26 December 2012
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
James Berry: Confederate Veteran Turns to a Life of Crime and
Joins the Sam Bass Gang —Part II
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
December 26, 2012
This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that settled in Central Montana. This month Confederate soldier James Berry, who had served with Quantrill’s Raiders before coming to Montana Territory during the Civil war, returned to Missouri in 1867. Berry would turn to a life of crime and join the Joel Collins-Sam Bass gang to take part in a spectacular train robbery. This continues the escapades of Confederate veteran James F. Berry.
While Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Price Berry with her three young children left Montana Territory by steamboat for a tough late season journey down the Missouri River in August 1867, her husband James Berry apparently proceeded overland to join his family on their farm near Mexico, Callaway County, Missouri. Little is known of the family over the next decade. Their fourth child, Nora Dickinson Berry was born in March 1870 followed by son John R. Berry in December 1871, both in Mexico, Mo. The census of July 1870 recorded the Berry family living in Bassetts Mill, El Paso County, Colorado Territory with James listed as a stock raiser.
Despite occasional excursions, the Berry family remained settled on their rented farm near Mexico, Mo. According to Sam Bass biographer Rick Miller, wandering Jim Berry left his family about 1875 for the Black Hills. At North Platte, Nebraska, he operated a grocery store with a partner. This business suddenly folded after Berry and his partner “swindled a prominent man out of money that he had posted with them for the purchase of goods.” Jim Berry was turning to a life of crime, very likely not for the first time.
Moving on, Jim Berry joined the gold rush in the Black Hills, yet he failed to strike it rich by the early spring of 1877. Earlier that winter, young Sam Bass and his boss Joel Collins arrived at the booming new town of Deadwood, Dakota Territory after driving a herd of cattle from Uvalde County, Texas. Collins sold the cattle, and paid off his cowboys. At this time Deadwood was a tough, wide-open gold mining town populated by miners, cattlemen, adventurers, and gamblers. Collins had bought his cattle on credit from friends in Texas, and he owed most of the money he’d received for them. Yet, while drinking, he gambled away the money he’d received for the herd. Bass and Collins decided to stay on in Deadwood playing poker for a living and enjoying life in the boomtown. Collins built a house and bought a quartz mine. The mine proved a dud, and Collins realized his money was gone. He became desperate, and with Sam Bass decided to form a gang. They tried mining and failed. They tried freighting and failed to make money. Out of desperation the fledgling Collins-Bass gang decided to rob stage coaches.
Known as the Black Hills Bandits, the gang consisted of Joel Collins, Sam Bass, Jim Berry from Missouri, Jack Davis an experienced stagecoach robber, Bill Heffridge, Canadian Tom Nixon, Frank Towle, and Robert “Reddy” McKimie. Rick Miller described Jim Beery “as 5’ 9” or 5’ 10”, 180 pounds, sandy or red hair with a little gray in it, a sandy beard and moustache with a long chin beard. He had a red florid complexion, blue eyes, talked a great deal, and when he was drinking his full round face became quite red.”
The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Company ran a stage line to and from booming Deadwood, and this seemed an attractive target for the new gang. Traffic each day brought nine Concord coaches, each with six horses, and each coach carried some eighteen passengers. The first task for the gang was to steal good saddle horses, and this they proceeded to do.
After biding their time, the gang decided to strike for the first time the evening of March 25, 1877. Under cover of darkness the gang rode two miles out of Deadwood and hid in the brush. Hearing the clatter of the coach approaching, the bandits charged from the brush and challenged the driver to stop. From this point their plan fell apart. Reddy McKimie, against orders, shot the coach driver. The horses bolted down the road leaving the robbers afoot. Two trailing mounted armed guards, alerted by the shot, rode up to the scene as the Collins-Bass gang fled into the brush.
Despite their disastrous beginning, the gang continued to rob coaches through the summer with only modest success. After six more robberies, they had little to show for their dangerous efforts. After deciding to move on to train robberies, Jim Berry with Collins rode in to Ogalalla, Kansas for Berry to acquire a new pair of boots. He entered the store of shopkeeper and part-time detective M. F. Leech and asked for a pair of boots on credit. Leech refused, and Berry had to scramble with Collins to raise the price of the boots. Leech would later play an important role in Berry’s story.
