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Loomis Gang

The Loomis Gang was a family of outlaws who operated in central New York during the mid-19th century.

The patriarch of the "Gang," George Washington Loomis, was a descendant of the immigrant Joseph Loomis, who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in the early 17th century. The first Loomis was highly respected.


George Washington Loomis married Rhoda Marie Mallet, daughter of an officer in the French Revolutionary army. Her father had embezzled money from the state and fled to the United States with his family to avoid arrest. The senior Mallet was eventually arrested and sent to prison in 1812.

Loomis and Rhoda, described as a beautiful woman, settled in Madison County in 1802, near the "Nine-Mile Swamp." They had a large family together, and many of their sons became criminals. It was said that Mrs. Loomis told her children: "You may steal, but if you are caught, you shall be whipped." In addition to training her children to lives of crime, Mrs. Loomis also saw to their education in other ways; they were all well-schooled. The leader of the children, George Loomis, Jr., known as "Wash," had an apprenticeship to "read law" in a lawyer's office for a time but did not find it as exciting as the other side of the law.

The sons specialized in theft of horses and livestock rustling, but did not stick to those activities. They also dealt in stolen goods, burglaries, and counterfeit money. The Loomis family was the nucleus of a gang composed of youths from their area, as well as criminal elements from elsewhere. They were successful enough, both in crime and legitimate agriculture, to be able to buy protection from the authorities.

For many years, the Loomises were also careful to cultivate the goodwill of their neighbors; they generally did not steal from people who lived near them. When their neighbors suffered from thefts, those who went to the Loomis farm for help often received aid in recovering their property. This aid helped ensure that the locals would not be willing to give evidence against the Loomis gang to outside authorities attempting to gather evidence against the family and its associates. Most people were either in the Loomises' debt or afraid of them. Anybody who complained to the law about the Loomises' activities ran the risk of mysterious fires on their property, and the Loomises always had plausible alibis.

Occasionally a Loomis or an associate of theirs would be arrested, but between bribed officials, the Loomises' excellent lawyers, and their willingness to make sure that inconvenient paperwork or evidence disappeared, they could almost always avoid conviction.

In 1849, exasperated local people managed to get official sanction for a large raid on the Loomises' farmstead, finding twelve sleigh-loads of stolen goods. The Loomises had become overconfident, keeping the goods at their farm rather than hiding them in the nearby Nine-Mile Swamp. They had gotten to know it well and used it for storing goods. The Loomises avoided conviction, due to confusion about who had stolen what and who owned what goods, but Wash decided to leave the vicinity for a while. Along with thousands of other men, he migrated West to try his luck in the California gold fields during the Gold Rush.

A few years later, Wash returned, and the Loomis gang was back in business. They had kept a low profile while he was gone, since he was the acknowledged brains of the outfit. Despite increased official pressure from men such as Roscoe Conkling, the Loomises continued their operations very much as before, until 1865. They took advantage of the US Civil War in various ways, mainly by large-scale horse theft for sale to the Union Army.

In 1865, things rapidly came to a head. Many men from the area were veterans of the Union Army, and four years of war had made them less willing to yield to the Loomises' intimidation and bullying. A mob attacked the Loomis farm under the direction of James Filkins, a blacksmith and outspoken opponent of the gang. He had become the constable of Sangerfield; in the conflict, Wash Loomis was killed.

At first, the Loomises tried to carry on as before, but people had lost much of their fear of the outlaws' power. In 1866 another mob attacked their farm, burning the house and half-hanging Amos "Plumb" Loomis, in retaliation for depredations that had been laid at their door. After that, the Loomises went downhill fast; they lost their farm to tax arrears and faded into obscurity. Rhoda, Denio, and Cornelia spent their final years at Hastings, New York. With Denio, their home was on U S Route 11, across from the Bardeen one-room schoolhouse. Their descendants may be found in Central New York to this day. Many are proud of their descent from what was, in its time, the largest family criminal syndicate in America.

A legend in the neighborhood of their farm is that Wash Loomis' last words predicted violent death to any non-Loomis person who tried to own their farm. Other legends speak of Wash Loomis' ghost appearing, portending death to someone, and of spectral horsemen riding the roads on October nights for revelry where the Loomis farm once stood.

George Washington Loomis, through the influence of his wife, Rhoda Marie Mallet, was considered to have disgraced the entire Loomis family in America, by that time quite large. Virtually every relative for the next hundred years took great pains to distance themselves and their own families from the highly distasteful matter. The poet Ezra Loomis Pound went so far as to have his own name legally changed.


Additional Resources: Loomis Family History, by Norman R. Cowen -