“Old Feud Fueled by Drink”: Murder of Nathaniel Carnagy 1847

Murder Victim

Nathaniel Carnagy
39-year-old Farmer
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned
Motive: Drunken Quarrel

Murder Scene and Date

Marion, Iowa
Linn County
April 4, 1847


By Nancy Bowers

location of Marion, Iowa, in Linn County

location of Marion, Iowa, in Linn County

This is a story about a solved, unresolved murder. It’s not a “who dunnit it?” It’s a “who got away with it?”

The incontestable facts are these. On March 20, 1847, James Reed struck Nathaniel Carnagy with “a billet of wood” — maybe a tree branch or fence post, but probably a sled stake — because Carnagy owed Reed money.

When 39-year-old Carnagy died of his injuries on April 4, 1847, he became Linn County’s first known murder victim.

Some say Nathaniel Carnagy was traveling a road connecting Marion and Cedar Rapids and was halfway between the two communities when he encountered Reed, who lived on the Bachman farm. Others say James Reed confronted Carnagy in the Marion City Square Park.

James Reed was brought to trial for Carnagy’s murder, but was found not guilty. The jury agreed with newspaper accounts of the time that the murder was simply the result of:

“an old feud fueled by drink.”

☛ Nathaniel Carnagy’s Life ☚

Nathaniel Carnagy was born in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, in 1808 to Mary Swem and William Carnagy. He had nine siblings — Nancy, Jane, William, Alexander, Hannah, James, Susan, Anthony, and Elizabeth “Eliza” Carnagy.

He married Elizabeth Myers and lived in Beaver and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania before moving to Iowa. He was survived by Elizabeth and their five children: Henry, Sarah Ann, John, Benjamin F., and William Cullen Carnagy.


  • ☛ Kimberly Frazier, personal Correspondence, April 2011.
  • ☛ “Hickory stick enforces law,” by Dick Hogan, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 30, 1996.
  • History of Linn County Iowa, Vol. 1, Luther Albertus Brewer and Barthinius Larson Wick, 1911.
  • ☛ “Railroad key to Marion’s history,” by Suzanne Barnes, Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 20, 1994.
  • ☛ U.S. Census.

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