203 1st Ave NE, Waverly, IA 50677

Private John McRoberts

Private John McRoberts was born on 1838 in Fleming County, KY and died May 11, 1868 in Waverly, IA.

John McRoberts entered the Infantry on May 12, 1861, in Cedar Falls, IA, served during the Civil War era and reached the rank of Private before being discharged on April 29, 1862 in Houston, TX.

John McRoberts is buried at Harlington in Waverly, Iowa and can be located at

Armed Forces Grave Registration

2nd. enl. fr m Cedar Falls Ia. Jan 23, 1864 Co. B. 38 Ia. In f and Transferred to Co. I. 34 and 38 Consol Stn. Inf. discharged at Housten Tex. Aug. 15, 1865
Came to Linn Co. Ia. with his oarents in the year of 1849 and in 1850 to Bremer Co. Ia. 3 miles south of Waverly. At pioneers he was one of the natives here of the big woods territory and while good hearted was of the Gruff type and of the fighting kind that all pioneers were of his lot the lorse go and on his return was met by a mob of men who lynched him and hung him to the limb of an oak tree a mile and a half south of Waverly. Whoever from h s comrades we find him to h[ave] been an excellent soldier and more of a hero amoung his comrads than the cowardly fellos who did the lynching. When Co. K. 3 Ia. Inf. was being made up at Cedar Falls Ia. he went there from his home near Jamesvile and istl Enl. 5/21/1861. Was disch. for a disability 8/29/62. 2nd. enlistment in Co. B. 38 Ia. Inf. 1/[?????] 64. Transferred to Co. I. 34-38 Consol. Btln. Ial Inf. 1/1/65 abd disch. at [Hous]ton Tex. 8-15-65.

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McRobertsLynch Law in Bremer County

John McRoberts, a citizen of Janesville, Bremer County, was arrested on Saturday last at Cedar City, near Cedar Falls, on the charge of stealing two horses from a farmer living near Janesville, and taken to Janesville where a trial was held before a Justice of the Peace. This hearing resulted in his being committed to the Bremer County jail for trial. On the trial McRoberts confessed having taken the horses, but claimed that he was drunk at the time and only took them for a ride to Cedar City. He was kept in charge by an officer ’till Monday evening, last when he was given up to the deputy sheriff of that County, who started with him from Janesville at about 8 o’clock P. M. and when within some two miles of Waverly, at about 9 o’clock, the night being dark and a drizzling rain prevailing, the deputy sheriff Mr. Miles states, that, some twenty or more men sprang into the road, siesed the sheriff’s horses, took McRoberts from his custody and hurried him some distance out of the reach and sight of the sheriff. Mr. Miles, very strangely, gave no alarm, but returned to his home, and went to bed. Tuesday morning, a citizen on his way to Waverly, discovered McRoberts hanging to a tree, near the road, and immediately gave the alarm at Waverly, the deputy not reaching that place ’till some time afterward. Intense excitement soon ensued, and crowds went down to the scene of the outrage, but it was not ’till about 11 o’clock A. M. that he was taken down from the tree, and then it was left for a citizen of Waterloo, S. P. Brainard Esq, to do the kindly act. The body was conveyed to Waverly, and first taken to the house of a brother of the murdered man, who refusing it shelter, it was carried to an undertakers, placed in a hoarse, to be buried on Wednesday.
Notwithstanding McRoberts was a desperate character, and a very dangerous man, his death by the means employed, is condemned by all right thinking men. He served in the 38th Iowa Infantry, and, also, a term in the Blackhawk County jail.
The deputy sheriff is very generally censured, as we think with good reason, for a failure to protect, or, at least, the attempt to protect his prisoner.
The general supposition, judging from the evidence on the ground, and the appearance of the body, is that he had been choked to death, before being hanged to the tree.
It is a most reprehensible affair and does not speak very favorably of the community in which it occurred. Although it may be true, as alleged, that he was guilty of almost every crime in the calender, even murder, he was in the safe keeping of the law, and its majesty should have been respected.

