Steamboat Rock

Historical Society


Now Digitally Remastered and

Available on DVD!

In 1997 a video documentary, called,

The Rainsbargers: A Lynching  in Hardin County,

was Produced by Jon E. Heitland.

The premier showing was held in Steamboat Rock School gymnasium to a packed house.   Now, The Steamboat Rock Historical Society is pleased to announce that through special arrangement with Jon Heitland, his video documentary has been digitally remastered and made available on DVD at our museum and through our website.  The DVD price is $20.00.  Mail orders are being taken for $20 plus $2.50 shipping.  To order by mail, send a check for $22.50 for each DVD to:

Kitty Hemmen

Steamboat Rock Historical Society

P.O. Box 93

Steamboat Rock, IA 50672

The Steamboat Rock Historical Society Museum is open each Saturday morning, 9 AM to 11 AM, beginning May 15 through Labor Day Weekend.


The colorful story and legend of the Rainsbarger saga, one of the most remembered events ever to have happened in the history of Steamboat Rock, will be the feature display at the Steamboat Rock Museum in the near future. 
The tragedy of what happened to this family has been told and retold for generations in many ways including books, newspapers and other publications.  For over 100 years, everyone had an opinion as to the innocence or guilt of the Rainsbarger boys.  Some were convinced they were guilty and others just said, “they weren’t guilty of all they were accused of.”
Finally in 1992 the truth was uncovered by an innovative and resourceful young man,  Raymond M. Tinnian.*  
Beginning in the 1870s the quiet village of Steamboat Rock became a playground for criminal activity.  All the elements were there, horse thieves, cattle rustlers, murders and counterfeiting.  By the early 1880s vigilante groups formed to maintain some type of control but they were unable to prevent the tragic murders of four people, all with a connection to a state-wide counterfeit ring which had become headquartered in Steamboat Rock.  This ring included some very prominent citizens, including bankers, doctors and lawyers who went to extreme measures to protect their identity.  
When Enoch Johnson, who was involved in transporting the counterfeit money, was arrested, there was real concern among the counterfeiters that he might talk.  So it was decided to target the boys of the Rainsbarger family to be scapegoats for the plan to have Johnson killed in a pre-arranged accident. In the course of events two of the Rainsbarger brothers were arrested and charged with his murder and put in jail in Marshalltown.  A few weeks later, when Henry Johns, brother-in-law of the Rainsbargers and foreman of the Grand Jury, got too close to the truth, he was murdered.   In June of that same year (1885) two of the other brothers were arrested for other trumped up charges, put in the Eldora jail and lynched that night. Four needless deaths, two by gang murder and two by mob violence, the dark part of  Steamboat Rock’s history which later became much brighter.

*THE PALIMPSEST, State Historical Society of Iowa
     Volume 73, Number 3        Fall 1992

A Mystery Not Solved

The clip-clop of horses hoofs was the only sound heard on this dark, quiet night. With only a glimmer of light from a lantern, the three persons riding in a horse-drawn buggy were making their way from the Abbott train station south toward home when suddenly an assault of gunfire erupted.  

News spread fast the next morning that there had been an attack on Henry Johns, that he had been shot and injured.  His hired man and fourteen-year-old son escaped injury, but one of the horses had been killed

Henry Johns, a well known farmer and land broker, was Foreman of the Grand Jury investigating the passing of counterfeit money in Steamboat Rock.  In fact, at one time he was even handed some of this money in change, and now he was close to naming those involved.  Indeed, some of those were important business people who were willing to take extreme measures to avoid being identified as part of the counterfeiting ring. 

After being shot at earlier in the month, Henry knew his life was in danger and had even consulted his lawyer in regard to having protection. However, no action was taken.  The wounds he received in this shooting were to his arm and chest but were not life-threatening.  He was treated by Dr. Potter of Ackley and seemed  to be making satisfactory recovery, but three weeks later he died. 

Mystery surrounds the death of Henry Johns.  

