By Linda Emley
With the second Outlaw Days festival taking place Saturday, Linda Emley reruns her 2012 story about the Hughes & Wasson bank robbery that asks the question, “Were Frank and Jesse there?” Saturday’s reenactment of the bank robbery takes place at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., with additional bleacher seating provided this year.
The 1881 Ray County History Book tells the story of the robbery and we can assume that since it happened only 14 years before this book was written, it should be an accurate description of the real story.
Many details were covered in the 1881 version, but one of the most important details is missing because Frank and Jesse James are not mentioned.
I believe they were in Richmond for this historic event, but since I was not walking the streets of Richmond in 1867, I will just tell the story as it is in our history book.
After the Civil War ended, the battle still raged on in the hearts of many men in Missouri. Few felt it stronger than Frank and Jesse James. They had fought in the war as Partisan Rangers and their lives were forever changed because they had lived on the run and the thrill of the chase was hard to shake. They were not famous during the war, but that all changed a few years later.
The first daytime bank robbery was in Liberty, Feb. 14, 1866 when the Clay County Savings Bank was robbed by 14 men and $60,000 was taken. Cole Younger and the James brothers were probably involved.
The second bank robbery was at Lexington, Oct. 30, 1866 and only $2,011 was taken from the Alexander Mitchell and Company Bank. Richmond was the third bank robbery widely credited to the James and Younger gang and it netted
$3,500, according to the local record.
Our 1881 History Book tells the story as follows: “It becomes necessary in writing the history of Richmond to record some events of melancholy interest. At half past three o’clock, Thursday, May 23, 1867, a band of brigands, 11 in number, heavily armed with navy pistols, entered the city from the east, by three different streets. One detachment came in by the first street south of South Main Street, running parallel thereto, and passing up that street to its intersection with College Street, turned north to South Main; another party passed up the latter street, while the third came into the city by North Main Street. The bandits concentrated in the vicinity of the M. E. (Methodist Episcopal) Church South, and all but one dismounted, and repaired immediately to the banking house of Hughes & Wasson.
“Four of the party entered the bank, and with pistols presented, demanded the money therein. The other six remained outside, in front of the bank building, and kept up a continual fire upon citizens who dared to show themselves on the streets. Immediately upon entering the bank, one of the bandits fired at the book-keeper, Willis Warriner, Esquire, as he retreated in the direction of the vault. At the report of the pistol, Mr. Warriner fell to the floor and continued prostrate so long as the robbers remained in the bank, though he was uninjured.
“There happened to be only thirty-five hundred dollars in the bank, and when that amount was seized, the robbers turned upon Mr. George I. Wasson, the cashier, and covering him with their pistols, commanded him to get more. But upon Mr. Wasson’s assuring them that they had taken all the money on hand, they dismissed him without further molestation.
“The robber who remained on his horse took a stand in the middle of the street, near the bank. He was mounted on a very fine and well trained horse. Having wound the bridle-reins around the bow of his saddle in such a manner as to give greater tension to one rein than to the other, the horse continued to move round in a circle, thus enabling his rider to see about him in every direction. With a navy pistol in each hand the horseman fired up and down the street, while the robbery was going on in the bank.
“The citizens began to rally to drive the bandits out of town. Frank Griffin, from his position behind a tree in the court-house yard, was discharging his gun at the man on the horse without effect; when the latter discovered Griffin’s head from behind the tree he fired at it, with unerring aim. The ball penetrated the brain, and Griffin instantly expired.
“Young Griffin’s father, William Griffin, after the killing of his son, ran up to the bank, supposing the robbers had vacated it. Upon stepping within he was confronted by the robbers, and started to run out of the house, when he was fired upon; the ball, taking effect in the back, passed through his heart.
“John B. Shaw, a highly respected gentleman, and at that time mayor of the city, was in the middle of the street, near the Shaw House (now Wasson House), of which he was proprietor, endeavoring to rally the citizens, when he was shot in the abdomen. He lived but a few hours. He also was killed by the man on horseback.
“After the robbery, the bandits rode rapidly out of town. They were followed by a posse of citizens a distance of about nine miles, but none of them were captured. The pursuing party fired upon the robbers near Holt Station, on the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, wounding one of their horses, which was left behind and died next day.
“One of the robbers, whose name was supposed to be William McGuire, was captured in St. Louis the following winter, brought to Richmond, and lodged in jail; and a few months after his capture, the man who sat on his horse in front of the bank* and killed John B. Shaw and young Griffin, was apprehended in Kentucky, by John W. Francis, then sheriff of Ray County. This bandit’s name was supposed to be Devers. He was also confined in the Richmond jail.
“McGuire had a preliminary trial before a justice of the peace, and was held to await the ensuing session of the circuit court. They were both taken from the jail, however, by a vigilance committee and hanged. What became of the other participants in this atrocious robbery and murder, is unknown.
“The following persons were in the bank when the robbers entered: Geo. I. Wasson, cashier; Judge Willis Warriner, bookkeeper, and Major Robert Sevier, Ephraim January, and Ben Chipeze. The three last named were in no way connected with the bank. None of the above named gentlemen was injured.”
I hope by the time Sept. 21 rolls around, we will all attend Richmond’s “Outlaw Days” and understand why this event was an important part of our local history.
* Editor’s note: Many have speculated that the shooter on the pivoting horse was actually Frank James, who had a reputation as an uncanny marksman. It’s also assumed that he was armed with one or more pistols, much in the manner of the Partisan Rangers who rode with Bloody Bill Anderson’s guerillas.
Have a story about the bank robbery, the James Gang or other historical subjects? You can share them with Linda by writing her at email@example.com.