History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter XX - Miscellaneous History

The Rose Ann McGregor Case - The Majors War - Early Day Lawlessness - Treasury Robberies - Jim Lane's Trial

About the time Marion County was organized an incident occurred within her borders that perhaps has no parallel in the history of the nation. It grew out of an act entitled “An act to regulate blacks and mulattoes,” approved by Governor Lucas on January 21, 1839, and which was as follows:

“Section 1. Be it enacted, etc., that from and after the first day of April next, no black or mulatto shall be permitted to settle or reside in this territory, unless he or she shall produce a fair certificate from some court within the United States of his or her actual freedom, which certificate shall be attested by the clerk of said court, and the seal thereof annexed thereto by the said court, and give bond, with hood and sufficient security to be approved by the board of county commissioners of the proper county, in which such person of color may reside, payable to the United States, in the penal sum of five hundred dollars.

“Section 2. If any Negro or mulatto, coming into this territory as aforesaid, shall fail to comply with the provisions of the first section of this act, it shall be and hereby is made the duty of the county commissioners in any county where such Negro or mulatto many be found, to summon him, her or them to appear before some justice of the peace to show cause why he, she or they shall not comply with the provisions of this act. And if such Negro or mulatto shall still fail to give the bond and security required by the first section of this act, it shall be the duty of the county commissioners of such county to hire out such Negro or mulatto for six months for the best price in cash to be had. The proceeds of such hiring shall be paid into the county treasury of the proper county, for the use of such Negro or mulatto, in such manner as shall be directed by the board of county commissioners aforesaid.”

A few months before Marion County was organized one John G. McGregor came from Illinois to what is now Indiana Township and stopped at the house of George Henry, who assisted him in selecting a claim. After finding a location to his liking, McGregor asked the privilege of living in the house with Mr. Henry until he could build a cabin of his own. The following description of what happened afterward is taken from Donnel’s Pioneers of Marion County:

“Mr. Henry, being desirous of accommodating those who were to become his neighbors and inasmuch as the family of Mr. McGregor was small, consisting only of the man and his wife, he readily assented to that arrangement also. But when the guests arrived, the astonishment of Mr. Henry may possibly be imagined, when he first beheld in Mrs. McGregor a full-blooded African, about as dark as the darkest of her race, possessing all the charms that could be summed up in a figure of ample proportions and features of combined brilliancy and prominence. As a matter of course, after this discovery, he lost no time in reconsidering his promise. he was not disposed to encourage further ‘domestic relations’ with this interesting pair and honestly signified to Mac that his mind had undergone a change on the subject. So the latter, with his lovely spouse, was compelled to seek some other shelter. Not finding a house, they camped out, as they had previously done, until their cabin was built.

“But the nature of their relationship was such that they were not permitted to enjoy it long in peace. It was taken for granted that they were living in violation of a statute of the territory forbidding matrimonial connection between blacks and whites, and, for this offense, were arrested and brought before Justice Levi Bainbridge, on Lake Prairie, for trial. Not being very well satisfied with the rulings of this court, they took a change of venue and their case was turned over to Justice Mike Morris, who happened to be present. After giving it a hearing, Mike referred the matter to the Mahaska County grand jury - this being previous to the organization of Marion - where it ended, the jury not finding a true bill against the offenders.”

The matter was not ended, however, for in October, 1845, after Marion County had been organized, L. W. Babbitt, clerk to the board of county commissioners, called attention to the fact that a colored woman was living within the limits of the county without having complied with the provisions of the act of 1839. The commissioners then issued the following order: “That all blacks or mulattoes residing within this county be required to enter into bond with good security, to be approved by this board when in session, or by the clerk in vacation, for their good behavior and otherwise comply with the provisions of an act entitled ‘An act to regulate blacks and mulattoes,’ approved January 21, 1839, and all other laws in force against blacks and mulattoes in this territory.”

This order was signed by all three of the commissioners - Conrad Walters, David Durham and William Welch - and Mrs. McGregor was summoned to appear before John T. Pierce, and acting justice of the peace, to show cause why she should not comply with the provisions of the territorial laws. Both the order and summons were ignored by McGregor and his dusky wife and Mr. Pierce so reported to the commissioners. The minutes of the commissioners’ court for January 8, 1846, contain the following entry relating to the case:

“It appearing from the return made by said justice that the aforesaid Rose Ann McGregor had failed to show good cause why she should not comply with the provisions of said act, and that after being allowed a reasonable time to comply as aforesaid, it is hereby ordered that unless the said Rose Ann McGregor shall comply with the provisions of an act entitled ‘An act to regulate blacks and mulattoes,’ approved January 21, 1839, on or before the 29th day of January, 1846, the sheriff shall proceed to sell the said Rose Ann McGregor to the highest bidder for the term of six months for the best price in cash to be had.”