One report indicated he died of gangrene from an infected wound; another, that a condition he suffered from called gravel (kidney stones) was aggravated by the injuries.  A third consideration was that he was poisoned by the doctor whose son was involved with the counterfeiters. A rumor which has been passed down through the family through years was that a household member witnessed the doctor outside at the pump carefully rinsing the utensils he used to administer the poison to Henry.  Another likely possibility, if poison was the cause of death, is that he received an overdose of opiate pills which the doctor left when he dressed the wound.  When he treated him he noticed that Henry was extremely nervous.  He administered the first dose and gave instructions these pills were to be given “only when the patient could not secure needed sleep.”  So who would have given Henry the lethal dose?  Was it deliberate or was it accidental?

What was the cause of Henry Johns’ death?  Whatever the real cause, history will consider it murder by those who did the shooting.  Before his death, in a sworn statement made out by Justice of Peace Harrington of Marshalltown, Henry revealed the names of his assailants.  This was filed in the county clerk's office but was never made public.  Reportedly it disappeared and was never found.  However, Detective Waterman submitted a duplicate statement, stating this was a true statement. 

Moving On       

The children of Henry and Martha Johns were divided in their loyalty to their uncles.  Two sons, Edward and Lincoln were friends of the Rainsbarger brothers.  In fact, Edward, who was my grandfather, was scheduled to be arrested when William, Finley and Manse were charged with the attack on the doctors’ buggy.   It was said that William made bail but Edward couldn't be found. That left Finley and Manse jailed and then they were lynched that night.  So I almost wasn't!! 

Frank and Nate had been realistic about the outcome of their trials because they recognized the mood of the people and the undercurrent of hostility directed toward their family.  So when they were found guilty, they submissively made the trip to prison and for more than 25 years daily pondered and puzzled over just what had happened.  

Declaring their innocence through the years of their imprisonment, Frank and Nate made appeals to several governors without success.  A relative of Bill Hiserodt, W. P. Soash, was an influential and successful  business man who very officially contacted each Governor and prevented Frank and Nate from gaining their freedom.  Finally, Governor Clarke decided to look at the evidence and, in granting the pardon, issued a statement saying the Rainsbarger brothers never should have been imprisoned.

In the meantime, the lives of many in the family and community were affected in various ways by these events.  Feelings of fear and embarrassment provided incentive for the decision by some of the families to leave the area that had experienced so much tragedy. The new frontier of northwest Iowa and areas beyond gained a number of settlers from Hardin County, Iowa in the late 1880s.  Some of the people from Steamboat Rock and surrounding area were on the move.

One of the Rainsbarger families made the move to Minnesota, never mentioning the black days of their Iowa residency to their children.  It was nearly one hundred years later when their descendants began searching for family roots that the truth was uncovered.  Other members of this family, who were descendants of Finley Rainsbarger, lived in Michigan  They held a mini reunion when I made a visit to see them in Grand Rapids in 1988.  

In 1992 we held a Rainsbarger Reunion at the Boat Club  in Steamboat Rock.  Fifty-six people who attended came from Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas and Canada as well as from several towns in Iowa.     

Also on the move, another segment of the family chose the northwest United States and changed the spelling of their name to Rainsburger!

On the Johns side of the family, parents and two married sons who had all been firmly ensconced on Hardin and Grundy county farms pulled up and began anew in the Cherokee, Iowa area.  After they moved, they were still afraid of the Rainsbarger brothers and on one occasion they thought the Rainsbargers had come after them.  Suddenly one evening they heard a loud racket on the outside porch. “It’s the Rainsbargers!” one of them yelled.  Then one of the brave souls decided to check it out and found a cow had gotten it’s head stuck in a salt barrel and was banging around on the porch!
(To be continued)

*(Photos of the descendants of  William, Martha and Finley who attended the Reunion are part of this display.)

The Rainsbargers:

Dark Days of a Bright History

By Mildred O. Griffin

Great Granddaughter of Henry Johns


The Rainsbargers

William • Frank • Nate • Finn &  Manse

Artistic Representation

Mildred and David Folkerts are now in the process of creating a new display for the museum, detailing the history, truth and fiction,  surrounding the Rainsbarger case.

New details recently uncovered sheds more new light on those who decided to protect themselves and set up the Rainsbarger family to take their fall.  Who they were and where they came from.

Our display will include  a copy of the Henry Johns’ statement as well as many artifacts and photographs that have previously not been seen.

