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 it back to the Arsenal in 1940.
John Long was put on display at the Rock Island County Courthouse, and then at the Hauberg Museum at the 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 unexpectedly active death.
Three others were tried for the Colonel’s 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)
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!!
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!
One of the three that were hung, had his remains on display @ Black Hawk
Indian Museum up until the late 1960’s, I remember seeing the bones
as a child of 6 or 7….
Would you be able to share what the display looked like?
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
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 . . .
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.
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!
If history teaches us anything, it’s to never skip a picnic. :)
Thank you for taking the time to comment!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Col. Davenport was my 5th Great Uncle
When I was a Denkmann Grade School student, skeletons terrified me, and I DREADED going to the Black Hawk State Park’s Hauberg Museum, because of John Long’s skeleton in that tall glass display case.
Potentially the most interesting man connected with Colonel Davenport was Patrick Gregg: who helped found Port Byron; was one of the first doctors in Rock Island (and Scott County); and who raised a Company of Infantry for 58th Illinois Regiment during the Civil War. Captured at the Hornet’s Nest during Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Patrick Gregg was imprisoned in Alabama and Georgia… but permitted to travel north to Washington, D.C. to see if a prisoner exchange could be hashed out. Met with President Lincoln, and was told a “prisoner exchange was in the works.” Captain Gregg was returned to prison at Madison, Georgia until the release of two thousand Shiloh prisoners in October 1862… but his actions (returning with news of the Dix-Hill POW Cartel, as well as bringing trunks of new clothing, and money to buy additional rations) provided hope, and probably saved the lives of scores of his fellow prisoners.
Patrick Gregg… one of the most impressive men from what would become the Quad-Cities. And this is just a fraction of his story.
Thank you for sharing this information about the fascinating Patrick Gregg! We would love to hear more about the sources you have assembled to tell this much of his story. Please contact us at email@example.com or 563-326-7902.
The first reference in which is to be found mention of Patrick Gregg: “A Perfect Picture of Hell” edited by Genoways & Genoways (University of Iowa) 2001. On page 114 Captain John Stibbs (12th Iowa Infantry, and a prisoner at Madison, Georgia) records: “God bless old Captain Gregg… The clothing he brought was given out to those most in need; and the money was expended on food and vegetables. I feel safe in saying that many lives were saved by the relief he brought us.”
More information about Patrick Gregg, the 58th Illinois, and the Iowa regiments that fought at Shiloh can be found at shilohdiscussiongroup.com (where I post as “Ozzy.”)
Robert Birch was not gunned down, but resurfaced in New Mexico Territory about a decade after Davenport’s murder. He served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War, and died in 1866.
Several years ago I had a chance to take a historical trolley ride through the Rock Island historical areas, Chippiannock Cemetary and finished our journey at the Pioneer Cemetery just North of Blackhawk State Park where we were told that two of the hanged men were buried. The tour guide told a story that he couldn’t substantiate, but as the story goes, he was told that a Dr from St Louis who stidied criminal brains had one of the hanged men transported by way of a boat or barge to St Louis. Because it was extremely hot, the body was shipped in a barrel of rum unbeknownst to the crew and some of the crew had helped themselves to the rum from the barrel until they became very ill.
Have you heard of this story? Or is this possibly just some folklore?
Thank you for your question! I’m sorry to say we do not know the answer, but are able to provide some information to you. We have heard two stories: Granville Young’s body was given to Dr. Reuben Knox of St. Louis in exchange for a barrel of rum or his body was placed in a barrel of rum for transport. We do know from 1845 newspaper accounts that the fate of the Long brothers and Granville Young’s bodies were announced to the crowd before the hangings took place. This was considered unusual. The Long brothers went to local physicians while Young’s body went to Dr. Knox in St. Louis. Dr. Knox was the brother of Rock Island Attorney John Knox who assisted in the Long/Young trial. Edward Bonney, the man who located several of the bandits including Young, wrote years later that Dr. Knox had been a helpful connection when he was in St. Louis tracking Young down. Either one or both facts might explain why Young’s body was sent out of the area. We also know from October 1845 newspapers listing boat times that a boat left Davenport headed to St. Louis on a regular run within 24 hours of the hanging. The average time by boat between Davenport and St. Louis in the 1840s was about 48 hours from the information we have found. We were not able to confirm where Dr. Knox was at the time of the hanging (St. Louis or even attending the trial in Rock Island) nor any information on when or how the body was shipped. Dr. Knox moved from St. Louis to California about 1850. He died there in 1851. Sadly, the whereabouts of the body of Granville Young is unknown to us.
Wow …. as a child back in the 1950s in Davenport on a tour of Colonel Davenport’s home I was told that Chief Blackhawk himself had scalped him???
It sounds like your tour guide had mixed up local historical figures or possibly there was not enough research that had been done yet? Chief Black Hawk died in 1838 so he was not alive at the time of the Colonel’s death in 1845. But Chief Black Hawk is another amazing historical figure we hope to highlight more. Thanks so much for reading our blog! – Amy
I came across an old postcard from staved rock and council cave was called prairie bandit. Also I remember coming across a story of Davenport’s murderer was hung in Ottawa Illinois. ?
Interesting! There have been several accounts of what happened to the gang of robbers who murdered Colonel Davenport. Here is a brief video of George Eaton from the Rock Island Arsenal talking about Davenport’s life and death: https://www.pbs.org/video/embracing-our-military-arsenal-history-minutes-george-davenport-murdered/.
An additional resource that you may find valuable is The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Schantz. It can be found in our catalog here: https://davenportlibrary-bett.na2.iiivega.com/search/card?id=4ca0fbec-1200-5457-8ebb-ed2c5fa3deec&entityType=FormatGroup.