George W. Powers was born on April 9, 1843, in Cayuga County, New York, the son of Luman A. (1808-1872) and Jane (1826-1871).
Both New York natives his parents were married sometime before 1842 (Jane was perhaps 16 years old at the time) probably in New York where they resided for some years. Sometime between 1843 and 1846 his family moved from New York to Michigan where they were living by 1846, settling in Kent County in 1847. By 1850 George was attending school with his older sister Caroline and living with his family in Grand Rapids where his father worked as a blacksmith. By 1860 George was a farm laborer living with his family in Grand Rapids Township.
George stood 5’7” with black eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was 18 years old and probably still living with his family in Grand Rapids when he enlisted with his parent’s consent in Company K on May 13, 1861. He was reported sick in the hospital from November of 1862 through January of 1863. He eventually recovered and was returned to duty.
On February 13, 1863, George wrote from Camp Pitcher to Catharine Hamilton, a girlfriend of his good friend Henry Beckwith, also Company A.
I understand from a letter from Sarah that you would like to have me send that picture that I got out of Henry's knapsack after the Battle of Groveton [Second Bull Run] and you would send me one, and as I have just returned from the hospital I will send it which I shall expect one in return in a very few days. I would of sent it while I was in the hospital but the picture was at the Regiment. I will also send one of Anna Thompson in his knapsack and pocket. You can tell Anna that Henry had his pretty one that she sent him last winter in his pocket when he was killed, so I could not get it. I suppose you girls are having nice times there this winter. Do you have any nice sleigh rides this winter? Oh how I would like to be there.
George was a Corporal when he was reported missing in action at Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 3, 1863. He returned to the Regiment in October and was on leave from October 30. He returned to the Regiment and reenlisted on December 24, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Plainfield, Kent County. He probably returned to his home in Michigan on a veteran’s furlough in January of 1864, and rejoined the Regiment on or about the first of February.
George was taken prisoner on May 6, 1864, at the Wilderness, Virginia, and transferred as a Corporal and prisoner-of-war to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864. (He was reported missing in action from May 6, 1864 through June, and restored to the rolls as a prisoner-of-war on July 10, 1864, through September.) He was confined in the prison at Andersonville and escaped while being transferred from Andersonville to Charleston, South Carolina, on September 19, 1864. According to the Eagle of October 27, 1864,
The friends of George Powers, of the 3rd Mich. Inf., veteran Regiment, who have mourned him as dead, and, we believe, held honorable funeral services over his supposed departure to the spirit land, will be happily surprised to meet him face to face, and to find that he is yet bodily -- in the land of the living. Young Powers has just returned an escaped prisoner. He was taken by the rebels in the great battle of the Wilderness, on the 5th of May last, and with other prisoners conveyed to Andersonville, Georgia, and in which horrible place he remained until General Sherman captured Atlanta. The rebels then fearing Andersonville would be the next place upon which Sherman would move, for the purpose of relieving the Union prisoners there -- conveyed them to Florence [South Carolina] for safe keeping, and while en route for that place, Powers and two others, leaped from the cars, and thus made their escape. He and his comrades traveled nights, and in various ways managed to deceive the enemy by professing to be in the rebel service, and thus passing their several lines, succeeded in reaching our forces at Port Royal, South Carolina, and from which place, they were forwarded to New York and thence home. Young Powers says the rebels are all for General McClellan for President, while the Union officers and soldiers are, almost to a man, wherever he has been, for the reelection of President Lincoln.
Following his escape George returned to the Regiment on October 15 and he was mustered out of service on October 18, 1864 as a “supernumerary.”
After his discharge George returned to Sparta and resumed farming in Algoma where he was living in 1866 when he married his first wife Michigan native Emily Ewing (1844-1877) on December 19, 1866, in Grand Rapids Township. They had at least four children: Hattie C. (b. 1869), Mary E. (b. 1871), Lulu E. or Ella L. (b. 1873) and Freling W. (b. 1877, who may very well have been named after Freling W. Peck, formerly of Company B, who was sheriff of Kent County in the 1870s).
By 1870 George was working as a farmer (he owned $2000 worth of real estate) and was living with his wife and daughter in Sparta Center, Algoma Township, Kent County. (His parents were living in Grand Rapids in 1870.)
George was probably also one of the two witnesses at the wedding of Andrew Myers of Sparta, Kent County, who had also served in the Old Third Michigan infantry.
George married his second wife, Ontario, Canadian native Issa Sharring (b. 1859) on December 11, 1879 in Sparta.
By 1880 George was working as deputy sheriff and living with his wife and four children in Sparta; living nearby was another former member of the Old Third, James Parm, who was working as a laborer and residing with his son Joseph.
