Occasionally I am asked if there are any famous ancestors in my family tree. I always have to think about that question. I have searched for an ancestor that did something remarkably noteworthy, but I haven’t come up with much. Most of my ancestors were just common folk, doing ordinary jobs and the necessary chores from day to day.
I can’t trace my ancestry back to Charlemagne. I have not discovered that I descend from any US presidents or any famous war generals. There are no great inventors, famous authors or actors in past generations of my family.
Sometimes I get so desperate for information about some of my ancestors that I think I would welcome a notorious ancestor into the family tree. At least there would be a paper trail if an ancestor was an outlaw or a fugitive. No such luck there, either. My ancestors were all God-fearing, law-abiding citizens. However, sometimes the good guys meet up with the bad guys.
I have one collateral ancestor that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he did meet up with some very bad guys. He is the one person I usually think about when asked about a famous ancestor in my family tree.
James Henry Brewster is not in my direct ancestry line. He was my great-great-granduncle, the older brother of my great-great-grandfather, Daniel Brewster.
The Brewsters were originally from Pennsylvania. James Henry lived in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, from about 1850-1884, when he and his family moved to Cherryvale, Kansas. He was a very successful stone mason and contractor there. He built the Montgomery County, Kansas, courthouse in about 1886, as well as several other city buildings. Some of his sons continued the family construction business as the Brewster Brothers. James Henry and his brother Daniel both served in the Civil War, both in Company E, 80th OVI.
James Henry Brewster has gone down in history as one of the men standing in line in the First National Bank in Coffeyville, Kansas, when the Dalton Gang robbed the bank and afterward had their last shoot-out.
The Dalton Gang had a good start on a life of crime. They stole a herd of cattle and robbed several trains between 1890 and 1892. A couple members of the gang had escaped from jail and a reward was offered for their capture.
On Wednesday morning, 5 October 1892, five members of the Dalton Gang rode into Coffeyville, Kansas. They wore disguises and planned to rob two banks at the same time. Once in town the Daltons were recognized by several townspeople. The word was spread and many citizens armed themselves with their own guns and with weapons from nearby hardware stores. The citizens were ready and waiting for the gang members as they came out of the banks.
Gang members Gratton Dalton, Bill Powers, and Dick Broadwell robbed the C.M. Condon & Co. Bank. Bob and Emmett Dalton robbed the First National Bank across the street. Bob Dalton was the leader of the Dalton Gang and that morning they took nearly $25,000 from the two banks.
As they emerged from the banks the robbers were fired upon by the citizens and law officers. In the end, eight men died and four men were wounded. Gratton and Bob Dalton, Bill Power and Dick Broadwell were killed. Emmett Dalton was severely wounded. Four of Coffeyville’s defenders were also killed: Marshall C.T. Connelly, Lucious Baldwin, George Cubine, and Charles Brown. Three other citizens were wounded.
Here is how the Montgomery County History describes the event:…the First National across the street. Bob Dalton and Emmet entered here about the same time the other three men went into Condon’s. They covered the cashier, Thomas G. Ayers, and the teller, W. H. Shepard, with their guns and ordered everyone present to hold up his hands. The men in the bank in front of the counter at the time were J. H. Brewster, the well known contractor, who built the county court house, A. W. Knotts, who was afterward deputy sheriff, and C. L. Hollingsworth…. This account goes on to give a detailed description of the shootout that occurred that day. (source: History of Montgomery County, Kansas, Duncan, 1903:35)
That is the story of my semi-famous collateral ancestor. James Henry Brewster was a very successful contractor who constructed buildings that are still used today and was a man who survived the last shootout of the Dalton Gang.