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Accidents and Crimes
From Chapter IX
1880 Boone County History

Return to 1880 History of Boone County Index

Boone County has been singularly free from crimes of blood, although it has had its full share of other crimes and accidents. The first murder and the only one for many years was the fatal stabbing of a young man of the name of Pea by a man named Jewett. This occurred shortly after the organization of the county, and Jewett was indicted by the first grand jury. Jewett managed to escape without punishment.

In early times, and before there were any settlements in the northeast part of the county, two men went out there for the purpose of hunting and trapping, the name of one was Holton and the other Merkle. Holton went away from the camp one evening, and during his absence a terrible storm set in. He lost his way, and before he could find the way back was terribly frozen; so badly had he been affected by the cold that some of his fingers and toes became useless and had to be amputated. Holton was unable to help himself for some time, and having no money and no relatives was sent to Des Moines, where he was cared for by public charity. After he recovered sufficiently to get around he returned east where he came from.

During the month of April, 1867, the Des Moines and other streams in the county were higher than they were ever known to be. Bridges were washed away, roads rendered impassable, coal mines flooded, much property destroyed and several lives lost. The water in the Des Moines rose to such a height as to drive the miners from their houses near the river at Moingona, and compelled them to seek safety on higher ground. There was imminent danger for a number of days that the railroad bridge across the Des Moines at this place would be carried away. On Sunday, April 14th, four men attempted to cross the river in a boat; when about halfway across the boat was driven against some trees and capsized. One of the occupants of the boat managed to get across in a helpless condition, one of them was drowned, and the other two managed to cling to a tree top from Sunday afternoon till the following Monday afternoon, when they were rescued by a young man at the imminent peril of his own life.

On the following Tuesday five persons, consisting of Mr. Franklin, Mr. Haskell, a son of the former about twelve years of age, and two other persons attempted to cross the river in a skiff. After passing through the timber about eighty rods the current carried the boat against a tree with such force that it was capsized. The four men succeeded in reaching trees, and by clinging to them managed to keep their heads above water; the boy was carried down the stream and lost. Some time after, Mr. Coin was approaching the river from the east, and hearing the cries of the men in the river, gave the alarm and Mr. Myers with two other men set out in a boat to rescue them: when within a few yards of the men Mr. Myers was thrown out of the boat, but was fortunate enough to reach a tree to which he clung. A little after the boat was capsized, and the two other occupants of the boat were compelled to save themselves by clinging to trees. There were then at one time seven men tossed about by the angry current, barely able to keep their heads above water by clinging to the trees. Another boat started from the shore which managed to rescue Mr. Haskell, who, in the meantime, had been washed from the tree to which he was clinging, and was carried to a tree top whence he was rescued in an exhausted and insensible condition. Still another boat put out from the shore, but was soon swamped, leaving the occupant clinging to a tree. At this juncture Mr. Coin hastened to Boonesboro, giving the alarm as he went, and it was not long before a large crowd had gathered on the shore; ropes were procured, to which boats were attached, and by this means, one by one, the unfortunate men were rescued from their perilous condition.

Three young men, named respectively Blanchard, Boggs and Kinkade, were chiefly instrumental in saving the drowning men from a watery grave. This great flood is still well remembered by all who resided in the county at that time.

In 1872 an assault was made on a man by the name of Williams, by one G, W. Hays, in which the former received wounds from the effect of which lie died. It seems that a public highway passed near Hays' premises, and, there being a slough which made the road impassable, people were in the habit of laying down the fence and driving through the field. Hays objected to this, and one evening he put up the fence, drove stakes into the ground, and weighted them down with heavy rails. Williams came along the next morning with a team, and, not daring to venture through the slough, tore down the fence and was in the act of driving through when Hays made his appearance and began an assault on Williams, with the result already named. Hays was indicted and tried at the October terra of court. The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to a term of two years' imprisonment in the penitentiary and to pay a tine of one hundred dollars.

At night, about half-past ten o'clock, February 4, 1873, a fire was discovered in the hardware store of Knox & Johnson, Boone. The fire originated in the ceiling, through which a stovepipe passed. The fire spread rapidly, and before the flames could be checked six buildings were totally or in part destroyed, and nine places of business were burned out. Losses were as follows: Knox & Johnson $3,500, insurance $1,000; J. Stevens, loss over amount of insurance, $3,000; H. H. Sprague $1,500, covered hy insurance; James Grace $2,600, insurance $600; R. J. Shannon $1,500, no insurance; T. R. Elsey $300, no insurance; James Grace, Sr,, $50, no insurance; Louis Burgess, slight loss; Miller &, Lockwood, slight loss. The total loss amounted to about $15,000; total insurance, $6,000. This was the first serious fire which occurred in the city, and owing to the fact that most of the buildings were frame and to the inefficiency of the fire department, was a very severe loss to the young town.