For many years George worked as constable, deputy sheriff and city detective in the Grand Rapids vicinity. He maintained a home in Sparta, where, as deputy sheriff he was working night patrol in the 1880s. He was living in Sparta in 1874, 1879, 1882 and 1885, and in Grand Rapids at 18 Ransom Street in 1890 and in the Third or Fourth Ward in 1890-91, in 1893 and in the Fourth Ward in 1894. He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, a member of the Michigan Association of Union Ex-Prisoners of War, and in March of 1882 was installed as an officer in the Kent County chapter no. 106 Royal Arch Spartans at Sparta.
In 1890 he applied for and received a pension (no. 923544).
George was shot and killed in the line of duty on August 22, 1895.
The Grand Rapids Democrat wrote on August 21, 1895, that the Chicago & West Michigan “fast” train from Chicago “was held up by five robbers at gun point about 2 and one-half miles north of Fennville -- just south of the Kalamazoo River.” They had assumed there would be an express car but early reports placed their haul at $7.00 from the conductor and two watches from the engineer and fireman. In fact they took at least $100. 00 from the American Express company and possibly much more. All five men escaped.
On August 23, the Democrat reported that
Detective George W. Powers was shot and fatally wounded at 11 0’clock last night while attempting to arrest two men on board the north bound Grand Rapids & Indiana train at the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee junction. The men boarded a Lake Shore & Michigan Southern train at Dorr station last evening, their suspicious actions and resemblance to the description of the robbers . . . attracting the attention of the brakeman, Charles Rupert. Upon arriving at Eagle Mills the men left the train and Rupert reported his suspicions to George B. Wells, giving an accurate description of them.
Later in the day the watchman at the West Fulton Street railroad crossing, to whom Rupert had told his story, saw two men, evidently the same ones, walking up the track toward Bridge Street. On the way they met officer Tatroe and inquired of the way to the West Bridge Street depot. Just before ten o’clock Patrolman Drew met them on Bridge Street and they asked what time the train left going north. Their appearance in this vicinity had in the meantime been reported to Chief Carr and detectives were detailed to look out for them. It was thought that they would endeavor to go still further north and Detectives Gast, Jakeway, Youngs and Powers were dispatched to the junction with instructions to watch all outgoing trains. As the Grand Rapids & Indiana train, which leaves Union depot at 10:45, pulled up, a detective entered each car, Powers going into the smoker.
Occupying one of the seats were the two men he was looking for and he attempted to place them under arrest. In an instant one of them pulled his revolver and fired, the bullet striking Powers in the right cheek, passing upward and backward, penetrating his skull and lodging near the top of his head. The wounded man staggered and fell and in the attendant excitement the assassin and his accomplice rushed for the platform, leaped from the car and dashed away. Powers was carried into the depot and the ambulance was summoned. Pursuit of the fleeing men was begun at once. Detectives Smith and Darr, with a patrol wagon full of blue coats, were hurried to the scene and a systematic search was at once instituted.
Powers was taken to Butterworth hospital and Drs. Catlin, Welsh, Schurz and Wooster were called. The wounded man was delirious and raving wildly, and the physicians were of the opinion that he could not recover. He was reported dead at 1;20 this morning without having regained consciousness.
The description of the two men is as follows, given by Officer Drew, who had ample opportunity to notice them closely: One is about 40 years old, five feet, eight inches high, weight about 180 pounds, full, reddish face, with heavy dark-brown beard. He wore an old dark-colored suit and wide brimmed black slough hat and carried a brown leather grip slung over his shoulder. The other was considerably younger, apparently 20 years old, five feet, six inches high, weight 150 pounds, smooth, spare face, and dressed in a dark suit, with soft black hat.
Detective George W. Powers was considered one of the most efficient officers in the city, having been engaged as an officer for about 18 years, serving in the capacity of constable, deputy sheriff and detective. He was appointed as detective six months ago. He formerly resided at Sparta, where he held the office of deputy sheriff through several County administrations, and came to the city during Col. Bishop’s last term. he was 51 years old and leaves a wife, Dr. Ossie S. Powers. They had no children but though it could be positively learned, it is thought he had some children by a former wife. Their home is at 205 Ottawa Street. Mrs. Powers was at the hospital when he died.
It is quite well settled that the men who are responsible for Mr. Powers’ fate are members of the Fennville train robbing gang. Definite descriptions of the desperadoes have been sent to all the surrounding towns, and every available officer was put on duty last night. Recruits were added this morning and it seems almost impossible for the murderer to escape. It is thought that they first made their escape to the woods northwest of the junction, and the woods are made a leading point of search though every Avenue of escape known to the officers ha been guarded.
Within an hour after the shooting occurred Sheriff Woodward had notified the authorities of all outlying towns, to keep a sharp lookout for the murderers. In addition, every available deputy was immediately set to work, several being sent out with teams in order to cover all adjacent territory thoroughly. Superintendent Carr also ordered out as many officers as could be handled, some of whom were given teams to reach distant points. With all wise precautions it is thought t hat the men must soon be located, although it is possible that they will not be found until daylight.
A short time after the shooting a young man was found walking along the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee tracks a short distance west of the depot. He was arrested and taken to headquarters. he gave his name as Bart Ferguson and stated that he was on his way to the Haan farm, where he was employed picking peaches. While his story was thought to be true, it was considered best to detain him and he remained at the station during the balance of the night.
