Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

East Grove Township, Lee County, Illinois

Hamilton's immediate neighbor to the east, was nearer the Peoria trail, and so was much sooner settled. In the thirties David Welty, while building his log house just over the line in Marion, lived in East Grow. When set off in 1865, Fenwick Anderson was elected first supervisor.

In 1836 ''Squire'' Charles Falvey purchased a claim from one William T. Wells, and the next year he moved upon it, the north ½ of section 34, in a grove, from which the township derived its name. Over in Marion, six miles away, lived his nearest neighbor, a Mr. Robinson, who in 1839, sold his claim to David Welty. Mr. Falvey lived right there until the day of his death, with brief exceptions when he stepped over into Bureau County to lands he owned there. In 1832 he enlisted in the company of Thomas Carlin, later Governor, and served in the Black Hawk war.

And right here appears probably the most interesting character in Lee County's history, Joseph Smith, ''Dad Joe,'' as he was called familiarly. Dad had a voice like a fog horn and it was said of him that people thirty miles away knew when it was 4 o'clock in the morning because they could hear Dad Joe calling up his cattle.

In 1833 he settled in the grove bearing the name Dad Joe's grove just into Bureau County, to the southwest of East Grove, some three miles. Under the older boundaries, he was about the ' same distance into Jo Daviess County. He too was a Black Hawk war veteran, serving as spy under Col. Zachary Taylor. H. W. Bogardus too was a very prominent old settler.

Fenwick Anderson was another old settler. From Canadaigua, New York, he migrated to Dixon in 1844. There he remained until 1849. In that year he moved down to East Grove and settled on the south ½ of section 34. He purchased his claim from Robert Tait, who had been a workman for John Deere in his plow shops at Grand DeTour for many years. The rude log house on this place was the stage house for years on the old Galena, Dixon, Peoria road. In 1852 Fenwick Anderson, with S. P. McIntosh, put up a kiln of 200,000 brick in the south part of the grove, which when burned proved to be a first class article and from them he built his residence in 1853. This experiment may be said to constitute the whole range of manufacturing effort in East Grove Township, although it may be asked why it was not continued when such excellent results were secured.

Thomas Shehan came to Bureau County in 1844 and moved to section 35 in the year 1849, having bought a claim from John Kasbier.

S. P. McIntosh came up from Alton, Illinois, to attend the Dixon land sales and in the course of his visit he bought the east 1/2 of 36. But he did not move here until the year 1856.

John Downey, A. A. Spooner, John Flynn, M. Coleman, A. Barlow, D. Sullivan, Henry Hubbell and Simon Tubbs settled soon afterwards.

East Grove has been the scene of more than one tragedy and it furnished a Lee County grand jury with the first murder for which an indictment was returned.

John W. Harrison, in 1842, was a deputy sheriff from Toronto, Canada. While on a visit to this country, he was murdered by James S. Bell, on a spot near the northwest corner of section 35. David Welty, justice of the peace, bound Bell over to the grand jury and the fellow was taken to Dixon and lodged in jail.

Sept. 13, 1842, the indictment was returned into court. Motions to quash the indictment and to continue the case were made by counsel and were denied by Judge Thomas C. Browne and on a motion for a change of venue the case was sent to Whiteside County. There he was tried and convicted of manslaughter and sent to the Alton penitentiary. After serving a part of his sentence he escaped and never afterwards was heard from.

And right here is met the most dramatic criminal episode ever enacted in Lee county. In the portions of this book relating to the old trails, the Cleaveland turnpike will be recalled. It was built over the creek on section 3 in East Grove Township.

A peddler had been robbed by the banditti of the prairie and murdered.

Croft's house was the end of the turnpike and was the toll house. It was situated in a lonesome God-forsaken place. Title to it came to Charles Croft from the heirs of a Mr. Millard, who in turn bought the pike and toll house from Cleaveland. Croft came into possession before the year 1849. Subsequent to the murder of the peddler, strange persons visited the toll house and held many conferences with Croft. Living with Croft was a hired girl named Montgomery, aged about fifteen.

