Louis Henry Mott – 1855-1904

Louis Mott was born in 1855.  While it seems that almost every record gives a different state of birth (Kentucky, Mississippi, Maryland, etc) he was probably born in Indiana, to Dr. Francis Asbury Mott and Fidelia C Browning.  The 1850 census lists Dr. F A Mott in New Harmony, Indiana while Fidelia Mott was with her Browning family in Kentucky.  Louis’s grandfather, Henry Hopkins Mott died in April 1855. Henry listed grandson Louis as an heir, but not his own son Francis, so it appears that Louis’ father died about the time Louis was born.  Louis and his mother Fidelia  Mott lived in 1860 in Ohio with the Mott family.  Fidelia died soon after this, leaving Louis an orphan. 

Louis was raised by his uncle, Lamoine Mott, who became a successful miller and businessman in Des Moines, Iowa.  Louis graduated from high school.  Against his family’s wishes, he moved west in about 1876, ending up in Oakland, CA, where he became a laundryman, the career he kept for the remainder of his life.  Louis was convicted of grand larceny, and spent 11 months in San Quentin.  Out of prison, Louis was back in the laundry business, elected secretary of the laundryman’s union, and a registered voter by 1882.  Louis later told people that he was implicated in a murder in California, but there was not enough evidence to convict him. 

However, he started living under an alias, Louis H Browning (his mother’s maiden name.)  In 1886, he went to Miles City MT to start a laundry, but a couple months later, a news story reported that he had to sell the business due to illness.  But in only a few months, Louis was soliciting for an investor to put up $2000 for the opening of a laundry at Gardner, near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park.  Louis worked there for a couple years.

Back to using “Mott”, Louis went to Washington, where he met Leah H (Smith) Strothman, a not quite divorced woman with two sons, Henry and Oscar.  A later newspaper article said that the meeting “almost appears to have been directed by the hand of fate.”  Mott and a friend were at Wallula Junction.  Mott wanted to go to Walla Walla, while the friend wanted to go a different direction.  They flipped a coin and as a result, went to Walla Walla.  On the street there, Mott was attracted by the face of a woman he saw in the crowd.  He turned to look at her just as she turned and looked at him.  He got an introduction and stayed in Walla Walla a few days. 

Louis and Leah went to Helena, MT, then to Fort Benton to start a laundry there.  Leah obtained her divorce on 14 November 1888 (decree issued in Helena) and she and Louis were married two days later in Seattle.

Louis and Leah moved frequently, living in Phillipsburg, Wickes, and Missoula MT, Wallace ID, and Spokane WA.  One night Louis arrived home in Phillipsburg with about $900 which he said he won in a poker game.  The next day, Leah learned that the Georgetown (MT) stage had been robbed, and she accused Louis of being involved.  He did not deny this accusation and it was later revealed that he was supposed to split the take with the stage driver, who was in on the robbery.

Louis and Leah eventually had two daughters, Alice and Ethel.  Louis’ stepson Henry said Louis was good to his girls, but not so nice to Leah even when sober, and Louis used alcohol a lot. He was described as having a nervous disorder which got worse when he drank and took drugs.  He attempted suicide by overdose at least once.  Louis sought treatment for his disorders, taking the Keeley Cure not once but twice.  The Keeley Institute had a branch at Boulder Hot Springs, MT.  The institute treated alcoholism as a disease, and combined injections, tonics, and home-like care.

Louis often left home, staying away longer and longer.  When he returned, he would act strangely.  Louis and Leah were running the Troy Steam Laundry on Missoula’s north side. Louis had a brush with the law when he fired a gun out a window to scare away some noisy revelers in the middle of the night, outside his home.  He was found not guilty of any crime but Leah got rid of the gun. Louis’s laundry staff went on strike, and Louis went to Butte, leaving Leah to manage the business.  Eventually, the business was put in Leah’s name. 

