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The Prohibition Rule: Murder in Sioux City

Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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In the 1800s riverboats were at the height of their glory, and riverfront towns prospered only when they catered to the needs of the crews and passengers. Because decent citizens and riffraff alike traveled the Missouri River boat circuit, towns had to be versatile in what they offered. Sioux City, Iowa, was such a town.

In 1880, Sioux City had 7,500 residents, compared to 25,000 in Des Moines, the state capital. By 1890, the Des Moines population had doubled while the Sioux City population had increased more than fivefold to 38,700. Strategically located on the river where Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota intersect, Sioux City was known as upper Missouri's riverboat headquarters. The riverfront town harbored 75 saloons, two breweries and several gambling and prostitution houses, but it also featured 18 churches and 11 schools.

As the rougher elements in the town increased, so did lawlessness. A police department was established in 1885 to work in conjunction with the city marshal's office to fight crime. Shortly before Independence Day 1882, the voters of the state had adopted an amendment to the constitution that made it illegal to sell liquor or intoxicants as a beverage. A statutory law championed by Senator Talton E. Clark, and thus known as 'Clark's Law,' had closed saloons all over Iowa except in Sioux City, where saloons, gambling and prostitution were allowed to illegally operate for a $25 to $100 per month fee. The fee was considered a contribution to the municipal treasury. Sioux City saloonkeepers and their clientele thumbed their noses at the state law, and local businessmen looked the other way because saloons were good for business.

In October 1885, the Rev. George Channing Haddock arrived in Sioux City to become the pastor of the First Methodist Church. Born on January 23, 1832, in Watertown, N.Y., Haddock had married his wife, Cornelia, in 1852. They had spent most of their lives in Wisconsin before relocating to Iowa. It did not take long for the Rev. Haddock to notice just how serious the liquor law violations were in the riverfront town. A staunch prohibitionist, the dark-eyed, full-bearded Haddock had clashed with the saloon crowd as far back as 1874. After delivering a temperance sermon in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., he had been shot at and roughed up by three men within a block of the church. Such experiences had not caused Haddock to turn the other cheek. At 5 foot 7, he carried 200 pounds on a muscular build and was intimidating in appearance, with a reputation as a fighting preacher. In Sioux City, he decided to do battle once again with those misguided souls who offered temptations of sin and self-destruction. Preaching powerfully from the pulpit, he encouraged enforcement of the state liquor laws to clean up Sioux City. Naturally, his words were not appreciated by those who profited from Sioux City's'sins.' The reverend was insulted, spat upon and even threatened.

In one instance, Haddock was walking down the street when an antagonist called, 'Come over here and I'll cut your head off.' Haddock defiantly crossed over to the sidewalk and walked past his tormenter without incident. 'I always noticed that towards his friends he was the most generous and kindly,' the Rev. Orlin A. Curtis, a friend of Haddock's, wrote. 'There were in fact, two very different elements in his large nature as was once said of a famous Scotchman, tears lie in him, and consuming fire. Thus George Haddock appeared differently to those who met him. To some men he was an everlasting fist, but to others a friendly, open palm.'

Another Sioux City prohibition advocate, the Rev. D.R. Watson of the First Baptist Church, became so fed up with the threats, indignities and local sentiments that he resigned and left town. Haddock, though, did not waver in his attack on the consumption of alcohol for pleasure. He began witnessing and signing papers against saloons in court. Haddock knew the risks. He told friends and his congregation that he expected to meet violence or death at the hands of saloon elements.

In July 1886, two murders in Sioux City caused tensions to approach the breaking point. The first occurred on Saturday night, July 3, at Prescott's Gambling House, located over Uhlmer's Saloon at 513 Fourth St., and involved William Prescott's two partners, George Throut and Ed Hatch. The hard-drinking Throut got mad because Hatch was playing faro and winning against the house (and thus costing Throut money). Throut drew a revolver, fired point-blank into Hatch's chest, and escaped. (Although later captured, convicted of murder and given a life sentence, Throut was soon pardoned by the governor.) The second incident involved a vagrant who was simply banging on a door when cut down by a citizen named Tom Mace.

Two other men, Stub Wilson and Billy Young, were charged in other shooting scrapes in the Soudan alley district, where gambling dens flourished along with prostitution houses such as Madame Shaw's Maple Grove, Minnie Kern's place and Ida Allen's place. Another of the red-light districts, known as 'Hell's Half Acre,' was located right next to the Missouri River to conveniently serve riverboat travelers.

