Early Tazewell County crime and punishment

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Early Tazewell County crime and punishment

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In his 1879 Tazewell County history, Charles C. Chapman observed – perhaps with his tongue implanted in his cheek – that, “as immaculate and good as the pioneer fathers undoubtedly were, even among them there were wicked and vicious characters.”

Crime called for punishment and incarceration of evildoers, so on June 28, 1828, the county contracted for the building of a jail at Mackinaw (then the county seat), at a cost of $325.75, which was three times what the county had paid for its Mackinaw courthouse. “It was,” Chapman says, “a two-story structure, 16 feet square, made of solid hewn timber, and was one of the strongest and most costly jail building erected by the pioneers throughout Central Illinois. Nevertheless, the very first prisoner incarcerated within its heavy walls took flight the same night. This individual, whose name was William Cowhart, is also noted for being the first horse-thief in Tazewell county.”

After the return of the county seat to Pekin in 1848-49, new county buildings were constructed. The new Tazewell County Jail, “calculated to hold from fifteen to twenty prisoners, was built by the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, in 1852, at a cost of $7,000,” says the 1870 Pekin City Directory.

Besides the county jail, the Pekin city police had their own lockup, quaintly known as “the calaboose.” The 1870 City Directory informs us, “The first calaboose was contracted for in November, 1849, John S. Boone being the contractor, and the cost of the building limited to forty-eight dollars. This building remained the city lockup until the summer of 1868, although it was long considered, especially by evil-doers, a noisesome, pestilential nuisance. In the latter years it was destroyed by fire, the incendiary work of some transgressors confined within its walls.”

Not every malefactor ended up in the city calaboose or county jail, of course. The usual penalty would be a fine. Chapman says it was in 1829 that the county received its first fine for a violation of the peace. That was a case in which Isaac Storms had assaulted James Brown. Chapman comments, “For many years the only cases before the justices of the peace were for assault and battery,” showing the “Wild West” character of Pekin and Tazewell County in those days.

Then as now, more serious crimes would lead to imprisonment, and murderers often would find their terms of imprisonment ended at the hangman’s gallows in Pekin’s courthouse square. The first murder indictment in Tazewell County, according to Ben C. Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, was handed down against John Wood, who was sent to prison for four years for killing his own child “by throwing it up against the ceiling.”

The first public execution in Pekin was March 1, 1861. On Oct. 12, 1860, John Ott decided to burglarize George W. Orendorff’s home about four miles southeast of Delavan. George was away on business that day, but finding the mother and her two daughters, Emma, 9, and Ada, 7, at home, Ott cold-heartedly murdered them with an axe. On the day of Ott’s hanging, a carnival atmosphere had formed as about 10,000 people crowded downtown to watch his execution, and three companies of soldiers were brought from Peoria to prevent a lynching.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Ott, reports indicate, remained calm throughout the entire affair, and just before falling through the trap of the scaffold declared that he alone was guilty of the crime for which he was about to die (a man named Green” – that is, Ott’s cousin Enoch Green – “had been arrested also), that his doom was just, and that he hoped to be forgiven in Heaven, where he hoped to meet those who were there to witness his death. He muttered a prayer as the trap fell; his neck was broken by the fall; but he hung for 19 minutes before being cut down and placed in a coffin.”

Not all hangings resulted from due process of law, however. Perhaps better known than Ott’s execution is the 1869 lynching of William Berry, leader of the Berry Gang, as related in local historian Jim Conover’s book, “Lynch Law.”

The last legal hanging in Pekin was March 14, 1896. Albert Wallace of Delavan was put to death for murdering his sister and severely wounding his sister’s husband. Showing no remorse, Wallace reportedly said just before his hanging that someday “these people will be sorry for what they are doing.” It is not recorded whether they ever regretted his execution, however.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 "Historical Souvenir" that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse. For a time criminal and civil cases in Tazewell County were heard in this building, which was built in 1839.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 “Historical Souvenir” that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse. For a time criminal and civil cases in Tazewell County were heard in this building, which was built in 1839.