Collins conceived, planned and carried into execution one of the boldest train robberies that ever occurred in the United States up to that time. When all was ready the Collins-Bass gang including Jim Berry, heavily armed and masked, on September 18, 1877, held up the Union Pacific express train at Big Springs, a small station a few miles beyond Ogallala. The day after the robbery, on September 19th Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Berry gave birth to daughter Myra Berry at Mexico, Mo.
The Mexico Missouri Weekly Ledger reported the sensational train robbery a month later on October 18 under the headline: “THE TRIGGER. One of the Pacific Train Robbers Captured. Our Sheriff a Terror to the Banditti. Frantic Attempt of Berry to Escape. A Well Regulated Shot-gun Does its Duty. Great credit is Due Sheriff Glascock and the men with Him, For Their Indomitable will and Courage. $2,804 of the Stolen Money Recovered.
“Omaha, Neb., Sept. 19.—News reached [Omaha] at an early hour this morning that a Union Pacific express car on the morning train that left Cheyenne yesterday about 2 p. m. was robbed at Big Spring by masked men with drawn revolvers, who threatened to shoot Messenger Miller, compelled him to unlock the safe containing $60,000 in cold coin, and succeeded in escaping with the whole amount.
“The telegraph operator at the station was compelled to break his instrument to prevent his reporting the occurrence. A half-dozen men were in the party. They went northward, but it is believed to be a feint, and it is believed that their ultimate destination is southward. E. Moreman [E. M. Morsman], superintendent of the Union Pacific express office offers a $10,000 reward for the capture of the parties and the return of the money . . . A pro rata of the said reward will be paid for the return of a portion of the money or the capture of any of the men.
“Account From Cheyenne. Cheyenne, W. T., Sept. 19.—Big Springs, the station where the robbery of the express train was committed last night, is a water station 162 miles east of this place. There are only one or two houses besides the station. The robbers rode to the station in the evening, and took possession of everything, tearing the telegraph instruments out and throwing them away. A red light was then hung out to stop the train which reached there about eleven o’clock. On the conductor’s stepping out to see what was wanted he was confronted by men who ordered him to throw up his hands. The engineer and fireman were secured and a guard placed at the end of the coach door. The station agent was compelled to knock on the express door and on its being opened for him, the robbers rushed in, overpowering Messenger [Charles] Miller and taking possession of the car. They secured
SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS
in coin and about $300 in currency from the express car. The through safe, which is stationary and has a combination lock, they left undisturbed. It contained a very large sum of money. [In fact Miller was brutally beaten for not opening the safe.]
“The arrival of a freight train evidently interfered with their plans, for after putting out the fire in the locomotive of the express train they mounted and rode away without disturbing the occupants of the sleeping car. . .”
After the robbery, the gang split up with Jim Berry making his way back to his home near Mexico, Mo. On arrival, the unshaven, dirty, weary Berry check into a hotel in Mexico carrying heavy saddlebags that he would not entrust to a porter. He got a haircut and shave with a trim goatee and mustache. He ordered $300 worth of groceries and arranged for them to be delivered to his family on the farm about twenty miles south of town. Berry also ordered a suit at Blum’s store. The day after his arrival in Mexico, just as soon as the town’s three banks opened, Berry made a fatal mistake—trading in $9,000 in gold coins for currency. Berry explained his bonanza by claiming that he had struck it rich mining in the Black Hills. The banks shipped the coins to St. Louis, Mo., where they were quickly identified as likely being from the Big Springs robbery. Just three days after trading the gold for currency, detectives including M. L. Leech arrived in Mexico to confer with the Audrain County Sheriff, Henry Glasscock.
The Mexico Weekly Ledger of Oct. 18th continued its account of the pursuit and capture of Jim Beery: “Berry’s Capture. Monday, Oct. 15, 3 o’clock, p. m. We have just interviewed [Sheriff Henry Glasscock] H. Glascock and J. Berry, concerning the arrest of Berry, Sunday morning [Oct. 14], and we give you the facts as near as possible in our limited time . . .
