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Walter L. Mayo
A Pioneer of Edwards County


Published in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal

Transcribed by ©Valerie Torp

At a special term of the county commissioners' court of Edwards county, Illinois, held on the 21st day of April, 1831, Walter L. Mayo, a young Virginia school teacher who had for a time resided in the neighborhood of Albion, and shown considerable aptitude in figures, was appointed clerk of the court to fill out the unexpired term of one Jesse B. Brown, resigned. The coming of young Mayo into this English settlement at this opportune time when the affairs of the county were in a badly tangled condition was a fortunate circumstance, since it was mainly through his wonderful executive ability, his untiring energy, his unimpeachable honesty and his unceasing devotion to this best interests of the people that name Edwards county became everywhere known as a synonym of law, order and good government.

Mr. Mayo was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, March 7th, 1810. His father, Lewis Mayo, was a planter, slave-owner and teacher. A nephew of Lewis Mayo was mayor of the city of Richmond just prior to the civil war. The father of Lewis Mayo, also named Lewis, was one of the three brothers who came from England to America; and their genealogical table seems to indicate that they were of the same family with Rev. John Mayo who in the year 1639, settled at Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He was the first pastor of the second church built in the city of Boston.

Walter L. Mayo was one of a family of five children- three sons and two daughters. One of these brothers, Samuel T. Mayo, settled at Carlinville, Illinois, where he married the sister of John M. Palmer and became a widely known citizen. Walter L. early in life, having acquired a fair education, displayed an ambition to cut loose from the ideas of his early schooling and seek his own fortune in the country beyond the Alleghenies. Stopping first to visit an uncle at Tateville, Kentucky, he soon resumed his journey westward to Edwards County, Illinois. This occurred in the year 1828. Upon his arrival in the English settlement he found himself among strangers and without any bank account. He was soon given employment as a country teacher, boarding in the family of County Commissioner Hunt. The young teacher made him self useful outside of his school hours and through his adeptness in figures he was called upon to perform all the difficult calculations for the county. This finally led to his appointment as county clerk, a position he continued to hold during the almost unprecedented period of 39 years. In the meantime he also held the offices of circuit clerk, probate judge and treasurer. Judge Mayo during all those years acted as the arbiter of the disputes that arose among the people, and it is notorious that he adjusted more difficulties between neighbors than did the courts. No one hesitated to seek his advice which was freely given with out fee. Naturally of a genial, jovial, sympathetic disposition it not infrequently happened that men went to him with their quarrels, estranged, and went away the best of friends.

The result of this was seen in the small amount of litigation in the county and the fact that during more than 40 years no lawyer could earn a living within the bounds of Edward County. With two terms of circuit court a year, courts have adjourned without a jury trial and grand juries have been discharged without the return of a single indictment. It was oftentimes within the province of Judge Mayo to issue a marriage license, and then to perform the marriage ceremony.

Soon after accepting the appointment to the office of county clerk, young Mayo tendered his services to the Governor to assist in quelling in Black Hawk Indian outbreak, and he was promptly accepted and commissioned quartermaster for the battalion from Edwards and adjoining counties. His clerical qualifications especially fitted him for the work in that department. At the close of the Black Hawk war he returned and resumed his duties as county clerk.

Judge Mayo was thus referred to by George Flower in his History of the English Settlement:
"In the first years of the settlement, the public business of the county was rather loosely conducted, and the county deep in debt; but for the last twenty years public business has been punctually and promptly performed, and the records of the county kept in order for the ready reference. This is due to the good administration of county affairs by Walter L. Mayo, Esq., who is said to be one of the best, if not the best, county clerks to be found in the State. The gatherings of the people from the country are now marked by decorum, quietude and respectability."
Never during his long official service did Mr. Mayo forget that he was a Virginian, and his conduct toward his fellow man was always that of a Virginia gentleman. He was warm and steadfast in his friendships, but he had small compassion who would betray that friendship.
March 3rd, 1834, Walter L. Mayo and Elizabeth Hall were united in marriage. The union resulted in a family of six children- Lewis, Florence, Alfred, Rosamond, Nellie and Alice. The two sons are dead, but the four daughters still survive. Mrs. Mayo was the daughter of William Hall, one of the early English colonists in Edwards County. William Hall raised a family of nine children, and all were educated beyond the standard of their day and generation. One of Mrs. Mayo's sisters became the wife of Rhymer Kohlsaat, an honest German butcher at Albion whose sons are now so conspicuous in the great city by the lake in law, and journalism.

