The following is a passage from Spencer Elsworth's Records of the olden time; or, Fifty years on the prairies. Embracing sketches of the discovery, exploration and settlement of the country, the organization of the counties of Putnam and Marshall, incidents and reminiscences connected therewith, biographies of citizens, portraits and illustrations, Lacon, Illinois pub. by Home Journal Steam Printing Establishment, Page 532. This version of the story of the Reeves Gang provides much more information and a background to the family's history before arriving in Iowa which was the basis for a prior posting.
Information contained in this and several other histories of this area of Illinois suggest that George was the son of William Reeves rather than his brother Jesse; however, that doesn't appear to be possible based upon the ages of male children in William Reeves household in census of 1800 and 1810. George Reeves also did not leave the New River area in the early 1820's as did William Reeves and his sons. George left Ashe County in the mid 1830's which would coincide with the death of Jesse Reeves.
Reeves the Outlaw
The frontier settlements of a new country are usually the resorts of desperadoes. The law has fewer restraints, and men fleeing from the consequences of crimes go where they are unknown and unsuspected some to grow up respectable, law-abiding citizens, oftener to ply their nefarious business and prey upon society with less fear of detection. Among old settlers Geo. Reeves possesses an unenviable notoriety by reason of his connection with the well known Bandits of the Prairie, an association of desperate men extending over the then entire West.
Previous to his removal here in 1833-4, he lived a while in Senachwine Township, where his brothers had made claims, and where so far as known he conducted himself inaccordance with the strict principles of justice and right. He was a kind neighbor, scrupulously just in his dealings, ever ready to accommodate, and kind in sickness. At this time he was about forty-five or fifty years of age, suave and gentlemanly in appearance, seldom excited or thrown off hisguard, and prompt to repair an injury or accommodate a neighbor.
Of his previous history little was known, except that he came of a respectable family in North Carolina, where he had led a wild life and was connected with dissolute fellows of whom no good could be said. A murder had been committed by the gang, and though it could not be proven that Reeves was directly implicated, he was detained in prison a long time, and only escaped by strenuous exertions on the part of his friends, and the expenditure of much money. After his liberation he started for Illinois, and is believed for some time to have conducted himself with strict propriety, but bad habits are stronger than good intentions, and it is probable his old associates sought him out in the West and tempted him to his downfall.
The Reeves family consisted of himself, wife, four sons and one daughter, the latter a young lady of more accomplishments than might be expected under the circumstances of her education. The children, if we may believe a neighbor, were systematically trained to steal. The old lady claimed all the eggs about the premises as her personal perquisite, and the old man, under the plea of wanting them for his bitters, used to hire his son George, termed the "General," to steal them from his mother. Sophronia had many friends in Henry and was much thought of. Mrs. Reeves was a Dowton, and connected with the Harts, a disreputable, thieving set, living in the timber across from Henry. She was the ruling spirit of the family, and its evil genius. She encouraged her sons in idleness and secreted their plunder. It is probable the point selected for their new home was chosen as a safe retreat for the nefarious end in view. It was far away from the settlements, and situated in the mouth of a deep ravine, into whose dim recesses the sun seldom penetrated. Its precipitous sides and center were covered with brush, there were lateral branches extending on either side, affording admirable chances for concealment, while the main hollow opened on the prairie a couple of miles or more westward.
Reeves had several cabins or outhouses on the premises fitted up for lodging rooms, and first attracted attention by the frequent appearance of strange faces about his establishment. For some time the gang with which he was connected worked secretly and successfully. Horses stolen on Rock River were brought here to be disposed of, while those stolen here were swiftly taken abroad. By this time (1842) the country was rapidly filling up, and a long course of successful crime had made the perpetrators reckless. Numerous burglaries and much petty thieving had been going on, directly traceable to Reeves' son. Among others who frequented the place were Burch, Fox and Long, the afterward murderers of Col. Davenport. Burch was a desperado, and the hero of more than one robbery, and, as is believed, murder. He was the intimate friend of Cam. Reeves, the eldest son of the old man, now blossoming into a first class thief and desperado. Himself and associates were detected in stealing and passing counterfeit money, and Mrs. Reeves had passed counterfeit money at the stores in Henry and Lacon, which her husband redeemed when called upon. The gang operated at other places. Horses were stolen at Tiskilwa, at Princeton, Toulon, and in Peoria County, and when the perpetrators were caught, confederates bailed them out or aided their escape. A store at Hennepin was broken into about this time, and the robbery was traced to Reeves' son, Cameron, and a young man named Allison. The parties were arrested near Pekin, and the goods found in their possession, but through the aid of a sharp attorney, of Peoria, they managed to escape.
