Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The "White Chief's" travels, in life & death (Part 1)

Find A Grave photo
"Belden, The White Chief; or Twelve Years among the Wild Indians of the Plains" was a literary sensation back in 1870. Authored by a young man named George P. Belden who characterized himself as "Adventurous White Chief, Soldier, Hunter, and Guide," the volume was a best-seller, too --- and remains on the market today.

Tragically, George's image was burnished and sales skyrocketed after he was murdered in what became South Dakota, somewhere in the neighborhood of modern Mobridge, on the 1st or 2nd day of September, 1871. Now, due to the oddities of life (and death), George reposes in Iowa's Keokuk National Cemetery, his remains transferred there during November of 1908 from the post cemetery at Fort Yates, North Dakota.

The name on his tombstone, "G.G. Belden," is a mistake. It should have been "G.P. Belden" and the fact it isn't may account for the fact he's been sort of misplaced.

Keokuk National Cemetery was George's third postmortem stop. Buried initially at the Grand River Agency Post, near Wakpala, South Dakota, at the intersection of the Missouri and Grand rivers, his remains were first evacuated to Fort Yates when periodic flooding resulted in the closure of that post during 1875.

It's kind of appropriate, I suppose, that someone so restless in life should face similar challenges in death.


Here's an account of George's terminal adventure as published in The Junction City (Kansas) Weekly Union of Sept. 30, 1871. Similar reports, although not all this detailed, were published across the United States. This report most likely was picked up from an Omaha newspaper, although initial reports of the dashing young adventurer's death probably were published in the Sioux City Journal.

"On or about the 2nd of September, George P. Belden was murdered --- it is supposed by an Unkpapa Indian --- near Grand River. A dispatch dated Grand River Agency, Dakota Territory, September 5th, to the Sioux City Journal, gives the following particulars of his death:

" 'Georbe P. Belden left Grand River Agency, D.T., September 1, 1871, to go to Grass Camp (Blackfeet Sioux), about thirty-five miles below this agency, on the west bank of the Missouri river. He had about $50 worth of goods that he had purchased at Durfee & Peck's trading store. A Saus-Arc Sioux Indian left the agency for Grass Camp about an hour after Belden, and arrived at the camp at 5 o'clock, but he said he had not seen Belden on the road. George Corry, from Grass Camp, arrived at this agency about 5:30 o'clock on the 2d instant, and he inquired about the time Belden had left the agency. He was told as above stated. He said that, on his way up, he went to drink at a pool of water, about fifteen yards off the road, and saw Belden lying dead in the water. He did not examine the body, but came to the agency as soon as possible. He was on foot.

" 'Agent O'Connor immediately started on horseback, accompanied by an escort of ten soldiers in a wagon, together with six citizens, and six Indians on horseback, to bring in Belden's remains. Three of the citizens and two of the Indians arrived at the point indicated about dusk, and found Belden's remains at a pool of water, surrounded by tall grass, and located on the right-hand side of the road, about thirteen miles from the agency. He was lying on his back in the water, his legs straightened out stiff, and his arms across his body. He was taken out and laid on the bank by Bruguler and Keller, who lit matches and examined the body. They found a large bullet hole, the ball having broken the bridge of his nose and come out the back of his head. His brains were oozing out of the hole. He was not scalped, but his skull was broken.'

"Apart from the interest attached to the circumstances of his melancholy and untimely end --- he was only 29 years of age at the time of his death --- Mr. Belden was a man of sufficient mark to warrant the appointment of space wherein to tell briefly the story of his life. George P. Belden was born in the State of Ohio. His father was a printer, and together they started a weekly newspaper, called the Newark Valley Journal. Twice he ran away from home, and until the day of his death led a strange, adventurous life, now among the Indians and now among the printers and literary men of his native state. He resided for a time in Omaha city, working at first as a compositor in the Herald office, and afterward acting as local editor of the Republican.

"But for the restlessness of his disposition and his perpetual craving for adventure he might possibly have won for himself a high place in literature. As it was, with all his drawbacks, he was a fluent writer, and some of his productions exhibit considerable grace. Many of his letters to the New York Tribune and to the Chicago Tribune, to both of which papers he was a contributor, have been greatly admired, and some ambitious works have achieved popularity. Notable among these latter may be mentioned his book entitled "Belden, the White Chief; or, Twelve Years Among the Wild Indians of the Plains," which is very widely known.

"He was intimately acquainted with the habits of the Indians and could speak several Indian languages fluently. During the war he held a commission as lieutenant in the army, but disliking the restraint of a soldier's life he left it and returned to his former erratic mode of life. He was married, but the restraints of wedded life was as little congenial to him as were all other restraints, and he had been separated from his wife for some years before his death. Yet he was of a genial nature, and during his wanderings made many friends who now mourn his loss."