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A succession of county courthouses

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Tazewell County Courthouse in downtown Pekin celebrated its 100th birthday just last month. Serving the county for as long as it has, the courthouse is neither the first such structure in Tazewell County history nor the first courthouse to be built at that location.
As told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” the first Tazewell County Courthouse was located in Mackinaw, which was originally the county seat, being located in the county’s center. The first courthouse, a log house 24 feet long and 18 feet wide, was built at a cost of $125 in the summer of 1827 on lot 1 of block 11. Improvements were made to the simple structure in 1830, but in the summer of 1831 the court relocated to the old Doolittle School at the corner of Elizabeth and Second streets in Pekin.

Pekin historian William H. Bates drew this representation of the first Tazewell County Courthouse, located in Mackinaw, for the "Historical Souvenir" that Bates published for the dedication of the new courthouse in 1916.

Pekin historian William H. Bates drew this representation of the first Tazewell County Courthouse, located in Mackinaw, for the “Historical Souvenir” that Bates published for the dedication of the new courthouse in 1916.

The court was relocated to Pekin because in Dec. 1830 the Illinois General Assembly had created McLean County out of the eastern portion of Tazewell County, which originally was much larger than it is today. With the redrawing of the border, Mackinaw was now toward the eastern edge of the county, and many county officials thought the new town of Pekin would make a better county seat than Mackinaw.
For the next few years, Pekin would function as the de facto county seat even though it had not been established as such by law. But in 1835 the state legislature appointed a commission to permanently fix Tazewell County’s seat, and the commission opted for Tremont rather than Pekin, because Tremont was close to the center of the county. The court moved to Tremont on June 6, 1836, and a temporary courthouse was promptly erected there at the cost of $1,150. Then in 1837 construction began on a permanent brick courthouse in Tremont for $14,450. That structure was completed in 1839 – the same year that the residents of Pekin formally began efforts to have the county seat transferred back to their town.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 "Historical Souvenir" that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 “Historical Souvenir” that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse.

The contentious rivalry between Pekin and Tremont continued throughout the 1840s, and Chapman relates that, in their efforts to retain the county seat and to slow or halt Pekin’s growing prosperity, Tremont is said to have lobbied the General Assembly several times to have portions of Tazewell County sliced off and assigned to neighboring counties. After the election of May 1843, Chapman writes, “a stop [was] made to this dividing up and cutting off of Tazewell’s territory. Had they continued it much longer there would have been nothing left of the county but Pekin and Tremont. Then, we doubt not, a division would have been made and both towns have at least gained a county-seat.”
Further on, Chapman comments, “During these twenty years of local war, of course bitterness of feeling was intense, and great injury was done to all parts of the county. Many of the older citizens attribute very largely the prosperity and commercial advantages by Peoria over Pekin to the bitter feuds engendered during this long and eventful strife.”
The conflict ended in 1849, when the citizens of Tazewell County voted to move the county seat to Pekin, where it has remained ever since. A new courthouse was then built in Pekin in 1850, at the site of the present courthouse. “The question [of the county seat’s location] having been finally and definitely decided the courthouse was immediately erected by the citizens of Pekin, in fulfillment of their promise. The last meeting of the Board of Supervisors . . . that was held at Tremont was Aug. 26, 1850, when it moved in a body to their new and more commodious quarters, and on the same day dedicated the edifice by holding therein their first meeting in Pekin,” Chapman writes.
The old Tremont courthouse remained in use as a high school for several years, later being used as a community center and dance hall, until at last the ground level was used as tenements before the dilapidated structure was razed around 1895. The old county histories note that Abraham Lincoln practiced law in both the Tremont courthouse and the 1850 courthouse in Pekin.
“Pekin: A Pictorial History” notes that for the construction of the Pekin courthouse, “Gideon Rupert (his residence is the current homesite of the Noel-Henderson Funeral Home) contributed $600 and with others’ generosity, raised the needed funds for the building. The cost was $8,000. Local products of sandstone, quarried five miles northeast of Pekin, and bricks, fired at the Jansen and Zoeller Brickyard on the East Bluff, were used.” The building also had white marble columns.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in November 1903 is shown in this detail from a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. In addition to the courthouse, the block also encompassed a band stand, the county jail and Sheriff's dwelling, and the county offices building. The courthouse, band stand, and offices building were demolished in 1914 to make way for a larger, even more grand courthouse.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in November 1903 is shown in this detail from a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. In addition to the courthouse, the block also encompassed a band stand, the county jail and Sheriff’s dwelling, and the county offices building. The courthouse, band stand, and offices building were demolished in 1914 to make way for a larger, even more grand courthouse.

