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Banditti of the Prairie

Source: "History of Pike County" by Charles M. Chapman, 1880
Submitted by Christine Walters

PRAIRIE PIRATES (The Banditti)

The northern part of the State also had its mob experiences, but of an entirely different nature from the one just recounted. There has always hovered around the frontier of civilization bold, desperate men, who prey upon the unprotected settlers rather than gain a livelihood by honest toil. Theft, robbery and murder were carried on by regularly organized bands in Ogle, Lee, Winnebago and DeKalb counties. The leaders of these gangs of cut-throats were among the first settlers of that portion of the State, and consequently had the choice of location. Among the most prominent of the leaders were John Driscoll, William and David, his sons; John Brodie and three of his sons; Samuel Aikens and three of his sons; William K. Bridge and Norton B. Boyce.

These were the representative characters, those who planned and controlled the movements of the combination, concealed them when danger threatened, nursed them when sick, rested them when worn by fatigue and forced marches, furnished hiding places for their stolen booty, shared in the spoils, and, under cover of darkness and intricate and devious ways of travel, known only to themselves and subordinates, transferred stolen horses from station to station; for it came to be known as a well-established fact that they had stations, and agents, and watchmen scattered throughout the country at convenient distances, and signals and pass-words to assist and govern them in all their nefarious transactions.

Ogle county, particularly, seemed to be a favorite and chosen field for the operations of these outlaws, who could not be convicted for the operations of these outlaws, who could not be convicted for their crimes. By getting some of their number on the juries, by producing hosts of witnesses to sustain their defense by perjured evidence, and by changing the venue from one county to another, and by continuances from term to term, they nearly always managed to be acquitted. At last these depredations became too common for longer endurance; patience ceased to be a virtue, and determined desperation seized the minds of honest men, and they resolved that if there were no statute laws that could protect them against the ravages of thieves, robbers and counterfeiters, they would protect themselves. It was a desperate resolve, and desperately and bloodily executed.

Burning of Ogle County Court-House

At the Spring term of court, 1841, seven of the "Pirates of the Prairie," as they were called, were confined in the Ogle county jail to await trial. Preparatory to holding court, the judge and lawyers assembled at Oregon in their new court-house, which had just been completed. Near it stood the county jail in which were the prisoners. The "Pirates" assembled Sunday night and set the court- house on fire, in the hope that as the prisoners would have to be removed from the jail, they might, in the hurry and confusion of the people in attending to the fire, make their escape. The whole population were awakened that dark and stormy night, to see their new court edifice enwrapped in flames. Although the building was entirely consumed, none of the prisoners escaped. Three of them were tried, convicted and sent to the penitentiary for a year. They had, however, contrived to get one of their number on the jury, who would not agree to a verdict until threatened to be lynched. The others obtained a change of venue and were not convicted, and finally they all broke jail and escaped.

Thus it was that the law was inadequate to the protection of the people. The best citizens held a meeting and entered into a solemn compact with each other to rid the country of the desperadoes that infested it. They were regularly organized and known as ˇRegulators." They resolved to notify all suspected parties to leave the country within a given time; if they did not comply, they would be severely dealt with. Their first victim was a man named Hurl, who was suspected of having stolen his neighbor's horse. He was ordered to strip, his hands were tied, when thirty-six lashes of a raw-hide were applied to his bare back. The next was a man named Daggett, formerly a Baptist preacher. He was sentenced to receive five hundred lashes on his bare back. He was stripped, and all was ready, when his beautiful daughter rushed into the midst of the men, begging for mercy for her father. Her appeals, with Daggett's promise to leave the country immediately, secured his release. That night, new crimes having been discovered, he was taken out and whipped, after which he left the country, never again to be heard from.
The friends and comrades of the men who had been whipped were fearfully enraged, and swore eternal and bloody vengeance Eighty of them assembled one night soon after, and laid plans to visit White Rock and murder every man, woman and child in that hamlet. They started on this bloody mission, but were prevailed upon by one of their number to disband. Their coming, however, had been anticipated, and every man and boy in the town was armed to protect himself and his family.


