Carmer, Carl. “The Loomis Gang,” Listen for a Lonesome Drum: A York State Chronicle. Quinn & Boden Company. Rahway, N.J. 1936.
“The Loomis Gang”
George Washington Loomis tried to kiss Rhoda Mallet when she was churning and Rhoda slammed the hell out of him with the plunger. Soon they were married.
Rhoda bore George Washington twelve children before he died in 1851. Everybody always spoke kindly of George Washington Loomis. He was a nice, easygoing man, they said. Of Rhoda and her brood (nine of them lived to maturity) there were differing opinions. These become more pronounced after the father’s death – particularly when storekeepers began missing things. It did not take the merchants long to note that this usually happened after the visit of one of the Loomises. It was rumored that Rhoda beat the children who did not bring back anything useful after a visit to town.
Wash was the oldest and his brothers were Plum, Grove, Wheeler, Denio. Cornelia, Eclista, Alucia and Charlotte were the girls. On the three-hundred-acre farm above the swamp the children grew tall and strong and handsome. Their good blood asserted itself in the perfection of their bodies, the alertness of their bearing, the winning charm of their manners. They learned to ride horses like cavalrymen and they explored the strange watery ways of the swamp until they knew every vine-choked passage, every still morass, in its labyrinthine depths.
The first story that most folks tell about the Loomises is the only one they laugh over. Cornelia and Charlotte Loomis went to a dance one winter’s night at Hubbardsville. They
were the prettiest girls in Madison County with their pink cheeks, bright eyes, and figures that a life in the saddle had made lithe and rounded. They danced joyously and with many partners. But after the fiddler had played Home, Sweet Home a terrific hubbub arose in the room set aside for ladies’ coats. Not a single muff could be found. Lady after lady sternly demanded that her escort “do something about it” while her hoopskirt bobbed up and down with the sobs she strove to repress. But a tearless minx saved the evening. Approaching Charlotte Loomis she suddenly gave her a quick push that landed her on a sofa. With a shameless gesture the artful detective lifted Charlotte’s widespread skirt – and there snugly stowed above and below each shapely knee were many muffs. It was but the work of a moment to discover that Cornelia was similarly accoutered and the young men of the party with a hearty good will began the work of reclaiming the furs and distributing them to their rightful owners.
The next inkling that Madison County people had of the intent of the Loomisses toward their neighbors was more serious. One morning a farmer seeking to water the pride of his life, a sleek Morgan mare, found the stable empty, his new shiny black buggy with red wheels fone from the carriage barn, the harness with the silver trimmings no longer hanging on its accustomed nail.
On his way to town he stopped by the Loomis place and told Wash and Plum about it. They were much concerned and said many unpleasant things about horse thieves. They offered to ride in pursuit of the scoundrel if his track could be found. Nevertheless, the farmer rode on with the helpless feeling that within a few rods of him in the silent swamp lay the end of his search.
Other horses and wagons disappeared and there were mutterings of angry men along the Chenango Valley. A hired man
tending a sick calf at three in the morning reported that he had heard hoofbeats along the road and peering out from the cow shed he had seen fire horsemen pass and three of them were leading extra horses. They were tall men, he said, and they rode well. A farmer who had been robbed of a horse said they were Loomises. The next night his barns burned to the ground and he lost all his hogs and cows and chickens. After that suspicions grew but no one had the courage to voice them. A man who lived in ****** Hollow recognized his own saddle on a horse Wash Loomis was riding but he did not dare claim it. Farmers lost sleighs and blankets, butter, cheese and chickens, and fearfully said nothing. Strange men from other counties were seen driving small groups of horses along the west side of the swamp. The talk was that the Loomises received the horses, changed their markings bu the use of dyes, and sold them in Albany.
For ten years the Loomises took tribute from their neighbors, living like graceless feudal lords on the gleanings of others and no one dared raise a hand against them. Then a small sandy-haired man named James Filkins was elected constable of the little town of Waterville. He said quietly he was “goin’ to clean up the Loomises.” The answer to that was a charge of buckshot that crashed it was through a window, narrowly missing Officer Filkins as he sat reading in his home.
