Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 6 - Page 18 & 19, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, June 12, 2012

Page 18

James Boys Once Roamed Country Near Muscatine

Jesse James and his brother, Frank, rode cross Muscatine County at the height of their audacious career as bank and train robbers. That is what some old time residents believe and the story, almost legendary from frequent retelling, has plenty of evidence to support it.

One man who remembers how the story got started is George Church, barber in the Central State Bank building, who was a small boy when the incident occurred. At the time he was living in Columbus Junction where his father, the late George church, Sr., was operating a barber shop. The shop was a popular gathering place for farmers, cattlemen and townspeople, who went there for store haircuts and to get their whiskers shaved off and their mustaches and bears trimmed according to the mode of the day.

One day, the Muscatine barber recalls, two men swaggered into the shop and asked to be “prettied up” a bit. The men were strangers and since modes of travel were slow in those days it was not unusual for strangers to stay in town all night and to call at the barber shop during the course of their visit, but there was something about the bearing of the men—their sidelong glances and alertness—that marked them as different from the common run of the mill visitors.

Of course, the local man declares, no one thought very much of it at the time.

They said they were traveling north on horseback to buy cattle. Townsfolk saw their horses and they looked like cattlemen, dressed in typical cattlemen’s rough clothing. Traveling on horseback was a common thing in those days, particularly when a man was out to buy cattle.

Residents of the town received their first inkling that their community might have been “honored” by a visit from the two notorious James boys a day later when a posse of officers rode into town, in close pursuit, they said, of the James boys.

Residents recalled the two strangers who had stopped for haircuts and shaves at the barber shop and expressed the belief that the posse was on the right track. The officers galloped away on the rapidly-cooling trail of the supposed fugitives, leaving the elder Mr. Church very much aghast at the thought he had actually shaved the men who had been terrorizing a large portion of the nation for many years.

The Muscatine barber says he was only a small boy when this happened, was not in his father’s shop at the time the two strangers were customers, and that neither he nor anyone else who lived in the town at the time knows for certain whether or not the two horsemen actually were the James brothers. However, at the time the incident occurred there were many who were ready to give full credence to the theory that the strangers were the notorious bank robbers.

Not a great while after the Columbus Junction incident, the James gang was routed during an attempted bank robbery at Northfield, Minn., but both Jesse and Frank escaped. Jesse, who had established a record for courage and daring second to none, was shot to death in St. Joseph, Mo., in April, 1882. The tragic death brought to a close one of the most romantic criminal careers in the nation’s history. Jesse was hunted throughout the land, a price on his head, and his very name became a household word during his long struggle with the authorities.

Many romantic adventures and not a few crimes were attributed to him. He was invariably successful in the exploits he undertook to replenish his stock of ammunition or food, usually effected by train or bank robberies. After the governor of Missouri offered a reward of $ 10,000 for his capture, dead or alive, James was betrayed by the Ford Brothers, Charles and Robert, members of his own gag. Brother Frank surrendered, was in jail to await trial for over a year, and was finally released. He subsequently occupied a farm in the vicinity of Excelsior Spring, Mo., where he died Feb. 18, 1915.

* * * * * * *

Salt Lake City Man a Journal Reader 63 Years

Recollections of earlier days in Muscatine and of “covering” an interstate oratorical contests held at the University of Iowa for The Journal are related in a letter from Oscar Groshell of salt Lake City to The Journal on the occasion of its centennial.

Mr. Groshell remembers that the winner of the oratorical contest was Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, who later served in the United States senate.

Mr. Groshell, who graduated from high school here in 1876, took a job at a drug store at Durant the same year. Subsequently, in 1877 he subscribed to The Journal, and writes “it has been coming to me ever since.” which puts him in the class of continuous subscribers for 63 years.

    “One summer about this time,” Mr. Groshell wrote, “I canvassed Muscatine and adjoining counties for medicines etc., and covered the counties with team, making a door to door canvass of the farmers and smaller villages. The first thing that impressed me was that practically every family that I visited was a subscriber for the Weekly Journal. We had no R.F.D. in those days.

    “The Journal had a good many correspondents who sent a weekly letter. The two I recall vividly were the correspondents from Wilton, who used the pen name of ‘Bitter Sweet’, and the other used the name of ‘Harry’ from Buffalo. The Journal must have had not less than 20 or 25 regular correspondents who sent in weekly letters and made the paper very interesting.”

Mr. Groshell left Muscatine in 1880, going to Omaha, later living in Denver for a time, then in Seattle. Subsequently he moved to Salt Lake City.

    “I decided to remain in Salt Lake City in 1887 and a little later made my home here and I have not missed a copy of The Journal since January, 1877,” Mr. Groshell wrote.

    “According to my memory, in those early days The Journal was a four page seven column weekly. There is some difference in the old Journal of 1876 and today’s paper,” he concluded.

* * * * * * *

Old Quill Clipper Still Usable

Photo of O. C. Rittenhouse ~ What is believed to be one of the few quill clippers still in existence in the United States was used in fashioning the pen with which O. C. Rittenhouse, 107 Madison Street, write in the accompanying photograph. The interesting little device, which has been out of date for at least three quarters of a century, rests on the paper, together with several other quill pens.

Mr. Rittenhouse purchased the relic from a Mr. Cayot, not deceased, who lived about 15 years ago on Park Avenue near Monroe Street. Mr. Cayot, an Englishman, was about 80 years old at the time he made the sale and said the clipper had been in his possession for more than 50 years. It was brought originally from England and is known to be at least one hundred years old.