After Detective Powers had been reported dead he revived, but not enough to give hope for recovery. Life lingered until 3:25 when a message from the hospital announced his death.
On August 24 the Democrat wrote that the killers were still at large. The paper also reported Detective Jakeway’s statement that Powers took the first car and he the second. After he had gone through the car as he
stepped out the front door of the train had started up and I swung off onto the platform. As I did so I glanced into the windows of the smoking car and saw George’s arm up, as though reaching for the bell cord. The same instant I saw the flash and heard the report of a revolver. I immediately made a jump for the train and entered the rear door of the smoker. By this time all was excitement and the aisle was filled with passengers. I crowded through them until I reached the front end and stumbled against George’s body lying on the floor. I put my arm under his head, pulled him out from under the seat, the blood was spurting from the wound, completely covering his face, and I soon saw that he was dead or dying. I then laid him down and turning to the passengers asked if someone would telephone police headquarters what had happened. Meantime the train had come to a full stop, showing that the engineer had received the bell and that George had pulled the cord. I left the train and called to the other boys to stop those men if they could, that they had killed George.
We followed down the road in the darkness but soon found it impossible to follow the trail. The next I saw of George was when the ambulance arrived and we placed him on the stretcher. I boarded the train again and went with it as far a Mill Creek for the purpose of securing the names of passengers who witnessed the shooting.
One of those passengers who occupied the seat directly behind the man who did the shooting said that when Powers entered the car the two men were occupying the two front seats in the coach, the older one with the beard on the west side, the younger one sitting opposite him on the east side. The officer approached the man with the beard and asked “Where did you get aboard the train?” The man replied “At West Bridge Street.” “Where is your partner?” asked Powers. “Across the aisle,” was the reply, at the same time pointing to the young man. “Is that your grip?” asked Powers, as he noticed a hand-bag lying at the feet of the younger man. “It is,” was the reply. Then Powers reached for the bell-cord and pulled it. As he did so the older man rose leisurely from his seat, as though ready and willing t give himself up and accompany the officer. When he had reached a standing position and almost face to face with Powers he suddenly pulled a revolver from his outside coat pocket and discharged it directly in Powers’ face. The whole affair occupied but a moment and as soon as the shot was fired the two men rushed out the front door and off the train, taking the grip with them.
According to William Stevens, the conductor of the train, he told a reporter for the Democrat on August 24 that
“When my train pulled into the West Bridge Street depot C. H. Shirley, ticket agent, informed me that he had sold tickets to two suspicious acting men and pointed them out to me, sitting in the two front seats facing each other. While we stood on the platform talking the one they call the big man -- and he wasn’t so very large either -- moved over to the car window as if to hear what we were talking about. As soon as he did so I walked away, in order that his suspicions might not be aroused. When we got to the junction I dropped off the train just about where Powers was standing and told him the men he wanted were in the forward end of the car. I then went ahead about my usual work, while Powers entered the car. I am not positive just how long we stopped, but should think a minute or two. After speaking to the operator and receiving my orders I signaled the engineer to go ahead, at the same time swinging onto the rear end of the baggage car. Just as I stepped aboard the report of a revolver rang out and two men dashed out of the door and off the train. The train had stopped after going about six feet, showing that the engineer must have had a bell signal. As the men jumped from the car I also dropped off, and saw the men running west from the depot. I then went into the smoking car and saw Powers lying in the aisle with blood pouring from his wound. I immediately reported the occurrence, and as soon as Powers had been carried out proceeded on my trip. The whole affair was done as if in the twinkling of an eye and it is impossible for me to give any information of value regarding the shooting. I think, however, I would know the men if I should see them again, as I had a good look at them at the West Bridge Street depot. From the passengers in the car I learned that Powers came in the front door and after scrutinizing the men closely, walked to the other end. He then retraced him steps and after speaking a few words reached for the bell rope, when the older of the two men jumped to his feet and fired. I am quite positive that the other detectives immediately set out in pursuit of the murderers, but as I was not acquainted with any of the officers but Powers, cannot be sure on this point.”
Powers’ murderer was reported to be one John Smalley who was shot and killed on August 24 by Deputy Sheriffs Spofford and McBain in Wexford County.
However, on August 30 the Democrat reported that Smalley was not in fact the man who killed Powers, nor was he involved in the train robbery. It is not known whether the killers or robbers were ever apprehended. The Democrat interviewed one John Schobey, a veteran police officer who said that Powers was the first Grand Rapids policeman to be shot and killed in the line of duty in 14 years. “‘Still’, said Schobey, “‘none of us can tell just how soon we may get it, and while many criticize poor Powers for not having taken more precautions, I believe he did only what any other in his position would. He was only trying to do his duty’.”
George’s funeral was held from his residence in Sparta, and he was buried in Myers cemetery in Sparta: 0-71-1.
In 1896 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 453597).