29 December 2012
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
James Berry: The End of Outlaw Berry And the New Life for His Family in
Montana Territory—Part III
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
January 2, 2013
This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that settled in Central Montana. This week outlaw James Berry meets a violent death in Missouri. After his death, his widow and children come up the Missouri River to Fort Benton to settle with her family. This concludes the escapades of Confederate veteran James F. Berry.
After holding up a Union Pacific express train at Big Springs, Nebraska, east of Cheyenne on September 18, 1877, the Sam Bass-Joel Collins gang divided their loot and split up. James F. Berry returned to his home near Mexico, Missouri. Almost one month later Sheriff Henry Glasscock led a posse that tracked Berry down. In a brief shoot-out, Jim Berry was shot in the leg, captured, and taken prisoner to the Ringo House in Mexico. The narrative from the Mexico Weekly Ledger of October 18, 1877 continues:
“The Sheriff and posse will receive a reward of about $4,000. This reward will be divided between the captors, just how we do not know. Glascock got the clue, planned the capture, but of course could not do the work by himself, at least he did not think he could before he started . . . Berry is now resting very easy [at the Ringo House]. He has an ugly leg on him.
“Later. At 20 minutes to one o’clock last Tuesday [Oct. 16] James Berry, one of the Union Pacific train robbers, died at the Ringo House, with little pain or dread of death.
“After receiving his wounds near Kazy’s [R. T. Kasey] house Sunday morning, there was no reaction at all, and Monday night gangrene set in and from this he died Tuesday. Berry did not seem to dread death at all, and often told those around him that he would not die. His brother-in-law, James Craighead of Fulton was with him in his last moments. His sister and friends came in on the 3 o’clock train from Martinsburg, but were too late to see him alive. Lanny Jones went in a buggy for his wife [Mary Elizabeth Price] only in the morning, and she arrived about 4 o’clock and was surprised to find her husband dead. She has the sympathy of all, in this her bereavement. She has 6 children, one boy and five girls, all dependent on her for food and protection. We learn that she is a most excellent lady and worthy the sympathy of all. What ever he may have done, his wife and children still cling to him as a tender love, such as becomes the true woman.
“Monday night Berry made a confession, and said he was in the [Union Pacific train] robbery, but said he was not sorry for it. He made this confession in the presence of several witnesses. He spoke of [Joel] Collins . . . as the leader. He would say nothing about those of the gang who are yet alive. He said he would not ‘squeal’ on them. Dr. Lacy prayed with and for him, several times during the night before the day of his death. He paid no attention to this, except once, when the Dr. had left the foot of his bed and gone out. Berry asked ‘who in the Hell was that?’ He said he was not afraid of death. When told he must die, he seemed to think that he was being scared into telling something and would hoot at the idea of death. He died without scarcely a struggle.
“He suffered much the night previous, but everything was done that could be, to make his illness and death as easy as possible. About half past 3 o’clock Tuesday, Dr. S. N. Russell, County Coroner, summoned . . . a Jury of Inquest [who] produced the verdict that ‘The deceased came to his death by gunshot wounds, eight in number, inflicted on the left leg, by a shot-gun in the hands of H. Glascock, on the morning of October 14th, 1877, as we believe, a necessary act in the discharge of his duty.’
“The remains were on Wednesday morning, interred by friends in the Richland grave yard, in Callaway county.”
“What adds solemnity to the occasion is that only a few hours previous to Berry’s death, his aged mother departed this life, and side by side with his venerable mother the unfortunate boy was laid. What could be more impressive than the thought that the aged widowed mother, and the erring son, both reaching each other and their Maker, as it were, in the same hours. [Jim Berry was buried next to his mother in the Liberty Church Yard Cemetery, approximately three miles north and west of Shamrock Mo.]
