Thursday, May 07, 2020

Southern Illinois and the 1918 Flu Pandemic

By Jon Musgrave |
May 6, 2020

Someplace in the spectrum of worldwide pandemics between the Black Death of the mid 14th Century and today’s COVID-19 the outbreak of avian flu towards the end of Great War, better remembered as Spanish Influenza Pandemic in 1918 and 1919, has proven to be the deadliest in the modern era. Modern estimates suggest that 500 million people, or one out of every three persons alive on the planet became infected with at least one in ten of those dying. Although historical sources suggest 20 million deaths, researchers today give a low end of 50 million dead and probably more. Here in America, the flu caused 675,000 deaths alone. For comparison purposes some 75,000 people have died from the COVID-19 virus so far in the Wuhan pandemic. While the coronavirus is deadliest among those older than 65, the 1918 flu caused widespread deaths, not only among the elderly as might be expected, but also children under five s well as adults 20 to 40.[1]

While there were some accounts of it on the Eastern Front in Europe in 1917, it wasn’t until the following year that it started popping up in large outbreaks. In the United States it wasn’t identified until March 1918 when at Fort Riley, Kansas, Army Pvt. Albert Mitchell reported to the camp hospital on the 11th, complaining of fever, sore throat, and headache. Before the day was over, more than 100 soldiers had fallen sick. Within a week 522 cases had been reported at the army post. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control roughly 500 million or one out of every three persons on the planet became infected, with one in ten of those dying leaving a worldwide death toll of at least 50 million.

The first wave hit in the spring of 1918, died down during the summer months and hit with a vengeance again that fall. Southern Illinois was mostly spared during the first wave, but not the second one. By October cases had spread throughout the state. By mid October 1918, Illinois suffered with some 300,000 cases statewide. Cairo alone reported 500. By the end of the month 195,000 Americans had succumbed to the disease. At first local boards of health began requesting bans on social gatherings and ordering schools closed until they had medical personnel present. By the third week “social distancing” had become the norm when state health officials mandated closings and bans statewide though they didn’t use the modern term. However authorities recommended against shaking hands, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, and wearing gauze masks if possible to prevent the spread of the disease which was poorly understood.

On October 15, the Carbondale Board of Health met on a Friday evening and requested “all churches, schools, social doings and amusements closed until the epidemic is squelched.” Students at SINU and public schools were dismissed Monday morning.[2]

The official notice read as follows:

In compliance with directions of the Department of Public Health of the State of Illinois, it is hereby ordered by the local Board of Health of the City of Carbondale: That all night schools be closed; that all theatres, motion picture theatres, and other places of public amusement be closed; that all lodge meetings be closed; that all schools not under adequate medical and nursing supervision be closed; that all local health authorities be charged with the enforcement of the foregoing rules and regulations until modified by the further order of this Department. It is further ordered that all Sunday Schools and Church Services within said City be suspended until the further order of this Board. Notice is hereby given that the water from the City water mains should be boiled before drinking purposes. That the State Department of Public Health hereby directs and orders that the attendance on all funerals of persons dead from a contagious disease, or any other disease, shall be restricted to the immediate relatives and close friends of the deceased and the necessary attendants.[3]

Later the state would extend the limit on funerals to all deaths.

In an era before widespread mandatory vaccinations deadly disease outbreaks had been common so school closures weren’t uncommon. Earlier that year in January an outbreak of small pox in Harrisburg led to a quarantine of the city and around  the same time the state board of health ordered the closure of Mount Vernon schools following an outbreak of several cases of scarlet fever.[4]

With churches closed the Carbondale Ministerial Association ordered a call to prayer instead: “In place of the public services at the churches there is a call to prayer at home. The church bells will ring at the usual hours as a reminder. Let home worship prevail.”[5]

What the order did not include was meetings of the Red Cross and other organizations raising funds for the war effort. An armistice wasn’t signed to end the war until the following month.

Unlike the current crisis officials didn’t shut down private business en masse. They couldn’t legally do so, not without direct evidence of a health crisis at the place of business. That led to charges of favoritism and hypocrisy when officials shut churches but not saloons.

During the period when the ban rested most heavily on the churches with their high ceilings and spacious well ventilated rooms, the low, dark, stuffy saloons were allowed to open their doors to their participants who gathered in groups around the bar, sneezing, coughing or spitting as the case might be, each altogether as careless as the hiccoughing neighbor at his elbow. This condition was met with rebuke by the Rev. K. Schaurete, priest of St. Andrew’s Catholic church of Murphysboro. He frankly disclosed his disapproval of this conspiracy on the part of the health commissions that such conditions could not have been avoided.

Murphysboro health officials apparently went further than some eventually adding new restrictions “on saloons, confectionaries and homes where the epidemic existed.” The restrictions on private businesses drew complaints as well.

A request was made that all confectioners tie up the chairs at their tables to illiminate [sic] close association of their customers. H. Neadstine, a prominent druggist and confectioner of Murphysboro, was reported by officers to Mayor Davis as having failed to comply with these orders. Neadstine declared that if was arrested he would report others who had been permitted to maintain the chairs at their tables as they had previously done. The city officials went to Neadstine and made the proposition that there would be no prosecution and they would let the matter drop, if he would obey the new restrictions of the Board of Health. Neadstine agreed to tie up his chairs and the case was dismissed, the contracting parties compromising yesterday morning.[6]

The flu continued to wreck havoc on society for the rest of the year. While ten residents of Jackson County have died in the current pandemic, even as late as that December Carbondale alone had 11 deaths from the “flu-pneumonia,” out of a total of 18 deaths in the city.[7]

While the second round seemed to die off by the end of the year the third wave of infections hit later that winter in 1919.

Aaron Erastus Prince was 32 years old when the third round the flu hit southeastern Illinois in 1919. He had been called to the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Eldorado that February. A year earlier while preaching at La Grange, Missouri, he had also started practicing medicine after five of the six doctors in town left for military service.

