Jesse Stanbridge’s breath came in a plume as the bitter January cold bit into him. He dug his hands deeper into the pockets of his overcoat as he walked through the Iowa night.
His eyes scanned the railyard. Stanbridge wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just anything that stood out. He shivered, silently cursing the cold weather.
Stanbridge thought that he would have been used to the cold by now. Born in Illinois in 1877, he had grown up accustomed to the frigid Midwestern winters. Now in his early thirties, his tolerance for them seemed to wear away with each passing year.
For over a decade, Stanbridge had walked railyards across Iowa and Illinois through long winters as a railroad detective. Now, in 1909, Stanbridge was working for the Burlington Railroad Company, stationed in the city of Creston, Iowa.
The county seat of Union County in Southwest Iowa, Creston could boast upwards of fifty trains passing through it every single day. It was a major railroading center and, as such, deserved to have an equally grandiose station to reflect that.
In 1899, a large two-story railroad station had been constructed to accommodate the heavy train traffic. It was made of light-yellow colored brick, punctuated by large arching windows. Railroad offices were housed on the second story, while the first floor boasted a green-tiled waiting room where passengers could buy a ticket, grab something to eat, or simply wait comfortably until their train arrived outside.
While it was tempting to think that nothing would ever happen in the quiet farm country of southwest Iowa, or anywhere else in the rural Midwest for that matter, there was always someone around willing to take advantage of that.
Perhaps most famously, the James-Younger Gang had staged the first robbery of a moving train in nearby Adair County, only a little over twenty miles from Creston.
On a much smaller scale, there was always someone who was willing to sneak into the railyard and steal goods and materials that they could either use for themselves or re-sell at a profit. There were also people who would sneak into the boxcars and ride the trains for free.
While the vast majority of those people were harmless, someone had to get them off the trains, lest people get the impression that they could ride the trains without paying.
And, of course, there was always the chance of problems amongst the paying customers. Every so often someone would not like the way they were treated at the ticket window or want to pick a fight with someone else in the waiting room.
Just like policeman everywhere, it was the job of men like Jesse Stanbridge to keep the peace. As a matter of fact, there was an incident just like that earlier that day.
Stanbridge had a minor argument with a man named Charles Rowe, a local farmer. There had been a few words exchanged, but nothing had come of it. The issue had been resolved, and the two men had gone about their business.
Stanbridge played through the argument again in his mind as he continued on his rounds. It was just another incident in a long list of similar events that had occurred in his career.
As he came nearer the station, he was surprised to see Charles Rowe, the farmer he had argued with, walking toward him. It was almost as if the mere thought of him had summoned him out of his memory and into reality before him. Stanbridge was surprised for a moment, but quickly composed himself.
He greeted Rowe as the farmer approached. Rowe grunted something in return. A few steps more and the men were standing face to face.
Rowe glared at the detective. After a moment, he spoke. He said that he had been thinking about their argument all day. Rowe stated that what he just couldn’t stand was the fact that Stanbridge had pulled a gun on him and pointed it at his face.
Stanbridge was shocked but tried not to let it show. He told Rowe that he had never held the farmer at gunpoint. Rowe was mistaken, and Stanbridge had put the whole affair behind him. He suggested Rowe do the same.
Rowe, however, was absolutely convinced that Stanbridge had pulled a gun on him, and that just would not stand. After mulling it over, Rowe had come to the station to confront Stanbridge about it. Once again, the detective vehemently denied the accusation, but Rowe insisted.
The two began to argue. With neither giving an inch, their voices gradually rose until they were shouting at each other. Rowe began to call Stanbridge names and making accusations against him. Now it was Stanbridge’s turn to take exception.
He had tried to be calm and reasonable, but that obviously wasn’t working. If the farmer had come looking for a fight, then Stanbridge would give him one. Temper flaring, the detective lunged at Rowe, grabbing him by the throat.
Stanbridge was a strong man and knew how to use that strength to his advantage in a fight. He squeezed Rowe’s windpipe, choking the air from his lungs.
Rowe reached up and tried to break the detective’s grip, but the man’s hand was like iron. He was desperate to get away, to breathe again. Suddenly, he remembered something.
Rowe reached down into his pocket and grabbed his folding knife. It was small, but it was the only weapon that he could get his hands on.
Unfolding it, he put the blade up to the detective’s neck, but found that Stanbridge’s thick overcoat covered it. Desperate, Rowe began to cut at the material. The farmer kept his knife razor sharp, and the blade cut through the material and deep into Stanbridge’s neck.
The detective suddenly felt a sharp sting of pain in his neck, then a flood of warmth as blood gushed from the wound the knife had left. He immediately let Rowe go, both of his hands clamping down hard on the wound, trying to stem the flow of blood.
Someone heard the altercation and immediately ran to get help. Stanbridge was taken to a local hospital, where doctors examined him. Although his wound was very serious, he would make a full recovery. Within a few months, he was back patrolling the railroad yard.
Rowe was arrested by local authorities and indicted for the attempted murder of Jesse Stanbridge.
Ancestry.com. Iowa, U.S., State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
Year: 1900; Census Place: Quincy Ward 1, Adams, Illinois; Roll: 235; Page: 10; Enumeration District: 0120; FHL microfilm: 1240235
Farmer Stabs Detective. The Des Moines Register, 1/6/1909
Charles Rowe Indicted. Sioux City Journal, 1/27/1909.
The Gazette, 1/28/1909, p. 11