1852 – The Red Rock Wild West Murder Mystery.

When one thinks of the Wild West, we envision places like Dodge City, Kansas – home of TV’s Matt Dillon & Kitty, the barkeep, on Gunsmoke, or Virginia City, Nevada – where the Ben Cartwright family fought regularly for what was good & right from their cattle ranch – the Ponderosa.

But few of us today, realize how rough-n-tough life was here in the Hawkeye State during it’s first 20 years of existence. From the time it became a U.S. Territory (1838) until the mid-1850’s, when the railroad finally reached us, life in Iowa was definitely not anything like what Easterners had experienced back in the States.

Not only was day-to-day life as an Iowa pioneer vastly different from what people had experienced back East, basic public services such banks, police officers, lawyers, and judges were few and far between as well. Judge Joseph Williams, for example, was one of three Territorial judges appointed by Governor Robert Lucas in 1838. Judge Charles T. Mason was assigned to cover the south – working out of Burlington, Thomas S. Wilson took Dubuque to north, leaving Judge Williams to cover the central part of the Territory from Bloomington/Davenport west to Iowa City. In his biographical data, we find these hilarious stories of what it was like for a judge to “set up the law” in the Wild West of Iowa…

“I received my commission as judge of the Territory of Iowa while in Pennsylvania. The first court I held was in Cedar County. Some one placed a large split-bottom chair under a spreading burr oak and I sat down to settle the county seat. I picked out the longest, leanest, lankiest, ugliest looking man in the crowd for sheriff. He had a long beard and when his mouth was closed no opening was visible, and when he spoke it looked like a hole in a buffalo hide. The grand jury sat down on the ground on the right and the petit jury on the left. I impaneled the former, swore the sheriff to do his duty and sent them off to work. The bailiff took the jury to a large rail pen and herded them in. They were about to indict a man for stealing hogs when a Dutchman squealed, ‘I don’t agree!’ At these words an Irishman, springing to his feet and pulling off his coat, said: ‘I’ll make you agree!’ and commenced pegging the Dutchman. The bailiff came running to me saying: ‘Judge, Judge, the jury are all fighting.’ I went down, kicked open the fence and sent them home, saying: ‘I would not have the county disgraced.’ When I was in Jones county I was led into a slough where the grass was as high as my head. A chair was placed for me and I sat down and then they told me that was the county seat. I impaneled the grand jury, after which they were taken down the slough to commence work. I was preparing the petit jury for work when the bailiff of the grand jury came slipping up close to me and then hallooed: ‘Judge, is it right to have anybody sneaking?’ I did not know that he meant and so inquired, and when I understood, said: ‘No, no, have a picket guard placed at a certain distance to keep all sneakers off.'” Read more about Judge Joseph Williams here.

And then, there’s this story of Judge James Grant, based in Scott County, who was asked to “set up the law” in nearby Jackson County…

Elihu B. Washburn, the second Governor of Illinois, offered this bit of Iowa experience with Judge James Grant. Washburn was fresh from staid, sober New England in the spring of 1840 when he attended a court proceeding held at Maquoketa, the seat of government of Jackson County, Iowa. This community, like many frontier settlements, was afflicted with gang of rustlers, counterfeiters, and horse thieves which the newly-organized courts found to be difficult to deal with effectually. The townspeople of Maquoketa had just arisen en mass and driven out a gang of counterfeiters in a fierce fight in which seven men were killed. The whole community was greatly excited and every man was armed. Washburn states – “I stopped at the tavern which had been kept by W. W. Brown, alleged leader of the gang, and who had been killed in the doorway of his home. My roommate was Judge James Grant of Davenport. When we were about to retire – what was my amazement to see my roommate, whom I had never met before, draw out from the back of his coat an immense Bowie knife and place it under his pillow. (Later) when abroad, I wrote a letter to a friend in regard to the incident and described Judge Grant’s Bowie knife as being three feet long. The letter got into the newspaper, and the Judge wrote me a letter – when I was in Paris – denying my statement and asserting the knife he had on that occasion was only two feet long!” Read more about Judge James Grant here.

So now, allow me to take you further west into Marion County, Iowa (see map below).