“It appears that last Saturday night [Oct. 13] as our Sheriff was eating supper about half past six o’clock, he received a message that a man was in town after the suit of clothes Berry had left at Blum’s. The man’s name was Bose Kazy [or R. T. Kasey], he lived near Berry’s. He told Blum that Berry had told him that he could have the clothes if he would pay the balance of $30 due on them. This was the way he had his ‘job’ fixed up. Glascock ran right down to Kabrick’s Hall and hid behind the counter and saw Kazy come out, [at] half past seven. Glascock followed him to Wallace & McKenny’s livery stable. Just as Glascock got near the stable he met John Carter and told him to come along. Carter, Glascock and Kazy all got to the stable at the same time. Kazy paid for his horse feed and started to get on his horse. Sheriff Glascock took Kazy by the collar, presented a pistol to his head and told him he would shoot him if he moved. Kazy did not move. Glascock ordered two more horses saddled. They then tied Kazy on his horse and the cavalcade moved off, Glascock leading Kazy’s horse. They went down to the branch near Tom Smith’s, in South Mexico, and as they thought no one would get wind of them there, they stopped.
“Glascock then went and got John Coons, Bob Steele and a young man named Moore. All got horses and double-barreled shot-guns which were loaded with buck shot. They then told Kazy they would have to know where Berry was. He said he had not seen him since he (Berry) had told him he could have the clothes, which was about a week before. The posse then got around Kazy put their guns to his heart and told him if he led them into any trap or did not take them at once to his house they would shoot him down in a minute. He said he would take them to his home if it would do them any good.”
The fact that Sheriff Glasscock felt he needed to raise a posse brought comment about Berry in the Sedelia Weekly Bazoo of October 23, “up to the time of receiving the shot, his bearing was that of a man who would fight to the last. Indeed, he had given previous examples of his desperate and daring nature. He was one of Bill Anderson’s most daring followers, and his unshrinking courage was tested in many a terrible fray which that bold partisan led all into who followed his banner. Indeed, so great was the terror of his name, that while in Mexico, where he exchanged his gold for greenbacks, although believed to be one of The Express Robbers, there was none bold enough to arrest him.”
From the Mexico Weekly Ledger, “The men started out toward Kazy’s house and passed Jeff Jones about 12 o’clock Saturday night. About 3 o’clock they got to John Armstrong’s; Sheriff Glascock told him what they had done and wanted Armstrong to go with them and show them where Kazy lived, as he was afraid that Kazy would fool them. Armstrong said he did not know where Kazy lived and so would not go. We don’t know whether Armstrong knew or not. It was then 3 o’clock Sunday morning. When they got within about one-half mile of Kazy’s house they took Kazy off, tied him and left Bob Steele to guard him, then Glascock placed two men north of the house and stable. Moore and himself going on the south and west side and as the open timber was there they though he might be over in that.
“Kazy had pluck, for before they tied him they told him to tell where Berry was or he would be sorry for it, but he said he knew nothing. They did not alarm Kazy’s house at all, it was not quite daylight yet. They all secreted themselves in thickets as mentioned above to await results. Glascock told his men, “boys if you see him, halt him, if he shows fight shoot him down, if he runs shoot him in the legs, catch him ‘at all hazards.’
“In about one-half hour Glascock heard a horse ‘nicker’ about one-half a mile off as he thought. Moore and Glascock then crept toward the noise, went 300 yards down the branch, came to a fence, saw fresh horse tracks; Glascock got over the fence and got into a thicket, heard the horse snort about 50 yards off in the brush. Glascock then crawled toward the horse about 90 steps, got upon his knees and saw the back of the horse 40 yards off. Glascock took off his hat and crept up 20 yards closer. Then he raised up and saw Berry unhitching the horse from a tree. Berry then led his horse aslant toward Glascock, as Berry now says to lead him to water. Glascock cocked both barrels of his gun, ran out about 20 yards, within about 20 feet of Berry and demanded him to halt! Berry started to run. Glascock shot, but aimed too high which caused the charge to go over Berry’s head. He shot again and 7 buck shot lodged in Berry’s left leg below the knee. Berry fell to the ground, when Glascock got to him he was trying to get his pistol out, but he could not get it out before Glascock was on him and snatched it away from him, he then asked Glascock to shoot him, that he did not want to live.
