This information comes from an old magazine article seen and copied
by Jerry Barber when she visited Waltonville, IL. There is no information
about the magazine itself.
Submitted By: Janet Fryar Rohlfs
MORE QUEER THAN GENUINE
By Captain Patrick D. Tyrell
THERE WAS MORE COUNTERFEIT THAN REAL MONEY IN CIRCULATION
AT MOUNT VERNON SO SERIOUS WAS THE SITUATION
A Story of Fact
It is not probable that a more remarkable letter ever was received
by the Secretary of the United States Treasury than on which reached
that official in February 1870 from Charles D. ham, cashier of the
First National Bank of Mount Vernon, Illinois. After setting forth
general conditions in the city in which he lived, in respect tot he
nature of the money in circulation, Mr. Ham made this flat statement:
"There is more counterfeit money in circulation in Mount Vernon than
None of the many communications received by the government
officials from banker ad other business men, in none of the complaints
lodged with the Treasury Department by persons victimized by counterfeiters,
had so astonishing a statement been made. The letter was turned over to the
secret service division, and in a few days found its way to me, Mount Vernon,
the source of the information, being in the district over which I had supervision.
Besides the statement touching the excess of counterfeit over genuine
money, the letter contained a Macedonian cry for assistance from the government
in relieving the people of Jefferson County, in which Mount Vernon was located,
from the troublesome operations of the counterfeiters.
MORE QUEER THAN GENUINE 109
While I knew there was much "coney" in circulation in southern Illinois,
and, in fact, was working at the lime to capture the men primarily responsible
for its existence, I read Mr. Ham's letter with a large degree of allowance.
The natural tendency of any man who had been made a victim of a counterfeiter
was to exaggerate the extent of the evil, and bankers, through whose hands,
sooner or later, there passed much of the currency in circulation, thereby
bringing them into contact with most of the counterfeit money, were especially
prone to exaggerate the amount of bogus money in the district.
Therefore, when I perused the Mount Vernon cashier's bill of complaint and
statement of alleged fact, I accepted it, not for an accurate account of actual
conditions, but as the hyperbolic statement of a condition, probably bad enough
Just at this time the government attorneys were preparing to begin the trial of
the celebrated "whisky ring" cases, and I had been assigned to make a secret
investigation into the character, political and religious belief, social and
political affiliations, and private and public history of every member of the
jury that had been drawn to try that case.
The whisky ring fraud, I need not state, was one of the great historic conspiracies
against the government, and accurate information concerning the men who were to sit
on the jury was of much importance to the government attorneys. Feeling this my
paramount duty, I continued this work and other important tasks already begun until
April, when I went to Mount Vernon to run down the men responsible for the conditions
described by Mr. Ham.
I went directly to Cashier Ham, whose remarkable statement was the cause of my being
assigned to the case.
"I have come to Mount Vernon," I said, "in answer to your letter to the Secretary of
"I am glad to see that the government has taken some steps toward clearing out this
gang," he said. "I made a statement in the letter which you probably do not believe,
and which would seem gross exaggeration to any one who was not familiar with the
conditions here, but the statements in my letter are nevertheless true."
"Do I understand you to mean that there is more counterfeit money being circulated here
than genuine money?"
" That's just what I do mean. It is not exaggeration. It is easy for you to find out
for yourself whether or not I was exaggerating when I made that statement."
I smiled incredulously, and Mr. Ham became very much in earnest. "Go to any store in
town," he insisted, "make a purchase, have a bill changed, and if more of the money
given you in change is not counterfeit than good, I'll gladly retract."
Deciding to make the test, I sauntered forth and entered a grocery store, buying ten
cents' worth of apples, I tendered a five-dollar bill, and was given four dollars and
ninety cents. I did not inspect the money until I left the store, when, much to my
amazement, I found that more than two and a half dollars of it was counterfeit scrip
in denominations of fifty and twenty-five cents.
All in Paper
Previously I had been in districts where coney had been pretty freely floated, but
never had a situation equal to this presented itself. To Mr. Ham I promptly apologized
for having doubted the literal truth of his statement. He assured me that for years
not a day had passed during which dozens of counterfeit currency notes had not been
presented at the bank.
