There are other stories of gunplay and crime among brothers not much different from the James boys, other than notoriety and scope. This tale of the Schoomer family, which unfolds during those wide open days after the Civil War, reveals details about the fatal shooting of a sheriff’s deputy.
Missouri, after the Civil War, went through a period of crime. Like the James brothers, fatherless boys sometimes got into serious trouble. Daviess County records from 1860 to 1880 indicate that some young brothers from Grindstone Valley were repeatedly, and notoriously, in the news. These were the sons of Jurde Schoomer (1823-65). Jurde (William J.) was the eldest son of Dave Schoomer Sr. (1800-71) and Mary Jane (Polly) McCully (1800-77). Dave Sr. was well known and an outstanding citizen of the county.
Jurde Schoomer had five sons and a daughter who ranged in ages from 10 to 21, according to the 1870 census. The oldest boys were Willie, Dave, Criss and Dick. After their father’s death, the boys were charged in Daviess County with several minor crimes such as disturbing public worship, selling merchandise and whiskey without a license, and playing cards. But some of the charges were more serious.
In 1863 Willie and Dave were charged with robbing George Cain by force of arms. This case went to Ray County in November, 1868. The following account appears in the DeKalb County History (1888 by Goodspeed): “It appears that the Schoomers had been charged with the commission of some serious crime for which the arrest of one of them was ordered — George Walters and John Thompson, having been deputized to make the arrest. Walters met young Schoomer at his house and made known the errand, but was told to wait a few minutes until certain arrangements could be made.
“In the meantime, Walters had drawn his revolver which, according to the statement of some, was accidentally discharged in the house with the ball passing through the clothing of a sister of Schoomer, and raking the flesh on the hand of a smaller brother. No sooner was the revolver fired whereupon another brother rushed into the house and shot Walters, killing him immediately. Both brothers made their escape.”
The Cameron Observer account, published Oct. 1, 1875, reprints an account from the Maysville Register, which says “Criss Schoomer, who it will be remembered was arrested a few says ago on an indictment for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Walters in March, 1873, was released by the Buchanan County Circuit Court on $5,000 bail. The indictment was said to be deficient. Even if the indictment had been perfect, there would not have been sufficient evidence to have convicted Schoomer of murder in the first degree.”
In 1873 Dave and Criss were charged in DeKalb County with the murder of acting sheriff Walters at the Jurde farm in DeKalb County. Criss was held in jails in DeKalb and Buchanan counties until the case was moved to Daviess County in October, 1876. In February, 1877, Criss was moved to Daviess County and the case concluded by mid-February.
Criss was found not guilty in the trial at Gallatin. Walters had been shot twice in the head, but it was not clear which boy had shot him or if both did and under what circumstances. Criss’s mother and brother, Willie, were the only trial witnesses to the shooting. Brother Dave was not captured, as far as research shows.
Henry Walters made this entry in his diary on Feb. 16, 1877: “The trial came off in the forenoon, having been postponed until then. Schoomer was acquitted through lack of evidence, but he was considered guilty by many. I had a talk with him through the grated door of the jail, and though I felt satisfied he was the murderer of my brother, I could not help but feel pity for him in his miserable situation. He was tried for murder in the first degree and though acquitted, I felt satisfied after knowing how keenly he felt his situation. He acknowledged to me that sometimes a man would commit a deed without reflection that it would blast his afterlife… ”
In January, 1879, Dick and Criss were charged by Philip Fuller with an attempt to shooting him, “snapping a revolver in his face,” and beating him with the revolver after it refused to fire. This charge was in Benton Township. In Marion Township that same day, R.L. Meade charged Dick and Criss with threatening him with a revolver.
Criss was fined $60 for the Meade assault and Criss and Dick were convicted of felonious assault on Mr. Fuller. Both brothers were given five months jail time in Daviess County and fined. Criss paid $1,511 and Dick $150. They were confined in the old stone jail located on the court yard in Gallatin until June 21, 1879. Local records show little notice of the Schoomer brothers after this.
— researched by David Stark, Gallatin, and published in the Gallatin North Missourian on Nov. 29, 2000