Sylvan Grove Bank Robbery, 1894
A Bold Attempt To Rob The Sylvan State Bank
Frustrated by the Presence of Mind and Good Shooting of the Cashier
, 15 November 1894
The latest Kansas town to fall into line with the prevalent bank robberies is Sylvan Grove, a small town in this county, about 15 miles west of Lincoln.
About 8 o’clock last Monday afternoon three men, well armed and mounted on fine horses, rode into Sylvan Grove. One of them at once rode up to a stone hitching post in the rear of the Sylvan State Bank, and directly in front of A. Karlowske’s blacksmith shop. He dismounted and hitched his horse to the post and then leisurely walked into the bank. In the meantime his companions had halted in the middle of the street in front of the bank and accosted two or three chance passers by with inquires as to the best road to Lincoln, thus preventing attention being attracted to anything that might happen in the bank. The desperado who had entered the bank at once walked up to the cashier’s window and requested small change for a silver dollar. Will D. Schermerhorn, assistant cashier, was in charge of the bank, the cashier, John Calene, being absent in Dickinson county. Mr. Schermerhorn complied with his request and counted out ten silver dimes. Several remarks were made about the scarcity of small change and then Mr. Schermerhorn remarked that he could let him have a half dollar in exchange for another dollar. The desperado said all right, and the second change was passed over to him. He, however, failed to give up the second dollar until Mr. Schermerhorn drew his attention to the supposed oversight. The man then made several commonplace remarks about the weather and acted as if he was about to leave the bank. This, however, was evidently only a ruse to see how matters were progressing in the street. He then, while standing by the front window, with his back to the cashier, threw open his coat and drew a revolver, and wheeling suddenly presented it at the cashier’s head, with the exclamation, “Don’t holler, or g—d--- you, I’ll blow your brains out.” He then walked around the counter and producing a canvas bag or sack held it out to the cashier and ordered him to open it and shove the money in. Mr. Schermerhorn refused to do so, and after a little parlaying the fellow suddenty struck him on the foreheard with the revolver. Although not hurt very much Mr. Schermerhorn ahd the good sense to at once drop to the floor – a very unforunate thing for the robber, as his body covered from view a Sharp’s rifle which lay on the floor. The robber then hurriedly helped himself to $1,734, overlooking a $2,000 package which lay further back in the safe. After the money was put in the sack the robber enquired if the back door was unlocked, and upon ascertaining that it was not, he compelled Mr. Schermerhorn at the point of the revolver to unlock it for him, and then after threatening to shoot him full of holes if he raised any alarm for ten minutes, left the bank and walked towards his horse. The other two robbers were now also making their way slowly to the same place, covering his retreat.
In the meantime quick-witted, courageous young Schermerhorn had picked up the Sharp’s rife, run out of the front door, stepped around the corner of [the] building, and taking aim at the desperado just as he flung the sack on the saddle of the horse, fired the only load in the rifle. A steady hand and a brave heart, however, made up for the lack of ammunition, and one more desperado was ushered into eternity.
The ball entered the man’s body just back of the right arm and came out at the left side of the breast near the nipple, passing through the heart, killing him instantly, the hitching post being completely bespattered with blood.
The two other robbers now commenced firing rapidly at Schermerhorn, and also made frantic efforts to get possession of the sack of money and make the dead robber’s horse jerk loose, but Schermerhorn kept dodging around the corner of the building, snapping his empty rifle at them. Several of the robbers’ shots struck the building. Wm. Brumbaugh, one of the proprietors of Brumbaugh & Bowen’s livery stable, had heard the firing, and grabbing a revolver that had been kept in the stable for emergencies, now commenced firing at them. This attracted their attention, and compelled them to give up all hopes of securing the dead robber’s haul, and putting spurs to the horses they galloped off in a northwesterly direction. Before leaving, however, they fired several shots at the body of their fallen companion, undoubtedly upon the principle that dead men tell no tales. Schermerhorn at once secured the bank’s money, and the first bank robbery in Lincoln county was a failure.
The dead robber was at once taken into an adjoining vacant building and searched for evidence as to his identity. Two medical prescriptions for wound liniment, dated Oct. 10, 1894, given by Dr. Grattan, of Morgansville, Kan., were found, also a slip of paper having the following address written upon it: “J.S. McKee, 1613 Hickory street, St. Joseph, Mo.” Two flasks of whisky with St. Joseph labels on the bottles, two large Colt’s revolvers, a cartridge belt which covered the entire body, containing nearly 300 cartridges, bandages and liniment, two large plugs of “Horse Shoe,” tobacco, $25 in gold and several dollars in silver. He was fairly well dressed. Everything about the fellow showed the desperado. The bandages and liniments indicate that he fully realized that he carried his life in his hands. He was five feet eight inches in height, and weighed about 145 pounds, wore a large, heavy red moustache [sic] with about a week’s growth of beard on his face.
