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O'CONNOR, Patrick. (County of Cork, Ireland, 1797--Dubuque, IA, June 20, 1834). O'Connor came to the United States in 1826 and soon moved to Galena. In 1828 he fractured his left leg in a steamboat accident. When it had to be amputated, it is claimed he became quarrelsome. After an argument with a merchant, O'Connor pulled a pistol and fired fire shots. To escape punishment, he agreed to move to Dubuque. In a drunken quarrel, O'Connor shot and killed his partner, George O'Kief. (1)
O'Connor never denied shooting the man, but boasted that there were no LAWS in the new land under which he could be tried. (2) On May 9, 1834, however, the first murder trial in what is now Iowa, the People of the Black Hawk Purchase v. Patrick O'Connor, occurred outdoors under an old elm tree near the house of Saul Clifton at the corner of Dodge and South Bluff. (3) Captain White was chosen as the prosecuting attorney. O'Connor chose Captain Bates, a man for whom he had worked in Galena. The jury of twelve was chosen by O'Connor from twenty-four people watching the proceedings. (4)
Several witnesses were called. Captain Bates asked that O'Connor be transferred to Illinois for trial. Captain White responded that Illinois had no jurisdiction. The jury deliberated the case for one hour sitting on logs Clifton planned on using for an addition on his home. (5)
O'Connor's scorn of the proceedings must have been badly shaken when his hand-picked jury found him guilty of first degree murder and ordered his death by hanging. (6)
Appeals of the sentence were made to the governor of Missouri and President Andrew Jackson. Both replied that they had no jurisdiction. (7)
O'Connor had been confined in a house during the appeals. On the morning of June 20, 1834, he was placed in a horse-drawn cart along with his coffin and escorted by a priest, Charles F. Fitzmaurice, to a homemade gallows erected on the corner of White and 7th STREETS where the sentence was carried out. (8)
In 1852 while digging the foundation for the JEFFERSON HOUSE and grading 7th Street, O'Connor's skeleton was found. This laid to rest the theory that his body had secretly been taken to Galena. (9) The remains were identified with the presence of his wooden leg and clothing. (9) The skull was taken from the coffin and given to Dr. George W. Scott while the rest of the remains were taken to "the grave yard" and reburied under the direction of the Marshal. (11)
1. Moeller, Hubert L. "The Hanging of Patrick O'Connor," The Des Moines Register, December 17, 1934.
2. Richard, Lord Acton and Patricia Nassif Acton. To Go Free: A Treasury of Iowa's Legal Heritage. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1995, p. 12
3. "The Old Court House," Dubuque Daily Herald, January 22, 1893, p. 8. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18930122&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
6. Sage, Leland. A History of Iowa. Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1974, p. 52
9. "O'Connor, the Murderer," Dubuque Tribune, November 24, 1852.