Back then, you didn’t have to be licensed, and you could order a medical diploma for as little as $25. You simply found a doctor who would take you in, let you make calls with him, and maybe study some of his textbooks. So to meet the doctor short, I started practicing in that fashion... This training came in real handy when I accepted the First Baptist Church in Eldorado in February, 1919...  But when our leading doctor in Eldorado came down with the flu, I started doctoring some of the sick as best I knew. It was really vicious, people dying all over town, just like rats. It was like the black plague – some patients would turn as dark as a colored person after they died. Some folks when out of their heads with temperatures up to 105°, chills and vomiting. There wasn’t a thing we could do for them. We didn’t know what to do. We had nothing to do with. The nearest hospital was at Evansville, Ind., but all the deaths I knew anything about occurred in the homes.

We got in touch with some doctors in England, to see how they treated it. We found they weren’t doing much more than we were – some quinine tablets, cold pills and aspirin. But I’d go house to house with my little medicine case, dispensing what few medicine we had, but always under advice of a doctor. The flu broke out every winter, for two or three years. Several times, we closed our church for as long as six weeks to two months. All public meetings, including the picture shows, shut down. Everyone was told to stay home.

When the local undertaker got sick, I started burying the dead, too. I didn’t have a license to embalm, but a mortician at Harrisburg would send one of his men over from time to time. He’d set up the embalming machine for two or three bodies at a time, and together we’d prepare them for burial. Then I’d dress them and put them in their caskets. At times, you couldn’t even find able-bodied men to dig graves. I’ve helped with as many ten funeral in one day. Oh, I didn’t preach that many sermons, but I helped with that many, either as a preacher or mortician. Most funerals were in the homes, often with two or three members of the family watching from their sickbeds, not knowing if they might be next. I remember a sister and sister-in- who died 30 minutes apart, in the same house. We had a double funeral for them, and at that service, I was preacher and undertaker and everything else. In some cases I might bury the father one day, and the mother a couple of days later. Often the little children would come running to me, some of them sick with the flu, asking what was to become of them. I have money to some of them, to pay neighbors to take care of them.

Those three years – February, 1919 to September, 1921 – saw the hardest work of my ministry. I’m not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I was up 24 hours at a time. When I came home at night, my wife, Perl would have me a clean change of clothes. I changed over at the church, for fear our children might get contaminated. Then I’d take the dirty suit to the cleaners.

After the epidemic ended – and you didn’t hear of a case anywhere – I was standing on a street corner in Harrisburg, waiting for the tram–car to Eldorado. All of a sudden, I got sick, and by morning, every member of our family was in bed. We had to hire a nurse to come in and care for us.[8]

By that summer the epidemic had ended in the United States. Not much has been found in the region’s newspapers about the suspension of civil rights in part because liberties weren’t as restricted as they are being today. Also, World War I was a low point for civil liberties in the United States, especially First Amendment rights. The war effort had already caused shortages at time which required closure of non essential businesses. Earlier in the winter 1918 a shortage of coal had required the closings of nearly all businesses on Mondays in an effort to conserve the fuel necessary for heat and generating electricity.

Monday will be open-less day for nearly every business place in Carbondale, except drug stores and places selling food which may keep open until 12 o’clock, only. This is the order of U.S. Fuel Administrator Garfield, in his drastic action taken as a means of saving a coal famine in the United States. All dry goods stores, men’s furnishing establishments, barber shops, moving picture shows, confectionaries, and laundries must close all day Monday, as no coal will be allowed to be used to heat any of these places except enough to keep things from being damaged by freezing. Banks, light plants and telephone offices may remain open, however, also physicians and dentists.[9]

The order took effect January 21 and lasted through March 25.

[1] 1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus). Centers for Disease Control. Online at

[2] Oct. 21, 1918. “Schools Closed for Indefinite Time.” Carbondale Free Press (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.

[3] Oct. 19, 1918. “Official Notice!” The Daily Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.

[4] Jan. 14, 1918. “Mt. Vernon Schools Are Ordered Closed.” The Daily Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill.). 1.

[5] Oct. 19, 1918. “The Call to Prayer” The Daily Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.

[6] Dec. 21, 1918. “Business Man and Health Board Clash.” The Daily Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill).  2.

[7] Jan. 9, 1919. “Local and General.” Carbondale Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.

[8] Robert J. Hastings, ed. 1976. We Were There: An oral history of the Illinois Baptist State Association 1907-1976. Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Baptist Association. 20-24. Prince became pastor of First Baptist Church in Marion on Nov. 6, 1921

[9] Jan. 18, 1918. “Businesses to Close Monday.” The Daily Free Press. (Carbondale, Ill.). 1.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust

No more outside wall on the east side of the former Holiday Inn.

A Marion tourism landmark shuttered for the last 13 years will finally be coming down. Crews were seen working today on tackling the outer walls of the former 200-room hotel. The hotel was one of a number of Holiday Inn franchises built and operated by Carbondale developer Stan Hoye. The Carbondale hotel opened in 1968 and was demolished last year.

The Marion hotel opened in June 1969 with 100 rooms, two swimming pools, the Five O'Clock Club cocktail lounge, a restaurant with a dining capacity of 100 and banquet facilities for 250. After losing its original franchise it operated briefly as a Travelodge before shifting to its final name of Executive Inn.

In January 2004, a judge ordered the hotel closed when the owner at the time failed to fix numerous life-safety code violations. The state fire marshal's office found 27 violations in 2002. When they re-inspected the building in December 2003 they still found a dozen violations including the lack of a sprinkler system. Although an official at the time suggested the order was only temporary if the building could be brought into compliance, he doubted it would be due to the high cost.

It's fate may have been sealed a few months later when the Fairfield Inn opened on The Hill. Built at a time decades earlier when it dominated the county's hospitality industry, newer hotels and restaurants proved to be too much competition. As late as 2000, the hotel operations generated only a fraction of what its competitors could do, about one-fifth of Drury Inn's take and coming in ninth among the Marion establishments, even behind the Motel 6 and the Super 8. By 2003, its taxable revenues had been cut in half again.

Back in December 2007, then owner Dr. Yuseph Ta told the Southern Illinoisan he planned a $4 million renovation that would cut the hotel down to a 100-room Garden Inn. City officials proved lukewarm to that idea and privately suggested condemnation would be a better idea.

