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Murder of John Winot & Teets Tavern, 1864


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson
Date: 6/14/2014 at 18:36:08

Clayton County Register, Centennial Edition, July 1936. Condensed from an article about the Tavern Inns of Clayton County that told the story of the murder:

As late as 1864 few railroads had penetrated northeastern Iowa or farther west. All manner of freight was hauled by team, and loads from as far distant as Mason City were brought to McGregor for shipment by steamboat. To accommodate these travelers many inns were built in Clayton county, two of which still stand between Giard and McGregor and are used as farm houses.

One of these inns is the former Teets Tavern, which was built in 1860 for Andrew Teets and was located five miles west of McGregor, on the site of a house that had served as an inn for many years. Mr. Teets had, as early as 1858, served as ferryman for Alexander McGregor, running his boat from Prairie du Chien to McGregor's landing. This inn is now occupied by one of Clayton Counties aged residents, Charles Washburn, whose father had operated the inn at a time after the Teets.

The story of the murder of John Winot is told by Mr. Washburn from a time when the tavern Inn was still being operated by Alexander Teets. The original story was published several years ago and was supplemented by facts taken from the files of the county recorder. The story is essentially as follows:

"Colored Folks' Ball".

In those early days hotels were built with a bar room in the basement, warmed by a fireplace. The upper story of the house had two large rooms filled with beds and one large room was used as a dance hall. The Teets Tavern dance hall was the scene of a "colored folks' ball" on the night of December 16, 1864. A crowd came from Prairie du Chien for the dance and a sleigh ride.

James Liggins, a negro, asked Martha Tann, also colored, to dance with him, but when the square dance was formed, she refused. A violent quarrel resulted, which ended with a rough and ready fight between the two. Liggins, in his rage, smashed a chair to bits as he tried to hit the woman with it. Spectators advised her to leave the room.

Andrew Teets and John Winot, a teamster from West Union, hearing the scuffling, went upstairs to investigate. By that time order had been partly restored and Teets, Winot and many others filled the stairway on their way back down. Among this crowd was Mrs. Tann. At this moment Liggins ran to the bannisters and fired two shots at the woman. The first one went wild; the second struck John Winot in the back of the head, wounding him fatally. He died from the effects of his wounds early in January.

According to the evidence given at the Liggins trial, when he was sentenced to eight years for manslaughter, the commotion must have been terrific. The negro said he was sorry that he killed the white man, but threatened to get the woman later. Then he escaped. At that time the road between Giard and McGregor was lined with forests and the negro hid himself in the woods.

The records do not relate how the slayer was captured but they do show that most of the witnesses at the trial were illiterate, for only two of them could write their names. The language in the testimony is rather quaint and one can find a trace of humor in Martha Tann's story, as she solemnly swore that the teeth Liggins knocked out were artificial, whereas those he loosened were her own.

The old Teets house is sturdily constructed of brick. For 68 years a tavern was kept on this spot. When the Iowa Eastern railroad was built, this inn and many others found business falling off to such a degree that their doors were closed forever to the public.


Oelwein Register, Monday, 2 February 1931.

This article repeats and notes that the original publication of the above article was in the McGregor Times and Cedar Rapids Gazette, undated. The article in the Oelwein Register adds that:

"This story has particular interest to Oelwein folks for the reason that the Charles Washburn referred to as the narrator of the facts, is father of Mrs. C. B. Chambers of this city, and the John Winot, referred to as having been killed at the tavern, was grandfather of Mrs. J. J. Kennedy of this city." This article also notes Charles Washburn as being 82 years of age at the time of the original publication.


Cedar Valley Times, 8 June 1865.

Liggins of Fayette county has been sentenced to stay ten years in the penitentiary for shooting John Winot, and for other crimes. So says the West Union Record.


1870 Federal Census of the Penitentiary, 11th Ward, Ft. Madison, Lee County, Iowa, shows:

James Liggins, Age 31, Male, Black, Born Ohio, Barber - Convict.


Chapter 17 of the Clayton County 1882 History book shows: Killing Of John Winett. This has been transcribed and can be read on the Clayton co. IAGenWeb site.


West Union Cemetery, West Union, Fayette County, lists a John Winett whose death year is listed as 1865. No Birth information is listed.


Clayton co. IAGenWeb

Clayton Documents maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen


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