He admitted, however, that since the capture of Ben Boyd and Nelson Driggs, the coneymen
of southern Illinois had been more cautious in attempting to "shove" bogus notes at the
banks of the district but he said the tradesmen were suffering then as much as they had
All of the counterfeit in circulation in southern Illinois I found to be paper
money, and I was not surprised to discover that the ten-dollar counterfeit of the Bank
of Richmond, Indiana, note, and the five-dollar counterfeit of the Traders' National
of Chicago, were the principal notes in circulation.
The latter plate had been manipulated in such a way that the names of other banks
could be easily inserted instead of the Traders', and the notes most frequently found
in this district were those of the banks of Peru, Peoria, Paxton, and Canton, Illinois.
Besides these notes there was in daily use an almost incredibly large amount of scrip
made from plates that had been engraved by Ben Boyd.
With these facts ascertained, I made my plans for the rounding up of the band which
had been circulating the counterfeits, a process that consumed in all six years, and
which resulted in the killing of one of the principal members of the coney organization
of Jefferson County.
The Personnel of the Gang
In communities no larger than MountVernon and vicinity, suspicion naturally points
toward a certain man or men when offences against the law are committed. The affairs
of men living in small communities are generally pretty well known to their neighbors,
and each individual's mode of life, morals, money income, and general character are
difficult to hide from the prying eye of the community.
In this case suspicion had been directed toward several men. No tangible evidence
against any of them, however, ever had been secured, and little attempt made to check
their operations. One of them had been arrested two years before for passing a counterfeit
ten-dollar note, but the indictment against him in the State court had quashed.
My observation in this case, corroborated by my experience in previous cases, showed
me there was a compact organization among the coneymen.
Dr. Charles T. Laur, proprietor of a drug store in East St. Louis, and a practicing
physician, who had formerly lived at Mount Vernon, and whose father was a well-to-do
farmer near there, was believed to he the leader of the band and to have been the man
who first brought counterfeit money for circulation into the community.
Laur was a graduate of Rush Medical College, Chicago, and was married. He was six
feet and an inch tall, with sandy hair and beard, and drew a pension for injuries
received during his service in the Union Army during the Civil War. He dressed well,
being in the Mount Vernon community that which is commonly referred to in larger cities
as a "high roller." Before my arrival in Mount Vernon, Dr. Laur had moved to, and established
himself in business in East St. Louis. For the convenience of my readers, I here will
name the other members of the band, as ascertained later:
John Fairchild's, a farmer in good circumstances, living at Grand Prairie, Jefferson
County, forty-eight years old, and the father of fourteen children. He was accounted
the most substantial and withal the most desperate man of the band.
Isaac Boswell, proprietor of the hotel at Ashley, Washington County, fifty years old.
He was a man of family and a partner with Dr. Laur in the East St. Louis drug store.
Smith T. Conlee, a farm owner and stock raiser of Irvington, Washington County, a man
of good repute, and a cousin of Dr. Laur.
Winfred S. Ingram, a married schoolteacher, twenty-six years old, of good repute.
Thomas Rudisel. of Mount Vernon, formerly a railroad brakeman and stationary engineer,
but at that time peddling notions. He was single, and about twenty-one years old.
Charles Williams, twenty six years old, of Mount Vernon, married and bearing a good name,
a map and picture salesman.
Lewis Boswell. twenty-four years old, a farmer living near Grand Prairie, and a nephew
of Isaac Boswell.
Noble Schaffer, a farmer, who also sold notions, and who enjoyed a fair reputation in
Elijah Marteeny, of Mount Vernon, twenty years old, of a highly respected family,
but inclined to be wild.
Edward Mecum, a farmer, of Williamsburg, Jefferson County, a single man with any but
a good reputation.
MORE QUEER THAN GENUINE 111
Henry Beasley, a young farmer.
It will be noted that most of the members of the Laur band were farmers, and the
same fact was true in the instance of the majority of other counterfeiting bands.
Just why the making and passing of counterfeit money should so strongly appeal to
that class of men who, in most of the affairs of life, practice scrupulous honesty,
and whose very vocation, it is to be supposed. would unfit them for the nefarious
trade of counterfeiting, always has remained a mystery to me.
