Rock Island County, Illinois Genealogy
Portrait and Biographical album of Rock Island County, Illinois; 1885 -Transcribed by Candi H. ©2009
Murder of Colonel George Davenport
On the 4th day of July, 1845, occurred one of the most brutal murders that has ever been recorded.
On that day a large concourse of people had assembled at the village of Rock Island to do honor to Independence Day.
Among those assembled were the family of Colonel George Davenport, who resided upon the island, about half a mile above where the
Rock Island Railroad bridge spans the river. The old man remained at home alone, much against the wishes of the family, who greatly feared that at some favorable time the banditti of the prairie would make a raid upon the house. But Colonel Davenport knew no fear, and disdained the idea of there being any cause for alarm. This feeling of security frequently accompanies men who have passed through many perils, and it is no uncommon event for such men to perish from carelessness and inattention, which other men would have avoided.
After the departure of the family, the Colonel seated himself in his parlor reading his newspaper.
While thus engaged he heard a faint noise in the direction of his well, but gave it no attention, thinking some persons who were enjoying a picnic upon the island were engaged in drawing water. Presently, hearing another noise, he arose from his chair to ascertain the cause of it, when the door was suddenly thrust open and three men stood before him. Not a word was said, but almost instantly the foremost of the assassins discharged a pistol at the old man. The ball passed through his left thigh, and as the Colonel turned to grasp his cane, which stood near him, the three men rushed upon him, blindfolded him, pinioned his arms and legs with hickory bark, and dragged him by his long hair and cravat and shirt collar into the hall and up a flight of stairs to a closet containing an iron safe. This they compelled him to open, being unable from the peculiar structure of the lock to open it themselves. When he had unfastened the private bolt, they took out the contents, and then dragged him into another room, placed him upon a bed, and with terrible threats demanded more money. The old man pointed them with a feeble hand to a drawer in a dressing table near by. The murderers in their hurry missed the drawer containing the money, opening one in which they found nothing of value. Enraged at their failure, and believing that their defenseless intended to deceive them, they fell upon him with violence, beating and choking him until he passed into a state of insensibility. They then proceeded to recall his senses by dashing water in his face, and when he was restored again demanded money of him; and following the motions of his hand, for he was unable to speak, they again missed the proper drawer. Still more angry, if possible, than at first, they repeated their fiendish brutality upon his person, strangling him until he again fainted. Reviving him by throwing water into his face, and by pouring it down his mouth, they then threatened to fry him upon coals of fire, if he did not disclose the place where the money had been left, and they would then burn his body in the flames of his own house. The old man fell back insensible, totally unable to answer them. The murderers having found between $600 and $700 in money, a gold watch and chain, a double-barreled shot-gun and pistol, fled precipitately, leaving the house sprinkled with blood from parlor to chamber, and the venerable old pioneer apparently dead upon the bed! A more cowardly, cold-blooded murder was never committed.
The first discovery of the murder was made by Mr. Cole, of Moline, who with two other men was passing down the river in a skiff. When nearly opposite the mansion of Colonel Davenport they heard the cry of murder. Rowing to the shore, they hastened to the house, and on entering the door, which stood ajar, they found blood in every direction, and again heard the fearful cry for help issuing from the chamber. Mr. Cole hurried up stairs, where he beheld the terrible spectacle of Colonel Davenport weltering in blood, leaving his companions to render what assistance they could, Mr. Cole ran for Dr. Brown, who was with a picnic party on the island, at no great distance from the house. Other medical aid was procured as quickly as possible.
Colonel Davenport, becoming somewhat restored by the assistance rendered him, was able to relate the circumstances of his murder and to describe the three assassins who attacked him. He was also able to greet his family on their return, but being in extreme agony from the torture inflicted, he continued to fail, and finally expired between 9 and 10 o'clock on the evening of the same day.
A reward of $1,500 was offered by the family of Colonel Davenport for the arrest of the murderers, to which Governor Ford added $200 for each of the persons concerned in it. Edward Bonney, in a book entitled " Banditti of the Prairies," gives a detailed account of the search for and final capture of the murderers. Those captured were John Long, William Fox, Aaron Long, Robert H. Birch, Granville Young, John Baxter, Grant Redden and William H. Redden. At the October term, 1845, each of these men were indicted as principals and accessories in the murder of Colonel Davenport.
The regular session of the Circuit Court commenced Oct. 6, 1845, Judge Thomas J. Brown presiding. T. J. Turner was the State's Attorney.
Baxter was remanded to jail, while the two Longs and Granville Young were put upon trial. Dr. Patrick Gregg was the first witness called. He testified to being summoned to the house, and finding the Colonel in a dying condition from the effects of the wound in his thigh and from the brutal treatment received. Benjamin Cole, Robert Birch, George L. Davenport, Bailey Davenport, Frederick Renenburgh, William Kale, Daniel Stephens, William Fuller, Frazier Wilson, Grant Redden, Joseph Johnson, Jesse Maxwell, N. Belcher, David Kirkpatrick, Eston C. Cropper, Dr. H. Brown and T. A. Walker also testified. Mr. Turner, the State's Attorney, was assisted by Mr. Mitchell and Joseph Knox. S. S. Yager
and Mr. Cornwall defended. On the conclusion of the trial the jury retired and were absent an hour, bringing in a verdict of guilty. The three prisoners were then sentenced by Judge Brown to be hung Oct. 19, 1845. Young and Aaron Long protested their innocence of the crime, but John Long admitted that he was guilty and exulted in the act.
After the trial and conviction of the Longs and Young, and while the execution was yet pending, a special term of the Circuit Court was held in Rock Island for the trial of Baxter and the two Reddens. Baxter made a confession in which he acknowledged his guilt, but that he did not desire that Davenport should be killed. He hoped by thus confessing to escape punishment. After trial he was found guilty and sentenced to be hung Nov. 18, 1845. On a writ of error to the Supreme Court the judgment was reversed and the case remanded back for new trial.
The two Reddens were arraigned on an indictment as accessory to the murder before the fact. The jury failed to agree, and the prisoners were remanded to jail to await another trial at a subsequent term of Court.
In February, 1846, a special term of Court was held for the trial of Baxter, Birch and the two Reddens. Birch obtained a change of venue to Knox, and Baxter to Warren County. The case against the Reddens was dismissed; Grant Redden was discharged, while William H. Redden pleaded guilty as accessory after the act and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary.
At the November term, 1846, of the Warren County Circuit Court, Baxter was tried, found guilty, and sentenced by Judge Purple to be hung on the 9th day of December, 1846. Through the exertions of his counsel Baxter obtained a writ of error to the Supreme Court, which, after hearing the arguments, confirmed the judgment of the Court below. The Legislature of the State granted a commutation of the sentence to imprisonment for life in the State Penitentiary, where he served some years, and was pardoned by the Governor.
Birch broke jail at Knoxville, March 22, 1847, and was never re-captured. Fox also escaped before reaching Rock Island.
More information on the Davenport Family can be found on the Biography page.
Rock Island County, Illinois
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