Bank Robbery in Wallowa County, Oregon

Contributed by Russell Miller

Read the Newspaper Story from the History of Union and Wallowa 1902

     Text of a 1896 letter written by my great grandfather J. D. McCully (1856-1941) to his mother, Hannah Keziah (Waters) McCully (1828-1905) about the bank robbery in Joseph Oregon on Oct 1, 1896. Computer file typed from an original of the hand written letter by Russell Miller Chelan WA September 2003.

Letter was on First Bank of Joseph Incorporated letter head.

F. D. McCully, President
J. D. McCully, Cashier

Capital Paid up $50,000.00

Joseph Oregon, Oct 2, 1896

My Dear Mother:

     I have locked the bank door and now will give you a partial statement of the excitement and danger some of us went through on yesterday afternoon.
     I had been very busy at the store and only went to the bank when necessary to  transact business for somebody.
     About 2:30 o’clock I was doing some business for Julia  McCully’s father and brother and while doing this two other men living here came in.
     I soon had occasion to go into the vault and while in there the three masked men entered the bank through the front door. Two of them being armed with revolvers, a large short barreled shot gun. They came in so quietly that I knew nothing of it and when I had finished my work in the vault I slipped out and walked several feet with my head down.
     When I got to about the middle of the room I raised my head and you can possibly imagine my surprise when I saw a man with a shotgun pointed straight at my head with a command “throw up you hands”. My first impulse was that it was a joke but when I took a second look I saw that the man was masked and of course my hands went up.
     Then one of the fellows climbed over the top of the railing and secured my pistol after which he opened the little door, when the four men standing in the waiting place were ordered to march in where I was after we were well lined up one of the fellows went into the vault and helped himself until every thing in the money line was taken in.
     One of the men guarded the outside door and if a man came in sight he would by thrusts and pointed  pistol  compel him to come to him and put up his hands.
     With five of us inside guarded by two men and three outside looked after by one matters appeared wonderfully interesting.  There were two men ordered across the street  who were near an open door and instead of obeying ran into that  house and out the back door and  gave the alarm.
     All this took something like ten minutes and if any one imagines it is interesting to gaze into the barrel of a gun with a man behind it with both triggers ready for action he is made of something different from myself.  My greatest fear was that with his gun cocked and the mans finger on the trigger that he might accidentally pull it off - in which case I would have been a goner. The man told me he needed the money for campaign purposes and I replied it was a pretty hard way to get it.  While this was going on this more or less threats about blowing our heads off. Each time accompanied by a string of oaths. When the man got all he could find which was about $2,000.00 we were ordered to march ahead of  him to the sidewalk and as soon as I stepped on the walk the bullets began to fly and it is a great wonder we were not shot accidentally.
     A man located back of a lorry across the street was the first to open fire and after the man with the money got out he soon dispatched him with a well directed bullet. He then took the finger off an other of them. But when the first man fell another ran and picked up the sack of money and got on his horse and escaped.
     The man whose finger was shot off also was hit in the side and  then captured after a chase of two blocks.
     The first impulse of the crowd was to hang the man but in a moment better counsel prevailed.  One of the men concerned in the offense is a Wallowa raised boy  while the other two have been here since Spring.
     I was very cool during the entire affair but later in the afternoon a reaction took place and I was completely unnerved.  When I went to bed I could see nothing but the man with blackened face, black mask and shotgun leveled at me with the command  to  throw  up my hands.  This worked on me so that I thought I was going crazy and finally at one o’clock Lillian got up and dressed to go after the doctor. At last I induced her to give it up and along about two o’clock I fell asleep but was awakened about 5:30 by some men who wished to talk over chasing the escaped man. I feel pretty well this afternoon and hope to get a good sleep tonight
     F. D. (McCully) had started for Lostine about ½ hour before the robbery took place. It was am awful feeling which came over me when I heard the man dumping the gold into his sack. Miller will be back tonight when I hope I never will be called upon to act as cashier again.
     I have scarcely any hope that the man will be caught for you know what a grand place of escaping is near at hand.
     Tomorrow I will go to Enterprise to give witness in the case of the one man who is jail.
     Eula and Russell were at school and knew that the robbery was taking place and when the guns began to explode they though I was killed and I guess Eula did some lively screaming.  Lillian knew nothing of it until all was over.

I guess this is enough.

With love
J. D. Mc (McCully)  

Wallowa County

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