Shortly afterwards the young girl went home to visit her mother at Dad Joe's Grove and to her she expressed her fears and refused to return. As a reason, she said she feared for her life, to remain. But she was persuaded to return and did return.

Shortly afterwards this Charles Croft who was reputed to be a member of the banditti came to one Hyra Axtell and the two came to my house inquiring if I had seen or heard anything of Croft's hired girl. Her name was Silena Montgomery, aged about fifteen years. Neither myself nor family could give any tidings, not having seen or heard of her for some time. Croft claimed that she had disappeared without saying anything to the family of her intention of going away, and what had become of her was a mystery. Axtell took an opportunity to communicate with me, unobserved by Croft, and said he believed there was something wrong in the matter, and that the neighborhood should be informed and a search made. I agreeing with this suggestion, we accompanied Croft to his house (being connected with the toll gate on the south end of the turn-pike) and went with him about the premises. There were three men mowing not far from the house, Eli Shaw, and the names of the other two I cannot remember, except that the first name of one was Dennis. There was also in their company one Samuel Perkins, usually called ''Sam Patch,'' having a rifle with him. After being there some time and having conversation with them in various phases, Axtell and myself became more fully convinced that a misdemeanor had been committed. We concluded to go in different directions and inform the mother of the missing girl, who resided in Dad Joe's Grove, or in that vicinity, and the neighborhood generally. He went west and south and I north and east, and by night nearly a hundred people had gathered. We searched that night through the woods and grass and the next day until noon, and finally Croft's house. Croft had stated that the girl had taken all her clothes with her. While searching the second story, we discovered that one of the ceiling boards had marks of having been moved and replaced. We took off the board and found the best clothes of the missing girl, and under them implements for making counterfeit half dollars.

These incidents strengthened the convictions of foul play. A consultation of the crowd was had, and two (W. B. Stuart and James Blainsen), were deputed to go to Dixon for a boat with which to explore Green River. There was an element of the credulous who sent two, Samuel Meek, Jr., and Patrick McFadden, to consult a fortune teller. The search was continued while these committees were gone but without success. The committees returned; the one with a boat and Nathaniel G. H. Morrill, the owner, and the other reporting that the fortune teller said a murder had been committed, and five persons were implicated; that the one who had committed the overt act had neither boots on nor was barefooted; that he was ragged and wore a straw hat; that the law would never be enforced against any of them, and yet the public would be satisfied that they were the ones who were concerned in the matter. Perkins wore moccasins and otherwise answered the description of the first one spoken of. The search went on.

This N. G. H. Morrill was peculiarly well adapted for working in business like this. About this time Stuart and Blair, each with a party of men, went to their respective homes for dinner, and when Blair arrived his wife informed him that Perkins had been there during the forenoon looking pale and haggard, and inquired of her if they had dragged the lower bayou. She told him she did not know, and he went away hurriedly. Blair deemed this important tidings, hurried through his dinner and came to Stuart's with the information, and on consultation a complaint was made and a warrant was issued by Squire Stuart for the arrest of Perkins, and it was placed in the hands of Constable Willard and Richard Meek. Previous to this Perkins had been living in a shanty in the grove, about half way between Croft's and the bayou. On the search being instituted, he removed his family and effects to his father-in-law's, Reuben Bridgeman, a little north of the present limits of the city of Amboy. The constable, with his assistants, proceeded to Mr. Bridgeman 's and were informed by him that Perkins had taken his rifle only a short time before and gone into the cornfield (of about thirty acres) to hunt chickens.

''More assistants were procured, and the cornfield was surrounded. By this time it was about 10 o'clock at night, with a bright moon. The family of Mr. Bridgeman's were in bed except Perkins' wife. The old gentleman got up and stated that Perkins had not yet returned since going into the cornfield in the afternoon. He pointed to a cottonwood tree, which he said was in the direction Perkins had taken; that a little before sunset they had heard the report of a gun which they supposed was a shot at a prairie chicken. Constable Willard, with Richard Meek, James Keeling, W. B. Stuart and F. R. Butcher, went in the direction of the tree, and a few rods before reaching the tree they found Perkins lying on his back, dead. Notice was given to those around the field, and a crowd was soon there. Perkins was still grasping his gun with both hands, and the toe of his moccasin foot was in the guard on the trigger, the muzzle on his breast. A portion of his skull was found nearly a rod from his body, the inside powder burnt.