The 29th of January rolled around and still Rose Ann had not complied with the law of the territory or the order of the commissioners. Then the fun began. Sheriff J. M. Walters was directed to bring Rose Ann bodily to the county seat. To quote again from Donnel:

“Armed with this authority and attended by his deputy, Dr. L. C. Conrey, the two proceeded to the residence of the McGregor’s. Apparently, this visitation had been expected by the wary Rose Ann, for when the officers reached the house they found the doors barred and their application for admission was pointedly refused. Not wishing to perpetrate any violence in the performance of their duty (and, perhaps, actuated by a sense of caution, for Rose Ann was reported to be the possessor of a gun, a good marksman, and, to quote the words of our informant, ‘some in a bear fight’), they resorted to a little strategical compromise, by which the besieged promised to go to town the next morning. But the officers, having no faith in this promise, retired a few rods from the house and secreted themselves behind a shock of corn fodder, to watch the movements of their intended prisoner, and seize her if a favorable opportunity presented.
"Presently they saw her emerge from the house, with gun in hand, and survey the premises with a cautious glance. Seeing no danger, she returned within doors, where she left the gun, and immediately reappeared, going to the woodpile for fuel. Now as the best opportunity to nab her. The two men started at their utmost speed, intending, if possible, to get between her and the house; but ‘the race is not always to the swift.’ rose Ann soon discovered them and so far outran them that she had time to bar the door before they reached it. Here now was a crisis that required prompt decision, activity and nerve. Such a thing as being outgeneraled by a Negro could not be thought of. Parley was out of the question; and what sort of a report should they make on returning to Knoxville without their prisoner? Their reputation was at stake and rather than risk it they would risk their lives. So Walters ordered the doctor to make a battering-ram of an old sled tongue that happened to be lying near at hand and batter in the door. The order was immediately obeyed and as the door swung back Walters bounded into the room and caught the determined Rose Ann in the act of raising the hammer of her gun. The doctor followed and seized the weapon just in time to save his own life, for it was already aimed at him with the evident intention of firing. Having disarmed the prisoner, she had no other choice but to surrender unconditionally. The doctor then fired off the gun, the report of which indicated a heavy charge, very probably intended for the use she attempted to make of it.

“The battle now over and the victory so fortunately won, the officers immediately set out on their return to headquarters with the prisoner. It was growing late in the afternoon and some haste was necessary to reach town before dark; so, in order to make better speed, and, perhaps, prompted by a feeling of generosity, the doctor mounted Rose Ann on his horse, he going before, leading the way in the narrow Indian trail that was then about the only kind of road in the country.

“As it happened, the sheriff had business in another direction and accompanied them only part of the way. Consequently the deputy was left in sole charge of the prisoner. Having been so completely conquered, and afterwards so kindly treated to a means of conveyance, it was not supposed that she would become treacherous or troublesome on the way. But Rose Ann was not to be won by any such evidences of kindness, so long as she was subjected to the humiliating condition of a prisoner for no fault except race and color. She was disposed to take advantage of her captor’s confidence, and she did. A short time after the sheriff left them - the doctor walking a few steps in advance - Rose Ann suddenly turned about and dashed homeward on a full gallop, to the astonishment and mortification of her captor, who looked after her a moment without any decisive purpose what to do about it. But he concluded to pursue her at all events, and did so as rapidly as he was able. On the way he found his pill bags, which he was then in the habit of carrying with him, being in the practice of medicine; they had bounded off in the extraordinary flight of the captive. After a mile or two of pursuit, the doctor became weary and turned in for the night at the residence of John Welch.”

The next day Rose Ann appeared before the commissioners and gave the required bond. The entry in the records closing this famous case reads: “John G. McGregor presented the bond of Rose Ann McGregor, a black person, signed by Rose Ann McGregor as principal and John G. McGregor and Amos Strickland as security conditioned for the good behavior of the said Rose Ann, which was approved by the court.”