Former Marion Harley-Davidson dealer Phil Campbell later bought the property and planned to redevelop it, at least until the Great Recession slowed the local economy. A check of land records shows that he appears to have sold the parcel to JMB Development last summer on August 30, 2016. The sales price of $3.1 million comes to about $10.30 a square foot if the 7.33 acres amount is correct on the county's GIS maps. Vacant land in that area and Halfway Road has been going for around $15/sq. ft. for the last decade.

It's not certain what demolition of the hotel would cost, but a figure of $400,000 was bandied about a decade ago which was one of the key reasons why the city didn't try to condemn and demolish it themselves.

The new company, owned by Marion contractor Jerry Barrass, had previously bought the former Wolohan property along Halfway and the former Morgan Avenue, now The Hill Avenue.

With the development of the expanded I-57 interchange and the new access road into the land behind the old Holiday Inn, three new developments have targeted the area, raising prices as the amount of vacant land runs low. IHOP purchased its 1-acre tract for $500,940, at a bargain price of $11.50/sq. ft. to help kick off the development spree. BB Management LLC, the owner of the new Culvers, paid $750,000 for 1.08 acres, or around $14.76/sq. ft.

Across the street to the south in May of last year JMB Development sold the 1.71 acre easternmost portion of the Wolohan property to the owners of the Mach 1 convenience store that will soon open for just under $1.2 million, or $16/sq. ft.

The city created the Hillview TIF District for the area to help reimburse development costs which can include acquisition costs, demolition, rebah of structures should the development company decide to keep any of the old hotel, as well as extension of the access road onto the property on the north side of Illinois Route 13. The Southern quoted city officials last spring indicating $27 million in private investment was heading to the area. The only project hinted at, but not named so far, has been a possible hotel development.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jackson County Snakes and Curses

A view east looking at the Pine Hills from the Muddy Levee Road. Turn right to get to Ladue Road which they closed for the snake migration, or turn left to go north back into Jackson County and toward Rattlesnake Ferry. Photo by Jon Musgrave (Jan. 2013).
Over the last month I've been researching a variety of subjects on a variety of projects with the occasional overlap. One thing led to another, and then another, and somehow I was pulling up stories on the old Rattlesnake Ferry across the Big Muddy River southwest of Murphysboro.

There's a place downstream of that site called Sinners' Harbor that from what I've read, connects to the river pirates of the Grand Tower area. Exactly, how early, or late they operated I've had trouble pinning down, but most stories date it to around 1803. That's about four years after Capt. Young and the Exterminators ran the pirates out of Cave-in-Rock in the summer of 1799.

What's kept me exploring that area is the aforementioned rattlesnakes. I'm not a fan of snakes in general and rattlers in particular. If you have to reference names like Rattlesnake Ferry, Rattlesnake Den, or that road they close twice a year for the snake migrations, I'm probably not going to follow your directions.

Thus I'm probably not going to be the one to explore this cave that the Carbondale Free Press described back in 1925.

Those who have gone back into this cave a few feet report finding further progress blocked by a sealed rock in the passageway, a large square or oblong rock plainly sealed in place by human hands they declare. No one has ever attempted to remove the seal and find out what is back there in the recess - precious metal, hidden wealth or the bones of one long asleep in this natural crypt. The sealed rock has barred entrance to the cave for more than a century, it is declared by old timers in that neighborhood.  

The fact that Rattlesnake den is a short distance away may have made would-be explorers hesitate to go inside the mystery cave. Thousands of rattlesnakes, some very large, winter in Rattlesnake den, and when the first warm days of spring arrive the hideous reptiles may be seen sunning themselves lying across bushes on the Big Muddy, or on rocks, from Swallow Rock to Rattlesnake Ferry.
According to my copy of John Allen's, Jackson County Notes, which I purchased this fall from the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Rattlesnake Ferry was the last ferry operating in the county. No explanation though as to why it was so named. I just assume the ferry operators used the snakes in place of the ropes or chains to pull the ferry back and forth across the river.

While looking for the ferry information in that book I came across another interesting tidbit of history that adds to the supernatural folklore of the area. An early Jackson County settler named James D. Murphy died the day after Christmas back in 1840. Harboring ill will to the then-county seat of Brownsville nearby he asked to buried on the brow of a hill across the Big Muddy River from the town. Specifically, he asked to be buried standing, his face toward the village and a bottle of whiskey in one hand "in order that he might take a drink, look toward the town and curse it."

Here's the interesting part that Allen didn't mention, at least in connection with Murphy. Twenty-five months later after his death, a fire destroyed the courthouse and the county seat was moved to what's now the city of Murphysboro. What was once the seat of government - Brownsville - soon became a ghost town.

  • March 7, 1925. "Unexplored Beauty Caves in This County." The Carbondale Daily Free Press (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  • John W. Allen. 1945, reprint 2016. Jackson County Notes. Murphysboro, Ill.: Jackson County Historical Society. 5, 26.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ken Gray Museum Hosts 16 Authors Saturday in Marion

Come out this Saturday to the Ken Gray Presidential Museum in the Illinois Star Centre Mall in Marion. We have at least...

Posted by Jon Musgrave on Thursday, December 10, 2015

Books make great gifts this time of year, especially autographed ones by local authors.

Jon Musgrave and Angela Mason will be at the American Legion this Friday from 4 to 9 p.m. during the Christmas Craft and Vendor Show/Photos with Santa event.

On Saturday there's at least 16 authors set to attend the Regional Author Event at the U.S. Rep. Ken Gray Presidential Museum in the Illinois Star Centre Mall in Marion.

Then on Monday, half of those authors, plus one more for a total of nine, will be taking part in a Southern Illinois Writers Guild Author Caravan at the Vienna Public Library from 1 to 5 p.m.

Next Thursday, Dec. 17, Angela Mason and myself will again be signing together this time at the Hamilton County Jr./Sr. High School in McLeansboro from 1 to 5 p.m.

On Saturday from 11 to 3 p.m. I will be at Posterworld in the University Mall in Carbondale, and Angela will be joining me again for a signing at the Christmas Craft Bazaar at the Holiday Inn in Mount Vernon from 1 to 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tri-State Tornado Program Offered Nov. 12

DeSoto Public School following the March 18, 1925 tornado.
Angela Mason, author of Death Rides the Sky, will join speakers Charlie & Jann Keisel for a program on the March 18, 1925, Tri-State Tornado that tore through Missouri and Illinois before finally loosing strength and cohesion in Indiana.

