Historical reminiscences of the city of Des Moines, together with a full description of the city and county. H. B. Turrill, 1857 Transcribed by Ralph Leonard

The Perkins and Flemming War—Perkins Rides for his Life—Arrest of Flemming and his forcible liberation by his friends—His re-arrest—Efforts of the Mob to again set him free—Coroner Phillips turns U. S. Major—Coolness of Alex. Scott—Trial of Flemming—Perkins obliged to yield to popular demands—Erection of Court House and Jail—Holland Mob—Its Cause, Object, and Results.

In the spring of 1849, occurred what are called the Perkins and Flemming difficulties; which, arising from a subject particularly irritating to the settlers, threatened, for a time, to prove very serious. The difficulty at first sprung from a contention about land. Asa Flemming had made a claim a few miles below Fort Des Moines, and B. Perkins, a neighbor, endeavored to pre-empt it, and had actually filed his intentions to that effect. Perkins’ fraudulent scheme being discovered, caused a great excitement in the vicinity, and many and dire were the imprecations invoked upon his head. It was also rumored that one Holland had been a partner of Perkins in the movement, and was to furnish the money with which to obtain a patent from the United States, but the truth of this report was never fully substantiated.

Perkins and Flemming were both members of the Claim Club, whose rules and regulations have already been given, and this circumstance, proving fully the perfidious character of the former, enlisted an additional hatred against him. Non-residents and strangers, the settlers expected, would encroach upon their rights. Such they were vigilantly watching, and were prepared to counteract and resist any innovations from such sources; but that one of their own citizens—one who was a member of an organization for the


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mutual protection of all—who had bound himself to abide by the Club Laws, and whose interests, if jeopardized, would have been amply guarded from danger, should prove recreant to every sentiment of integrity, justice and honor, was unthought of, unexpected, and therefore, the more condemned and detested. Under the circumstances, Flemming easily succeeded in effecting a combination of the settlers residing near him, for the protection of his claim and to administer exemplary punishment to Perkins. The members of the Claim Club were all ready to assist, for the interests of one were the interests of the whole community. If Perkins should succeed in his plans, others would follow his example; a claim would soon be of no value, and a general disturbance arise throughout the county.

       Mr. Perkins being one day found in the vicinity of the claim in dispute, the settlers, led by Flemming, resolved to wreak their vengeance upon him, and armed and equipped themselves for that purpose. Perkins, however, became aware of their plan before they could secure him, and on their approach, “stood not upon the order of going,” but mounted a horse and fled at once. Several shots were fired at him without effect, and the terrified fugitive, flying for his life,

“Stopped not for brake, and stayed not for stone,”

until he arrived at Fort Des Moines. With a horse covered with sweat and trembling with fatigue, himself without a hat or coat, and almost frantic with the delusion that his pursuers were close behind him, he reached the Raccoon ferry, and eagerly besought the ferryman, Alex. Scott, to lose not a moment in crossing him over the river, into town, where he hoped to find a secure asylum from his blood-thirsty enemies.

       Safely ensconced in Fort Des Moines, Perkins in a few days recovered from his recent fright, and growing valorous at the absence of his foes, and the distance from danger,

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contrary to the advice of his friends, swore out a warrant to arrest Flemming, whom only he could identify, charging him with shooting with intent to kill. Flemming was subsequently arrested by George Michael, constable, and brought before Benjamin Luce, Esq., for examination. Luce’s office was in a building formerly part of the Fort, situated near the "Point.” Its site is at present occupied by a German grocery.

       While Flemming was upon his trial, a mob of his friends, armed to the teeth, surrounded and broke into the office, carrying away the prisoner by main force, and bidding defiance to the authorities. Resistance to this mob, was not for a moment thought of. Probably the unfavorable opinion entertained of Perkins by the citizens of Fort Des Moines, led them to look with more lenity upon so dangerous and inexcusable a proceeding; but it is more likely that the absence of force on the side of the law, and the suddenness of the attack, rendered any opposition unavailable, and therefore none was attempted. Flemming, rescued from the bonds of the law, was triumphantly escorted to his home, with every demonstration of success and exultation.

       He was afterwards re-arrested. Again did the mob endeavor to rescue him, but their presence was expected. When some eighty of them were seen on the other side of the Raccoon river, brandishing their weapons, and loudly calling for the ferry-boat to take them over, the good people of Fort Des Moines grew nervous with excitement, and nothing less than a battle was anticipated. James Phillips,*

*This same Mr. Phillips was somewhat peculiar in his ideas of the duty of a coroner. One story in particular is told. Two Indians visiting Fort Des Moines, got drunk, quarrelled, and one killed the other. The body of the murdered man was found, and Coroner Phillips sent for. He came, turned him over, examined him closely, and pronounced him dead. Some one suggested that it was usual to summon a jury to investigate the matter.