At the November election of 1870, Judge Mayo was elected on the Republican ticket to represent the 20th district in the lower house of the twenty-seventh general assembly, in which body he made a creditable record as chairman of the committee on finance and as a member of the committees on legislative apportionment and revenue. In 1872, while the judge was still a member of the Illinois legislature, his family removed to Leavenworth, Kansas, where resided the eldest daughter whose husband, Major Hopkins, was warden of the federal penitentiary. Although residing with his family at Leavenworth, Mr. Mayo continued to call Albion his home; and it was there that he exercised the rights of citizenship. During the years of his public service he had by careful saving and prudent investment, accumulated a competency which no one begrudged him, for all admitted it was a well and honestly earned. A goodly share of this wealth was in keeping of the First National Bank of Olney, Illinois, an institution in which he was a director and with the business affairs of which he was quire generally understood to be thoroughly familiar. This brings us to the sad and closing chapter in the life of Walter L. Mayo.

Judge Mayo died the victim of assassins. The story of his death, the names of the guilty fiends and the place of his burial are sealed mysteries, scarcely less mysterious today than they were the day the deed was committed more than 34 years ago.

On Friday, January 17th, 1878, Judge Mayo departed from Leavenworth for Olney, whither he went to attend a meeting for the bank of directors. His safe arrival at St. Louis the next morning was noted on the register of the Laclede hotel where we always sojourned when in that city. He left the hotel at about six o'clock the same evening for the Union Station where he entered a coach on the old O. & M. road en route to Olney. It is known beyond question that he got aboard the train and that he arrived on the Illinois side of the river about seven o'clock, but after that all is a blank. The bank meeting was held on the following Thursday, and not until then was Mrs. Mayo apprised of the fact of his disappearance. This information first came in the form of a telegram from the bank officials to the Mayo family asking an explanation for his non-appearance. The answer returned that he had left home for Olney on the Friday previous. To this the bank official that they knew absolutely nothing of his whereabouts; and then the first serious alarm of foul play was aroused. The valise and cane of the missing man were carried on to Cincinnati and returned to St. Louis. The son, Lewis Mayo, now deceased, but then and for years succeeding one of the best known citizens in Leavenworth, went immediately to St. Louis where every possible effort was made to discover some clew that would give light, but all without results. Beyond the fact that a great crime had been committed nothing was positively known. That he was either murdered outright or else carried away into captivity no one doubted, for he was not the man to desert his family and go into hiding with friends. And that he took no wealth with him was positively known. There were theories advanced without number. It appeared reasonably certain that a crime had been committed while crossing the bridge. Some investigators surmised that the body had been thrown into the river. Others that it was dumped into Cahokia creek, while a respectable number believed and still believe the body was cremated in the furnace of a boiler. Yet others held that the victim was thrown from the eastern approach to the bridge and carried away by accomplices into captivity, possibly to be held for a ransom. Cahokia creek back of the old Relay house in East St. Louis was dragged in the hope that the body might be found; experienced detectives were employed and telegrams flew over the country. The theory of robbery, so often advanced, was scouted by his family and friends who knew that he never carried arms and would be the last man to offer resistance if he fell into the hands of highwaymen. Suicide, which some suggested, had no basis of probability, since he was not of that morose or melancholy nature which begets self destruction. Moreover, his financial affairs were in a prosperous condition and his family relations the most congenial, and nothing could be presented that would suggest the idea of self destruction. Unquestionably the most plausible theory was that of abduction, but now after the lapse of years nothing was developed to substantiate such a theory. For years afterward his family would not have been surprised to receive propositions purporting to come from Mr. Mayo that money was required for his release or that upon payment of a certain sum his family might hope to receive information of great importance to them. In fact, they rather expected that letters of this nature would come to them in after years. However, in this last hope they were doomed to suffer disappointment. In the course of a letter written by Lewis Mayo and addressed to the author of this sketch February 5th, 1889, he said:

