Loomis Gang

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The Loomis Gang was a notorious family of outlaws that operated in central New York during the 19th century.

The patriarch of the "Gang," George Washington Loomis, was a descendant of the highly respected Joseph Loomis who arrived in the U.S. from England in the early 17th century.

George Washington Loomis married Rhoda Marie Mallet, daughter of an officer in the French Revolutionary army who embezzled money from the state and then fled to the U.S. to avoid arrest. Mallet was eventually arrested and sent to prison in 1812.

George Washington Loomis and his beautiful, but morally bankrupt, wife Rhoda, settled in Madison County in 1802, near the "Nine-Mile Swamp." She raised a large family of children, many of whom, under her expert tutelage, became criminals. It was said that Mrs. Loomis told her children: "You may steal, but if you are caught, you shall be whipped." In addition to training her children to lives of crime, Mrs. Loomis also saw to their education in other ways; they were all well-schooled, and the leader of the children, George Loomis, Jr., known as "Wash," was set to "read law" in a lawyer's office for a time.

They specialized in theft of horses and livestock rustling, but did not stick to those activities exclusively, being quite willing to deal in stolen goods, burglarize, and counterfeit money. The Loomis family itself was the nucleus of a gang composed of corruptible youths from their locality, as well as criminal elements from elsewhere. They were successful enough, both in crime and legitimate agriculture, to be able to buy protection from the authorities, a common practice in New York State at that time. For many years, the Loomises were also careful to cultivate the goodwill of their neighbors; they generally did not steal from people who lived near them, and when thefts from their neighbors did occur, those who went to the Loomis farm for help often received aid in recovering their property. This helped ensure that outside authorities attempting to gather evidence against the family and its associates would have difficulties with getting local assistance---people were either in the Loomises' debt or afraid of them. Anybody who complained to the law about the Loomises' activities ran real risk of mysterious fires on their property, and the Loomises always had plausible alibis.

Occasionally a Loomis or an associate of theirs would be arrested, but between bribed officials, the Loomises' own excellent lawyers and their willingness to make sure that inconvenient paperwork or evidence disappeared, they could almost always avoid conviction.

In 1849, exasperated local people managed to get official sanction for a large raid on the Loomises' farmstead, finding twelve sleigh-loads of stolen goods---the overconfident Loomises had kept them in their home, instead of hiding them in the nearby Nine-Mile Swamp, which they alone knew how to enter and exit safely. Although the Loomises avoided conviction yet again, due to confusion about who had stolen what and who owned what goods, Wash decided to leave the vicinity for a while, trying his luck in the California gold fields.

A few years later, Wash returned, and the Loomis gang was back in business, having kept a low profile while he was gone, since he was the acknowledged brains of the outfit. Despite increased official pressure from men like Roscoe Conkling, the Loomises continued their operations very much as before, until 1865. They took advantage of the US Civil War in various ways, mainly by large-scale horse theft for sale to the Union Army.

In 1865, things came to a head rapidly. Many men from the vicinity had served in the Union Army, and four years of war had made them accustomed to violence and less willing to knuckle under to the Loomises' intimidation and bullying. A mob attacked the Loomis farm under the direction of James Filkins, a blacksmith and outspoken opponent of the Loomises who had become the constable of Sangerfield, and Wash Loomis was killed.

At first, the Loomises tried to carry on as before, but people had lost much of their fear of the outlaws' power, and in 1866 another mob attacked their farm, burning the house and half-hanging Amos "Plumb" Loomis, in retaliation for depredations that had been laid at their door. After that, the Loomises went downhill fast; they lost their farm to tax arrears and faded into obscurity. Rhoda, Denio, and Cornelia spent their final years at Hastings, New York. With Denio, their home was on U S Route 11, across from the Bardeen one room schoolhouse. Their descendants may be found in Central New York to this day, and many are proud of their descent from what was, in its time, the largest family criminal syndicate in America.

There is a legend in the neighborhood of their farm that Wash Loomis' last words were a prediction of violent death to anybody not of Loomis blood that ever tried to own their farm. Other legends speak of Wash Loomis' ghost appearing, portending death to someone, and spectral horsemen riding the roads on October nights for a night of revelry where the Loomis farm once stood.

George Washington Loomis, through the influence of his wife, Rhoda Marie Mallet, was considered to have disgraced the entire horrified Loomis family in America and virtually every relative for the next hundred years took great pains to distance themselves and their own families from the highly distasteful matter. The poet Ezra Loomis Pound even went so far as to have his own name legally changed.

Sources:

  • Frontier Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Loomis Gang by E. Fuller Torrey, MD
  • The Loomis Gang by George W. Walter.

The New York Sun's History of the Loomis Gang - http://www.watervillepl.org/files/2013/05/LoomisGang1877.pdf

Additional Resources: Loomis Family History, by Norman R. Cowen - http://www.midyork.org/Waterville/Archives/loomis3.htm