The Death of Colonel George Davenport

When most people think of the Fourth of July, they tend to think of freedom, fireworks, and food.  Readers of early Davenport history probably think of the same things, but with one addition—murder.

On July 4 of 1845, several men were thinking of the money—said to be at least $20,000—that Colonel George Davenport was rumored to keep in the safe in his home. Two or three of the would-be thieves rowed or rafted to the Mississippi River island (now called Arsenal Island) where Colonel Davenport’s mansion still stands today. It was the perfect time to break in—they figured that everyone in the Davenport household would be attending the big Independence Day celebration in Rock Island, Illinois.  They would all be rich by nightfall.

Two of their assumptions were wrong.

Colonel Davenport had not been feeling well that day, and had decided to stay home. As the men moved through the house to the safe, the Colonel walked in on them. They shot him in the leg and bound him hand and foot. To add to their frustration, when they forced the Colonel to open the safe, there was less than four hundred dollars inside.

Denied their unjust reward, the angry men dragged the Colonel into his own bedroom, where they beat him unconscious and stole a watch and chain, a gold piece, and a gun from a dresser. They fled, leaving the Colonel for dead.

Three passersby, who had planned to spend the day fishing off the island, heard Colonel Davenport’s cries for help. One of them rushed to the Fourth of July picnic and brought back Doctor Brown, who revived the Colonel enough so that he could give a description of the robbers. Unfortunately, his injuries were severe and he died of them that night.

John Baxter—who had been a friend of the Davenport family and a visitor to the house—John Long, Arron Long, Granville Young, and William Fox were eventually charged with murder. William Fox managed to escape before his trial, never to be seen again, but the rest were convicted. After two appeals, John Baxter managed to get his death sentence commuted to life in prison. The others were hanged—in fact, Arron Long was hanged twice, as the rope broke the first time.

The punishment did not stop there. According to Gayle A. McCoy, an author* and historian, the bodies of the three hanged men were donated to a Dr. P. P. Gregg for dissection and study. Dr. Gregg later buried Arron Long and traded Granville Young to another doctor for a barrel of rum, but he kept the skeleton of John Long on display in the hospital steward’s office at the Rock Island Arsenal. Gregg’s widow gave the skeleton to Dr. Charles Kalke of Chicago, who in turn passed in back to the Arsenal in 1940.

John Long was put on display at the Rock Island County Courthouse, and then at the Hauberg Museum of Black Hawk State Park in Rock Island, Illinois. On September 14, 1978, John was buried in the Dickson Pioneer Cemetery in Rock Island, finally retiring from his oddly eventful death.

Robert Birch, William Redden, and Grant Redden were charged as accessories before the fact. Birch was sentenced to life in prison, but escaped, only to be gunned down three months later. William Redden served the whole of his one year sentence. The charges were dropped against Grant Redden, but he moved away soon after, anyway—a smart move, as the Colonel had been a prominent, popular man.

So, while you are out and about this Friday, give a thought for poor George Davenport, and heed the lesson that seems clear from his senseless death: if you are invited to a Fourth of July picnic—go.

—–

* A Clearing in the Forest, 1980 (SC 977-769 McC)

(posted by Sarah)

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13 Responses to The Death of Colonel George Davenport

  1. Adrian says:

    Wow! I knew Col. Davenport was murdered but so fascinating to hear about the fate of his attackers. The Arsenal is giving free tours of the Davenport house on Arsenal Island to Arsenal employees next week- I’m looking forward to attending. And yes- I am planning to go to the Fourth of July picnic I was invited to!!

  2. SCblogger says:

    That’s great, Adrian! The Col. Davenport Foundation has done a wonderful job of renovating and preserving the House. The porch was just redone last year, I think.

    Also, if you haven’t visited the Arsenal Museum yet, it’s well worth exploring–the exhibits are terrific. A remarkable amount of history has happened on that small island!

    Enjoy your picnic!

    Sarah

  3. s. france says:

    One of the three that were hung, had his remains on display @ Black Hawk
    State Park
    Indian Museum up until the late 1960′s, I remember seeing the bones
    as a child of 6 or 7….