The program will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, November 12, 2015, at the Knox County Public Library Fortnightly Building at 421 N. 6th St., in Vincennes, Indiana. [Click for Map]

The 2nd edition of Angela's book came out last week and will be available for purchased at the event, or can be ordered directly from the new publisher,, or by clicking the link below.

The book's subtitle tells it all. In the late 1990s, Angela started interviewing survivors across the three states to learn their stories of incredible survival from what's still America's worst tornado.

Monday, October 12, 2015

New website for Primitive Baptist research in Illinois

While going through my e-mails this afternoon I found an update from Robert Webb, director of the Primitive Baptist Library in Carthage, Illinois. Their new website is

The site links to a number of materials on early Illinois history involving the Baptists, particularly here in Southern Illinois.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Benton, Mt. Vernon book signings set for Tuesday

Jon Musgrave at Giant City Lodge last Sunday afternoon.
Southern Illinois historian Jon Musgrave of and Shelton Gang granddaughter and novelist Ruthie Shelton will be signing books next Tuesday, Sept. 1, in Benton at The Buzz during lunch time and at King City Books in Mount Vernon later that afternoon.

Bruce Cline, founder of the Little Egypt Ghost Society and author of History, Mystery and Hauntings of Southern Illinois published by, will also attend the signing at The Buzz.

The first sign will run from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Benton and the second will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. in Mount Vernon.

Ruthie and I came out with Inside the Shelton Gang: One Daughter's Discovery two years ago after a number of years of research individually, and then working together. She is the daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton, one of the nephews involved the Shelton Brothers gang that ruled downstate Illinois crime from the end of the Prohibition Era to the 1940s.

Since then she has written two small novels that have been inspired by her father's generation in the mid 20th Century.

Dubbed The Untold Story series, Volume 1, Death, Deceit and Discovery introduces the Callahan family, once considered to be the most influential, violent, and prosperous crime organization in the Midwest. Vol. 2, Shadows, Siblings & Suicide picks up the story a decade later when the wrongs of their pasts leads to insanity, murder and suicide in the present.

I will have all of my published books there except the one on the Old Slave House. That one is out of print at the present. What I will have include the following:
  • The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois - Co-authored with Milo Erwin this prequel to Bloody Williamson covers the post-Civil War violence in the region and the first generation of the Ku Klux Klan that wrecked havoc with their enemies.

  • Secrets of the Herrin Gangs - Co-authored with Ralph Johnson, the business manager for Ruthie's uncles in the Shelton Gang in Herrin during the 1920s. At the end of the Gang War he needed to get out of town and needed some money so he went to St. Louis and sold his story to the newspapers that eventually went nationwide in a 10-part series. Half of the book is his insider account of the Klan War and the Gang War of the 1920s and the other half is my research into Ralph's actual identity and criminal history as he was writing under an alias.
I also will have three books that I've edited.
  • The Boy of Battle Ford - Written as an autobiography by W. S. Blackman at the turn of the 20th Century, this book cover his growing up on the Southern Illinois frontier in the 1840s and 50s, but mostly focuses on his time during the Civil War as a Union soldier. I've added a new introduction, footnotes and an index.

  • Handbook of Old Gallatin County - This includes the 1887 history of Gallatin County plus everything we could find from other 19th and early 20th Century history books about the parent county of most of southeastern Illinois. It's great for genealogists. More than 250 biographical sketches are included.

  • Lincoln: Fresh from Abraham's Bosom - This collection of stories told by America's 16th president was first compiled and published in 1864 when he ran for re-election. I've added a new introduction, footnotes and an index.
In addition to all of the above books I will also have James T. Carrier's five books that he's written on aspects of mostly-Franklin County history, though a couple of titles are also of a more general interest.

Mr. Carrier is a retired 95-year-old educator and writer who lives in the county but no longer gets out much. has been distributing his books since last year. His books are as follows.
  • A Little Bit of Heaven and a Whole Lot of Hell - covers growing up during the Depression in a small coal mining settlement.

  • Black Christmas Mine Disaster - focuses on the 1951 Orient No. 2 Mine disaster outside West Frankfort.

  • Killer Tornado - includes interviews with family members and survivors of the 1925 Tri-State Tornado that ripped through Franklin County, as well as an earlier tornado that hit Pershing.

  • Them Good Old Wild Greens - combines an edible plant guide with stories from the Great Depression.

  • Wilderness Survival - combines a practical guide to living off the woods with stories and activities from surviving the Great Depression in the Southern Illinois. 
If you can't make either event you can always order the books here on the website by just clicking the book link on the side, or going to If you order direct all of my books will always be signed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

For the first time since Cata's Books moved out of the outlet mall at West Frankfort (which the city is now trying to purchase) I have another place selling my books in West Frankfort.

I want to welcome the new Main Street Baking Co. & Mercantile at 328 E. Main St. in West Frankfort, to the network of fine establishments in the region carrying books published and distributed by

Besides rolling in the dough with loaves of fresh bread and sandwiches they offer everything your sweet tooth desires, except donuts. For that they will point you down the street.

That's Owner Darla Dawson on the right and her manager, Esther Willis, on the left. The Benton Evening News had a nice profile piece on Darla earlier this summer.

Everyone can also purchased books directly from this site though I have to admit sweats aren't included.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Few Seats Left for Saturday's Herrin Massacre Tour

If you ever wanted to learn more about the Herrin Massacre now is the time. Our last tour of the summer will be Saturday starting at 9 a.m. with the bus leaving from the Williamson County Jail Museum at 105 S. Van Buren St. in Marion.

S.I. Treasure Tours conducts the tours and yours truly, Jon Musgrave of, serves as the guide. The tour includes visits to the jail museum, Station Carbondale railroad museum and the Herrin City Cemetery, as well as lunch at an area historic site.

