Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 18

On this day in Illinois History, Jan. 18, 1813, the first deeds were filed with the county clerk in Gallatin Co., Illinois, then a brand new county just getting off the ground in southeastern Illinois.

Gallatin County had been created the previous September and stretched from nearly Vincennes, Ind., south down the Wabash and Ohio to the mouth of Lusk Creek at modern day Golconda.

Johnson County, organized at the same time started at Golconda and ran down the Ohio to its mouth and then up the Mississippi to the Big Muddy. The county line followed that river to around modern day Blairsville, in Williamson County where a trail from the Rosiclare area heading to Kaskaskia cross the river.

Everything to the south was Johnson, everything to the west of the Big Muddy was Randolph and everything to the east was Gallatin.

Interestingly, the first deeds filed in Shawneetown, or Shawanoe Town, as it was then known, were for properties in Kentucky.

John Hart of Gallatin County transferred to Adolphus T. Hubbard of Warren Co., Ky., two tracts of land in Madison Co., Ky. The first was next to the William Hicks’ plantation. The second dealt with another 1,000 acres. M. S. Davenport and Ephraim Hubbard witnessed the deeds.

For more on the early days of Gallatin County check out the "Handbook of Old Gallatin County and Southeastern Illinois" available at www.IllinoisHistory.com/books.

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 17

On this day in Illinois history (actually yesterday since I'm a day late), Jan. 17, 1927, members of the Birger Gang kidnapped the first member of the Illinois State Police to die in the line of action. A few hours later he was murdered in a wheat field near Du Bois in Washington Co., Illinois.

Lory L. Price's assignment on paper was to patrol Illinois Route 13 between Harrisburg and Carbondale. His secondary role was to serve as the eyes and ears of Gov. Len Small in the turbulent Egyptian Badlands of 1920s Southern Illinois.

Price wasn't the only one to die that night. Another carload of gangsters kidnapped his wife Ethel Price, a pregnant school teacher who had taken the spring semester off. They shot her and dumped her body in an abandoned mine's air shaft on what's now the grounds of the Williamson County Shrine Club on Route 37 north of Marion.

Price had known and had been friends with both Carl Shelton and Charlie Birger for more than a decade by that time, according to the story Price's half-brother William Dufour told me back in 1994.

A few months after the second trial acquitted the perpetrators of the Herrin Massacre, Gov. Small hired Price, a World War I veteran, to be a motorcycle cop on the newly opened stretch of Route 13.

His job wasn't Prohibition enforcement and he continued his contacts with all sides. Birger, in particular, would tip him off to the whereabouts of stolen cars when good rewards had been offered. The pair would then split the reward.

There are three versions of what happened the night of his kidnapping and death, Birger's, Art Newman's and the one told by Gary DeNeal's source for "A Knight of Another Sort," who took part.

The event took place following the open warfare between the two gangs in the fall of 1926, the murder of West City Mayor Joe Adams in December, and the burning of Shady Rest a few days before.

Price was finally acting like a cop, investigating and getting close to the more junior members of the gang locked up in the Williamson County Jail. There he may have learned that one of the prisoners was booked under an assumed name, and really was somebody else, one of Adams' two killers nonetheless.

If so, he also managed to talk to the killer's fellow gunman and younger brother who perished in the attack and destruction of Shady Rest. Price definitely was one of the last to visit the cabin before its destruction. How much had he put together and how much had he reported back to the governor.

It's my contention that Newman was most responsible for the night's events. He had decided that Price was too much of a liability and whose long-term relationship with Birger would keep the gang leader from doing anything about it. By ordering the other carload of gangsters to kill Ethel, rather than just keep her safely out of the way while they scared Price, Newman must have thought that it would force Birger's hand. It did.

Some of the accounts indicate Newman fired the first shot at Price.

Ethel probably died on the 17th before midnight. Lory likely was shot and killed after midnight in the early morning hours of the 18th. His body wasn't found until Feb. 5. Ethel's body wasn't found until later in June.

More about the events of the Price murders can be found in DeNeal's book as well as "Bloody Williamson" by Paul Angle, though not the background. For that you'll have to wait until my upcoming book, "The Bloody Years."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 16

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 16, 1862, Col. Edmund D. Taylor supposedly met with Abraham Lincoln in the White House and suggested the use of treasury notes printed on banking paper to be used as legal tender. These notes, as they became known, were the nation's first greenbacks.

I write supposedly because the letter from Abraham Lincoln written in December 1864, confirming this incident has been declared "spurious" by some historians. That it once hung on display in Lincoln's tomb and its whereabouts today unknown doesn't help the matter.

There's a second letter on the 16th that served as a letter of introduction for "Mr. Taylor" to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. However, it's not clear if this was a reference to Col. Taylor, as Lincoln would have known him, or to another person named Taylor.

The earliest reference I've found comes from a Feb. 24, 1876 issue of the Decatur Local Review. In a series of news briefs on the front page the following references Col. Taylor and the greenback, though the identity of the "professor" is unknown to me at this point.

