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.

Five Bank Robberies Itemized

A quick study of cases where Daviess County banks were “subject to withdrawals without proper paperwork” reveals five significant incidents. In chronological order, here’s a summary of the county’s most significant bank robberies according to local historian David Stark of Gallatin.

A quick study of cases where Daviess County banks were “subject to withdrawals without proper paperwork” reveals five significant incidents. In chronological order, here’s a summary of the county’s most significant bank robberies according to local historian David Stark of Gallatin.

The 1869 robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association marked the first time Missouri proclaimed Frank and Jesse James as outlaws. The building where Capt. John Sheets was murdered, was located on the southwest corner of the Gallatin business square. This photo was taken shortly before it was demolished. Standing second from right is J.J. Mettle, who owned the building when this photo was taken. Fourth from right is Napolean B. Brown. All others are unknown. As the sign painted on the building indicates, owner Jacob Mettle operated a boot and shoe repair shop from these premises. [Shultz Studio, Gallatin]

1869 — Daviess County Savings Association. This is the earliest case of reported robbery known, and perhaps the most famous. on Dec. 7, 1869, two men entered the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin and shot Capt. John W. Sheets. The men were unmasked and seen by a young man named McDowell, who was held at gunpoint. The State Historical Society of Missouri reported that one of the men took several hundred dollars from the till and safe. However, Daviess County records show that there was no charge made of bank robbery or even attempted robbery in the case. Frank and Jesse James were indicted by county grand jury in 1870 with the murder of Sheets. A reward of $3,000 was offered for their arrest. The brothers were also charged with taking Daniel Smoot’s horse in Gallatin on that day. That loss in horseflesh was estimated at $100, but Mr. Smoote claimed the horse left in town to cover his loss. Major S.P. Cox led the posse out of Gallatin in pursuit of the two men. Cox reported that the men escaped in a dense fog in the direction of Kidder. He also said that he believed the two men to have been Jesse James and Jim Anderson. Cole Younger was in Gallatin with Jim Cummins many years later and claimed the name of the man with Jesse that day was Beals, and that it was Beals who lost his horse. No one was brought to trial over the offenses.

1896 — Lock Springs Bank. On Dec. 11, 1896, someone made an attempt to blow open the safe in the Lock Springs Bank. There are not enough details to tell whether that was an attempted burglary or robbery.

First National Bank at the corner of Main and Grand Streets, south side of Gallatin square (date unknown). The inscription atop the cupola reads “Hemry & Tuggle 1888.”

1922 — First National Bank of Gallatin. In November, 1922, six armed men robbed the First National Bank of Gallatin then located on the south side of the square. They used a large quantity of nitroglycerin in four explosions which badly damaged the vault, steel safe, front of the bank building, and much of the interior fixtures. Several shots were fired during the hour the bandits were in town. Nightwatchman John Chamberlin, Mayor J.H. Tate, and hotelman Frank Woodruff were each slightly wounded from buckshot fired by the criminals. Most of the telephone and telegraph lines were cut. Stolen was approximately $6,000 plus bonds and notes. All of the gang escaped and were never identified.

1929 — Pattonsburg Savings Bank. On Dec. 18, 1929, a 3:30 p.m. two young men robbed the Savings Bank at Pattonsburg of about $8,000 in cash. They were pursued by many armed men as they fled south toward Gallatin. The duo were fugitives for three hours before ditching their car. They were apprehended by C.K. Connell and Gordon Sweany in a grove of trees near Round Top schoolhouse. A few shots were exchanged, but no one was hit. The money was recovered. The two men were sentenced to 18 years in the state prison.

1931 — The Bank of Coffey. On a Thursday in January, 1931, the Bank of Coffey was held up and robbed. The two young male bandits entered the bank at about 1:30 p.m. and took over $800 in cash. Cashiers W.T. Siples and James O’Hare were in the bank and W.A. Partridge entered the bank while the holdup was in progress. The robbers took money from the cashier drawers and some silver from the vault. The money in the big safe in the front window was apparently overlooked although in plain view. The robbers put the three citizens in the vault, but failed to lock the door. The thieves evidently escaped to the north in a Ford sedan.

— researched by David Stark of Gallatin, MO, from the Daviess County Centennial Edition (page 8)