Bion is defined as an acronym for “believe it or not” in the dictionary of slang. It is an apt title for the following story, found in the pages of the Central Illinoian newspaper.

Bion Shaw, son of well-known Beardstown attorney, J. Henry Shaw, shot and killed John Davis on August 10, 1876.

The 53 year-old Davis was a former city marshal of Beardstown. According to William Henry Perrin’s 1882 History of Cass County John Davis was the first non-Native American born in Cass County. At the time of his death, he was serving as Cass County Jailor.

Young Shaw and his friend, William Lucking, had a couple of drinks at a local bar before a friendly pistol competition among themselves. After the shooting contest on the prairie, won by Shaw, the young men returned to Beardstown. Next on their itinerary was a game of pool at Holcomb’s and a drink at Fiedler’s saloon, before taking a skiff out on the river. While reaching for his net, Shaw fell out of the boat. After he climbed back in, they rowed back to shore and had another drink, this time at Mohlman’s. After the drinks, they made their way to Bion’s home, where he removed his wet clothing. Lucking could not persuade his pal to get dressed, and since Shaw was acting rather strange, he decided to leave. Bion ran after Lucking and dragged him back into the house.

J. Henry Shaw’s testimony at the inquest relates what happened next:

“Sometime this afternoon, I cannot say just when, I heard a fuss in my front yard. I went out. There was Bion – my son – stark naked; and he was tipping over the flowers and flowerpots. I felt ashamed, and went into the house, and looking out the window asked Bion what was the matter. He told me to stay in the house and shut my mouth. He then came in and struck me in the face. Lucking said, ‘Look out for his pistol.’ I said, ‘Bion, you have struck your father in the face.’ He commenced to striking me again; and I told the hired girl to go for John Davis – that Bion was fighting me. John Davis came; and I said to him, ‘Look out for his pistol; he is crazy and will shoot you.’ Davis went up to Bion and said, ‘I will have to arrest you.’ Bion said, ‘No, you won’t.’ Bion and Davis had no cross words. Mr. Davis just held up his hands and said ‘I will arrest you.’ There was a chair there, but I cannot say whether Davis sat on it or not. I did not see the shooting. I was afraid and standing about 10 or 15 feet away from Bion. I had just cautioned Mr. Davis about Bion being crazy and having a pistol. Mr. Davis was standing on a step just at the office door. I did not see the pistol in Bion’s hand. I never knew he had a pistol in his life, and I know nothing about them. I don’t know where he got the pistol from. I think he would have killed me. Bion had on a shirt and pants when Davis came.”

Luke Treadway’s testimony:

“I did not see the shooting. The first I saw was some one scuffling in Mr. Shaw’s yard. I saw a bare leg sticking up, and then I saw Mr. Shaw go into his office. I saw a young man also go in, but I don’t know if it was Bion or not. Mr. Shaw then came out of the office, and I saw a girl go over to Mr. Davis’s, and afterwards saw Mr. Davis go over to Mr. Shaw’s office. He sat down on a chair in the office. I then heard a shot, saw Mr. Davis put his hand to his breast, and heard him exclaim, “I’m shot.” He then leaned against the fence. I ran over just as he sank to the ground. I did not see Bion.”

After examining Davis’ body, a doctor stated that he died from a gunshot to the right side of the chest, the bullet penetrating near the heart.

Bion Shaw was arrested and moved to the county jail in Virginia, Illinois for his own protection. He was indicted for murder and, on a change of venue, tried in Morgan County during May, 1877. Shaw was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to one year in prison.


The Governor has pardoned out of the Penitentiary Bion Shaw, who was convicted of manslaughter at the May (1877) term of the Morgan Circuit court, and sent to the Penitentiary for a year.

Mattoon (Illinois) Gazette – May 3, 1878

According to the federal census, Shaw returned to Beardstown and was living with his family in 1880.