More About the Corydon (IA) Robbery

A minor gunfight at Civil Bend in Daviess County, MO, occurred after desperadoes robbed the new Ocobock Brothers’ Bank in Corydon, Iowa. The following is based on an article published in the Minneapolis (MN) Star-Tribune on Sept. 1, 1991, written by James Lundquist of Waite Park, MN, an English professor at St. Cloud State University.

On June 3, 1871, four men robbed the new Ocobock Brothers’ Bank in Corydon, Iowa, of $10,000. The bandits, all well mounted and heavily armed, had first tried to grab the recently collected tax receipts at the Wayne County treasurer’s office, but the clerk convinced them he could not open the safe. They then went to the bank which was located off the strangely quiet town square. One stood by the horses, and the other three went in.

“Where’s everybody at?” one asked the cashier. The response indicated most folks were over at the church listening to Henry Clay Dean, an eccentric lawyer, politician and railroad booster. He was speaking to townspeople about the boom times that a railroad would bring to Corydon. The bank clerk was sorry to be missing out on the oratory and especially the lager beer freely flowing for those attending.

The cashier was given a $100 bill to change, and when he looked up from the till, he found himself staring into the barrel of a large revolver. He was tied and gagged, and the three men helped themselves to all the cash in the bank. But rather than exit with wild Rebel yells and gunfire, the four bandits rode over to the meeting and waited, while still on horseback, until they got Dean’s attention.

“Excuse me, may I ask a question?” said one of the riders, a slim man with dark eyes and a drooping mustache. “Do you know there’s something wrong at the bank?” Dean, misunderstanding the query, asked if the horsemen had anything against banking. “I mean your new bank” was the reply.

With that, the gang members wheeled their horses in moonshiner turns and headed out of town. No one, including Dean himself, knew what to make of this. Local legend has it that the crowd stood dumbstruck until 9-year-old Amos Sheets ran up yelling that the bank had been robbed! The boy showed a silver dollar the gang had tossed his way.

The cashier, when he was untied and the gag removed, said the first robber entering the bank lobby had blinking blue eyes. Jesse James was known to have large blue eyes which blinked spasmodically. The grandson of Henry Clay Dean, Dean Davis, was certain that the man who interrupted the gathering in front of the church was Frank James.

Despite the lead the outlaws had, a posse chased them into Missouri and at one point exchanged gunshots with the largest of the desperadoes — described as heavyset with curly hair and thus undoubtedly was Cole Younger.

In the weeks following, the sudden wealth of a young man named Clell Miller from the James boys’ hometown of Kearney, MO, attracted the attention of detectives from Kansas City. Miller was arrested and stood trial in Corydon, IA, but he was acquitted when Missouri witnesses testified that he could not possibly have been in Iowa on June 3. Five years later Miller would be shot to death on the streets of Northfield, MN.

The Corydon robbery caused consternation because it was an unexpected extension of the James-Younger gang’s activities. To date they were suspects in several Missouri bank robberies and even ventured so far as Russellville, KY ($14,000 stolen on March 21, 1868). But they had never before tried a robbery in a northern state — even though Corydon, IA, is only 15 miles from the Missouri border. Before the breakup of the gang after Northfield, MON, they would commit robberies as far away as Huntington, West Virginia, and San Antonio, TX.