Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy

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Roswell L Riley Killed in a Row Over a Tract of the Disputed Land Grant

- A Rural Account- Ought to Be Settled.

by Ardell Countryman




picture of monument


Monument to Roswell L. Riley, victim of the ‘Squatter War’ of 1885.

Fairfield Cemetery, Rock Branch, Iowa


            A telegram was received yesterday afternoon by Coroner H.B. Clingan asking him to go out to Arlington Township and hold an inquest on R.L. Riley.  The telegram was signed by D.W. Peer, of Kinsley, son-in-law of Riley.  From parties from the east part of the county the following account of Riley’s death was obtained:

            There had been a long standing trouble between two men, Atkins and Switzer, both of whom claim the same piece of land, an eighty-acre tract of the disputed grant of the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad.  Switzer broke the land, Atkins built a house on it.  Switzer and friends went to move Atkins off.  He had the party arrested and brought to he city for trial.  They were discharged.  Meantime the Switzer party had sowed the land to flax, and Atkins sowed the same land to wheat, oats, and barley.  He secured an injunction restraining Switzer et all from going on the land, and harvested and stacked the crop.  The injunction was heard by Judge Wakefield and dissolved.  It was supposed that Switzer and party had gone with teams to the land to move off the crops.  All that is known in this city is that Roswell L. Riley, who is an oldish man and a friend of Atkins, was there with a shotgun to keep the Switzer party away.  The story is that he fired with both barrels of his shotgun, hitting a mule in the neck and wounding a horse, but not much injuring either.  At the same instant that Riley fired, someone in the Switzer party fired a revolver.  But one report was heard, so it is said, and it is further stated that no one knows who fired the revolver.  The revolver bullet killed Riley, ‘hit him in the ribs’ the graphic granger account runs.

            This deplorable affair is only what may be expected with such a state of affairs as exists in the squatter country.  No one has any legal right to the land, or can have until Congress or the courts determine this long-vexed and intricate question.  It is a case of Des Moines River lands over again.  That the railroad has forfeited the land does not matter as far as the rights of settlers are concerned, until the forfeiture is determined by Congress and the courts.  It will be a boon to this part of the northwest when the title is finally and firmly fixed, and some other code than the revolver and the mob regulates the right of possession to the disputed land grand.

Woodbury County Coordinator

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