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1870's Mahanoy City: Highway Robbery

Updated: May 23, 2022

"Schuylkill County appears to be infested with professional robbers, at least highway robbery is getting to be quite fashionable" - Harrisburg Daily Independent, Tuesday, 11 December 1877

About ten o'clock on the morning of Monday, 10 December 1877, William Schoener, the leading dry goods merchant of Mahanoy City, was returning home in his carriage following a visit to Pottsville, PA. When he approached a small, ancient settlement known as Patterson and the home of numberless thugs, two brutal-looking men jumped out of the woods into the road and cried "Halt!" Before William could acquiesce, if he felt so disposed, a bullet whistled past his ear, followed by four more in rapid succession. The leaden messengers went so near their mark that it seemed miraculous that William was not killed.

As soon as he could collect himself, sufficiently, he pulled a small pistol from his pocket and exchanged shots with the robbers, who, after witnessing this display of courage, fled through the woods. William thought he may have wounded one of the two. He had over four hundred dollars in his pocket at the time, and the highwaymen appeared to be aware of that fact.

The affair created considerable excitement and the story appeared in numerous newspapers from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Such tales were common in the area at that time.

After reading these articles, I was left wondering who, exactly this William Schoener was. I had no record of relatives by that name in Mahanoy City employed as a dry goods merchant. So I went and checked the 1880 census and found a William Schoener, age 36, widowed, employed in "Retail Dry Goods" and listed as a boarder at Charles King's hotel in Mahanoy City.

Now I had more information, but I could not find any reference to him before or after that. Then I decided to look for different spellings of his last name and, one I did that, I was able to find out more about the man who stood up to his would-be robbers.

As it turns out, it was a William A. Shoener, born 6 Jun 1837, the son of Johannes (John) Schoener (Shoener), Jr. and his wife Catharine (née Hesser), a farmer in Orwigsburg, PA.

Before the Civil War, he was living with his brother George and his family who ran an inn in Orwigsburg.

He joined the 173rd Pennsylvania Volunteers and was elected as a sergeant of Company A. The regiment was organized at Camp Curtain in Harrisburg. On 30 November 1862, it moved to Washington, where it was ordered to Suffolk, Virginia, but before reaching Fortress Monroe, its destination was changed to Norfolk. Upon its arrival there, it was assigned to duty in guarding the approaches to the town at Camp Veile, three miles out. Here the regiment was thoroughly drilled.

Early in May, 1863, the regiment was ordered to Norfolk, for provost duty, where it remained until the 9 July. It was then sent with the 177th Pennsylvania to Washington and then to Frederick, Maryland, reporting to General Meade, who was moving in pursuit of the rebel army in its retreat from Gettysburg. It was now subjected to long and tedious marches, to which it was little accustomed, and was finally settled in duty to guard the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. On 13 August, its term of service having expired, it was ordered to Harrisburg, where, on the 18th, it was mustered out.

William then joined Company F of the 116th Pennsylvania as a 2nd Lieutenant on 1 February 1864 (This was the same regiment that William Howe had joined. For his experience with the regiment, click here). The 116th fought all through the Overland Campaign, where it continued to lose heavily in officers and men during the battles in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor. Heavy losses continued during the Siege of Petersburg. He was promoted to Captain on 17 January 1865. After the Appomattox Campaign, the regiment was sent to Alexandria, where, on 3 June, companies A, B, C, and D where mustered out. William was discharged in Washington by Special Order on 14 June 1865. This military experience definitely prepared him for the challenges he would face in Mahanoy City.

On 14 July 1868 he married Emma Loretta Fey. Their son John Thomas Shoener was born in Mahanoy City on 8 November 1869. On the 1870 Census record, Emma and John were living with her parents in Orwigsburg. It is uncertain where William was at the time. When Emma died on 14 February 1871. John was still living with his grandparents for the 1880 Census when his father was a boarder in Mahanoy City.

William married Mary A. Leiby some time after 1880 and relocated to Shamokin, Northumberland County, PA. He died on 10 July 1898. John would look after his stepmother until her death at the age in 1941 at the age of 94.

So, from newspaper articles about a highway robbery, I found another relative and was able to add his story to the list of others.


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