Southern Illinois History Page

Interesting People and Characters

Check out the Southern Illinois Biographies Page for hundreds of links to multi-generational biographies of mostly 19th Century residents of Southern Illinois.

  • African-Americans in Antebellum Illinois
    Union County historian Darrel Dexter takes a look "Eleven Families of Color" who had settled as free residents in Southern Illinois before the Civil War. The study focuses on the Arthur and Patience (Hawley) Allen, Joseph Allen, Johnson Allen, Beverly Breown, Thomas and Dicey Chavis, Thomas and Betsy (Gipson) Bass, Nancy (Hockens) Bryant, Josepha and Elizabeth Ivey, Cain and Elizabeth Bracken, and Moses Hunter families in Union, Johnson, White, Jackson, Alexander, Saline, Gallatin, Williamson, Franklin, Pope and Bond Counties, Illinois. First published in parts in the Saga of Southern Illinois Dexter had compiled and updated the story for the website.

  • Aunt Lizzie Aiken
    Known as "Aunt Lizzie" to the soldiers, this woman nursed men and boys in the Sixth Illinois Calvary at the hospital near Shawneetown, most likely the one in the home of Henry Eddy.

  • James Lusk Alcorn
    History remembers Alcorn as the highest-ranking Confederate officer from Southern Illinois. He served as a general from Mississippi and later governor of that state following the Civil War. He is the grandson of James Lusk, one of the first ferry operators across the Ohio. His ferry was at Golconda near where the general first saw the light of day.

  • Bob Anderson
    Bob Anderson risked life and limb during the Flood of 1937 to get his short wave radio to Shawneetown, then cut off from all communication by the floodwaters. This is story as published in 1941.

  • Fred Behme
    It's been over a century since Hamilton County authorities hanged Fred Behme in 1896, but the execution is still remembered. In addition to the main story, there are two sidebars about what people remembered about it. The first is a letter to the editor. The second is from a woman who sang to Behme just hours before his hanging.

  • Logan Belt
    During the post-Civil War period a feud between the Belt and Oldham clans tore through Hardin County. Logan Belt led his side. This web site has pictures, essays and two books on Belt. The first is The Life of Logan Belt and the second is Who Killed Logan Belt.

  • Mother Bickerdyke
    Mary Ann (Ball) Bickerdyke, remembered affectionately as "Mother Bickerdyke" is Illinois' version of Clara Barton when it came to taking care of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Although from Galesburg, she started her work in Cairo and Mound City at the start of the war.

  • Charlie Birger
    The Little Egypt webpage has this bit on Southern Illinois' best known Roaring (if not War-ing) 20s gangster. Another site has an eyewitness account of the murder of West City Mayor Joe Adams which led to Birger's conviction and hanging. Here are five of Mitchell's famous photographs of Birger's hanging in Benton. Recently, the museum in Benton just received Birger's old bulletproof vest.

  • Anna Bixby
    Anna Bixby represents one of the frontier heroines of southeastern Illinois. A medicine woman and religious leader she battled the inbred outlawry that plagued her portion of Hardin County from the 1820s to the 1860s.

  • William Cowper Brann
    W.C. Brann died in a shootout on the streets of Waco, Texas. A writer, not an outlaw, Brann is remembered as the "Great Iconoclast."

  • William Jennings Bryan
    William Jennings Bryan, born in Salem, ran as the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, 1900 and 1908.

  • John Choisser
    This site focuses on the history of John Choisser and his descendants. As an early salt operator at the Gallatin County saltworks, John Crenshaw actually worked for him until Choisser left the business. As a slaveholder, a lawsuit brought against him eventually forced the courts to throw out the state's indentured servitude law.

  • Confederate Veterans Buried in Illinois
    This is Gale Red's list of all the known Confederate veterans buried in Illinois. There's more to be found. If you know of any, drop Gale a line.