"As a matter of fact, I have felt for years that father's disappearance was due to the fact that certain parties desired him out of the way, and that to make sure of it took means to accomplish that end which resulted in his death. I am not clear that it was the desire or intent of such parties to murder him, but believe in order to be sure that he did not trouble them at Olney they employed parties at St. Louis or rather led certain ones to think there was a chance to make a raise in an easy manner, not caring what they did so he was made away with, and that the active parties had not knowledge of the actual facts, but never yet have I been near enough in my dreams to talk to him. Over and over again have I seen him coming down the street as in years before, but always to wake up when he was just within speaking distance. The thought that possibly he was still in some out of the way place I cannot entertain, because what leads men to such deeds is money or promise of gain, and any one mean enough to do such a thing would I imagine endeavor to make more out of it, particularly so since some of the principal parties engaged in it, as I think, are not now in shape to take care of themselves- too busy attending to furnaces way below. Our experience with detectives leads me to think that we might as well have dispensed with them entirely, except for the fact that one cannot feel that he has done his duty without having experience. I am now well satisfied that we had in our employ men who reported our every act to the guilty parties, thereby making it possible to anticipate each move and checkmate us. We did everything we could think of to at least find out what the truth was if no more, and always something would happen. Convicts in penitentiaries would escape when we were getting what promised to be the revelation of the true story; or detectives would say it was no use to go further in a certain way and just quit, so what happened, we never knew and can only surmise. I feel quite sure he never left the bridge alive, or at least was thrown off the east approach near the river and there cared for by parties paid for it. Now who could have had any interest in the disappearance but those folks who feared he had knowledge of their own guilt?"

That a great crime was committed was conclusively proven, as when efforts were being made to ferret out the mystery upon more than one occasion the investigators were warned to desist. For instance, when some months afterward two prominent citizens of Southern Illinois were in Springfield doing detective work and were passing after dark en route from the Leland hotel to the state house they were held up by unknown men under the over-head railway crossing and warned that if they proceeded further with their investigation they, too, would go the way of Mayo. As to whom the instigators of the crime were, there is slender reason to doubt, but it is not the part of wisdom to mention names in this sketch. That the guilty ones are now all dead is reasonably certain.

So general and so genuine was the grief over the disappearance of Judge Mayo throughout Edwards and adjoining counties that it was deemed proper all should join in some public expression of their feeling of abhorrence of the great crime. Accordingly on March 9th, 1878, a great mass meeting was held for the purpose of taking some suitable action expressive of the general sorrow. Addresses were delivered commemorative of the virtues of the missing man and a committee of prominent citizens was appointed to draft suitable resolutions. This committee reported at the second meeting held the following Tuesday when a long series of resolutions were presented and adopted which for their pathos and heart-felt expressions of grief have been rarely equaled. The preamble recited, That, "Whereas, in the dispensations of Divine Providence, our community has been called upon to suffer so severely by the mysterious removal of Walter L. Mayo, who was so intimately connected us for more than forty-five years; and as it becomes us to express our estimation of him and to offer our sympathies to his afflicted family in their sore distress, therefore, be it resolved," etc. It was finally Resolved, that "we will spare no efforts on our parts to trace out what has become of him; and that as one means we will invoke Him without whom no sparrow can fall to the ground to make the truth and the facts known to his relatives to comfort withal through His providence and grace all who mourn this privation of husband, father, brother, and friend."

It might be mentioned in passing that the last will and testament of Walter L. Mayo was probated in the probate court of Edwards County, June 25th, 1878. It was written July 16th, 1849, and bequeathed the entire estate of the testator to his wife.

