by Marcie Klomp
That was the headline of the Lime Springs Herald on October 18, 1934. According to local legend, the famous gangster Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd hid out in Howard and Mitchell counties—specifically at Bonair and McIntire—in the 1930s. Seventy-five years ago, on October 11, 1934, there was a shootout in McIntire, allegedly with Public Enemy Number One at the time and two other men.
“My bedtime stories were about Pretty Boy Floyd and bootleggers,” said Beverly (Owens) Exberg, whose father, Howard County Deputy Sheriff William Owens was involved in that shootout.
Exberg’s aunt, Eleanor Eischeid, who lives in Cresco, got a first-hand account of the gunfight from her brother. “He said they learned Pretty Boy Floyd and another friend were hanging out at a country house at McIntire. A Federal man (A.G. Haight) and Bill, or Ding as everybody called him, went looking.”
Rumor had it the gangster was in the area and a trap was planned for Friday, October 12. The two lawmen were in the area gathering information when they went to the Bosteter farm (owned by Lee or Al-possibly Lee’s father), one and three-quarters miles south of McIntire. They observed a man standing in the yard, who Owens later said looked like Floyd, and didn’t think anything of it until they saw him leave in a V-8 Ford and pick up two men who were in the corn field. The officers quickly followed in Owens’ 1933 Chevrolet.
The three bandits were unfamiliar with the area and went down a dead end road. The local deputy knew it was a dead end and stopped the car. “Ding and the Federal Agent got out of the car and laid on the ground. When Pretty Boy’s car came back by, they were shooting a lot and the car got hit twice. If they had been in the car, Ding could have been killed,” said Eischeid. The officers gave chase again, but the gangsters quickly outdistanced them.
From a 2000 interview with the Lime Springs Herald, Lillian Hale remembered she was a junior at Riceville High School. She said most of the town knew Floyd was in the area. Her brother, Arthur Kesten was a neighbor of the Bosteter family at the time. She recalled, “The kids who lived north and east of Riceville were not allowed to go home. They told us what was going on and we stayed at school until it was over.”
The bandits got away and just 11 days later, Floyd was no longer Public Enemy Number One as he was killed at East Liverpool, Ohio.
It was quite the story to be told—being shot at by Pretty Boy Floyd and living to tell the tale. Exberg, who now lives in Texas, said, “The McIntire story was in a detective magazine, but we never kept it. It was also in a comic book.”
She laughs how the story was told to her at bedtime. “My dad explained Howard County was like a highway between Chicago and Minneapolis. Baby Face Nelson and Dillinger came through.” There was a lot of bootlegging going on in the area. “People made their own liquor and had their own stills. The officers would go out and confiscate it, taking it to the courthouse. One time it wasn’t capped properly and it blew up. Daddy said the court house reeked for a long time.”
It was a different time, back in the 1930s. Owens recounted stories of shootouts, bootlegging and suicides to his daughter. Times were tough and there were many suicides in the area the Sheriff’s Department had to respond to.
Exberg said her dad would have to cut down suicides or take care of them in other ways for the families. “My mom was not happy with his line of work. She especially wasn’t happy with the bullet holes in the car. They were just dating and I think they broke up for a while.” Deputy Owens must have decided to go with love rather than gun battles because in 1935 he left the Sheriff’s Department to work for the government. He ended up working for the Farmers Home Administration. Will Owens was killed in a car accident in 1963, leaving his daughter with plenty of memories.
McIntire was not the only place where Pretty Boy Floyd is rumored to have hung out. The little town of Bonair, between Lime Springs and Cresco, also boasts hiding out the gangster.
The late Leonard Sekora lived in the Bonair area most of his life. In an article from 2000, Sekora remembered Pretty Boy was said to always wear a blue suit. He also said he would shoot wild ducks with a machine gun.
Russell Fitzgerald said Pretty Boy stayed at a Medhaug farm, which is the first corner west of Bonair and the first place north. It is located across the road from the hog houses. He remembers Wally Tank telling him Floyd always had his car parked outside the bedroom window, facing the road, for a quick get-away. The original house is no longer there.
EdnaMae Fagner Crow also recalls hearing some stories—and machine gun fire—when Pretty Boy was supposedly in the Bonair area.
Her home was near enough that she and her family could hear the gangsters practicing shooting their machine guns. “They were about a mile or two east of our place. We heard they were there and we’d hear machine guns. I don’t know if they were hunting rabbits or target practice. I would stay indoors to not get a stray shell.” She didn’t think the farm the bandits stayed at belonged to the Medhaugs because a Medhaug family lived just north of her folks’, but perhaps it was another Medhaug who was living at the bandit farm house.
Her late husband, Dale Fagner, told her that when he was young, he had found some moonshine jugs in a culvert. His father told him to stay away from the area. Whether this was related to Floyd or not, it was still illegal.
But it wasn’t all bullets and bravado when Floyd was thought to be in the area. Hope Briggs, who now lives in Grand Meadow but grew up in LeRoy recalls, “I was at a dance in an old barn-auditorium in McIntire. At one dance, there was a stranger and we asked who it was. Someone finally said it was Pretty Boy Floyd. He didn’t bother anybody and just looked around. He wasn’t dressed like our local people. He was dressed better than the average guy who came in from the farm.”
Many local stories have the mysterious stranger in the area as Pretty Boy Floyd. But was it really? Read on to find out one theory.
Russell Fitzgerald, Eleanor Eischeid and Beverly (Owens) Exberg share their stories about Pretty Boy Floyd.
by Marcie Klomp
That was the headline of the Lime Springs Herald on October 18, 1934. According to local legend, the famous gangster Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd hid out in Howard and Mitchell counties—specifically at Bonair and McIntire—in the 1930s. Seventy-five years ago, on October 11, 1934, there was a shootout in McIntire, allegedly with Public Enemy Number One at the time and two other men. (more…)
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