Albert City, Iowa was a quiet little town in 1901. Then on November 16, three bank robbers changed all of that.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If God won’t have you the devil must.”
That was the epitaph one of the citizens of Albert City, Iowa muttered as the town buried one dead outlaw on November 17, 1901. The man’s death, the day before, followed Albert City’s claim to the biggest gun battle that the state of Iowa had ever had.
Albert City, in 1901, was considered a quiet little town with a population of around 800. Lying just a few miles north of State Road 3 on the eastern edge of Buena Vista County, and some eight miles from Sioux City, nothing very exciting ever occurred there—that is until November 16 in 1901.
That morning town marshal Carlos Lodine had gotten a wire, telling him that three men, suspected of robbing a Greenville, Iowa bank, were possibly heading in the direction of Albert City. This was certainly big news and Lodine at once began to round up a posse. But before he could make any headway, Lodine was told that there were three strangers hanging around the train depot. Someone said they had come into town from the north, probably along the tracks of the Wabash and St. Louis Railroad.
With only a group of five other men at his side, mostly merchants that Lodine had passed out guns to, he advanced on the depot.
As the group of Albert City citizens, with Marshal Lodine at their head, neared the depot Lodine shouted to the bank robbers: “You are our prisoners!” Instantly the three bank robbers went for their guns and began firing. It was estimated later, after the smoke had cleared, that some 64 shots had been fired.
Marshal Lodine was the first man to go down, with a severe wound in the stomach. Then townsman John Sundblad was dropped with one bullet in his side and another in his chest.
After the bloody gun battle at the railway depot, the two remaining outlaws escape in a wagon. Lodine, Sundblad, and the wounded outlaw die.
The depot gave the gunmen good protection but it didn’t take much to figure that soon more men from the town would show up. They needed to move and do it fast. When the next train pulled in the outlaws used it for cover. They then dashed across the tracks to a large corncrib. There, they took shelter.
Not too far from this corncrib stood a shed. Here, the operator of the local grain elevator, a Mr. Bush, had hitched his horse earlier that morning. Seeing the possibility of an escape, one of the outlaws made a dash for the horse. It was a big and costly mistake.
Posseman Mike Collins quickly aimed and fired at the bandit, hitting him in the leg. The outlaw’s progress now considerably slowed, a second bullet struck him in the stomach.
About that same time a farmer named Peterson pulled up with his wagon. The remaining two outlaws made a dash for it, firing over their shoulders as they ran. They safely reached Peterson’s wagon, jumped aboard, and ordered Peterson to “lash his horses and head out of town.” The two outlaws had made their escape—at least for now.
Now a silence spread through Albert City. Marshal Lodine, who was bleeding severely, had pulled himself into a nearby root cellar. Lodine soon died, as did his friend Sundblad. The outlaw also was dying.
The two bank robbers that had escaped in Peterson’s wagon made it to a cornfield just south of the nearby town of Laurens. It was there that the posse caught up to them. After another exchange of shots, the two outlaws surrendered.
After another gun battle, the two escaped outlaws surrender. A lawman from Sioux Rapids prevents the outlaws from being lynched.
The two remaining outlaws were returned to Albert City. For a while there was some serious talk of lynching the two. But then a lawman from Sioux Rapids arrived and, in his own way, discouraged the idea of illegal justice.
The day after the gun battle at the Albert City depot a makeshift and short-changed funeral was held for the dead outlaw. A crude box, made from scrap lumber, had been hurriedly nailed together. For some reason unexplained, a round hole had been dug in the public cemetery and the outlaw, after being place within the crude box, was tossed into the hole.
It was then that a town member named Geyer picked up a handful of dirt and threw it down onto the box and offered the before mentioned mock words of bereavement, commending the outlaw to the devil if God wouldn’t have him.