Myths vs. Facts: The Life and Death of Schuyler Peck

An obituary for Schuyler Peck was published in the Davenport Democrat and Leader on July 14, 1925. Mr. Peck was a well known character in Davenport, but he died alone at the Scott County Poor Farm, with no immediate family to mourn him or provide information about his life.

An article published the next day gives a more complete obituary, with stories told by Fred Kendell, an old friend of Mr. Peck. And on July 20th a “W.H.H.” wrote a letter to the editor, giving some background of Mr. Peck’s family life and his relationship with his mother.

The stories piqued our interest so we did some investigating, using our available sources to try to separate fact from fiction.

The newspaper writers were not sure if that was his real name or just a nickname. We found several sources that list his name as “Schuyler C. Peck”, son of Thomas F. and Elizabeth (Gates) Peck. The 1880 Census lists him as “Charles”, which may have been his middle name.

His friend Fred Kendell said that Schuyler had been born “on Front Street, between Perry and Rock Island Streets”. The Census for 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1885 and an 1890 marriage record all list his birthplace as “Indiana”, same as his mother’s. But the 1915 Census lists his birthplace as “Iowa”. Both parents were living in Davenport at the time of the 1856 Census but the family had moved to Jo Daviess Co. Illinois by the 1860 Census. It is possible that his parents went back to Indiana in the late 1850’s and then moved to Illinois shortly after he was born.

Mr. Kendell then says that Schuyler’s parents moved to Perry Street, above Fourth Street, almost directly across from Burtis Opera House. The Census for 1880 and 1885, and the Davenport City Directory for 1888 all list their address as 420 Perry Street.

The letter to the editor from July 20th talks a lot about Schuyler’s mother, who ran “Peck’s Eating House” on Perry Street. The 1888 Davenport City Directory lists Thomas F. Peck as the proprietor of the R.R. Eating House, located at 418-422 Perry Street.

Mr. Kendell claims that Schuyler lost both parents at age 15. According to Scott County Probate Records, his mother Elizabeth died on April 25, 1891 and his father Thomas died on May 10, 1892, when Schuyler was an adult over 31 years of age.

They claimed that a “distant relative” had died and left him a large inheritance, which he spent on fancy clothes. A check of the Scott County Probate Records shows that his father Thomas died in May of 1892 and Schuyler, his only heir, received $1,333.80 on September 18, 1893.

The newspaper writers list his occupation as “expressman” and hack driver”, and his friend Fred Kendell says Schuyler took a job as a brakeman on the Rock Island Lines. A check of Davenport City Directories and Federal & State Census give his occupation as clerk at W. A. Philips Feed Store (1880), brakeman for the C R I & P (1881), a R. R. employee (1885), baggageman for C R I & P (1888) and laborer for H E Winters Specialty Co. (1920) and Peterson Oil Co. (1921).

His obituary says that he joined Ringling Bros circus as a Hayseed Clown before moving back to Davenport. Schuyler does not appear in the Davenport City Directories in the 1890’s. At the time of his father’s death in 1892 his whereabouts were unknown and it was thought he was residing in Cedar Rapids. There is a marriage record in Council Bluffs between Schuyler C. Peck, son of Thomas & Elizabeth, and Elizabeth A. Axtell, daughter of Alfred and Louisa. He does not appear in the Davenport City Directories again until 1906. We haven’t been able to verify the circus clown story, but if he did join the circus, it was likely sometime in the 1890’s.

Schuyler Peck was known to frequent an area of Davenport known as “Buck Town”, where he spent his leisure and working hours delivering to dance halls, saloons and gambling halls. We found a newspaper article in the Rock Island Argus about an arrest in a barn at the rear of the “old Friendly House on East Second Street”, where he and 12 other had been picked up by police for drinking and charged with being inmates of a disorderly house. The Davenport Police Blotter for August 3, 1913 lists him as being 5’8 with dark complexion and his occupation as a laborer.

Another interesting newspaper notice was published in the Davenport Daily Leader on December 13, 1891. It says that “Mrs. Schuyler Peck” who ran the “den” on Front Street, was arrested shortly before midnight. A check of the Davenport Police Matron Reports for December 1891 lists “Mrs. May Peck”, age 35, charged with “keeping a house of ill fame”. We’re not if May was really married to Schuyler or not. She had a few more run ins with the law, so look for a future blog post from us about Mrs. Peck’s adventures.

We hope this serves as a reminder to not believe everything you read in the newspapers. And that we have primary sources available to help verify or debunk these fantastic tales.


(posted by Cristina)

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