Mrs. Walter L. Mayo passed over and beyond the veil of mysteries at her home in Leavenworth, January 9th, 1899, in her 88th year. She was a cultured Christian woman, widely read in literature and a writer of both prose and poetry of no mean ability. She was deeply interested in all moves that had for their object the betterment and the up-building of humanity. Words are incapable of expressing the grief and bitter anguish of her latter years, hoping against hope that something would yet transpire to lift at least in part the dark cloud and heavy burden. I can not do better in closing than to quote from a letter written by the eldest daughter, Mrs. Florence Mayo Hopkins, of Leavenworth, so recently as February 28th, 1912:.
"The awful tragedy is still shrouded in mystery. The dark cloud hanging over us for so many years has never lifted. As our dear mother so pathetically expressed the attitude of the remaining years of her life, it is still-

"'To wait, to watch, to listen, to turn to the opening door, to welcome a well-known footstep, returning- never more. To wait, to watch, to listen, to sit in dumb despair, like a ghost in the evening twilight, still waits the empty chair. To wait, to watch, to listen, for a voice that calleth me, as a dream when one awaketh- so shall the meeting be.'"
Albion, Ill. Walter Colyer


219 N. Broadway, Leavenworth, Kan.
March 19, 1912
Walter Colyer, Esq.
Albion, Illinois.
Dear Friend: - Yours of March 13th is received. I certainly appreciate the interest you have shown in Father's career, and I would be pleased to render you whatever assistance possible. I know that he was warmly attached to the people of Edwards County, - he never forgot their friendship and kindness when he came, a mere stripling, to live among them. We have always lived in the North; consequently have not known much about the family records.

His father, Lewis Mayo, lived in Scottsville, Albemarle County, Va., and was a rather strict disciplinarian and exceedingly religious- a Methodist- and the strictest of the strict.

I have always understood that father being a young man of warm impetuous temperament, and surrounded by slaves only fostered this independent spirit, that he took offense at his father's second marriage, and at the mature age of 17, he mounted his steed and rode away from his Virginian home- to see the world for himself- fortunately he had more education than fell to the lot of some in those early days, an aptitude for figures and an interest in public affairs.

I think his first venture in Edwards County was teaching school- and in the interim he wrote letters and kept accounts for those around him needing his services.

He had an office in Albion at the breaking out of the Black Hawk war, at the time, he was twenty or twenty-one, and when the call for volunteers came he enlisted. This is the earliest experience I have ever heard him talk about. I remember, especially, his comparing the awful loss of life during the Civil War with his experience of war, saying "this Black Hawk war was more like the boys exploitations on the Fourth of July" in comparison- but it may be that he was more favored than some others, for I have a distinct recollection of seeing a commission among the family paper where he was commissioned as aid-decamp to Gen. Atkinson, but it was finally lost. I find in Frank E. Stevens' History of the Black Hawk war that he is reported as being quartermaster of 2nd Reg. commanded by Col. Adams, which was attached to the 2nd brigade. This may have been in 1831 and the other a re-enlistment, (but you being a director in the Historical Society, may be better informed in regard to this war than I).
In March 1834, he married Miss Elizabeth Hall, whose father Mr. Wm. Hall was an educated philanthropic Englishman, who had left a comfortable English home to come to this "Sweet land of Liberty" to enjoy its freedom so it is not astonishing that he joined very heartily with Morris Birckbeck, and others, in using every measure in their power to prevent Illinois from becoming a slave state, in the contest of 1823-4, and it is said that the English contingent of "Little Edwards County" was quite a factor in the struggle.

As an evidence of the primitive state of affairs at the time of their marriage, I have often heard my mother say that they took their wedding journey from Albion to St. Louis on horseback.

