“Furiously Angry”: Murder of Wesley Wilson 1894

Murder Victim

Wesley “Wes” Wilson
36-Year-Old Coal Miner
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Argument Over A Woman

Murder Scene and Date

Samuel Moffin Boarding House
Colon, Iowa (Ghost Town)
5 Miles West of Oskaloosa
Mahaska County
Shot: April 21, 1894
Died: April 22, 1894


By Nancy Bowers
Written August 2017

Colon was located near Oskaloosa in Mahaska County

On Saturday, April 21, 1894, after a week of backbreaking toil, miners from the predominantly African-American coal camps of Colon, Muchakinock, and Evans in Mahaska County were ready to relax. They gathered that night at a Colon dancehall to drink and socialize.

As the night progressed and more and more alcohol was consumed, tempers frayed. Around midnight, William Brooks, 33, and 36-year-old Wesley “Wes” Wilson began to argue about which would dance with a married woman.

The Oskaloosa Evening Herald described what happened:

“. . . [B]ecoming furiously angry they whipped out revolvers and exchanged shots in the dance room. A ball passed through the clothing of Wilson. The occupants of the room fled in terror and the proprietor stopped the quarrel and put the men out.”

☛ An Angry Mob Leads to Murder ☚

Most bystanders took William Brooks’s part in the disagreement; when he left, several men accompanied him in a noisy and agitated group to find Wesley Wilson. They tracked him to Sam Moffin’s boarding house.

Just as Wilson was about to walk through the door of the house, he turned; Brooks fired again, this time striking him above the left eye.

In the confusion and chaos, William Brooks escaped.

☛ Law Enforcement Arrives, Suspect Is Captured ☚

William Brooks was misidentified in this headline from the Oskaloosa Evening Herald

Authorities were notified of Wesley Wilson’s shooting and Mahaska County Sheriff Tom Price and County Physician J.W. Morgan arrived at the crime scene.

Sheriff Price was able to track and capture William Brooks and another man from the crowd, George Lee, and had them in jail by Sunday morning. Another suspect, William Cannon, jumped on a freight train and escaped.

In custody, Brooks — described as “sullen” — refused to answer questions and accused Cannon of the shooting.

☛ Death and Inquest ☚

The unconscious Wesley Wilson lingered in a grim condition. According to the Evening Herald, “The wounded man bled profusely and quantities of the brain were constantly oozing from the bullet hole.” Wilson died on Sunday night, April 22.

Mahaska County Coroner J.W. Hinesley held an inquest at the murder scene on Monday, April 23. Jurors Tom Mathews, Jack Logan, and Taylor Duke heard testimony from several witnesses claiming that William Brooks had said of Wesley Wilson before going to the Moffin home, “I’ll kill that d—– —— tonight.”

It was learned that other men in the angry crowd were armed and also shot their guns — not at Wesley Wilson, but at his friend Frank Davis, who was standing next to him.

During a post mortem, Dr. Morgan discovered that a .38 caliber bullet entered the left side of Wilson’s forehead and lodged against the back of the skull, having passed through the brain.

☛ Coroner’s Verdict ☚

The Evening Herald printed the conclusions of the coroner’s jury:

“At an inquisition held in Mahaska County, State of Iowa, upon the body of Wesley Wilson there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed. The said jurors upon their oaths do say: ‘We do find that said deceased came to his death by a pistol shot fired by William Brooks, on the 21st day of April 1894, at the mining town called Colon, in Mahaska County, Iowa, and that he fired the shot with intent to kill the said Wesley Wilson.’”

☛ Brazen Escape and Reward Offered ☚

William Brooks was bound over for the grand jury and confined in the Mahaska County Jail in Oskaloosa. On Friday, August 17, 1894, he and two other prisoners, one of whom was William Cannon who had been captured and was being held for attempted murder in the Wesley Wilson case, overpowered the jailer, locked him in a cell, and escaped.

On September 20, 1895 — approximately a year-and-a-half after the shooting — Iowa Governor Frank D. Jackson issued a proclamation offering $100 for the arrest of William Brooks and William Cannon in the Wesley Wilson murder case.

☛ The Victim’s Life ☚

Wesley “Wes” Wilson was born in 1858 in Missouri to Nellie Anwak and Henry Wilson. On October 26, 1890, he married Dory Miner Pondexter in Mahaska County, Iowa; the couple made their home in Evans, and he worked as a coal miner.


Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.



  • ☛ Burlington Gazette, September 21, 1895, p. 7.
  • ☛ “Condensed Items,” Marion Sentinel, September 26, 1895, p. 2.
  • ☛ “Condensed Items,” Anita Republican, September 25, 1895, p. 6.
  • ☛ “History Of A Week: Occurrences During The Past Week,” Alden Times, August 17, 1894, p. 3.
  • ☛ “History Of A Week: Occurrences During The Past Week,” Fairfield Tribune, April 25, 1894, p. 6.
  • ☛ Mahaska County, Iowa, Marriage Records.
  • ☛ “Murder At Colon,” Oskaloosa Evening Herald, April 23, 1894, p. 2.
  • ☛ “News in Brief,” Mount Pleasant Weekly News, August 22, 1894, p. 7.
  • ☛ The State Of Iowa, Alden Times, August 17, 1894, p. 3.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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