  • Rev. John Crawford
    Crawford's family settled on Grand Pierre Creek in northern Pope County early the 1800s. He later became a Presbyterian minister. His short biography also provides interesting clues to the operations of the Sturdivant counterfeiting gang.

  • John Hart Crenshaw
    John Crenshaw was a kidnapper of free blacks who sold them south into slavery. This is a short biography about the builder of the Old Slave House. For more information on the latest research on the house, check out the Hickory Hill Plantation Preservation Project. Check out Crenshaw's family tree if you think you're related to him. There are over 2,000 names in the database.

  • John Duff, a/k/a Duff the Counterfeiter
    John Duff led the hunting party met by George Rogers Clark in 1778. He is also believed to be the same Duff, known to be a counterfeitor in the area of Cave-in-Rock in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He is a character considered to be one of the "Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock."

  • Henry Eddy
    Gen. Linder tells a cute story about serving with Henry Eddy in the Illinois General Assembly during the 1836-7 term. Eddy is best remembered as a Shawneetown lawyer and newspaper editor.

  • John Estes
    Ron Nelson describes what happened to his ancestor John Estes in the mystery of the "Murder on the Mountain" that took place in 1841 in what is now southeastern Saline County.

  • William Theodore Glass
    This native of Metropolis grew up in Pope County and entered into business in Saline County. He wrote his autobiography in 1927.

  • Judge James Hall
    Judge Hall is remembered as one of the best early American writers. However Hall is best remembered as serving as circuit attorney and then judge in Shawneetown. He took part in one of the raids against the Sturdivant Gang. He also wrote one of the first accounts on the Harpes.

  • Barney Hargrave
    The effort to remove the legal foundation of slavery in Illinois took place one legal case at a time. Barney Hargrave sued his master John Choisser for assault and false imprisonment in order to gain his freedom. Hargrave had worked as an indentured servant in the Gallatin Co. saltworks. The Illinois Supreme Court used Hargrave v Choisser to void the 1807 territorial indenture law as a violation of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

  • Big and Little Harpe
    The Harpes, either brothers or first cousins, rampaged across the frontier as America's first serial killers in 1798 and 1799. At one point they joined up with the river pirates at Cave-in-Rock and killed at least three or four men while in Illinois. Overall, they are credited with around 40 murders.

  • Charles "Blackie" Harris
    Remembered as the killer of gangster Carl Shelton, at one time Charles "Blackie" Harris once found himself one of the oldest men ever to make the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List. The first link is Charlie Birger biography Gary DeNeal's sketch of Harris following his death. DeNeal originally published the article in the August 1990 issue of Springhouse along with another sketch of Harris by Ladonna Harrell Martin.

  • Nick Holonyak
    Zeigler native Holonyak changed the world of electronics when he invented the LED display. He now lives in central Illinois and works at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

  • Lt. Gov. Adolphus Frederick Hubbard
    The antics of Illinois' second lieutenant governor, a Shawneetown resident, makes all the others seem tame by comparison.

  • Illinois State Police
    The General Assembly authorized the creation of the Illinois State Police in 1921.

  • Indians of Southern Illinois
    This page has links to information on the aboriginal inhabitants of the region.

  • Robert Ingersoll
    The "Great Agnostic" Robert Ingersoll died 100 years ago in 1899. A national figure at the time of his death, he grew up and practiced law in Southern Illinois prior to the Civil War.

  • King Neptune
    OK, I know a pig is not a person, but this was the best place to link these stories of King Neptune, a World War II era porker who helped raise thousands of dollars for war bonds. His tombstone is now visible at the Illinois Welcome Center off of I-57 just north of the Anna exit in Union County. Here's the first part, and here's the second part.

  • Mrs. Samuel Kinkead
    The story of Mrs. Kinkead reads as a plot of western romance novel. Captured by Indians in an attack that left her husband dead, she eventually found herself in the Illinois Country about to be burned at the stake. Rescued by a Frenchman she fell in love and married again, but that's not all of the story. You'll just have to read what happens next. The story does not give an exact date, but starts before Gen. Braddock's defeat by the Indians in January 1755, and ends by or before the 1790s.