"The professor is becoming jealous of the greenback popularity of Col. Taylor, and it is said that is the reason why the professor refuses to put up the ticket."

It's very oblique but it does mention Taylor and the currency in the same breath.

Taylor and Lincoln's acquaintance dated back three decades when Lincoln first ran for the legislature following the Black Hawk War. Lincoln lost that election. Taylor won.

Though on opposite sides most of their lives, for one point in the mid 1850s, or at least in 1854, the two became political allies in the fight against Stephan Douglas, then the state's senator. Lincoln was a new Republican and Taylor, an anti-Nebraska Democrat.

I first came across E. D. Taylor in the pages of Springhouse magazine. Gary DeNeal, my fellow "Crenshaw Rascal" in the search for the real story of the Old Slave House came across Col. Taylor who was John Hart Crenshaw's brother-in-law. Taylor also held the mortgage on the Old Slave House for many years.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Taylor was one of my fourth-great uncles (my great-great-great-great uncle). His father, Giles Taylor, was Crenshaw's father-in-law and my fifth-great grandfather.

Taylor played an important role in the development of Chicago as the receiver of public monies at the federal land office. He later got into banking in Indiana, coal mining in La Salle County and real estate development in Chicago.

Although his role in the greenbacks is questioned, his financial acumen is not. Nor was his son-in-law's who served as comptroller of the City of Chicago.

On Nov. 8, 1855, the Alton Weekly Courier reprinted news from Chicago about Taylor's business skills.

Several sales of real estate have been effected within the week of importance. Col. E. D. Taylor sold $68,000 worth of property on cash and short time. Less than seven years since the same property cost the Col. but $8,000. A nice little transaction. But such is not an uncommon occurrence in Chicago.

Taylor, who was born Oct. 18, 1804, at Fairfax Courthouse, Va., died Dec 4, 1891, in Chicago.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 14

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 14, 1919, the General Assembly ratified the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Congress passed the Volstead Act implementing the amendment on Oct. 28, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode the veto and the law went into effect Jan. 17, 1920.

The same day Illinois became the 26th state to ratify the amendment, so did lawmakers in Arkansas (25), Indiana (27) and Missouri (28). Five more states ratified it the next day (Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon), and another five did so on the 16th putting it over the hump needed for the super-majority. (North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Missouri and Alabama). In all 46 states ratified the amendment. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island did not.

For a basic overview of Prohibition in the Prairie State, check out Bootlegging in Illinois from the April 2001 edition of Country Living.

To say it was a failure understates the problem. Congress offered the 21st Amendment to repeal it which states ratified quickly in 1933.

Congress also rejected it as late as last week when lawmakers read the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. Rather than read the entire text, they read the document as amended, thus they skipped over the 18th Amendment, but did include the 21st.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 13

'Uncle Bob' Wilson born in 1836

His parents are unknown and despite having fathered supposedly hundreds of children, he died without family at the age of 112.

On this day in Illinois, Jan. 13, in 1836, a slave child named Robert Wilson was born on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia. He would be known in his old age, and remembered long after his death as "Uncle Bob."

For at least the last 25 years of his life he repeated stories that he had been used as a stud slave on seven different plantations, the last of which was the house on top of the hill outside of Equality, Illinois.

Residents knew it then as John Crenshaw's Hickory Hill Plantation. Today it's known as the Old Slave House.

His role of a stud slave probably took place in the 1850s as he was back in Virginia when John Brown was hung on Dec. 2, 1859.

He entered the Civil War on the Confederate side with the 16th Virginia Infantry. An Associated Press article about him from his 111th birthday in 1947 described him as a "batman," which wasn't a Gotham crime-fighter but a term for an orderly or servant to an officer. A United Press wire story after his death the next year described his duties as having "to shine boots for a Confederate officer."

After the war he was a Baptist minister at times. He made it back to Gallatin Co., Illinois by the late 1920s or 1930s. He lived in Equality briefly following the 1937 flood that devastated Shawneetown and moved to Chicago sometime later in the decade.

He eventually made it to Chicago and was transferred to the Elgin State Hospital in 1942 suffering some illness. At the time he was not surprisingly, the oldest inmate in the veterans colony there.

He's smiling in almost all of the photographs I've seen of him. The stories from his time in Elgin show him quick of wit. Once when Gov. Dwight Green visited the institution Wilson hit the politician up for a donation to his tobacco fund. With a posse of reporters and photographers trailing his tour, Green couldn't refuse and gave him a 50-cent piece which he long treasured as his lucky coin. When he lost it, Green sent him another one for his 111th birthday.

Wilson also told the secret to his long life to the staff at Elgin, "I never drank, chewed, or stayed out late until I was 11 years old." Good advice for us all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 12

Back on January 12, 1899, a young woman named Hulda (Young) Mitchell gave birth to a baby boy that she and her husband Charles named Alvis M. Mitchell.

Mechanically-inclined he grew up in Saline County and developed an interest in the mechanical wonders of the day. After World War I in 1919 and 1920, he served as a mechanic with pioneer aviatrix Ruth Law who had broken the long-distance flying record in 1916 by flying non-stop from Chicago to New York State.