The coroner, Solomon Parker, was sent for, who summoned a jury of inquest. They investigated the case and reported the following verdict: 'The undersigned, being duly summoned and qualified by the coroner of Lee county, as a jury of inquest on the dead body of Samuel Perkins, found dead in the cornfield near Reuben Bridgeman's, believe the said Perkins came to his death by shooting himself with a rifle gun, through the head. (Signed) Jesse Hale, Francis H. Northway, Joseph Farwell, William M. Hopkins, Samuel Bixby, Elisha Palmer, John C. Church, Ira P. Hale, John Skinner, R. P. Treadwell. Inlet Precinct, August 3, 1849.' Meanwhile the search for the missing girl had been going on. This Mr. Morrill adopted the plan of going down the stream to where it loses itself as to having a channel, by spreading over the swamp, and by wading upward, thoroughly searching' every part. It was a dry time and the water was quite low. This plan was followed, and when the mouth of the little bayou (as the coroner termed it in his report) was nearly reached, the body was found. The upper part of the face was bruised as though struck with some heavy substance, and some insist that a bullet hole was in the forehead. The excitement ran high; the male portion of the country for a dozen miles or more in every direction had come out. Coroner Parker was among the number and at once impaneled a jury of inquest, who took possession of the body and held their inquest.

The following witnesses were examined as the records show: Mrs. J. B. Gregory, of Dixon, and Harmon Wasson of Amboy, as physicians; Samuel Meek, Sr, Eli Shaw, John Koons, Hyra Axtell, N. G. H. Morrill, Richard Meeks, T. L. Dennis, Charles Croft, Sally Perkins, Catherine Shaw and Lyman Hubbard. After the examination closed, the following verdict was rendered: ''We the undersigned, having been summoned and sworn to hold a jury of inquest on the dead body of Silena Montgomery, found dead in Inlet Creek, in Winnebago precinct, Lee county, and state of Illinois, and having attended to their duty by a faithful examination of th6 said body, and by an examination of witnesses in the case and all diligent inquiry they have been able to institute, do report their verdict to be, that the said Silena Montgomery came to her death by violence, and that one Samuel Perkins, late of Lee County, was the immediate agent in procuring her death, as we verily believe. (Signed) George E. Haskell, foreman; Joseph Gardner, Sabin Trowbridge, I. Means, Alva Hale, L. D. Wasson, Lewis Clapp, Cyrus Williams, Philip Mowry, Joseph Lewis, Ozias Wheeler, and B. F. Brandon. Winnebago precinct, August 4, 1849.'

''The circumstances surrounding led to the conclusion that Croft, Eli Shaw, and the two others that were found mowing hay for Croft at the commencement of the search, were implicated in the affair. Warrants were issued, and W. B. Stuart and _____ Curtis were deputed to arrest Croft and Shaw. They, with Hyra Axtell, started, and on the way, near Samuel Meek's, they found a team and lumber wagon, and in it lay Eli Shaw, dead. One report is that he died from strychnine and whiskey, and that it was found that he had purchased some of the former at Dixon, of Doctor Gregory, on that day. From the records in Dixon, it is found that a coroner's inquest was not held until March 1, 1850. As his death occurred so long before this he was probably buried and exhumed when the inquest was held. The verdict was as follows:

''Verdict of the coroner's jury, impaneled to ascertain how and in what manner the body of Eli Shaw came to its death. We, the jury in said case, do find that Eli Shaw came to his death from causes to the jury unknown. Dixon, March 1, 1850. (Signed) John Dement, foreman; A. L. Porter, A. H. Eddy, I. Means, N. F. Porter, J. W. Davis, J. M. Cropsey, C. A. Smith, John V. Eustace, Thomas H. Ayres, Cyrus Williams, N. G. H. Morrill.'