Also helping to defray construction costs were prominent local landowners David and Elijah Mark, who each gave $500. The heirs of the Mark estate would eventually donate the land that would become James Field in Pekin.
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial records the tradition that, “Older Pekinites claim that the columns of the old County Court House were painted black up to the height of the first floor doors because the white marble was marred by the hand and fingerprints of the loungers who leaned against them.”
The 1850 courthouse remained in use until 1914, when it was razed to make way for a new and larger edifice – the current structure, which was built over the next two years at a cost of $212,964.
“Wide marble steps and Italian-imported white marble banisters graced the ‘architecturally noteworthy’ interior of the courthouse dedicated on June 21, 1916,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”
“Thousands attended the dedication services with Illinois congressman and candidate for governor, W.E. Williams, as the featured speaker. According to the Pekin Daily Times, Congressman Williams, ‘spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes . . . .’”

This vintage photograph shows the laying of the new Tazewell County Courthouse's cornerstone in 1914. Standing next to scaffolding in the foreground is William H. Bates displaying the time capsule to the crowd before it was sealed in the cornerstone.

his vintage photograph shows the laying of the new Tazewell County Courthouse’s cornerstone in 1914. Standing next to scaffolding in the foreground is William H. Bates displaying the time capsule to the crowd before it was sealed in the cornerstone.

Shown is a key to the old 1850 Tazewell County Courthouse that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Library Cornerstone time capsule. Another key to the old courthouse was included in the 1914 courthouse cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is a key to the old 1850 Tazewell County Courthouse that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Library Cornerstone time capsule. Another key to the old courthouse was included in the 1914 courthouse cornerstone time capsule.

Though the old 1850 courthouse is long gone, some of the marble was claimed by Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole for use in the home he built in Tuscarora Heights in Peoria County.
Other surviving mementos of the 1850 structure are two courthouse keys. One was placed in a cornerstone time capsule at the construction the old Pekin Public Library in 1902. That time capsule was opened when the old library was razed in 1972, and that courthouse key and the other contents of the cornerstone, which were found to be in a very good state of preservation, are kept in the library’s historical archives. Another courthouse key was found in the recently opened 1916 courthouse time capsule.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in September 1925 is shown in this detail of a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. The courthouse's cornerstone was laid in 1914.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in September 1925 is shown in this detail of a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. The courthouse’s cornerstone was laid in 1914.

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The early days of Mackinaw

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in November 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

The early days of Mackinaw

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The village of Mackinaw in eastern Tazewell County occupies a special position in the county’s history. As this column has noted previously, Mackinaw was the first seat of government for Tazewell County, and the first county courthouse was erected in Mackinaw.

One of the most important sources for the history of those days is Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County.”  Also among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room sources that tell of Mackinaw’s history is “Mackinaw Remembers 1827-1977,” edited by Gladys Garst. The story of Mackinaw’s founding is told on the first two pages of that book, along with a glance back at the prehistory of the Mackinaw area.

“The proof and importance of marks in our Indian cultural heritage,” this volume says, “lies in the fact that Dr. W. H. Holmes, Curator, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, stated the following about the cache discovered in 1916 on the James Tyrrell farm northeast of Mackinaw: ‘Undoubtedly, they represent the most skillful work in stone flaking that has yet been found in this country.’ Thirty-five bifaces (a particular cut) from the Mackinaw cache are on exhibit at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Three are in McLean County Historical Society Museum in Bloomington, and one is owned by Mr. Stuart Ruch of Champaign. These are thought to be from the Hopewell culture (100 BC to AD 300). Irvin Wyss and Ivan Lindsey are two local men who were digging when they found the cache. Many artifacts have been found by others. Ernest Fuehring has a display in the Mackinaw Federal Savings and Loan Building.”

The most obvious marks of Mackinaw’s Indian cultural heritage are the village’s name and the name of the Mackinaw River. As a rule, the names of rivers and notable natural geographical features tend to be older than the names of towns or cities.  Naturally that is the case with the village of Mackinaw. It may be a surprise to learn, however, that the village did not derive its name from the river.