Go to to reserve your seats now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DCEO Privatization Bill Passes w/o IHPA language

As the budget stalemate percolates in Springfield the Illinois House of Representatives today amended and passed a bill (HB 574) that would privatize some of the economic development functions of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The first amendment passed today (Amendment 2) replaced an earlier amendment that would have moved management of the state's historic sites from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency over to DCEO as part of a new division that would have included tourism, the Illinois Film Office and whatever would be left of IHPA after splitting off the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library into a separate agency.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it has to be approved before being submitted to Gov. Bruce Rauner. What will happen then is not known, but I wouldn't bet on it getting Rauner's signature.

Today's move on the DCEO bill was believed to be part of a trade that would involve giving Chicago Public Schools a temporarily reprieve on a massive pension plan payment that they can't afford. However, that bill failed to pass. With House Republicans generally voting present on the DCEO bill which normally they would support, it would seem that the governor has not signaled his support.

Meanwhile the ultimate fate of IHPA and the state's fiscally malnourished and neglected historic sites remains unknown. At the end of the spring session the General Assembly did pass a bill to make the presidential library and museum a stand-alone agency and move the Illinois State Museum's five sites over to IHPA from their current home in the Department of Natural Resources.

See my earlier post for details.

In other words, the standoff continues.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Lawmakers Pass Bill to Split IHPA

Despite failing to pass a balance budget, take up pension reform, creating a new capital projects bill, dealing with state revenues or at least improving the job climate in Illinois, lawmakers did send pass SB 1728 over the weekend that would split the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from its parent Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Doug Finke and the State Journal-Register has the story.

Because the bill wasn't HB 574 which supposedly had the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner, but a Senate version without elements he wanted, we can probably expect a veto of sorts as well.

The spring session may have ended Sunday, but overtime will begin later this month. Until then, prepare for the fireworks in the forms of campaign style ads and mailers.

But back to IHPA. The bill that passed differed greatly from the one I wrote about last month. While House Speaker Michael J. Madigan got what he wanted in an independent presidential museum and library, it didn't offer the governor what he wanted.

First, it doesn't move what's left of IHPA to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity placing historic sites under a division that would also include state's tourism and film offices. Second, and more important to the governor's agenda, it doesn't include the creation of a new public-private partnership that would take over much of the state's economic development efforts.

One thing the new bill did do that I somewhat like is move the Illinois State Museum and its various components out of the Department of Natural Resources and added them to the smaller IHPA. There's a certain logic in that. The state museum which includes Dickson Mounds, a prehistoric archealogical site that has long been a part of a different agency from the one that operates Cahokia Mounds.

Without knowing the history of the state agencies it makes no sense. However, the state museum is basically a natural history museum, or at least that's been its roots. For a long time it was part of the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources, back when state parks and even historic sites were part of the old Department of Conservation. Historic sites got split off as their own agency under Gov. Jim Thompson. Later, a new Department of Natural Resources combined what was left of Conservation and the ENR agencies.

Under this new law Dickson Mounds would finally be under the same agency as Cahokia Mounds which does make sense. Even adding the main state museum in Springfield would be a good fit. However the other three state museum sites, the artisan centers in Freeport, Chicago and Rend Lake add a cultural twist that IHPA doesn't currently possess. I should note that under the Blagojevich and Quinn administrations those sites were already step-children to the agency brass in DNR, even going to the extent that the agency's public relations staff would not send out news releases as to what the centers were doing. That I experienced personally at some of the worst promoted book signings in which I have ever participated.

Rauner's people have already indicated he's likely to veto the new bill and Senate President John Cullerton has filed a motion to reconsider a vote, a technique used to hold up actually sending the bill to the governor. There are good points and bad when it comes to combining historic sites with tourism, but IHPA has been neglected for far too long. A combination of tourism, historic sites, the state museum and state artisan centers make sense too.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Changes Coming for State Historic Sites

Plans could impact future of Old Slave House

While on WJPF-AM this morning talking about the new Twin Wars of the 20s tour from SI Treasure Tours, host Tom Miller asked about any updates on the Old Slave House.

There's nothing new locally that I can talk about, but at least in Springfield there's legislation that will shift the state's historic sites from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency into a new division within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that will include tourism, historic sites and the state's film office.

The bill would also spin off the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum into its own separate agency and allow DCEO to create a new public-private non-profit partnership to promote the state's economic development efforts.

The legislation (House Bill 574) has the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. It's expected to pass though it's currently in the House Rules Committee.

Some agency folks in Springfield disagree with the move and I respect their positions, but the legislation offers a lot of possibilities for future improvement.

One thing I told Tom this morning about the new move is that the state tourism director, who I also think will be the head of this combined division, already knows about the house. More importantly, he knows how historic sites and tourism can intersect for economic development (and as a Springfield alderman, he's seen this firsthand.)

About a month ago I was in the Capitol in Springfield and had a chance to speak with Cory Jobe, the state's new tourism chief. He formerly served as chief of staff for Judy Baar Topinka in the state comptroller's office.

He remembered meeting me a number of years ago when I gave him a tour of the Old Slave House back when Ron Nelson, Gary DeNeal and I were still researching the site. I knew his name was familiar and that we had crossed paths somewhere else as well.

Back home I checked my notes and discovered that in December 2009 while working for the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office, I was called to a meeting in Springfield with my regional counterparts, two people from the state tourism office as well as Cory and Maynard Crossman of Peoples Economic Development Corporation and Peoples National Bank to discuss a new historic preservation tax credit legislation that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration was planning to back in the next session of the General Assembly.

Cory had come from Topinka's state treasurer office where he had worked on a tourism related program, and Crossman was the former director of IHPA for the last year or two of George Ryan's term.

I remember the meeting vividly because on the way to Springfield I turned on the radio and learned that FBI agents had been seen taking the governor out of his Chicago home in handcuffs. Talk about the elephant in the room an hour later during our meeting, or in this case, a donkey.

Needless to say the Blagojevich administration didn't push the tax credits bill very much that year so it didn't go anywhere. Over the years various versions of the legislation get re-introduced, each year a bit more watered down than the last. I sat in on a presentation last year at the Herrin Chamber of Commerce offices about the then latest version.

The current version of the legislation is House Bill 240.

One more item on the Old Slave House, for those who need a visible reminder of the site, check out Ghosts of Old Shawneetown's page of pictures from the house back in the 1990s. 