After leaving the body of Shaw in the care of Meeks, the three before mentioned went on to Croft's house, arriving there at a late hour of the night. Near the door they found a horse and spring wagon and a trunk in the wagon. Croft was about ready to go away. Through a rift in the window curtain they saw him load one pistol and lay it upon the table near him and take up another and commence lo load it. At this juncture the door was burst open, the loaded pistol and Croft grabbed at the same time, and Croft duly ironed by the arresting party. The trunk was taken from the wagon. Croft placed in it, and Stuart hurriedly drove to Dixon and delivered the prisoner to the jailer. Croft's wife and her brother, John Bryant, were in the house at the time of the arrest but did not attempt to interfere. The remaining two implicated ones left the vicinity, but were heard of at Peoria, and the officers having the warrants for their arrest proceeded there, found and took them in charge. They were ironed and placed upon a steamer for Peru, there to take the stage for Dixon. Not long after leaving Peoria, the prisoners, having the privilege of walking about the boat, watched their opportunity and simultaneously threw themselves overboard and were drowned, the irons upon them facilitating to make an effectual taking off in this way.

the five implicated, only Croft now remained alive. He remained in jail, having been indicted by the grand jury Aug. 23, 1849, and the case continued to the next term. His wife visited him occasionally, and a few days before the term and shortly after one of these visits the jailor, calling at the cell, found Croft with his throat cut, and life extinct; a razor lay by with which the deed was done.

The next day, a coroner's inquest was held, which resulted in the following verdict: Upon the view of the body of Charles Croft, now lying dead in the jail of Lee County, at Dixon, Illinois, we the jury of inquest duly impaneled and sworn diligently to inquire, and a true presentment make, how, in what manner, and by whom or what, the body of the said Charles Croft, which here lies dead, came to his death, do find that the said Charles Croft came to his death by cutting his own throat with a razor, on the afternoon of the 22d of November, A. D. 1849, while confined in the jail of Lee County. (Signed) William W. Heaton, foreman; Charles Dement, E. W. Hine, J. B. Brooks, James Benjamin, A. M. Pratt, R. B. Loveland, James Campbell, Horace Preston, E. B. Blackman, Gilbert Messer, Elias B. Stiles. Dixon, Lee County, Illinois, November 23, 1849.'

The theory generally held in relation to this matter, which caused the murder of the girl Salina, is as follows: Croft's premises was considered a rendezvous of the banditti of the prairie of those times. Croft owned the turnpike across the Winnebago swamps and kept the toll gate at the south end, it being near the center of section 3, of East Grove. Several individuals had been known to pass over the turnpike from the north and were not heard of afterwards, especially a peddler, who had formerly frequented those parts, and it is supposed this hired girl knew so much of the workings of this banditti, that they concluded it was not safe for her to live and as dead men tell no tales,' they murdered her. Croft planned the mode of the proceeding, Perkins was guilty of the overt act, and the other three helped to secrete the body. So all were, as principals or accessories, participants in the matter." (From the papers of the late William B Andruss).

The conclusion of this series of fearful tragedies is best related by the late Mrs. Grace Everett Johnson, daughter of Dr. Oliver Everett, who lived on the corner opposite, to the north. The jail at that time was located upon the southeast comer of Second Street and Ottawa avenue. Across the street to the north, where the present Elks clubhouse has been built, was the location of the old Everett home.

''The county jail in those days was in the northwest corner of the lot now owned by Mr. George Steel, and just across the street from our house. When Croft, one of the men who committed those terrible murders on Green river in the early days, cut his throat with a razor accommodatingly supplied him by his wife, the sheriff rushed over for my father. When he got there he at once saw that nothing could be done to save the man's life, and, indeed, it was but a few minutes until he breathed his last, thus closing another chapter in that terrible record of crime."

The manner of supplying the razor was as follows: The wife had been permitted to visit him at the jail many times. At last just before his trial was to be called, she baked the razor in a loaf of bread and with it the wretch cut his throat.

In some places the name has been spelled Crofts; in others. Croft, but by far the best authorities spell it Croft.

It will be noticed too that the girls given name is spelled in two ways. I would think the one used in the verdicts was right.

Lee County Townships


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