Much of what was reported about Belden nationwide after his death was based upon the biography outlined in "The White Chief," a mighty volume of more than 300 pages. How much of it was accurate --- well, that's another matter. I'll try to unpick the life and times of George P. Belden a little another time.

--- To be continued

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sitting Bull, Keokuk National Cemetery - a near miss

The mortal remains of Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull (ca. 1831-1890) rest now near Mobridge, South Dakota, considered by many to have been his birthplace. But had circumstance played out differently, his might well have become bones of contention at Iowa's Keokuk National Cemetery.

To understand how that could have happened it's necessary to back up to December of 1890, when the famed leader was killed.

Sitting Bull's vision and leadership were instrumental in the stunning defeat of U.S. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men of the 7th Cavalry on July 26, 1876, at Little Big Horn. Forced eventually to flee to Canada, Sitting Bull returned to the United States in 1881 with most of his people and surrendered. He then joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and spent some years as a performer before settling down on the Standing Rock Reservation, headquartered at Fort Yates, North Dakota.

During December of 1890, however, fearing that Sitting Bull was about to leave the reservation and join the Ghost Dance movement, James McLaughlin, U.S. agent at Fort Yates, ordered his arrest. Sitting Bull was shot to death on Dec. 15 during a confrontation at his home between non-Hunkpapa tribal police attempting the arrest and some of the men of his village, resisting it.

Looking most likely upon possession of his remains as a control issue, Sitting Bull's body was transported to Fort Yates and buried in the post cemetery, where it remained for nearly 18 years before a major controversy erupted.


This U.S. outpost along the Missouri River originated during 1863 as the Standing Rock Cantonment and became Fort Yates --- named after Capt. George Yates, killed at Little Big Horn --- during 1878. The fort was headquarters for the U.S. Standing Rock Agency and a village grew up around it. Standing Rock remains headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In 1903, the fort and post were decommissioned and abandoned. Five years later, it was decided to empty the post cemetery and remove the remains of all buried there --- including those of Sitting Bull and other native people --- to Keokuk National Cemetery, a considerable distance away in southeast Iowa. The other option was what now is known as Custer National Cemetery at Little Big Horn.

The proposal to move Sitting Bull's remains resulted in considerable discontent among the Lakota people --- and a good deal of dithering by U.S. officials. Plus a few examples of cultural insensitivity --- the Smithsonian Institution and historical societies in both North Dakota and South Dakota suggested that the old chief's remains should be disinterred and passed on to them for display, according to newspaper reports of the time.

Eventually, common sense prevailed and it was decided to leave Sitting Bull's remains undisturbed at the post cemetery site. The remains of other natives buried there apparently were removed to nearby civilian cemeteries.

A St. Paul, Minn., undertaker was commissioned by federal authorities to disinter and rebox remains from the Fort Yates Post Cemetery. The remains, as well as the crated stones that had marked a majority of the graves, were transported upriver to Bismark and transferred there to a boxcar for the long rail journey to southeast Iowa. 

The boxcar arrived in Keokuk on Nov. 11, 1908, as reported in The Keokuk Daily Gate of Thursday, Nov. 12:


The Bodies of Seventy-Four Soldiers and Citizens Arrived in the City Last Evening

No Indians Among Them

Seventy-three of the Bodies Will be Placed in the National Cemetery and One Sent to St. Louis

The bones of seventy-four soldiers and citizens of the United States arrived in this city last evening from Fort Yates, North Dakota, an abandoned military post, and seventy-three will be buried in the National Cemetery and one forwarded to St. Louis to be buried in the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks. This last is the body of Major Gaddord (Maj. Charles E. Goddard), whose death occurred in 1886. The shipment arrived via the Burlington and after the arrival in this city was taken in charge by Undertaker E.E. Hawkes, who will have charge of the burial. The Grand Army of the Republic, Belknap Post, will have charge of the services which will probably be held at the National Cemetery tomorrow afternoon.

No Indians

It was thought that the bones of fourteen Indians together with Sitting Bull would be brought for burial, but fear of a general uprising on the part of the Indians of North Dakota reservations, if the Indian bodies and that of the once famous Sioux chief were moved, changed the plans and only soldiers and civilians were removed. Among the boxes contained in the car are those having the bones of several children.

Separate Grave for Each

Each box will be placed in a separate grave, necessitating in all seventy-three graves. The graves are being dug in the new part of the National Cemetery and are in the west corner taking up a great deal of space.

The graves are in three rows, the first row containing twenty-eight graves, the second row twenty-eight graves, and the third row seventeen graves. Each grave is one foot wide, three feet long and three feet deep and are placed four feet apart. Several of the boxes, however, are five feet long and they will be placed in graves made of different dimensions than those above mentioned.

The Shipment

The entire seventy-four boxes containing the bones of the soldiers and citizens, and the fifty-six tombstones were all contained in one box car, and completely filled the bottom of it. The tombstones were enclosed in a wooden crate and upon the tombstone was an inscription containing the name of the deceased, the date of his death and his age, also, if he was a soldier to what post or fort he belonged.

