Highwaymen: Murders of Andrew and Nancy Casteel 1856

Murder Victims

Andrew J. Casteel
24-year-old Farmer
1832-1856

Nancy D. Mosier Casteel
22-year-old Farm Wife
1834-1856

Motive: Robbery

Murder Scene and Date

Farm Field
Near Montezuma, Iowa
Poweshiek County
September 24, 1856

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By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2016

A stark inscription on a tombstone in Jackson Township Cemetery near Montezuma records the fate of Andrew J. Casteel, 24, and his 22-year-old wife Nancy:

“Murdered by Highwaymen & Concealed in the Cornstalks”

Location of Montezuma, Iowa

Location of Montezuma, Iowa

On Wednesday, September 24, 1856, the couple — wed only two weeks before in Indiana — were attacked and killed as they traveled along a Poweshiek County road. Their bodies were hidden in strawstacks in a nearby farm field.

Outrage at what an historical account called “frightful murder[s]” ran high, but nearly a year passed before any suspects were identified. A man named Meachem, who was obsessed with the pursuit of horse thieves and other lawbreakers, led a posse of area men in the search for those believed guilty.

A Polk County man whose surname was Thomas, but who was known by the alias “Cumquick,” was detained by Meachem and his men and turned over to authorities for incarceration.

However, Thomas was taken from jail by a mob and lynched near Montezuma before he could be put on trial for the Casteel murders.

Thomas was believed to have had an accomplice, so the search by Meachem and his men continued. By then, they were single-mindedly pursuing a suspect named Van Schoick.

Van Schoick was tracked to his father-in-law’s Polk County home — a man named Ridgeway. The heavily armed posse burst in, cursed the suspects, chained them, and forced them into a sleigh under threat of death.

The posse with its captives Van Schoick and Ridgeway started for Montezuma; however, bitter cold and snow-packed roads in Jasper County forced the group to turn back to Des Moines, where Meachem handed the two men over to the Polk County Sheriff.

Van Schoick and Ridgeway were tried for the murders of Nancy and Andrew Casteel. The evidence was found to be flimsy, and they were quickly acquitted.

The falsely-accused men pursued an action of kidnapping against Meachem, who was found not guilty.

No one was ever made accountable for the murders of Andrew and Nancy Casteel.

☛ Lives of the Victims ☚

Casteel Tombstone (photo by Squeekie)

Casteel Tombstone
(photo by Squeekie)

Nancy B. Mosier Casteel was born in 1834 in Indiana, the daughter of Maria Criswell and George Mosier. On September 7, 1856 in Tippecanoe, Indiana, she married Andrew J. Casteel, who was born in Indiana in 1832 to Rebecca White and George Washington Casteel.

The couple shares a common tombstone in the Jackson Township Cemetery in Poweshiek County, Iowa.
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Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.

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References

  • ☛ findagrave.com
  • History of Iowa County. Des Moines: Union Historical Company, 1881, pp. 307-308.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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