Things happened faster then. A tin peddler, his shiny cargo of dippers and pans glistening in the sun, set out along the west road from Hubbardsville to Sangerfield. He did not reach Sangerfield and no one ever saw him again. A ***** farm hand working for the Loomises told a friend he was leaving them because he never got any pay. The next day he was dead, his jugular vein cut. The Loomises said he fell on his scythe. A serving girl at the Loomis place, made pregnant by one of the brothers, was shot through the stomach. Her death
was reported a regrettable accident resulting from the cleaning of a gun. One afternoon a farmer’s wife heard a timid knock on the front door. She opened it and in stumbled an hysterical girl. When she could speak she said she had been working for the Loomises, had begged to be allowed to quit, and had been forced to stay on against her will. She had pretended to go berrying that day and had run across the fields in terror. One of the children of the house to which she came was a wide-eyed witness of her panic-stricken entrance and it is she, now a gray-haired lady, who told me of it.
The swamp and its low rising banks had become an abhorred place. The mutterings of the angry men subsided into silence – but it was the waiting silence of desperation. They knew what to expect from the Loomises – seizure of their property, dishonor to their women, death to their friends and perhaps to themselves. And suddenly during the silence the enraged countryside struck.
The story is not a pretty one. When the midnight raid of masked avengers was over, Wash Loomis lay dead in his woodshed “the back part of his head smashed in and his face so disfigured that it was almost impossible to recognize him.” Grove lay senseless in the kitchen, his face marred by brutal kicks, his clothing afire from a grain bag which had been soaked in oil, ignited and thrown upon him. Only the heroic efforts of his sister Cornelia saved his life and kept the house from burning.
No one knew who the disguised raiders were. It was natural that Officer Filkins should be suspected of having had his hand in the affair and he was arrested and indicted for the murder of Wash Loomis. But the efforts of the prosecution were scandalously lackadaisical. Filkins’ bail bond of $10,000 was signed by no less than twenty-eight prominent citizens of Sangerfield and Waterville.
Then, while he awaited trial, Filkins got the chance he wanted – with the law on his side:
I got information yesterday that some horse thieves whom I had been after for a long time came to Loomises’ last Friday night. I left Waterville for the Loomises’ about ten o’clock Saturday night. Four other men and I formed our party. All of us surrounded the house a little after daylight Sunday morning. Mrs. Rhoda Loomis, the mother, was at the back door feeding ducks. As soon as she saw us she halloed out to the men in the house, “Here is Filkins and a lot of men.” We then entered the house and went upstairs. Conger and I started to go up the garret stairs together, Conger a little ahead. At this time someone, I cannot positively say who, stood at the top of the stairs with a gun and said, “Go back, G– da– you, or I will shoot you through.” Conger advanced and the unknown man struck him with the gun, inflicting an ugly wound on the head. I now being some fifteen feet from the unknown man, shot at him with a revolver, do not know whether I hit him or not, but I aimed at his breast. The man now attempted to strike Conger again, and I shot at him a second time, taking aim at his head; do not know whether I hit him or not. Someone then fired a gunshot down the stairs; do not know that anyone was hit. As Conger and I started to go downstairs we met a stronger, who, upon being asked his name gave it, but I now forget it; Conger put the handcuffs on this man. As Conger together with his prisoner and some of our men went out of the house toward the road, the party in the garret fired on them several times. The prisoner was hit on the shoulder and breast with buckshot, wounding him considerably though not dangerously. Conger and his party then went away for help. I stayed there with the others to watch the house. Soon we saw a man come out of the house with a gun and start for the woods. We followed him and he fired at us with a repeating Minie rifle several times and at last hit me, inflicting a wound in the arm and one in the leg; I do not know who the men were, I do not remember much after this.
That happened on a June Saturday. Despite Officer Filkins’ modest asservations that he did not know whether or not he hit anyone, friendly visitors to the Loomises’ on the following Sunday reported two upstairs beds soaked with blood, and a man lying between them “writing, groaning and vomiting by the spells” and wearing the pitiful disguise of a woman’s bonnet.
A week later came the dramatic end. While Officer Filkins, seriously wounded, lay in his bed, a company of about a hundred men approached the Loomis homestead, men from along the Bear Path Road and the Alley-out, men from Clocksville and Munns and Siloam and White’s Corners. It was just daylight on a Sunday morning when they had surrounded the house. Old Rhoda was the first to see the danger and she gave fight like a cornered panther. She threw herself on the first men to reach the doorstep but she was quickly subdued. The rest of the Loomises looked out on the leveled guns of their besiegers and surrendered. Sullenly they sad in irons watching their home and their big barns blazing fiercely toward the blue sky, hearing the screams of their six beautiful horses burning to death in their stalls, the pop of hidden cartridges exploding with the heat.
Then a rope was thrown over the limb of a maple tree and the first to feel its terrifying pressure about his gullet was “The Dutchman,” one of the Loomis servants and companions in crime. Suspended for a few seconds he gestured frantically to be let down and when the rope was loosed he told all that he knew of the crimes the Loomis gang had committed.
