By Linda Emley
After spending many weeks researching the Richmond bank robbery from 1867, It hit me that I hadn’t checked the best source of information, a local newspaper. I started looking for a 1867 newspaper and was surprised to find it sitting in a pile of microfilm on the corner of my desk at the museum.
I was expecting the Richmond Conservator from May 25, 1867 to have a big headline on the front page but nothing was there. I checked my notes to make sure I had the right date and it was robbed on May 23, so this was the next edition. I turned the page and found the story on page two. How could one of the biggest events in Richmond’s history not make the front page? Sometimes in old newspapers, you will find the latest news didn’t make it on the front page because they couldn’t modify the newspaper layout on short notice. The front page on May 25 was full of boring national news, but page two made up for it.
The article started, “Murder and Robbery! Richmond Visited By A Band of Thieves and Murderers!! Our Mayor, Deputy Sheriff and Jailor Killed and The Bank Robbed!!”
“Thursday afternoon, at about half past three, our quiet city was visited by a band of the boldest cut-throats and robbers that have as yet appeared in the annuals of crime. The day was rather dull for our merchants – few country people being in town, and everyone was quietly pursing his respective vocation, little dreaming of the proximity of the dreadful scene which took place.
“From twelve to fourteen men had quietly entered the town on different roads, and concentrated in front of the bank building of Hughes and Wasson, where four of the number dismounted and entered the banking house. They demanded, with threats and violence, the money, which was easy of access – the vault being open. Several citizens got word of their purpose and the alarm gradually spread. Now commenced a desultory firing by the villains, which was returned by men who had procured something to shoot with, but unfortunately few were possessed of arms of any kind.
“Lt. Frank B. Griffin, a young man of sterling qualities and courage, esteemed by all who knew him, took a position behind a tree on the courthouse yard, and commenced firing with a cavalry rifle, when a shot from one of the robbers struck him in the forehead – penetrating the brain, killing him almost instantly.
“Mr. John B. Shaw, mayor of the city, universally respected and admired by a large circle of friends and acquaintances – a man of worth and great value in our community – while running up the street trying to rally the citizens, with his pistol drawn, received a fatal shot in the region of the heart, and expired soon after reaching his home.
“Mr. H. G. Griffin, father of Frank, seeing his son fall, and observing that the wound was a deadly one, bounded forward with the animation of young years to avenge his severe loss, but only to meet a like fate. He had reached the bank door, and was just entering, when one of the fiends first placed a pistol at his head and fired – and not being killed, shot him again after he had fallen. He was a man ripe in years and honored by all who knew him, as an upright citizen.
“These loses have thrown a gloom over our entire community, and the loss of their respective families can never be repaired. Heartrenching beyond description were the plaintive wails of these near and dear relatives – wives, children, mothers and sisters – to see those manly bodies sleeping in death, be a moment before vigorous in the enjoyment of health. Such carnage has never crossed greater in a community.
“The robbery of the bank was little thought of, although it amounted to between three and four thousand dollars. As soon as the desperados accomplished their purpose, they put off up the Liberty Road. Deputy Sheriff Tom Reyburn and 15 to 20 citizens, gathered up horses and pursued them. A short skirmish engaged, the villains retreating all the while.”
This newspaper story has some details different than the 1881 history book. We know that Frank Griffin was using a cavalry rifle from behind the tree. We also know that his father saw him get shot. There are more details about how H.G. Griffin met his fate. As for Mayor Shaw, the newspaper said he was shot near his heart and the 1881 version said he was shot in the abdomen. One of the biggest details of the robbery is missing from this newspaper story because the man on the horse who continued to move round in a circle is not even mentioned.
Coming in Thursday’s “postcard” column is the rest of the story from the Richmond Conservator and details of the three men killed on this day in our Richmond history.