The Loomis Gang And The Ghost Of Wash Loomis

Violent death will come to anyone not of Loomis blood whoever has this farm. These were the ominous last words uttered by Wash Loomis as he lay dying with his hair and skin peeling from his skull, eyes rolled back in his head and the fractures to his skull bleeding profusely. Wash Loomis was murdered Halloween Night, 1865 on the Loomis Farm in Watersville, New York. Loomis was the leader of the Loomis Gang, a family who had succeeded in terrorizing Central New York with their looting, murder, rape and treachery for over two decades. Some believe the family’s horrific legacy lives on in Wash Loomis, his ghost emerging to inflict violent death on unlucky innocents who hear or see his figure. Anna Collins, wife of the younger and equally evil brother of Wash, Grove Loomis, told how new owners of the Loomis farm were never able to raise crops on its soil where once the Loomis family had sowed abundant amounts of hops, grain, corn and potatoes. Mrs. Collins herself once caught sight of the Ghost of Wash Loomis and this experience lead to a violent death. “I am not a superstitious woman,” she claimed, “and Grove’s stories of the Loomis curse had often made me laugh.” But lo and behold, two days after sighting Wash’s ghost, Motty Mason, owner of the Loomis farmstead, committed suicide. In the 1940s, the Loomis farm had been passed on to two of Motty’s nephews, Harold and Ed. While Harold was crossing Route 20 one day, he was struck and killed by a passing car. Still today, descendants and neighbors claim there is truth to the Loomis curse. “Personally, I don’t believe in ghosts,” Judy Schenk of the Barge forewarned me. Then she began to tell the tale of her brush with the Loomis ghost. “There is a story that if you hear the thundering hooves of Wash Loomis’ horse on Halloween night, someone is going to die in three days’ time. “On this particular Halloween – oh, about a decade ago – we were out camping, not far from where the Loomis farm once stood. There was a full moon out, about midnight; the stars were out, and I heard it. I heard the sound of the thundering hooves. I looked out in the direction where I had heard the sound, but there was nothing in that field. Personally, I don’t believe it,” she reiterated once again. Although no one died, Judy never did figure out where that noise had come from. The Ghost of Wash Loomis and the Loomis curse are almost as interesting as the mortal, immoral lives the Loomis Gang led. A year after Wash’s death, the New York Prison Association summed it up well: “These men,” – the report might have mentioned the women as well – “as might be supposed, exerted great political influence, and it is well understood that they are always ready to reward their friends and punish their enemies, both in primary conventions and at the polls. Although, as we have said, they have been repeatedly indicted, the number of their indictments bears but a small ratio to the number of their depredations. It usually happens that anyone who is particularly active in bringing any of the gang to justice has his barn or dwelling soon after burned, or his horses missing from the stable, or his sheep or cattle from the pasture.” It all began back in 1802 when the unassuming settlers of Sangerfield were joined by George Loomis, who rode to town from Vermont with 3,000 in stolen gold to his name. He bought a tract of land, which would eventually span 325 acres, and in 1815, he married Rhoda Mallett. Rhoda was the great matriarch. Evil – think Mama Fratelli of The Goonies – smart, beautiful, haughty and tenacious, Rhoda had a particular liking for counterfeiting money and harassing the women in her sons’ lives. Only one of the Loomis sons ever married, and when Wash tried to settle down with a woman by the name of Hannah Wright, Rhoda proved capable of murder. In November 1861, while Wash was away, Rhoda set Grove up to “accidently” shoot a double-barreled rifle into Hannah’s thigh as he pretended to be cleaning the barrel. She died a couple weeks later, and no one in the family ever mentioned the incident. George and Rhoda Loomis had a large family of six sons and four daughters. Not one among them had a good soul, and not one among them cared for anything but stealing and getting away with it, whatever it took. From their most tender and youngest years, George and Rhoda rewarded their children for stealing. When George Loomis died in 1851, he bequeathed to his stock his pathological tendencies and his passion for thievery. It wasn’t a year before his son Wash Loomis took over the family and rapidly made the Loomis Family one of the most successful and wicked crime syndicates of the nineteenth century. The family’s influence extended for hundreds of miles in every direction; North into Ontario, East into Vermont, South into Pennsylvania and west almost to Lake Erie. Until Wash’s death on