Mob Law in Bremer Co.

A Summary Manner of Dealing with a Horse Thief.

A notorious character by the name of John McRoberts, known quite extensively throughout the Cedar Valley, came to a very sudden and untimely end last Monday night near Waverly.
The particulars, as we learn them, are as follows:
McRoberts, it appears, stole a span of horses from Mr. Bryant, near Janesville, last Saturday. As soon as Mr. Bryant discovered that the team was missing, he informed his neighbors and pursuit was at once made. The thief was found and arrested in Cedar City, last Sunday afternoon, and taken to Janesville, where he was held until towards evening of the next day, when he was handed over to Deputy Sheriff Miles, of Bremer county, for safe keeping.
Mr. Miles started at once for Waverly with the prisoner, and when within two miles of that place they were overtaken by a posse of men, between forty and fifty, who took the prisoner away from the sheriff, and without any delay hung him to a tree by the side of the road. This was done about nine o’clock in the evening, and he was found still hanging to the tree on Tuesday morning.
This is by no means the first offense of the kind that McRoberts had been guilty of, and it is reported to us that he confessed to have been one of the men who attacked and robbed Mr. Mills, near Shell Rock, last winter. He had become a desperate and much dreaded character in the neighborhood in which he resided, but we do not offer this as an appology for this utter disregard of the law. The law provides a way for all such characters to be dealt with.
McRoberts once lived with M. L. Knapp, of this place, and up to the time of going into the army, was regarded as a respectable young man, but those best acquainted with him after his enlistment in the Iowa third, inform us that he would murder his best friend for five dollars.
The affair has caused much excitement, and the people of Bremer county are indignant over this summary course of proceeding, although they have no sympathy for the man, and are glad for their sake and that of the unfortunate wretch, that he is out of the way.
We have not learned what effort has been made to arrest the parties who were engaged in this unceremonious execution.

The Lynching of John McRoberts

The last number of the Waverly Republican,
containing a full account of the hanging of John McRoberts, is before us. As stated in our issue of last week, McRoberts was suspected of being a horse thief, and while on his way from Janesville to Waverly, on the evening of the 12th inst., in the custody of the Deputy Sheriff of Bremer County, was taken from him by a mob and hanged to the nearest tree. The affair is denounced by all sensible people, and is a standing disgrace to the community in which the brutal murder was committed. We understand that steps are being instituted to bring the guilty parties to justice, and we hope to chronicle their arrest and conviction of murder in due course of time. We extract the following from the Waverly Republican, together with the statement of Deputy Sheriff Miles. If this man did his duty then the community at large fail to understand the functions of an officer of the law. His conduct in the matter certainly shows guilt:

‘Who committed this midnight murder we know not, and cannot r??? from expressing, on our own part, and in behalf of a large majority of this community, unqualified reprehension of the crime. If, with the District Court in session within the sound of the victim’s groans, a mob is permitted without protest to exercise the highest function of that court, then had we better burn our statues, abolish our system of trial by jury, unmake our judges, and commence the study of jurisprudence as taught by the Ku Klux Klan of Tennessee, or the Guerrillas of Mexico,
Lest it be thought that we are unwarrantably severe is our condemnation of this act of violence, we will state the facts in the case, so far as we have been able to learn them from the most careful inquiry, appending to our statement the testimony under oath of II. A Miles, Deputy Sheriff.
On Saturday night, the 9th inst., a pair of horses were stolen from the stable of Mr. Bryant, who resides some five miles south of town, on the west side of the river, and were found the next day in the same neighborhood, McRoberts, the murdered man, who resides near Mr. Bryant’s, was arrested on Monday morning in Cedar Falls on the suspicion of having stolen them. The suspicion was created by tracks about the stable that exactly corresponded with the soles of the victim’s boots, which ware peculiarly marked, a crescent-shaped piece of leather having been tacked upon one in repairing it. While in Cedar Falls, where he was well acquainted, he made no attempt to secrete himself, but publicly visited the different saloons and drank freely at several of them. When arrested he acknowledged the taking of the horse, but stated in excuse that he was on a spree at the time with another man; that they only intended to ride them a part of the way to the Falls, and that having rode them a short distance they dismounted, tied up their halters and turned them loose. The fact of the horses being found in the road, only about a mile from Bryant’s, with their halters tied up about their necks, is certainly corroborative of this statement. His arrest at Cedar Falls on Monday morning was made without any warrant, by parties from Janesville, to which place he was taken and kept under guard by a large number of men till nearly night, when Deputy Sheriff Miles appeared and took him under arrest by due process of law. – These are all the facts in the case (and of course we cannot vouch for their correctness) which we have been able to learn up to the time the unfortunate man came into the custody of the Deputy Sheriff. The rest of the fearful story – at least all that is now known, save to the perpetrators and their God – may be best learned from the