The city council reacted to the two July murders by closing the gambling houses on Sundays. Apparently alcohol had been a factor in both murders, fueling the prohibitionists' fire. Also, there had been several alcohol-related suicides in town. On Tuesday, July 27, the Rev. Haddock was in fine form. 'I have been accused of meddling in other people's business and persecuting the saloons, and [it has been said] that the temperance people were wrong and the saloon people were the most abused class,' he said. 'I was a better friend to the saloon men than those who were aiding and abetting them in violation of the law.' Haddock then issued a challenge to the saloon sympathizers: 'I will meet with any reputable gentleman in a friendly interchange of thought for four to six nights on the following proposition: resolved that the traffic of intoxicating beverages is hostile to the best interest of Sioux City and ought to be suppressed in accordance with the laws of the State of Iowa.'

A public meeting was held on Friday, July 30, at the courthouse. The meeting was considered a bust, since the attendees were unwilling to go on the record against alcoholic consumption without support from the local business owners. The saloonkeepers meanwhile organized an association and planned how to stop the prosecutions. The organization's intention was to whip 'Walker, Wood, and Haddock.' Thomas R. Walker was a local citizen who had signed papers against saloon owners and had been a witness in court with the Rev. Haddock. D.W. Wood was the legal representative for the prohibitionists, who called themselves the Law and Order League.

A saloon association meeting was held on August 2 at Holdenrieds' hall to prepare for the court proceedings scheduled for the following day. One of the attendees, Belgium-born John Arensdorf, suggested making Haddock pay for his persistent spying on the saloons. Arensdorf, a chubby, medium-height man with a reddish mustache, was foreman for the Franz Brewing Company. German saloonkeeper George Trieber hired two men–Albert 'Bismark' Koschnitski and Sylvester Granda–for $500 from the association's treasury to give Haddock a whipping.

Haddock spent the next day, August 3, in the Woodbury County District Court testifying against the saloons. Arensdorf and Trieber were present in court, as were saloonkeeper Fred Munchrath, Jr., hotel owner Paul Leader and other members of the saloon association.

A rainy evening followed the long day in court. At about 9 p.m. Haddock and another minister, C.C. Turner, rented a horse and buggy from Jerry Merrill's livery stable, located at Third and Water streets. The two prohibitionists were seeking additional information on liquor violations in Greenville, only a couple of miles east of Sioux City. Some of the Sioux City saloonkeepers decided it was time for Bismark Koschnitski and Granda to earn their money, and they sent the two thugs to Merrill's to await Haddock's return.

Haddock and Turner found the saloons closed in Greenville. The two reverends then drove back to Sioux City's west side, where Haddock let Turner off at his residence. By this time, several members of the saloon crowd had gathered in front of Columbia House, a hotel that adjoined Merrill's stable, to witness the whipping. More than a few had done some drinking. At about 10:15 p.m., Haddock drove up in the buggy. He noticed a large group of men loitering close to the stable. Tom Jarvis, the hostler, said that someone had come around asking about Haddock. 'Well, I can take care of myself and them too,' said Haddock as he stepped out into the dimly lit, muddy street.

With his cane in one hand and an iron wheel attached to a length of rope in the other, the pastor proceeded toward the group. When Haddock reached the middle of the 80-foot-wide street, two men broke out of the crowd and approached him. The first individual put his hands in Haddock's face as the second individual, said to be Arensdorf, walked just to the left of Haddock. After passing Haddock, the second man turned and fired a revolver, the bullet penetrating the left side of Haddock's neck. The conspirators then scattered. Arensdorf and a beer wagon driver, Henry Peters, ran a couple of blocks west of the crime scene and entered the Franz Brewing Co.

After taking the bullet in the neck, Haddock stumbled in the muddy street, dropping his cane. He fell but got back up, only to stumble again. He made it across the street from the stable before collapsing. John 'Jack' Ryan, superintendent of the city market, had been standing in the doorway of Dan O' Connell's saloon at 214 Fourth St., when he heard the shot. Ryan was the first person to reach Haddock, who lay face down in the gutter. Ryan turned Haddock over, placing the minister's head on the sidewalk. Haddock moaned and tried to speak, but his mouth filled with blood. Fireman William Ingledue, who had witnessed the shooting from the fire station across the street, ran off to get Police Chief James Nelon (sometimes spelled Nelson). Meanwhile, Deputy Marshal A.J. Lagger and Deputy Sheriff William ('Billy') C. Davenport, known as 'the Kid Deputy,' had arrived on the scene. By then, there was nothing to be done to help Haddock. He had died of the gunshot wound to his neck, fulfilling his own prophecy. Hundreds of people took to the street to get a closer look. Haddock's lifeless form lay in the muddy street for an hour–the roped iron wheel still wrapped securely around his wrist, his rain slicker covered with his blood–before his body was taken to the parsonage at 514 Seventh St. by undertaker C.T. Wescott.