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Ancient East St. Louis Was Bigger than Cahokia

Archaeologists working on the site of the new Stan Musial Bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis are finding clues that will rewrite Illinois history. Apparently the civilization that existed there 800 years ago rivaled and even temporarily surpassed the size of prehistoric city at Cahokia Mounds.

To put that in perspective we're talking about centuries that Robin Hood, if he existed, fought the minions of King John in England, and a couple centuries after the Vikings colonized Greenland and Newfoundland.

There's a lot archaeologists still don't know about the American Indian culture in our region.

But they're analyzing what they found during a dig to clear land for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge — and they're ready to share.

For one, East St. Louis was a bustling city chock full of immigrants. Around 1000 A.D., it was bigger than nearby Cahokia Mounds site and it thrived for about 150 years.

Mary Cooley of the Belleville News-Democrat has the rest of the story (although the link is to the Southern Illinoisan).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Last Surviving Member of the Shelton Gang Passes

In 2013 Jimmy Zuber holds one of the rifles his
uncle Earl Shelton purchased for him and his
cousins should they ever get the chance
to kill their family nemesis Charlie Harris

My Inside the Shelton Gang co-author Ruthie Shelton texted me the news this morning. James Shelton Zuber, better known simply as Jimmy Zuber, nephew of the Shelton Brothers, died last week in Florida on the 19th. He was 84, and probably the last surviving member of the notorious Shelton Gang. He was the youngest of the three nephews involved in their uncles' gang.

Jimmy was 17 and still in high school in 1947 when gunmen ambushed his uncle Carl Shelton in the Pond Creek Bottoms in Wayne County. His cousin, and Ruthie's father, "Little Carl" Shelton, collected him from school to tell him the news.

While he was never a gunman for the gang, he did serve as a bagman for a bit. After Carl's death his brother Earl took over the duties, but when he moved back to Wayne County to focus on farming, Jimmy got the job. As he told Ruthie and me a few years ago, one of those deliveries was an envelope full of cash to the governor himself in the Illinois Statehouse.

Most interestingly it wasn't to Dwight Green who historians already knew had connections to the gambling rackets, but his successor and later presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. While remembered as a reformer, Stevenson didn't start to shake up Springfield until towards the end of his second year in office, about the same time the Kefauver Hearings brought their investigators to Illinois.

Jimmy was the son of the Shelton's sister Lulu. Following his parents' divorce the Sheltons later kidnapped and brought him back to Illinois to be raised. He wouldn't see his father again until after he reached adulthood. Although the three Shelton brothers known as the gang had step-children at different times, it would be their sister's son and brother Dalta's two boys, "Little Earl" and "Little Carl" that they groomed to be successors.

Zuber never indicated his involvement in any of the gang's violent crimes, as those opportunities were quickly diminishing with Bernie's assassination in 1948, Roy's in 1950, and the multiple attempts on the lives of his uncle Earl, his mother and stepfather, as well as his cousin "Little Earl" in the late 1940s.

Once in Fairfield he had his own close call with the family nemesis Charlie Harris who declined to shoot the then still teenager. Later his uncle Earl gave all three nephews rifles with the instruction to kill Harris if they ever had the chance. Ruthie's father had long since parted with his, but Jimmy proudly showed us his which he still had.

After the extended Shelton clan fled Fairfield for Florida (but not after sneaking his mother Lulu who was recovering from being machine-gunned by Harris out a hospital window), Jimmy went into construction in Florida. He and his wife raised a family and left the Illinois past behind them mostly.

In the late 1990s he became a source of family information and photographs for Taylor Pensoneau when he researched the Sheltons for his book, Brothers Notorious. Years later I approached Taylor at a book signing for his Charlie Harris book, "Dapper and Deadly," with the intention of getting Jimmy's contact information. Instead he told me about another Shelton family member doing research for a book. That person turned out to be Ruthie.

I know Ruthie met with or talked with Jimmy by phone numerous times as she researched her family history. In the summer of 2012, I had a chance to meet with him at his home as well. He was a delightful subject to interview with his wife surprising us with additional photo albums and he really exciting Ruthie when he mentioned the rifles. (The only frustrating moment that day was him not being able to find the key to the gun cabinet. Ruthie had to wait a few months and another trip before she could hold it.)

His obituary noted that he was cremated. He was a good guy, and will be missed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Check out James T. Carrier's Books

James T. Carrier is a 94-year-old retired educator from rural West Frankfort who's written a number of books, including the five below. Now for the first time, these books are available here at

I'm running a special of all 5 for $48 which is 20 percent off the price if you buy them separately. Click on this link if you're interested:

Here's a bit about all the books which generally fall under the categories of surviving killer tornadoes, the Great Depression, mine disasters or Franklin County in general.

A Little Bit of Heaven and a Whole Lot of Hell

160 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Rev. ed. 2nd printing
Paperback. $9.95
© 1998

A Little Bit of Heaven and a Whole Lot of Hell covers the story of a coal mining village and its people with emphasis on the Great Depression years focusing on the communities known as 18 Patch, Deering City and Caldwell.

Killer Mine Disaster

ISBN 0-9705471-7-X
130 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $15.
© 2002

Killer Mine Disaster tells the story of the December 21, 1951, methane gas explosion at the New Orient Mine No. 2 outside West Frankfort. The disaster killed 119 coal miners, and remains one of the worst mine disasters in American history.

Killer Tornado

ISBN 0-9705471-0-2
112 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95
© 1998

Killer Tornado Hits Coal Mining Village tells the story of how the world's largest tornado -- the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 -- caused deaths, injuries and destruction in a rural coal mining village of Caldwell, in Franklin County, Illinois, with firsthand accounts of survivors. Contributors include Emogene Moore Swain, Vernon Dotson, Hosea Thomas, Sr., Pauline Kerly Wall, George Hand, Dorothy Stagner Maki, Arlena Stagner Reid, Eugene Reid, Robert Earl Pease, Genieve DePriest Nolen Coar, Ceble Willmore and Annamary Chance Stagner Jent. In addition Edd Wall, Marie Ford Payne and Mrs. Harry Neibel provided additional information.