October 31, 1865, their criminal activity never waned. The Nine Mile Swamp, named for the nine miles of Loomis property that extended from Sangerfield Center to Hubbardsville, still exists and served as a sanctuary for the gang when the law came in pursuit, or – more typically – when the Loomis family needed a place to stow their stolen wares. The Loomis’ were most skillful stealing horses. The Loomis’ changed the markings on the horses they stole by tightly bounding a hot baked potato to create a white marking, silver nitrate to darken light markings, and using a variety of chemicals, even paint to disguise the horses they stole during the night. On more than one occasion, they were able to sell back the stolen horse to the original owner, leaving the owner none the wiser. One could claim that the Loomis’ were merely opportunists taking full advantage of the weak and corrupt nature of American law at the time. They counterfeited money when the panic of 1857 struck the country and utilized the chaos created by the U.S. Civil War to escalate their illicit activities – particularly where it concerned horses – and enhance their treasure trove. Under the stewardship of the suave and handsome Wash, the family was able to escape the law when needed. Corruption and crime were rampant, and officials in Oneida and Madison regularly accepted gifts from the Loomises. In some cases, the Loomis family appeared on the regular payroll and even kept friendly relations with their neighbors. As the sheer extent – geographic and otherwise – of their activities became apparent, it was their greed that doomed them. Their activities became increasingly more violent, they had less and less qualms about attempting murder, carrying out murder or kidnapping to escape justice. In the mid-1850s, a member of the gang living on the Loomis farm threatened to go to the sheriff to get the due he claimed the Loomis family neglected to pay him. Wash promised to right his pay, but shortly thereafter, in the back of the Loomis home, the man was found partially disemboweled, a scythe through his abdomen. A coroner concluded it was an accident (or his own death might have followed), but the locals knew better: it had been murder. When Wash died in 1865, the family fell apart, and at least one Loomis, Plumb Loomis, finally met justice. It took three attempts at hanging before his feet hung and the rope finally strangled his throat; he finally went limp. One account described Plumb after the first attempt: “his face contorted until it seemed as if his eyes were ready to pop from their sockets. His tongue thickened and protruded between empurpled lips. Urine ran down his legs, soaking through his pants.” Although the crowd watching asked for his confession, he never would let the truth escape his mouth. Satisfied with Plump’s death, no other Loomis was ever lynched. They were told to leave New York in 30 days. No Loomis heeded the order and their criminal lives continued, spotted with murder, trials and intrigue until Rhoda and her remaining children finally passed away – we can assume none to rest in peace. The infamy of the Loomis Gang was such that it even made headlines abroad. In 1867, the Quarterly Review in London carried a piece on the Loomis Gang, highlighting the lawlessness of the state of New York. In 1941, Harriet McDoual Daniels wrote a novel entitled the Nine Mile Swamp. In the foreword, she writes, “Was it the overabundant life which marked them, united with some evil strain, that led them into devious corked paths?” Her novel is an imagined story – some might say wishful thinking – of what might have been had just one of the Loomises not been “united with some evil strain.” In Waterville, New York, about 15 miles down the road from Hamilton, the Waterville Historical Society still gives tours once a year of the major Loomis family sites. The home of the Loomis family is no longer standing; neither is the courthouse, where so many times they diverted the grip of the law. Brian Bogan, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Waterville Central School, continues to preserve the history of the Loomis Gang. He teaches his students the local history of 150 years ago and gives them a bus tour of the Nine Mile Swamp and the Loomis Farm. Waterville High School students pass their time, particularly on crisp October days when the anniversary of Wash Loomis’ death approaches, on the Loomis Bridge, which still crosses over Nine Mile creek. There they tell ghost stories, hear voices and hope to see the Ghost of Wash Loomis. If evil does exist, as the true parts of this history seem to attest to, and ghosts do haunt certain quarters of this world, then upon hearing the thundering of horses’ hooves or sighting the outline of a dark, handsome man wearing nineteenth century garb this All Hallow’s Eve, I suggest a prayer that Wash hasn’t marked you for a violent death.