125th anniversary of the thwarted bank robbery

Editor’s Note: This document was typed verbatim as the author originally published it in the Meeker Herald, Saturday, Oct. 17, 1896. All misspellings and grammatical errors were left in intentionally to preserve the historical integrity of the article.

JUST RETRIBUTION

A Gang of Three Highway-men Try to Rob the Bank of Meeker

And are Now Sleeping Beneath the Sod as a Consequence to Their Daring,

But Fortunately, Ill-Starred Deed — Meeker Citizens Meet the Crises Bravely and Make Short

Work of the Robber Band-Only Two Citizens Badly Hurt-The Bandits Unidentified

Tuesday, October 13, 1896, will stand as a red letter day in Meeker’s history. On that day three bank robbers and would-be murderers were sent to their final account. The work of the hold-ups showed evidence of amateurishness in many particulars but the lightening-like promptness by which they were disposed of showed that the citizens of this town know how to act and shoot. 

It was close to the hour of three o’clock in the afternoon of the day above mentioned when two men entered the Hugus building by the main entrance, unobserved. One turned to the left and approached the cashier’s window of the bank, which is partitioned off in the usual bank fashion and separate from the large store room; the other proceeded down the right aisle toward the center of the room, and simultaneously with the entrance of the two in front, a third (Jones, the leader) entered by the rear side door and approached near the center of the room unnoticed. At the time the two men entered from the front, Joe Rooney, clerk at the Meeker Hotel was making a deposit and the robber (Harris) quietly waited until he got through; as he stepped to one side the hold-up stepped up to the window and poking his gun through the brass railing fired close to the head of David Smith, the assistant cashier, who was busy making his entry, and ordered the latter to throw up his hands. Mr. Smith was slow in obeying the order and another bullet whistled past his head. These two shots aroused Mr. Moulton, the local manager of the Hugus company, who, with Mr. Booth and other clerks, were busily engaged waiting on customers, and they looked up to find that they were covered by heavy revolvers. While this scene was being instantly enacted, near the center of the store-room the robber in front (who had kept his eye on Joe Rooney all the time) moved round to the bank office door and tried to force it open. Failing in this, he turned to Mr. Rooney and marched him down to the center of the room, where the other two robbers had already corralled everybody with hands up.

The leader of the gang then stepped up to Mr. Moulton, saying : “Here, Mr. Cashier, we want you !” and leading the latter to the bank office door ordered it opened which was done. The chief was followed to the office by Harris. The former said to Mr. Moulton : “Where’s your money?”  “There it is, replied the cashier,” nodding in the direction of the cash drawer, which stood open, “Help yourself.” Harris produced an old sugar sack and dumped contents of the cash drawer into it, his partner having Messrs. Moulton and Smith looking down the barrel of a “navy” while the job was being done. The robbers then ordered the cashier and assistant out of the office and had them join the “bunch” of employees and customers previously rounded up and which was “close herded” by Smith, “The Kid,” while operations were in progress in the bank office. 

The next thing on the program was to secure all the rifles and ammunition in the store, which being attended to by the leader of the robber band, he then filled the magazines of three rifles—one for each of the bandits in addition to the heavy revolvers they carried. He next broke and rendered useless the remaining rifles found in the store. All this consumed about five minutes’ time, but these five minutes were fateful one for the robbers bold. Taken in connection with the two shots fired at the beginning of the affair, they sealed the fate of the hold-ups. 

These two shots attracted the attention of Tom Shervin of the Meeker Hotel, who ran down to the Hugus corner and seeing what was up gave the alarm. C. J. Duffy, who was passing at the time, “caugh on” and running up street, spread the alarm. Phil Barnhart also gave the alarm down street, and in less than three minutes’ time every avenue of escape was guarded and a dozen unerring marksmen were awaiting the appearance of the robbers while the others were hastening to the scene of action.

After securing the rifles and ammunition, the next scene in the day’s tragic affair was the filing out through the side door of the robbers with their prisoners. First came the leader pushing Joe Rooney ahead of him as a shield; then the other robbers with Messrs. Moulton, Smith, Booth, W. P. Herrick, Victor Dikeman and one or two customers who were in the store when the bandits made their appearance. They had no sooner reached the street than Jones espying W. H. Clark near the corner of the Hugus grain warehouse, raised his rifle and fired at him, hitting Mr. Clark in the right breast about two inches to the right of the nipple. After this shot was fired the robbers marched the boys down the street about twenty-five or thirty feet to where their horses were hitched to the rear wheels of one of the Hugus wagons. Here Jones and Harris started to untie the horses while “The Kid” kept watch over the crowd on whom he had his Winchester leveled, but, as Mr. Moulton said afterwards, they were getting tired holding their hands in the air and somebody broke and ran. Then all ran for cover, and “The Kid” opened fire shooting promiscuously at the people on the run and hitting Victor Dikeman in the right arm, inflicting a very painful but not dangerous wound. Mr., Booth’s left was cut by a passing bullet and Mr. Herrick had a finger cut in the same way. 

The scattering of the bank and store people was the signal for Meeker’s citizens to get in their work, and in less time than it takes to tell it, Jones, the leader of the bandits, and Smith, “The Kid,” were on the ground, the former with a bullet hole through the left lung and the latter shot through the heart. In all five bullets penetrated the body of “The Kid” and he died instantly. Jones was game to the last and he emptied his revolver while lying on the ground before expiring.

Harris seeing his pals drop, ran in the direction of the river, but he hadn’t reached the Miller house corner before a bullet in the right lung and another through the left leg brought him to the ground. He lingered for nearly and hour before giving up the ghost.

Thus was justice meted out to three bold bandits who struck the wrong town in which to ply their villainous calling.

So began and ended the first attempt to rob a bank in this part of the state. The affair makes a very creditable showing for the citizens of Meeker. The promptness in responding to the call, the cool display of judgement and bravery exhibited under trying conditions establishes for the men of Meeker a reputation to be proud of, and will give this town a creditable name throughout the length and breath of the land. 

County Attorney Ryan and the HERALD representative tried to get a statement from Harris before he died, but he was sinking fast and all that could be gotten out of him in almost inaudible tones was the name of the gang, viz : Charles Jones, the leader, Billy Smith, or “The Kid,” as he called him, and the dying man, George Harris. The names are all supposed to be fictitious, although some of our citizens claim to have known the dead desperado under the name of Harris, and that he worked for the Lily Park Cattle company at one time. Some also thought that the leader was the notorious Tom McCarty of Delta and Telluride bank fame, but those qualified to judge say not.

 Jones was about 45 years of age; 5 ft. 8 in.; dark hair, bald on both temples; bluish-grey eyes, sunk deep; small round head; about three week’s growth of sandy-dark beard; right leg about 1 inch shorter than other; weight 155 or 60 pounds; wore blue goggles and a black sweater pulled up about his chin as disguise. 

Harris,–aged about 35; 5 ft. 9 or 10; weight about 180Light reddish hair; short, light sandy moustache; man of fine physique. His last utterance was, “Oh, Mother !”

Smith–Aged about 21; large smooth face; thick neck; hair, dark shade; 5 ft. 7 or 8; weight, about 150 or 55.

The verdict of the coroner’s jury was in brief, that the deceased came to their death by gun-shot wounds inflicted by the citizens in defense of life and property, and that the killing was justifiable. 

Undertaker Niblock put the dead bandits under the sod Wednesday afternoon, and already the exciting episode in out local history is thought no more of than if it was and every day occurrance. 

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