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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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Christ Burns.

This ruffian and bully was imported by Switzer and his friends to overawe the court and court officers, a s well as the spectators in the event of a verdict of guilty.  He was present when that term of the court commenced, and swaggered around through the court room with the air of a braggart and a desperado.  He dressed for the convenience of the occasion and the purpose for which he had been imported.  His pantaloons were of blue jeans, held in place by his suspenders tied around his waist.  The legs were stuffed in the tops of his boots.  His shirt was made of some kind of coarse stuff -- red flannel, it is believed.  He wore neither coat nor vest -- only a gentleman's cloak of the old style -- thrown loosely over his shoulders.  When the time for battle came, all that was necessary was to throw the cloak from his shoulders, and thus freed from restraint, and making a bold dash among a miscellaneous gathering of men, and taking them by surprise, he would have been more than a match for twenty ordinary men.   And that was his programme.  It was unmasked, however, soon after the trial commenced, and measures inaugurated to defeat the bully.  Some of the old pioneers -- men of nerve and muscle -- prepared themselves to meet and beat the bully at his first attempt.  They warned the officers of Burns' purposes and intentions.  The Sheriff and his deputies armed themselves and used every possible precaution to maintain the dignity of the court and enforce its mandates.  The disagreement of the jury and the flight of Switzer, probably saved a bloody scene in the Cedar County Court House, for it is certain that if the jury had returned a verdict of guilty, Burns would have attempted to rescue Switzer from the officers.  And, maddened as the pioneers were over the repeated outrages of Switzer and his accomplices, there is no reason to doubt that short work would have been made of Burns and his co-workers in iniquity.

The punishment visited upon Conlogue, Case, Goodrich, McBroom and others by the vigilantes, by whipping, and the arrest of Switzer and his subsequent flight from the country, did not entirely free the settlers from the presence of outlaws and plunderers.  The snake was not killed -- only scotched..  If the vigilantes did not follow up their scourging of suspected parties, they kept a close watch upon their movements.   Knowing they were under the espionage of a community they had repeatedly outraged, they were very cautious and guarded in their movements.  From 1841 to 1855, the settlers in the county were left comparatively free from the operations of horse thieves, although good horses were not considered the safest kind of property.

Charles Clute.

Among the settlers of this county in the Spring of 1855, was Charles Clute, a carpenter, who located in the Denson House neighborhood, about nine miles northeast of Tipton.  He was first employed to build a house for William Cessford, and afterward to build a house for Mrs. Denson, who had been engaged in keeping public house since the date of her settlement there, with her husband, Joseph D. Denson, in 1839.  During his occupation on Mrs. Denson's house, Clute paid court to Anna C. Denson, the acquaintance dating from June, 1855, and resulting in the marriage of the parties shortly thereafter.  Mr. Denson was one of the first California gold-seekers, going to the Pacific coast in 1850, and dying there in February, 1851.  Clute became, by virtue of his marriage, practically the manager of the Widow Denson's farm, taking supervision of the tavern in the event of the absence of the proprietress.  By this means, Clute became widely known throughout this section, the Denson House ranking among the favorably regarded places of entertainment.  He prepared, in the Winter of 1855-6, to improve the prairie farm owned by Mrs. Denson.  One day in the season above mentioned, while Clute and Mrs. Denson were in Davenport on business, a stranger named Johnson, ostensibly a peddler, arrived at the tavern, with a one-horse peddling wagon, and engaged accommodations.  He was compelled to remain for several days, because of a severe snow storm which blocked the roads.  As soon as he was able to travel, he took his departure, riding a gray mare, and leaving his wagon on the Denson premises.  After an absence of ten days or two weeks, Johnson returned to the Denson House, this time bringing a team of horses, and engaging as a teamster and day laborer in the neighborhood.   He remained until February, when he proposed to Clute to enter jointly into the work of breaking land.  He claimed to have a farm in a northern county which required his attention at this time and proceeded northward, remaining away until March, when he again returned to the Denson House, bringing with him but one of the horses which he had driven away in February.  Soon after this, Clute, J. A. Warner (now Mrs. Denson's husband) and Johnson went to Davenport with a load of wheat, intending to carry back with them necessary household goods and provisions.  Johnson did not return with the party, but when he next put in an appearance at Denson's, he brought with him a pair of brown mares.

