19-year-old Farm Girl
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Motive: Home Invasion
Murder Scene and Date
Near Milo, Iowa
Shot October 31, 1877
Died November 16, 1877
By Nancy Bowers
Written March 2016
In the Autumn of 1877, a brutal and terrifying act took place in Warren County. Then in a cycle of violence begetting violence, that act led to another brutal act.
When it was all over, two young people were dead at the hands of others.
☛ Horrifying Home Invasion ☚
On Wednesday evening, October 31, 1877, quiet calm lingered over the Charles Kading home in northwestern Belmont Township. Charles and his sons August and Frederick had traveled to nearby Indianola, leaving the rest of the family alone.
With her back to the door on the north side of the house, 19-year-old Augusta Kading sat at the kitchen table with her sisters Bertha, 13, and Mary Ann, 9. A younger brother, 7-year-old William, was asleep, as was her 42-year-old mother Henrietta, an invalid of many years.
At 7:00 p.m., the door behind Augusta swung open and, without speaking, a man rushed into the house; two others stood just outside. Over their heads the men wore white muslin sacks with eye and mouth holes cut out; streaking out from those openings were wild, black marks that created a bizarre and terrifying effect.
As Augusta stood and turned, the closest man pointed a cocked revolver. She bravely leapt towards him. Her left hand grabbed the weapon and her right hand tore the mask from his face. At that instant, the intruder fired a bullet which struck Augusta in the right breast.
Augusta shoved him and he shot a second time, hitting her in the right hand. The man standing behind the first said, “How do you like that?”
Although badly wounded, Augusta pushed the gunman out the door, slamming and bolting it. After locking the other doors and windows and dragging heavy furniture to the cellar entrance, she collapsed onto her bed, where Charles Kading and his sons found her — mortally wounded — when they returned home.
On the floor was the eerie mask Augusta tore off the gunman.
☛ A Suspect Identified ☚
Although the unmasked intruder was unrecognizable to Augusta because his face was blackened, she was certain the other man — the one who spoke — was the Kadings’ 26-year-old neighbor Reuben B. “Rube” Proctor.
A second mask was found a few feet from the Kading house and a third 300 yards from the first, both in the direction of Reuben Proctor’s place.
Augusta told authorities she had known Proctor for over a year and that he sometimes came to the Kading home. His visits increased in the past two weeks after Augusta’s father Charles sold his farm. Proctor repeatedly asked the girl details about the sale and the price received; it was generally known the money was in the house.
One week before the home invasion, Charles Kading left early in the morning to drive hogs to market in Indianola and passed by Proctor’s house. Proctor appeared at the Kading place that afternoon to ask where the father had gone and what time he would be home, as though he was trying to find a time when the father would be absent.
Through these visits and conversations, Augusta said, she became familiar with Proctor’s voice, his walk, and his general demeanor.
Proctor came to the Kading home early the day after the shooting before the tragedy was widely known among neighbors. Anxious and uneasy, he inquired about Augusta’s condition and the shooting details, saying he wanted to help find the perpetrators. While studying the masks worn by the intruders, he found a wisp of hair in one and threw it on the ground. Others who glimpsed the hair declared it black, but Proctor — whose own hair was black — insisted it was another color.
Proctor and his brothers were well-known in the area for mischief, mayhem, and larceny. The Jackson Sentinel, calling him a “ruffian” and a “desperado,” wrote that Reuben Proctor “had kept the township in which he lived in terror for years.”
Based on Augusta’s and her sister Bertha’s certainty that Reuben Proctor was one of the home invaders, he was arrested by Warren County Sheriff William B. Meek and placed in the Indianola jail to await a preliminary examination. Security was tight and the jail heavily fortified.
☛ A Mob Forms ☚
On the night of Tuesday, November 13, that security was tested by 100 men who rode into town. At 11:30 p.m., Indianola residents heard scuffling in the streets. Then the fire alarm bell sounded from the Presbyterian Church signifying that something was wrong in the little town and calling all able-bodied men to gather.
Armed with pistols and revolvers, the mounted intruders cursed and shouted threats against Reuben Proctor outside the jail. Quickly it became apparent they had come to lynch him.
Two men pounded at the jail door with huge sledgehammers. Because it was made of oak planks covered with heavy sheet iron and was securely bolted, the door resisted the blows.
Sheriff Meek and Deputy Pressley ordered the vigilantes back but were ignored, as was a group of 20 townspeople who tried to make the raiders think they were armed and willing to shoot. Others unsuccessfully urged that the law be allowed to take its course.
About 1:00 a.m., the vigilantes began arguing among themselves. When their leaders ordered a retreat, only a few rode off; some continued pounding on the jail door. By 2:00 a.m., nearly 300 citizens had gathered around the band of intruders.
Whether they felt out-numbered or decided the door could not be knocked down, the vigilantes suddenly rode off, firing shots into the air as they went.
Early Wednesday morning when townspeople returned to survey the damage, they saw that 70 bolts were torn out of the jail door and that a little more effort would have breached it.
☛ Preliminary Hearing ☚
Reuben Proctor’s preliminary hearing was scheduled to be conducted in the Belmont home of Justice of the Peace Samuel Van Gilder. After the assault on the jail on Tuesday night, Proctor’s friends urged him to waive the preliminary hearing so he would not be returned to Belmont Township and put in harm’s way; but he ignored their warnings.
The Kading family and other township residents hired George W. Seevers to represent the State; he was assisted by attorney Eli Townsend. Proctor retained James E. Williamson and Robert Parrott to defend him.