From old time stained letters more than three score and ten years old, I glean something of father's life. At this time, postage was twenty-five cents on a letter, and money exceedingly scarce, letters were not as frequently written as now, in man instances, not oftener than once a year.
After his return from the war, it seems that some young men, who afterwards became prominent in public affairs, were in the habit of meeting in father's office and discussing such topics. One of these intimate friends was Augustus French, who afterwards became Governor of Illinois.
In a letter dated 27th December, 1834, he writes to his friend Mayo, from Vandalia, then the capital of the state, whilst he was a member of the Legislature- and after some rather uncomplimentary remarks, about some of the politicians of the day he proceeds to say- "I wish you could be here this session- the subject of greatest interest now before the House is the Judiciary system. The Bill has passed the Senate for the old circuit system, it will, however, meet with strong opposition, and it seems to be the prevailing opinion that it will pass the House. One word to you- I am not apprised of your wishes in this- but should the bill pass and you inclined to (here the word is illegible) Edwards, I am certain you might better your condition. Consider it- you are now aware that some officials will be created in case of appointments of new Judges."

Mr. French then adds in regard to his own affairs, "I have altered my intention since I saw you in running for Cir. Atty."- "I am looking for you"-
In a letter to his father under date of Jan 30th, 1838, he shows his interest in public affairs, saying the state is making advancement towards Internal Improvements. There is upwards of a 1,000 miles of railroad in view - the one in which I am directly interested is the Mt. Carmel and Alton Railroad, which runs right through this place and will be let for grading on the 8th of March next. Produce is low, corn 35 cents a bushel, oats the same, beef three cents a pound. Southern markets are bad. Money market is so precarious at this time that you cannot sagely say when you have a dollar, this State Bank paper is current- but all Southern money (New Orleans excepted), is from fifteen to twenty-five per cent discount and dull at that, some of the Northern and Eastern money as bad.

I should like to see some view taken in Congress which related to the people and which would tend to promote the actual interest of the people, our interests are not taken into consideration, for instance the General Government demands of every person purchasing public lands to pay specie for the same and at the same time the government will not pay any claim against her only deposit Bank paper or Treasury warrants- I have, within the last four months, had claims for collection put in my hands against the government and I never yet have received the first dollar out of several hundred only in Treasury warrants or drafts on the deposit Banks- and the law expressly provides that nothing but the "Simon Pure" shall be received in payment to the government- in the last eighteen months I have made 300 and upward of land applications for the purchase of public lands for the people of this state, and for the last twelve months, gold and silver has been the only land office money which keeps us so nearly drained that it is with difficulty that we can keep sufficient for ordinary purposes- such a system in anti-republican and extremely oppressive.
This seems to me a very good description of these years when Illinois banks and currency were in such a sad condition. My father began early in life- his large experience in Illinois legal lore and living among English people and doing business for them with the old country, he had quite a large experience in English law.

Eventually, two of my father's brothers followed his example and came to Illinois. Winston, who married and resided in Newton, Illinois, and his youngest brother, Sam T., who married Gov. John M. Palmer's sister, Elizabeth, and made his home in Carlinville, Illinois.
A terrible ceil of mystery hangs like a pall over the last days of his life- to his family his last goodbye was on the 18th day of January, 1878. His family has always felt the greatest gratitude towards the people of Albion and Edwards County for their kind sympathy in their awful bereavement to them as to others, the mystery still remains unsolved.
Yours very truly,
(Mrs.) Florence M. Hopkins.

This reward poster published by his son, Lewis Mayo, was sent to Genealogy Trails by Walter Mayo who is related to Walter L. Mayo through (1) Lewis Mayo (2) Walter L. Mayo 1888-1960 (of Leavenworth and St. Paul) and (3) Walter L. Mayo, Jr. 1911-2003 of St. Paul
Walter would love to be contacted by anyone who has Mayo family information at Mayo@prodigy.net

Mayo Poster

The image below is of a promissory note signed by Champion S. Mading and Jonathan Shelby.
This note was approved by the probate JP, Walter L. Mayo.
The signatures of all three men are on this note.
Jim Mading,
g-g-grandson of C.S. Mading

Promissory Note signed by Walter Mayo

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