“What we want a jury for? He’s dead—dead as a stone. I know he’s dead; you know he’s dead, and Miss Hays knows he’s dead. What,

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then coroner, but, in the delirium of the exciting crisis, and perhaps stimulated overmuch by a few extra potations of brandy, styling himself a major in the army of the United States, proclaimed martial law in the town, and went around to all the stores, commanding the proprietors to lock up their houses, in order to save their goods from pillage, arm themselves, and be ready to act under his orders. Many of them did so. A large crowd collected at the “Point,” where the band of insurgents could be plainly seen, endeavoring to gain a passage across the river, and could be heard uttering loud threats against every power, judicial, executive or military, in Fort Des Moines.

       But by the coolness and intrepidity of Alex. Scott, the ferryman, their riotous project was completely frustrated. He calmly and firmly refused to take them over, while they retained their arms. They stormed, cursed, threatened; but not an inch would he let the boat go until they stacked their guns, and laid aside every offensive weapon. Unmoved by their threats, unprovoked by their maledictions, Scott resolutely adhered to his purpose, and finally the mob sullenly stacked their arms, and then, and not till then, were they ferried over the Raccoon.

Armed intervention was now no longer practicable, and Flemming was examined, the charge found true, and he was obliged to give bonds for his appearance at the next term of the District Court. However, he finally escaped, as the Grand Jury failed to find a bill against him. Perkins found his conduct, in reference to pre-empting Flemming’s claim, so universally condemned, and himself the object of such in the name of common sense, do we want a jury to set on him for, that’s what I should like to know? They couldn’t bring him to life.”

“What shall we do with him, then,” asked a bystander.

“Why bury him, of course, and then go home about your business,” said the coroner, whose ire had risen at the suggestion of a jury. “Bury him, and let that be the last of it, for if ever I saw a dead man, he is one. Why, he is stabbed in a dozen places, any of them enough to kill him!”

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general detestation, that he was glad to end the matter by executing to Flemming a bond, in which it was stipulated that the latter should have a warranty deed for the claim in dispute, so soon as a patent could be obtained from Government, upon paying to Perkins the sum of $1.25 an acre. The execution of this bond finished all persecutions, suits, and riots, in this case, but Perkins was but little esteemed afterwards.

In 1848 the Court House was erected. The lot on which it stands was purchased by the county, of Thos. McMullen, for thirty-five dollars. The Court House cost about two thousand-dollars, and was built by John Saylor. The Jail was erected in 1849, by Messrs. Shell & Guerrant, at a cost of seven hundred and fifty dollars.

Among the various mobs which occurred in this year, was the case of Holland.

Holland was traveling through the country, stopping at various places where his business demanded, and among the rest at Fort Des Moines. While here some malicious person reported that he was a speculator, and was engaged in selecting choice claims, which he intended to purchase. He was also suspected of being connected with Perkins in his attempted frauds. These statements, although false so far as is now known, being industriously spread far and wide among the settlers, caused no little excitement, and their exasperation soon raised to that pitch that a crowd of them resolved to give Mr. Holland a sample of pioneer justice, in the prompt application of that notorious branch of jurisprudence which Judge Lynch has the merit of originating. Holland was made aware of these inhospitable intentions, but he took it all very coolly, manifesting no uneasiness whatever. He cared not a whit for the mob, whether they were many or few, or however they were armed and infuriated. He was a match for them, and would meet them, and had no doubt they would go away faster than they came. They probably would not come near him

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at all, but if they did, it was all right. He knew how to fix them. And so he did.

However, they came, a mob of fierce, determined, blood-thirsty men, bent on taking the most signal and exemplary vengeance on the unpardonable villain whose intentions were so detrimental to their interests, and who had audaciously ventured into their power. The infuriated crew numbered about thirty. Their oaths and murderous threats loaded the air with a pestilential burden. Surrounding Holland’s house with a guard of armed men, to prevent the possibility of his escape, the ringleader ordered him to come forth and meet his doom, the doom of all men who should tamper with the interests of the citizens of Polk county, by any fraudulent schemes. As called for, Holland appeared, told the mob he was perfectly willing to submit to their will and pleasure, and requested the privilege of making them a speech. None could deny him permission, though many viewed it with impatience, and Holland, mounting a box that stood near, and gazing with calm, unwavering eye into the faces of his hostile auditory, commenced his vindication.

He was an orator, accustomed to sway at will the minds of an audience, and direct the feelings of his hearers into any channel he chose. With a voice whose deep, impressive, and skilfully inflected tones, arrested and held spell-bound the most careless listener; with language which clothed every thought, if imaginative, in the most fascinating garb; if argumentative, in an impregnable armor; and the mysterious, undefinable (sic) spirit of eloquence, permeating through and rendering irresistibly powerful every tone, word, and gesture, he stirred the hearts of the murderous crowd, impatient for his blood, and turned their sympathies enthusiastically in his favor. Their faces, before distorted with rage, were wreathed with smiles, not merely of friendship, but of admiration. Their hands, which lately had clenched with angry grasp the most deadly weapons, were

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frankly extended to him, with all the kindness of intimacy and respect. At the conclusion of the speech, they all asked his pardon for the wrong they had, in the impetuosity of passion, conceived and nearly accomplished, and having assured Holland of their unfaltering attachment, they withdrew, in the best of humor, to the nearest grocery, where each drank a glass of whisky in commemoration of the occasion, the expense of which Holland, who accompanied them, generously defrayed.

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