On the 30th of October, 1873, J. B. Watkins, superintendent of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, was killed near Cedar Rapids. He, with several other railroad magnates, was riding in the directors' car attached to the rear of the regular express train. A freight train was following the express. From some cause the engine of the express train became disabled, and Mr. Watkins stepped out to see what was the matter. Arriving at the outside, he caught sight of the freight train bearing down on them. He rushed forward toward the sleeper to arouse the inmates, and, arriving on the platfonn at the time the freight engine struck the train, was caught between the cars and crushed to death. Mr. Watkins did not reside in Boone, but was well and favorably known here, and his tragic death was generally deplored; especially by the merchants and stock-shippers who had learned to prize his manly and generous traits of character.

A terrible accident occurred at Logan & Canfield's coal mine on Thursday, September 12, 1874. The circumstances were as follows: Four men entered the cage at the top of the shaft for the purpose of descending into the mine. Almost immediately after entering the cage tbe wire rope attached to the draw, and by means of which the cage was raised and lowered, broke, precipitating the men to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of two hundred and forty feet. The occupants of the cage were Tolbert Dale, a carpenter, who died immediately from the effects of his injuries; Thomas Brinn, miner, who was horribly mangled, and died the same day; David Parks, miner, whose leg was broken and shoulder dislocated, but recovered; and Ed. Roberts, the foreman, who was lucky enough to escape from the cage at the ground-landing, and did not receive serious injuries. Mr. Dale was a married man, the other two men injured being unmarried.

On Monday, December 7, 1875, a homicide occurred in Sarpy county, Nebraska, the parties concerned being both citizens of Boone county. A Swede by the name of Camberg lived in Boone and was employed in Howell's marble shop. His wife frequently visited her father's house, which was situated near where lived a man by tbe name of Thompson. While visiting in the Thompson neighborhood, Mrs. Camberg, it seems, became enamored of Mr. Thompson, and was by him seduced. Shortly afterward Thompson went to Nebraska, and Camberg, becoming cognizant of his wife's intidelity and ascertaining the whereabouts of her betrayer, armed himself with a shot-gun and proceeded to the bouse where Thompson was stopping, called him out, and shot him dead. It seems that Thompson was a violent person of very bad habits, and, from all accounts, had very few if any friends in the county. After accomplishing the ruin of the woman, he took her with him to Nebraska, and was living with her at the time of the homicide.

On Sunday, April 16, 1876, Wr. Wm. Sutton and wife, who resided near Ridgeport, went to church and left at home two boys aged respectively 15 and 17 years. During the absence of the parents tbe boys began to play and romp. In the midst of the sport tbe older boy pulled a gun from under the bed and thinking it was not loaded pointed it at his younger brother, Willie, at the same time pulling the trigger. The gun was loaded and the charge lodged in the head of the boy. The boy died almost instantly.

On Saturday, July 8, 1876, a stranger arrived on the 2:30 train from the east, and registered at the Lincoln House in Boone. His name was H. C. Robinson, and he was from Malvern, Mills county, this State. After eating a hearty meal he went to a room which was assigned to him, and shortly afterward shot himself through the head. He died from the effects of the wound during the following night. From a message which wağ found in his room it was ascertained that the deed had been fully determined on.

August 2&, 1876, William Mort and Peter Rice were killed by the damp in a coal shaft located at Ontario in the east part of the county. Early in the morning Mort went into the mine to look after some matters, and when about half way down the shaft remarked that the air was bad, but instead of returning proceeded to the bottom of the shaft. He soon started to return, and wlien near the mouth of the shaft was completely overcome and fell back to the bottom of the shaft. Peter Rice immediately descended to rescue the suffocated man, and upon reaching the bottom of the shaft immediately called to those above to raise him by means of a rope which he held in his hand. When about half way up he was compelled to loose his bold on the rope from exhaustion, and fell back into the mine. The two men were finally taken from the mine both dead. A coroner's jury was impaneled who rendered a verdict to the effect that Wm. Mort and Peter Rice came to their death by reason of bad air in the Franklin coal mine on section 12, township 84, range 35, Boone county.