At 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 14, the State’s attorneys set out from Indianola for Squire Van Gilder’s Belmont home. The prisoner accompanied them, escorted by a special detail made up of Dayton Culbertson, Ellis Van Pelt, and William J. Clark. Sheriff Meek and Deputy Pressley rode with them.
The trip was uneventful and calm until the parties arrived at the small community of Hammondsburg, where the sight of Proctor stirred concern and curiosity. From there to the village of Schonburg — where 200 people had gathered to see the prisoner — men on horseback rode ominously near the party, although making no overt threats.
☛ Augusta Kading’s Deathbed Testimony ☚
Proctor was taken before Squire Van Gilder for the hearing. Before the proceedings could begin, George Seevers received word that Augusta Kading was failing quickly and might have only hours to live.
Seevers asked that the proceedings be temporarily moved to the Kading home — three miles away — to hear Augusta’s testimony, which was beginning to look like a dying declaration. All parties agreed, including Reuben Proctor, who chose to go along.
Before the move, witnesses were sworn in, including Proctor’s parents Sally and Reuben, Sr., his sister, and his wife Sarah, all of whom were prepared to testify he was at home the night of the shooting.
Arriving at the Kading place, the party found prominent Belmont Township citizens gathered in the yard.
The Indianola Herald wrote:
“The sight of Proctor at the house, although he was taken there at his own request, created considerable feeling on the part of the father, uncle and other relatives of the girl, as well as other gentlemen present, although, so far as our informant knows, not a demonstration was made against him, or a harsh or angry word spoken. Proctor also, when brought in front of the house of his alleged victim, who was then announced as lying ‘in extremest [sic] and intensest [sic] suffering,’ manifested a nervousness and twitching of the muscles, with a downcast and broken look, he had not been before noticed to exhibit.”
After consultation it was decided that the stress of seeing Proctor would be emotionally and physically injurious to Augusta, so the attorneys and Justice of the Peace went quietly into her room to hear testimony without him.
Augusta Kading lay on her deathbed, suffering from the two gunshot wounds she received 15 days before. Although in great pain, she was lucid and rational as she deliberately recited her story to the attentive men gathered around her. She told of the intruders breaking into the home, of the shooting, of unmasking the gunman, and of believing that Reuben Proctor was one of the men.
☛ The Mob Returns to Lynch ☚
After her testimony, the lawmen, attorneys, justice, and prisoner returned to Samuel Van Gilder’s home to resume the preliminary hearing. Outside, a group of several hundred men — many well-respected, prominent citizens — milled in the street, growing angrier and angrier.
As the afternoon waned, a two-hour break in the hearing was announced. During the adjournment, Sheriff Meek and four of his deputies escorted Reuben Proctor to the hotel across the street for supper.
An eerie calm was in the air as night fell. The crowd outside dwindled, but those still left knew the missing men were elsewhere plotting their actions and that something was going to happen when they returned.
At 6:45 p.m., as the prisoner and his escorts stepped out of the hotel, they were ambushed by the crowd and overpowered.
The mob seized and quickly carried Reuben Proctor to a stock scale nearby and hanged him from an overhead crossbeam.
Afterwards, they mounted their horses and stopped in front of the body. A Belmont citizen thanked the men, and a self-congratulatory three cheers resounded through the streets before they rode away.
Justice Van Gilder hastily convened a coroner’s jury, which ruled that Reuben Proctor died from hanging at the hands of “persons unknown.”
From the time Proctor was seized by the vigilantes, lynched, cut down, and given to his family after the inquest, only 30 minutes had passed and the streets were quiet and empty.
To read a more detailed account of the murder of Reuben Proctor, click here.
☛ The Brave Girl Dies ☚
On Friday, November 16 — two days after the lynching — Augusta Kading died of her gunshot wounds; she had suffered intensely for over two weeks.
Warren County Coroner William P. Judkins held an inquest into her death that evening in the Kading home. Jurors Wesley Cheshire, William J. Clark, and W.M. Peck were sworn in and, after taking testimony, issued the verdict that:
“Augusta [Kading] came to her death from a gunshot wound inflicted with felonious intent, upon the 31st day of October 1877, by some person or persons to the jurors unknown.”
Although a man had been lynched for an alleged crime against Augusta Kading and two other men believed to be involved in the home invasion were still at large, her murderer was officially considered unknown and her homicide unsolved.
Please note: Use of information from this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ Atlantic Telegraph, November 21, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “Capital Punishment,” Jackson Sentinel, November 29, 1877, p. 5.
- ☛ Chariton Patriot, December 12, 1877, p. 3.
- ☛ Indianola Tribune, November 1877.
- ☛ “Iowa Items,” Atlantic Telegraph, December 19, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ Iowa State Leader, December 10, 1877.
- ☛ “Iowa State News,” Ackley Enterprise, December 21, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “Judge Lynch Foiled,” Davenport Gazette, December 12, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “Judge Lynch’s Court,” Ottumwa Weekly Democrat, November 22, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “Lynch Law,” Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, November 16, 1877, p. 13.
- ☛ “The Miss Cading [sic] Murder,” History of Warren County, Iowa. Des Moines: Union Historical Company, 1879, pp. 462-473.
- ☛ Sioux City Weekly Journal, December 13, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “State Items,” Waterloo Courier, November 11, 1877, p. 4.
- ☛ “State News,” Ames Intelligencer, December 14, 1877, p. 2.
- ☛ “A Troublesome Question,” Ottumwa Weekly Democrat, December 6, 1877, p. 3.
- ☛ U.S. Census.