The murder catapulted Sioux City into the national spotlight, and correspondents came from as far away as New York and Chicago to cover the story. The Sioux City Journal headlines read 'Assassinated.' The Northwest Iowa Conference of the Methodist Church resolved, 'We charge upon the saloon the deep crimson dyed iniquity of George C. Haddock's untimely take off and earnestly invite and implore all lovers of humanity, our country and of her laws, and haters of anarchy and crime, to join us in the solemn pledge to wage an unceasing war of extermination against the saloon, the brewery, the distillery, and all breeding dens of murder and murders.'

The New York Christian Advocate wrote: 'The death of Reverend George C. Haddock was glorious. He died in endeavoring to restore the laws of the state, in trying to save those who shot him.' The Rev. H. Sewell of Wisconsin wrote, 'Our cause has suffered a loss, but heaven has gained a citizen.' The Rev. T.C. Wilson of Wisconsin said, 'Death found him, in the midst of his strength and usefulness, in the forefront of the battle.' John Hograth Lozler of the Northwest Iowa Conference wrote:

'Our Martyr Brother' in memory of George Channing Haddock.

Oh, my list'ning spirit hath heard a new cry
From the altar that stands near the Throne!
'Tis the voice of our brother, who feared not to die
On the field where his triumph was won.

'Tis the voice of that saint who, for garments of gore,
Was given those 'roves' of pure white,
As the angels swept down through the darkness and bore
His soul to their mansions of light

Make room, oh, ye martyrs who hallowed the sod
With your blood, in those ages of yore!
For Haddock was'slain for the word of
our God,
And the witness he faithfully bore.'

Let him 'rest' 'neath the 'altar,' where martyred souls throng,
'Till times little season is past.
Then the cry of the martyr, 'how long? Oh, how long?'
Shall dissolve in an anthem at last.

For the 'voice' of a martyr's blood first reached the throne,
And vainly his murderer fled.
So the blood of our brother shall cry, and
cry on,
'Till the demon that slew him is dead.

'Twas at man the vile murderers leveled their aim,
But at God their fair missile was hurled.
And the flash of their weapon hath kindled a flame
That for ages shall blaze round the world.

And the churches of God shall arise in
their might,
One impulse inspiring us all;
And the lines that divide us shall vanish from sight
'Neath the 'mantle' our brother let fall.

And millions beside, to the churches unknown,
Have lifted their hands to the sky,
And have sworn by the Being, who sits on the Throne,
That the curse that hath slain him shall die.

Oh, Haddock! We catch up that banner
that fell,
All stained with thy rich martyr blood;
And we vow that each drop to a torrent
shall swell,
That shall sweep off the curse with its flood.

A large funeral was conducted in Sioux City, and the body of George Haddock was transported by train to Racine, Wis., and buried in Mound Cemetery. George's widow, Cornelia Haddock, moved to Oshkosh, Wis., to live with her attorney son, Frank Haddock, who would write The Life of George C. Haddock (published in 1887).

George P. Perkins, editor of the Sioux City Journal, led a mass outcry for justice–the murderers must pay, and the city officials could not whitewash the incident and merely close a few gambling houses this time. The Journal and city council raised funds for the funeral, and Governor William Larrabee and the city council posted a reward for the men responsible.

Several of the conspirators left town within a few days of the murder, but Police Chief Nelon and City Marshal James F. Shanley doggedly pursued them. On August 14, the first two arrests were made in Casselton, N.D. John King and Charles Waldering were taken into custody and returned to Sioux City. They were charged with conspiracy to bruise, beat, wound and ill-treat Thomas Walker, a witness for the prohibitionists. Harry L. Leavitt, owner of the Standard Variety Theater, was located in Chicago and returned to Sioux City. In his confession, Leavitt said that Arensdorf was the man who pulled the trigger. Later, Bismark Koschnitski, who was arrested in San Francisco, substantiated what Leavitt had said. Saloon sympathizers were quick to point out how unjust the Iowa liquor laws were and suggested that the intention had only been to give Haddock a whipping, but when the minister began defending himself he was shot.

In October, John Arensdorf, who was married and had four children, was arrested in Davenport, Iowa, where he had gone with his Knights of Pythias lodge brothers. He was brought back to Sioux City, indicted for murder and released on bond. Also implicated in the conspiracy were saloonkeepers Fred Munchrath, Jr., and Louis Plath, hotel owner Paul Leader, beer wagon driver Henry Peters, theater owner Harry Leavitt, and saloon patrons Sylvester Granda, John King, Albert Koschnitski and Charles Waldering. No doubt many more individuals were involved.

Arensdorf was tried twice for Haddock's murder. The first trial began on March 23, 1887, and ended in a hung jury on April 17. The Sioux City Journal reported that the jury in Haddock's case was 'released Sunday noon after being out seventeen hours. Eleven jurymen were for acquittal and one juryman, O'Connell, immovably for convictions. Jury man O'Connell charges that he was corruptly approached on behalf of the defense.' The second trial began on November 14, 1887, and the jury returned a not guilty verdict on December 9, even though the prosecution provided overwhelming evidence from eyewitness accounts and from the confessions of other conspirators.

