Starting a New True Crime Book on Adam C. Arnold – ‘’Pump” Arnold – Battle Creek’s First Kingpin of Crime

Adam Arnold - From the Battle Creek Moon - December 1895.
Adam Arnold – From the Battle Creek Moon – December 1895.

I am pleased to announce that my daughter Victoria Hester and I are working on a new true crime book on Adam “Pump” Arnold.  I have to tell you, I enjoy writing with my daughter.  It’s our special “thing” that we do together.

Like many of the subjects for book projects, this came from ideas championed by others.  In this case, Mary Butler and Elizabeth Neumeyer of the Battle Creek Historical Society suggested we poke into Arnold’s nefarious dealings.  I have to admit, I was skeptical at first.  While Pump was a colorful character, I wasn’t sure this was the kind of book I wanted to do at first.  His story of erecting a statue of a tramp in front of his bar to mock the mayor of Battle Creek seemed to make him more of a person with a twisted sense of humor than the subject of a good true crime.  I trust Mary and Elizabeth though, so we started digging.

Arnold moved to Battle Creek Michigan in 1856 after a brush with the law in New York State.  He set up a business making wooden pumps with his brother (hence his nickname.)  Arnold sold that business and opened a bar/hotel known as The Arnold Block. Those are the cold facts.  In reality, Arnold was involved in a wealth of criminal activity. (I feel like every week we come across something else…)
What we found was Battle Creek’s biggest trial of the century (the 1800’s at least) with Pump being charged with killing his own son, George.  Okay, I have to admit, that got my attention.  Then I did some more research and, well, what I uncovered was tales of prostitution, illegal liquor sales, loan-sharking, and public disobedience that bordered at time on the comical.

When I was in Battle Creek recently and I mentioned Arnold’s name people seemed to think of him as a jovial almost comical figure, a “character” of sorts – a lovable rogue.  I’ve written about such men before, namely Bert Hall of the Lafayette Escadrille (The Bad Boy – from Fonthill Media).  While Arnold had a good sense of humor, he was anything but lovable. In the infancy of Battle Creek, he was her first kingpin of crime.

Battle Creek has always flirted with criminals or mobs that wanted to be the proverbial big fish in a medium-sized pond.  When I was a kid it was the Guy family, which were both brilliant and moronic, depending on the circumstance.  In some respects, they were cheap imitations to the illegal activities that Pump and his son George ran.

Our research so far has been enlightening and even funny at times.  I know we’re doing well when we manage to surprise the members of the Battle Creek Historical Society with new information.  While Arnold’s deviousness and viciousness is going to be covered, the culmination of his life of crime will center on the murder of his son.  The material we’ve found on the trial is an interesting and entertaining read.

One thing that excites me about this book is we will be covering some the early history of Battle Creek.  When you mention BC now, people think “Cereal City.”  This book takes place before all of that – during the time when the city was the center of power for the Seventh Day Adventists.  This was the period of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union – when Battle Creek was a thriving industrial city in the west.  I have been studying maps and material we got from the historical society and Willard Library, trying to put ourselves (and hopefully the reader) in the old Battle Creek.

Our publisher is excited.  They want lots of photographs in the book to help set the tone.  Already my files are starting to get thick on this subject.

We’ve learned a lot, but some folks may have some material tucked away on Pump Arnold or his son George.  If you do, please reach out to us.  We’d love to see what you have.  Adam and Mary had a step-daughter (which we’re still piecing together) so there’s a chance that someone in Calhoun County is related this mastermind of crime.

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