What is known in Marion County history as the Majors’ war grew out of the troubles connected with the entering of certain lands in the county. In 1844 five brothers and two sisters by the name of Majors came from Illinois and settled in the western part of Mahaska County. One of the sisters was a widow with two sons and the mother also came with the family, making ten persons in all entitled to select claims. They had enough ready money to enter the lands claimed by the members of the family, as well as some additional land. In 1847 Jacob H. Majors, acting as the agent of the family, entered all the land claimed by them and three timber claims belonging to, or claimed by, John Gillaspy, Jacob Miller and Peter Parsons. He was soon informed that these three claims had already been taken by the men above named and excused himself on the ground that he was ignorant of the fact, but he made no move toward restoring the land to the original claimants.

When the news of the situation spread among the settlers, consternation reigned. Meetings were held at which resolutions denouncing the Majors family were adopted. A central committee of the several claim clubs sent word to all the members, requesting them to attend a meeting at the residence of Jacob H. Majors, to see if he could not be induced to make restitution of the claims. Majors was one of the county commissioners of Mahaska County, and at the time of the meeting was at Oskaloosa attending a meeting of the board. A messenger was dispatched to Oskaloosa to notify him that his presence was desired and the crowd waited until nightfall for his return home. He failed to comply with the message and another was sent to him, advising him that if he did not return within a given time his property would be destroyed. Some of the settlers went to their homes when darkness came on, but many camped on the ground to await the result. About daybreak the following morning, the log stable, some corn cribs and other out-buildings were set on fire and a number of hogs were either burned or killed by the incensed settlers.

Upon hearing that his property was being destroyed, Majors sent word that he would deed back the land to the claimants and the people returned to their homes, expecting that the promise would be kept. But in this they were mistaken. No sooner was the present trouble past than Majors reconsidered his promise and had a warrant issued for the arrest of several of the most prominent leaders on what he termed a mob. John W. Wright of Knoxville has in his historical collection the original document, of which the following is a copy:

“State of Iowa }
Mahaska County } ss,

“To any Constable in said county, Greeting:

“Whereas, complaint has this day been made before me, a Justice of the Peace of the above Township of Jefferson in said county, on the oath of John P. Majors, that on the sixth day of July, 1848, L. C. Conrey, John Gillaspy and a number of others assembled at the house of Jacob Majors in said county for the purpose of violents. You are therefore, in the name of the State of Iowa, commanded to take L. C. Conrey, John Gillaspy and such others as may be found in said assembly and them forthwith bring before me, or some other Justice of the Peace, to answer to said complaint and be further delt with according to law.

“Given under my hand this 7th day of July, 1848.
“Justice of the Peace.”

Without telegraphs, telephones, or other means of quick communication, the settlers were soon apprised of the fact that Majors had not only rescinded his promise to make restitution, but was trying to bring about the arrest of several of their number. This warrant was issued on Friday and before Saturday night the settlers all over the county knew what had taken place. Late Saturday afternoon a summons reached Knoxville for the settlers to rendezvous at Durham’s Ford. It was also stated that Peter Parsons had already been arrested and taken to Oskaloosa, where he was confined in jail, and that the sheriff of Mahaska County was looking for about fifty other persons against whom indictments had been filed. The settlers were likewise notified “to come prepared to rescue the prisoners.”

On Sunday morning, July 9, 1848, a large number of men collected at Knoxville, determined to stand by the claimants at all hazards, and marched to Durham’s Ford, bearing a Untied States flag upon which had been inscribed in large letters the words “Settlers’ Rights.” By sunset on that day several hundred people were gathered at the ford, fully armed and equipped. Others came in early the next morning, swelling the number to about five hundred. These men were then organized into a sort of military order and the mounted men were drilled as cavalry by a man named Mulkey, who had served in the Mexican war. With fife and drums this little army then advanced on Oskaloosa. Upon arriving at the town the arms were left in the wagons, under a strong guard, and the main body formed in the public square about the time Parsons was to be tried. The formidable demonstration had its effect and the prisoner was released without bail, though he had not been confined in the jail as reported.

The offending Majors was in Oskaloosa, but, probably acting upon the theory that discretion is the better part of valor, kept out of sight, while others indulged in making speeches. Late in the day he again promised to deed the disputed lands to the original claimants, and this time the promise was fulfilled. The settlers then disbanded, the principal object of their demonstration having been accomplished.

But the end was not yet. Majors was filled with a desire for revenge and at the earliest opportunity swore out warrants for the arrest of several “leaders of the mob.” Donnel Says: “The officer who was authorized to make the arrest was kind enough, whenever he conveniently could, to notify the intended prisoners when he should call for them, and consequently, when he did call, they were often absent and their whereabouts unknown.”