In December 1902, Louis again abandoned the family and business, going to Butte.  Leah took advantage of his absence, and sold the business. The new owners had moved into the apartments above the laundry, and Leah still lived there with her daughters.  When Louis returned, he was extremely angry about the sale. On 4 January, 1903, after the group had dinner, Leah was helping the new owners’ housekeeper clean up after the meal.  Louis came into the kitchen, and told the young daughters to go play in another room.  Attempting to avoid a confrontation with Louis, Leah started out of the building and down the stairs.  Louis pulled a gun and fired four times, hitting Leah in the back 3 times.  The housekeeper grabbed the gun away from Louis, probably preventing his suicide.

Policemen in the area heard the shots, came to the house, and arrested Louis.  Leah was taken to the hospital, but doctors knew they could not save her.  She gave a dying statement that Louis was drunk and shot her.  She died a few hours later.

The newspapers covered Mott’s incarceration and trial.  When first arrested, they reported that he only wanted whiskey, and had little concern for his wife or children.  He seemed unmoved when he learned Leah died, and could only say he didn’t know why he did it.  Reports said that drink made him the murderer. 

Louis stood trial and his attorneys attempted to use a defense of insanity.  Louis rebelled against this strategy, arguing with the attorneys and his own defense witnesses, saying he’d rather hang than be labelled an imbecile. He also said he’d rather hang than spend 20 years in prison.  One witness testified that Louis told him he went to Helena to buy the gun he used, making this a premeditated case.  The story garnered a lot of interest and the court room was usually filled with spectators.  Witnesses included young Alice Mott, the housekeeper, and physicians who treated Louis.  Leah’s pre-mortem statement was used.  Louis did not testify.  After the testimony and evidence were presented, the jury took 24 hours to convict Louis, and Judge Webster sentenced him to hang.  His original defense attorneys eventually resigned, and Judge Frank Woody was retained to handle much of the appeals process.  The defense requested a new trial based on juror misconduct, saying that two men had preconceived opinions that Louis was guilty, and another was drunk during the trial.  Both the trial judge and the Supreme Court denied the request.  One newspaper reported that Mott should have put as much effort into making a happy home as he was putting into getting a new trial.

When first arrested, Louis had reached out to his family in Iowa for help.  They refused to have anything to do with him, which seems to confirm that this was not his first scrape with the law.  But when the appeals were denied, his uncle Lamoine Mott came to Montana. Newspapers both locally and in Iowa reported that Mott would spend his fortunes to save his nephew.  The elder Mott met with Governor Toole twice, but the governor only delayed the execution long enough for the Supreme Court to respond to the appeal, and after that, Toole would not intervene.

Louis eventually shared his story about the stage coach robbery and the California murder, with the jailers who were on his death watch, just before his execution.  He was concerned that if made public earlier, the stories would negatively influence his attempts for a new trial or sentence reduction.  But in the end, it didn’t matter. 

The date of the execution was originally set for 17 March 1904, but Mott thought he shouldn’t die on St. Patrick’s Day, and the judge moved the event to the 18th.  Sheriff Harry Thompson erected a 14’ fence around the yard at the jail, and gallows were shipped in from Butte.  Although the usual invitations were sent out to witnesses (most often other sheriffs) I found no indication that any family members attended.  At Mott’s request, the hanging rope was burned afterwards, so that it couldn’t be used as a souvenir.  Louis had also requested to be buried next to Leah, but her son Henry refused this request, and Louis is buried near the main entrance to the cemetery.

Attorney Joseph Dixon had previously done some legal work for Louis, and Mott originally expected Dixon to be his defense attorney.  However, Dixon had been elected Senator, and moved to Washington DC before the murder trial.  Mott apparently still considered him a friend, and not long before he was hanged, Louis sent a letter to the senator reminding him of discussions they once had about the after-life.  Louis said he would appear to the senator 48 hours after his death.  Senator Dixon reported two days later from Washington that Mott did not keep his appointment. 

Louis’ daughters went to live with Leah’s sister Anne.  Ethel died in 1905 in Oklahoma, and Alice died in 1973 in Texas. 

 

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