Such was the fact, however, and not only was most of the counterfeit money during the
seventies shoved by farmers, but several of the most clever and dangerous engravers
in the business were farmers.
Stansbury's New Uncle
In the meantime I had made the acquaintance of Mayor Varnell, of Mount Vernon,
of whom I asked this question: " Do you know a man in Mount Vernon or vicinity for
whose honesty you can vouch, and who has. the confidence of any of the members of
Mayor Varnell, after some minutes' thought, said:
"There lives here a painter named James Stansbury, and I believe he knows some of
these men well enough to have himself made a member of the band, if he tried. I have
the greatest confidence in his keeping his word, once he gives it."
Stansbury was approached by Mayor Varnell, who explained what was wanted. The painter
was willing to undertake the task of helping."
"How well do you know these men?" I asked.
"Some of them I am intimately acquainted with-so well, in fact, that they have dropped
hints of the operations in talking with me. Through these we will have to reach the others."
"Have you heard any of them say where the coney comes from?"
"Not definitely, but in talking with some of them I got the impression that the supply
for this district was secured from Cincinnati."
This theory was entirely plausible, for at that time Cincinnati was one of the chief
sources of supply for the Middle West, and one of the principal dealers of that city
was "Mother" Roberts, a woman of fifty-five or more years of age, the wife and mother
of counterfeiters and a dealer of uncommon shrewdness. Stansbury's knowledge of the
source of supply was cloudy, but I knew if my plans did not fail, that feature of the
case would soon develop.
In the privacy of my room at the hotel, Stansbury and I carefully concocted a new
identity for myself and a story with which to bolster it up in case the men we expected
to associate with became too inquisitive. I assumed the role of Stansbury's uncle whom
he had not seen for many years, and who had returned from the West with some money, but
not so much that he was averse to making more. Neither had the uncle brought back with
him from the West any troublesome scruples as to how the money was to be made.
No sooner had I completed my plans with Stansbury than Cashier Ham, of the First
National Bank, who had been let into the secret of Stansbury's employment by me, took
me aside and gave me cause for alarm by saying:
We Start With Mecum
"You'd better watch your man closely- he's too thick with that gang to be depended on.
No man could be as intimate as he is with some of them and still place a stranger's
interests above his friends. He may turn out all right, but watch him."
Although I considered my judgment of men as accurate as Mr. Ham's, the latter had a
personal knowledge of Stansbury, and his warning was disconcerting. Had I been led
into a plan whereby the members of the band were to be kept informed of my movements
through the man I had I hired to protect the government's interest? If so, I might
as well leave Mount Vernon and approach the task from another direction later, But
I had gone too far to retreat on account of one man's opinion.
My first personal introduction to a member of the Jefferson County band was to Edward
Mecum, one of the younger member? of secondary importance. Mecum
lived in Williamsburg, and bore the reputation of being a tough citizen in many ways.
In fact, he had about the worst reputation of any of the counterfeiters.
We started with Mecum, because Stansbury was on terms of greater intimacy with him than
with other members of the crowd. Mecum look the bait, accepting me without hesitation
as his friend's uncle, and discussing counterfeiting matters without more respect than
he would have used had Stansbury and he been alone. My assistant bought a little coney
from Mecum, his pretense being that he was buying the stuff for me, and wanted it in
A Round of Deals
Some time later Stansbury went to see Dr. Laur in East St. Louis. Laur had known
him for years, and trusted him, although there had been no dealings in bogus money
between them. The doctor introduced his visitor in different gambling houses and otherwise
accorded him what he believed to be desirable entertainment. Then my assistant broached
the subject of obtaining coney.
"I know you're all right, Jim," said Laur, "but the fact is I have only about one hundred
and fifty dollars myself, now, and couldn't very well let you have any until I get some
"When can you get it?" asked Stansbury.
"Any time I go after it."
"Where does it come from?" "Cincinnati; I can get all I want from Mother Roberts."
"Can't you arrange it so that I can get it from Cincinnati myself?"