Friends of Majors repeatedly advised to drop the matter, but persuasion and remonstrance were of no avail. His persistency finally aroused such indignation that a company of men of recognized courage was sent out with instructions to find Majors and bring him to Knoxville. Majors was conscious of his danger and did not spend much of his time at home. The company, after searching in various places for him, finally found him at work in Hollowell’s saw mill, near the mouth of Cedar Creek, sawing some lumber for himself. It was noticed that he kept his rifle near at hand and carried with him whenever he left the mill. Not wishing any bloodshed, the men crept up as close to the mill as possible and secreted themselves, while one of their number, a man unknown to Majors, went forward ostensibly to make some inquiries about some stray horses. In the course of the conversation this man managed to get between Majors and his gun, when the others rushed from their hiding place, seized him, tied him upon a horse and set out for Knoxville.

Upon arriving at the county seat Majors was turned over to another select committee, composed of men so disguised that they could not be readily recognized, and taken to the fair grounds, where he was divested of his clothing and coating of tar and feathers applied to his naked body. He was then ordered to put on his clothing, after which another coat of tar and feathers was added and he was admonished to “Go and sin no more.”

Majors made one more attempt to prosecute the men who had thus humiliated him, but “was unable to bring his case into court for the reason that the courthouse was guarded at about the time set for trial and every one, lawyers and witnesses, known to be for the prosecution were egged away when they attempted to enter.” Thus foiled he abandoned his efforts and soon afterward the family sold their possessions and left the country.


In the settlement of the country, as civilization moved westward, it seemed to have been the history of every frontier community that in its early days it became the haven of a number of lawless characters. Courts were not always within convenient distance, and these lawless persons took advantage of the situation to commit depredations upon the peaceable settlers or engage in disreputable brawls that a few years later could not and would not have been tolerated. Marion county was no exception to this rule. among the pioneers, particularly in the neighborhood of Red Rock, were a few men who seemed to fear neither law nor physical injury.

One of the most noted of these rough characters was William Blankenship, who was commonly called “Old Blank.” Before coming to Marion County he became involved in a dispute over a claim near Fairfield. Such confidence did he have in his ability to administer summary punishment to his adversary, that he offered to settle the controversy by a fist fight, the winner to take the claim. Old Blank had won so many contests of this nature that he anticipated no difficulty in winning another. But this time he was mistaken. His opponent proved to be the better man and after a thorough castigation, in which he lost part of his nose, he merely remarked to his antagonist, “the claim is yours, sir,” and walked away.

He then came to Red Rock, where he soon became engaged in a feud with a man named Johnson, the latter bringing suit against Blankenship on a account of some fifteen or sixteen dollars, and obtaining a judgment therefore, which Blankenship refused to pay until the constable levied upon his horse. One morning shortly after the lawsuit Johnson found he grindstone broken, his bee hives robbed and other petty depredations committed upon his premises, and immediately suspected Blankenship. Johnson decided to have him arrested upon suspicion and a warrant was placed in the hands of John M. Mikesell, then holding the office of constable. Early the next morning Mikesell repaired to the cabin of Blankenship, whom he found in bed. The constable took a chair and began talking on some subject entirely foreign to the purpose of his visit. After a few minutes he remarked that the chair seat was sticky and that the substance felt and tasted like honey. Thinking that some of the stolen honey might have become smeared over the chair, Blankenship explained that he and Mat (meaning his brother-in-law, James M. Williams) had cut a bee tree only a night or two before. Mikesell then replied that it tasted like Johnson’s honey and announced that he had a warrant for Blankenship’s arrest for having stolen it. The latter agreed to go before a justice to answer the charge, but solemnly declared that if Johnson appeared against him he would kill him. This threat, which would probably have been executed, had the effect of intimidating Johnson and the case went by default.

Not long after this a claim dispute arose between Blankenship and Elihu Alley, who was the owner of a saw mill on the Des Moines River a short distance above Red rock. One day while alley was alone at the mill a noise on the bank of the river attracted his attention and upon looking up saw Old Blank taking deliberate aim at him with a rifle. Just at that moment a third person appeared on the scene, when Blankenship lowered his gun and walked away. He afterward boldly stated that if Alley had not looked up, and the other man had not appeared, his life would have come to an end then and there.

