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Friday, May 6, 2016

History's mystery in Albert City

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

One-hundred years ago, a wild west style shootout in Albert City claimed three lives and left a mystery that may never be solved. Next week, residents of the town will commemorate the centennial anniversary of that eventful day...

Around 3 p.m. on the afternoon of November 16, 1901, three men sauntered into the Medlicott Restaurant in the depot of Albert City, ready to relax and enjoy a good meal in the quiet northwest Iowa community.

The small town, which had just been founded two years before, had only one central telephone in the entire community, and, assuming no one in Albert City would know they had just robbed a bank in the neighboring city of Greenville the night before, the trio of robbers boldly decided to satisfy their hunger in the public restaurant.

It turned out to be the last meal they would ever enjoy together.

Word had reached Albert City Marshal Charley Lodine that the robbers were in town, and he rounded up some fellow citizens of the community to go to the depot and arrest the three men.

After entering the depot fully armed, the Albert City residents expected the robbers to surrender quietly. Instead, their appearance touched off the biggest shootout the area had ever seen, claiming the lives of three men and ingraining itself into the annals of community history.

One century later, the gun battle is still remembered by citizens of the town, who will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the firefight next Friday in Albert City.

Marilyn Bolte, the curator of the Albert City Historical Museum, said the exchange of gunfire between the locals and the badmen was one of the most important events in Albert City's history.

"It's one of the biggest things that has ever happened here," Bolte said. "It was definitely a landmark event in the history of Albert City, especially at that time, since the town was so young."

Bolte said the thieves, who had just robbed the Greenville Bank, located between Sioux Rapids and Spencer, came to Albert City simply in search of a meal, and miscalculated how fast news of a crime could travel on the prairie.

However, one of the men was mulatto, and Bolte said once the word reached townspeople, it was not long before a posse formed and went straight to the depot, where they had seen the only mulatto man in town.

John Sundblad, Alfred Gulbranson, W.B. Gillham, Michael Conlin, E.L. Schaub, and Dr. D.E. Knee went with Lodine to assist him in collaring the criminals, and, while Lodine, Sundblad, Gulbranson and Gillham were armed, none of them expected to use their weapons.

They were mistaken.

"Those robbers weren't afraid to start shooting when they were confronted at all," Bolte said. "They knew how to use their weapons, and in their line of work, they probably knew they would have to use them on somebody someday. That day just happened to come in Albert City."

The three suspects each drew two guns from their hips and unloaded a hail of gunfire at the posse, and then took cover behind a black pot-bellied stove in the corner of the restaurant while the battle continued.

As members of the posse riddled the area where the robbers hid with bullets, the thieves slipped out the back door of the depot and continued to spray ordinance at the Albert City citizens, who soon saw two of their own become casualties of the battle.

Lodine was the first to be hit, as a bullet ripped through his left hip at the upper part of the thigh in the outer part of the leg, and became lodged near the groin area. Sundblad was the next to be shot, as a bullet penetrated through the flour merchant's shoulder and pierced the upper lobe of the left lung, numbing his left arm almost immediately.

Despite being hit, Sundblad continued to pursue the robbers by the Skewis & Moen elevator standing by the railroad next to the depot, but then received a second gunshot wound in the hip by one of the thieves, and collapsed near the elevator.

After seeing one of their partners be struck by gunfire while attempting to steal a horse and buggy to use in the getaway, the two surviving robbers fled southeast of town, where they happened upon Charley Peterson, who had stopped his team of horses after hearing the gunfire and seeing the smoke near the railroad.

The pair quickly hijacked the horses and attempted to ride the horses southward, but, after one of the horses refused to go any further, they met the traveling buggy of Mrs. John Anderson, threw out the passengers and then used that to continue their escape.

Bolte said the use of the Anderson buggy was one of the most interesting parts of the entire event, as the mulatto man was calm enough to write a letter of apology to Mrs. Anderson and stuff it and $11 of the stolen money under the back seat cushion of the vehicle.

She said the incident illustrates the intelligence of the robber, who had apparently received more education than many of the men living in northwest Iowa at that time.

"He was able to speak five languages fluently and was also a skilled poet," Bolte said. "His father must have valued education very highly, because it was still rare back then for men of color to receive the kind of education this man received. It makes you wonder why he decided to become a bank robber instead of something else in society."

After abandoning the Anderson vehicle, the men then changed teams of horses two more times, hoping to throw their pursuers off track long enough for nightfall to arrive, when an escape would have been much easier.

Their plans were spoiled when one of the robbers was thrown from his horse near the Fagerland farm six miles east of town, and, as a number of Albert City citizens closed in on them, they surrendered and were marched into town just as the sun began to fade from the horizon.

The men were identified as Albert Phillips and Lewis Brooks, but Bolte said the names of both robbers were fictitious, as they did not want to bring shame upon their families by revealing their true identities.

The third robber died at 11 the next morning, refusing to the end to reveal his name. His tombstone reads only "Bank Robber," and he still has never been identified. Sundblad passed away five hours later from the puncture to his lung. Lodine survived for several days after the attack, but also died from his injuries.

Bolte said it was amazing that only three people died in the confrontation, as 64 38-caliber bullet shells were picked up in the depot alone after the battle.

"Years ago, people were good shots, especially in close quarters like the depot," Bolte said. "It's very fortunate that more people weren't killed."

Today, people can relive the battle in the Albert City Historical Museum, as the archive has a gun one of the robbers used, countless bullet shells, the handwritten note and money found in Mrs. Anderson's buggy, the hinge from the safe the thieves cracked in Greenville and the horse hide of the animal who pulled Mrs. Anderson's buggy.

Numerous bullet holes are also still visible on the walls of the depot-turned-museum, placed on the National Registry of Historic Places due to the century-old shootout.

The incident may have taken place on Nov. 16, 1901, but Bolte said the importance of the event is still evident in Albert City in November of 2001.

"It's really just a fascinating event," Bolte said. "It's been 100 years and people haven't forgotten it, and I don't think it's something that people in Albert City will forget anytime soon."

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