II A. Miles, having been duly sworn, (by the Coroner) deposes and says: I went to Janesville yesterday (morning) to arrest this man, McRoberts. It was late at night when I got there, and knowing it would be late when I come back with him, after arresting him I got a Mr. Kearn to come up with me because I had heard that McRoberts was a desperate man. I took him into my custody, and in company, with Mr. Kearn, started for Waverly. As I was approaching the sound end of what is called Picayune grove on the Janesville road about a mile south of town my horses seemed to scare a little and I touched them up with my whip. I then discovered some objects in the dark which looked like persons, and I asked Mr. Kearn what that was in the road. Just at this moment my horses were seized by the heads and a man sprang forward and grasped hold of my arms. A second man seized hold of me, when a large number of persons perhaps twenty, assembled around my team and wagon, caught hold of John McRoberts pulled him out of the buggy and started off in an easterly direction with him. – I repeatedly requested and demanded them to released me and my team, as asked them repeatedly what this meant and what they wanted but only one man spoke, and said he wanted those horses at Cedar Falls. After they had got some twenty or thirty rode away with McRoberts, they released me and my team and started after those who had McRoberts; should think there was a party of fifty of them altogether, those that were near by were disguised, and I could not recognize any of them. As soon as I was released I drove to town and went before Mr. Brown, the Justice who issued the warrant of arrest and related to him what had happened and asked him what I had better do. He replied that he did not see as I could do anything, and inquired if I knew whether they were friends or enemies. I told him I did not know. I told some persons at Janesville either than the officers of the law, that I was going to arrest McRoberts; told R. Morehouse and others that I had a warrant for his arrest. I served the warrant on him in the bar-room of the hotel. I left Waverly between five and six o’clock P.M., cannot tell just the hour when I arrived at Janesville. I found McRoberts in the crowd at Janesville in the bar-room; am acquainted with the greater part of the crowd; all of the crowd with whom I was acquainted live in Janesville. It was just about dark – quite dark – when I left Janesville. I was stopped on the main road; McRoberts made no resistance. It was very dark when I was stopped. All the effort I made at resistance was in demanding them to release me.
They grabbed hold of my arms and held them fast, while others surrounded my team. I had a revolver in my undercoat pocket; was wearing an overcoat. Not any words were spoken by the crowd while they were taking McRoberts from the wagon. After I had served the warrant, I saw no disposition manifested by any of the bystanders to interfere with the prisoner. I did not recognize the voice of the person who spoke. I am a member of the Horse-thief Detective Company.
Other witnesses were examined at the inquest but the testimony of Mr. Miles embraces all the material facts bearing ??? rescue of the prisoner, which who after consultation conjured the following,

The said jurors, upon their oath, do say, that the said John McRoberts came to his death on the night of the eleventh of May, 1868, by being feloniously hanged by the neck with a rope to a tree by some person, or persons to us unknown.’

Inquiry Recalls Bremer Lynching

Story of an Almost Unbelievable Crime.

Young Soldier, John McRoberts, Strung Up to a Tree.