In a day or two after this, Johnson went away on foot, leaving the mares in Clute's possession, with instructions to sell them for $225, and to apply the proceeds on the purchase of a breaking team.  A day or two after Johnson's departure, Clute took the mares and started to Tipton to find a purchaser.  Warner accompanied him, driving a team belonging to Mrs. Denson, to bring some family supplies and to afford Clute a conveyance home in case he sold the mares.  The needed purchases were made, and Warner returned home, leaving Clute in Tipton.  He remained away over night and returned home the next day, bringing with him two yokes of cattle, and reported that he had sold one of the mares to Peter W. Neiman for ready money, and that he had traded the other to Jacob Davis for the cattle, paying the difference in money received from Neiman.   Soon after this, Warner went over to Scott County to work at his trade -- that of a carpenter -- and remained away until harvest, when he came home to help Clute take care of the grain growing on the Denson place.

Having secured a team, Clute began the work of breaking prairie.  In the meanwhile, Johnson had been arrested at Massillon on a charge of stealing horses from Wisconsin.  At a preliminary examination, sufficient evidence was found against him to remand him to the Wisconsin authorities, and he was taken back to that State (Grant County) and lodged in jail.  At that examination, he made some allusions to his business connection with Clute.  Whatever that reference was, it was enough to direct suspicion against Clute; and while he was at work breaking prairie for H. C. Piatt, he was arrested on a charge of harboring horse thieves and taken before Justice Finch for examination.  No evidence was found against him and he was discharged.  The result of the examination before Esquire Finch did not prove satisfactory to some of the citizens of the county, and one night, toward the last of June, Clute was visited at his house by parties who pretended to have a warrant for his arrest.  Against the earnest protestations of his wife, he surrendered to the pretended officers, and was taken some distance from his house, tied to a tree and severely whipped.  After the whipping, he was untied and permitted to return home.

About the beginning of harvest, as already stated, Warner returned home from Scott County to help Clute through harvest.  The next day after he came back to the Denson place, Clute and Warner went to Tipton to buy a grain cradle.  As they neared Tipton, they were met by the Sheriff of Cedar County, who was accompanied by the Sheriff of Grant County, Wisconsin.  Clute was addressed by these officers, who told him they desired to see him.  He answered them by inviting them to go back to town with him, where he would hear anything they had to say.  When they arrived in Tipton, they went to Piatt's law office, where Clute was taken into custody as an accessory to stealing horses from Wisconsin.  A preliminary examination was had before Justice Robert Long, and Clute was held to answer.  Alonzo Shaw became his bondsman and Clute was released from custody.  At the suggestion of his counsel, Clute soon after (if not immediately) went away to avoid the unpleasant conduct of neighboring citizens, and under the belief that, in his absence, the excitement and feeling against him would die out.   He secured employment at Rock Island, but returned to Cedar County to attend the Fall Term of the court, when he expected to be tried.  In coming home to attend this term of court, Clute made a mistake as to the time, and came home some ten days too early.   On learning his mistake, he immediately returned to Rock Island.  Learning of his presence at home, Charles Williams and eighteen other men visited the Denson House and demanded Clute.  Mrs. Denson was up stairs, spinning, at the time, and she was invited down, a request with which she declined to comply, stating that if they wanted to see her they must come up stairs.  Williams and another man went up, and, in reply to Mrs. Denson's interrogatory as to what they wanted with Clute, Williams said they wanted to "run him out of the country and put an end to has harboring horse thieves."   Mrs. D. then asked the further question, "Do you know anything wrong of me or of any of my family?"  Williams made answer that he did not, except as to Clute; that he was a horse thief before he came to the country, and that she knew it.  This was more than Mrs. Denson's Kentucky blood could stand; and, already at fever heat, she made a spring at Williams, and seizing him by the coat collar, kept a piece of it as a trophy.  Williams "got" down stairs on the double quick and, with his posse, soon after quit the premises.  Clute had previously gone back to Rock Island and thus avoided a second "unpleasantness."

At the proper time, Clute returned; but his case was not reached, and he went back to Rock Island.  At the second term of the court after Clute's examination by Esquire Long, the case was again continued, and Shaw asked to be released form his obligation as bondsman, which request was granted, and Robert Barnes was accepted in his place.  At the third term of the court, the case was called three times, and, the complainants failing to answer, the case was dismissed.

Mrs. Denson married Jacob A. Warner on the 29th of January, 1857, and Clute decided to remove to Rock Island.  After his dismissal from arrest, he repaired to Rock Island to perfect arrangements for removal.