The work of hauling the tombstones to the National Cemetery was begun this afternoon but it is thought that the burial services cannot be held before tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. The work of digging so many gave is quite a task and work could not be commenced before it was known what sizes the boxes would be.

The services at the graves will be conducted by the Belknap Post G.A.R. and if possible arrangements will be made to hold services tomorrow afternoon.

Proclamation by the Mayor

Tomorrow, November 12, 1908, the remains of eighty (sic) soldiers will be interred in the National cemetery at this place, being removed from North Dakota, where they were interred at time of death. I deem it proper that the good people pay a mark of respect to the memory of these hero dead during the hour of the funeral, which will be announced during the afternoon by the tolling of the fire bells. I would ask that all business houses be closed during the passage of the funeral cortege and that the flags of the city be placed at half mast. (signed) W.E. Strimback, Mayor


Last rites for the 73 refugees from Fort Yates were indeed held in Keokuk late on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 13, as reported on Saturday morning, Nov. 14, as follows:

Yesterday evening there gathered at Eighth and Main street one of the largest funeral processions ever seen in the city --- that preceding the burial of seventy-three old soldiers and citizens removed from Fort Yates, North Dakota, to be interred in the national cemetery.

The memers of Belknap and Torrence posts, Grand Army of the Republic, the Fiftieth Iowa band, and many private citizens took part in the procession, together with the wagons containing the rmains of the seventy-three dead soldiers and citizens.

Slowly the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery and at 4 o'clock the services began. Miss Mary Collins made the address of the afternoon. For several years she was a missionary to the Indians of Fort Yates and for this reason was selected to make this address. A prayer by the chaplain, Rev. Connoran, concluded the services and the bones of the departed were placed in the individual graves which are side by side in three rows.

Many business houses and public buildings had flags at half staff in respect to the deceased soldiers of the country.


The remains of Sitting Bull remained undisturbed in the old post cemetery at Fort Yates until 1953 when organizers of a plan to move his bones to a new resting place near Mobridge, South Dakota, obtained permission from his descendants to do so.

Today, Sitting Bull is honored by monuments both near Mobridge and at the site of his original grave at Fort Yates.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Lord of Sea and Sky ....

It's been another of those disquieting weeks. A U.S. president disparaged people of color; the people of paradise (Hawaii) found themselves --- mistakenly --- on the receiving end of a nuclear attack warning.

So here's something uplifting for Sunday morning --- one of the most popular contemporary hymns performed back in 2012 by the National Youth Choir of Scotland at Dunblane Cathedral (Church of Scotland).

The piece dates from 1981 and was composed by Wisconsin-born Dan Schutte, cited most often for his contributions to Catholic liturgical music and hymnody.

Purists, theological and otherwise, can be fairly grumpy about his work --- including this one. I like it

Saturday, January 13, 2018

More about Keokuk National Cemetery

Arlington usually comes to mind first when U.S. national cemeteries are mentioned, but the fact of the matter is --- Iowa's Keokuk National Cemetery is older, among the 14 originals designated during 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln after he had been authorized by Congress on July 17 of that year to establish these now-iconic places to hold the remains of the Union dead. 

The Arlington site was not designated a national cemetery until June of 1864.

I wrote earlier in the week about the relocation in 1948 to Keokuk of a majority of those buried originally in the Fort Des Moines post cemetery. And I have another story to tell, but got involved in checking out the history of this beautiful place way down in the southeast corner of the state, too. I took the photos on a visit years ago, so they lack high digital resolution. But at least they're mine.

Keokuk was Iowa's first major Civil War staging site, home to Camp Ellsworth, then Camps Rankin, Halleck and Lincoln. As the war progressed, five U.S. Army hospitals were established in the city in part because the pioneer Keokuk Medical College was located here and in part because of its convenient location along the Mississippi River. Thousands of wounded and/or ill U.S. troops were brought upriver by riverboat for treatment here as the war ground on; some 600 of them died.

The first burial occurred during late September of 1861 in an area of the city cemetery, Oakland, that came to be known as the Soldiers' Lot. As the number of burials increased, the city transferred ownership of that area  to the federal government and it was expanded.

During late May of 1883, Maj. Gen. William Worth Belknap (1829-1890) was invited to deliver the Memorial Day address at Keokuk National Cemetery. He had been a Keokuk attorney when the war broke out and rose to national prominence as a commander of Iowa troops. Following the war, he was appointed in 1869 as U.S. Secretary of War in the Grant Administration and served until 1876, when he was impeached (later acquitted) by the Senate for corruption.

By 1883, he was back in Keokuk --- at least for a time --- and still honored. Here's a little of what he said about the cemetery's history during a very long and florid address, reported upon in the upriver Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye of June 7. Although Belknap may well have been responsible for ordering, as Secretary of War, improvements to the cemetery, it had been designated, despite his claims, a national cemetery early in the war.

