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 20, 1834, however, the first murder trial in what is now Iowa occurred outdoors. 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 from twenty-four people watching the proceedings. (3)
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. (4)
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. (5)
Appeals of the sentence were made to the governor of Missouri and President Andrew Jackson. Both replied that they had no jurisdiction. (6)
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. (7) Years later, in digging the foundation for the Jefferson House, O'Connor's skeleton was found and reburied.
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
5. Sage, Leland. A History of Iowa. Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1974, p. 52