When he had come over to attend the term of court at which his case was dismissed, he left his wife at the residence of her uncle, Robert Barnes, in Scott County, and when he went to take her home, he was suddenly taken sick and remained there some weeks, under the care of Dr. Neimeise.  When he was able to be removed, he was taken back to the Denson House by Mr. Warner.  At this time, Mr. Warner was engaged in building a house and barn for a man named Dunn, in Scott County, and when Clute got able to work he was given employment by Warner as a journeyman carpenter.

Just at daylight on the morning of the third day after Clute had gone to work there, the house was alarmed by the appearance of a number of men, the leader of whom said they had a warrant for the arrest of Warner and Clute, which purported warrant commanded them to appear forthwith before Justice Gates, at Big Rock.  The men were taken in custody and started, as they supposed, for the office of Justice Gates.  But there was no Justice Gates at Big Rock, and the party kept on in the direction of Clinton County, crossing the Wapsipinicon River at Clam Shell Ford.  No halt was made until the party reached the residence of old man Warren, in Clinton County, who was under the ban of suspicion.  Warren was also arrested, and, after some sort of a trial, was hanged till he was dead.  A jury of twelve men were selected from the band, and Warner was tried.  No evidence was found against him, and he was acquitted on the condition that he would not bring suit in the courts against them, but was warned to leave the country within ninety days.  Clute was next arraigned and tried in like manner, and almost unanimously acquitted -- eleven of the jury voting for acquittal and one for conviction.   Clute was given thirty days to quit the country.

After these proceedings, the "court returned to Big Rock, where Clute and Warner were kept over night at Goddard's tavern.  The next morning they were allowed to depart unmolested, and returned to Dunn's, where Warner threw up the contract on which he was engaged.  Clute had decided that it was unsafe for him to remain in the country, and determined to leave and find a home in some other locality.  Warner gave him a set of bench tools to help start him in the world, and the two men separated, Warner to return to the Denson place, and Clute to go out somewhere in the world to commence anew life's battle.  Since that separation, the wife and family of Clute have never had any tidings from him.  The tools that Warner gave him when they parted were found in Van Tyle's store in Davenport, but how they came there is not explained.  It is the belief of Clute's relatives that he never got out of the Wapsipinicon River, or concealed in some other undiscoverable place.  Others, and among them the best citizens of the county, believe that Clute's intended departure from the country was not hindered in any way, but that wherever he went he assumed a new name, and that purposely he has concealed his whereabouts from wife, kindred and friends.  It was said that after his departure form Dunn's, he was seen in Keithsburg, Mercer County, Illinois, and that he told parties there he was going South.  There is a deep mystery, however, about the total disappearance of Clute, which naturally excites comment.  Whether he voluntarily abandoned his family, or was murdered and his body concealed, will probably never be known until the last day.  The jury which tried him gave him thirty days' time in which to leave the country, and the speedy acceptance of the terms by him favors the supposition that he was not foully dealt with; but his silence and his neglect of his family, to whom he appeared to be strongly attached, puts an additional tinge to the darker colorings of the story.

To complete the story, and present some explanations offered by Clute's friends:   After the harvest following the whipping administered to Clute in June, Mrs. Denson, Jacob A. Warner and Robert Barnes, of Scott County, went up to Grant County, Wisconsin, to visit Johnson, who was there in jail on a charge of stealing the brown mares heretofore mentioned, to learn from him, if possible, if Clute had any connection with him in horse stealing.  He assured his visitors that Clute was innocent of all complicity with him; that he alone had stolen them and taken them to Clute, and left them with him, and gave him instructions to sell them, and that Clute did not even know they were stolen.   Clute's friends say, also, that the same night he was taken out and whipped, the peddler's wagon that Johnson hade brought and left at the Denson place was hauled away by Clute's captors, and that they saw and identified it in Wisconsin, when they visited Johnson in the Grant County jail.  The mare that Clute sold to Nieman was claimed and taken by Wisconsin parties.  Neiman came back on Clute to recover the money he had paid for her.  Clute did not have the money, but turned over to him, in settlement of the demand one yoke of the cattle obtained from Davis in exchange for the other mare.

When Johnson first came to the Denson place with his peddling wagon, he asked the privilege of taking what few goods were left, into the house, which request was granted.   It was only a remnant stock, and did not exceed $15 in value, and consisted of pins, needles, thread, tobacco, cigars, matches, etc., which accounts for the finding of the "peddler's" goods in the Denson House.