"There are about eighty national cemeteries. In them three hundred thousand men lie buried. The first interment in the Keokuk National cemetery was of a soldier of the Third Iowa Cavalry on September 23, 1861. I may be pardoned for saying that immediately after the close of the war I took some personal interest in having this ground declared a national cemetery. It had been proposed to transfer the remains of these gallant men to another locality, possible outside the state. Against this I earnestly remonstrated, but had great fear of the result, when it happened that fortune gave me the opportunity to order that it be made a national cemetery. Mr. Clayton Hart, a brave soldier of the Seventh Iowa, was appointed superintendent; additional land was purchased; the improvements which are around us followed in rapid succession, until my comrades, an inviting spot has been made a beautiful resting place for our beloved dead. Here lie six hundred and four known and thirty-three unknown Union soldiers. There are, too, the remains of eight Confederates. They were the champions of a mistaken cause, bravely battled for, and lost. Those of us who were in action know how well they fought, but their banner is laid away, and all over the states of a reunited and unbroken union now floats, we trust forever, the flag of the free."

Find A Grave photo
A soldier identified as Thomas Lurch, attributed to Co. C, Third Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, apparently was that first unfortunate soldier to be buried here. You'll note that his tombstone identifies him only as a "U.S. Soldier," however. When the time came to order tombstones for those buried here, no trace of anyone named "Thomas Lurch" could be found on Third Cavalry rosters.

This suggests that he was somehow misidentified, although records do state that the man buried here did indeed die and was buried on Sept. 23, 1861.

As of 2018, approximately 4,700 military personnel and their dependents are buried at Keokuk National Cemetery and it remains open to future burials although administered from the upriver offices of the much larger Rock Island National Cemetery.

Friday, January 12, 2018

To the brave and beautiful people of Haiti ...

Here's to the beautiful and brave people of Haiti on this bitterly cold Iowa morning. How lucky we are to share a planet with them.

And I'm thinking, too, of a transgender acquaintance of mine who has invested an incredible amount of time, energy and money there, helping out --- from the goodness of her heart --- since the devastating earthquake of 2010. Thanks, Kathleen R.!

The group is Harmonik, Haitian but based in Miami. The beautiful lady is Suzanna Sampeur, Miss World Haiti of 2016. The video was shot in Cap-Haitien.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The vanishing Fort Des Moines Post Cemetery

One hundred and seventy-eight tombstones were deployed with military precision at the Fort Des Moines Post Cemetery, intersection of Army Post Road and Southeast 5th Street, in late May 1945 when WAC Cpl. Ethel McIntosh played "Taps" as a Memorial Day tribute.

The cutline for this photo, published in The Des Moines Tribune of May 30, reads: "WAC Cpl. Ethel McIntosh of Beloit, Kans., blows taps for veterans of four wars who are laid to rest in the small, neat Fort Des Moines cemetery. Few people know of this graveyard beside the highway east of Fort Des Moines where 178 headstones mark the burial place of colored, Indian and white men who died for America in the civil war, Spanish American war, World War I, and World War II. As in most military cemeteries, the headstones bear only names without dates or inscriptions to interest the curious."

The final burial in the small cemetery was made two years later, during late April or early May of 1947 when the unclaimed remains of Utley Erickson, age 47, were interred here.

Little more than a year later, as spring turned to summer, the cemetery vanished. Remains were disinterred, empty graves filled and the surface smoothed, grass planted and signage removed. Today, the cemetery site forms part of the grounds of the Des Moines Police Academy. A majority of those once buried here --- 156 souls --- rest beneath the manicured sod of Iowa's Keokuk National Cemetery.


Fort Des Moines, the last of three to bear that name in Iowa, was established during 1901 and built up commencing in 1903 on what then was farmland south of the Iowa capital's city limits. It was intended --- and used --- as a mounted cavalry base.

In 1917, it became the site of the United States' first officer training candidate school for black Americans, including Chariton's own Maceo Richmond. After that, the fort was used for various purposes until 1942, when it was taken over by the Women's Army Corps as a training center.

Following World War II, as the need for military installations diminished, so did it's usefulness. By the 1960s and 1970s, ownership of significant chunks of the old fort had been transferred to private and public owners, but it remained a processing center for draftees, most of us bound for Vietnam. My parents delivered me there early one morning back in 1969 to be inducted and processed, then shipped off late in the day to beautiful Fort Polk, Louisiana.

The post cemetery was developed and opened during 1906. The Des Moines Register of Nov. 5, 1905, reported that, "Uncle Sam's Eleventh cavalry soldiers who die in times of peace will be buried by the side of their comrades in a special burying ground which the government is now providing at Fort Des Moines. And those who die in times of war will be brought back to their own cemetery if it is possible.

