Reeves The Outlaw
Taken From the Henry Republican
An Account of his Expulsion from Marshall County
George Reeves was a native of North Carolina, and nearly 40 years ago settled at the foot of the bluffs, a short distance beyond the southwestern edge of what was then called "Crow Meadow," but now better known as the "Henry Prairie," on which the city of that name stands.
His house was built on a high bench of land at the base of the bluffs, and was so situated as to command a view of any one approaching it from every side except the rear. Back of the house a deep ravine of a mile or more in length ran through the bluffs out into the "High Prairie," at that time uninhabited, so that it was easy to conceal persons or make way with property, if the house or premises were visited in search of either.
In a year or two after Reeves had settled here, the neighborhood was filled with rumors that counterfeiters, horse thieves, and suspicious characters of every description, made his house a resort and rendezvous; and as year after year passed, these suspicions were increased and intensified by his conduct and associations. As a instance of this, on one occasion Reeves was in Lacon in company with a man who attempted to pass some counterfeit money; the man was arrested, and a considerable amount of spurious bills were found upon him; he tried to conceal them by swallowing the roll, but the Hon. Silas Ramsey, at that time sheriff of the county, promptly choked him, and so effectually, that he was compelled to disgorge them.
Reeves reputation, but only in his immediate neighborhood, but through Peoria, Marshall, Putnam and Bureau counties, grew worse and worse; but although his premises were frequently visited in search of counterfeiters and stolen horses, he managed to elude arrest, and nothing could be proven to justify criminal proceedings against him. But he was not destined to brave public opinion much longer. His eldest son, Cameron, or, as he was more familiarly called, "Cam," and another young man, whose name is not remembered, stole some clothing from a Mr. Rhinebeck, a farmer living in the neighborhood of Reeves; they were followed to Peoria, and arrested for the robbery.
They employed as counsel, two distinguished lawyers of that city (both of whom have since died) to defend them. On the way up the river, on the little mail boat, which then ran between Peoria and LaSalle, they managed - at the suggestion, and with the connivance, as was alleged, of the legal gentlemen who accompanied them, they managed to divest themselves of their handcuffs, and throw the bundle of clothing overboard. Upon their arrival before the justice who issued the warrant, the principal evidence against them having been thus destroyed, they were consequently discharged.
For their services the attorneys were to receive in part payment a colt running loose on the prairie. After their discharge, young Reeves and his companion, and the two lawyers, set out to hunt the colt. They found it, and undertook to bring it to the river to ship it to Peoria. In the meantime the news of the discharge of Reeves and his confederate, and the unscrupulous manner in which the lawyers were said to have secured it, spread rapidly, and excited in indignation of the neighbors. They assembled in numbers, and made such hostile demonstrations that the legal gentlemen were glad to escape, and leave Reeves and his confederate, and the colt, to shift for themselves. But the consequences of this affair did not end here, nor were they confined to Reeves immediate neighborhood.
It soon became known in these portions of the counties of Bureau and Putnam which adjoined Marshall, and afforded the desired opportunity of taking measures to rid the country of Reeves and his gang. Like the fiery cross of the Scottish chieftain, word was sent far and near to assemble on a certain day to secure in such manner as might be most effectual, not only a redress of their past grievances, but their prevention in the future. Having heard of the meeting and its object, and anxious to prevent violence or bloodshed, both of which were imminent in the exasperated state of the public mind, the writer, in company with Mr. William Fisher, and one or two other gentlemen, whose names are forgotten, crossed the river and rode to the place of meeting, which was in a small grove in the prairie, upon the farm now owned and occupied by Deacon Merritt.
Upon our arrival, we found about 100 men, of all ages, some of them in a state of great excitement, others more calm, but all determined upon thorough measures to rid the country of Reeves and his family. A large portion of the assembly were armed, some with shot guns, others with rifles. The organized by appointing Hall S. Gregory, at that time a resident of Crow Meadow Prairie, afterwards for many years a citizen of Lacon, presiding officer of the meeting. The chairman was mounted, not on a platform, but on horseback. A committee was then appointed to consider and report resolutions for the action of the meeting. The committee retired for consultation, and after a short time returned to the meeting, but instead of reporting some plan of action for its adoption, they began to tell their individual "experience" with regard to Reeves offences. This only serves to increase the excitement.