CAMPBELL KILLED --THE MURDERERS SHOT
John Campbell, Captain of the "Regulators," received a letter from William Driscoll, filled with most direful threats, - not only threatened Campbell's life, but the life of any one who should oppose their murderous, thieving operations. Soon after the receipt of this letter, two hundred of the "regulators" marched to Driscoll's and ordered him to leave the county within twenty days, but he refused to comply with the order. One Sunday evening, just after this, Campbell was shot down in his own door-yard by David Driscoll. He fell in the arms of his wife, at which time Taylor Driscoll raised his rifle and pointed it toward her, but lowered it without firing.
News of this terrible crime spread like wild-fire. The very air was filled with threats and vengeance, and nothing but the lives of the murderous gang would pay the penalty. Old John Driscoll was arrested, was told to bid his family good-bye, and then with his son went out to his death. The "Regulators" divided into two "death divisions," - one, consisting of fifty-six, with rifles dispatched the father, the other fifty-five riddled and shattered the body of the son with balls from as many guns. The measures thus inaugurated to free the country from the dominion of outlaws was a last desperate resort, and proved effectual.



IPO - http://www.lib.niu.edu/2001/ihy010236.html
Illinois Periodicals Online is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library
Further information: http://www.lib.niu.edu/2002/ih020506.html


The Driscoll Gang committed the crime in an attempt to free several of the gang's imprisoned members. They also thought that by burning the courthouse they would destroy all of the legal records that had anything against the Driscolls. However, the clerk of the circuit court had taken all of the evidence home with him that night. The gang members who were in jail were sentenced to a year in prison, but they soon escaped.
According to an article by one historian, the Driscoll Gang committed crimes from Texas all the way north to Wisconsin, east to Ohio, and west to Iowa. John Driscoll was the leader of the gang. Other members were Pierce Driscoll, John's two sons William and David Driscoll, John Brodie, his three sons, and many more. They controlled the area by terrorizing the people who lived there. Since the existing legal system could not control the outlaws, several of the local people created a group known as the Regulators. John Long, the first captain of the Regulators, wanted to bring law and order back to Ogle County and stop the banditti. The Regulators first caught some of the members of the Driscoll Gang and beat them up to try to send a message to the other members. The gang responded by burning down John Long's sawmill. After feeling threatened for his life by the gang, Long quit the Regulators. The next head was Phineas Cheney, who also quit because he received threatening letters from what he presumed to be the banditti. The last leader was John Campbell. William Driscoll sent a letter to John Campbell challenging him to a fight. John Campbell then showed up at William's house in DeKalb County on June 22, 1841, with 196 Regulators. There was a short standoff until the sherriff of DeKalb County showed up with John Driscoll. When asked why 196 Ogle County Regulators were in DeKalb County, John Campbell told the sheriff about the letter. In the end, an agreement was reached, and the Driscolls promised to leave the state in twenty days.
Soon after, several of the gang members decided that the only way to stop the Regulators was to murder their leader. On June 27, 1841, three members of the banditti went to John Campbell's house and murdered him. Mrs. Campbell came running out the door yelling, "Driscolls, you have murdered John Campbell." A neighbor who supposedly saw three men on horses leaving the Campbell house, reported them to be David Driscoll, Taylor Driscoll, and Hugh Brodie.
On the following Monday the Ogle County Sheriff arrested John Driscoll and also took William and Pierce into custody. William and Pierce were taken to John Campbell's home, where Campbell's wife identified them as not being there at the time of her husbands death.
On Tuesday morning a group of Regulators broke into the Ogle County Jail and took John Driscoll out with the purpose of a having trial. They took him across the river to Daysville and finally to Washington Grove where William and Pierce were. A crowd of more than five hundred people, who had previously been drinking at a nearby grist mill, gathered to see the trial. The judge selected 120 people to be the jury for the trial, which many witnesses described as a "mob trial." People from all around testified against the Driscolls for all sorts of crimes, including horse theft, counterfeit money, and murder. John Driscoll admitted to stealing more than fifty horses. The jury decided that they did not want the members to get away, so they found the three men guilty. However, Pierce was freed because of his young age. John and William were then taken out before a firing squad of 111 men split into two groups, and the two men were executed at Washington Grove on June 29, 1841.
The death of John and William Driscoll put an end to the banditti and all other outlaw gangs in the Ogle County area. The historical marker of where the Driscolls were shot outside of Chana, Illinois, reads "Doctors and scholars, ministers and deacons regarded this terrible example of lynch law as a public necessity."
[From the Book Committee of the American Revolution of the Bicentennial Commission of Ogle County, ed., The Bicentennial History of Ogle County; The History of Ogle County; Barbara Weng, The Story of Oregon.]


