Fremont County, Iowa

Riverton Bank Robbery
by Fremont County Historical Society

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of October 3, 2010

Note: The following is from the Riverton Iowa Centennial, 1870-1970 correlated by the Riverton Community, for their Centennial celebration.

Polk (Poke) Wells and an accomplice named Wilson held up the Riverton Bank, July 11,1881 at 3:00 p.m.. The robbers stole $4,000, left through the back door, mounted their horses and headed east. The local hardware owner, Tommy Thompson, on hearing the cashier Mr. Saxton, shouting "Robbers, shoot, shoot!" ran out of his store with a Winchester rifle and fired at the robbers. Wells was shot in the knee and seriously injured but the two men escaped.

The robbers turned south and continued on for 8 miles to a heavy timber with a small stream running through it. Here they remained two nights, and two days, bathing the wound in the water from the creek.

Wilson's father came from Utica with news that detectives were watching the robbers' wives in the hope of capturing the men. Plus the James boys had just robbed a train in the country, and the area was full of detectives.

Wells eventually met up with his family and escaped in a covered wagon. Several months later, he was a respectable business man in Randolph, Wisconsin.

The Fremont County Sheriff, Samuel Chandler, learned of his whereabouts, and with Mills County Sheriff, Dan Ferrell, traveled to Randolph, Wisconsin, and arrested Wells September 24,1882. They returned Wells to Sidney to stand trial.

Due to the condition of the wound in his leg, Wells was kept in a side room of the sheriff's house and taken care of by Dr. Stevens and Dr. Ambler. His guards were Thomas Hatten and Tinker Wells. On March 25, 1883 Wells stood trial where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years in prison at Fort Madison.

The horse which Wells was riding, after the Riverton robbery, had been stolen from a farmer north of Sidney. The same horse was injured in a robbery, by Wells, in Illinois later that year and deserted. Sheriff Samuel Chandler eventually returned the horse to its owner .

Before going to prison, Wells gifted Doctor Ambler with a gold watch. His two white handled revolvers were given to the two sheriffs who caught him. He gifted his guard, Thomas Hatten, with a fine overcoat, and later sent him a bridle made from horse hair, which he braided in prison.

It has often been mentioned that the James brothers were involved in this hold up. However, they were never accused by law, or brought to trial, nor was any proof ever offered to support this rumor.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau