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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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Gleason and Soper (continued).

After all the necessary preliminary arrangements were made, a jury of twelve good and true men were selected, and the trial commenced.  The prisoners were told they were allowed to challenge any one on the jury, and to reject any one of them they might believe to be unduly prejudiced against them.  They were given every reasonable latitude, and allowed every privilege that would have been accorded them in an organized court of law.   The people, to the number of two hundred or more, in the midst of whom the trembling wretches stood in awed subjection, were cool, calm and deliberate, yet resolute and determined.  The captives saw and appreciated the situation and the consequences, and made full confession of all their crimes, giving full particulars of the stealing of the Bohemian's horse, near Solon, the stealing of Pennygrot's horse, the artifice they used to quiet his dog, how William Denny, Jr., had stood at his door, club in hand, ready to kill the "old Dutchman" if he came out of the house before they got away with his mare, the killing of the old horse, where the stolen mares were sold, and where they could be found, together with many other things not necessary to mention in these pages.

After the "evidence was all in," the jury was asked for their verdict.

"GUILTY!" was the response.

A motion was then made and submitted to the assembled two hundred that the trembling wretches -- self-confessed horse thieves -- should be hanged to death at once.  Only four of that number voted against the motion.  Ropes were procured and adjusted to the necks of the condemned men.  A wagon was drawn up under a projecting limb of a white oak tree under which they had been tried and condemned, and the men were made to get up on it.  The loose end of the rope was thrown over the limb and securely fastened, the wagon was pulled out from under them, and about 3 o'clock on the afternoon of July 3, A. D. 1857, the bodies of Edward Soper and Alonzo Gleason were hung between the heavens and the earth upon their own confession.

When life was extinct their bodies were cut down, and a rude grave dug beneath their gallows, and unwashed and uncoffined, their remains were rolled into the hole and covered with mother earth.

When the rope was placed around their necks, Gleason said to his executioners:   "Boys I hope I'll meet you all in hell!"  and making a leap, jumped from the wagon and landed in eternity.  It is said by some that Gleason told Soper to stand up and die like a man -- "to jump off the wagon, and not allow himself to be strangled to death like a dog."

In a day or two after the tragical affair, the friends of Soper exhumed his remains and prepared to give them a decent, if not a truly Christian, burial.  The following Sunday, his corpse was brought to the Court House yard in Tipton.  The coffin was opened and his face exposed to view.  It was a sickening and repulsive sight -- all blackened with the advanced stages of decomposition and putrefaction.  After the coffin was closed, a few friends formed in procession and followed all that remained of Edward Soper to the old grave yard at Tipton, where he was re-buried.

It would be strange, indeed, if there were not some people who censured and condemned the manner of his sudden and disgraceful taking off, or a sympathy awakened for him and his relatives and friends, even if the punishment of death was justly merited.  Such a sympathy was awakened and found expression in more voices than one.  The action of the vigilantes was seriously and earnestly condemned, and at one time it was feared that the sympathy and condemnation would overleap the bounds of reason and prudence, and take the form of retributive action not altogether creditable to law-abiding people.  But happily and fortunately for the peace, welfare and good name of the community, the ruffled element of public sentiment settled down into a peaceful calm, and other than an attempt to get the matter before the grand jury, no action has ever been taken.  At the first session of the Court after the hanging, Judge Tuthill, presiding, said in his charge to the grand jury, that "where a number of persons are assembled together to do an unlawful act, all who are present when the offense is committed are, in presumption of law, participants; for it is a well known principle of criminal jurisprudence that all who openly aid and abet the commission of a felony participate in the crime, and in riotous and tumultuous assemblies all who are present and do not endeavor in some manner to prevent, restrain or discountenance the breach of the peace are prima facie participants therein."  While the grand jury was in session, a large number of those who were engaged in the Soper-Gleason tragedy were in town, and when witnesses were seen approaching the grand jury room, the vigilantes or their friends used means to either persuade or frighten them away, so that no indictments were ever lodged against them.  Witnesses who had been summoned, subsequently reported that when they were nearing Tipton to go before the grand jury to testify, they were met by men whom they did not know, and told to go back home and attend to their own business; that if they went before the grand jury, they were only inviting their own deaths.  Whether this is true or not, only those who were interested have the means of knowing.

A large majority of those interested in the Soper-Gleason affair still remain in the county.  Many of them are among the wealthiest, and consequently most influential, citizens of the community, highly respected and generally useful, reliable and strictly law-abiding.

