Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Lee Center Township, Lee County, Illinois

Seldom indeed, does one meet in fact or in fiction a spot around which so much and such intense 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 revolting crimes and a veritable reign of terror.

Inlet, the first settlement of Lee Center Township, in section 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 those doors plans were concocted for all manner of crime from the stealing of peddlers' packs to their last crime, the murder of Colonel Davenport, July 4, 1845.

Did a settler at Inlet own a fine team, the circumstance was learned in Nauvoo, a favorite retreat, very soon, and very presently the settler's team disappeared. Did the settler remonstrate, a letter attached 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 the 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 the first settlers, it early became a 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. E. 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, so 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 vigilance committees 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 that Lee Center 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 up 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,'' page 14, second edition, 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 at Inlet, by entering the house during a very severe thunder storm, and crawling 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 the 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!'' P. 14, 2d ed. 1881.

The trunk was taken to the blacksmith shop and there opened and rifled.

Lee County Townships


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