The book also includes a story of the 1912 tornado that struck near Pershing, Illinois.

Them Good Old Wild Greens

100 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95

Them Good Old Wild Greens tells the story of "Hard Times" in the mining settlement of "18 Patch" in Franklin County, Illinois. Mr. Carrier grew up in those days and this is his own firsthand account of the struggle mine families had when the mines shut down or remained idled for lack of demand for coal.

Wilderness Survival

110 pages. 5.5" x 8.5"
Paperback. $9.95

Wilderness Survival is a story of how sons of unemployed miners avoided starvation and survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. It comes with practical tips and illustrations to show modern-day readers who to survive in the wilderness as well.

History, Mystery and Hauntings of Southern Illinois

Here's another Christmas idea for those who like to read about our region's supernatural past.

History, Mystery and Hauntings of Southern Illinois pulls straight from the case files of the Little Egypt Ghost Society led by founder Bruce Cline. The book covers their investigations and research of the supernatural throughout the 618 region.

This expanded and revised edition combines the first three volumes of Bruce's books into one. Each county is its separate chapter in this 320-page fully-indexed paperback. It's not too late to get one before Christmas.

Copies can also be purchased from booksellers around the region including the Book Emporium in Harrisburg, the Bookworm in Carbondale, The Country Porch in Marion inside the Illinois Centre Mall, The Buzz in Benton and the new King City Books in Mount Vernon.

I've also got books at GenKota Winery in Mount Vernon, the Dusty Attic in Equality, Harbison's Grocery down in Hardin County, Herrin Drug and Thornton's Market in Herrin, D & E Books in Olney, Shawnee Winery and From The Past Antiques in Vienna, the Rend Lake Artisans Shop off of Exit 77 at Rend Lake, the Little Egypt Arts Gallery on the Tower Square in Marion, and The Artisans Galleria in downtown Shelbyville.

To the north Taylor's Mini Mall in Fairfield carries my titles and the libraries in Flora and Olney have a few books left on consignment from our recent book signings.

I can always be reached at

For a list of all the books available check out the list of books.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Edition of Boy of Battle Ford Now on Sale

For more than a century W. S. Blackman's, The Boy of Battle Ford has served as a classic when it comes to descriptions of antebellum Southern Illinois and as well as life as a soldier during the western campaigns of the Civil War.

Blackman turned 21 just weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter and the start of the American Civil War. More than four decades later he used his war journals as the basis of his autobiography.

From his boyhood years on the Battle Ford farm in Southern Illinois to his own life and death experiences on the battlefield, Blackman finds the lessons of life in his own struggles for bothy physical survival and spiritual faith.

The new 2014 abridged paperback edition is edited by Jon Musgrave with a new introduction, footnotes and a full index. The 240-page book retails for $18.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brits Took Revenge 200 Years Ago Today

While we wait for ISIS to figure out which large city they want to target in the United States - Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., it's important to remember that it's not just New York City in 2001 or Pearl Harbor in 1941, that have been targeted by our enemies.

Today, August 24, 2014, is the 200th anniversary of the burning of our nation's capitol by the British in the War of 1812 (and the few years thereafter).

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post tells the story.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Herrin Massacre Bus Tours Offer New Perspectives

The infamous barbed wire fence inside the Power House Woods where four dozen men were lined up and shot on June 22, 1922. Williamson County Historical Society photo.

After two successful tours in July and a long waiting list the organizer of the new Herrin Massacre Bus Tours has announced four more dates for August.

Amy Erickson of Carbondale, my former intern at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, and later interim office manager at the Southern Illinois Tourism Development, came up with the idea earlier this year and is operating the tours out of the educational non-profit group CAPS (Connecting All Parents to School) with support from the Williamson County Historical Society.

The dates are this Friday, August 8, which still has some openings; Saturday, August 9, which is full; Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 23. The tours are $45 per person, but there's a Family Friday discount where extra family members can join the tour for just $25. Get your tickets at or call Amy at (618) 751-2924. The price covers the bus tour, admission to the museums and lunch as well as souvenirs and giveaways.

Both tours are the same, but due to parking issues Friday tours start at the Williamson County Airport and the Saturday tours from the Williamson County Jail Museum behind the Marion Civic Center at 105 S. Van Buren St. I, Jon Musgrave, will once again be serving as the historical guide for all four tours.

The bus tour follows the events of the two-day outbreak of violence on June 21-22, 1922, from the ambush of guards and replacement workers at Fozzard Bridge, now under Crab Orchard Lake on the morning of the 21st, to the all-out battle outside the mine later that afternoon that would fatally injure three union men.

The next morning four dozen men inside the mine surrendered with the understanding that they would be marched to Herrin and put on a train. Instead, increasingly larger mobs would stop them on the way into the city, eventually leading to an order to line them up against a barb wire fence and start shooting.

Some got away only to be shot and hung in the Harrison Woods immediately southeast of the city while six others were recaptured and taken to the Herrin City Cemetery where they were repeatedly shot and cut with knives in the presence of witnesses including big city reporters who had just arrived to cover the violence from the day before.

Another 20 men would die that day or later from their wounds received on the death march.

Barring a funeral taking place the bus will stop at the cemetery where recent research and excavations have confirmed the location of 17 of the original burial sites of the victims in the city’s former Potter’s Field in what was then Block 15 in the southeast corner of the original cemetery. Twelve of the victims are believed to be still buried there.

The tour also includes a stop at the Miners Memorial in downtown Herrin with a presentation from the Herrin Area Historical Society before returning for lunch and a tour of the Williamson County Jail Museum where the defendants were held later that year.

Personally, I think it's amazing what happened that day back in 1922, but even worse was the travesty of justice that took place afterwards when two trials ended with nothing but acquittals due to outright bribery of the jurors and the purchase of alibis for the defendants.

That breakdown of the rule of law led to an easy journey setting up the stage for the Klan War and Gang War that followed which eventually left more than six dozen deaths in its wake over the next five years.

One of the July tour participants recently e-mailed Erickson with a review.