"Yes, the next time I go there I'll take you along and introduce you, so you can buy
all you want. John Fairchilds, Ike Boswell and I were in Cincinnati the last time
together and got one thousand dollars' worth each. I introduced them to Mother Roberts."
"Can't you let me have any coney now?"
"As a favor I'll let you have a ten, but that's all I can spare."
Stansbury thereupon bought a counterfeit ten-dollar bill for three fifty, and returned
to Mount Vernon. I was aware that at this time Chief Washburn had lines thrown out for
the capture of the Cincinnati crowd, and I dared not run the risk of interfering with
his plans by carrying my scheme into that city, at least not without the chief's sanction.
My assistant learned enough from Dr. Laur and Isaac Boswell to indicate that both of
them were on close terms with "Pete" McCartney, and it was evident from the minuteness
with which they described his movements that they had traveled with him at different times.
To relate in detail all the conferences held with the different members of the crowd, and
the results of those conferences would fill a volume. The ease with which Stansbury
ingratiated himself into the confidence of the dozen or more men involved surprised me,
and at limes led me to believe he had been involved with them in a way other than he had
represented to me.
Starting with Mecum, of whom he bought some counterfeit scrip, and running through
the entire list, we succeeded in making deals with every member of the crowd. All the
time I was watching my assistant sharply, but never found the least indication of treachery
toward me in his conduct, and during the entire case he proved himself unwavering in his
allegiance to me.
Ready to Raid
Laur took Stansbury to Smith Conlee, from whom was purchased two ten-dollar notes. In
all these deals it was necessary to have corroborative evidence, and this necessity
created a good deal of trouble and delay, after I was thoroughly satisfied of the identity
of each member of the crowd and of the part each was playing in the general circulation
of the counterfeits. These obstacles were overcome in the course of about three weeks
from the time I first went to Mount Vernon, and then was begun the most difficult part of the
case-the capture and conviction of so large a number of men at once.
With the exception of Laur, the counterfeiters all lived within a radius of about a dozen
miles from Mount Vernon, but at
MORE QUEER THAN GENUINE 113
the same time were so close together that the news of the arrest of one could easily
be learned by the others if the arrests were not made simultaneously or nearly so.
There were thirteen men to be gathered in. It was manifestly impossible for one or
two men to accomplish the task, and I wrote to Chief Washburn asking for assistance.
As a result the following were assigned to help: Estes G. Rathbone, then an operative
in the secret service, with headquarters in Cincinnati, and who since acquired considerable
notoriety in postal matter; G. W. Reardon, a secret service operative in St. Louis, and
Robert Higgins, N. B. Prettyman, J. E. Hill, W. F. Dunbar, and Frank Norval, deputy United
States marshals: Higgins, Dunbar and Norval being made deputies for the occasion.
Picking Them Off
On June 4 I went to Springfield and swore out warrants in the United States Court for the
arrest of the thirteen men. The following night the arresting party went to St. Louis.
At daybreak we crossed the bridge afoot, as it was my intention to take Dr. Laur, the
leader of the band, first. Laur lived with his wife in a cottage almost under the Eads
Bridge and the second house from the water's edge, if my memory serves me right.
Leaving all the members of our party but one at the railway station, I went directly to
the Laur cottage. Laur was a powerful man physically, and was reputed to possess considerable
daring and determination. There was nothing in his record to indicate that he was capable
of deeds of physical bravery, even when his liberty was in jeopardy, and I believed him
to be one of those men who have the facility for acquiring reputations for valor by words
rather than by deeds.
I rapped at the door of his cottage and, before answering the summons, he hesitated at the
door, evidently believing the call was one for medical aid.
"What's wanted?" he asked.
"I want you," said I, crowding my way into the room.
He started, but instantly recovered his composure.
"Does that mean I have to go with you?"
"It certainly does."
While he was dressing I searched his clothing, but found no weapons and a little good money,
which he was allowed to keep. He allowed himself to be handcuffed without resistance, and
in a few minutes we had him at the station, where I turned him over to Deputy Norval to be
taken to Springfield.