In the absence of the coroner J.O. Phillips, justice of the peace, at once empaneled a jury and the usual verdict in such cases was at once returned.
The store at Tipton, a small place about 25 miles northwest of Sylvan Grove, was robbed the night before and $200 taken, presumbly the work of the same band.
The above was written Tuesday morning and subsequent development necessitates further details.
About noon an old gentleman named McKee, living near Elmira, in Mitchell county, right in the Blue Hills region, arrived at Sylvan Grove. He was accompanied by a woman and four children. They inquired for the dead robber and upon being shown his body, the old gentleman at once identified him as his youngest son, named Anthony McKee, and husband and father to the woman and children. Upon being questioned as to their knowledge of his death they answered that two unknown men had called them up at midnight and informed them that “Anthony was killed at Sylvan Grove.” They denied any knowledge of his conneciton with the other robbers, but said that he had left home three months ago, and that they did not know what business he had been engaged in. By this time, Mr. F. Scidmore, cashier of the Tescott State Bank, which was robbed by four men of $1,000 on Sept. 14, had arrived at Sylvan Grove. Since that time Mr. Scidmore had been indefatigable in his efforts to find the robbers, and satisfactory evidence had been obtained by him and the Banker’s Protective Association to conclusively establish the fact that the robbers’ headquarters were in Mitchell county, that Anthony McKee was one of the leaders, that he was planning other robbers and had a well-organized, well-armed, desperate gang to assist him. All this evidence had been known to the sheriffs of Ottawa and Mitchell counties for several weeks, but for some unaccountable, unexplainable (probably, though, that the reward offered for the apprehension of the men should not be divided too much) Sheriff Hoover had been kept in the dark. Everything now evidenced that the robbers were in the vicinity of Elmira, and on Tuesday night a plan was laid which it was hoped would result in the apprehension of death of the outlaws. Telegrams were at once sent to the sheriff of Ottawa county to at once take the train from Minneapolis to Barnard with a posse, and drive from there to Elmira, a distance of about 30 miles, and to reach there at 11 o’clock. Mr. Scidmore, accompanied by A.R. Buzick and Chas. Shafer of Wilson, Under Sheriff Tom Boyle, Joe Jackson and Geo. D. Abel, left Lincoln about 6 o’clock to meet the Ottawa county posse at the same time and place. The sheriff of Mitchell county and a posse of ten men were also to be there from the north, and the Tipton force from the west. Everything took place as planned, except that the robbers could not be found. The McKee residence and the entire neighborhood was searched but it was fruitless.
Sheriff Hoover, accompanied by Harry Leaf, had followed the trail all day, and without even knowing the dead robber’s name, had tracked the two fleeing robbers right up to the door of the McKee residence, having for their only guide the peculiar horse shoe points of the desperadoes’ horses. Sheriff Hoover is to be greatly commended for the vigilant search, which he has made without the assistance and knowledge which others possessed, and which he had a right to be in possession of. If he and the posse which first went out, consisisting of Tom Lovin, Alf Reed and Fred McElhaney of Lincoln, and Messrs. Buzick, Brumbaugh, Wilson and others, of Sylvan Grove, had known the single name McKee and all that it meant, the other robbers at this writing would have been either lying in their coffins or the Lincoln county jail.
Anthony McKee, the dead robber, is a brother-in-law to the notorious outlaw Starr, now lying in jail at Fort Smith, Ark. Another brother-in-law, John Morrison, and a member of this gang, is a fugitive from numerous states, and rewards aggregating $33,000 are offered for his arrest dead or alive.
The Blue Hills country was thoroughly scoured by the different posses. A wilder, rougher country does not exist in Kansas. As a typical robbers’rendezvous in a civilized country it beats the world.
Mrs. McKee, the wife of the dead robber, was held in custody at Sylvan until Wednesday morning, but was released as it could not be proven that she was connected with the gang. McKee was buried at the Vesper cemetery on Wednesday.
Lack of time and space this week prevents us giving further particulars but in the near future we promise a complete write-up and history of this gang of criminals and their many depredations.
[From the same edition] Will D. Schermerhorn, the hero of the Sylvan State Bank affair, is a son of Lon Schermerhorn, a former resident of Lincoln county, but who now lives at Ogden, Kan. The elder Mr. Schermerhorn is remembered by old settlers as a man of strong convictions and undaunted courage, and the son, although scarcely 20, is a chip of [sic] the old block.
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