Iowa History Daily: June 3 - Jesse James Robs Corydon

Iowa History Daily: On June 3, 1871, infamous American outlaw Jesse James and three other members of the James-Younger gang stole $10,000 from the Ocobock Brothers’ Bank in Corydon, Iowa. Jesse, who also robbed a train near Adair during July of 1873, went on to represent a bygone frontier era to many Americans.

Born and raised in the “Little Dixie” area of western Missouri, both Jesse and Frank James fought as pro-Confederate “bushwhackers” throughout the American Civil War. After the close of the conflict, the brothers started robbing banks, stagecoaches, and trains throughout the Midwest. From 1866 to 1876 the James-Younger gang rose to national fame with a Robinhood image despite the brutal nature of their crimes.

During early June of 1871, the James brothers, as well as Cole Younger and Clell Miller, arrived in the Corydon area under the guise of cattle buyers. On June 3rd the men rode into town from the south, arriving at a Wayne County Treasurer’s Office stocked full of cash from recent tax collections. Requesting change for a $100 bill, the gang left after a junior clerk informed them he couldn’t unlock the safe while the treasurer attended a talk by renowned orator Henry Clay Dean at the local Methodist Church.

Providing true “Iowa Nice” service, the clerk pointed the men a block west to the Ocobock Brothers’ Bank to change the bill. With most locals packed into the Methodist Church, a lone clerk found himself face-to-face with some of America’s most notorious outlaws. The well-armed men forced the clerk into the safe and took $10,000 before allegedly riding down to the town meeting and proclaiming “You better check the bank!”

While the disbelieving crowd sorted fact from fiction, the James-Younger gang mounted their horses and made hay for Missouri. Once the reality of the situation settled in, a mounted posse pursued the bandits south before losing the trail.

The Pinkerton Agency soon contracted to track the bandits, and Clell Miller even returned to Corydon after a later arrest to stand trial. An alibi placed Miller elsewhere, and the jury let him walk. The James-Younger gang continued to maraud across the Midwest until their defeat at Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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