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The Bullet Hole School House: A shot fired over telephone lines

Special for 4th of July holiday weekend

July 7, 2019
From Joyce Wiese- Historian and Retired Tama-Grundy Publishing Correspondent , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

On the first day of October, 114 years ago, some excitement occurred a couple of miles west of Toledo. It seems a meeting at the Fairview Schoolhouse, concerning telephones was called for a Saturday night.

On a 14-acre scenic hill in Section 17 of Toledo Township, still stands the school house with the bullet hole just below the window. This school house was the shooting scene resulting in the trial which had the community by the ears many years ago.

This meeting was over the sale of telephone lines which John Gunning, local farmer, had put up. Everyone on the line paid for a mile and a half of it. D. S. Hinegardner wanted to sell the telephone line and therefore was intruding on the other farmers property and rights. Hinegardner was warned there would never be a second to the motion. When Hinegardner went ahead and made the motion.

Article Photos

The “Bullet Hole School” west of Toledo in earlier times. it still stands on private property today.

This occurred in October so people were heavily dressed When the motion was made and ready for discussion Gunning stood and stated no one was selling his property. At this time Gunning pulled out his Harrington & Richardson .32 caliber blue steel revolver aiming at Hinegardner. At the same time several of the men at the meeting, including Sam Berger, jumped on Gunning intending to take the gun away from Gunning.

In the struggle a shot was fired missing Hinegardner, but hitting Sam Berger in the chest, lodging in his right shoulder. It took seven or eight men to overpower Gunning.

Those attending the meeting were D.S. Hinegardner, Frank Hinegardner, Jesse Hinegardner, Frank Berger, Sam Berger, Ed Spinler, Willis Spinler, Frank Spinler, Isaac Stoner, S.T. Richards, Hiram Donaldson and J.G. Bull.

Some of those who were in the line of fire jumped out through the windows and ran down the road for help. The story was that one man rode his horse to the meeting. When he jumped through the window he mounted his horse and went at a fast gallop for Toledo to get the Sheriff. The other man who jumped through the window and had no horse went running down the road so fast he passed the man on the horse.

However Gunning was over powered and handed over to Sheriff W.V. Vest. Gunning was tried by jury and the trial was the sensation, not only of Tama County but of the whole state of Iowa.

Mr. Davis, who was Marshall of Toledo, said that when the news of the shooting reached Toledo, he and Sheriff Vest hurried to the school house.

When they got there they found Gunning on the floor with several men holding him down. Gunning was arrested but later released under $5,000 bond. Davis said Berger was his brother-in-law and that the bullet was lodged in his shoulder blade and that Mr. Berger carried the bullet until his death years later.

After the trial Judge G.W. Burnham instructed the jurors that they could return one of the following verdicts. (1) Assault with intent to commit murder (2) Assault with intent to commit manslaughter (3) Assault with intent to inflict great bodily injury (4) Unlawful assault (5) Not guilty .

The jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty, and John Gunning was a free man.



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