The Banditti
In and Around Lee county




Lee Center History Replete With Tales of Dramatic Color

High Social, Intellectual Tone Contrasted With Lawless Reign

Dixon Evening Telegraph November 17 & 18, 1948

Seldom indeed does one meet in fact or in fiction a spot around which so much and such dramatic interest has centered. In the field of human activities, Lee Center Township has witnessed scenes ranging from the very highest social and intellectual refinement and culture, as well as the sweetest religious privileges, down to the revolting crimes and veritable reign of terror. Inlet, the first settlement of Lee Center township, ins ection 9, on the banks of Inlet Creek was the rendezvous of thieves, counterfeiters, fence-men and even murderers.

The house of one was made a common hiding place for stolen property. On the broad highway of the great state road, men came and left by night. Strange horsemen would alight; their horses would remain tethered in the deep grove nearby, until the small hours of the morning, when as if by magic, horses and riders would disappear. The noise of loud voices would be heard, and behind the doors plans were concocted for all manner of crimes from the stealing of the peddler's packs to their last crime, the murder of Col. Davenport,July 4, 1945.

Did a settler at Inlet own a fine team, the circumstances was learned in Nauvoo, a favorite retreat, very soon, and very presently the settler's team disappeared. Did the settler remonstrate, a letter attched to a stone was thrown at night, through a window, to the effect that any further demonstrations by the settler would be followed by a hasty exit of this settler, dead or alive, from the settlement.

The ravages of this banditti of the prairie extended from Ohio and Kentucky to Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin. Inlet being a central and well known point, and favored by nature as well as by a small number of first settlers, it early became the rendezvous of its members. Of those who at last resolved to take their lives in their hands and make the attempt to rid Inlet of their presence, were Sherman Shaw, Charles F. Ingalls, Rev. Luke Hitchcock, Dr. R.F. Adams, Moses Crombie, Lewis Clapp, Benjamin Whittaker, a Mr. Starks and his sons, and through their heroic efforts INlet was cleansed. Those sturdy pioneers of Lee Center township sent to the penitentiary at ALton, Joseph Sawyer, Adolphus Bliss and Daniel Miller Dewey, and the witness who squealed, Charles West, as soon as he had delivered his testimony, left the country for his country's good. This drastic action was not taken so soon as the viligance committee from Ogle, DeKalb and Winnebago, when in 1841, they shot the Driscolls; but the very instant the evidence was secured, that minute the INlet branch of the banditti was dealt its death blow.

The heroic bravery required of the Lee County Vigilance Committee cannot be comprehended fully today, surrounded as we are by the highest safeguards of civilization. The Haskell robbery in June 1844, and its extraordinary success emboldened the thieves to the point of careless bravado, and in that moment of weakness the opening wedge was secured by which a conviction was made possible. Dewey "got the sight" for the Haskell performance and Fox and Birch did the work; Fox on the inside of the Haskell house and Birch on the outside. Bonney in his "Banditti of the Prairie" mentions the matter thus;

"West accused one Fox, alias Sutton, and John Baker of having committed the robbery at Troy Grove, and said that most of the goods had been secreted at Inlet Grove, and subsequently taken to Iowa. He also avowed that Fox and Birch, alias Becker, alias Harris, committed the robbery for which Bliss and Dewey were sent to prison, and that the former was totally innocent, while the latter was accessory, having "got up the sight." He further stated that Fox had robbed one Hascal, a merchant of Inlet, by entering the house during a very severe thunderstorm and crawled upon the floor till he reached the trunk, wherein was deposited the money, and having secured it, left without being heard, although Mr. and Mrs. Hascal were lying in bed awake at the time. To prove this, Fox subsequently stated the conversation that had passed between them while he was in the act of rifling the trunk"

The trunk was taken to a blacksmith shop and there opened and rifled. The operations of the banditti at Inlet contributed materially towards the establishment in 1846, of the village of Lee Center, further to the northwest on the Chicago road. Of course rivalry and 'feeling" had their influences but the pressence of such evil doers contributed most. Luke HItchcock denominated INlet, "A perfect Sodom."

Adolphus Bliss, the first settler, who came in 1834, was followed by Joseph Sawyer, Daniel Milelr Dewey and Charles West in 1836. With the opportunities afforded by the stage road for making a little ready money by keeping tavern, Sawyer took out the first license to keep a tavern ever issued in Ogle county and Bliss took out the second. They were issued by the county commissioners of Ogle county, while in session at the house of F. Cushman, Buffalo Grove, March 6, 1837, and each paid therefore the sum of $10. A schedule of charges they were permitted to make, will be found in that part of this work of Ogle county. Bliss called his tavern "The Travelers Home" The sign, a rough board was letter irregularly and nailed ot the long log cabin. In order to boom the same he proceeded very much after the fashion of the present day town site people. On the next day, March 7, 1837 he and others presented a petition to the commissioners asking that viewers be appointed to view a road, a route past the Travelers Home. He deposited the sum of $5 to pay the viewers expenses which according ot the rules of the day was to be returned to him in case the road was located according to the prayer of the petition. If not, it was used to pay the expenses of the commissioners. Those commissioners were John Dixon, Corydon R. Dewey and Zachariah Melugin and they reported unfavorably to the proposed road.