Before leaving the doctor in charge of one deputy, however, I took the precaution to place
irons on his ankles also, for, notwithstanding his apparent docility under arrest, I feared
an attempt to escape before reaching Springfield.
The arrest of Laur but started the work of the day. From East St. Louis our party took
train for Mount Vernon, reaching that place at noon. At Ashley Deputy Prettyman had left
the train to get a team and drive to Irvington to arrest Smith Conlee, and was to send me
a cipher message as soon as his man was secured. At Mount Vernon I secured the services of
Sheriff Yearwood, as he was thoroughly familiar with the home location of each of the men
wanted, and I dared take no chances of wasting time in taking wrong roads.
Laur Fights the Case
Mecum and Williams had been in Mount Vernon that day. City Marshal Cooper was deputized
to take these men into custody, and Sheriff Yearwood, Deputy Hill and I went for Marteeny,
whom we found in a cornfield two miles from town. Then, with two good teams, we started to
swing in a semi-circle around Mount Vernon to pick up the others.
At Williamsburg we found Lewis Boswell, and from his trunk took a number of letters pertaining
to counterfeiting matters. Mecum was found at the house on the adjoining farm. Thomas Rudisel
was away from home, as was the schoolteacher, Winfred Ingram; but the latter was found about
nine o'clock that night.
It was half past ten before we reached the farm of John Fairchilds. From all I could learn
of this man he was the most dangerous one of the crowd, and subsequent events and the manner
in which he met his
death corroborated my estimate of his ch3racter. On this occasion, however, seeing his
house surrounded and no chance to escape, Fairchilds submitted peacefully to arrest, and
we drove back to Mount Vernon, arriving there at one o'clock in the morning.
The prisoners taken were sent to Springfield immediately. All the men were indicted and
held under bond for their appearance at the September term of court.
In the ordinary course of events interest in the case would have ceased at this point, but
the Government's work in the matter was by no means at an end. As soon as Dr. Laur was
indicted he set in motion a strong movement to secure bail, his bond having been fixed at
five thousand dollars. For some time he was unsuccessful in giving surety. Then he secured
a Chicago attorney, who in turn levied on the services of a professional "straw bondsman."
The "Straw Bonds"
The attorney and the bondsman went before a judge in Chicago, and before I had time to
learn what was going on Laur was released from jail on an order from Chicago. When his
case was called for trial his bond was found to be worthless and the defendant a fugitive,
having lost no time in leaving the State as soon as he was released.
John Fairchilds and Noble Schaffer were also released on worthless bonds, the latter going
to Arkansas the last trace the Government having of him being when he left Fort Smith with
a span of mules, making toward the Indian nation. He was never caught.
If those who rail at corrupt conditions now could realize the conditions of thirty years
ago, when justice was daily cheated through the instrumentality of the evil called the
"straw bond," they would believe that in one respect at least the world is growing better.
So common was the straw bail practice that the detective, Government or city, nearly
always had two tasks to perform in each case--first, to capture his man and, second, to
prevent his immediate release on a worthless bond. Dr. Laur's release from the Springfield
jail on such a bond was the beginning of a chase that did not end until 1882, six
years from the time I first went to Mount Vernon.
To condense the history of Laur's flight, wanderings and second arrest into as few words
as possible, he fled from Springfield to Tennessee. For a long time all trace of him
was lost. At last there came to me the information that he was a prisoner at President's
Island, Nashville, under a three months' sentence. I went to Nashville and found my man
had been released just before my arrival.
He had become embroiled in a street affair with a colored man who was a candidate for
Governor of Tennessee, hailed into police court for disorderly conduct and, for
abusive language toward the judge, had been sentenced to President's Island.
From the prison clerk who handled the mail for the institution I learned Laur had had
letters from Huntsville, Alabama. At the latter place I found his wife had been living
and that Laur had been there but only for a very short time. He had written to his wife
from numerous points in the South, and from many postmarks on his letters it was evident
the fugitive was in the habit of remaining in one place but a few days.
The End of the Case
To ten different points in the South I followed him, at intervals, only to find each
time that he had fled just before I arrived.