The town of Red Rock in Marion County, Iowa opened its first trading post in 1842. Its early existence and growth were partly due to its close proximity to the red rock bluffs along the Des Moines River – a familiar landmark to both Native Americans and early settlers. When Iowa became a state in 1846, Red Rock was located just outside the lines of civilization – just west of what was called the Red Rock Line, which separated “purchased” land to the east from large areas of land to the west that was still occupied by Sauk & Fox and Ioway tribes.

Being on a navigable river just a few hundred feet from Native American territory made Red Rock a destination for adventuresome whites as well as tribesmen who wanted to buy and trade with the Easterners. And as you might imagine, law and order was not a high priority for those few citizens of Iowa who chose to live this far west in the state.

Read more on the good people of Red Rock & Marion County here.

In the 1915 volume – History of Marion County, Iowa And It’s People by John W. Wright – we find these two paragraphs that best describes Red Rock during its earliest days…

In the settlement of the country, as civilization moved westward, it seemed to have been the history of every frontier community that in its early days it became the haven of a number of lawless characters. Courts were not always within convenient distance, and these lawless persons took advantage of the situation to commit depredations upon the peaceable settlers or engage in disreputable brawls that a few years later could not and would not have been tolerated. Marion County was no exception to this rule. among the pioneers, particularly in the neighborhood of Red Rock, were a few men who seemed to fear neither law nor physical injury.

Red Rock was situated upon a much-traveled Indian trail and was at the border of the United States Territory, hence it became the resort for the Indians and the lawless white men who infested the frontier. Shooting and stabbing affrays were common, but no record of many of these crimes has been preserved. Among the early crimes were the killing a man named Burns by a ruffian named Shaw

Now, for our Red Rock story we want to share with you here – which was described by Wright with nine words…

Now, left with such few details as found in Wright’s book, it would be next to impossible to do much research on this Red Rock Wild West Murder Mystery. But wait – there’s more…

(JP-073) This rare postal cover & letter was written in the county seat of Knoxville by the Marion County lawyer Jairus Edward Neal on August 6, 1853, and mailed from nearby Oskaloosa in Mahaska, County on August 8, 1853. Knoxville became the Marion County Seat in 1851, and it might be possible that the nearest postal service was in Oskaloosa – which became the Makaska County Seat in 1844. The letter was addressed to His Excellency S. Hempstead – Governor of Iowa in Iowa City. Being late summer, and the Iowa Legislature not in session, the letter was forwarded from Iowa City to Hempstead’s home in Dubuque on August 12, 1853. So, by the time the letter arrived on Hempstead’s desk, it was probably mid-August!

Our August 6, 1853 letter from Jairus E. Neal to Governor Stephen Hempstead (below) reveals that a big breakthrough has now occurred in the unsolved Loyd/Wines Murder Case of November 27th, 1852! Read on for the juicy details…

Knoxville, Marion County Iowa – August 6th 1853

His Excellency Stephen Hempstead – Governor of Iowa

Sir. Enclosed please find a Certificate of the Sheriff of Marion County Iowa – Showing that Mr. Robert Putman has delivered into the hands of said Sheriff the person of Joel Wines a fugitive from justice from this County charged with the murder of Thomas J. Loyd on or about the 27th day of November 1852 for whose apprehension and delivery into the hands of said Sheriff a Reward was offered by your Excellency.

Please audit and allow to Mr. Robert Putman the amount of said reward and enclose the evidence of the same to me.

Very Respectfully – Your obt. Sevt
Jairus E Neal

So, let’s start with the murder itself. On or about Saturday, November 27, 1852, in or around the Marion County village of Red Rock, Thomas J. Loyd was killed by Joel Wines. While we can’t hunt down the whereabouts of Wines’ captor – Mr. Robert Putnam – we do believe that we’ve found Joel Wines, and possibly Loyd in the 1850 U.S. Census for Marion County…

In this listing found in the 1850 U.S. Census for Marion County, we definitely find Joel Wines, age 38, Carpenter and his family, and it’s quite possible that Thomas J. Loyd is listed as Jefferson Loyd (?), though we can’t be certain. It appears from the cemetery records of Marion County that the larger Loyd family lived in and around Marion County for some time, with Elizabeth Loyd being buried in the County Farm cemetery in 1882. The Graceland Cemetery has records showing the Loyd family but no exact records are there. It appears that the Loyd family was rather poor – with Elizabeth, and probably other family members being buried on what was called the “Poor Farm Cemetery”.

