Iowa History Daily: June 8 - The Barbaric Barber Brothers

Iowa History Daily: On June 8, 1883, a lynch-mob hung Ike and Bill Barber after pulling the brothers from a Waverly jail cell where local authorities held them on charges of horse theft and murder.

Ike, born in Illinois in 1855, moved to a farm near Randalia, Iowa, before Bill was born in 1859. Moving again, the family relocated near Fayette. Five other siblings graced the Barber house, and hard times fell on the family after the father, Leafy E. Barber, died while serving as a member of the 37th Iowa Infantry Company A during the American Civil War.

In the aftermath, Ike and Bill found themselves in a Cedar Falls orphans’ home. After a couple of years, the brothers escaped and returned to the family farm. Living hard from a young age, hard drinking and gambling led the boys toward horse theft. Plying their trade in northeastern Iowa and parts of Illinois, the Barber brothers quickly gained a reputation. The notorious ne’er do wells fled Illinois after the state offered a $5,000 reward for their capture following the murder of wealthy farmer Charles McMahon and two of his workers at the hands of the murderous Barber brothers. Back in Fayette, trouble continued to follow the boys.

After the theft of a horse and cart, the Fayette County Sheriff deputized Marion Shepard as Westfield Township Constable. Given the assignment of apprehending the Barber brothers, Shepard stopped the boys near a railroad construction camp just outside of Wadena. Instead of yielding, Ike shot the deputy on September 7, 1882. The brothers quickly mounted up and fled on horseback.

For a year the brothers lived on the lam, reportedly building the railroad or working odd jobs on farms in Missouri, before turning back up near West Union on June 2, 1883. Planning to visit their mother, the boys found the farm sold. After the new tenant recognized the brothers, Fayette County Sheriff Far gathered a large posse. After a brief shootout at the farm of the boys’ sister, authorities failed to apprehend the fugitives again. Two days later, on June 5, a German farmer living near Tripoli spotted the brothers, and the Sheriff finally apprehended Ike and Bill later that evening. The brothers shot all five men in the posse, killing one, before yielding.

Taken to the Waverly Jail, the brothers told a local newspaper man they planned to claim self-defense at trial. After word of a potential June 6 lynch mob reached the Sheriff, authorities moved the brothers to Janesville. Two days later, the Barber brothers transferred back to Waverly. That evening around 9:00 p.m., an angry crowd from Fayette County arrived and broke into the cell. Dragging the men to nearby Murphy’s Grove, the mob led by the brother of the slain deputy hung the murderous Barber brothers. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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