Waverly Democrat: The Cedar Falls Record last week published an item stating that a Washington pension attorney had made inquiry as to the whereabouts of John McRoberts, a member of the Third Iowa regiment during the civil war, or of his surviving relatives.
The matter has been called to the attention of Mr. McRoberts’ relatives, and by them referred to Attorney J. Y. Hazlett, who, having ascertain its cause. The assumption is that something in the way of pay or allowances are due McRoberts from the government.
The inquiry recalls one of the strangest as well as one of the most despicable examples of mob violence that ever occurred in this country, the victim having been the John McRoberts referred to.
Just after the war horse stealing was of such frequent occurrence in this county that, exasperated beyond measure at the utter failure of the officers to cope with the situation, citizens organizedd a protective association called the “Horse Alliance” to check the thievery and run to earth the perpetrator of the crimes. As the settlers were mainly poor, the loss of a horse was a very serious matter and feeling ran so high against the male-factors that the public conscience was ready to approve of any kind of punishment that might be meted out to them.
In this peculiar state of the public mind, John McRoberts and a young companion indulged in what on other occasions might not have been regarded as more than a lark, or at most a misdemeanor that would merit but a light punishment. McRoberts had served with entire credit during the war, enlisting first in the Third Iowa and re-enlisting in the Thirty-Eighth regiment when the term of his first enlistment had expired. Unmarried and imbued with the reckless spirit that many young soldiers brought back with them from the war, his quota of wild oats had not yet been sown when in the fall of 1868, he engaged in the escapade that cost him his life, shadowed the lives of many other and soiled the pages of Bremer county history with a blot that, contemplated in the light of the calm surroundings of succeeding years, never has had the slightest justification for its making.
At the time McRoberts was living with relatives between Waverly and Janesville, and while there he was visited by a comrade of his regiment, a care-free and happy-go-lucky lad like himself. One day they decided to visit some girls they knew at Cedar Falls and started to travel there afoot. As they left the McRoberts home, John’s sister-in-law called after them to “be sure and not get into any trouble,” and they laughingly assured her that they would keep her advice in mind. But they had trudged but a mile or two when the sight of some horses browsing in field suggested to them the idea of riding at least part of the distance, and it did not occur to them that it would be either dangerous or very wrong to avail themselves of the use of the horses. So they improvised some bridles for the nags and rode them about two-thirds of the way to Cedar Falls, where they released the animals and started them homeward-where they arrived in due time none the worse for their experience-the young men again pursuing their journey afoot. But the horses were missed soon after they were taken; men had been seen riding them through Janesville; the alarm was given; and what the young soldiers had regarded as a mere lark became a very serious matter, as the story of their escapade was passed from mouth to mouth and its heinous aspects became magnified with each re-telling. A sheriff’s posse was soon in pursuit and many members of the “Horse Alliance” were soon in the saddle. A deputy sheriff arrested McRoberts at Cedar Falls, but his companion somehow managed to escape. The captive was brought back as far as Janesville, and there held, it is alleged, throughout the night, while members of the association assembled. Whether some sort of a trial was held or what not, is a story that was kept well sealed within the breasts of those who knew it. At any rate the captive was condemned, and the next morning attested a ghostly denouement in the shape of the lifeless body of John McRoberts suspended from a tree in a pasure about two miles south of Waverly. As eager as the public was to see horse thieves punished, there was widespread indignation when the circumstances of the lynching became known, and all members of the association which included men prominent in the community, had to suffer the odium that attached to the organization, whether they were directly concerned in the despicable business or not. An investigation followed, but came to naught. No oath-bound society ever kept its secrets better than did these men, but as time passed, whispered accusations were made against a dozen or more and whether they deserved it or not they had to bear the contumely that thus became attached to them and which the lapse of years tended not to dim or erase.
Though the early morning scene about the tree where John McRoberts had his life unjustly taken from him has never been described, tradition has it that he cursed his slayers and predicted for them lives of misery and woe. Most of those who were alleged to have been concerned in the deplorable affair have long since passed away, but it is not difficult to find an old settler who will recount for you the manner of their passing and to find therein a verification of the theory that John McRoberts’ curse rested upon them to the very end of their days.