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Covered Bridge Story (1934)


Posted By: Linda Ziemann (email)
Date: 11/6/2010 at 21:49:01

The Winterset News
Winterset, Madison Co. Iowa
Thursday, November 8, 1934


By Arthur Goshorn

The News has several letters from its subscribers urging this paper to repeat its request to the supervisor to save the old covered bridge over North river near Fletcher's and Walker's. The old bridge will not be used when the new county highway steel bridge is built near it. Not that only that old bridge should be saved but every other old covered bridge in the county should be preserved. They are genuine covered bridges and they should be left there so all the state may see them and learn how southern Iowa bridged her streams in the last century.

That old bridge was built in 1868. I suppose Eli Cox, father of ex-supervisor Alf Cox, built it, for he built most of the covered bridges of the county. But Bent (Bridge) Jones built the later ones. A.D. Fletcher who lives near the bridge and who celebrated his eighty-fourth birthday a week or two ago, says he is certain of the date because he bought his present homestead that year and the bridge was being built then. It was called the Brown Bridge from a family that lived close to it. Also it was sometimes called the Ballantine bridge after another family that lived near it. In late years, the bridge has been referred to as Fletcher's or Walker's bridge.

The bridge has been refloored several times. It needs reflooring again for the nails are loose and in dry weather stick up out of the boards. That is hard on auto tires. The bridge was the scene of an almost fatal shooting in 1897. Davies, the absconding Peru banker who ran off with all the bank money, had been arrested in New York state and was in the Madison county jail. In the jail was an ex-coal miner named Streeter, who had been arrested for stealing harness. It was believed by many Streeter had stolen harness and had purposely allowed himself to be arrested and get in jail to help Davies escape.

The county jail was then under the west porch of the court house. It was from it that Hamner, a murderer, was dragged by a mob on the night of June 4, 1883, and hung from a soft maple tree in the court house yard. The jail was damp and dark, an unfit place to confine a human being and was afterward condemned and abandoned. When Streeter got into that jail he put his mining knowledge to use by tunneling under the south foundation wall and upward to the air. When Sheriff Silliman counted his prisoners two or three mornings after Streeter went into the jail, he found Streeter gone. So was Davies.

Learning from the other prisoners that they had not been gone long enough to make their way out of the county on foot, Sheriff Silliman placed guards at every bridge on North and Middle rivers. Frank Villiers, who had been working for Fletcher, and another man were guarding the Fletcher bridge the next night when somebody riding a horse approached the bridge. Villiers ordered him to halt but instead of stopping he tried to run his horse through the bridge. Villiers shot at him, the duck load knocking the rider off his horse and severely wounding him in the head. The supposed criminal turned out to be a Donahue boy who lived in the neighborhood and was going home. Frightened by Villiers demand to halt, he had put his horse into a run and tried to get away. He recovered. His parents sued Villiers and A.D. Fletcher for damages. It was proved at the trial that Villiers was not working for Fletcher and that Fletcher had nothing to do with it. If the jury gave a verdict against Villiers it was worth nothing for Villiers was not worth a dime.

Sheriff Silliman, getting a tip that Davies and Streeter were hidden in the brush near North river and would attempt to make their get away that next night, lay in wait along a roadside. Streeter and Davies came up the road but when ordered to halt, both ran, Davies returning the Sheriffıs shots. They escaped in the dark. Streeter was captured the next morning when he came up to Ruel Palmer's home on North Branch for something to eat. Davies was never found.

They filled the tunnel that Streeter dug with stones and dirt. Three or four years after Silliman went out of office, Sheriff Doug Roy found the tunnel opened again and two prisoners he had in jail were gone. The jail was condemned by the state board of health and Madison County had to build a new jail.

There were once more covered bridges in Madison county than there are now across its streams. I believe there was one across Middle river at Otho Davis' where Dr. Ramsey now lives. There was a covered bridge at the Backbone but it burned down. One on the Afton road, south of town. I think there was one at Wilkin's mill east of town. There was one over North Branch on the old Farnham road. In the eighties there were so many covered bridges that they excited no comment.


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