Lee County Illinois
Newspaper Articles

"The Legend - The Mystery - The Murder"
Carter Williams
Of Amboy Illinois


The legend of Carter Williams is one that has been told and retold locally, with each narrator adding a few details to embellish the tale which actually has few records to substantiate it, except for the stories handed down by early settlers.

This man of apparent means, lived in the Amboy area in the 1870's but seemed to make few contributions to the welfare of the community. He didn't socialize with the local gentry and didn't get along very well with his neighbors. In fact, he might have been soon forgotten if it hadn't been for his unusual burial site on his farm seven miles southwest of town.

N.C. "Carter" Williams was reputed to be a handsome man, about six feet tall, who dressed in a very distinctive fashion and always carried a gun. He owned more than 1,000 acres of land and lived on the farm now owned by Mrs. Velma Carter in East Grove Township. It is on this farm, back in a field almost a quarter of a mile, atop a knoll which commands a sweeping view of the countryside in all directions, where a simple eight-foot-high, white sandstone monument marks his grave and bears the inscription: N.C. Williams, died Nov. 9, 1879, age 58years, 8 months and 29 days. It was his request that he be buried at this spot, along with his favorite horse, saddle, dog and gun.

Williams was a fancier of fine horses, which he purchased in Kentucky and brought to his farm here to train. He raced these horses at fairs and celebrations with much success. He seemed to be somewhat of a showman because of his distinctive southern suit and 10-gallon hat. It is reported that he often appeared in town driving a pair of trained elk hitched to a wagon, with a wolf trotting beneath the wagon as a pet dog might do. It was his interest in horses that eventually led to his murder by a rival, as he was stabbed in the back, on the porch of his home in Arkansas.

His widow brought him to be buried in his favorite spot as he had requested. This is a quiet, peaceful place, with the only sound being in the summer when the wind rustles through the cornfield which surrounds the area and the mystery remains.
From the Dixon Evening Telegraph Feb. 28, 1976

One of the more interesting characters from the Amboy vicinity past was N. C. (Carter) Williams; a strapping six-foot, auburn haired, giant of a man who always wore a 10-gallon hat, a southern suit and a gun strapped to his waist wherever he went.

Tales concerning Williams are numerous; some true, some merely broadened with time and historical distance. We are grateful to Rev. Anthony J. Becker, author of "The Biography of a Country Town; USA," for the facts contained in this brief story concerning Williams and the early times in Amboy.

Williams, originally from Arkansas, owned a 1,000 acre farm in what is now May Township and also some land in and around Palestine Grove's settlement. He was a breeder of horses, raced them in Kentucky and other southern satellite areas and kept a slave at work on his property to train and ride his purebreds.

One story concerning Williams tells of how he often drove a buggy with a pair of trained elks pulling it to Binghampton to trade. He also would tie a wolf to the end-gate of his wagon when going to town; this to both scare away any intruders and to add to the terror and fear that was already connected with his name.

Carter Williams was not, says the Rev. Mr. Becker, a Civil War general as many have said. Rather, he was active on his farm during the war. He, also, did not use his home or farm as a station on the Underground Railroad of the day as many stories have said.

Even Williams' closest neighbors found him to be a difficult person to deal with. A story told concerns a time when a neighbor's hogs got into Williams' fields and destroyed a few shocks of oats. Williams came over to the farm and loaded eight acres of shocks in retaliation. The neighbor, knowing it would be useless to swear out a lawsuit against him, decided to just forget the entire matter.

After a life-long effort to live every minute in his own way, Williams' end came while he was attending a horse race in Arkansas.

There was a dispute at the race track, in which Williams was involved, and, while sitting with his five-year-old son on his lap, a man crept stealthily behind him and shoved a knife in his back.

The Rev. Mr. Becker reports: "On a sandy knoll in East Grove township about nine miles southwest of Amboy stands a white sand-stone monument over the metallic casket of a man about whom so much has spread abroad, but about whom very little has been written. Four feet beneath his marker lie his mortal remains together with those of his favorite horse, his dog, his gun and his saddle."

Williams, 58 years of age at his death, died on November 8, 1879, and his grave and marker can still be seen on that sandy knoll in southern Lee County.
Historical Reminiscences by George Lamb


New information from Rick Stone GGG Grandson of N.C. Williams
October 30, 2011

Carter was my great-great-great grandfather. I am descended from his son in Jacksonport/Newport, Arkansas, William Dickson Williams, Sr.

My grandmother's father was the junior.

Carter was killed by W. D. Sr's plantation manager, Frank Barnes

We have always been told that killing him was justifiable homicide, since Carter was attempting to illegally gain possession of W.D. Sr.'s land.

W.D. Sr., his wife and three children are all buried in Harper-Barnes Cemetery outside Newport, Ar. Just a few yards from Frank


Nathaniel Carter Williams -- with his son -- William Dickson Williams Sr.

William Dickson Williams, Sr. Carter's son. My great-great grandfather. Photo taken after the Civil War, a little before the time Carter was killed. He died of TB (1876 or 77, I have to check) and left his land in trust to his infant son, W.D. Williams, Jr.

Carter returned to Arkansas to lay claim to the land. W.D. Jr.'s trustee was Frank Barnes, Senior's plantation manager. Frank shot and killed Carter to prevent him from taking the land in court.

This all was fictionalized in a novel in the 1930's called "Mama and the Outlaw." There is a copy of it, allegedly in the Jackson County Library. Names were changed very little. Frank Barnes was "Hank Starnes."


Infant child of William Williams Sr. ----- Reuben Lee Harper Jr. Great Grandson of N.C. Williams

One of W.D. Sr.'s five children that died in infancy or early childhood. W.D. Jr. was the only one of his children to survive into adulthood. Three are buried in Newport, Ark and two in New Orleans. Carter has a land grant Catholic in Nachidotches, LA. He and W.D. Sr. owned land there, but sold out to move to Ark. I also have Jr.'s rosary.

They had homes in New Orleans, at some point. W.D. Sr. was a member of Comus, the oldest Mardi Gras crewe. IDK about Carter, but he probably was. Both raced horses at the New Orleans Track Club. W.D. was, unlike his father, small and slight. He jockeyed own horses. He won a $10,000 purse in 1860, which is what probably enabled him to buy land in Ark.

He owned several thousand acres and both owned several slaves. I've found transaction records for both on line. W.D. Sr. was one of the largest landowners in Ark. Which was why Carter returned. My grandmother sold the last 4000+ acres in 1977.

Back to News Articles

Back to Pioneer Families