Bert M. Bills, a Vinton jeweler, and his young wife got a very nice Christmas present in 1900. Bills had purchased a raffle ticket for a dollar and was rewarded with a luxurious mansion in Sioux City.
Millionaire John Peirce was raffling off his palatial mansion at 29th and Jackson Streets in Sioux City. The economy had taken a dive the last few years, and Peirce needed to unload the beautiful home constructed from 1891 to 1893 of Sioux Falls granite with polished pillars supporting the porches and carved hardwoods inside. The mansion was valued at $75,000 and the land it sat on at $5,000. Newspapers reported Peirce had mortgaged the house and wanted to pay it off with cash to spare. So he came up with the ingenious idea to sell raffle tickets for a dollar apiece.
Thousands of tickets were sold to people all over the country. When the day of the long anticipated drawing arrived – Dec. 24 – all the tickets were brought from the Security National Bank in a sealed tin box to the Union depot, where a large crowd had gathered. A tinner from a local business brought a pair of tin shears and cut open the box. The tickets were dumped into a cylinder container and the winning ticket; number 35,365 was drawn. Much was made of the fact that everything was done in “plain view” so there was no hint of suspicious activity.
However, newspapers at the time began to question the authenticity of the raffle only days after the highly publicized event. It was reported there was a “serious conflict of records” and the news reports cast “suspicion on the affair.”
Bills, the Vinton winner, couldn’t produce proof that he had purchased the winning ticket. He couldn’t find his half of number 35,365. It was reported that all the unsold tickets had been “disposed of in a lump” sale to William Barbour, a New York millionaire, and that when officials examined those tickets (which had been locked up), they discovered number 35,365 in Barbour’s stash. It was all an unfortunate mistake.
Bills hired attorneys Cato Sells and M.J. Tobin to look into the affair. On Jan. 9, they had a “secret” meeting with officials who had overseen the raffle. On Jan. 17 the Des Moines Register reported W.A. Barbour, a cousin of William Barber, had come to Sioux City and was on his way back to New York in possession of the deed to the house for William. William Barbour had actually held the winning ticket all along. The affair had “at last settled” and it was a “closed” case. And the paper predicted that the citizens of Sioux City would not show much enthusiasm for such an event again.
In February the Sioux Valley News reported that John Peirce was “going west to make a mark.” It suggested that a certain fellow from Vinton had already felt the mark of Mr. Peirce.
According to the Sioux City History website (www.siouxcitymuseum.org), ownership of the house had been transferred to Barbour on Dec. 17, seven days before the drawing, which would indicate the raffle was a sham. Peirce owed Barbour money and came up with the raffle scheme to settle his debt. Today the Peirce Mansion is owned by the Sioux City Museum and Historical Association and is open to the public during seasonal open houses. The mansion can also be rented for special events.