“Sheriff Glascock. No one was more unrelenting in their attention to the patient, than Sheriff Glascock. He spared neither time nor trouble to make Berry easy in his affliction and Berry showed no hard feelings and expressed himself in a way that he harbored nothing against his captor. Glascock, of course, feels bad, and will always remember the death bed scene, but he has nothing to blame himself with and no honest, justice-loving citizen can ever bear a hard feeling for what the Sheriff did in the matter. He gave Berry two chances to save himself. He issued a challenge to halt and when he did not do it, he shot over him thinking that would bring him to a pause, but no, Berry still kept on and yet the Sheriff called to him again to halt, but Berry paying no attention, Glascock shot at his legs, thinking to cripple him, and thus capture him, but his Allwise Creator saw best to make his wounds deadly, and for this Glascock is sorry, but perhaps if Berry had his choice, he would have preferred death to long confinement, for at that time, he begged the Sheriff to shoot him, that he did not want to live.
“Berry’s Guilt. There can be no mistake about Berry’s being guilty, for he confessed it before witnesses, and for this reason Glascock can not feel the remorse he would, if he had made a mistake in his man, and in addition to his confession we have other proof, which is sufficient in itself, for we took occasion on Tuesday to interview Detective Leach, on this point, thinking that his evidence might be pertinent to the occasion. We were introduced to Leach at the depot, just before he left, by Sheriff Glascock, and was surprised at the personal appearance of the man. He was a short wiry-looking little fellow, dressed in a very outlandish manner. He had on an old pair of shoes, almost worn out pants, a new hat and a loose coat with the tails cut off. The only thing in his appearance that would strike a casual observer was that brilliancy of his eye. He had an eagle eye surely; under his coat he had a long ‘45’ caliber pistol with two belts full of cartridges. He was evidently ‘fixed’ for any body. During our conversation with him, he stated that he could identify Berry if it was necessary, but as he had confessed there would be no need of it. He says he knew Berry about 2 years ago, when he [Berry] was in business at North Platte, Neb., with a man named Garretson. He said that they broke up and left their creditors in the lurch . . .
“After that Berry went to the Black Hills. The next time [Leach] saw Berry he came to [Leach’s] store in Ogallala [Nebraska], (for he had a store there and attends it when not scouting) to get a pair of boots on ‘tick’ [credit]. Leach would not let him have them; Berry then went and got this man Collins to come and pay for the boots, Collins raked up money sufficient to pay for the boots and Berry put them on. A few days after this the train was robbed . . . and Leach went at once to the scene of the robbery and took the trail and followed the robbers two hundred miles through the wilds by himself. At last he came up on their camp and saw them sitting around the fire counting the money. He saw Berry and Collins and recognized them both, as the men that came for the boots. He heard them all talk about their plans and learned their different addresses, and he says the deceased is the same Berry that bought the boots and the same one he saw in the camp with the money. This and Berry’s confession settles without the shadow of a doubt, the fact that Berry was guilty.
“We could give you a full account of Leach’s movements on Berry’s trail, but they are of no interest, so we will close this painful story with a short account of the robbery.
“The Reward. The individual reward offered for Berry was $500, and ten per cent of the money recovered, one of the $500 packages was $35 short, so that left the amount of money recovered, $2,769, ten percent of that added to the $500 makes the total reward $776. At a meeting of the captors last night it was declared that each of the 4 men that assisted the Sheriff, were to have $100 each and Glascock was to have the $376. As it will take $76 dollars to pay the expenses of the trip, which falls on the sheriff, he will get as his portion $300. We understand that there is a good chance for a large reward which was offered in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Leach’s Say. During our interview, Tuesday, with Leach, the detective who followed the Big Spring robbers through 200 miles of wilderness in Nebraska, until he obtained information as to their destination, he took occasion to say that one night, when he was taking a peep into the camp of the robbers, he heard Collins administer the oath to Berry and the rest of the gang, to the effect, that as one of them should ‘preach’ on the other; and each one took a solemn oath that he would not be taken alive. The next night he slipped into the camp after the band were all asleep, and did not think a human being was in hundreds of miles of them, and stumbled upon the money [$60,000 in gold coins], sewed up in a blanket, fixed for strapping upon a mule. He tried to pull it out of the camp, but it was so heavy he could not move it, and while he was endeavoring to get into it and carry it off by piece-meal, some one of the gang awoke, and he (Leach) made himself scarce, and only the darkness saved him. He says in his scout after them, he crawled miles after them, through the grass, on his hands and knees. He often saw them, and knew Berry, Collins and some of the others.