"I'm from a coal mining family, a coal miner's daughter, and so connected to coal industry through my husband, my dad and mother's family. We are all involved. A friend read the article, and I immediately called, I wouldn’t be alive without U.M.W.A. It's a continuing struggle. I was enriched by taking the trip. Someone [who] hasn't read the book (Bloody Williamson) would really benefit."

I will also have my books and posters available for sale at the end of the tour or from my website at

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Dec. 7, 1941 - An Infamous Date - In Color

Seventy-two years ago today was a date which has lived in infamy. The video below shows the only color film of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

85 Years Ago - Gang War Heats Up

It's the 85th Anniversary of the Gang War between Charlie Birger and his men on one side and the Shelton Brothers on the other. Just one of the five main reasons why my home county is known as "Bloody Williamson."

The blood started spilling (in the Gang War) on Aug. 22, 1926, with a three-way shootout that left Harry Walker and Everett Smith dead at Thetford's roadhouse just north of Marion's Rosehill Cemetery on Illinois Route 37, yet still south of the J.W. Reynolds Monument Co. office on the east side the road.

No one took credit for the shooting though Harry's brother Ray was certain of the identity. Family members of the proprietor later told the story he had received a phone call warning him that the two men were there to kill him.

One of the more interesting tidbits about the incident involved the ethnicity of one of the band members. He was Hawaiian.

Early in the morning of Sept. 12 two gangsters Gary DeNeal's sources thought were Birger and Fred "Butch" Thomason opened fire at another two members of the Shelton Gang at the roadhouse on what's now Stotlar Road just east of the Burlington Northern R.R. crossing.

William "Wild Bill" Holland was hit and killed. Max Pulliam and his wife Mildred were wounded and taken to Herrin Hospital. Ray Walker and his wife were still inside the roadhouse when it happened and likely were the ones who took the Pulliams to the hospital.

Two days later Pulliam's family tried to sneak him out of the hospital in a hearse or ambulance (same vehicle was used for both) though it's not certain if they were trying to stage a funeral procession. Just outside Benton Birger and his men caught up with the ambulance and forced it to stop. If it wasn't for Pulliam's mother using her body to protect her son from Birger's blows, he likely would have been killed as well.

Later Birger would even admit to his role in the attack, "I and my men drove up and conked that fellow (hit him on the head)  until he fainted away. We showed him."

A day later on the 17th, Birger's men picked up another Franklin County felon named Lyle "Shag" Worsham they thought was snitching to the Sheltons. Newspapers had already identified Lyle's brother "Satan" Worsham as an associated of the them. Birger's men took Worsham south of Carterville where the machine-gunned him down in the road before taking him to an abandoned house by Pulley's Mill where they burned the body and house around it.

Meanwhile the Shelton Gang reconfigured one of their beer-running fuel trucks to an armored car. They debuted it on Oct. 4, with a machine gun attack on Birger's Shady Rest, a drive-by shooting of Art Newman and his wife in a car in Saline County, and another drive-by attack on Shaw's Gardens, a Birger-aligned roadhouse between Johnston City and West Frankfort on the Franklin-Williamson county line.

On Oct. 13 (or 14th according to some sources), Birger's men attacked the Shelton's main joint north of Herrin on what's now Illinois Route 148. On the 16th they raided the fluorspar mine in Rosiclare in order to steal their two machine guns they had locked up.

For more information on the Gang War and what happened next, check out my books Secrets of the Herrin Gangs co-authored by the Shelton's business manager and Inside the Shelton Gang co-authored and published earlier this year with Ruthie Shelton, the daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton, one of the nephews involved in that family's infamous activities.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Great Song and Just Had to Share

While looking up some antebellum songs for an upcoming project tonight I came across the great Mavis Staples singing Stephen Foster's 1854 classic, "Hard Times Come Again No More."

The year 1854 saw the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened the territories to slavery, an act that ended the Whig Party and saw the creation of the Republican Party later that year. In Illinois anti-Nebraska Democrats like my fourth-great-uncle Col. E. D. Taylor, split with our U.S. Senator Stephan Douglas who had sponsored the legislation. Instead he joined former Whigs and emerging Republicans like Abraham Lincoln in beating back Douglas'-backed Democrats for the state elections that year. Some 21 years earlier Taylor had beat Lincoln in the latter's first race for the state legislature.

The triumph of the moderates like Douglas signaled the quickening march that would end with the start of the Civil War seven years later. From that point forward slavery would become the major issue of the day and the defining position between the parties.

Meanwhile, Foster managed to write a song that remains true and vibrant even to the present day.

Here's the lyrics. Feel free to sing along.

Verse 1.
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Verse 2.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.

Verse 3.
There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.

Verse 4.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'Inside the Shelton Gang' Plugged This Morning

WSIL-TV had me on bright and early this morning plugging "Inside the Shelton Gang," the new book by Ruthie Shelton and myself.

We will both be at Bookworm this Saturday, April 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. at a book signing, and at the Flora Public Library next Thursday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Click on the Books link to order it and my other books online. Books ordered over the next few weeks will go out with Ruthie's autograph as well as mine.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Inside the Shelton Gang Book Out Saturday

Inside the Shelton Gang: One Daughter's Discovery will have its debut Saturday at the Wayne County Press office in downtown Fairfield, Illinois, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The book is written by Ruthie Shelton, daughter of "Little Carl" Shelton and grandniece of the infamous Shelton Brothers, and co-authored by Jon Musgrave of

Inside the Shelton Gang tells the true story of what happens when a father’s wall of secrets begin to crumble and a family’s lost heritage of violence erupts from the front pages of history. For daughter Ruthie it’s a discovery that will forever change her life as she learns what it meant to be a Shelton in the days of Prohibition and the decades following, to be a member of a crime family that rivaled Al Capone’s for control of Illinois. 

While written from Ruthie's point of view, she's added stories passed down from her father and other relatives, as well as from folks she's met over the last few years researching the book.

I met Ruthie while researching for my ever-expanding history of Southern Illinois in the 1920s. We joined forces and is publishing the book. My role has been to flesh out the historical research she started on the gang, especially in the gang's early years in the 1920s.

It's been quite the experience and I think readers will enjoy the more personable approach to non-fiction writing that Ruthie brings to the table.

Books are available to order now at or simply click on the Books link at the top of the page.