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Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015

The Bad Old Days

Monday, August 29, 2005

In the cemetery west of Albert City there is a gravestone simply marked "Bank Robber." And inside today's museum, which once served as the town's depot, five holes in the walls are mute testimony to a gun battle that ultimately claimed the life of a bank robber and two Albert City men in November of 1901. Another community man was injured and two other men involved in the robbery were later captured and sent to prison.

It is a piece of history that people still talk about today - and many are amazed when they hear the story of the Albert City tragedy for the first time.

On the afternoon of Nov. 16, 1901, the local marshal, C.J. Lodine, was contacted by telephone - a very new invention for the two-year-old town - to be on the lookout for two men and a mulatto man who had apparently robbed the Greenville Bank and were headed in his direction.

The three men in fact had arrived, by first taking an old rail car during the early morning and abandoned it, completing their journey by foot.

Because of the oddity of a mulatto, he was not easily disguised and talk was abuzz when he was noticed eating at a cafe inside the depot. The marshal first called upon several townsmen to form a posse, including John Sunblad, Alfred Gulbranson, W.B. Gillham, Michael Conlin, E.L. Schaub, Dr. D.E. Knee and others. It was hoped that the three robbers would realize they were outgunned and give up without a fight. The Albert City men were caught by surprised when the three outlaws pulled out a total of six guns and began firing.

The marshal was hit first and retreated. Businessman John Sunblad took a bullet to his shoulder which passed into his left lung. By now the fight was outside. Sunblad followed the robbers across the street, snapping off two shots at the men despite his wound. He was hit again in the hip. He hobbled up the street and passed his gun onto resident Otto Johnson, telling bystanders he was done for.

Help did not make it to him for another 10 minutes as shots were being fired from each side of the street.

It was a bullet from Mike Conlin's rifle that caught one of the bank robbers who was attempting to hitch up a horse to a buggy. The other two outlaws retrieved his guns and left him, laying in a pool of blood. They made their way down the road and pushed aside resident Charles Peterson who had halted his team just out of town, and rode off with his rig.

They switched modes of transport a couple more times as they made their way down the road, heisting rigs from innocent bystanders, including one belonging to a mother, Augusta Anderson, and two of her young children.

The chase ended peacefully, with the Albert City posse leading the two bank robbers back to town to cheers from the townspeople. People had started to stream in from surrounding towns, having heard news of the gun battle.

The two men were taken to the same room at the Hotel Cummings where the third robber was slowly dying.

Sheriff Parker of Storm Lake soon arrived. A search of the three prisoners recovered a rubber bag containing the explosive nitroglycerine, small steel saws and razor, all used in the robbery. A total of $500 was also recovered from the three.

Marshal Lodine and businessman Sunblad died. The injured robber, who asked often to be shot and put out of his misery, was treated, but died the next morning. He was repeatedly asked his name and where his family lived so that they could be notified, but to the end he refused to give up his identity.

It is interesting to note that though the two prisoners who tried to escape the law, apparently felt some remorse in what they were doing. They handed money, $10 and $15, to two of the persons that stole transportation from. In the buggy borrowed from the mother and children, $11 was left as well as a handwritten note which stated, "Dear Madam - It is the most regrettable incident of my life that we were compelled to make you evacuate the rig. But under the stress of the circumstances, won't you please pardon me. Signed, The ?"

That note was kept by the woman for many years and it was passed on to her family. The original note is now a part of the Albert City Museum.

The two robbers were sent to state prison in Ft. Madison, convicted only of murder as enough evidence could not be gathered to charge them with the bank robbery.

Their true identities were never revealed, and no hint of their named has yet been discovered. It was discovered while in prison that the Mulatto was incredibly well educated and could speak five languages. He died in 1911. The other man died in 1926 of an apparent cerebral hemorrhage.

The story still comes up occasionally. Curator/registrar of the museum Marilyn Bolte speaks of the series of events whenever called upon. The reminders of the event are still present in the depot which now serves as the museum. She points to the bullet holes, noting that 64 38-caliber shells were picked up in the depot alone following the battle.

Also part of the display from that tragic day are a small glass case that holds a gun used in the event, and a cardboard box which still holds ammunition.

The museum also owns another unusual relic, the hide of the horse, Nellie, who was used in the getaway. Nellie was the horse pulling the buggy carrying Mrs. Anderson and two of her children.

The dead robber was buried in 1901, in a roughly-made box, directly outside of the cemetery. One of five men that helped put the man in the ground apparently repeated, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; if God won't have you the devil must," as he threw a handful of dirt on top of the coffin. His grave was not marked, at the time, with a permanent marker. But when an expansion to the cemetery was made many years later, the grave became part of the cemetery. Despite the sadness that had been caused by the three robbers, the community felt it was only right to properly mark the grave. A stone, inscribed with, "Bank Robber - Nov. 21, 1901" now marks the site of man who seemingly may forever remain a mystery.

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