Sheriff Atch Blair Sends Safe-Cracker to his Death

There are few instances in the history of Daviess County when officers of the law needed to use a gun. One of these happened on Monday, March 29, 1909, when the “Nitro Chism Gang” hit Jamesport.

There are few instances in the history of Daviess County when officers of the law needed to use a gun. One of these happened on Monday, March 29, 1909, when the “Nitro Chism Gang” hit Jamesport.

John Atchison (Atch) Blair, sheriff of Daviess County, was serving papers in Jackson Township. About noon he was informed by telephone that three suspects were headed his way on foot from Jamesport. They were followed by a growing posse led by former Sheriff Hutchison; a posse from Lock Springs was also on the move, heading north. Blair was also told that one of the men had shot unarmed city marshall George Caraway in the back. George had been shot at 11:30 a.m. on the realroad station platform.

Sheriff Blair drove toward northeast Jackson Township and found both posses in a standoff during shooting from the outlaws. This was about three miles southeast of Jamesport. Blair also met a hail of bullets, two of which struck his buggy. He returned fire with a borrowed Winchester rifle, shooting Earl Chism as Chism was firing his gun while laying on the ground. Roy Chism then surrendered. The third man and the youngest, Harvey Chism, took off on his own and escaped from the county.

The crowd at the nearby farmhouse of Maurice Wood threatened to hang Roy Chism until Roy disclosed the gang’s true idenetity. He led the posses to where he had left some loot and equipment.

Earl Chism was identified by witnesses as the criminal who shot Caraway. Roy Chism, 26, and Earl Chism, 22 (alias James Farrel) had new Colt semi-automatic pistols and pockets full of cash and ammunition. Their hidden grip held several small bottles of nitro, caps and long fuses. The grip also contained watches and jewelry taken from stores in Spickard, MO, where they had blasted two safes open the previous Sunday night.

Roy Chism was placed in the Squirrel Cage Jail in Gallatin; Earl Chism was attended by Dr. Doolin. By Wednesday, Harvey Chism had been arrested in Bloomington, IL, and was give over to Grundy County law officers. Two other brothers, Walter and Jesse, came to Gallatin from Bloomington, IL, and posted $1000 bond for Roy and $1000 bond for Earl. Marshal Caraway had been shot through the chest just under his liver but was recovering. The burglars’ father, Merrit Chism, was in prison at Joliet, IN, on murder charges. Earl Chism died on a Friday afternoon, April 2, 1909; Roy skipped out on his bond but was re-arrested at Bloomington, IL. Blair had been informed late Monday night that Roy, Earl, and Harvey were wanted men, and rewards were offered for them by the Bankers Association. The threesome jumped bond before on burglary charges.

On April 7, 1909, County Prosecutor Fred Fair charged Roy Chism in Daviess County, MO, with felonious assault with intent to kill. Two days later, Roy Chism was on his way to Leavenworth, KS, with a 5-year sentence. The "Nitro Chism Gang" was first spotted about 11:15 a.m. by the conductor of an eastbound freight train before it stopped at Jamesport. The conductor knew of the Spickard burglaries and that the suspects had taken a handcar to Trenton. The brakeman was asked to find the city marshal and to get the suspects off the train. Caraway found one man in a box car and removed him with the brakeman’s help. The other two showed up with food from town and shot Caraway in the back. At 11:47 a.m. an eastbound train came to the station as the three men escaped southward on foot.

Atch Blair (born in Washington County, Pa, on Dec. 28, 1865, to John and Jane Gunn Blair) came to Daviess County in 1871 at age 7, and later married a neighbor girl, Martha Jane Tunnell, in 1888. Atch was raised on a small farm in Section 28 of Salem Township. He took office as Daviess County Sheriff in 1908, moving his family of nine into the quarters at the jail. In 1916 he became sheriff for a second term, and afterwards worked for the Revenue Service in Kansas City. Blair was a Republican and member of the I.O.O.F. Lodge. He died of heart failure in 1928 and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery near Pattonsburg, MO. His wife was buried near him in 1948.

Written by David Stark, Gallatin; April, 1999. Also from the Gallatin Democrat, July, 1928.