Last Monday at about 2:15 in the afternoon two men rode into Sylvan Grove from the south and a third man rode in from the west, simultaneously. None of them wore masks or any other disguise, and none of them wore any visible arms.
At the time no one associated the first two men with the third, as their appearance in town at the same time was apparently a coincidence only.
The two men from the south stopped on their horses on Main street directly across the street (and east) of the Sylvan Grove State Bank and in the most casual way engaged the few people nearby in conversation about the weather, the road and distance to Lincoln, and other everyday talk.
The third stranger tied his horse to a stone post on the edge of the street directly opposite Bowen’s livery barn, and 50 yards west and about 10 feet north of the bank, which has a north and east frontage, with the front door in the east end. He then walked down the hill, along the side of the bank, rounded the northeast corner of the building and entered the front door.
The only occupant of the bank was William D. Schermerhorn, a young man 19 years of age, who was temporarily in charge, as a clerk only. The cashier, John Calene, was away.
The stranger laid a dollar on the counter and asked young Schermerhorn for a dollar’s worth of small change. When the change was laid on the counter he raked it and the silver dollar off into his pocket. Schermerhorn reminded him of the "mistake" when the stranger flopped a pistol in his face and with threats of instant death if he resisted or gave the alarm, stepped around through the wicket behind the counter. With one hand he held a sack and ordered Schermerhorn to dump all the available funds into it. Schermerhorn refused to comply, telling him to help himself though, as everything was within reach. The robber then struck Schermerhorn over the head with the pistol. The blow staggered him, and though he could have kept his feet, he thought it discreet to take a complete fall, and in doing so he fell directly across a Sharp’s rifle. The robber evidently was aware that the clerk was not injured much, as he kept of a volley of vicious threats at him as he proceeded to hurriedly dump gold, silver and bills into the sack himself. The robber then went to the rear door (in the west end and fronting up the hill where his horse was tied). The latch would not yield to his fingertips and he peremptorily ordered the clerk to unlatch it. Schermerhorn arose and opened the door. As the robber stepped out he said, "If you come outside within 10 minutes you will be killed. There are seven men on the outside who will ‘do’ you." He then started on a quick walk up the hill.
The two men on horseback had shifted their position some, working around to the north when the third man entered the bank, evidently so they could cover his retreat when he came out of the west door. They rode at an ordinary gait up the hill a short distance behind and to one side of the man on foot (they being in the street and he coming off the bank lot onto the edge of the street).
At this juncture Schermerhorn, finding himself alone, grabbed the Sharp’s rifle and ran out the east door, turned a sharp angle and took aim westward up the hill from the northwest corner of the building, at the robber, just as the latter was about 12 feet from where his horses was tied.
The report of the gun was probably the very first intimation to the bandits that anything was wrong, as the two on horseback were undoubtedly watching the back door.
The robber on foot walked straight up to the post after being hit, a distance of 12 feet, and attempted to unhitch his horse. While doing so he began to stagger about and fell in a second or two on his back without getting the horse loose.
The men on horseback then went up the hill on the run firing a fusillade of pistol shots back at Schermerhorn, who ran into the bank after a Winchester, the Sharp’s having only one cartridge.
At the top of the hill the mounted men fired a dozen pistol shots in various directions, two of the shots striking the bank building. They were unquestionably badly rattled, as they failed to even unhitch the third man’s horse, or pick up the sack of money which was lying on the ground with the wounded man, who, as it transpired, lived but a moment.
There was a moment of stupid, fumbling indecision on the part of the mounted robbers, who, had they been self-possessed only, without necessarily being quick, could have secured the money and the dead man’s horse.
Schermerhorn was on the outside with his Winchester in time to have picked off one or two men, but though he industriously worked the trigger he forgot the lever and the gun refused to do execution. At this junction Will Brumbaugh grabbed the Winchester and took three shots at the mounted robbers, who then deserted dead man, horse and money and took to the prairie, riding northwest on a gallop.
After the mounted men had decamped Schermerhorn went up the hill and brought back to the bank the sack of money, which was counted. Its contents were $1,490 in cash.
A violent dust storm arose a short time afterward which made trailing very difficult, though several men attempted to give chase. Among them was A.R. Buzick, president of the bank, mounted on the animal ridden by the dead robber. All returned in a few hours.
The dead man was removed to an empty room and stripped, when it was found that the ball from the Sharp’s rifle had struck him about halfway from the point of the right hip to the right shoulder blade, three inches to the right of the spine. It had ranged upward and to the left, through both lungs and heart, severing the aorta, and out at the left breast. The hemorrhage was profuse.
He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, quite spare, weighing about 135 pounds, having evidently been very lithe and active. His forehead was receding, nose prominent, eyes set rather prominent. His hair was profuse, brown in color with a yellowish tinge; mustache was large, thick and overhanging, and yellowish brown. There were two slight scars upon the scalp, and a slight scar just below the right knee.
Twenty-five dollars would cover the value of the dead man’s clothes, which included two pairs of drawers and three undershirts.
A broad belt was strapped around his body reaching from below the waist to the arm pits. It contained 250 cartridges and two 44-calibre pistols, which were the only arms upon him. Besides a jackknife was a purse with four or five collars in silver, the dead man’s money.
Two bottles of whisky, a bottle of liniment, several vials of medicine, and lint, cotton and bandages in profusion were stored away in his pockets. Among these effects was a slip of paper containing the following address: "Stephen McKee, Hickory street, St. Joseph, Mo." There was also a prescription signed "Garland, M.D., Morganville, Clay county."
The whole outfit showed that the owner was out as a road agent, fixed to fight, to take care of his own wounds, if he received any, to lie out in the cold, and to take all the chances of a desperado’s life.
The captured horse was a fine bay mare, about eight years old, built for speed and bottom.