"Within a few years, another city of the dead will be added to the burying places about Des Moines and another soldiers' resting place will receive its decorations on the nation's memorial day."


U.S. Army Pvt. William B. Case, age 22 and native to Brooklyn, New York, was the first to be buried in the new cemetery --- in March of 1906 --- and the novelty of a full-scale cavalry funeral caught a reporter's attention. The following report was published in several Iowa newspapers, this version in The Waterloo Courier:

"Des Moines, Iowa, March 6 --- Private Case of Troop K was buried with military honors in the Ft. Des Moines cemetery yesterday. Case came to the fort a recruit from New York City not long ago and two weeks ago was stricken with rheumatism and placed in the hospital. Day before yesterday he died. Word was sent to his people in New York, but no answer was received.

"Case was said to be one of the handsomest privates at the fort and popular with his comrades. An air of gloom hung over the post yesterday. This was one of the first cavalry funerals held at the post. The mounted cavalry band played slow dirges on the way to the little graveyard, about half a mile east of the post. Behind the hospital ambulance in which the body was carried came the riderless horse of the dead man draped in black with the late rider's sabre hanging reversed from the saddle. Behind were mounted troop K and a number of other soldiers.

"After an impressive service at the grave by the chaplain, the stirring call of "taps" was sounded, several of the dead soldier's comrades threw in a few handfuls of earth and left the rest for the little knot of prisoners to do. Then the cavalcade whirled about and swept back over the hill. The band played a lively air and the riderless horse draped in black pranced gaily in time to the music, ready for the man who will take his master's place in a few days."

Enlistment records show that Case was born and raised in Brooklyn and enlisted there on Oct. 4, 1905. There are no surviving photos to let us decide if he was indeed as handsome as his comrades thought, only a physical description: Blue eyes, dark brown hair, fair complexion, 5-feet 8-inches in height. His death was attributed to acute endocarditis. Now, 112 years later, he rests beneath a new government-issue stone in the Keokuk National Cemetery, placed after he was re-interred there during June of 1948. The death date inscribed on his tombstone, however, is incorrect.


The vision of the post cemetery as a final home for veterans of the 11th Cavalry failed to materialize, but the graveyard continued in use for military personnel stationed at the fort when they died, some of their dependents and active-duty soldiers and veterans who simply had no other place to be buried.

Many years later, The Des Moines Register --- attempting to put finally to rest false rumors of a mass grave at Camp Dodge --- proved that at least 33 of those buried in the post cemetery had died at Camp Dodge during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and, their remains unclaimed, had been buried at Fort Des Moines.

Not long after Cpl. McIntosh honored those buried here with "Taps" on Memorial Day 1945, proposals began to circulate in Des Moines, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that the post cemetery become the nucleus for a new national cemetery that would occupy a portion --- or all --- of the old fort grounds. Iowa already had one of the nation's oldest national cemeteries, at Keokuk, but space there was at a premium and its location in the extreme southeast corner of the state seemed too remote for many Iowans and others from adjoining states.

Nothing came of those dreams of a Des Moines national cemetery, but it would seem that no one in Des Moines anticipated closure of the Fort Des Moines Post Cemetery when the final burial occurred there during late April or early May of 1947. PFC Utley Erickson, age 47 and recently discharged from the U.S. Army was another of those strangers who died among us whose remains remained unclaimed by loved ones.

The circumstances of his death were reported as follows in The Des Moines Tribune of April 23, 1947, under the headline, "Identify G.I. Killed Here."

"A soldier who was killed here shortly after midnight Tuesday when run over by a train was identified Wednesday as Utley Erickson of Los Angeles, Cal. Identification was made from army discharge papers found in his pockets.

"Police said the papers indicated he was "more than 35 years old" and that he had been discharged at Camp Kilmer, N.J., last Friday.

"Police said the soldier apparently fell beneath a freight train which he tried to board.

"His Los Angeles address was given as 541 E. Fifth St., and police Wednesday were attempting to locate relatives there. The body is at Dahlstrom's funeral home.

"The accident occurred on the Rock Island track between Third and Fourth streets."

Erickson, who gave his status upon enlistment as single with no dependents, was a native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who had moved to California during the 1920s. He apparently had worked in a defense-related industry there prior to enlistment on Dec. 13, 1945. He probably was riding the rails home to California when his death occurred. As with William Case's tombstone, the date of death inscribed upon Erickson's stone is inaccurate.


We don't know exactly when the decision was made to close and evacuate the Fort Des Moines Post Cemetery and although it seems a little odd today, it was standard operating procedure for the government at the time if a military post were to be abandoned. The motivation was honorable --- the government had committed itself to caring for the remains of those entrusted to its burial places; what better place than a national cemetery to do that.