The tenth bit of information concerning Laur reached me in March, 1882. I hastily started
to Nashville. I did not find Laur. At last, deciding to try a long chance, I boarded the
train at Nashville for Chattanooga, thinking Laur might possibly board the same train
at some point along the route, for I knew he was operating a patent right scheme along
that line of road. At Columbia the tall, familiar figure of the fugitive loomed before
He entered the train and I followed into the same car, a cautious distance behind, and
took a seat from which I could observe his every movement. He left the train at
Chattanooga with me a few steps away. As he was about to leave the station platform
I placed my hand on his shoulder.
MORE QUEER THAN GENUINE 115
"What does this mean?" he asked angrily.
"It means that you arc under arrest for counterfeiting."
With this I crowded him into a carriage, handcuffed him, and from that time till he was
again in jail in Springfield I did not take my eyes from him a moment.
The members of the band who bad not escaped on worthless bonds had been tried and
sentenced to the penitentiary. Laur was tried on the original charge and sentenced to
serve seven and one-half years.
In following the career of the ringleader of the Jefferson County counterfeiters to its
end in the penitentiary I have taken the liberty of making a chronological leap of
nearly six years in the history of John Fairchilds. Like Laur and Schaffer, Fairchilds
did not appear at the term of court in September, 1876. This failure made him a fugitive
from justice. Soon afterward Sheriff Yearwood wrote me to the effect that the fugitive
had been seen near his farm.
I hastened to Mount Vernon and, with the sheriff and two deputies, repaired to the farm
adjoining Fairchilds's, where we spent the night, making our beds in a haystack. At
daybreak we went to Fairchilds's house, where one of his boys met us.
As the youngster saw us approach he thrust two dirty fingers into his mouth and gave
a shrill whistle that could have been heard half a mile. Immediately jumping at the
conclusion that the whistle was a prearranged signal of danger for the father, and that
the latter was in the barn, we ran to the building and surrounded it. This was the
largest barn I ever saw on a farm.
Ordering the sheriff and his men to shoot if Fairchilds made an effort to break past
them into the timber in the rear, I entered the barn, and, after satisfying myself that
the fugitive was not below, I started up a ladder to the haymow.
At the entrance to the loft I called on Fairchilds to surrender. There was no answer
nor sound. I fully believed this man to be desperate and, although armed myself, I
realized climbing into the dark haymow placed me at a disadvantage.
Climbing to the top of the hay I again called on the man I believed to be buried in it
to surrender for his own safety. Again there was no reply. A little farther back I
found a quilt, still warm from contact with a human body. But still there was no sound.
Groping my way into a corner of the building I found a place where the hay had been dug
away so that a man could easily drop through to the floor of the barn.
As I dropped into this hole I heard shots outside the barn, and scrambled into the open
as fast as I could. Sheriff Yearwood and his men were in the rear of the barn, smoking
guns in hand, peering, into the woods beyond. Fairchilds had dashed from the barn and
escaped without a scratch. Half a day was spent futilely in scouring the timber and
From that time, at intervals, word reached us of Fairchilds's appearance in different
points in Missouri and Arkansas. Each time he was reported to be traveling heavily
armed and boasting that he would never be taken alive, and that he would kill the first
officer who attempted his arrest.
In June of 1878 there came the message to United States Deputy Marshal Nix that John
Fairchilds was at the home of his son-in-law near Roachville, Illinois. Nix immediately
swore in a posse of three men and repaired to the reported rendezvous of the fugitive
during the night. The men of the posse were armed with shotguns and revolvers, as, since
Fairchilds had returned to his home community the last time, he had appeared more desperate
than ever, and carried two revolvers and a shotgun.
Early in the morning Fairchilds emerged from the house of his son-in-law with a pitchfork.
He was going to the barn to get hay and was not armed except with the fork. Nix called on
him to halt-that he was under arrest. With an oath Fairchilds opened fight on two deputies
who approached him, stabbing with the pitchfork at the armed deputies.
Then a shot rang out and the fugitive dropped to the ground. As he did so he made a last
effort to reach the officers with the pitchfork, but failed. He fell back, blood gushing
from his mouth. His wife rushed from the house just in time to see her husband die.
The coroner said fifty small shot had entered his right lung.