Cincinnati Constable Peter Davison | City of Cincinnati

Served:    9 years
1841 (or before) to June 26, 1850

 

OFFICER

Peter Davison (or Davidson as is often used even in directories) was born about 1800.  It is not likely that he was born in Cincinnati, which was itself only 12 years old at the time.  We believe that he married about 1829, fathered a child, and lived in the Cincinnati before 1840.

On April 13, 1841, he was elected (or reelected) to the position of Constable of the 3rd Ward.   By March 1842 he was one of three constables in the 1st Ward, probably due to ward realignments, and running for reelection in April.  He was a candidate for reelection in the 1st Ward also during the springs of 1843, 1845, 1846, and 1848, and likely all the intervening years between 1841 and 1850.

During 1847, he and Constable James Ruffin (later Police Chief) were commended for capturing to of the most skilled counterfeiters of the time, Lewis Slade and John Lovejoy.

He was a highly respected and well-liked constable as attested to by his nine consecutive popular elections.  By mid-1850, he and his family lived on the north side of 5th Street between Main and Sycamore.

 

MURDERER

John C. Walker was born in Shelby County, Indiana, February 11, 1928.  His family moved to LaPorte County, Indiana where he became prominent in Democratic politics at a very early age.  Due to failing eyesight, during January 1849, Walker (22) traveled to Cincinnati to be treated – where his uncle, Judge Timothy Walker, was the editor of the Cincinnati Gazette.  He travelled with a large Bowie knife on his person which was given to him by a friend in Indiana.

On June 18, 1850, Walker’s sight was restored sufficiently for him to attend the Van Amburg’s Circus that had set up in the vacant block bounded by 12th, 13th, Vine, and Race Streets.  The event was very crowded, and he left his friends, who were seated, to stand closer to the ring.

 

INCIDENT

On the night of June 18, 1850, the circus had hired Constables Phillip Miller and Alexander Delzell to keep order at the circus.  Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. a significant crowd had formed along the ring – too close to the performers and blocking the view of the seated patrons.   Walker was one of them crowding the ring and he had been told multiple times by multiple officers to not stand there and to take a seat.  Constable Delzell was one of those officers.  After telling the assembled to move back, he looked back and saw that Walker alone had ignored him.  Then, on the way to another errand, he told Walker again to take a seat and Walker still stood at the ringside.

Finally, a third time, Constable Delzell ordered him back, he refused, and Constable Delzell grabbed him by the collar and pushed him back some ten feet.  Walker put his hands to his bosom and Constable Delzell excitedly said, “You damned rascal!  If you draw a pistol or a knife on me, I’ll kill you!”  Walker continued to withdraw from a scabbard a large Bowie Knife.  Constable Delzell saw it, clutched him, and the both fell to the floor.  Constable Delzell, who was unarmed, punched Walker and both fell to the floor.  There, Constable Delzell determined that he could better control him, but unknown persons pulled the officer up by his pants and Walker pulled the knife free and sliced Constable Delzell across the abdomen.

Upon seeing all this unfold, Constable Davison, with two other officers behind him, ran to the fracas.  He rushed in, pulled Walker up from the floor, and Walker then stabbed him in the abdomen.  Davison then tried to strike Walker with his cane, but other patrons interfered, and Walker briefly escaped.  Davison yelled, “Stop him!  He stabbed or cut me!”  Constable Delzell yelled, “He cut me, too.”

Two other officers, Constable Miller and Deputy Sheriff Charles Broadwell, stopped and arrested Walker.

Constable Delzell lingered near death for many weeks, but he recovered.

 

DEATH

Constable Davison was carried to the home of Nathan Marchant (later a Cincinnati Police Court judge), on Seventh Street.  His wound involved his stomach, liver, and intestines.  He died there on June 25, 1849.

Constable Davison was survived by his wife of 21 years, Elizabeth (Eliza) Davison, and a son. The son drowned in the Miami canal the next year on May 21, 1851.  Mrs. Davison lived alone after his death and worked as a nurse.

 

JUSTICE

Walker was charged with Stabbing with Intent to Kill Constables Delzell and Davison.  On June 26, 1850, after Constable Davison’s death, Walker was arrested again and charged with Murder.  Mayor Henry E. Spencer held a preliminary hearing and held him over for the grand jury on a charge of Manslaughter.  The Hamilton County grand jury indicted Walker on a charge of Murder.

G. W. Carter prosecuted the case. Four attorneys defended Walker, but, according to one newspaper account, it might as well have been five. Fellow Democrat, Judge Warden, in charging the jury, all but directed the jury to acquit Walker – which they did “after a few moments” of deliberation.

Within a year, Walker was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives.  During 1856, he was nominated (and declined) to run for Lieutenant Governor of Indiana on the Willard ticket.  During the Civil War, he joined the pro-slavery and pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle (along with Jesse James and John Wilkes Booth).  When other members of the Golden Circle were arrested, he fled to Cuba, then to Europe, where he studied medicine.  In 1872, he returned to the United States and Indiana, practiced medicine, and eventually was appointed to head up the female insane asylum of Indiana.  He died there in 1883.

 

If you know of any information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Memorial@Police-Museum.org.

© This narrative was further researched and revised on May 29, 2019 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society Vice President, with extensive research also conducted by Cincinnati Homicide Detective Edward W. Zieverink III (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Historian.  All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.