About twenty of those buried at Fort Des Moines apparently were reburied, probably at the behest of family members, elsewhere. But by early June, 1948, the remains of the rest had arrived at Keokuk National Cemetery, where they were reinterred, all during the first 10 days of that month.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Corydon, Promise City, bushwhackers & a bloody end

President Lincoln had been assassinated just two weeks earlier; his mortal remains still were aboard that long black train processing slowly across the United States toward Springfield --- retracing the route he had followed as president-elect to his first inauguration in 1861. The coffin would not reach his Illinois home until Wednesday, May 3.

Although Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia 20 days earlier, on April 9, the war continued --- and would not end finally until May was over. Columbus, Georgia, had just fallen to Union forces on the 16th. Confederate President Jefferson Davis remained at large.

Down in Wayne and Appanoose Counties, feelings were running high. Although the end of the long war was in sight, times were tense. The sometimes real and sometimes imagined threat of Confederate-sympathizing guerrilla activity in northern Missouri, spilling over the line into Iowa, had been a factor on the homefront throughout the war. Hundreds of men, some returned soldiers and others "graybeards" who had been too old or unable for other reasons to serve, remained armed and ready to defend the border country that stretched from the Mississippi to the Missouri.

The six men who caused a regional sensation --- largely forgotten now --- by robbing both east- and west-bound Western Stage Co. coaches between Promise City and Centerville that spring-like Saturday afternoon --- April 29, 1865 --- would have been hard pressed to find a more volatile and dangerous time to execute what seems to have been a carefully laid plan. If newspaper reports are to be believed, their folly would cost them their lives.


The most comprehensive report that I've found of events on April 29 along the general route State Highway No. 2 still follows between Corydon and Centerville appeared in The Ottumwa Courier  under the headline, "The Guerrillas in Iowa!" A similar report was published or republished in full or in part in newspapers across the state --- across the Union states in fact --- updated as developments occurred. Here's the text of The Courier report:


Two of the Western Stage Co.'s Coaches,
Mails and Passengers Robbed,
Nine Miles West of Centerville, Appanoose
County on Saturday, April 29th, 1865

"OTTUMWA, May 1 --- We are indebted to Mr. F.J. Leach, a driver in the employment of the Western Stage Company, for an account of one of the most daring and successful robberies we ever heard of. Mr. Leach was driving from Corydon to Centerville. At Corydon, five passengers --- one of them a citizen, four of them strangers, got aboard the coach, paying their fare, two of them to Promise City, the first station out, and two to Centerville. At Promise City, two more strangers got aboard, and the two who had paid to that place continued on, making six passengers, one riding on the outside and the others inside. The citizen left at Promise City.

"Just as the coach or hack was winding on to the bridge at Walnut Creek, nine miles west of Centerville, the passenger on the box suddenly presented a revolver to the left breast of the driver, exclaiming, 'Hold on! Turn out here, G-d d--n you! You have gone far enough. You are in the hands of the rebels now! I will put a hole right through you if you don't stop!' Looking around, the driver saw the inside passengers looking out of the window, each one holding a revolver in his hand.

"Of course, there was no alternative but to submit, and he accordingly turned his team out to the side of the road. The six passengers instantly jumped off and out of the coach, and ordering the driver to keep his seat, proceeded to unhitch the horses and tie them to the stage and the trees nearby. They took out the mail sacks, ripped them open with knives and deliberately examined the contents, putting most of the packages containing more that one letter in their pockets, tearing the single letters open and appropriating the money found, so far as the driver could judge. He saw them take some money from the letters.

Abraham Sager
Prairie Trails Museum
"While thus employed, a wagon was heard approaching from the direction of Centerville. Four of the robbers started over the bridge, met the team, which proved to belong to Mr. A. Sayger (Abraham Sager, 1813-1884), of Promise City, who with his son, a young man of about 20 years, was returning from Centerville with a two-horse wagon. The robbers met them, fetched them over the bridge, unhitched their horses, unharnessed them, and then demanded of Mr. S. and his son their money. The old gentleman had no money --- the young man had thirty dollars --- they took twenty-five dollars, and handed him back five dollars.

"After this they waited about twenty minutes for the western bound stage to come up. When they heard it coming, four of the party went out and met it, took possession, and piloted it over the bridge to the place where the other coach was, and went through the process of unharnessing the horses and robbing the mails, as they had done with the other coach; occupying in doing so, about half an hour. When this was all done, they selected six of the best horses, three out of each team, mounted them and rode off towards Promise City, exclaiming as they left, 'Good evening, gentlemen.'

"It was now after sunset. The two drivers made up a team of the two horses, and drove into Centerville; the other passengers went on west with Mr. Sayger. The next morning a party from Centerville went out and gathered up the broken letters, express matter, &c. They heard of the robbers some distance from the scene of the robbery, on the road to Promise City. They robbed two houses, taking a saddle from each. This is the last that had been heard from them up to the time the driver left Centerville for Ottumwa.

