John Meshack Phipps: The Wealthy Farmer

There might be no end to the newspaper articles about John Meshack Phipps, twin brother of Eli Shadrack Phipps. Both were sons of Jesse Phipps of Ashe County, North Carolina, Owen County, Indiana, and Putnam County, Missouri, whose Putnam County probate records say that he died in 1865 of smallpox. Jesse is mentioned in the will of his father Samuel of Ashe County, North Carolina.

The following article is more bold than most in articulating the suspicions that some had concerning John Meshack Phipps, that he had been the “Shack Phips” of the famous 1840s outlaw gang of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Those suspicions were true, but what hasn’t been clear from the articles that have turned up so far is why those suspicions never seemed to have led to direct accusations.

Perhaps this was because of the statute of limitations. This is the length of time in which prosecution can brought for a crime. For theft, the statute of limitations varies depending on whether state or federal, what state, and what time period.

A quick glance at various web sources seem to suggest that the period can be be anywhere from perhaps around 3 to 20 years. In John’s case, somewhere around 60 years would have passed, so it would appear that it was well past the time in which he could have been prosecuted.

From The Algona Advance, Algona, Iowa, Thurs., 20 July 1905, p. 6:

Believe Him Father of Jno. D. Rockefeller
Fremont County Citizens Notify Eastern Authorities of the Man.
Is a Perfect Likeness
The Photograph Well Known to Magazine Readers as Father of the Oil Magnate Corresponds Well to the Rich and Aged Man.

“Shenandoah, Ia., July 8. – Hopeful that rich old John M. Phipps is really William A. Rockefeller, prominent people in Farragut, Fremont county, sent letters and telegrams to McClure’s Magazine and Ida M. Tarbell asking for information not contained in Tarbell’s latest story.

“Farragut is a town two miles west of Phipp’s [sic; Phipps’s] residence. There Phipps is known even better than in Shenandoah. The old man has been a familiar figure on the village streets for years. People have speculated long over his identity. Men on the corners and in stores spent their time studying the description of Tarbell’s which he is supposed to answer.

“The man in the book and the man on the farm they find much alike, both in history and personal peculiarities. So much alike in fact that they demand fountain head information. Farragut people are far more eager to establish Phipps’ identity than are the people of Shenandoah.

“In Farragut Phipps’ denial that he is “Shack” Phips of a notorious gang of early Iowa outlaws is partially believed. The skeptical say that Phipps added another “P” to his name after leaving the gang.

“The bandits of the prairie flourished in the “forties,” about the time when John M. Phipps was technically out of sight, or a period when he fails to give an account of himself. Many here believe that “Shack” Phips and John M. Phipps are one and the same, and that it is because of his alleged connection with the gang that he is keeping his own history quiet.

“The volume recites the murder of many Iowans by the gang which terrorized the country at that time. tI [sic; It] tells of wholesale horse stealing, where the animals would be run out of the country, just as Ida Tarbell tells of William A. Rockefeller and his alleged actions.

“The only possible construction that can be placed on the case is that William A. Rockefeller might have assumed the name of “Phips” during the periods he would disappear from home and that Phips may be the wealthy Fremont county farmer.”

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