THE MAXWELL OUTLAWS -- Two of the most noted outlaws McDonough County ever produced, and who at one time attained a national reputation by their murderous deeds, were the Maxwell brothers who were raised in McDonough County and who here commenced their career which ended in the lynching of one, but not until after he had killed many men and defied an entire company of militia.
Along in 1869 or 1870, a mover with two boys and a girl stopped near the residence of Elijah Hicks in Macomb, and wanted to occupy an unused house near their place for awhile, as he wanted to find work. The privilege was given him and he remained, not only for a time, but for years. This mover's name was Maxwell, the father of Ed and Lon. The boys as youths did not attract any particular attention unless it was the adaptability of the younger in learning scripture, he having won a prize for having committed 3,000 verses of Scripture. The teaching of the verses he committed did not seem to have much effect on him, however, as at an early age the boys would steal chickens for cooking while out on a lark and commit petty depredations.
On February 10, 1874, Ed Maxwell first commenced his career of crime which ended only when he was lynched by an infuriated people, and most of his subsequent years were spent in the penitentiary. On the day mentioned the clothing store of Dines & County, of which Charles Dines, for years County Clerk, was one of the proprietors, was robbed. Maxwell was suspected of the robbery, just why it was not learned, and a day or two later Dines and another man went to the farm where Maxwell was employed, to investigate. Maxwell was evidently looking for them, or at least recognized them, for he disappeared as they rode up and tied their horses, both being on horseback. They entered the house and there found the missing articles. Then Maxwell gave the first evidence of that spirit of deviltry and bravado that afterward earned him a national reputation. He slipped up to the horses, while the men were in the house, mounted the best one and with a whoop and yell was off on the full run. Then followed a chase that was the talk of that section of the county for some weeks. The other rider hurried to Blandinsville and organized a posse and gave chase. Through Blandinsville, Sciota and Emmet Township went the fugitive and the pursuers, there being some twenty armed men in the hunt. At last Maxwell struck for Spring Creek and followed it to where it empties into Crooked Creek. Here he found the creek too high to ford and turned north again, but the pursuers thought he had forded. The horse was later found at Good Hope and from that place he was traced to Roseville, where he was arrested, brought back to Macomb and sent to the penitentiary for three years.
Up to this time the Maxwells were unknown, so to speak, being quiet and never having done anything to particularly attract attention except the one escapade of Ed's, and as he had offered no resistance at that time, his desperate character was unknown. After he had served his time, being released in 1876, he returned to McDonough County and then commenced the worst reign of terror as to thievery this section as ever undergone. He had for a pal, a man supposedly named Post, but who, in fact, was his brother Lon. The two would steal a couple of horses and strike out through the county robbing houses. They scoured Emmet, Sciota, Blandinsville and Hire Townships, and continued their depredations on into Henderson and Hancock Counties. They would make a trip like Santa Claus, starting in the night, visiting nearly every house on their road, steal what they could and then disappear, selling the horses or turning them loose. They visited La Crosse in daylight, defied arrest, subdued the officer with their revolvers and left at their pleasure.
On one of their last trips they stole two horses from E. S. Smith, a farmer of Sciota Township, the animals being found some time later near Hamilton, Illinois, badly used up. They raided the houses of a John Isom, F. Ferris, S. B. Davis, L. English, James D. Griffith, and others, receiving a considerable amount, taking money from under the pillow at one place while a man was asleep. This last raid, however, awoke the community to a state of action and a man hunt was started, a reward of $500 being offered for their capture. The hunt was unsuccessful, however, but it served to keep them away until they were brought back in irons by an officer.
For some time the outlaws eluded the officers but they heard from them occasionally. The Maxwells supposed the officers did not know Lon was the big man of the two, but thought they were looking for a man named Post. At last the officers received a tip that they were going down the Illinois River in a boat, so they waited for them at Beardstown. The boys landed there and Ed went uptown to buy some supplies, Lon remaining in the boat. The officers waited until Ed entered a store and they stepped in after him. They grabbed him when he was off his guard, but at that he put up a desperate fight, kicking, biting and cursing and it required the combined strength of three officers to hold him. At last he was ironed, however, and the others went after Lon. Lon was still in the boat and seeing the men, asked them if they did not want to buy the skiff they had attached to the other boat. They said that they did and came down to look at it, that giving them the desired opportunity. They jumped on Lon when he was not looking, but he grabbed a revolver and fired one shot but was disarmed before he could do any harm. An examination showed both boys to be heavily armed with revolvers and knives and they had rifles in the boat. At Bushnell they were ironed together but quietly slipping off their boots they made a dash for liberty while chained together, and it required about a seventy-five yard sprint by the officer to bring them back. They were then landed in jail without further trouble.
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