By Norman V. Kelly
In the September issue I introduced you to Mr. Down who really began a recorded history of our town which evolved into out City Directories. I thought I would start up where I left off and see if we can pick up some interesting tidbits about those folks way back then.
Winter 1845: On the criminal docket there was an interesting case that the local folks were eager to be part of: People vs. Nomaque described as a “half-breed” was charged with the murder of a Frenchman named
Pierre Landre. Nomaque entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty’ and his trial was set shortly after the plea. A jury found him guilty of killing the Frenchman and sentenced to hang. His lawyer appealed the case and while awaiting that decision Nomaque escaped and ran into the vast Prairie. It might interest you to know that the only residing attorney in Peoria at this time was John L. Bogardus.
December 6, 1845: There was a ‘war’ going on between Mormon and Anti-Mormons in Hancock County and as a result the sheriff of that county, J.H. Backenstoss was arrested for murdering Franklin Worrell, a Mormon. He was tried here in Peoria, Illinois and the jury took all of fifteen minutes to find him ‘Not Guilty.’ That little war was serious business and during the conflict almost 100 homes were burned to the ground and several men on both sides were killed.
November 20, 1850: A jury of Judge Kellogg’s Court found Thomas Brown and George Williams guilty of robbing and murdering Mr. Hewitt, a cattle buyer from Peoria. The beating and robbery took place on Spring Street here in Peoria and the men were hanged out in the Prairie. Today that would be Second and Sanford down in the South-end. Our population was a little over 6,000 and well over 15,000 people jammed together around the dual gallows that were built out there. The hangings took place on January 15, 1850. Imagine that throng of people on that bitterly cold, snowy day. Can you imagine that spectacle? I described that scene in my book Until You Are dead. Our local library still has a couple copies. Actually Brown and Williams were the first killers to face execution here in Peoria, Illinois. Six more would follow and two other men were executed by electric chair.
September 7, 1853: School Master Seary was acquitted this day when a jury found him not guilty in the whipping of a ‘scholar.’ On that day Mr. Erford’s jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in his trial for ‘Maliciously shooting a Mule.’
April 4, 1857: At noon on that exciting day the first train passed over the first rail road bridge built across the Illinois River at Peoria, Illinois.
That span connected the Peoria and the Oquawka tracks heading towards the Tazewell banks. The massive bridge was 600 feet long and a draw span of 203 feet. It was a marvel to local folks and truly an important day for the future of Peoria, Illinois. Spectators cheered the wood-burning locomotive “George C. Bestor.” Throngs of spectators screamed and yelled their welcome then the young boys ran after the locomotive as it passed over the bridge.
May 18, 1857: Peoria was excited today as most of the town’s 12,000 citizens seemed to be flocked around the huge building on a downtown street as the ceremonies got under way for the opening of Rouse Hall.
The theatre and office complex covered the entire city block of Main and Jefferson Streets and would remain the leading show house in Peoria for almost a half century. The building was built by one of Peoria’s leading citizens, Dr. Rudolphus Rouse and leased to a showman named John Huntley who always put on great shows like the “Merry Monarch” and popular singers from throughout the United States. The theatre drew thousands of People from all over to Peoria, Illinois
May 23, 1851: I had to bring you this piece since as a child the arrival of a circus or a carnival in Peoria drove all of us kids into a frenzy. We had a lot of out door activities on the river and the arrival of attractions like carnivals and circuses was always the high light of the summer. Just look at how Peorians reacted in 1851. Nixon and Kemp’s Eastern Circus, certainly one of the largest traveling circus in America, arrived in Peoria today and the entire town rejoiced. All of the circus members paraded through town followed by the largest Calliope ever built and certainly the first one to arrive in Peoria. The massive contraption was pulled by 40 horses and sent the folks into a wild frenzy. Clowns, acrobats, jugglers and get this…‘necromancers’ furnished most of the entertainment.
Editor’s Note: Norm welcomes your comments and you can also e-mail him: firstname.lastname@example.org