Hi. Roberts.

Only one more tale of lynching remains to be told, and that tale will be brief in consequence of the affair having occurred in the adjoining county of Jones.  It is only mentioned here because the victim was arrested in Cedar County by Cedar County men, and taken by them into Jones County to be tried and executed.

Hiram Roberts, of Indiana, was the owner of a farm in Jones County, and frequently visited there to look after his interests.  On these visits, his associations were with that class of men who were under the ban of suspicion as horse-thieves and counterfeiters.  He frequently came over into Cedar County, and made protracted visits among people who were almost known outlaws.  His most frequent stopping place was a James W. Hanlin's, four miles northwest of Tipton.

About the last of October, or first of November, 1857, Roberts was on one of his visits to the country, and having heard that he had been pretty severely threatened by the members of the Protective Association, he sent word to the leaders of the Association where he was stopping, together with an invitation for them to come and take him.   His invitation was accepted.  Word was sent around among the people, and Roberts was arrested at Hanlin's.  He was taken across the county line into Jones County to the barn of Geo. Saum.  When they arrived within the barn, Roberts was left in charge of a part of those concerned in his arrest, while the other part, a majority, perhaps, went a little distance outside to consult.  One of this number was a young man in the employ of a citizen who has always been prominently identified with the affairs of Cedar County, and who had been sent by his employer to represent him, because of other pressing engagements.  It may be said too, that the employer was a Justice of the Peace at the time, and this may have had something to do with his non-attendance.   When this young man learned the desperate resolve of the men by whom he was surrounded, he turned away and started to the barn to get his horse and leave the scene.   As he opened the barn-door he was horror-stricken to find that Roberts had already been tried, condemned, sentenced and hanged to a beam overhead, and that he was even then writhing in the agonies of death.  After life was extinct, the body of Roberts was taken down, carried out and rehanged to the limb of a tree, and left there to await the order of his friends.

It is said by some of those who participated in the Roberts lynching, that before he was hanged, he confessed that he had been engaged in counterfeiting and associated with counterfeiters for a good many years, and that he had put in circulation more than $100,000 of spurious money.

The Coroner of Jones County was notified of the hanging of Roberts and an inquest was held on his remains, and a verdict rendered in accordance with the facts, as far as the facts could be ascertained.  Warrants were issued for the arrest of Charles Williams, Benjamin Freeman, Moses Bunker, William Dallas, George Saum and William M. Knott, charging them with the offense.  The Jones County Sheriff and his Deputy came over to arrest the parties named.  No resistance was offered, and by agreement and on recommendation of Judge Tuthill, then District Judge, they entered into bonds for their appearance before a Jones County Justice of the Peace, on a certain day named (within two weeks), for a preliminary examination.  At the appointed time, Williams, Freeman, Bunker and the others mentioned, accompanied by about two hundred Cedar County citizens, appeared as per agreement, with Judge Bissell as their attorney.  They waived an examination, and entered into bonds for their appearance at the next term of the District Court for that county.  Their bonds were signed by not less than one hundred of the best citizens of Cedar and Jones Counties.  At the Spring term (1858) of the Jones County District Court, the parties under bond accompanied by nearly two hundred Cedar and Jones County citizens, appeared in Anamosa to answer to any indictment that might be found against them; but no indictment was returned against them for want of sufficient testimony.   In addition to the fact that the vigilantes had taken good care to get important witnesses for the people out of the way; one of the grand jury was in full sympathy and accord with the movement to free the country from the presence of dishonest characters.  Besides that one juryman, there were several others who were indifferent as to the prosecution of the case, and it is fair to presume that they did not worry themselves very much about finding an indictment.  Since then the affair has almost died out of memory, and the country has maintained a quiet and obedience to law that has made for Cedar County people a praiseworthy reputation.  Charles Williams, one of the arrested parties, subsequently removed to Texas; Freeman died in Jones County about ten years ago; George Saum now lives in Davenport; Moses Bunker, William Dallas and William M. Knott have maintained a continuous residence in the county, and are useful, respected citizens.

 

Murder of Atwood by the Indians.

The present reader, surrounded by the comforts and luxuries of a civilized and cultured society, can scarcely comprehend the hardships and dangers suffered by those pioneers who bravely entered the new land where the barbarous practices of savage tribes were the only known law and power, and transformed it by their life's labor into the fair country of to-day.