A shocking murder and suicide occurred at Moingona on April 20, 1877. One George Merrington, of the said place, had for a year or two been desperately in love with Mrs. Abbie B. Gronow, a young widow lady. Merrington was not encouraged in his advances at love-making, and he brooded over his terrible disappointment until he finally determined upon killing both the object of his love and himself, which frightful determination was carried out at the time stated. No one was a witness of the affair. Pistol shots were heard at the residence of Mrs. Gronow, and a brother-in-law of the lady, Morgan by name, went to the house to see what was the matter. When near the house, and about one rod from the front gate, he found Mrs. Gronow in a dying condition, with two bullet holes through her head. A few paces from where the woman lay, Merrington was found wallowing in his blood with a bullet hole through his head. Mrs. Gronow was about twenty-seven years old, an accomplished and intelligent lady, and universally respected and admired by all who knew her.

A fire occurred in Boone on the morning of June 1st, 1877, which resulted in the destruction of six business houses and the loss of about ten thousand dollars. The fire originated in a furniture store on Storey street, owned by Henry Stepp. From there the fire spread to the building owned by Terrence Kiley. A building owned by A. Downing, the first one erected in Boone, was torn down to prevent the further spread of the flames. By the destruction of this building, the endurance and pluck of the firemen and the employment of every possible means to preveat the spread of the flames, the destruction of the greater portion of the business part of the city was averted. Mr. Stepp's loss was $3,700.00 on which there was insurance amounting to $1,200.00. The Riley building was worth about $800.00, on which there was insurance to the amount of $500.00. The building owned by Mr. Zollinger was valued at $1,200.00, and the one owned by Mrs. Evans $1,000 00, upon the former there was no insurance, and on the latter but $500.00. The other two buildings destroyed were that of Mr. Downing and that of Mr. Laufer, the former valued at $500.00 and the latter at $1,000.00.

During the year 1871, Rev. J. N. Reynolds came to Boonesboro and applied for the position of principal of the public schools of that city. He received the appointment and continued to occupy that position until the spring of 1876, when he was removed by the school board on account of scandalous reports which had for some time been in circulation about him and one of his pupils. Shortly after being dismissed by the school board the church authorities took the matter up, and after a thorough investigation Reynolds was expelled from the M. E. Church. At the June term of the District Court, 1876, the girl in question went before the grand jury and had Reynolds indicted for seduction. The latter was arrested and bail fixed at $1,000.00. When the case came up fur trial in December, Reynolds returned, but the State witnesses were nowhere to be found. The case was continued. Before the next term of court the witnesses for the State were arrested and placed under bond for their appearance. During the June term of court, 1877, Reynolds again appeared for trial and was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for four years.

On Saturday, May 18, 1878, a collision occurred between two gravel trains of the C. & N. W. railroad about one mile west of Moingona which resulted in the death of one man and the serious injury of another. There is a high bridge where the collision occurred and an abrupt curve, so that neither of the trains could be seen by the engineer of the other until too late to prevent an accident, the engineers and firemen only having time to jump for life and the young fireman, Martin Leere, failing in that. A. J. Dutton, engineer of the west bound train, was the first to observe the smoke of the coming train; he shouted "jump" and suiting the action to the word was soon out of harm's way; a man by the name of Hoff who impeded him was helped out of the cab by Dutton's foot; the collision occurred almost instantly, and Leere, who had his back turned in the act of breaking coal, was crushed to death. It appears that the cause of the accident was a mistake on the part of Henry Mohl, the train dispatcher.

During Thursday night, Jan. 23, 1879, a building was destroyed by fire in Boone, and an occupant, S. M. Ives by name, was burned to death. The fire was discovered abcut ten o'clock, the building in question being the one where was located Ives' bowling alley. Although the alarm was sounded and the fire department was promptly on hand, nothing could be done to save the burning building. By eleven o'clock the building was consumed, and the fire had well nigh gone out; the citizens returned home, but one did not return, Mr. Ives was missing; he had been seen during the early stages of the fire, and the fact was recalled that even before the danger was past he had been missed. A few of the firemen who remained at the scene of the fire to guard against any danger which might lie concealed in the smouldering embers, in roaming about the ashes, stumbled over something which at first they supposed was a bundle of rags. On close examination this, which was supposed to be a bundle of rags, proved to be the body of a man, lying on his back, arms extended and the body burned to a crisp, and the flesh in many places roasted to the bone - a charred and blackened mass, sickening to the living, and beyond recognition. A small portion of the clothing between the shoulders and the loins remained unburned, and from this the body was identified as that of Ives. He probably had been suffocated by the smoke while passing through the bowling alley, into which he had been seen to enter during the progress of the conflagration. The origin of the fire remained a mystery, as the building had been shut up for the night, and the fire in the stove had entirely gone out. It was supposed to have been the work of an incendiary, but no one was ever suspected, and no reason could be assigned for firing the building.

Source: The History of Boone County, Iowa, 1880, Union Historical Company
Transcribed by Lynn Diemer-Mathews and uploaded December 3, 2022.

Return to Boone County History 1880 index.