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Civil War Blog

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Daring Colliery Robbery, 1867 – Civil War Veteran Escapes to Get Help

Posted By on December 7, 2015

In mid February 1867, the Boston Run Colliery of Althouse and Focht near Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County, was robbed at gunpoint by a band of men who succeeded in taking most of the payroll of $4500 in cash from the officials of the mine.  While the robbery was reported in several newspapers of the time, the account that appeared in the Sunbury American on 2 March 1867 repeated the account of the Pottsville Miners’ Journal and included the names of the mine owners, Mr. George D. Althouse and Mr. Jacob Focht as well as Mr. Focht’s son, Benjamin Focht, who was a Civil War veteran.  Benjamin later became the mine superintendent.

FochtBenjamin-PAVetCardFile-001

Benjamin Focht served in the 6th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company G, as a Corporal, from 22 April 1861 through his discharge in August 1861.  He also served in the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company A, as a Sergeant, beginning his service on 19 August 1861, and continuing until his discharge on 18 October 1864 via Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability.  It is not known why he received a promotion to Sergeant on 18 March 1865, which appears to be after the date of his discharge.  The card shown above is from the Pennsylvania Archives.  Shown below is his Pension Index Card from Fold3.

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The war injuries sustained by Sgt. Focht were apparently sufficient for him to apply early for a disability pension.  As the card shows, the application was made on 14 May 1870.  He collected the pension and after his death, his widow applied and collected as well.

Benjamin Focht was born in Robeson Township, Berks County, but because he was living in Llewellyn, Schuylkill County, at the time of the Civil War, he ended up in a regiment and company that was heavily composed of men from Upper Dauphin County and the western part of Schuylkill County.  He died in Reading, Berks County, and is buried at the Charles Evans Cemetery there.

What follows here is the text of the news article describing the colliery robbery of 1867.  Following that article is the obituary of Benjamin Focht as it appeared in the Reading Times, 31 December 1894.  Note that there was no mention of his war service in the obituary despite the fact that he was a pensioner until his death.

BOLD ROBBERY IN SCHUYLKILL COUNTY

The Robbers enter the Office of a Colliery on Pay Day and Carry Off Forty-five Hundred Dollars….

The most daring robbery that ever took place in Schuylkill County was perpetuated on Saturday by ten men, at the office of the Boston Run Colliery, Althouse & Focht, about three miles from Mahanoy City.  Saturday was pay day at the Colliery, and on the previous day Mr. George D. Althouse had arrived from Philadelphia with $6,050 to pay the miners. On Friday evening this money was put in envelopes, as is the custom, by Mr. Benjamin Focht.  During the night an attempt was made to enter the house where this money was kept, but the lights having been kept burning, the men who made the attempt desisted after opening some shutters.

About 9 o’clock on Saturday morning Mr. Focht took the money to the office and commenced paying.  Shortly after Mr. Althouse and Mr. Jacob Focht (Mr. B. Focht‘s father), went to the office, where they sat talking, and when a man came in paying him.  They had paid twenty-one men, and there was no one in the office except Mr. Althouse, Mr. Focht and his son, when Mr. Jacob Focht, who was looking out of a window, suddenly exclaimed, “There come four men.”  He had hardly uttered the exclamation before they entered the office.  One of the men asked for work.  He was informed that there was none to give.  The men then made a movement to enter inside a railing which separated the entrance from the interior of the office.  The moment they made this movement Mr. B. Focht, suspecting that their object was robbery, sprang over the railing for the purpose of going out to given an alarm and to get his revolver, which was at his residence near the office.  In running out he was seized by the throat by one of the robbers.  Mr. Focht, however, broke away from the man, ran out and cried for assistance.  A shot was fired at him from behind, which came close to his head.  At the same time a man sprang in front of him, and presenting a revolver told Mr. Focht that if he gave any further alarm, he would put a ball through him.  The two men then took him about ten steps to the middle of the road, delivering him into the hands of a confederate, at the same time with their revolvers keeping off unarmed men who were coming to his assistance.  The man took Mr. Focht down the road about two hundred yards.  A woman who saw the occurrence screamed,and one of the robbers fired three shots at her without hitting her.  The man who had Mr. Focht in charge robbed him of a gold watch and chain valued at $200, and then compelled him to jump into a creek and lie down, firing a shot at him, which however, passed over him.  Shortly after the other robbers, nine in number, came down the road and passed on.  Mr. Focht then rose, went to the house, saddled a horse, and went to Shenandoah City, where a hundred armed men were soon got together, to go in pursuit of the robbers.

While what we have narrated was going on outside, a desperate fight took place in the office between Mr. Althouse and Mr. Jacob Focht and two of the robbers.  Mr. Althouse had succeeded in getting his man into a corner, where he choked him until he was black in the face.  A comrade, however, came to the robbers assistance and striking Mr. Althouse a severe blow on the head with the butt of his revolver, knocked him to the floor senseless.  Mr. Focht also had his assailant by the throat with one hand, while with the other he held the barrel of the robber’s revolver, from which four shots were fired while in that position, without injuring Mr. F.  After Mr. Althouse fell the robbers succeeded in getting the money which was in one hundred and twenty-five envelopes, and decamped hastily, dropping sixteen of the envelopes in making their hasty exit.  The amount taken was $4,500.  During the fight shots were fired and several balls passed through Mr. Althouse’s clothing.  He was slightly wounded in the hip by a ball.  Mr. Focht was wounded on the head by being knocked against a stove.  Neither were dangerously hurt, and their wound were soon after dressed by a surgeon.  An alarm was given at the colliery by one of the employees by sounding a steam whistle.  The employees gathered quickly and pursued the robbers, but they scattered and running into the woods which are thick there, were soon lost to sight.

The office where this happened is about two hundred and fifty yards from the colliery.  The robbery took place about 11 o’clock, and the entire transaction only occupied about ten minutes.  In escaping the robbers ran in the direction of Shenandoah City.  Mr. Focht thinks the men were Irishmen and Cornishmen and that they are an organized band under the leadership of a superior scoundrel who probably graduated in crime in one of the cities.  The execution was, evidently, too bold and successful for greenhorns in the business.

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THE DEATH RECORD

Benjamin Focht, a well-known citizen of Reading, died at three o’clock yesterday afternoon at his home, 224 North Tenth Street, after an illness of several months.  The cause of his death was heart disease.  Deceased, previous to his illness, was employed as a bookkeeper by the Excelsior Bottling Company, and was well known in Berks and Schuylkill Counties.

He was born in Robeson Township, and for some years superintended the Boston Run Colliery near Pottsville at the time it was operated by his father.  Later, his father came to Reading, and with his sons, established the Spring Garden Coal Yards in the lower section of the city.  Some years later Benjamin engaged in the hotel business at Bernville, and relinquished that to accept the position of United States Gauger under Joseph T. Valentine, who was Collector of Internal Revenue in this district previous to the time when Berks County, with others, was placed in what is now known as the First Revenue District.

He was an ardent republican, a member of the Masonic order, as well as a Knight Templar, and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Mrs. A. Gertrude Bubp, wife of Harry G. Bupb, reporter of the World, and Miss Charlotte Tyson FochtHenry Focht, and Mrs. Sue Heisler, of Reading, and George F. Tyson and Mrs. Milton Shire, all of Philadelphia, are brothers and sisters of the deceased.

His funeral will take place at 2 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, when the remains will be laid to rest in Charles Evans Cemetery.  Mr. Focht died in his 53rd year.

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News items were obtained through research on Newspapers.com.

 


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