The murder of Oliver Atwood, an inoffensive minister, by the Musquakee branch of the Sac and Fox Indians, as related from personal recollection, by Asa Gregg, an old resident of Wapsienonoc Township, Muscatine County, will be interesting in this connection, not only to the residents of the southern part of this county, but to all readers:

In the Winter of 1837-38, a party of Indians were encamped near Moscow, some three or four of whom were in the village one evening, at a low drinking house or grocery, kept by a man named Ross, who, in company with some half dozen other white men, got the Indians to perform a war dance, and in order to make the occasion one of general hilarity, frequent recourse was made to a barrel marked "old whisky," called by the Indians Schutah oppo, or "fire water."  All became drunk, and Ross and his friends concluded to put the Indians out of the shanty.  In the scuffle which ensued, Ross struck a brother of the Chief Powesheik (named "Little Bear") with a heavy stick of wood, rendering him senseless.  The other Indians ran away, and Ross dragged the fallen brave out of doors and deliberately broke his skull with a rail.  The Indians were much exasperated by this outrage, were determined on revenge, and were often seen by the settlers with their faces painted in token of their displeasure, but were kept quiet by the assurance that Ross would be punished by the laws of the white man.  He was indicted for the murder, but owing to some trifling defect in the indictment, escaped punishment. 

The Indians, however, could not understand why a man whom every one acknowledged was guilty of a brutal murder, should be permitted to escape the just punishment of his crime in consequence of the omission of a word or two in a manuscript paper which they could neither read nor understand.  They determined to seek redress in their own way, and with the utmost contempt for the inefficient laws of the white man, the avenger of blood was put upon the trail of the bloody-handed Ross, who knew full well that if he did not flee the country his doom was sealed.  He therefore left as quietly as possible.

The Indians being thus foiled in their attempts upon the life of the real aggressor, quietly awaited an opportunity to avenge their wrongs upon one of the same hated race; and it so happened  that their victim was a Protestant Methodist minister, whose name was Oliver Atwood.

Atwood, his wife and child, came to this country in the Summer of 1837, from the Northern part of Ohio.  He was very destitute, but apparently willing to do any kind of work to support his family, and did work faithfully through the week, and on the Sabbath would preach for the pioneers.  He was not very brilliant as an orator, or prepossessing in his appearance as a minister, but very quiet and harmless in his deportment; and, in justice, I must say that his sermons, viewed from a Methodist stand-point, had the merit of being extremely orthodox, for they were generally the identical sermons preached by the great Wesley himself, many years before.

He and his family, and myself and family, occupied the same cabin nearly all of one Winter.  He had moved on  claim of his own in the Spring, but having no improvement, he was unable to support his family by his labor at home, and consequently he had to seek employment elsewhere.

The Indian traders were about that time engaged in building a new trading post further up the Iowa river, and he hired with them to assist in the work, and spent most of the Summer away from home; but in September, after notifying his wife of the time that he should return, started from the new trading post and arrived in safety at the old one, four miles south of where Iowa City now is.

There he purchased some articles of clothing for his family, and a ham of meat, and started for home -- a home he was destined never to reach alive.

After waiting several days, the wife grew anxious, applied to the neighbors, and a messenger was sent to the old trading house to inquire after him, but he soon returned with the information that Atwood had left for home a week before.  The settlement was then aroused and a general search was made, which resulted in finding the remains of Mr. Atwood where he had fallen, scalped.  The location, as near as can be ascertained, was near Downey, Cedar County.

The question may be asked, "How is it known that he was killed by Indians?"   To a frontiersman this could not long remain in doubt.  There are many ways of judging of such things that would be utterly unintelligible to a less practiced eye.    But in this case, not only the signs at the place where he lay were perfectly intelligible to a hunter, but many other circumstances led to a certainty, not only that he was killed by the Indians, but pointed out the identical actors in the tragedy.

It was well known that on the day that Atwood left the trading post, five Indians passed through the settlement and went to Moscow, and while there one of them said to a friend of Ross, "Ross may come back now;" and being urged to explain his reason, refused to do so.

The tragical event above related, of course, cast a gloom over our infant settlement.   As has been said before, this had been an unusually unhealthy season, the men had all been sick, and were in a convalescent state -- but little better, physically, than downright sickness, and in no condition to make a successful defense of themselves and families should the Indians contemplate a more thorough vengeance, and of their intentions we could have no means of knowing, as they kept entirely aloof for some time.