“Glascock told him no; that he did not want to kill him. He wanted him to have justice. Just then Moore came up.
“What strikes us as strange, is, that Berry, the ‘best man in Callaway county,’ thus taken by one man. Only last Sunday, when Berry was in the hands of Audrain’s sheriff, we heard men in Callaway county say that no 20 men could take Berry, and that when Glascock went out the first time, he did not want to find Berry, &c. they seemed to take pride in Berry’s being a bully, and then for Callaway’s best man to run at the ominous word ‘halt!’ The fact of the business is that Berry is no coward, but he was taken at a disadvantage, and the persuasive influence of a double-barreled breech-loader in the hands of a determined officer will make even the boldest criminal tremble. Berry, after being caught, even begged the sheriff to shoot him; but the sheriff being a humane man, declined to accede to his request. We take great pride in the fact that our sheriff captured Berry.
“After Moore came up, Glascock called for the rest of the posse, when they all gathered round Berry. Glascock then searched him and found in his belt five $500 packages, and in his pocket book was found $304. He had a gold watch and chain, one dress coat, three overcoats and comfort. He had doubtless slept there within 10 feet of the horse. They then took him to Kazy’s house, when Mrs. Kazy got breakfast for the men, while a messenger was sent to Williamsburg for medical assistance.
“Immediately after breakfast Sheriff Glascock and John Carter started for Berry’s house to look for the balance of the money. Upon arriving there, Glascock inquired of Mrs. [Mary Elizabeth] Berry the whereabouts of Berry; she replied that she did not know, as she had not seen him for four or five days, and thought he had left the country. Glascock then showed her the watch and chain, when one of the children said: ‘Oh, I thought that was papa’s.’ Glascock then told her that he had got Berry. When she asked if he had been taken alive and receiving an affirmative reply, said: ‘I never thought he would be taken alive. He has said a great many times he would never be taken alive.’ At this they all began to cry, the wife, one little boy and 5 little girls. It was a very distressing scene.
“Glascock searched the house but found no money. The house was well provisioned for the winter. Hams without number, sacks of flour and coffee, kegs of molasses &c., &c.
“After Glascock left Kazy’s about 40 of the citizens come around and some threats were made about taking him away, but they did not make any attempts at all, it all ended in talk.
“Sunday night they arrived at Mexico, and placed Berry in a room at the Ringo House and summoned Dr. Russell to attend him. At this writing he is under the influence of chloroform. It is not thought that his wounds will prove serious. He will be sent to Omaha as soon as he is able to be moved. Kazy never did tell anything, he stuck up till the end that he knew nothing of Berry. He showed his nerve, but that did not keep Berry out of Limerick.”
To be continued next week.
[Sources: US Census 1850-1880; 2012 http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-jamesberry.html; http://penningtons.tripod.com/roster.html ; Sam Bass & Gang. By Rick Miller. Austin, TX, State House Press, 1999; The Tenderfoot Bandits Sam Bass and Joel Collins, their lives and hard times. By Paula Reed and Grover Ted Tate. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press, 1988; “John Harris and Addie Berry Harris Family” Collection of Harris-Berry Family Material Collected by William H. Patterson Held at OHRC; “Historical Sketch of James F. Berry (1838-1877)” by John F. Harris (Great Grandson); Sedelia Weekly Bazoo 23 Oct 1877; The (Jefferson City Mo.) State Journal 19 Oct 1877]
1. Sketch of James F. Berry. (Courtesy of OHRC)
2. Sam Bass—Joel Collins Gang: Bass standing left; Collins seated right. (Courtesy of Williamson County Historical Commission)
3. Sketch of Union Pacific Train Robbery. (Courtesy of OHRC)