Sunday, September 22, 2019

Death of Colonel George Davenport at Rock Island


Colonel George Davenport was murdered on Friday, July 4th, 1845.
Colonel Davenport being tortured by his captors. 
(From The Banditti of the Prairie by Edward Bonney. 1855)

The rest of the family had gone to the Fourth of July festivities in Rock Island. The Colonel stayed home to keep watch over his property because he had seen several suspicious characters lurking around the island the day before.[1]

The gang—Robert Birch, William Fox, John Long, and Aaron Long—concocted their final plan at Grant Reddin’s house on Devil Creek. They traveled to Fort Madison, then on the steamboat Osprey to Albany, Illinois. Most likely, they fine-tuned their plan along the way.[2]

The robbery of Colonel Davenport was a “favorite scheme” of the gang. Everyone knew the Colonel was wealthy. The band expected to find at least $30,000 in cash and specie at his home on Rock Island. Instead, their take was closer to $600.

They camped in the woods about ten miles outside of Albany. That gave them time to work another scheme along the way. The story was there was a man named Miller nearby who kept a lot of money on his property. Fox decided to test him first before they made their move. He asked Miller to cash a ten-dollar banknote. When Miller couldn't cash the bill, they gave that idea up.[3]

The men walked back to Albany that night, stole a boat, and made their way downriver to Davenport’s island in the middle of the Mississippi. The gang bided their time waiting for the perfect moment. Aaron Long bought food and other supplies at Rock Island. John Long made a whiskey run on July 3rd.[4]

Later that day, the boys met with John Baxter, another gang member who lived in Rock Island.[5] They met behind J. W. Spencer’s place to hash out the final details.[6]

Baxter watched the Davenport house on the Fourth. When he was sure everyone had left except the Colonel, he let the band know it was time.[7]


Birch, John Long, and Fox set off for the Davenport house. Aaron Long waited by the river to keep an eye on the boat.[8]

Davenport was sitting in his parlor, smoking a cigar when he heard a noise. When he got up to investigate, he ran headfirst into three men—John Long, William Fox, and Robert Birch. Long hollered to Fox, “Take him, Chunky.”[9] Fox shot Davenport in the leg just above the knee,[10] then tied his red handkerchief around Davenport’s eyes.[11]

After that, the intruders grabbed the old man, threw him to the ground, bound his hands, and demanded all his money. Davenport handed over five hundred dollars in Missouri bills he had on his person and said he had some gold and silver coins in an upstairs closet.[12]


Colonel Davenport is trying to defend himself from his attackers. (From The Banditti of the Prairie by Edward Bonney. 1855)



The attackers dragged the bleeding Davenport up the stairs and forced him to open the safe. When they saw its paltry contents, they knocked Davenport to the ground and began kicking and stamping on him. “Where’s the money, old man?” screamed Fox. Whenever Davenport lost consciousness, they threw water in his face,[13] then continued to taunt him, demanding to know where he kept his money.[14]

Before they left Davenport’s house, the robbers debated what to do with the old man. “Two were for killing him and burning him in his house,” reported the Davenport Gazette. “But it was finally concluded among them to let him remain in his present situation—so they hastily departed.”[15]

Some fishermen near the island heard the Colonel’s cries and made for shore. When they got to the house, the attackers had already left, but there was blood everywhere. They found Davenport upstairs laying in a pool of blood, still alive, but scared and weak from his wounds and the loss of blood.[16]

The fishermen summoned Dr. Brown who looked after Davenport until he died around eight o'clock that night. In his more lucid moments, Davenport thought he had been attacked by between three and five men.[17]

At first, Dr. Brown thought the Colonel would recover. But, the one thing he couldn’t get over was the blood. “There was blood everywhere. The house looked like a butcher’s shamble—blood in the sitting room, in the hall, and along up the stairs, and in the closet by the safe was a pool of blood, and in the room below there was the same.”[18]



[1] Davenport Gazette. July 10, 1845.
[2] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[3] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[4] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[5] In his confession, Robert Birch explained: “John Baxter is the man who informed them of the particulars which induced them to assail Col. Davenport. He is the man who got up the sight. By this term I mean he planned and arranged the robbery. He was not on the island at the time it took place, but he advised and gave all necessary intelligence in the operation.” Bonney, Edward. The Banditti of the Prairie. 1855. P. 179.
[6] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[7] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[8] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[9] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[10] In his confession to Sheriff Estes in Fort Madison, Birch said: “John Long was the man who shot Davenport, but the shot was accidental. There was some defect in the lock of the pistol, and when John cocked it, it went off hitting the old man in the knee or thigh.” Bonney, Edward. The Banditti of the Prairie. 1855. P. 184-185.
[11] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[12] Burlington Hawkeye. July 10, 1845.
[13] Birch denied the claims they tortured Davenport. “We did not choke and abuse the old man, as represented, but frequently wet his face with cool water, as he bled profusely, and feinted several times from loss of blood. We wanted to keep him alive, to tell where his money was.” Bonney, Edward. The Banditti of the Prairie. 1855. P. 185.
[13] Burlington Hawkeye. November 13, 1845.
[14] Burlington Hawkeye. July 10, 1845.
[15] Davenport Gazette. July 10, 1845.
[16] Burlington Hawkeye. July 10, 1845.
[17] Burlington Hawkeye. July 10, 1845.
[18] Bonney, Edward. The Banditti of the Prairie. 1855. P. 189.

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