Then it was Plum’s turn. He stood up straight while they adjusted the noose. Then he said quietly, “If I confess you’ll kill me, and if I don’t confess you’ll kill me. So kill me anyway.”
The pulled him up and held him there until his eyes
bulged and his face as a dark red. Then they let him down and asked him if he had anything to say. He said no. So they pulled him up again. When he was almost unconscious they let him down. He said he would say nothing. When they let him down the third time he slumped forward on his face and he was senseless for a long time. When he came to, he sobbed and said they would let him live he would confess everything. When he had finished, his brother Groce took up the narrative. He had seen enough hanging that day to be glad to talk. One by one the brothers told of their other crimes. But there was something about the Loomises, something that compelled admiration, even a grudging affection in the face of hatred. When they had finished they had amitted enough to send them to prison for life. Yet all their captors demanded of them was that they promise to sin no more. Only Plum was arrested that day and then for the crime of having stolen a cap from a drygoods store in Canastota the winter before.
On the following Thursday the Waterville Times carried an editorial which began:
After many long years of fruitless endeavors to bring to justice the infernal gang which has so long cursed this town, and, in fact, all this section, the wearied and harassed people have in their despair taken the law into their own hands, with the fixed determination that THIS HELLISH GANG SHALL BE DRIVEN FROM OUR MIDST. The act committed last Sunday morning was illegal, we admit, but it no more deserves the name of a mob or the condemnation of the people than did the revolution by which our forefathers rid our land of British tyranny and robbery. The cases, except in magnitude, bear a similarity to each other. Both were appeals to force, by respectable, virtuous and well-disposed citizens, in disregard of existing laws, to rid themselves of unbearable oppression and wrong which all legal means had failed to reach…
The Loomises kept their word after that awful Sunday. Some of them moved away. Cornelia, “The Outlaw Queen,” married and went to Syracuse to live. Plum stayed on the old place and made a fair living out of it. He died a natural death not so long ago.
There is only one Loomis Gang story left to tell. It is Pop Risley’s story and this is how he tells it:
“A few years ago an Irish peddler came through here carryin’ a pack of tin things. I remembered him because he used to do odd jobs around this part o’ the country. He did some work for the Loomises at one time. Well, he got to talkin’ and by and by he says, ‘Ye know the very year Plum Loomis died I was walkin’ along the other side of the swamp with a lad who’s a friend of mine. We come to Plum’s place and we spoke to him civil and he spoke to us civil. An’ I says, “Do ye mind if we look around a bit?” And Plum says, “Go right ahead.” So we walked about the place for awhile and come back an’ Plum says, “Ye didn’t see nothin’, did yee<” An’ I says, “No, we didn’t see nothin’.” “Well,” he says, “ye don’t know where to look. Just come along with me.” Ye know how the ground rises back o’ where the old house stood before they burned it? We walked up the rise a bit and Plum says, “Now watch,” an’ he puts his foot on a clod just under him. I thought I was drunk for it seemed like the side of the hill in front of us began to move. A slab o’ land the size of a double barn door began to slide upwards and inwards an’ there was a hole big enough to drive a team o’ horses and a surrey in and have room on all sides. The lad an’ I was pretty scared but Plum walks in and we follows along. Soon’s our eyes got used to the light in there I seen it was a cave as big as two carriage barns in one. And all around the outside walls was the prettiest gear I ever seen my life. There was buggies and
traps and coaches and surreys so black and shiny that the light they reflected from the big door behind us fair blinded our eyes. There was saddles with silver mountings and saddles with gold mountings. There was black harness and harness of a pretty light brown color and all the rings of it was polished silver and the check-reins hooked on silver hooks and there was special plates of silver on the blinders. We must ‘a’ stayed in there about an hour lookin’ at all that gear. It was a horseman’s heaven. And when we come out Plum says, “I don’t need to tell you to say nothin’ about this,” an’ I says, “No, ye don’t need to tell me.” Then Plum steps on the clod again and the piece of the hillside rolls down in place an’ ye couldn’t see where it joined on to the rest. Plum died just a few months later an’ nobody else knew about all that stuff bein’ his there. It’s bound to be there yet and I want ye should go over there sometime with me and help me find the clod to step on.'”
Pop says he said, “I’ve got to go on to Hubbardsville right now but I’ll be back and then we’ll both go over there and find that stuff.”
“But he never came back,” says Pop, “and I never believed any of his tarnation foolishness anyway.”