Lesser Known Jesse James Gunfight at Civil Bend

The 1869 bank robbery at Gallatin, the 1881 train robbery at Winston, and the 1883 trial of Frank James in Gallatin aren’t the only significant incidents involving the James Gang in Daviess County, MO. In 1871 a posse chased the outlaws following a bank robbery at Corydon, Iowa, to exchange gunfire at the Civil Bend school.

The 1869 bank robbery at Gallatin, the 1881 train robbery at Winston, and the 1883 trial of Frank James in Gallatin aren’t the only significant incidents involving the James Gang in Daviess County, MO. In 1871 a posse chased the outlaws following a bank robbery at Corydon, Iowa, to exchange gunfire at the Civil Bend school.

About 1 p.m. on a Saturday, June 3, 1871, the Ocobock Brothers’ Bank in Corydon, Iowa was robbed by four men of $5,224.07 in currency and stamps. The bank’s vault and money drawer were completely emptied. Ted Wock, the only employee in the bank, looked up the barrel of a large Colt revolver, which he described as being loaded with a barrel 8 or 10 inches long. It was held by a thick-set, well-built but not very tall, sunburned man. Another man filled a saddlebag with the money. As many as 90 men followed the gang south to the Missouri line. Some took each trail leading south, some went east to the railroad at Allerton, and still others investigated south to Princeton and Trenton, MO. The C&SW Railroad was under construction and would not be completed to Cameron until late in September. Most good James Gang books state that the gang consisted of Jesse (Blinky Dingus) James, Frank James, Cole Younger, and Clell (Hines) Miller. Miller was arrested at Cameron in 1872 and acquitted of this robbery; however, there was reasonable doubt as to his non-participation. One small group of the posse folowed the trail to Leon, Iowa, on Saturday, then to Pleasant Plains and Eagleville, MO., on Sunday. They were in Bethany and followed them until noon, when a fight occurred at Civil Bend (center school, also called Lee School since it was near the Taylor Lee farm). The posse in pursuit was led by Iowa farmer John A. Corbit. He was followed by Corydon officer Charles R. Wright, hotel owner James D. Coddington, and two Missourians, Carter and Slater. Coddington could identify two of the robbers who had stayed at his hotel in Corydon on Friday night. Coddington identified Miller as one of the men in the gang seen near Civil Bend. The fight took place about noon on Monday, June 5, 1871, at the Civil Bend school (School No. 4) and the school stable. The school was located at a place near 69 Highway Marion Twp, near the center Sec. #26. The posse came from teh north and saw the gang of four men sitting, resting with their backs against the school building. Money wrappers were left at this spot, so the gang may have been dividing the loot in order to split up. The gang jumped up and ran for the stable, where they had left their guns and horses. Farmer Corbit later testified that the day was cloudy and rainy. He said that the school house was four or five rods west of the north-south road and that the stable stood about 180 steps southwest of the school. Officer Wright went with Coddingon to the west of the stable in a wheat field. They got within 60 yards of the stable. Corbit was 120 steps to the east of the stable on the road. Corbit said that when the gang got to the stable they started shooting. Coddington called for a surrender, but one strong fine voice called from the stable, "We cannot see it." The gang mounted their horses in the stable and fled south. About 20 gunshots were exchanged. At least one shot took effect, killing a posse man’s horse. Found at the school house stable was a linen coat, a pair of gloves, four or five large size revolver holsters, a large revolver with "W and W" on the butt. The posse caught the gang again about 2-1/2 miles south at the farm of Boyer (Freeland Boyer near Cottonwood Creek). There an accidental early shot fired by a posse member resulted in another escape before the posse was in position to prevent it. The gang had fresh horses, and the posse turned back. Clelland Miller was later killed by Henry Wheeler on Sept. 7, 1876, during the Northfield (MN) robbery. Miller, 26, had 12 years of high adventure as an outlaw. He was a friend of Col. Samuel Cox of Gallatin, who had saved his life in 1864. Jim Snider, Pattonsburg, provides a twist on this research from the story as told to him by his father and Freeland Boyer (who lived until 1915). This 122-year-old building still exists, including a wooden plaque on the building’s front with the painted words "Civil Bend Center." It stands on the Boyer farm now south of the original location and owned by Mr. Snider. Classes were last held there in 1920-21. Mr. Snider also relates that after the gunfight at the schoolhouse, the James Gang stopped at Freeland’s well to water their horses. When the Iowa posse got there, the gang decided to fight it out. Not surprisingly, posse members told a different story about their loss of interest in overtaking the gang after a long chase.

Written by David Stark, Gallatin, for the Gallatin North Missourian published on April 4, 1993