There was never, so far as the writer is aware, any systematic attempt made by the whites to bring the perpetrators to justice.  It is true that at the first land sale in the Territory, held in Dubuque in the November following the murder, the citizens of this region met and appointed a committee to report the case to the Governor of the Territory, which committee made out a report of the case, with appropriate resolutions to accompany it, and forwarded the same, but so far as is now remembered, it was never heard of in a more public way.  The great difficulty was, no doubt, in getting at the facts with sufficient accuracy to make a good case before the courts.

 

John Brown.

As some of the scenes of this noble and courageous man's career were enacted in Cedar County, its history would be incomplete without their mention.

John Brown was born May 9, 1800, at Torrington, Litchfield County, Connecticut; moved to Ohio in 1805; learned the tanner and currier's trade; married in 1820, and settled in Hudson, Ohio.  From 1826 to 1835, he lived at Richmond, Crawford County, Pennsylvania; after which he returned to Ohio, and settled in Portage County.  He was a man of stern, unflinching, religious and moral character, that marked him as an earnest, conscientious leader, with no sordid desire for personal gain or glory.

As early as 1836, he formed a general plan for war against slavery, and as his sons grew up, his teachings enlisted them in the cause of Freedom.  He was twice married; had six sons and one daughter by his first wife, and seven sons and six daughters by his second wife.  In 1840, he moved to Hudson, Ohio, where he engaged in the wool trade; to Richfield, Ohio, in 1842; to Akron, Ohio, in 1844; to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1846, where he engaged in wool speculations.  He assisted in a futile scheme of Gerrit Smith to start a Freedmen's colony in the Adirondack wilderness, in the northeast part of the State of New York, in 1845.

In 1854 and 1855, five of Brown's eldest sons settled on Pottawatomie Creek, in what is now Miami County, Kansas, about eight miles from Ossawattomie.  (Note: Within the last two years a very handsome monument has been erected at Ossawattomie, in memory of the hero of this sketch.)

This State was just being settled with men from all parts of the Union, but the majority were of pro-slavery principles and made the most bitter threats against all Abolitionists.  Laws were enacted fixing a penalty of death for any attempt at freeing slaves, and a penalty of not less than two years imprisonment at hard labor for any person to deny the right of slavery.

Early in 1855, Brown's sons reported to him the condition of affairs in Kansas, and urged him to send them arms for protection.  Brown responded in person the same Fall.   He thought that a war of words would never break the fetters of the slaves, and that if the evil was suppressed, it must be by the efforts of the slaves themselves, stimulated and guided by some strong arm.  He said that so great an evil could only be washed away in blood.  Like all great reformers, he was called a monomaniac, but, it has been argued, is it not singular that a few years later a whole nation, "with a million in the field," should be seized with the same monomania!

Lawrence, Kansas, was composed of citizens of anti-slavery principles; it had its Free State Hotel and papers devoted to those principles.  In November, 1855, a destruction of the city was attempted by a company of Missourians.  John Brown ("Ossawattomie Brown," as he was called), with his sons, proceeded to Lawrence to help defend it.  From that time there was no peace in Kansas for the Browns, and their unfaltering bravery became widely known.  Several of the sons were arrested and cruelly treated; their homes were burned and several of them were wounded; one son, Frederick, was killed.  In the Fall of 1856, John Brown, with four sons, left for the East, by way of Nebraska, stopping at Tabor, Fremont County, Iowa.  Thence he traveled in company with one son, riding a mule and leading a horse.  In this way he first entered the "Quaker" settlement of Cedar County.  Wherever a settlement of Friends was to be found, there John Brown was sure of kind treatment.   Springdale was one station of the noted "underground railroad."  He stopped at the "Traveler's Rest," the only tavern in West Branch, kept by James Townsend, probably in December, and dismounting, astonished the genial landlord by asking:   "Have you ever heard of John Brown, of Kansas?"  Without replying, Mr. Townsend took a piece of chalk from his vest pocket and, taking Brown's hat, marked thereon a large X; replaced the hat; deliberately marked Brown on the back thus, "XX"; then placed a broad X on the back of the mule, and said, "Just put the animal into that stable and walk right into the house; thou art surely welcome."   Such was the first reception of the hero of Harper's Ferry, in Cedar County.   There, at the "Traveler's Rest," John Brown ever after found a home, without price, as often and as long as he chose to remain, for he was always a welcome guest.  The old house still stands, though the sign of the "Traveler's Rest" has long since disappeared, and Mr. Townsend still lives at the old homestead.

 

 
 

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