"The agent of the Western Stage Company, George Pratt, offered a reward of $25 for each horse and $50 for the arrest of each of the robbers.

"The following is a description of the robbers, as given by the driver: One tall man without whiskers, hair dark and shingled short, dark clothes, gaiter shoes and a cloth or cassimere cape. Another, medium sized man, rather heavy built, with a very red face; had a very light goatee, hair light colored, had on a broad brimmed white hat, and overcoat of heavy corded goods, made in the style of soldiers' overcoats, with large black buttons, and gaiter shoes. Another tall and rather heavy built man with dark complexion and dark whiskers and moustache, had on citizens' dress, a black overcoat and a black hat; when he had his hat off his hair stands up bushy in front. Another, medium sized man has no whiskers, hair dark but not black, had on green and black barred pants and a black hat. Another rather small man with blue eyes and light hair, curly and rather bushy --- had on a light colored hat. The other man cannot be described.

"The horses were described as follows: Two roan horses, one about 10 or 12, and the other about 7 or 8 years old; the latter had the hair rubbed off his hips by the breeching; one horse about 11 years old; one light grey about 8 years old; two bays,, one with a star on the forehead and a light hind foot, and the other has sore or weak eyes and his near hind foot at the gambrel joint is swollen.

"Later advices state that the three counties, Appanoose, Wayne and Decatur, are in arms and are in pursuit of the robbers. The mail sacks that were robbed are here. J.W.N."


As the week after the robbery passed, briefer updates were published in many newspapers, some of the reports noting, too, that the robbers, as they fled, had "committed another robbery, taking from a sheep drover they met on the road $200."

On Saturday, May 6, The Davenport Morning Democrat reported that pursuing Iowans had caught up with the robbers somewhere in northern Missouri on Wednesday, May 3, and that "the pursuing party having surrounded them they abandoned their horses and took to the brush. The horses were recovered and the thieves, six in number, shot dead and left in the brush.

"If all guerrillas and bushwhackers were served in like manner the country would soon be rid of them," The Democrat opined.


The most comprehensive report I've found of the end to this Iowa history footnote was published on May 10, 1865, in The Iowa State Weekly Register, Des Moines. The report was lifted from an exchange copy of The Corydon Monitor --- an issue that so far as we know is no longer extant. Here's the text of The Register report:


"The six desperadoes who robbed the mail down in Appanoose County declared at one of the houses at which they stopped for a few minutes that they were creating an excitement in Iowa equal to that which was produced by the murder of the President.

"The Corydon Monitor says that four of these villains had been in that place several days, two of them stopping at the Phillips Hotel, and the other two at the Kentucky House. They said they were desirous of settling in Corydon and looked at several pieces of property with the assumed design of purchasing. One the morning of the day of the robbery, they took passage on the stage, and were joined at Promise City by the remaining two confederates.

"The stages were robbed about two hours before sunset at Walnut Creek, some nine miles west of Centerville, Appanoose County.

"On the following morning the whole country was roused and a vigorous pursuit was commenced. The robbers fled down into Missouri, and so hot was the pursuit that on Monday they were compelled to abandon the stolen horses about 20 miles south of Unionville, Missouri. At the same place the pursuing party rescued two men who had been impressed as guides into the service of the robbers.

"The scoundrels took to the timber and made frantic efforts to escape. Three hundred armed men stimulated with hate of rebels and untiring as blood hounds, closed around them, and on Wednesday morning, being pressed at all points, they threw aside their overcoats and everything else which impeded their flight --- but they were doomed.

"Before sunset of Wednesday, they were laying stark and dead in the timber of Northern Missouri. Whether they were shot down in their tracks or were captured and subsequently hanged, we do not know. The fact that they are dead is placed beyond question; and whether shot or hanged, their fate was richly deserved."

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Descendants of Archibald Shore, lend us a hand ....

This wonderful old family portrait, somewhat faded but in generally good condition, was among dozens of photographs and items of school-related ephemera donated to the historical society last fall by members of a family with links to Lucas County pioneers Archibald and Ellen (Zickafoose) Shore.

As is the case with many families, the collection included a number of unidentified images --- including this one.

We've deduced, based in large part on similarities between the patriarch in the big picture and the  earlier image of the gentlemen at left, clearly identified as Archibald Shore, that what we have here is a portrait of Archibald and Ellen along with their children, perhaps an in-law and most likely some grandchildren. The words "early 1898" are written on the family photograph but that's all.

We'd really like to know who everyone is, so if you --- and there are a gazillion Shore descendants running around loose by now --- have an identical (or similar) photo in your collection or recognize some of the faces please let us know with a comment on Facebook or on the original blog post. We'll add the idents to the catalog entry for the photo and make sure the information is filed with the photograph, too.

Archibald (1853-1934), born in Huntington County, Pennsylvania, came to Lucas County with his parents, Matthew and Sarah Ann, when he was about 11. He married Mary Ellen Zickafoose (1854-1950), daughter of Jesse A. and Adaline, in 1873, and they had 10 children, one of whom died as an infant.