Mr. Warner did not obey the commands of the vigilantes who arrested him and Clute, at Dunn's, to leave the county within ninety days, but removed his family to Tipton.  They remained there over one year, and then returned to the Denson place, to which, by his industry, Mr. Warner has added several hundred acres, and where he still remains, bearing a name for honesty and fair dealing that is above reproach.

Gleason and Soper.

Alonzo Gleason and Edward Soper were the next victims of a long suffering and wonderfully outraged people.  Soper lived three miles southeast of Tipton, on the Muscatine road.  Gleason stayed wherever it suited his convenience.

One night in the early Spring of 1857, Edward Soper, Alonzo Gleason and three other equally bad characters, invaded the premises of Charles Pennygrot, a German, who lived two and a half miles southeast of Louden, on a horse-stealing mission.  Pennygrot was the owner of only two horses of serviceable age, one of which was a superb animal, and which the thieves had previously "spotted" as "suited to their fancy."   The five unrighteous wretches had gone out in the neighborhood in a two-horse wagon, and, as night came on, they drove out in the rear of Pennygrot's fields to await a suitable hour to perfect their plans.  Sometime about midnight, three of them went to the stable and house to complete the programme.  The old man had been sleeping in the barn, but the night being cold, he was forced to go to the house to warm.  While he was in the house, one of thieves approached and stood by the door with a club in his hand to knock the old man down in case he came out before the work was completed.   Pennygrot also owned a fierce and almost unmanageable dog, and to secure themselves against his alarm and attack, the thieves resorted to an expedient that showed conclusively their cunning and aptitude in artifice.  Somewhere on the route they found and secured a slut in estuation and carried her with them to the near vicinity of the barn.  This artifice had the effect to divert the watch dog's attention from them and prevent his alarming his owner, thus enabling them to finish their work without molestation from that quarter.

After the coveted horse was secured, a signal was given to the sentinel at the door, and the trio started to join their companions in crime at the wagon.  Previous to starting out on this mission, these might raiders had stolen a horse from a Bohemian, living near Solon, Johnson County, but had managed to keep themselves so concealed as to escape detection.

In their hurry to get away from Pennygrot's barn, the thieves forgot to fasten in the stable the old horse, mate of the stolen one, and he followed after them.  As soon as they arrived at the wagon, they started toward the Mississippi River.  When day began to light the eastern horizon, they sought shelter and concealment in the timber along the Wapsipinicon River.  Just as they entered the timber, they discover the old horse close in the rear, and to prevent him from following them any farther, one of the malignant fiends went to the affectionate brute and severed his ham strings, thus rendering him completely helpless.  During the day, the mutilated beast commenced to neigh as if in hunger and distress, and fearing that the calling after his mate would attract the attention of some one passing along the road, Gleason, demon and devil that he was, left his hiding place long enough to go out where the helpless old horse was lying and cut his throat, thus ending his agony and their apprehensions together.  While the act may have been a humane one in one sense of the word, the motives that prompted it were as far removed from pity as the sun is from the earth.

When darkness came on, the villains again took up their journey, and by night stages and unfrequented by-roads, reached and crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, and finally sold the stolen animals somewhere on the Illinois river, in the vicinity of Peru or Peoria, where they were subsequently found, identified and recovered by their respective owners.

After they had disposed of their stolen horses, the thieves returned to Cedar County, and, emboldened by their late success, attempted to carry on their nefarious business on an enlarged scale; but success seems to have deserted them.  They made several attempts to steal valuable animals belonging to Henry Fulwider, James Gay and others, but were always defeated.

At last their maneuvers became so bold as to attract attention and suspicion, and the people -- the vigilantes -- on the 2d day of July, 1857, aided the authorities in placing them under arrest.  Ed. Soper was arrested at a house on the farm now owned by Martin Busier, and Gleason was found concealed in a hazel copse bordering on a slough a short distance from the house.  After their arrest, Sheriff John Birely, placed them in the court room -- occupying the entire ground floor of the old frame court house -- under a guard of about twenty men.  About midnight, the vigilantes, to the number of about forty men, overpowered(!) the guards -- a large number of whom, as was more than suspected, needed very little compulsion -- seized the prisoners and carried them to a grove on the farm of Martin Henry, about one and a half miles south of Louden, and prepared to try them according to the rules and regulations of the Protective Association.  The crowd continued to augment in numbers, until fully two hundred men were present.  (Boys were carefully and rigidly excluded and guarded away from the ground.)

 

 
 

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