Haddock's widow sat quietly through both trials. Defense witnesses upon cross-examination changed their accounts of the murder, which enraged the press and the public. The Logan Observer wrote: 'The Arensdorf trial at Sioux City is turning out to be a regular farce. The prosecution proved clearly by several witnesses that Arensdorf killed Haddock.' The Chicago News stated, 'The improbabilities suggested in the theory of the defense are so apparent that the common sentiment is that of disgust' and later added, 'Even should the spirit of Dr. Haddock himself enter the room and point to Arensdorf and say 'thou art the man,' the jury would still not convict the accused.' The Dakotian newspaper asked, 'Does god rule, or the devil, in Sioux City?' The Chicago Journal announced, 'There is now no probability that the real murderer of Haddock will ever pay the penalty of his crime.' The Davenport Democrat voiced, 'If cities were punished for their wickedness in these times, a disastrous earthquake might be predicted for the vicinity of Sioux City.'

Following his acquittal, John Arensdorf was seen with jury members on a night out on the town. The Sioux City Journal wrote that when Arensdorf caught sight of a newsmen, he came forward from the group and extended his hand. 'I suppose it is in order to congratulate you, Mr. Arensdorf?' the reporter said. Arensdorf replied, 'Yes. You don't like it, I know, but you'll have to stand it.' At that point, a juror named John Tripp echoed the brewer's sentiments, 'You bet he will have to stand it.' The group, according to the reporter, later adjourned to the Florence Photographic Studio to have a group picture taken.

Munchrath was the only person convicted of any charges related to the Haddock murder. The judge sentenced Munchrath to four years in the state penitentiary after a jury convicted the saloonkeeper of manslaughter. Munchrath appealed the verdict, and on July 15, 1890, Governor Horace Boies suspended the sentence. Munchrath served three months. Eight other indictments were filed for conspiracy and murder. The defendants were Leader, Granda, Leavitt, Koschnitski, Trieber, Peters, Plath and Harry Sherman. Koschnitski and Leavitt were witnesses for the prosecution. Plath, Trieber and Peters disappeared and were not apprehended. The Sioux City Journal reported, 'One of the highest legal authorities in Iowa said to this correspondent of the daily news: there is no use wasting more money on those cases.' According to legend, one of the conspirators was murdered to keep his mouth shut. On December 11, 1887, the Journal reported: 'Henry Peters, the driver of the Arensdorf beer wagon mysteriously disappeared soon after the murder occurred. He was the man who went with Arensdorf from Dineens corner to meet Haddock, and stood close by him when Arensdorf fired the fatal shot. His testimony, if truthfully given, would have convicted Arensdorf. He left Sioux City without taking his trunk or clothing from the place he was boarding. Many people believe that Peters was murdered in the brewery and his body burned in the furnace.'

The publicity generated by the Rev. Haddock's murder and the trials that followed did help the prohibitionists win a major battle against the liquor element. Saloons, gambling houses and the red-light districts were closed in Sioux City. Local gamblers, prostitutes and saloon proprietors swarmed across the Missouri River to the town of Stanton (now known as South Sioux City, Neb.). Ferryboats were the only transportation to the town of vice–called 'one of the wickedest towns in the world' by the Sioux City Journal–until 1899, when a bridge was built across the river. In 1891, Governor Boies, who was anti-prohibition, signed the Muct Law, which enabled drinking establishments in Iowa to be licensed again. Thus, Haddock's murder had brought prohibition to Sioux City for only about five years. Haddock had won several minor battles in his struggle to enforce a completely dry state, but in the end the war was lost and liquor flowed freely again in the riverfront town. As for John Arensdorf, he lived the rest of his life in Sioux City and retired as a brewer. He developed pulmonary tuberculosis and died on July 28, 1909. He was buried in the city's Calvary Cemetery.

Fifty years after the Rev. George Haddock's murder, a service was held to dedicate a bronze tablet in the sidewalk at Fourth and Water streets, the place where the fighting pastor died. The dedication participants sang the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' Billy Davenport, the onetime Kid Deputy who had been one of the first to reach the slain minister on the night of August 3, 1886, recited his account of the event. Davenport had gone on to have an illustrious career in law enforcement, serving as marshal and chief of police. A marble plaque now rests in the wall of the First Methodist Church at 1915 Nebraska St., and is inscribed, 'O Haddock! We catch up the banner that fell. All stained with thy rich martyr blood and we vow that each drop to torrent that shall sweep off the curse with its flood.'



This article was written by Matthew A. Max and originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of Wild West. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!

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