County: Ogle
Location: Rest area, east side of IL 2, about 6 miles north of Oregon (missing)
Erected: 08/24/1969 Erected by: Division of Highways and The Illinois State Historical Society


The Regulators and the Banditti, in the 1830's and 1840's an organized criminal gang known as the Banditti of the Prairie wasactive on the midwestern frontier. In 1841 six members were arrested and held for trial in Oregon, Illinois. On March 21, the day before the trial, the new Oregon courthouse was burned. In retaliation, a group led by W.S. Wellington organized the Regulators and ordered several suspected Banditti to emigrate or be whipped. Some left but those remaining forced Wellington to resign as Regulator leader. He was replaced by John Campbell. John Driscoll, a Banditti leader, and his four sons (Pierce, William, David, and Taylor) made a career of horse stealing and murder. When the Regulators gave the Driscolls 20 days to leave Illinois, the Banditti decided to kill Campbell and Phineas Chaney, another Regulatorleader. Chaney escaped but on June 27, 1841, Campbell was killed by David and Taylor while John, William, and Pierce waited nearby. John was caught and jailed at Oregon. The Regukators apprehended William and Pierce and forcibly took John from jail. The three were 'tried' in Washington Grove on June 29 by a jury of 111 Regulators. Pierce was released but the other two were found guilty. John was shot by 56 men and William by 55. Although Banditti activity continued for several years, it was no longer centered in Ogle County. The Regulator judge and jury (112 men) were tried for the vigilante murder of the Driscolls and were acquitted.