  4. swesson says:

    How fascinating!

    Would you be able to share what the display looked like?

    Sarah

  5. john albert deporter says:

    Well, interestingly enough, my father was a judge at the Rock Island County courthouse, and while he was still an assistant state’s Attorney (which we like to affectionately refer to as the “snake’s attorney” around his household), he had the chance to see the ‘coffin’ and the skeleton in the BASEMENT of the Rock island County Courthouse. How CREEPY a place to keep them! Can you think of a creepier place to keep a skeleton of a man that had been hanged for the murder of George Davenport? And, also, according to my father, and he even admits this part himself, as to how accurate it is – the gallows that were used to hang these men weren’t of the usual type where there is a cross-member at the top of the gallows, attached to it. Apparently there was a tree on the 15th Ave side of the county courthouse, and it was quite a tree, so they just built the staircase and platform up to the trapdoor. The rope itself was suspended from a sturdy tree-limb up above. Now that ‘s a bit of history that I’ll be it’d be hard to come by here in 2009, but none the less sometimes it pays to have a father who is a retired judge. -john a deporter

  6. swesson says:

    Mr. Deporter,

    Thank you for sharing your father’s stories with us! We’re all pretty relieved we don’t have any souveniers like that in our collections.

    It certainly does help to have informed sources—we hadn’t heard about the gallows tree before! I wonder if it would appear on any of our old Rock Island maps . . .

    Sarah

  7. D Hughes says:

    Talk about people having skeletons in their closets, these bones are in my family tree!! I was given this link by a family member who does geneaology, and her mother had discovered the two brothers, but I do not think she had, at the time of her death, found the “rest of the story”, given that she did all of her research manually. At least the bones were finally buried.

  8. R. Clayton-Davis says:

    I came looking for this story today as a Brownlie cousin told me that Col. Davenport always went to the Brownlie 4th of July picnic and celebration except for 1845 when he felt ill. Not a good day to skip our family picnic!

  9. Margaret (Long) Mabrey says:

    As you can see, my maiden name was Long. Arron and John were distant cousins. Their families migrated from NC to Indiana, and on to Illinois. I am a genealogist and learned about these two distant cousins back in the 1980′d. I didn’t know anything about their immediate families. I wonder a lot what their circumstances were. Were they talked into it?, what was their upbringing? We probably will never know now. I just never thought that I would literally have ‘skeletons’ in my closet!

    Margaret

  10. Shari Smiles says:

    I’m also a decedent of this LONG family Toliver & Phipps Families. You can read an old book online called Banditi of The Prairie by Edward Bonny. The families that had relocated from North Carolina at the same time settled in Indiana first. These families were closely linked via marriage and common backgrounds. Later many of them moved west from Indiana to Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. I have done lots of research on this group. No they were not talked into anything. They were outlaws in many venues. The Phipps, Longs and Tolivers and others provided safe houses
    in Iowa and Missouri. They stole horses and cattle too. A large part of the group of families who relocated to Indiana were most likely native American or half Native American. This was of course never admitted in those times. Some of the Family names are Baldwin, Tolliver, Long, Phipps. We know my GR GR GR grandmother was Native American but that was a deep family secret only whispered about. My Gr Gr Gr Grandfather was a horse trader in Missouri….Hmmmmm wonder where he got the horses? He was an Uncle of Arron and John Long and to some of the Phipps Boys too. These families left NC after our Federal Government passed the Indian removal Law. They may have wanted to avoid any confrontation or questioning. There were many Indian peoples in North Carolina that could easily passed as white settlers with made up histories.

  11. Yarrow Brown says:

    I’m a descendent of the Phipps family and also have some Toliver blood. Am I related to these scoundrels? We knew about the horse thievery.

    • SCblogger says:

      Unfortunately, we don’t have ready-made genealogies for the murderers of George Davenport.

      But if you have any questions about your own Scott County-based family members, drop us a line and we’d be happy to help!

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