Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Reeves Gang

Preston ReevesIn the course of researching the descendants of George Reeves of Grayson County, Virginia and more specifically his son William who left Ashe County, North Carolina circa 1820 migrating to Greene County, Indiana and later to Arkansas, I came across the story of "the Reeves gang" in various Iowa histories. Lenoir Reeves, often referred to as "Noah" is mentioned in these stories along with a George Reeves. Lenoir is believed to be a son of William Reeves. Although no irrefutable documentation can be found, there is a large amount of evidence to support this family association.

The following version of the story of the Reeves gang is found in Iowa History at the IAGenWeb Project:
...The Reeves family was suspected of being connected with the gang of horse thieves that were doing so much work in Polk county, and a mob of citizens went to the Reeves home and gave them orders to leave the country under penalty of severe punishment if they refused to go. Then the family moved to Fort Des Moines from their home in Linn Grove on the North River. There were two old men and several grown sons in the Reeves family.

The Reeves family had not lived in Fort Des Moines long when Cameron Reeves killed James Phipps. The citizens of North River heard of it, and fearing that some trouble would arise over it they took upon themselves the trouble of forcing them again to move. Cameron had been placed in jail at Oskaloosa, so he escaped the visit of the mob. The remaining family were visited one day by about sixty men and were again told to leave the country. When the mob was approaching, Presley Reeves saw them and thought that be would make a run for liberty, and started across a corn field. He was captured in a short time and brought back. The mob forced them to load all their possessions on wagons and leave. After their departure they seem to have made a better record, as Cameron became a prominent man in Omaha and served as sheriff for several years.
In no version of this story that I have been able to locate does there seem to be anything more to the supposed guilt of the Reeves family than rumor and supposition. According to the History of Madison County, Iowa (Chapter XVII, page 134), the vigilantes involved in this legend were from neighboring Madison and Warren Counties. The vigilantes even captured and held prisoner Sheriff Michaels of Polk County who they encountered as he was on his way to Linn Grove with warrants for 6 of the vigilantes. Another version of the story can be found at the Annals of Polk County, Iowa and City of Des Moines.

It does appear that Lenoir "Noah" Reeves of Ashe County, North Carolina was one of the Reeves mentioned in this story as his wife, Mourning, and their children are found in the 1850 Polk County, Iowa census but Lenoir is not listed in the household. Could this be due to his having been expelled from the county by vigilantes?

This same Reeves family after their removal to Nebraska are recorded as law abiding and prominent citizens in Douglas County. From the biography of Preston Reeves in the Illustrated history of Nebraska: a history of Nebraska...Volume 3, J. North, 1913:
REEVES, PRESTON, deceased, late of Douglas county, Neb., the son of George and Elizabeth (Daughton) Reeves, was born in Virginia, May 20, 1824. Elizabeth D. Reeves was born in Grayson county, Va., in 1799. Mr. George Reeves was a brother-in-law of A. T. Jones, the first postmaster of Omaha, and a brother of Cameron Reeves, the first sheriff of Douglas county. One son of George Reeves was a lieutenant in ex-Governor Thayer's regiment during the Civil War. Preston Reeves homesteaded the present site of Creighton college, in Omaha, in the spring of 1854...
The identity of the George Reeves mentioned above with wife, Elizabeth Daughton (Doughton), is unknown but he is very probably the son of William Reeves' brother Jesse whose son George appears to have left Ashe County, North Carolina and there is no further information found there regarding him. George's wife Elizabeth is likely his cousin, daughter of Mary "Polly" Reeves and Joseph Doughton.

The truth of this incident is undoubtably lost in the mists of time and will never be known, but the history of Douglas County, Nebraska may be more reliable than some of the other versions of this story. It is certainly more pleasing to a Reeves' descendant. Either way, it makes a good story.

See Episode 2 - More of the Reeves Gang, a supplement to this post with more extensive information.

(Photo of Preston Reeves from the History of Nebraska, Vol. 3 pub 1913)

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