Now, it appears from our letter that Joel Wines, after murdering Thomas J. Loyd went on the run, possibly hiding out in the uncharted parts of Iowa – west of Marion County. With a family back home, it’s unlikely that he would have traveled far, but after nearly ten months on the run, Robert Putnam was the brave man who found Wines, bringing him in for justice to be served. The murder case – over the nine-plus months of going unsolved – must have had some publicity, because, as the letter states – Governor Stephen Hempstead set up a reward for the capture of Wines.

Jairus E. Neal, says in his letter that there was a signed Certificate from the Marion County Sheriff included with his cover letter. We’re guessing that this certificate included the information about how much money Hempstead had put into the kitty for the reward, and we assume Mr. Putnam eventually received his money.

Governor Stephen Hempstead was an “old-school” Democrat who leaned toward the pro-slavery views of the South. He was elected in 1850, but served only one term before being replaced by Governor James W. Grimes – a Whig/Republican candidate who stood firmly with Iowa’s ‘Free-State’ view on anti-slavery. Hempstead attempted to run for the U.S. Senate in 1854, but was soundly defeated by James Harlan, another anti-slavery candidate. Read more here.
Jairus Edward Neal of Marion County was born in 1818, in New York. At the age of 18, Neal began teaching in a country school, and in 1839, moved west and settled at West Point, Lee County, Iowa. Several years later, he moved to Fort Madison and began reading law under Judge Miller. We believe he must have moved to Marion County around 1851, where he, most likely, practiced law and helped with Marion County work like writing this letter to Governor Hempstead. In August 1854, Neal was elected representative of the 35th district composed of Marion, Warren, and Madison Counties. He also represented Marion County in the legislature. On May 19, 1856, Neal was admitted to practice in U.S. District Court of Iowa in Burlington, and on April 23, 1868, he moved from Knoxville (Marion County) to Keokuk, at which place he remained until May 20, 1870, when he removed to Staten Island, New York. After becoming dissatisfied in New York, in May 1872, Jairus moved back to Knoxville, organized and became first president of the Marion County National Bank, continuing in business there until he moved to Newton, Kansas in June 1873.

The burning question from our Red Rock Wild West Murder Mystery is, of course, once Joel Wines was captured in August 1853 – what happened next? Sadly, historians have not left us with any trial details other than the one concluding sentence found in John W. Wright’ s 1915 Marion County History volume…

Near the close of Wines’ trial one of the jurors became seriously ill, and the case was continued to the next term of court, but before that time Wines died.

Kinda anti-climatic – don’t you think?

Well, friends – I guess that’s – Case Closed! So, here’s a tip of the old hat to all those who helped find some justice for Thomas J. Loyd of Red Rock in Marion County, Iowa. RIP and Godspeed!

Judge Williams, The Scott County Bar, Chapter XVIII, Scott County History, IAGenWeb

James Grant, The Scott County Bar, Chapter XVIII, Scott County History, IAGenWeb

The Lost Towns Under Lake Red Rock, Marion County, Iowa

Red Rock, Chapter XX – Miscellaneous History, John W. Wright, History of Marion County, Iowa, 1915, IAGenWeb/Marion County

Governor Stephen Hempstead, EncyclopediaDubuque

1850 U.S. Federal Census of Iowa – Marion County, District No.18, Not Stated Township
Schedule 1, Free Inhabitants
, IAGenWeb-MarionCounty

1870 United States Federal Census for Elisabeth Loyd, Ancestry.com

County Farm Cemetery, IAGenWeb-MarionCounty

Graceland Cemetery (Knoxville), IAGenWeb-MarionCounty

Elizabeth Loyd, Find-A-Grave

Jairus Edward Neal, Wikipedia

Representative Jairus Edward Neal, IowaLegislature

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