He remained a lifelong interest in aviation and helped found the Egyptian Flying Club here in Southern Illinois.

But it's not for aviation that Mitchell is best remembered. Cameras also interested him and he opened a professional photography studio in Harrisburg in the 1920s where he worked alongside his first wife.

One day in late September or October 1926 (and probably the latter), a member of the Charlie Birger gang came into the shop to pick him up. Charlie wanted some photos taken. The Gang War between Birger and the Shelton Brothers had already started and the body count was beginning to stack up.

Mitchell took at least five shots out at Shady Rest that afternoon, two with Charlie and 15 other members of the gang on the Hupmobile in front of the cabin, one with the gang on the porch and another with the gang just off to the side with their weapons drawn in a pose. The fifth shot included just the cabin, car and firearms, plus Charlie's dog which sat on the roof of the car.

Eighteen months later he also covered Birger's execution in Benton, taking at least six shots of the hanging. He had practice covering the hangings of Rado Millich, Joe Chesnas and Joe "Peck" Smith in Marion, Harrisburg and Shawneetown all within the year before.

During the Depression he became a locksmith and in 1942 he moved to Carbondale where he operated Mitchell Office Supply. After suffering from cancer for a year, he died on August 31, 1962.

Random Connections Between Preachers and Bootleggers

It's interesting the connections that I find while researching. During the wee hours of last Sunday morning I came across the obituary of Roy Shaw, a member of the Charlie Birger gang of bootleggers in the 1920s.

Shaw ran a roadhouse on the county line between Johnston City and West Frankfort on Route 37. The Sheltons shot it up a few hours after they debuted their armored car in October 1926. A few weeks later they burned it to the ground and planted dynamite in the ruins to blow up Birger when came to look. He didn't and they retrieved the dynamite to use in the aerial bombing of Shady Rest.

[To read more on the incident buy my new book, Secrets of the Herrin Gangs.]

Shaw is one of these guys on the periphery of my research, but his name keeps popping up ever more frequently. For example, the obituary.

I had found the obit before, but this time I recognized another name, Wendell Garrison, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in West Frankfort who officiated his funeral back at the end of November 1962. You see two weeks ago my church, Second Baptist of Marion, started with a new interim pastor in the pulpit after ours had retired following 30 years at the church. The new guy was Wendell Garrison too.

Of course I just had to ask. That evening I did and it was a good news/bad news situation for my research. Yes, it turns out it's the same pastor, but the bad news was he couldn't remember the man. It's been 48 years, and he had only been at the West Frankfort church for three months at that point. It's also quite possible and likely that Shaw wasn't even a frequent church attendee or even a member.

In talking with Garrison he told me he was from around Opdyke in rural Jefferson Co., Illinois. That was interesting because I had just came across a short blurb about how that village got its name. It ran on the same day in the Mt. Vernon Register-News as a wire story that Leslie Simpson, another member of the Birger Gang getting paroled.

The story from March 24, 1950, told how Opdyke got its name also dealt with a preacher, though this one was Methodist not Baptist and his name wasn't included. Back around 1870, give or take a few years, the L & N. Railroad laid tracks through Jefferson County.

... a contractor named Opdyke proposed to the original townsite promoters that if they would name the town after him, he would donate a handsome bell for the M. E. Church, then under construction. The bargain was agreed upon, the bell was delivered, and the town so named.

In 1950, the newspaper noted the bell still remained in use.

When I asked Garrison if he knew the story, that one he did, and even remembered the name of the church.

For next Sunday I'll just have to remember to ask him about another criminal from the 20s, a youth named David Garrison from Mount Vernon who robbed a number of gas stations and was almost recruited by Charlie Birger to kill West City Mayor Joe Adams.

Garrison and his partner Alva Wilson were thieves, not killers and told Birger so. The next night they were arrested at Albion. Both ended up testifying against Birger at the Adams murder trial the following summer.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

This Day in Illinois History - Jan. 15

On this day in Illinois history, Jan. 15, 1924, Williamson County Sheriff George Galligan asked Gov. Len Small to withdraw state militia troops from the county.

The sheriff had requested troops following government-led raids staffed by hundreds of members of the Ku Klux Klan against bootleggers and others in Herrin and surrounding communities

Though sanctioned initially by federal authorities, incidents of abuse that took place in the raids had risen to the level of diplomatic complaints by the counsels of France and Italy on behalf of their citizens in the county.

Anti-Klan sentiments had risen and the sheriff (with this two full-time deputies) had no way to guarantee the public safety.

Klan and anti-Klan forces negotiated and worked out an agreement on the night before at a meeting at Herrin City Hall. On the 15th at 11 a.m. Galligan made his request to the governor to remove the troops.

Over the next few days he and his men conducted raids on bootleggers, but received no help from Klan supporters or their hand-picked local police.

The peace lasted six days when the Klan violated the agreement and began raids of their own.

After additional raids and reprisals, chaos erupted early in February and the governor ended up sending nearly a thousand troops to control the county.