Not long after this Mr. Alley and his son Cyrus, with another man, were working in the mill at night, when they were fired upon several times from the opposite side of the river, some of the bullets striking so near them that they extinguished their and hurried away from the mill. It was well known that Old Blank was the man who did the shooting, but the Alleys were so much afraid of him that they made no effort to have him arrested.

About 1949 or 1850 Blankenship left Red Rock and started for California, much to the relief of the peaceably inclined citizens. On the way across the plains he got into a quarrel with a man over some cattle, drew a pistol and shot his antagonist, killing him instantly. He was promptly arrested and tried by a posse, and was sentenced to be hanged. An improvised scaffold was hastily constructed for the purpose of carrying out the sentence, when one of the bystanders suggested that the proper thing to do was to turn him over to the Utah authorities and let him be executed according to law. This was done, but the culprit managed to make his escape and, it is reported, afterward became a wealthy land owner in California.

James M. and John Williams, brothers-in-law of William Blankenship, were men of the “hale fellow well met” type, who could stand up in front of a bar and drink as much whisky as anybody. In early days settlers were in the habit of buckling a bell about the neck of one of their cows, in order that the herd might be the more easily found when wanted. A cow belonging to Henry Lott, who lived near Red Rock, lost her bell, which was found by the father of Mat and John Williams. One of the younger Williams children afterward told his father that Lott accused him of stealing the bell, whereupon Mat and John went to Red Rock, filled up with bad whisky, and then started on the hunt of Lott, declaring their intention of “cleaning him out.” They found the object of their quest at John W. Alley’s, pulled him out of bed and administered some rough treatment, the unoffending man all the time protesting his innocence and offering to prove it if they would but give him an opportunity.

R. R. Watts, a justice of the peace, happened to be present, but was unable to command the peace. The next day he went to Knoxville and obtained a warrant for the two Williams boys, who were tried at the next term of the District Court. John was dismissed for want of evidence, but Mat was remanded to the court of Landon J. Burch, a justice of the peace, for trial, where he was found guilty and fined the limit of the law.

In the history of Swan Township, in Chapter VII, is given an account of the manner in which the Casner family was run out of the county. While Fort Des Moines was still a government post, Jonas Casner stole a horse from some of the Indians. He was arrested by order of Captain Allen, in command of the fort, and tried by a court-martial, but the evidence was not sufficient to convict. Satisfied, however, in his own mind that Casner was guilty, Allen turned him over to the Indians with instructions to give him a severe whipping and let him go, which the Indians did with apparent enjoyment.

Not long after this a man named Fish, while returning from Keokuk with a load of goods, encamped for the night near the Des Moines River, not far from Agency City. During the night Caner stole one of his horses. Next morning Fish went to an Indian encampment and borrowed a horse to go in pursuit. Several miles from the camp Casner came riding up alongside of him, mounted from the camp Casner came riding up alongside of him, mounted upon the very horse for which he was in search. Before Fish was aware of Casner’s intentions, the latter drew a large knife and cut the girth of Fish’s saddle. Then by a sudden push threw the rider to ground and seizing the rein of the Indian horse galloped away with both horses. It is not known how Fish got his goods to their destination, or how the matter was finally settled but the incident shows the character of the man Casner.

Horse stealing was common in the early days, before the country was sufficiently settled to make the chances of escape difficult, and if a horse thief was captured he was almost certain to receive punishment under the rulings of “Judge Lynch.” On instance of this kind was when Ray Alfrey captured a man mounted upon a stolen horse and took him to Red Rock, where he was severely whipped and warned to leave the country. He lost no time in obeying the injunction. He returned soon afterward, however, and stole another horse, when he was again whipped, but this failed to cure his propensity for stealing. Not long afterward he stole his third horse and was shot dead while trying to get away with it.

Red Rock was situated upon a much-traveled Indian trail and was at the border of the United States Territory, hence it became the resort for the Indians and the lawless white men who infested the frontier. Shooting and stabbing affrays were common, but no record of many of these crimes has been preserved. Among the early crimes were the killing a man named Burns by a ruffian named Shaw, and the murder of Mr. Lloyd by one Wines. Near the close of Wines’ trial one of the jurors became seriously ill and the case was continued to the next term of court, but before that time Wines died.

One of the latest cold-blooded murders in the vicinity of Red Rock occurred on the evening of September 15, 1873. For some time there had been bad blod between Horry Williams and one of his kinsmen on one side, and William Eutsler and a Mr. Keeton on the other. The trouble began over some scandal concerning the wife of Horry Williams and Mrs. Keeton. On the date above named the two Williamses, accompanied by a man named Anderson, went to the house of William Eutsler and requested him to go with them to Keeton’s, about two miles west of Red Rock, stating that the old quarrel was settled and that they merely wanted to talk the matter over.