Frederick Rheinbeck's house in Whitefield was broken into, and a party stopping there robbed of cash and valuable papers, which circumstance so wrought upon the community that a spontaneous and universal determination was reached to rid themselves of the presence of the offenders without waiting the forms of law. At this date it cannot be told who were mainly instrumental in bringing the parties to merited punishment, through Dr. Swanzy and J. S. Taliaferro, of Bureau County, were active participants. It was one of those risings when the whole community was ripe for action, and leaders were not necessary. A committee was sent to notify Reeves and request his attendance the next day, at a place on the prairie since called Council Grove, and found him conveying provisions to his son, known to be hiding from the officers in the bottoms above Henry. The old man took the matter quietly, but Mrs. Reeves raved like an enraged tigress. The next day some 300 men assembled. They came riding in from twenty to thirty miles distant from Stark, Bureau and Peoria Counties, with twenty men from the vicinity of Tiskilwa, headed by Dr. Swanzy, determined to deal out Rock River fare; in other words, extermination. Prompt to the time came Reeves on horseback, with old-fashioned saddle bags packed as for a journey. The meeting was organized by appointing Hall S. Gregory to preside. Dr. Swanzy led off with a speech, in which he recounted the crimes of Reeves and his gang, and urged the extermination of the whole tribe...Dr. Boal replied, advising moderation, and giving Reeves time to settle up his business,etc...Dr. Temple, of Chillicothe, replied to Dr. Boal, advising a middlecourse, and the appointment of twelve persons to take Reeves in charge and send him and his family out of the country. A majority of the company endorsed this action.
...Dr. Temple, of Chillicothe, replied to Dr. Boal, advising a middlecourse, and the appointment of twelve persons to take Reeves in charge and send him and his family out of the country. A majority of the company endorsed this action. When Swanzy spoke a rush was made for Reeves, and he would have been shotdown like a dog, but the chairman shielded him. Mrs. Reeves and children cried and begged for mercy. Reeves assented to the decision, and when he found his life was to be spared, seemed the happiest man there.
The party, led by the committee, went to Reeves' house, where arrangements decided on were carried out. Purchasers were found for the stock, and household property of value was quickly loaded on to wagons. When ready for a start, Mrs. Reeves went to the rear of the fire-place, and removing abrick, took therefrom a purse of money, and secreting it about her person, mounted the wagon with her family and were driven off. As the last finale of the tragedy, a coal was applied to the house and outbuildings, and the burning ruins lighted the self-appointed ministers of justice on their way.
The party was conducted to the river and kept under guard until the arrival of a steamer from above, when they were placed on board and warned never toreturn as they valued their lives. Cameron Reeves was captured that night and placed in the Hennepin jail, but escaped and left the country. The party proceeded down the river, and subsequently went up the Missouri and settled a mile and a half from Cameron, where they remained a short time and then migrated to Adair County,Iowa, where the old man died in 1852. He became much dissipated in his later days and died in poverty. George Dent speaks of meeting him once while passing through the state. He came to a camp fire around which the party was gathered, and when he left a particularly fine hunting knife disappeared also.
The lesson so sternly administered had good results. Of the family history for some years we have no data, but the younger members were among the earliest settlers of Omaha, and Cameron Reeves was the first Sheriff of the County. It is on record that he made a very good officer. During his term of service three men were taken by the vigilantes from the jail and hung. He married a very good woman, who has raised a respectable family. His two failings were a love of drink and women, and he is now living with one not his wife and principally supported by her labor, having separated from his lawful spouse.
Preston Reeves lives fifteen miles from Omaha, wealthy and respected and has raised a fine family. Jesse, the third son, died six years ago. He was well-to-do and raised a respectable family, but was given to drinking. George, the youngest, died of dissipation. He was a man of bad repute and was supported by a woman of the town. Sophronia is wedded to A. D. Jones, the founder of Omaha. He laid out the town and was its first postmaster. She is wealthy and respected, and moves in the first society.
Mrs. Reeves still lives (November, 1879), and resides with her daughter. Her life is above reproach, and she is a noted mid-wife and doctress.