Witnessing bank robbery was just one event in the major’s life

A letter addressed to Richmond merchant Major Robert Sevier in 1841 informed him a company in Pittsburgh, Pa., would be unable to ship nails he ordered because drought conditions had lowered river levels. The letter recently was up for auction on eBay. (Submitted photo)

By Linda Emley

As our history book tells it, “At half past three o’clock, Thursday, May 23, 1867, a band of brigands, eleven in number, heavily armed with navy pistols, entered the city from the east, by three different streets and robbed the banking house of Hughes & Wasson.”

By the time Richmond’s Outlaw Days comes around on Sept. 22, I’m sure we’ll all remember that the Hughes and Wasson bank was robbed at half past three on May 23, 1867.

I also hope we’ll remember some of the people who were affected that day. A few months ago, I wrote a story about Major Robert Sevier, one of the men who was inside the bank when it was robbed. I’m sharing his story again so we can try and imagine what he felt as he stood there in the bank wondering if he would live to see another day.

Major Robert Sevier’s name is found in many places in our history and I’m sure sooner or later he would have caught my eye, but a person in New Hampshire put a letter on eBay and changed my research plans for the week. After researching the letter and envelope, I found it was sent to R. Sevier and Company in 1841 from a supply store in Pittsburgh. They were unable to fill his order for seven kegs of nails because the river was too low due to a drought and it would cost too much to ship them by keel boat.

This 171-year-old piece of paper gives us a glimpse of what life was like in Richmond. It also brings up more questions. Did they ever ship his nails? What was being built in Richmond and are any of these nails still in Richmond? I am going to keep looking for these answers, but it’s not very likely we will ever know the rest of this story unless there is another 1841 letter waiting to be found.

I settled for finding out more about Robert Sevier and his story is full of surprises. He’s in the 1881 Ray County History Book as bio No. 3, right behind Doniphan and George Dunn. “Robert Sevier, eldest son of Valentine Sevier, Esq., was born Oct. 13, 1807, in Greenville, Tenn. His grandfather, Robert Sevier, with several brothers, left his home in Tennessee to join the American Army of the Revolution, and served with distinction in South Carolina against Cornwallis. The elder Robert Sevier held a commission as colonel of volunteers, and held this command at the battle of King’s Mountain, where he received wounds of which he soon died. These brothers were also held in high estimation in civil life; one of them, John, was governor of Tennessee, after the war.”

Our Robert Sevier was a cadet at West Point from 1824 to 1828. After graduation, he joined his regiment at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth and in 1832 fought in the Black Hawk War. He left the military behind on Oct. 31, 1837, but for the rest of his life he was referred to as Major Sevier.

According to his bio in our history book, “He spent the winter of 1839-40 in Liberty, Missouri, seeking a location for business. In 1840 he entered into the mercantile business in Richmond, Missouri.”

This was my favorite line in his bio because it proves that he had a business in Richmond one year before the letter was sent to him about the nails. This would be enough for a story but it gets better because Major Sevier still has another 38 years to make history in Richmond.

He married Ann Sibley, who died January 20, 1852. They had two children, Charles, who was born at Ft. Leavenworth in 1833 and Isabel, who died at the age of 9. His second marriage was to Mrs. Maria Embree, who was a sister of Gov. Austin King. There were no children from this marriage.

Robert and Ann were founding members of the Presbyterian Church of Richmond. When the Presbyterian Church built Richmond College in 1853, Robert was elected to the board of trustees. He resigned at the first meeting. There were some issues about how the college was handled, so I wonder if Robert knew there would be issues later or did he resign for personal reasons because his two children had just lost their mother?

Robert was circuit clerk from 1845 to 1865. He was appointed clerk by the governor after Ben Oliver died in office. Oliver had replaced Wiley William, who also died in office. Since it took three clerks to fill one term, Robert might have had second thoughts about accepting this position.

He served until 1865, when the “Drake Constitution” came along. After the Civil War, each person holding an office in Missouri had 60 days to declare an oath of loyalty, but Sevier refused and was removed from office. He was often asked to occupy positions of trust, but he chose to spend his remaining days living on his farm.

It sounds like Robert Sevier was a man who worked hard and controlled his own destiny, but I did find one event where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At half past 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, 1867, 11 men robbed the Hughes and Wasson Bank in Richmond. “The following men were in the bank when the robbers entered: Geo. Wasson, cashier; Judge Warriner, the bookkeeper, and Major Robert Sevier, Ephriam January, and Ben Chipeze. The last three men were in no way connected with the bank. None of the above named gentlemen was injured.”

You know it was hard for this 59-year-old West Point soldier to let the bank robbers walk out with $3,500. Major Sevier was wise enough to know it was only money and thanks to his level-headed action, he lived another 12 years.

Sevier died on May 16, 1879 in Richmond at the age of 71. He’s buried in the Richmond Cemetery with his wife Ann and their daughter Isabel. Their son Charles is buried in Denver.

Charles had a son named Robert who was born in Richmond in 1869. Major Sevier died when his grandson was 10 years old. I’m sure he would have been proud of his namesake because in 1915 he was the leading surgeon in Ray County and had just completed a course of study under the famous Mayo Brothers of Rochester, Minn.

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