NEWSPAPER STORIES RELATED TO THE BANDITTI

Astounding Disclosure!
The Chicago Democrat of Wednesday gives the following astounding disclosures in relation to the murders, robberies, and crimes of every dye that have for the last few years been committed in the northern part of this state, by as desperate a gang of villains as ever made fearful the Appenines. Of the truth of the statements below, we have no doubt; though for wise purposes doubtless the editor does not state how he came in possession of all these facts.  We hope these disclosure will be continued, that the people may be put fully on their guard against these banditti.
It is supposed that Birch and Sutton alias Wm. Fox, two notorious villains, who have been running the lines of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois, for the past four years, are two of the gang who murdered Col. Davenport.
Birch is said to be the man who sold a cream colored horse at Peru, not long since, (the circumstances of which may appear at the Winnebago Court,) to the same man with whom Bridge (now in Rockford jail) exchanged the money with that he robbed Mulford of.  We cannot yet get the name of the person at Peru who has the horse, but he is kept on the Island and could tell strange stories if he could talk.
Birch is from New Hampshire and escaped from an officer when he came here.
In this same gang is Davis, the Kentuckian, who was in Lee Co., late in Nov. last.  He was arrested in Iowas, last year and with irons on his feet was sent out to chop wood with a guard.  He struck the guard over the head with an axe and then got off his shackles and run off to Bridge's in Washington Grove, Ogle co., with his head shaved.  He stayed at Bridge's and wore a black handkerchief over his head until his hair grew out.  He then went to Indiana and persuaded a man to come to Lee and Ogle co's with several yoke of oxen and a cart to sell apples.  The man had about $500 with him.  He proposed to West to go with him and kill him.  West would not go and so the man was spared.
This Davis, about 6 years ago, with a man by the name of Searls, found out that a man was traveling between Princeton and Hennepin with money.  They awaited in the brush near Leeper's mills and shot him from his horse as he rode along the road.  They got his money, from $600 to $800, dragged him to within 30 rods of the creek on the left hand side of the road and left him behind a log.  This murder was never mistrusted nor has the body ever been found.
This murder must not be confounded with that at Lost Grove, some eight years since, on the prairie, which was by young Green, who was hung in Missouri, a few years since.
This Davis may be known by having one of his ears bit off.
At Bridge's in the bushes, near the house, a caucus was held which decided on the murder of Campbell.  Bridge was present, as also were several of the Driskells, Birch and Sutton.  It was voted that young Driskell kill Campbell, as he did.  Bridge was at Inlet Grove on the night of the murder and West was making Bogus and selling it two for one for Michigan money at Platteville, Wisconsin. West got clear when arrested for his knaveries there by getting Dewey and Bliss of Inlet Grove to go his bail and he run away.  Bliss and Dewey are now in Alton Penitentiary.
After the murder of Campbell, old man Driskell and his son William were lynched; and young Driskell and Bridge fled from the Lynchers. Driskell never returned to this state; but has figured extensively as an incendiary in St. Louis and other Southern cities.  He was last seen trying to get a passage down the river from St. Louis; but the Captain would not take him.  Soon after the Captain refused him, the Police came on board to arrest him for setting a building on fire.  We believe his name is John.
Sutton stole a horse from Dr. Adams, three years ago and fed at Bliss' house, who is now in the Penitentiary. He left the house at Indiantown, in fright and run off.
Birch, Thomas Aiken and Baker stole horses, two years ago, this summer at Warren County and brought them up to Washington Grove, Ogle Co. and were there arrested by the Warren county officer and were taken back.  Birch was not bound over; but Aiken and Baker were and afterwards broke jail.  Thomas Aiken lives 300 miles up the Missouri river on a farm six miles back from it and keeps entertainment.  The Missourians should attend to his case. He is capable of anything.  Baker is still in service here, there and everywhere, stealing horses, robbing houses, killing men and passing bills on "well regulated banking institutions, stockholders individually responsible."
Richard and Charles Aiken, we would inform landlords who were in the habit of harboring and trusting them, brother to Thomas now on the Missouri river, both died within a few years at Washington Grove.
Bliss and Dewey furnished West his capital with which he always carried on his system of finance, banking upon borrowed capital.
In the Mulford robbery, Birch was present and told Mulford whilst searching his house: "My name is Haines.  I am a robber.  It is a legal profession.  I have followed it for years and no two men can take me."  McDole, now in Rockford jail, "a respectable mechanic of that place," held the rifle to Mulford's breast.  Davis helped Birch search the house.  Charles Oliver, now in Rockford jail, planned the concern, but did not attend. Birch gave Oliver a large share of the money, which he owed him for board and on an old division of stolen property.  Oliver, not daring to pass the money, made an exchange with Bridge for a lot of stolen horses; and Bridge went to Peru and got a friend there to exchange it. 
There was a robbery in Iowa, last winter of Bierer, formerly a merchant at Rockford.  Oliver is said to have planned it and put Birch on track.  Although Bierer was a brother-in-law of McDole, and he knew what was on foot, he dare not interfere to prevent it.
Birch is known to be the man who stole a horse at La Moile, in Bureau county, on the 3d of June, one rainy night and run him until he tired him out and then jumped off at the east end of Palestine Grove and went on foot.  He went to Bridge's and was followed by the Inlet people without success.  It is generally known that he went from Bridge's down Rock River and down the Mississippi to Nauvoo and a man answering his description was seen in the Nauvoo region.  He has agreed to get Bridge out of jail and hence he was removed from Dixon to Rockford.
Whether this is the same person who is arrested at Rock Island under the name of Budd alias Birch, we are anxious to hear.
Bridge is now confined for plotting the breaking open of the Dixon Land Office, for receiving stolen money taken from Mr. Haskell, at Inlet Grove by Sutton and also for receiving two stolen horses from Birch at Inlet Grove.
Bridge with Dewey, Davis, Birch, Sutton, Baker, Lane, Bliss & Co., laid a plot to overhaul the stage last fall, kill Swan, the Receiver at Dixon, as he was going to make his deposit and take his money. Bridge had the impudence to go to Mr. Swan and ask him when he was going to leave.  Swan took the precaution to date his departure a week later than the time he did depart, and thus saved himself.
A plan was afterwards made to rob the office in the night.  "Two gentlemen of respectability" were got to ascertain where the key was kept; and did so without mistrust.  Dewey was to stand near the office with a wagon and two horses to run off the money and Bridge was to enter the office.  Circumstances prevented this plot.  Circumstances prevented this plot.  By the way, in the history of this plot, we can plainly see "confirmation strong" that Mr. Prescott could have been robbed in our city of the public monies without any discovery in the annals of time.  Had Mr. Swan been robbed in the stage or at his office, as Bridge planned, how many would have cried, "he robbed himself."
In further development of all these things, pretty good circumstances are brought up as proof that Bogus is now manufactured by wholesale at Nauvoo, as also is counterfeit money.  Nauvoo Bogus and Counterfeit Indiana have been described to us accurately and we are confident that it is the best of the kind.
We may enlarge on these matters futher when safety to the public will permit.  Further proof and further arrests are sought and we must make no disclosures to alarm the unsuspecting.
 [The Ottawa Free Trader, Ottawa, Illinois,  July 25, 1845 - Submitted by Nancy Piper]


