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Iowa History Daily: May 19 - Iowa's First American-Era Murder

Iowa History Daily: On May 19, 1834, the first murder on record in Iowa occurred when Patrick O’Connor shot George O’Keaf during a dispute near the lead mines of Julien Dubuque. The May 20 trial represents the state’s first murder trail, and the June 20th hanging also stands as the first American administered execution in the lands which became Iowa.

Patrick O’Connor immigrated from Ireland to Galena, Illinois, in 1826. Two years on the eastbank of the Mississippi resulted in a series of troubles for the Irishman, and after a squabble with a local merchant led to shots fired a lynch mob chased O’Connor from town. Traveling to Dubuque, Michigan Territory, O’Connor toiled in the mines of Julien Dubuque and made the acquaintance of one of his countrymen named George O’Keaf.

During the early 1830s, the two Irishmen worked together to build a cabin roughly two miles south of the lead mines. When O’Keaf returned from a journey to Dubuque to gather supplies on May 19, 1834, he found himself locked out of the cohabitated cabin. When O’Keaf forced the door he found himself face-to-face with a seated O’Connor who blasted him with a round from a musket.

A traveling companion of O’Keaf ran to gather other miners who questioned O’Connor as to his motive for murder. “That is my business,” contested the Irishman to each inquiry from his fellow miners. The assemblage debated lynching O’Connor on the spot, but instead hauled him into Dubuque for a trail the following day. Under the fledgling leaves of a tall Oak, a jury declared O’Connor guilty of first-degree murder. Officials set June 20 as the date for Iowa’s first hanging.

Although appeals for a commutation of the sentence reached as high as President Andrew Jackson’s ears, difficulties over local authority and Congressional authorization of pardon power in territories clouded the issue. At 1:00 p.m. on the appointed day a crowd gathered to watch O’Connor hang. As a result over the troubles with commuting the sentence, Congress provided laws for the Iowa Territory, officially bringing American jurisdiction to the future state. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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