(Don't Get Excited Folks, It Happened Just 60 Years Ago)
Such were the headlines on a story in the Barber County Index just 60 years ago which told of the Medicine Lodge bank robbery, a tragic event that is one of the top legends in this town, which is replete with incidents of historical interest.
Two city officials of the city of Caldwell were among the four men who rode into Medicine Lodge and shot and killed the cashier and president of the bank. The murderers were followed by a posse of determined men, captured and hung to an elm tree at the eastern edge of town.
Wiley Payne, president of the Medicine Lodge bank, who was killed, was also owner of the Index at that time while E. P. Carruthers was the editor. Tom McNeal was editor of the Cresset. Other man killed was George Geppert.
Members of the posse who caught the robbers a few miles south of Medicine Lodge were Alex R. McKenney, Barney O'Connor, Vernon Lytle, C. G. Taliaferro, George Freidley, Tom Doran, Roll Clark, John Fleming, Nate Priest, Wayne McKinney, Lee Bradley, Howard Martin and others.
The robbery occurred shortly after the bank opened at nine o'clock, says the Index of May 2, 1884. Geppert and Payne were ordered to throw up their hands but Payne leaped to seize a revolver and the bandits fired four shots, three of which was subsequently learned, took effect. The alarm was given and the town marshal, who was across the street, opened fire on the robbers, who saw the game was up and rode out of town.
The robbers were surrounded by the posse in a canyon four miles southwest of town, where they surrendered. All were well known. The leader of the gang was Henry Newton Brown, marshall of Caldwell while the other three were Ben Wheeler, assistant marshall of the same place, William Smith, a well known cowboy who had been employed for some time on the T5 range and John Wesley, alias Harry Hill, another well known cowboy.
Of the men, Brown is the only one who had acquired any notoriety. His history on the frontier began with his connection with "Billie the Kid" in New Mexico. It is said he was a companion of the noted desperado in some of his most exciting adventures.
About nine o'clock the stillness of the night was broken by three shots fired in rapid succession and at the signal a crowd of armed men advanced on the jail and demanded the prisoners. This was refused, but notwithstanding their spirited resistance, the sheriff and posse were overpowered and the doors of the jail opened. The prisoners who were in the inner cell unshackled made a sudden dash for liberty. In a moment the air was filled with the crack of fire arms, and bullets flew like hail. Brown ran a few paces form the jail and fell, riddled with buckshot and revolver balls. Wheeler was captured after a short chase he being badly wounded. Smith and Wesley were captured at the jail door. Wheeler, Smith and Wesley were taken by the crowd to an elm tree, in the bottom east of town and told if there was anything they wished to say, to say it now. Wheeler at the last showed great weakness and begged piteously for mercy. Wesley was also shaken, but managed to answer to inquiry that he was born in Paris, Texas, in 1863 and requested that word of his fate be sent to friends in Vernon, Texas. Smith displayed great coolness and gave directions to sell his horse and saddle and some few other trinkets and send the money to his mother in Vernon, Texas.
After the remarks the ready ropes were fastened around the necks of the robbers, the end tossed over a limb and in a moment more their bodies swung in the wind.
Attempted Bank Robbery in Medicine Lodge,
The Hazelton Express, May 8, 1884.
Memoirs of Phoebe (Rogers) Gibson:
The Early Days of Barber County, Kansas
Barber County Index, May 16, 1929. (Includes an account of the capture of the robbers.)
Bank Robbery - Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 1884 This is an excellent illustrated account of the attempted robbery.
Orlando Vernon Lytle, one of the members of the posse which captured the robbers.
Marshal Henry Brown's Winchester Rifle (In the collection of Kansas Museum of History)
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!
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