More Developments - Capture of Driskell

The good work goes bravely on.  The knaves are being arrested in every direction.  The Rock River boys have got earnestly waked up.  On the night of the 2d inst. while young Driskell, who killed Col. Campbell, was quietly sleeping at the house of his mother in the corner of Du Page county, this side of St. Charles, a company of Rock River boys rained down, captured him and took him to Oregon jail.  Bridge, probably, told where he was.
By the way, in the fear of being lynched, Bridge plead guilty of being Mulford's robbery and was sentenced seven years to Alton.  He owned that he got $140 clear gain only from the transaction out of $150 they got.  It cost $50 to go to Peru and get the money off, making $190 that he had the disposition of.  The rest was divided among his confederates. But he gave Mulford a farm which he sold for $650 in settlement. Mr. Haskell, of Inlet, got a judgment against him and secured the money he was robbed of.
Bridge heard of the arrest of Birch, Sutton and Long as he was going to Alton, where he wanted to go for fear of lynching or hanging.  He pronounced them "d__d rascals" and hoped they'd be hung.
Long's brother, as described in this paper, was arrested in Joe Daviess county, six miles out of Galena at the house of his father, on the Sunday after Bonney took Birch and Long through here.  Letters were found in his possession from his brother and others of the gang, proving conclusively their knaveries and disclosing tragedies heretofore unknown.  One letter speaks of the Missouri race mare which Bonney secured in Indiana.  It is hoped Baxter is arrested before this.
- Chicago Democrat.
P.S. - Driskell was brought to this county for imprisonment, yesterday, but our sheriff refused to receive him unless security was given for the expense of keeping him, so as not to throw the expense on this county.  This not being complied with, he was taken away this morning. - Free Trader.


Further Developments - Arrest of Baxter

The last of the five murderers of Col. Davenport, in the person of John Baxter, we learn by a letter from Madison, Wisconsin, was arrested near that place at the residence of Berry Haney, his brother-in-law, on the first inst.  This Baxter has never before been mistrusted; but ought to have been, as he has been prowling about the country for years without any means of livelihood.  Like some persons in this region, he has been used as a sort of spy and secreter for knaves of all kinds without ever directly taking a part with them.  Baxter has lived about Rock Island, more or less, for many years; and took tea with Col. Davenport a week before the murder.  Thus the five murderers of Col. Davenport, who did their damning deed in the light of noon day on the fourth of July - Birch, Fox, Baxter and the two Longs, were all found out and safety ironed in Rock Island jail by the 4th of October just three months.
Bridge, one of the murderers of Col. Campbell, has gone to prison for seven years.  The other murderer, Driskell, is safe in Oregon jail.
"Big Davis" is still at large.  As soon as he is caught, the work must commence upon the attorneys, tavern-keepers, &c &c. who have long been in the service of this crowd.  Their names are all known, and the evidence complete.
- Chicago Democrat.  
[The Ottawa Free Trader, Ottawa, Illinois, October 10, 1845 - Submitted by Nancy Piper]


The Davenport Murderers
By the Chicago Democrat we learn that John Long and Aaron Long as principals and Granville Young as accessary before the fact, to the murder of Col Davenport, have had their trial, at Rock Island and been found guilty.  When brought in to be sentenced, they motioned for a new trial but it is thought it will not be granted. Burch, Baxter and Redman have also been indicted for the same offence and will be tried as soon as possible.  No doubt exists as to the guilt of any of them.  A full confession has been made by Burch as to all but himself which has been fully corroborated by other testimony  
[The Ottawa Free Trader, October 17, 1845 - Submitted by Nancy Piper].


Mr. Bonney, the man through whose agency the murderers of Col. Davenport have been punished, has surrendered himself to be tried on the indictments found against him in Lee county, Iowa, for murder, perjury and counterfeiting. – Chicago Dem.
Baxter, one of the murders of Col. Davenport, and who was under sentence to be hanged at Rock Island on the 18th inst., will have a re-hearing as the Supreme Court of Illinois has granted a writ of error in his case.
[The Ottawa Free Trader, Ottawa, Illinois, November 28, 1845 - Submitted by Nancy Piper]
 


John Baxter, who was to be hung at Monmouth on the 9th inst., for being concerned in the murder of Col. Davenport, has obtained a writ of error and consequently will have the satisfaction of living a short period longer.
[The Ottawa Free Trader, Ottawa, Illinois, December 18, 1846 - Submitted by Nancy Piper]

 

 

 



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