On March 8, 1837 at that same meeting, Inlet was set off as an election precinct and so far as its political independence was concerned, that day was the beginning of Inlet. The judges appointed for the precinct were Zachariah Melugin, Thomas Dexter adn the subsequently notorious Charles West.

Inlet took in a vast territory as must be noticed by the distance these commissioners lived one from the other. It was bounded on the north by Dixon, Grand Detour and Oregon City precincts; on the east of the county line and on the south and west by the "lines of said county" The house of Corydon R. Dewey was made the polling place. At the same meeting an election was called for Dixon & Inlet the only voting precincts in what now is Lee County to be held April 12th following, at which justices and constables were to be elected. Now, notice what care the interests of the gang wer econserved. Daniel Miller Dewey was elected justice and Charles West was elected constable, each receiving 17 votes. Quoting from an old Ogle county history we are told "Justice Dewey, Constable West, Adolphus Bliss (of the Travelers Home), his wife Hannah, and a few other of their gang, because of their "close" connection and secret and suspicious ways of transacting public and private business, came to be known to the pioneers as "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co."

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Slick Robber Band Finally Wiped From Lee Center Scene

Banditti of the Prairie Operated Through Lee County Earlier
Dixon Evening Telegraph 18 November 1948
Continued from yesterday 17 November 1948

If Dewey issued a writ against a member of the gang, Constable West was never able to find the offender, but he always provided himself with a very large supply of information as to the point in Iowa, Wisconsin or Indiana the culprit had fled.

The killing of the Driscols on Monday June 28, 1841 was supposed by thinking men to be efficient evidence of the determination of the settlers to rid the country of the banditti and to awe the other members. But that action only subdued certain of the Ogle county members. Other robberies continued with shocking frequency. On the night of Sep. 18, 1843 the store of William McKenney of Rockford was robbed of a trunk containing $700 - $800. Scarcely had the excitement of this enormity subsided when a four horse mail coach of the Funk & Walker line about 4 miles out of Rockford on its way to Chicago wsa robbed. The coach was full of passengers at the time and in full motion, yet the loss of the trunks and baggage was not discovered until the coach had reached Newburgh. Next morning the trunks and baggage were discovered near the road, broken open and their valuable contents gone. It was a daring and a skillful robbery but not more so than the one perpetrated a few weeks later in which the house of William Mulford was entered.

It had been rumored that Wm. Mulford had received $15,000 from New York. That report soon reached the Inlet and other members of the band. Mulford lived in Guilford Twp., Winnebago county. Part of the gang stood over Mr. and Mrs. Mulford while others searched the house and found $400 which they carried away. Of course the countryside was aflame with indignation but so well did the thieves cover their tracks that for the moment they escaped.

In the summer of 1845 West became offended at other members of the firm of "Bliss, Dewey, West & Co." whic fact very soon reached the ears of some members of the committee. West was prevailed on to squeal and convictions followed. To repeat the matter as the story comes to me let me copy and old diary I resurrected in the family of the late J.H. Adams of Amboy. No names were mentioned for the very good reason that it was unwise to even commit to paper the names of members of the gang.

Banditti of the Prairie"

.... These miscreants had a line of operations extending from Texas through Indian Territory, Missouri, the corner of Iowa and Illinois. The route of this gang extended through Lee County and directly through our settlement and by my cabin. Members of the gang lived among us and often supposed to be worthy first-class citizens, harbored, lodged and bed these traveling cut-throat theives and scoundrels. Those committing overt acts of ... traveled mostly by night and were unknown among, even if they were ever seen. The chances of theft were described to them by your good neighboring rascals and the traveling expert sinners did the rest. The whole stockholders then divided the booty. The gang operated mainly among people who were neither rich nor poor. If the settlement were too poor there was not much to steal and if rich, detection and punishment were likely to be dealt out to them. Dr. Adams had a valuable horse stolen and the track was followed 25 miles to Princeton, Bureau County. A stream run through a deep, unfrequented common in the neighborhood and the horse had slipped its bridle and came out to its owner making its search.

George E. Haskell a merchant of Inlet Grove had his little trunk with its cash contents taken from under his bed one dark stormy night and broken open at a neighboring blacksmith shop and of course the money taken. Nobody could explain the probably villian concerned yet four of our best appearing citizens were the transgressors. "Proverbially" murder will out and the same may be said of all other transgressors. A quantity of merchandise had been stolen in an adjoining county, and samples of the stolen goods betrayed clothes of the same cloth in the tailor shop of Thomas Brown at Inlet Grove. Four of our honest neighbors had engaged garments made by Mr. Brown and had furnished material corresponding with samples two gentlemen carried who were in pursuit of the transgressors. The magistrate confided the fact of the find to only a few us until the papers of arrest were ready and the four gentlemen were simultaneously arrested by the sheriff and taken to prison.