After the gang separated, Leach followed after Berry . . . to this place [Mexico], where Berry stopped for supplies . . . “ Thus ends the Mexico Ledger account.
At least three mysteries remain about the Jim Berry story:
(1) How was Jim Berry captured? The Mexico Ledger details Sheriff Glasscock’s version—that he shot Berry after ordering him to surrender and firing a warning shot in the air. But was this the true version? Relatives and friends of Berry dispute the Sheriff’s claim. By their account, Sheriff Glasscock came up behind a sleeping Jim Berry, who was laying on his side in the shade of a large tree. The sheriff fired a shot at the sleeping Berry, a horse neighed, and the wounded Berry emptied his two six-shooters simultaneously with the shot that wounded him. Only then, wounded and out of ammunition, was Berry captured. Perhaps we’ll never know with certainly how Berry was captured, but the weight of evidence seems to support Sheriff Glasscock. After all, Berry lived and talked with several people before his death. Berry does not seem to have disputed the sheriff’s version before he died.
(2) Is this a photograph of Jim Berry? According to The Black Hills Pioneer of Deadwood City, S.D., the men in this photo are Left to Right: Joel Collins and Jim Berry standing; Frank Towle and Jack Farrell seated. Yet, Perhaps the most authoritative website on Sam Bass and his gang is maintained by Round Rock, Texas where Sam Bass is buried. This Round Rock site is
According to this site, this is the only known authenticated photo of Sam Bass, and Jim Berry is not one of the men. Left to Right: Sam Bass, Joe Collins, John E. Gardner, and Joel Collins. The photo is attributed to Robert G. McCubbin, Jr. The Round Rock site is likely correct. No known photo of Jim Berry has been located, although a sketch of his likeness appeared in the Mexico Ledger.
(3) Less than one-third of Berry’s cut of the Union Pacific loot was recovered—what happened to the other $7,000? Although Berry’s home was searched, had he been able to hide the money? Did his wife benefit from this stolen money? Mrs. Berry and the six children continued to live on the farm for three years after Jim Berry’s death—they had relatives and friends, but it seems very likely that the stolen money helped them survive.
The Union Pacific stolen money may also have helped Mrs. Mary Berry pay the passage for her family to come to Fort Benton on the steamboat Red Cloud three years later. On June 10, 1880, Mrs. Mary E. Price Berry with her children stepped ashore at Fort Benton after a long trip up the Missouri River. The children were Jennie Lee born Aug. 30, 1864 at Reece River Valley, Nevada; twins Anne Natalie and Adelaide “Addie” Price born May 14, 1867; three more children were born near Mexico, Missouri, Nora (1869), John R. (Dec. 14, 1871), and Myra (Sep. 19, 1877).
Mrs. Mary Berry brought her family to Fort Benton to join her father Cyrus Price and brothers Charles W. and Kyle Price who came to Montana Territory in the 1860s and became successful ranchers. The 1880 census, shortly the Berry family arrival, has Mrs. Berry keeping house in her father’s household at Ulida, Chestnut Valley near today’s Cascade. Mrs. Berry lived in the Highwood Mountain area until 1885 when she married C. B. Houser and moved to Butte. In February 1885, daughter Addie Price Berry married prominent Highwood rancher John Harris and descendants remain in this area.
In 1898 Mrs. Mary Price Houser moved on to Kalispell and lived there for twenty years. After the death of her son, John R. Berry, at the Montana Soldier’s Home, she came to Great Falls to make her home with her daughter, Mrs. Anne Townsend, until her death in 1927. Mary E. Price Berry Houser rests today in Riverside Cemetery, Fort Benton with her father and brother.
Confederate veteran James Berry lived a life packed with adventure dashing headlong from Quantrill’s Raiders to Nevada Territory to early Montana Territory to outlaw days as a stage and train robber to his violent death. Fortunately, his family survived to become prominent in Montana history.
[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; http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/home/index.asp?page=1768]
Photos: [please run both photos!]
1. Sam Bass—Joel Collins Gang without Jim Berry: Bass standing left; Joel Collins seated right. (Courtesy of Round Rock, Texas)
2. Sketch of James F. Berry—the only known image of Berry. (Courtesy of OHRC)