When the three men reached Keeton’s house, Mr. Eutsler asked Keeton to come outside. He had hardly crossed the threshold of his door when Horry Williams began to use insulting language, calling Keeton a liar, etc., at the same time flourishing his revolver. Keeton told him that if he would lay aside his revolver and meet on equal terms he would fight him, and with this remark turned to enter the house. Accounts differ as to just how the killing of Keeton was accomplished. One report says he was shot by Horry Williams just as he was re-entering the house, and another is that Keeton was reaching up to take his gun from the rack, when Horry fired, the bullet striking Keeton under the left shoulder blade and after passing through his body lodged under the right arm. Just as Horry Williams shot Keeton the other Williams fired at Eutsler and wounded him in the hip. Horry Williams was afterward arrested, tried and sentenced to twenty years in the penitentiary, but on the way to Fort Madison he managed to escape from the officers. He afterward figured in the robbery of the county treasury in 1876.

Marvin Williams, a brother of Horry, was killed at Red Rock on Sunday evening, August 12, 1877, by T. R. Buttery. It appears that the two men were associated in the operation of a saloon at Red Rock and got into an altercation over their respective interests, Williams claiming a full partnership, while Buttery insisted that he was the sole owner. In the altercation Williams was shot near the heart and died almost immediately.


Marion County has been unfortunate in the loss of public funds by the robberies of the county treasury. Some writers state that the treasury was robbed three times, but this is a mistake. The first loss was caused by the defalcation of David Stanfield, who was elected treasurer in 1854, and at the expiration of his term was re-elected. He was a candidate for a third term in 1857, but was defeated by William J. Ellis. When the new treasurer took charge of the office and checked up the books he found a shortage of $4,546.20. Mr. Stanfield was notified, but declared he was ignorant of what had become of the funds, indignantly repelling the charge that he was guilty of embezzlement. Not long after this Mr. Stanfield went to Missouri and some of the Marion County people, thinking he had left to avoid prosecution, took steps for his arrest.

R. S. Patterson was appointed an agent to pursue the ex-treasurer and Governor Lowe authorized the county judge of Marion County to advance said Patterson the sum of $100 toward defraying the expenses. On January 20, 1858, F. M. Frush, then county judge, ordered the issue of a warrant for the amount. Just about that time Stanfield returned and the case was taken into the courts, where judgment was rendered against his bondsmen for the amount of the shortage. Stanfield assigned his property to C. G. Brobst, who realized upon it the sum of $2,339.27.

Mr. Stanfield afterward removed to Kansas and the news came back to Marion County that he was living there in a state of poverty. This caused a reaction in public opinion, the belief becoming general that the deficit was caused through his ignorance of bookkeeping methods and that he had not profited by the missing funds. A petition was circulated and numerously signed, asking the board of supervisors to dismiss further proceedings against him and his bondsmen, which petition was granted and the county assumed the loss.

The second robbery of the treasury - really the first actual robbery - occurred on the night of February 9-10, 1867. Maj. W. T. Cunningham, then county treasurer, had been absent for a few days at Des Moines on business connected with the courts, the office in his absence being under the charge of his deputy, a Mr. Venable. On Sunday morning, February 10, 1867, Mr. Cunningham, who had returned home the evening before, went to the office in the courthouse to look after his mail. Upon entering the office he noticed the door of the vault open, the safe forced and the funds missing. The burglars took public funds amounting to $30,915 and $1,600 belonging to Daniel Smick, a blacksmith, which had been left with the treasurer for safe keeping, but they either overlooked $886.02 in silver and copper coins, or declined to take it because it would be too heavy to carry conveniently. The following description of how the burglary was committed appeared in the Marion County Democrat of February 12, 1867:

“The burglars, for there were undoubtedly several men engaged in the crime, gained entrance to the office by one of the windows, the lower sash of which was raised half way up. Previously they had broken into the J. F. Reed blacksmith shop, stealing almost an entire set of tools - sledges, hammers, chisels, tongs, etc. The evidence shows that they first attempted to pry off the door of the vault by inserting steel wedges between the edge of the door and the iron casing or frame. Failing in this, they removed the brick work of the vault, exposing the end of the door bolt, which was driven back by repeated blows of a hammer, breaking the lock. The safe was now exposed. This safe is what is known as Lillie’s patent burglar proof safe of latest pattern - one deemed impregnable against all efforts to gain admission to its interior save by legitimate means. The dial by which it was locked was either broken by a hemmer or blown to pieces by powder. The hinges were finally broken off, but still the burglars failed to gain an entrance to the money until they had driven steel chisels or wedges into the cracks, by which operation the heavy and massive sides of the safe were sprung so that the door bolts slipped past and the goal was won."

