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.