Please visit us soon and watch the display expand as we will be adding to it throughout the summer months.


Mildred Griffin can be contacted through her e-mail on our contact page.  She would love to hear from you if you have anything to add to the Rainsbarger story.


Steamboat Rock Historical Society

While doing research for another Ghost Town Bus Tour, Terry Folkerts uncovered some very interesting and somewhat startling information on the framing of the Rainsbarger brothers for the murder of Enoch Johnson and Henry Johns.

It seems that the guilty horse thieve and counterfeiters had planned to lay the blame on the murders on the notorious outlaw Jack Reed who had been operating in the county for some time prior. 

It turns out that their plans had to be changed however when they discovered that Jack Reed was operating outside the state when the Johnson arrest and later murder took place.

Since there was a connection with Johnson and Frank Rainsbarger, and Finn Rainsbarger had a rough reputation thy decided to lay the blame on the Rainsbargers instead.

It is still difficult to imagine how they got away with it, but, Bill Hiserodt was so charismatic and so in control of men like Dan Turner, A.A. Noyse, Sherif Wilcox, newspaper man Ross, Eldora and Steamboat Rock doctors and lawyers that the unimaginable did happen.

Jack Reed in his own memoirs written while he was in prison the last time stated that if he had been around no doubt the blame for Enoch Johnson and Henry Johns murders would have fallen on him.

More of this incredible story will be revealed in our next Ghost Town bus tour in the fall of 2011.

Further Reflections

As one decade passed another perhaps nowhere in the country were there more carefully guarded secrets.  Who would want to admit that one of their family was a member of the vigilantes and had a part in taking the  life of another person?  And would it benefit anyone's self-esteem to volunteer that their grandparent was a Rainsbarger with all the connotations of that name? 

Many researchers have explored this period in the history of Steamboat Rock and Hardin County.  In 1989, Glenn Paul of Eldora made the following observation on the Rainsbarger lynching:  "The murder of the Rainsbargers, no matter in what light this foul murder is viewed, it should be regarded with a horror born of knowledge that it was a lawless act committed under the cloak of meeting out justice.  It was not justice (nothing can ever make it so) and the hands of the lynchers are stained with blood, the possibility of the guilt of their victims serving nothing to wash away the stain.  The murder of the Rainsbargers was committed by the people of Hardin County.  The active participants and all those who tacitly abetted the crime by their presence are not only lawbreakers but murderers.  They should be regarded with horror and their conduct should meet with the severe punishment that it justly deserves."  

A noted Iowa Falls historian, Ira A. Nichols, wrote in his book PIONEER DAYS IN IOWA FALLS:  "It is too tangled a web for us to untangle and it has never been quite safe to try to untangle it, as  I long ago learned from personal experience . . .  Where life, death and imprisonment are involved in so many lives, it is not safe to delve too deeply.  The truth will never be known except by those who played the cards and their lips have been sealed by fear and death." 

However, the truth has become known.  Raymond M. Tinnian, who became acquainted with this story while surveying the area for the Interstate Highway 20, uncovered Nate Rainsbarger’s collection of newspapers and documents.  Using this with the many other articles and materials that he collected, Ray put pieces together and discovered the truth about what really happened in the 1880's in Hardin County.  In the fall of 1992 his meticulously documented article was published in THE PALIMPSEST*.  Complicated myths that have persisted through these many years have been unraveled, and the real criminals exposed. 

After appealing to six Iowa governors through the years, the plea was presented to Governor Clark.  Opposition by Frank’s wife, Nettie continued each time an appeal was submitted.  Other strong opposition came from the family of Hiserodt.  One member of this family, W. P. Soash was able to influence each governor, every time dashing the hopes of  Frank and Nate.  Then finally it was Governor Clark who saw through the maze of pay-offs and untruths.

More detail about what happened to this family will be found in the book Steamboat Rock, Anchored in History (See Gift Shop) and on the DVD The Rainsbargers: A Lynching in Hardin County (See Left Side of this Page). A Timeline/Photo display of The Rainsbarger Story is now being featured at the Steamboat Rock Historical Society Museum.

*THE PALIMPSEST, State Historical Society of Iowa

     Volume 73, Number 3        Fall 1992