These men when taken before two of our magistrates, were ordered to be delivered to the sheriff of LaSalle county where the goods were stolen. By (their) counsel the verdict was declared to be illegal and resistance was advised. We took the ground that two judges had decided and they were the best and only civil court then at hand, so the people volunteered what necessary aid the sheriff might need to see the verdict executed. The prisoners were loaded into the LaSalle county conveyance and the play, up to that point, was complete. After examination I think were allowed bail and the fourth one sent to jail for want of bail bond. The fourth man in jain threatened to turn states evidence if his richer confederates did not bail him out. He was duly encouraged to do so, and he did. Some of the guilty gang were allowed to visit the jail and sleep there so they could converse and acknowledge facts the people wanted to know. Before the final trial came testimony sufficiently fatal was gained. Three of the prisoners went to State prison and he who testified against the gang disappeared from sight and hearing among us to this day. We watched him with rifles as citizens in his and our defense. I think he might have been spirited and his valuable testimony lost had we not given him needed protection.

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With the publication of this valuable diary the story of the conviction in the LaSalle County Circuit Court of Adolphus Bliss, Joseph Sawyer, and Daniel Miller Dewey is told. Never before has it been possible to tell the story accurately. Reasons of fear or maudlin sympathy for others has kept it from the pages of history until at this minute not one living person out near the old scenes knows from what crime the culprits suffered. In every single instance I have been told that it was for fencing stolen property, instead of receiving it, even by the few who were alive though young at the time. Once West had told his story and his companions had been removed he disclosed other important stories. Among the names disclosed of other guilty participants as well as actors were Charles Oliver Jr. and William McDowell of Rockford. Fox and Birch, Davis, Thomas Aiken and Baker. Among other revelations made by West was the plan by which McKenneys store was robbed and the names of the robbers. In Bureau County another cumulative circumstance dovetailed very much with West's confession.

There the men tried to railroad another member to the penitentiary who was stated to be weak-kneed. While in jail the fellow confirmed the secrets of the Mulford robbery, already comuted by one Irving A. Steines and West and in consequence Oliver and McDowell of Winnebago county and William K. Bridges of Ogle county were indicted for committing the Mulford robbery and after considerable strategy all were arrested and taken to Rockford. Bail was refused.

A month later the murder of Col. Davenport July 4, 1845 fanned the slumbering anger of the people into a fury. August 26, 1845 of Oliver et al was commenced at Rockford befor judge Thomas C. Browne. Stearns who had gravitated into the Michigan penitentairy and West were produced as witnesses. West testified that while Oliver was not present, he planned the Mulford robbert and received a share of the stolen money. A sharp cross-examination failed to break his story and Oliver was found guilty and sentenced to the Alton penitentiary for eight years. Later McDowell was convicted. Bridge took a change of venue to Ogle County were he pleaded guilty and was sentenced.

Bliss died in the pententiary. Miller Dewey never returned. Sawyer however, did return to brave public feeling and he lived not far from the early scenes of his activities until the day of his death many years afterward. In this connection it may be interesting to know that Sawyer was appointed first overseer of the poor of Lee County on April 16, 1840.

It took courage to combat that lawless gang, but the good people of the Inlet community had that courage, and in a new center of social activity the community's refined enjoyments were carried to loftiest points. The removal was begun in 1844 and very soon thereafter it was completed. Lee Center was planned in 1846 and with the erection of the Academy, Inlet left the map. But before leaving its actos altogether I may as well add that an Inlet man, Milan Barnes, drove the stage coach from Chicgo to Dixon which contained Bonny and his prisoner Birch. Inlet was located on both sides of Inlet Creek at the point where the Chicago mail and stage road crossed it. The business portion of the place was was on the east side, although improvised taverns were to be found on the west side and Bliss and Dewey lived on the west side. The Travelers Home was on the west side. Oscar Dewey, son of Corydon R. Dewey who was born in the old log cabin at Inlet, informed me that his father located there in 1836. He told me also that Thomas J. Gray kept tavern on the east side and also the barns where the stage horses were changed. Gray and his sister, subsequently Mrs. DeWolf, later kept a grocery store ... tobacco. And right here it should be explained that Corydon R. Dewey though related, should not in any manner be associated with Miller Dewey. He also is authority for the statement that David Tripp Sr. kept a log tavern on the east side side of the creek, one room of which was used as a school room. Corydon R. Dewey permitted his house to be used as a tavern during the California fever but that was all.

He erected a sawmill on the west side of the creek and a Major Chamberlain erected one on the east side. By a trade made soon after Dewey became owner of the Chamberlain mill and he ran both until the fifties. Albert Z. Bodine confirmed the Tripp tavern and school room story and added that there had been three David Tripps in Lee Center, the grandfather of the tavern, a son, and a grandson.

You can read more on the Banditti in the History of Inlet and the History of Lee Center

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