Matthew and Sarah Ann, Archibald and Mary Ellen, and many other Shores and their relations are buried in Zion Cemetery, east of Williamson in Pleasant Township.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The rest of the "Tombstone House" story ...

No, this odd looking Italianate-style house is not located in Iowa --- it's in Petersburg, Virginia, south of Richmond. But it caught my attention this morning after a couple of posts about it --- the "tombstone house" --- popped up in social media.

It's principal claim to fame, according to those articles, is that it's "constructed" from parts of tombstones once located nearby in Poplar Grove National Cemetery. 

But "construction" is not exactly the right word. The home's owner, back in the 1930s, used slabs of government-surplus marble that had been cut from government-issue tombstones in the cemetery to reface an older home --- and to pave a sidewalk, too.

There's quite a bit more to the story, however --- and it has a happy ending that isn't included in these brief reports about the house. Poplar Grove National Cemetery now has been fully restored after decades of neglect and replacements for all the tombstones cut down in the 1930s have been secured and put into place.


The Petersburg National Cemetery contains the remains of approximately 5,700 troops, most of them Union, who died in the Siege of Petersburg --- a series of battles fought between June of 1864 and March of 1865 as the Civil War neared an end.

The graves originally were marked by wooden headboards, which deteriorated, and were replaced in the 1870s by government-issue marble. The graves holding identified remains (about 2,300) were equipped with upright markers; the 3,400 "unknowns" were identified by numbers carved into the tops of 6-inch-square blocks.

The cemetery remained as it was until 1933, when the U.S. War Department transferred responsibility for it to the National Park Service --- which didn't know jack about managing a cemetery.

The Park Service, troubled by all those pesky tombstones, decided to create an easy-to-maintain park-like setting by pulling up all of the upright tombstones, cutting off the long bases that --- slotted into the earth --- had held them in place, and dropping the inscribed 12 inches of these stones that remained flat on their backs so that they could be mown over. The blocks marking the graves of unidentified fatalities were buried deeper.

This was when the marble cut from the upright stones was sold as surplus to the homeowner who used it to reface his Petersburg home and create the "tombstone house."


So far as the cemetery was concerned, this was a disaster. The flat-on-their-backs tombstones deteriorated, some were broken and indifferent maintenance resulted it something that nearly everyone agreed was a disaster and a disgrace.

But finally, funding was secured for a full-scale $5.3 million restoration effort that began during November of 2015 and was complete by Memorial Day 2017. More than 5,700 markers were replaced with new stones --- and, in most cases, the older damaged stones were ground up so that they couldn't be inappropriately recycled. No more "tombstone houses."

And that's the rest of the "tombstone house" story. You may read a CNN story about the restoration, published last May, by following this link. And here's a link to one of the "tombstone house" stories.

Elizabeth Dinger, lead park ranger at Poplar Grove National Cemetery, shepherded that National Park Service-managed cemetery through the restoration process.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sunday-go-to-meeting when you're LGBTQ ...

I happened to be the one on hand a while back to answer a query from an out-of-state same-sex couple who had relocated recently to the south of Iowa --- Does St. Andrew's affirm LGBTQ people? The answer, unequivocally, is "yes" and I was happy to be able to share that information.

Most if not all Episcopal parishes in Iowa would have provided the same answer. Although Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ led the way, the Episcopal Church --- and the Diocese of Iowa --- have been at the forefront of the movement toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people.

Since I've always enjoyed attending church, I'm grateful to have a welcoming church to attend.

It has not always been thus, however, and back in the good old days --- when few churches mainline or otherwise would have us --- I used to drive down from north Iowa sometimes on Sunday to Des Moines where a limited number of welcoming congregations could be found. And as a rule ran into a few folks from Chariton there in similar predicaments.

To be frank, which of course I am, I'm not entirely sure what the situation elsewhere in Chariton is these days. In addition to St. Andrew's, we have four other congregations affiliated with denominations that, as a whole, are fully affirming: First Lutheran (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), First Christian (Disciples of Christ), First Presbyterian (Presbyterian Church USA) and Community of Christ.

But each of these denominations allows its individual congregations considerable discretion, so local politics and local culture will influence just how welcoming an individual congregation is --- or isn't. I know First Lutheran well enough to know that I'd feel welcome there; the others, I really can't speak to.

Which is why, as odd as it seems, it generally seems safer to many LGBTQ people to call ahead --- as that couple did a few weeks ago --- or just stay at home. Or drive into Des Moines or to another nearby city where there's less beating around the bush.

There just isn't a comprehensive resource online for LGBTQ folks who wish to maintain their ties with church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. The Human Rights Campaign does maintain a fairly good, although limited, directory of general denominational "Faith Positions" that may be accessed here.