Friday, 20 August 2010


A review of my short story 'ONE DAY IN LIBERTY' written under the name Jack Giles is now at Davy Crockett's Almanack.
It is just one of twenty one stories in 'A FISTFUL OF LEGENDS.

So here is a reprise of the background to the story:

Tuesday the 13th February 1866 was a cold overcast day. A blustery wind had picked up that carried a hint of snow. This did not deter the ten men who drifted into the town of Liberty, Missouri in twos and threes and who met up outside the Clay County Savings Association Bank.
Nobody took much notice after all it was not unusual to see groups of men meet up and hang around outside the bank.
Nor did it cause the bank cashier, Greenup Bird or his son, the teller, William much concern when, at 2 pm that day, two men entered the bank. One paused by the stove to warm his hands while the other approached William Bird with the request that he change up a $10 dollar bill.
So began what was to become the biggest bank robbery in the annals of the west.
What made this robbery different from any other was that it was the first bank robbery to be carried out in broad daylight.
Both the vault and the tills were cleaned out though the amount taken varies to different accounts. James Love, the bank president, claimed that only $50,000 in cash, gold and bonds were taken whereas contempory accounts put the figure as high as $75,000. The only consistent figure is that part of the haul amounted to between $40 -$45,000 in bearer bonds.
The robbery would have gone unnoticed had the robbers thought to have locked the vault where they had imprisoned both Greenup Bird and his son. The Birds escaped to raise the alarm and that was when the shooting started - fire was exchanged between robbers and citizens during which 19 year old William Jewell College student, George Wymore, was killed. His killing was laid at the robbers feet.
James Love posted a reward of $5000 for the capture of the robbers and return of the money - it was never claimed.
So who were the robbers?
Whoever robbed the Clay County Savings Association Bank knew the two Birds for when locking them up one of the robbers was heard to say: "All Birds should be caged." And, I rather imagine that Greenup Bird was well aware of who was pointing a gun at him.
Also of note is that at the outbreak of the American Civil War the State of Missouri declared for the Union while a vast majority of the people backed the Confederacy. Most of the inhabitants of Clay County alone were from Tennessee and Virginia and had brought their slaves with them and had hemp and tobacco plantations.
The Clay County Savings Association Bank was a pro-Union bank - therefore, a prime target for returning disgrunted Confederate soldiers some of whom would have not been happy with the state of their farms and greedy banks calling in loans etc.
Months later suggestions of names were put forward suggesting people who had ridden with Frank and Jesse James who lived 10 miles to the north at Kearney, Missouri. Feasible as the robbers rode north out of Liberty followed by a posse who lost the trail when a blizzard struck wiping out the trail.
The reward flyer put out by James Love states that the gang operated out of Sibley in Jackson County - which is to the south of Clay County.
One problem that I see with the James boys being involved is that at the time of the robbery Jesse was at home recovering from a chest wound.
Nor do any accounts of the James-Younger gang reveal that they were responsible for the first daylight bank robbery - then again, they didn't deny it.
Of one thing that is certain is that the robbery was carried out by people who were local to Liberty or residents of Clay County.
After reading many accounts of this robbery there are two things that stand out.
The first is that one of the robbers mentioned the Birds by name and I suspect that the elder Bird knew who at least one of the robbers was. Also, accounts say that when the Birds were placed in the vault the robbers forgot to lock the door. I do not think that the robbers forgot - they never intended to lock the door. This was not an oversight but carried out by someone who knew that it might be some time before they were discovered and released - by which time the Birds could have suffocated and died.
I believe that it was expected that the Birds would be too scared to try the door and thus give the robbers the chance to escape undetected.
The second thing that strikes me is the matter of the bearer bonds. There is no paper trail - though it was just about two and a half years after the robbery that the last bond was cashed.
To my mind this was a robbery that was planned down to the last detail and may have been a one off.
One other thought that occurs is that many of the investors were also Union supporters who were hit by the robbery. The bank trading was suspended and they were paid out at 60 cents to the dollar - damaging enough to put some people out of business.
Of course, all those involved in the events of that one day in Liberty are long dead and the truth may never be known. The identity of those who committed the first and largest daylight bank robbery will remain a mystery.

Writing about a true historical event is not easy. In fact the story was not even in my mind when the proposals for the anthology were first mooted. It took a cold and a day in bed for me to discover the threads of the story.
I was reading the December 1980 issue of the short lived Western Magazine where there was an article by Jeff Burton called 'Daylight Robbery At Liberty' in which he asked the question: Who were the dirty dozen who got away with point-blank murder?
After reading this a different type of germ began to take shape.
The first thing that I noticed when surfing the net was that there were a bunch of people out there who believed that the robbery was carried out by the James-Younger gang.
On the other side of the coin were another bunch of people who offered other ideas like the one where it was one of Quantrell's lieutenants who robbed the bank.
Yet not one account answered a simple question - why?
Because it was there? I don't think so.
My main concentration went to looking for a reason why. The first was easy the robbery at Liberty was the first daylight robbery - so it had to be planned. The second was the $40,000 in bonds - they were disposed off without leaving a trail.
There had to be a middle man in there somewhere.
All the time the germ of an idea was turning into a story.
There aren't many post-Civil War stories around. In fact I can only remember a scene from a John Payne movie (yes Payne, not a typing error)and another with John Chandler Davies that dealt with the Reconstruction era.
Without a word on the page the character of Nathan Clarke was forming. His fears for the future; the hanging of the Andersonville Commandant, Henry Wirz and the collapse of communities as the land grabbers moved in. I could feel his anger and frustration not only with the situation but with the prejudice against those who had fought for or supported the 'wrong' side.
He became the kind of man who would rob the bank in Liberty in daylight - a tactical surprise.
For the robbery itself I stuck to both the description and dialogue as reported.
As there are several accounts of the robbers escape and the chase I did condense several accounts into one.
I don't buy the story that the nineteen year old boy, George Wymore, was gunned down by the robbers. Again there are several accounts which place him in the locale but in different places ranging from raising the alarm himself to crossing the road further up from the bank. He could just as easily been a victim of 'friendly fire' as to being gunned down by a bunch of men trying to make their escape or a ricochet.

Like all the other authors in the anthology 'A Fistful Of Legends' we had an excellent editor in the shape of Nik Morton. He asked a few questions and made a couple of suggestions and the result is what you read.

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