The board of supervisors assembled in special session on Monday morning and offered a reward of $2,000 for the arrest of the thieves, and $8,000 additional for the return of the whole amount taken. Notices of this reward were published in newspapers of various cities and detectives flocked to Knoxville. The board continued in session for several days. On the 13th Mr. Cunningham was arrested and taken before Justice of the Peace Norris, where he was placed under $10,000 bonds to appear before the court on the 25th. When that day arrived Mr. Cunningham appeared, but there was no one to prosecute. His case was finally sent to Monroe County on change of venue and was stricken from the dockets of the court without coming to an actual trial before a jury.

Safe experts from various safe and lock companies testified that the burglary was committed by experts, and this had much to do with the acquittal of Major Cunningham, who had lived in Knoxville for years and had never acquired the reputation of being an expert cracksman.

On March 25, 1867, Charles F. Lardu, alias H. E. Lossee, was arrested at Marshalltown by the deputy sheriff of Polk County on suspicion and brought to Knoxville. In a hearing before Squire Norris on April 3d, he was able to show that he was eighty miles from Knoxville on the night of the robbery and was released.

William D’Armond was arrested at Osceola in May, taken to Knoxville and had a preliminary hearing before Squire Kennedy at which his bail bond was placed at $15,000. This he was unable to furnish and he was sent to Oskaloosa for safe keeping until June 5th, when he was brought to Knoxville for trial. D’Armond had been a resident of Knoxville during the winter of 1866-67, and had disappeared shortly after the robbery. Public opinion was divided as to his guilt or innocence, but at his trial evidence was introduced to show that one of his children was very sick at the time of the robbery and that he was at home all that night. On the 8th his trial ended and he was released from custody, but many persons could never be convinced that he was not in some way implicated in the robbery. The money was never recovered.

On Tuesday evening, October 10, 1876, while R. M. Faris, the county treasurer, was in the office working on his books two masked men entered the room. Hearing a noise at the door, Mr. Faris looked up and directly into the muzzle of a revolver held by one of the robbers. They demanded that the treasurer should open the safe. There was a public meeting of some kind in session in the courtroom above, and Mr. Faris knew that the men would not dare to shoot, as the report would soon bring the crowd down stairs. He therefore refused to open the safe. One of the men went through his pockets and found the key to the vault. They then locked the office door on the inside and opened the door of the vault. One of the men pushed Mr. Faris inside and again demanded the opening of the safe, both of them presenting revolvers. The treasurer still refusing, one of the men put his revolver in his pocket and drew a murderous looking knife. A stroke from this knife made a slight gash in the breast of Mr. Faris’s coat. Seeing that the men were determined, and realizing that the knife would make no noise, Faris then opened the safe. The robbers took all the money they could find, something between twelve and fourteen thousand dollars - locked Mr. Faris in the vault and left the courthouse.

About three-quarters of an hour later the treasurer was discovered and released by the night watchman, the fire bell was rung, giving the general alarm, and in a short time several hundred citizens had assembled. A meeting was organized and messengers were sent in all directions to head off the robbers. The board of supervisors was called to meet in special session and detectives were employed to trail the robbers, but without success. In this they were mistaken. The county officials and detectives were at work, quietly and systematically, and at last a clue was obtained through information from St. Louis that a number of new bills on the Marion County National Bank had recently been placed in circulation in that city. Treasurer Faris and Sheriff Hawk, of Jasper County, went to St. Louis immediately and traced the bank notes to a man named Brannan, who was found at a hotel in company with a Miss Flanders. Sheriff Hawk placed the couple under arrest and more than three thousand dollars of the stolen money was found upon Brannan’s person. Upon returning home his residence was searched and about fifteen hundred dollars more were recovered.

