by Barb Chapman, Wheatland Town Historian
The following stories have not been widely told in the Town of Wheatland because they involved some of the most upstanding and respected families in the town. Now that a hundred years have gone by, we hope the history of these events is reported without offending anyone. It must have been a difficult time in the history of our town with war looming in Europe and scandals on the home front.
John H. Scofield was appointed Scottsville postmaster in 1910 and served until 1915, during the time when the post office was in the front east room of Windom Hall. John was a third generation Wheatland resident, son of Ezra, a Main Street merchant, and his wife Maria Hume Scofield. The family lived at 1223 North Road.
Robert Burns Cox was appointed postmaster as the successor to John Scofield, also a third generation Wheatland resident, a farmer on South Road. On May 1, 1917, Rochester district postal inspector Burke came to check the Scottsville office account books. Postmaster Robert Burns Cox told Burke that he would step out to get a bite to eat during the inspection. That was the last anyone saw of him in Scottsville. A shortage of $1500 was found in the post office funds.
It was not until March of 1918 that Robert Burns Cox was apprehended, living and working in Garden City, Long Island. He confessed that he was responsible for the shortage of post office funds and described how he had made his way on foot to Buffalo, sleeping in barns at night and avoiding towns and villages. He found work in Buffalo and was later transferred to Garden City. He was then arrested, brought back to Rochester and sent to jail. When it was over, he and his family moved to Michigan where he died in 1940.
John H. Scofield was called upon to come back and fill in until a permanent postmaster could be appointed. Four months later, on August 12, acting postmaster John Scofield, fortified with whiskey, found a ride up to the farm of William H. Garbutt on the corner of North Road and Wheatland Center Road, known as Blue Pond Farm (see photo above of house at 2100 North Road). Seeing Mr. Garbutt working outside, Scofield pulled out a gun and shot and killed him. Garbutt’s wife Jennie and their two daughters, Kate and Marion, witnessed the shooting. John Scofield rode back to town and calmly presented himself to Constable Vokes at the village jail. Scofield’s explanation for the shooting was that Garbutt had acted inappropriately with his wife Lillian Scofield. He was sentenced to no less than twenty years for murder and was sent to Auburn Prison. Again, an acting postmaster was needed, and Goodard Friedell was chosen.
Follow up regarding John H. Scofield, he served less than nine years of his prison term. New York Governor Alfred E. Smith commuted his sentence, and he returned home in time for Christmas in 1925. Lillian Scofield was living in Hilton during her husband’s incarceration. The story is told that when she heard the news of John’s pardon, she was so excited that she left hamburgers frying on the stove and ran up the street to her son’s house to tell him the good news. John Scofield Jr. was a dentist in Hilton, and a friend who remembers him related parts of this story. John and Lillian Scofield moved to the Syracuse area where they remained the rest of their lives.