In 1848, William Barger deliberately killed his wife at Bellevue, Jackson Co., Iowa, by boring a hole through the fence and shooting her as she appeared at the door in the morning. The crime was a premeditated one and the people were greatly incensed. Under the plea that he could not have a fair trial in that county in consequence of the feeling against him, his counsel obtained a change of venue to Clinton County. At his first trial, the jury disagreed, and he was lying jail at De Witt, under the charge of Sheriff Buchanan, awaiting another trial. At about midday, a party of men known as the "Iron Vigilance Committee," rode into town heavily armed and unmasked, and in open daylight made an attack upon the jail. Sheriff Buchanan made a determined resistance with all the help he could secure, but he and his friends were overpowered. The Regulators then broke off the locks with sledges and placing Barger in a wagon awaiting, surrounded him with a guard of armed horsemen and proceeded to Andrew, the county seat of Jackson County. There, they hung him on a tree known as "Hangman's tree." No arrests were ever made of any of the participants in the affair, though they made no attempt to conceal their identity. The public sentiment seemed to be that justice had been done.


The last criminal tried before Judge Lynch's tribunal in Clinton County was James Hiner, generally known as "Old Hiner." He had been a some-what notorious criminal, and was constantly engaged in horse-stealing. On the night of June 16, 1865, a horse was stolen from Mr. J. G. Smith, of Elk River. Hiner was seen and recognized while riding the horse through Jackson County the morning after the horse was taken. A requisition had been made by Gov. Stone upon Gov. Lewis of Wisconsin, it having been ascertained that he was in that State. Armed with this authority, Sheriff George A. Griswold and Deputy Robert Hogle effected his arrest at Mt. Hope, Wis.

On the 2nd of October, 1865, they reached De Witt, with their prisoner, and placed him in jail to await the examination. On their return, while in Dubuque, he was fully identified as the man who brought the mare and two colts there and sold them, they having been stolen from Mr. C. Ryan, of Lyons City, where he kept a livery stable.

He had, where he lived, passed under the name of John Stanton, and professed to be dealing in Government horses As indictment was also resting against him in Whiteside, County, Ill., where he was wanted to answer for crimes committed.

On the night of October18, at about midnight, Sheriff Griswold was awakened by a knocking at his door, and, upon responding to the call with the inquiry, "Who is it?' was answered by the response, "It's all right." Thinking ir to be a belated Constable with a prisoner, or the City Marshall with a cuplrit, he opened the door to find himself confronted by a dozen or more armed men, who quietly seized him, and, entering the room where there was a dimly-burning lamp, and while a part of the number took charge of the Sheriff, the others took the keys to the cells, which were lying on the table and saying, "We want the man," went into the jail, unlocked Hiner's cell and took him quickly and silently out, and, placing him in a wagon in waiting outside, drove rapidly away. Before leaving, they securely locked everything and lest all other prisoners undisturbed. While but one wagon came to the jail, a large number of men with wagons were in waiting outside of the town until joined by their comrades with the prisoner in charge. As soon as Sheriff Griswold could raise an alarm and rally assistance, he started in pursuit of the Regulators, and made every effort to strike their trail, but without success. The question as yet was an open one, whether Hiner had been rescued by his friends or taken by his enemies for the purpose of summary execution. The Sheriff, however, upon his return from the northern part of the county, expressed his belief that Hiner had been hung and buried before daylight. Indeed, a citizen remarked to the Sheriff, "Old Hiner will never steal another horse. The job was done."

But, in the following April, all doubt as to the fate of Hiner was set at rest by the discovery of his decomposed remains in Silver Creek, about five miles northwest of De Witt, by a little girl who was fishing in the stream.

The verdict of the Coroner's jury was, "strangled by persons unknown," and so ended the career of a life-long criminal, who had made it his business to prey upon the property of others until, incensed beyond measure, they, unjustifiably, as must be said, though perhaps not inexcusably, executed him.. No arrests were ever made, nor effort to discover who were participants in the tragedy.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




Back to Table of contents