  • John L. Lewis
    Allen H. Keith writes this story about famed American labor leader John L. Lewis' early days in Bond County, Illinois.

  • Abraham Lincoln
    This Abraham Lincoln Online site brings the 19th Century Emancipator into the 21st Century. Another site, Lincoln/Net, focuses on Illinois during Lincoln's lifetime.

  • John A. Logan
    Logan was a U.S. Congressman from Southern Illinois at the beginning of the Civil War. Besides keeping Egypt in the Union many historians consider him the best politician-turned-general of the War. Earlier he had been an extreme Negrophobic and drafted some of the most racist legislation ever passed by the General Assembly. After the War, he changed and became the leading proponent of civil rights. Here's another site with a sketch of Logan. The Jackson County Historical Society operates the John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro.

  • Samuel Mason
    Capt. Samuel Mason led the pirates on the lower Ohio River, first from his home at Red Banks, then Diamond Island, and finally by 1797, from Cave-in-Rock.

  • Gen. John A McClernand
    Gen. McClernand is one of the three men from Shawneetown to served as generals during the Civil War.

  • John Moredock
    James Hall writes of Indian-haters on the frontier and in particular John Moredock who could have been Illinois' first governor had he wanted the job.

  • Mary Trovillion Musgrave
    Mrs. Musgrave was the voice of The Baptist Hour on WEBQ radio for decades.

  • Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock
    This page provides links to more information on the various persons regarded as among the outlaws of Cave-in-Rock. These include the original river pirates such as Capt. Mason and Col. Plug; early serial killers such as Big and Little Harpe; counterfeitors including Duff, Alston and the Sturdivants; as well as post-Civil War outlaw leader Logan Belt.

  • Rev. Braxton Parrish
    This early preacher came to Southern Illinois when the region still represented the frontier. This story is one he gave late in his life about the early days in Franklin County.

  • Rev. John Mason Peck
    This early preacher and educator founded the first institute of higher learning in Illinois and helped turn the tide against the slavery question in 1823-1824.

  • Col. Plug
    Col. Plug is yet another of Southern Illinois' cast of river pirates from the end of the 19th Century. This article originally appeared in the Western Review in January 1830.

  • Mary Jane Safford
    Remembered as the "Angel of Cairo" this woman helped care for the sick in that city during the Civil War. She later became a physician and university professor.

  • Sturdivant the Counterfeitor
    The Sturdivant gang of counterfeitors operated throughout Southern Illinois in the late 1810s and early 1820s. Active in St. Clair County, they also had a base at Sturdivant's Fort near what is now Rosiclare. Frontier Judge James Hall wrote this description of the Sturdivants in 1835.

  • Col. Edmund Dick Taylor
    A brother-in-law of John Hart Crenshaw of the Old Slave House fame, Col. Taylor represents one of the great entrepreneurs of 19th Century Illinois. In a second article, Col. E.D. Taylor, the Mormons and the Election of 1844, Gov. Thomas Ford tells the story of Col. Taylor's political activities with the Mormons in that pivotal election following the murder of Joseph Smith.

  • Zachary Taylor
    Vance Martin and Mark Sorensen recalls President Taylor's experience in the U.S. Army in the Illinois Territory during the War of 1812 and later during the Black Hawk War.

  • Rev. John Brown White
    Rev. White founded Almira College, known today as Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois.

  • 'Uncle Bob' Wilson
    Robert "Uncle Bob" Wilson was the last surviving Confederate veteran in Illinois. He was also a former slave who said he had served as stud on seven different plantations including Hickory Hill. This is the front page obituary printed in the Elgin Daily Courier-News in 1948.

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Updated March 6, 2004 by Jon Musgrave

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