According to “Mackinaw Remembers,” “It is an accepted fact [the village of Mackinaw] bears the name of Chief Mackinaw or Mackinac of the Kickapoo tribe . . . Some say Mackinaw means ‘little chief.’ It is listed in Illinois State History, No. 4, p. 57, 1963, by Virgil K. Vogel, pamphlet series of Illinois State Historical Society, as meaning turtle. It is taken from the language of the Ojibways.”

The river’s name, however, is an abbreviated form of “Michilimackinac,” a name which some people continued to use even as late as 1846. “In 1681 Father Marquette mentions the Michilimackinac River in his log. It is so-spelled on some maps published in 1822 in the Atlas of Indian Villages of Illinois, compiled by Tucker and Temple,” says “Mackinaw Remembers.”

“Mackinaw Remembers” also has this to say about the Native American peoples living in the area in the early 1800s: “The Indians left a definite mark in our area. War clouds just prior to the War of 1812 made feisty Kickapoos even more restless. They burned settlements on their move toward Lake Peoria. One band of them took up quarters with some Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa on the Mackinaw River. The peaceful Potawatomi far outnumbered the other tribes. Their chief was named Shimshack. Chief Mackina of the Kickapoos eventually became friendly; however, he and the tribes left with the mass evacuation of Indians in Illinois in 1832.”

Chapman’s Tazewell County history also includes some anecdotes of Chief Mackinaw, or “Old Machina” as Chapman calls him, and notes that his people, the Kickapoo, “dwell in the western and southwestern part of the county” (page 195).

“For some years after the first settlers came wigwams were scattered here and there over the county . . . Another extensive camping ground was on the Mackinaw river, near the present town of Mackinaw. Old Machina was the chief of this band. The Kickapoos had made a treaty shortly previous to the coming of the first settler, by which the whites acquired all their land. When the whites came, however, to settle and occupy the land the Kickapoos were angry, and some of them felt disposed to insult and annoy the settlers. When John Hendrix came to Blooming Grove the Indians ordered him to leave. Not long afterwards they frightened away a family which settled on the Mackinaw. Old Machina ordered one family away by throwing leaves in the air. This was to let the bootanas (white men) know that they must  not be found in the country when the leaves of autumn should fall. In 1823, when the Orendorffs came, Old Machina had learned to speak a little English. He came to Thomas Orendorff and with a majestic wave of his hand said: ‘Too much come back, white man: t’other side Sangamon’” (page 195-196).

Fanny Herndon, one of the “Snowbirds” (the survivors of “the Deep Snow” during the extremely harsh winter of 1830-31), “related stories of earlier settlers mentioning the many tepees here. She told of an Indian trail which came in the village [of Mackinaw] from the northeast, went past the west side of the Bryan Zehr place, and led to the present home of Clifford Rowell. It continued southwest along the bluffs.

The formal founding of the village of Mackinaw is almost coeval with the establishment of Tazewell County in 1827. Originally when Illinois legislators made plans to form a new county out of Peoria County, the proposed name was Mackinaw County, not Tazewell County. In fact, the bill that was approved by the Illinois House of Representative in January 1827 was named, “An Act Creating Mackinaw County.” The Illinois Senate, however, amended the title to read, “An Act Creating Tazewell County,” and it was in that form that the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 31, 1827. Gideon Rupert of Pekin is credited with the choice to name the county after Rupert’s fellow Virginian Littleton Waller Tazewell, U.S. Senator from Virginia.

The legislation erecting Tazewell County also fixed the county seat at Mackinaw, which then was near the center of the county. William H. Hodges, County Surveyor, was hired to lay off the town of Mackinaw, and the sale of town lots was then advertised for three weeks in the Sangamon Spectator. It was decided that the county court house – a relatively simply log structure –was to be built “at or near the spot where the commissioners drove down a stake, standing nine paces in a northeastern direction from a white oak blazed on the northeastern side.” That was Lot 1, Block 11, where the Eddy Smith family lived in 1977. The Mackinaw courthouse served the county for only three years, from 1828 to 1831. Then followed the rivalry between Pekin and Tremont for the honor of county seat which this column has previous described.

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Shown is an artist’s rendering of the log house that served as Tazewell County’s courthouse when Mackinaw was the county seat from 1828 to 1831.

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