About the same size as a pocket jack knife, and made of high-quality ebony, the clipper has at one end a small plunger which may be projected from inside the handle for use in removing the soft center from the quills. At the other end is a steel mechanism that clips the quill to the desired shape much in the same manner that a fingernail clipper operates.

A feather that has been clipped with the apparatus has a tip very similar to that of a steel pen and contains a tiny slit for the flow of ink. The clipper does its work more quickly and far more accurately than would be possible with the use of a knife. Mr. Rittenhouse says. It shapes the quill in such a way that it retains a generous supply of ink and makes as fine a line as an ordinary steel pen.

The local man does not know the entire history of the quill tool but he believes that it may have been employed to make pens that were used in writing important literary works or even in signing documents of state many years ago in England. The only clue on the tool itself or its manufacture origin is the single word, “Sabater,” evidently a trade name.

* * * * * * *

Came in 1850
Photo of James S. Patten

Arriving here in 1850 was James S. Patten who was born in Columbus, O., Jan. 26, 1826. His marriage took place May 5, 1853. Death occurred Dec. 15, 1912.

* * * * * * *

Page 19

Important City Edifices Were Built in 1901

One of the most progressive years in the civic history of Muscatine was 1901—the year in which a contract was set for the construction of the P. M. Musser public library and dedications were held for the chapel at Greenwood Cemetery and the new Grace English Lutheran church here.

The year was made to stand out largely through the beneficence of Peter M. Musser, public-spirited pioneer of the city. Mr. Musser gave the public library to the city as an outright donation, and also donated the cemetery chapel in memory of his wife.

The contract for the construction of the public library was awarded on Feb. 1, of that year, to a Muscatine contractor, J. E. Howe, who submitted low bid of $ 26,087. Nine other contractors, seven from points outside of the city, submitted bids for the work.

To the Muscatine firm of Grossklaus and Blaesing went the contract for stone work on the library, and other local firms and individuals were awarded contracts for other minor detail work. Though delayed several days by unfavorable weather conditions, the work of constructing the new building was started soon after the contract letting. Preliminary details of the work were announced in The Journal of Feb. 2, 1901, as follows:

    “Glad news to Muscatiners is the announcement that the work of erecting this new library will be pushed. There is nothing which the citizens have more interest or pride in than this splendid institution which is made possible through the generosity of one of Muscatine’[s best known and most respected citizens. The commencement of the work and the progress will be watched with personal pride and interest by every resident, as it will in many respects not considering its glorious purpose be the handsomest structure ever erected in Muscatine, and with its location and position a great addition and ornament to the already beautiful “Pearl City.”

Thousands of Muscatine residents swarmed to Greenwood Cemetery on Sunday, May 12, 1901 to attend exercises dedicating the new cemetery chapel to the memory of Mrs. Peter Musser. A conception of the throng which attended the event may be gained from an excerpt from the Journal account of the dedication on Monday, May 13.

    “The street railway company kept a large number of extra cars operating on the cemetery line Sunday afternoon to transport the throngs of people to the cemetery, who wished to attend the dedicatory exercises of the new chapel. Load after load of people were carried out and hundreds walked and at 3:15 o’clock, the time set for people were massed about the beautiful chapel, earnestly trying to hear the remarks of the various speakers. Not all, however, were within hearing distance as the room in which the exercises were held was entirely too small for such a turn-out of humanity. Hundreds of people arrived in buggies and not being able to hear any of the speeches enjoyed themselves by strolling through the cemetery and viewing the beautiful lots and marble stones. The day was all that could be wished, there being hardly a cloud in the skies and the dedication exercises were carried out to the satisfaction of all.”

The Rev. S. B. Barnitz of Des Moines addressed a capacity throng at dedication exercises for the new Grace English Lutheran church, located at the corner of Sixth and Iowa Avenue, on Sunday morning, May19, 1901.

The dedication services continued through the day and evening, with the Rev. J. A. Wirt of Des Moines delivering the principal address at afternoon exercises and the Rev. W. H. Blancke of Davenport addressing the church congregation and visitors at the evening program. The exercises were described in part in The Journal of Monday, May 20, as follows:

    “Sunday was a day of marked interest to the English Lutheran church of Muscatine, it being the occasion of the dedication of the beautiful and substantial church erected on the corner of Iowa Avenue and Sixth Street. The day was an auspicious one, the glad face of nature being in harmony with the evident joy of the people who have labored faithfully that the church might stand as an evidence of their faith in the future of the cause in Muscatine. The plans were such that the congregation is now supplied with a chapel adequate for all present demands and one which in the future can be made to respond to the growth of the church by an extensive addition.”

* * * * * * *

Inspiring and Fruitful

Photo ~ Billy Sunday, the ex-baseball player and widely known evangelist, brought his stout exhortations to “Get Right With God” to Muscatine for a series of revival meetings late in the year 1907. Starting on Nov. 10 and continuing through Dec. 15, Sunday brought about the conversion of 3,579 persons who “hit the sawdust trail.” Huge throngs turned out for the meetings.

* * * * * * *

Fire Chief J. J. Brown named personnel of the city’s paid fire department as follows:

    Central Station No. 1, Chief Brown, assistant chief, Fred Bilkey; mechanic, Peter Maurath; firemen, John Wise and Louis Faulhaber.

    Station No. 2, West Hill, John Leysen, captain; C. C. Lemkau, Herman Raethz, Lee Schenkel.

    Station No. 3, Henry Freeman, captain; Charles Vetter, Edward Priester, Charles Opelt.—Jan. 3, 1916.

    * * * * * * *

    Return to Centennial Table of Contents Page

    Back to the Muscatine Co. IAGenWeb, Index Page

    Page created June 23, 2012 by Lynn McCleary