform, strong in his credit and good name, and a worthy example for young men to pattern after.”

James Goodheart
How to cite this page
Johnson, Hannah. “Goodheart, James.” McLean County Museum of History, 2013, mchistory.org/research/biographies/goodheart-james. Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.
Johnson, H. (2013). Goodheart, James. McLean County Museum of History, https://mchistory.org/research/biographies/goodheart-james
Johnson, Hannah. “Goodheart, James.” McLean County Museum of History. 2013. Retrieved from https://mchistory.org/research/biographies/goodheart-james