Reeves and his family had been brought from his house, about a mile distant, and were present. Soon after the writers arrival, Reeves sent for him. He found him seated upon the ground, on the outskirts of the crowd, surrounded by his wife and children, (one an infant in its mothers arms) who seemed to be in deep distress. Reeves himself was outwardly calm. He said he was induced to come out to the meeting under a solemn pledge that his person should be safe, and his family and property suffer no violence, but he now believed they intended to kill him, and begged the writer to use his influence to prevent his being shot down, in the presence of his wife and children. This was promised, but Reeves was told that whether guilty or innocent, the temper of the community was such that he must make up his mind to leave the country at once, and forever. He said he was willing to leave the country, and only asked from 10 to 20 days to arrange his business, and would, if the meeting desired it, pledge himself to do so.
While this interview with Reeves was taking place, each member of the committee referred to, had been detailing such effect, that upon the return of the writer with Reeves, to the meeting, a prominent physician of Bureau county, since deceased, who was for extreme measures, cried out "there is the d_d rascal, I once found him riding a fine English mare of mine which had been stolen," to which Reeves replied, "Doctor I thought I had explained that matter to your satisfaction, for we have often since drank whisky together in the grocery at Hennepin, and I supposed we were good friends." The doctor vouchsafed no other replay to this than to reiterate his epithet, and cried out at the top of his voice, "All who are in favor of shooting the d_d rascal, and giving him Rock river justice, follow me." (A short time before this the Driscolls had been shot on Rock river.) Immediately some 15 or 20 men, all armed, stepped off some paces, cocking their guns as they went, and turned to shoot Reeves, who was standing immediately in front of them.
At this moment the chairman, who (as before stated) was mounted, with great presence of mind, moved his horse between the shooting party and Reeves, so that in order to hit the object of their wrath they would have to shoot their presiding officer, or his horse or perhaps both. This adroit movement made them pause, and during that spouse the writer mounted a wagon, and under a more fearful sense of responsibility than he had ever felt before, or has ever experienced since, addressed the meeting. He stated to them the conversation with Reeves, and the pledge he was willing to give, and begged them to respect the laws, and not bring the odium and disgrace of mob violence upon the people of the county. He admitted that Reeves was a bad man, and perhaps was guilty of all the offences charged against him, yet he was never legally tried or convicted of them, and if he was willing to leave the country, that was the best and easiest mode of getting rid of him.
To this it was replied, that it was all true, but no confidence could be placed in Reeves word, and that he would refuse to go as soon as the present danger was over. At this juncture, Dr. Peter Temple, at that time a resident of the county, after consultation with the writer and one or two other gentlemen, who deprecated any violence, rose and proposed as a compromise, that the meeting proceed to his house, and remove his furniture and goods, with his family, to the river, and not leave them until they were all placed upon a steamboat and sent out of the country.
This proposition was accepted by the majority, and put into execution at once. Wagons, horsemen and footmen started immediately for Reeves house, and in less than an hour afterwards it was entirely cleared. While this was going on, Mrs. Reeves rushed into the house, and from under a stone in the chimney corner took a package, which she immediately deposited in her bosom; the occurrence gave rise to much comment, and many were the conjectures as to its contents. Reeves, with his family, and all his goods and chattels, were immediately started for their place of embarkation. Soon after a steamer came along, and they were put on board, and guarded until the boat left the landing.
After the house was cleared of all its contents, it was proposed to burn it down, a suggestion which was at once acted on; the torch was applied, and the dry logs of which it was composed were soon in a blaze, and in a short time it was all consumed. No other building was ever erected on its site, and the writer believes its ruins yet stand as a memento of an occurrence which, over a third of a century ago, produced a profound sensation, and remains to this day a marked event in the history of Marshall county, as well as in the memory of the actors now living.
Thus ended the career of George Reeves in this county; and what at first threatened to result in sending a man to his last account, in a lawless and violent manner, in the presence of his wife and children, and in infliction an indelible stain upon the good name of the county, was happily averted by his being expelled.
Of Reeves subsequent career the writer knows nothing definite. His wife returned to the old home once or twice, but each time was notified to leave. Her presence seemed to excite the fears of her former neighbors, and with perhaps some reason, as she was reported to have threatened those who participated in the expulsion of her husband; at all events the was never permitted to remain a day in the neighborhood of her former home. After being driven off the second time, she never returned.
Whether Reeves and his wife are still living, or the subsequent history of "Cam.," the immediate cause of the expulsion of his father from the country, the writer knows nothing beyond mere rumor.
Dr. Robert Boal.