From statements made by the Flanders woman, and also from some documents found by the authorities, John Barcus was implicated in the robbery. He was located at Atchison, Kansas, and arrested. The three prisoners were tried at the next term of the District Court and sentenced to terms in the penitentiary. During the trial it developed that Horry Williams, who had killed Keeton three years before and had escaped from the officer on the way to the penitentiary, was in the county at the time of the robbery and was at least an accessory. Search for him was immediately instituted and he was finally located at Mineral Center, about forty miles south of Deadwood, South Dakota. He was arrested in March, 1877, and was brought to Knoxville, but was soon afterward taken to the penitentiary at Fort Madison for safe keeping. In May he was brought back to Marion County for trial and admitted having received some of the stolen money. He was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. Altogether about forty-six hundred dollars of the money was recovered, but a large part of it was consumed by the expenses of the pursuit and prosecution. Horry Williams went to Idaho after serving his term and John Barcus died at the home of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. William Barcus, in Des Moines on April 13, 1910, his son William having died about a week before, following an operation for appendicitis. Brannan finally became totally blind and when last heard from, in 1902 or 1903, was a resident of Sioux County, Iowa.


The Territory of Kansas was organized under the provisions of the famous Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, and immediately a struggle between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates commenced to decide whether Kansas should be a free or a slave state. The direct route from the east to Kansas lay through the State of Missouri and the first emigrants from the free states went via St. Louis and Kansas City. The organization of emigrant aid societies in some of the free states was a “thorn in the side” of the slaveholding element and in 1855 the people of Missouri began to harass emigrants from the East and North by arresting them upon trivial charges and otherwise delaying their progress, hoping thereby to intimidate persons from those sections of the country from seeking homes in Kansas.

The aid societies then began looking for a route by which Kansas could be reached without passing through the hostile country. On June 10, 1856, a mass meeting was held at Iowa City for the purpose of awakening interest in the cause of “Bleeding Kansas.” After the public meeting a private meeting was held, at which the following address to the people of Iowa was prepared:

“To the friends of the Kansas Free State Cause in Iowa: The undersigned have been appointed a committee to act in connection with similar committees in Chicago, and other states, and with committees of like character to be appointed in various counties of this state, and especially in those counties lying west and southwest of us.

“The plan of operation is the establishment of a direct route and speedy communication for eastern emigrants into Kansas. The committee have appointed George D. Wooding, William Sanders and Capt. S. N. Hartwell to visit your place for the purpose of having a committee appointed there to facilitate the general plan of operations and carry out the details. They will explain to you the minutiae of this plan at greater length than we are able to do in this communication.

“Captain Hartwell is a member of the Legislature in Kansas and is recently from the scene of the ruffian atrocities which have been committed in that embryo state.

“We have here pledged our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honors to make Kansas a free state, and we shall expect our friends from this place westward to give us their hearty cooperation.

“Youra in the cause of freedom,
“W. P. CLARK, Chairman
“C. W. Hobart, Secretary,
“H. D. Downey, Treasurer,
“I. N. Jerome,
“Lyman Allen,
“J. Teesdale,
“M. L. Morris.”

Pursuant to this address, George D. Woodin made a tour of the counties lying west of Iowa City and established committees to aid any emigrants who might pass through Iowa. The committee in Marion County was composed of J. M. Bayley, James Mathews, Hiram W. Curtis, William M. Stone, James Sample and Joseph Brobst.

A few weeks after the Iowa City meeting a large number of emigrants crossed the Mississippi River at Davenport and proceeded westward over the new route. The leader of this party was James H. Lane, a native of Indiana and a veteran of the Mexican war, who afterward became United States senator from Kansas. At Sigourney Lane was met by John Brown, who explained fully the conditions in Kansas and urged Lane and his friends to hasten forward as rapidly as possible.

When the emigrants reached Knoxville the main body encamped on White Breast Creek, west of the town, but Lane stopped at the hotel. The next day a large number of people gathered to celebrate the event and Lane made one of his characteristic speeches. It was noticed that the emigrants had in their train a peculiar looking vehicle, carefully covered with canvas, which they explained was a new kind of plow recently invented, and which they were taking to Kansas to “try out on the prairie sod.” Some inquisitive persons visited the encampment on the White Breast at night, while the emigrants were all asleep, to have a look at the prairie plow and upon peeping under the canvas found it to be an eight-pounder cannon. This gun was afterward heard from in Kansas.

From Knoxville the emigrant road led through Indianola, Winterset, Greenfield and other towns to Council Bluffs, where the emigrants crossed over into Nebraska and turned southward, crossing the northern boundary of Kansas not far from the little City of Hiawatha. Other parties followed and the route through Iowa and Nebraska became known as “Jim Lane’s Trail.”

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, February 2007, reformatted by Al Hibbard 10 Oct 2013