Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Siam treasure, murder & a bucket of blood (Part 2)

Bates Huntsman
Yesterday's post, entitled "Mystery, murder and the Siam treasure," dealt with an investigation launched during 1915 by Chariton attorney Walter W. Bulman on behalf of a client, Sam Anderson, 72, then of the Cleveland mining camp.

Anderson's case had at first seemed like a fairly simple civil matter --- a man's attempt to recover just compensation after being hired to dig for buried treasure in Taylor County --- and Bulman agreed to undertake it in return for a fourth of whatever might be recovered. Then, the case veered into something entirely different --- and highly sensational.

Detective work by Bulman and others eventually led to the arrest of four respected southwest Iowa men, some quite elderly, all charged with two 1868 murders. The arrests rocked Bedford, the Taylor County seat, and the nearby village of Siam, where the alleged murders had occurred.

The case became a media sensation that held Midwesteners transfixed for a week during July of 1915 as reporters from all the major regional newspapers, Kansas City and Omaha to Des Moines, descended on Bedford to cover the preliminary hearing. Dispatches were published nationwide. Bulman, chief investigator in the case, also was among those prosecuting for the state.


Sam Anderson had told Bulman a fairly simple tale. About 1901, he alleged, he had been hired by Bates Huntsman and others to dig for buried treasure on the farm northwest of Siam that he was renting from his father-in-law, David White. Compensation was to be a quarter of the amount found. His employers, according to Anderson, told him that the money had resulted from the sale of Missouri land many years earlier; that it had been buried on the farm because of fears that outlaws might otherwise steal it; and that the treasure map, showing the burial place, had been destroyed in a fire. Up to $90,000 --- or more --- allegedly was involved.

Bulman soon discovered, however, that while his client had indeed been hired to dig, he had recast in different form an old story widely told in Taylor County that dated back to 1868 and involved money that had been stolen by outlaws, then buried after the legitimate owner and his son had been murdered and their bodies disposed of.

Upon discovering that the treasure was stolen, Bulman canceled his contract with Anderson --- but for reasons lost to time continued his investigation, then aided in the prosecution --- all without receiving financial compensation for his efforts.


Here is the actual treasure tale, as it apparently had been told in the vicinity of Siam and elsewhere for many years prior to 1915. This is part of a far longer report published in The Adams County Union-Republican, Corning, of July 14, 1915:

"Back in the days immediately following the Civil War, territory about the southern ... border of Iowa was a riot of lawlessness. The James boys gang was spreading terror throughout the middle west then, and many lesser gangs were emulating them. Murder was not uncommon, and robbery was still less unusual.

"Near Siam, a small town in southern Taylor county, the story goes, one of these gangs of outlaws operated. its members were young men, whose imitative spirit was fired by acts of the James boys, and the gang flourished in power. Law abiding people of the vicinity were kept in terror.

"One day in 1868 a wealthy cattle buyer from some point further east came to Siam to buy livestock. Some of the persons familiar with the story say he was lured to Siam by the outlaw gang; others, that he came on his own initiative. It was before the days of easy exchange and he brought with him a trunk full of currency. The trunk is claimed to have contained between $80,000 and $90,000. A boy traveled with him ....

"The outlaw gang met this cattle buyer just outside Siam, as he traveled across country behind an ox team, the son in the wagon alongside him and the trunk full of money very close behind him in the wagon bed. They shot him without ceremony and threw the body in a well on the outskirts of Siam.

"The boy, it is said, tried to escape during the confusion attending the murder of his older companion, but he had not run far before a member of the gang overtook him and shot him dead. The boy's body was buried in a locust grove, not far from the well into which the riddled body of the man had been dumped without ceremony. The gang then buried the trunk full of money in the same locust grove, carefully making a plat of the farm and marking the location of the trunk.

"It was the intention of the outlaws to dig the swag out of the ground and to dispose of it, when the efforts they knew would be ineffective to bring the murderers to justice had been abandoned. The plat was carefully hidden in the home of a member of the gang.

"But before the time arrived when the gang would consider it safe to divide the money, fire destroyed the home in which the plat was hidden. Like Captain Kidd's treasure, all traces of its location was lost. The gangsters tried often to find it, but without effect."


As Walter continued to poke around in Taylor County --- and most likely after more careful interrogation of his former client, too --- he discovered that there was an alleged witness to the 1868 killings.

Maria (Collins) Porter, a resident of Quitman, Missouri, for 30 years or more, had been a young girl in 1868, reportedly staying on  the farm northwest of Siam where the alleged murders occurred with her sister, Elizabeth, and brother-in-law, Jonathan Dark, to help care for their infant son. As it happened, coincidentally of course, one of Maria's sons had, much later, married one of Sam Anderson's daughters when the Andersons, too, lived near Quitman.

Walter set out for Missouri during late June of 1915 to interview Maria and apparently believed her story. It seems to have been principally on her word that he was able to resurrect that long-ago (alleged) gang of border ruffians and arrange to have charges filed against its four survivors.

As a result, during early July, four men were taken into custody and charged: Bates Huntsman, age 77, of Siam --- one of the men who allegedly had hired Sam Anderson to dig; Sam Scrivner, 74, by then an affluent retired Siam-area farmer living in nearby New Market; Nathaniel Harrison "Hank" Damewood, age 61, of College Springs; and John Damewood, Hank's brother, age 64 --- and Sam Anderson's son-in-law --- of Shenandoah.

Maria also identified three other men, all deceased, as members of the gang: Dr. Charles R. Huntsman, brother of Bates; Dr. A.M. Golliday, of Bedford; and Jonathan Dark --- her brother-in-law.

It was Jonathan, she said, who had threatened to kill her on several occasions should she reveal the secrets of that long-ago crime. It was because of those threats, she told Walter, that she had fled Siam and moved to Missouri, fearful that the outlaws' promise to "wash their hands in my heart's blood" would be fulfilled.

Dark had continued to threaten Maria periodically as the years passed, she told Bulman, until on one of those occasions her sister, Mattie, with whom she lived, had shot him dead during a violent outburst.

 "I held his head with one hand," Maria said, "and held a bucket to catch the blood with the other."

To be continued ...

No comments: