Colonel Davenport Murder Story

Davenport Gazette
Davenport, Scott, Iowa
July 10, 1845

Between 1 and 2 o'clock of the afternoon of the 4th of July, Col. George
Davenport, of this place, was murdered at his residence on the Island. The
atrocity was attended by such horrible particulars, that we would be spared
the task of relating them. Robbery was the objective- murder the means. Mr.
Davenport was our oldest and most wealthy citizen, and whose name our town
bears. For some time past he had been apprehensive of an attack upon his
house for the purpose of robbery, as he had a considerable amount of money
about his premises, and there were a good many suspicious looking persons in
the neighborhood- Indeed one or two noted and known villains, strangers to
the towns of Davenport and Rock Island. He had ever night carefully fastened
his house, and prepared himself to repel any attempt at robbery.

On the afternoon of the 4th, his family and servants had all gone to the
town of Rock Island to attend the celebration, and he was left alone at his
house, although there were many persons strolling about on the island. A
short time after 1 o'clock he went out for a pitcher of water. [ This he
relates himself, as he lived after his injuries until evening.] He had just
set down the pitcher on his return, when he heard a noise in the next room
made by the fall of a poker with which he had fastened a back window. Col.
Davenport arose and stepped towards the door opening to a back room. Here he
was met by three men, one of whom fired a pistol, the ball taking effect in
Col. D's thigh. He rushed back to his seat for a cane, seized it, and while
in the act of striking, was hurled to the floor, his hands instantly tied
with bark and his eyes blind-folded. His pistols were in a closet. The
villians for a moment left him, having obtained the keys of his iron safe;
but being unable to unlock it, they dragged their victim upstairs by the
heels. Here, by a pool of blood, he was apparently made to kneel and open
the safe.- He was now taken to an adjoining room and thrown upon a bed,
where he was repeatedly choked, and revived by the use of water, til it was
with great difficulty he could breathe. Their object was to discover more
money. They took from his person while in bed, about $500 in Missouri bills.
It is supposed that while thus they choked him he pointed to a drawer in the
library the other side of the room. A drawer was opened by the villians,
next to the one to which he pointed, but it contained only a small amount of
money, and they did not discover their mistake. A debate now took place
between the robbers, in the hearing of their victim, upon his death. Two
were for killing and burning him in his house. But it was finally concluded
among them to let him remain in his present situation- so they hastily
departed, and for the time escaped. One of the robbers opposed to burning
Col. D. was he who fired the shot. The number of villains is not known, but
as an office of one wing of the house was broken open and the trunks in it
scattered about, at the same time the horrible scene was being enacted
within the house, it is presumed that there was at least some five or six.

We have thus given the particulars of one of the most cold blooded and
horrible atrocities which we recollect ever to have heard being committed in
a civilized community, in broad day-light, and for paltry plunder. Bold, and
bloody as it was bold, we hope the authorities will not rest till the
villains receive punishment for so deep a crime. Mr. Davenport lingered till
9 o'clock that evening- breathing and speaking with great difficulty. His
death was not occasioned probably by any one wound, but by a combination of
causes. There had been persons of Mr. Davenport's acquaintance calling but a
few minutes previous to the entrance of the robbers; and some called a few
moments after their departure. Mr. D. was found on the bed with the pitcher
lying at his side. He was immediately taken care of. Three men passing by in
a skiff, heard the cry of murder. One of them insisted on stopping, but the
others refused to get out.- However, the man was landed, and he proceeded
immediately to the house, and was first to enter, and discover the horrible
deed. The cry was also heard on this side of the river. The report spread
hastily, but the people instead of commencing instant pursuit after the
robbers, thronged to see the victim.

The funeral of Col. Davenport took place last Sunday at 12 o'clock from his
late residence on the island. A very large number of persons were in
attendance.- The services were performed by Dr. Goldsmith, of the Episcopal
church of this town. The deceased was buried on his own premises in a
beautiful spot, overshadowed by a large oak tree.

The Gazette
Davenport, Scott, Iowa
Thursday Morning, October 16, 1845


We were in hopes to have had much of the evidence adduced in the trial of
the murderers of Col. Davenport, to present our readers this week, but by an
order passed by the Court, we are prohibited publishing any of it, therefore
our readers will have to restrain their curiosity until such time as the
Court removes its injunction. We will, however, give them all the
information in relation to the arrest and trial of the murderers that we can
do, without infringing upon the wishes of the Court.

The arrest of these men has produced a confidence in community in the strong
arm of the law, which the recent bold and bloody achievement on Rock Island,
with the escape of the villains, had tended to impair. The lives and
property of men, known to possess money, were considered unsafe, so long as
a horde of scoundrels were prowling about acquainting themselves with the
pecuniary affairs of each person and scrupling not to commit murder for a
few paltry dollars. But now that the principals in that transaction and the
leaders of the great band of miscreants that infest the western country are
arrested, and will shortly be brought to justice, men feel comparative
security,--they feel as if the scoundrels had been deprived of their
strength and that a barricade of stern justice had been thrown up between
them and us. The hanging of these men, it is trusted, will be the means of
scattering the organized band of unprincipled villains who for months have
infested the whole western country.

The arrest of the murderers of Col. Davenport was mainly effected through
the exertions of Mr. Bonney, of Lee county, in this Territory. We are not at
liberty to divulge the manner in which this was accomplished, but for
boldness, skill and intrepidity, it reflected much credit upon the gentleman
who planned and executed it.- From the perpetration of the murder until the
villains were in custody, the eye of justice was upon them and marked the
commission of every crime that stained their progress through the western
States, and when they were arrested, no exultation was manifested, as it was
a result that could not be otherwise from the skillful manner in which the
plans had been laid. They would have been arrested sooner had they not
scattered for fear of detection in some of the villanies they committed in
their progress east.

On the 8th of September, William Fox was arrested by Mr. Bonney at
Centerville, Wayne county, Indiana, and given in custody of a guard of six
persons to be conveyed in irons to Rock Island. It has  since reported that
he has escaped.

On the 19th, Robert Burch and John Long were arrested by the same officer at
Sandusky, Ohio, and brought by him, by way of Michigan and Chicago, and
lodged in the jail of Rock Island.

Burch is a tall, spare and altogether a good looking man, of about 27 years
of age. When apprehended, Burch drew from his breast a gold chain and seal
and unobserved as he thought, threw them to the back of the room. They
proved to be those belonging to the watch of Col. Davenport and were thus an
evidence- if evidence were wanting- of his participation in the crime for
which he was arrested.--In crossing the lake, Burch mysteriously obtained
and threw overboard the saddlebags of Mr. Bonney, which contained much
valuable information in relation to the murderers.

This Burch is a notorious scoundrel, and the same individual engaged in the
robbery of an old man by the name of Mulford, of Rock Island county. Hearing
of his arrest, the old man came down to see him. They immediately recognized
each other, the one as the robbed, the other as the robber. Burch says that
Mulford is the only man, in his career of crime that he has yet met with,
whom he could not intimidate. This was one of the coolest, most impudent
robberies ever accomplished and shows Burch to be a complete adept at the
business. He actually sat down fronting the old man, who was tied, after
having obtained his money, and cooly counted it out upon his knee. In
retiring, he took down a fowling piece from over the door, but the old man,
who appears to have been as collected as Burch, called him back and
requested him not to rob him of his gun.- Burch promised to restore it to
him again, and, we understood, informed him where he would find it. Upon his
release, the old man proceeded to the spot designated where he found his
gun. At his last interview with Mulford- the relative situations of the
parties being somewhat changed- Burch informed him that if he lived (quite a
contingency) he certainly would restore him his money.

This Burch is the same individual who boarded at Mr. Thomas Dillon's, in
this place, last winter and went by the assumed name of Haines. At that time
he was supposed as an honest man, although a report has since been
circulated that there were those here who were privy to the fact that a
reward of six or eight hundred dollars was then pending for him.

We stated two weeks since the accidental recovery of the gun and pistol of
Col. Davenport, by his son near Fort Madison, at the mouth of a stream
appropriately called Devil Creek. A force was immediately despatched from
Fort Madison to arrest the Reddings, father and son in, whose possession the
gun and pistol were found. This force met with some resistance, but
succeeded in capturing them both, together with a person by the name of
Granville Young, supposed to be, from the description, as has since been
ascertained, one of the murderers of Col. Davenport. Young was heavily
ironed and, with the Reddings, sent to Rock Island. These latter persons are
accused of having harbored the Hodges the night previous to the committal of
the horrible murder for which they forfeited their lives. At all events
their house is known to have been a rendezvous for scoundrels of every

The Sheriff of Lee county accompanied the Reddings as far as Burlington, for
the purpose of obtaining a writ of habeas corpus, but as the boat was
shoving off from the landing at that place, some of the crew gently pushed
him ashore, assuring him at the same time that the prisoners would be safely
landed where they ought to be, at Rock Island. Of necessity, he submitted
and made his return accordingly.

Last Saturday week, Messrs. Gregg, Belchner and Johnson arrived at this
place with John Baxter and Aaron Long in custody; they were immediately
conveyed to the Rock Island jail. The former was taken at the house of his
brother-in-law, Berry Haney, of Madison, Wisconsin. He has been for many
years resident of Rock Island and has always borne as good a name as one in
the habit of frequenting the bar-room and billiard table could bear, until
his participation in this diabolical murder became known.

Long was arrested in Jo Daviess county, Ill. on the 28th ult, by Sheriff
Millard of that county. They are both young men and appeared to be much
depressed at their unenviable situation. Indeed, Baxter as well he might,
appeared bogged down with grief. We could not catch a glimpse of his
features. Letters were found in the possession of Long from his brother, and
other members of the gang of villains who have so long infested the west,
couched in language which leaves no doubt of his connection with them in
many of their acts of villainy. At the time of his arrest, he and his
father, who is supposed to be a member of this "secret fraternity" were
residing in a board shanty about six miles from Galena. Baxter, it is said,
made a full confession to Messrs. Gregg and Johnson, not only of the murder
of Col. Davenport, but also of the robbery of Messrs. Knox and Drury's
office last summer.

Burch having disclosed to Mr. Bonney the place where he secreted the money
and watch of Col. Davenport, that officer with sufficient guards and
accompanied by Burch heavily ironed, proceeded to the spot designated, near
Montrose in Lee county. Upon the arrival at the place where the money was
buried, it was found to have been carried away. Burch was safely reconveyed
to his snug quarters in the Rock Island jail.

Last week the Circuit Court for Rock Island county being in session, Hon.
Thomas C Brown presiding, the Grand Jury found a bill for murder against
John Long, Aaron Long, Robert Burch, William Fox, John Baxter and Granville
Young. The latter two as accessories before the fact, the others as
principal. The prisoners having no defence, the Court assigned Messrs.
Geyer, Wilkinson, Cornwall and Thompson to defend them.

On Tuesday, John Long, Aaron Long, Granville Young and John Baxter were
brought into Court, when the indictment was read to them as their names were
severally called, each plead "not guilty."  The first three plead for a
change of venue, but it was denied by the Court, on the ground that
sufficient notice had not been given the State's Attorney. The Court then
proceeded to empanel a jury for the trial of the brothers Long and Young.
The latter is described as a young man of 22 or 23 years of age, of
sprightly habits and an understanding quick to discern the progress of
matters around him. It was not until the close of the third day that the
Court succeeded in empanneling a jury. Robert Burch was one of the principal
witnesses against them. The blackest villain, it is said, is always the
first to turn State's evidence. He will gain nothing by the transaction
further than to partly atone for the heinous crimes that he has committed
upon his fellow beings.

On Friday the evidence was closed, the lawyers did the part assigned them
and the jury retired. It would seem that they were not long in making up
their verdict, as it was rendered after an absence of about two hours and
each of the prisoners arraigned at the bar, was pronounced guilty of murder
in the first degree. The judge after an impressive appeal, sentenced them to
be hung on the 20th day of the present month.

The Circuit Court for Rock Island county will hold a special session
commencing next Monday. Baxter and Barch will then be tried for their
participation in the horrid affair, which has thrown so deep a gloom over
this community.

In the foregoing we have given a running, and we believe correct account, of
matters as they have thus far progressed. In our next, we will report
progress of the trial, and if permitted, lay before our readers a few
incidents that will interest them.

The Gazette
Davenport, Scott, Iowa
Thursday, Oct 30, 1845


We concluded our report last week with the termination of the evidence
adduced in the trial of the Reddings- George Grant Redding, the father, and
Wm. Harrison Redding, the son. On Wednesday afternoon, after the pleading of
the lawyers and charge of the Judge, the jury retired to weigh the evidence
and pronounce life or death upon two of their fellow creatures. We
understand that ten of the twelve were in favor of conviction, the the other
two persisted in their opinions until the following day, when one of them
yielded to the majority. The other could not be prevailed upon to change his
mind by the arguments of his fellow jurors, consequently on Friday the jury
returned to jail to await their trial at the regular term of Circuit Court
in May next.

On Thursday morning the court convened and the two prisoners Burch and
Baxter were brought forward for trial. By, no doubt preconcerted
arrangement, Burch being first called upon, with hypocritical voice stated
the summons for trial to be wholly unexpected, that he was not prepared with
witnesses, etc. He was returned to jail and the Court proceeded with the
trial of John Baxter. His counsel- Mr. Wells of Galena- moved that the irons
of the prisoner be stricken off; the motion was overruled by the Court. Mr.
Wells then protested against the shortness of time which had elapsed since
the Court had ordered an extra term for the trial of the prisoners, stating
that at least twenty days should have elapsed, whereas there were only eight
days between the time of ordering and convening of the extra term.
Considerable discussion followed this announcement which, like the former,
was finally overruled and the Court proceeded to the empannellling of
jurors. Little difficulty was experienced in obtaining a panel and about the
middle of the afternoon the Court commenced the examination of evidence. The
principal witness in behalf of the prosecution, was a man by the name of Joh
nson to whom Baxter, it appears, had made a free confession of his
participation in the crime for which he was arraigned. We would here
contradict a rumor which has found credit with many and aggravated the
already too guilty conduct of Baxter, viz:- that he in company with his
sister had dined at Col. Davenport's a few days prior to the murder with the
manifest object of reconnoitering the premises before robbing the
proprietor. Such was not the fact, the report doubtless arose from them
having taken dinner at Col. D's in the month of May last. The whole conduct
of Baxter in the affair betrays indecision with some glimmerings of
conscience not wholly deadened by the innocence of sin. His statement shows
how frail is mortal nad how puissant are the passions when left unrestrained
for a series of years. Friday evening the examination of witnesses being
closed and the counsel upon each side having finished pleading, the jury
retired. We understand that they were unanimously of opinion that the
accused was guilty. The next morning the verdict of guilty was rendered by
the jury and the Judge pronounced as sentence of death upon the criminal
that he be hanged on Tuesday the 18th day of November, prozimo.

Yesterday we attended the execution of John Long, Aaron Long, and Granville
Young and for the benefit of those of our readers who consulted their better
tastes by absenting themselves from so disgusting a spectacle, we will
briefly narrate some of the particulars. In the first place, two errors were
committed by the Sheriff, or those having charge of the execution of those
men, which we trust may be rectified another time. One was, that the spot
chosen for the execution of the criminals was in the town of Rock Island and
near the residence of its citizens. The other that the gallows was erected
some days before the appointed one for the execution.

About one o'clock the prisoners, preceded by a band of music and forming
the centre of a hollow square of armed men, were marched from the jail
around the Court House, and to the scaffold, which they ascended and which
was immediately surrounded by the guard. The sheriff then proceeded to read
the sentence of the court which was to the effect that they severally be
taken from the jail upon that day and be hung by the neck until dead. That
the body of John Long be then delivered into the hands of Dr. Gregg, of Rock
Island, for dissection; that of Aaron Long to Dr. Barrows, of Davenport; and
that of Granville Young to Dr. Knox of St. Louis. The arms of the criminals
were then unloosed and they were each allowed to address the assembled
people. John Long spoke first and very lengthily and after a few remarks
from the other two, continued his speech for about an hour. The burthen of
his remarks was his own guilt and the innocence of his brother and Granville
Young. He stated the true murderers of Col. Davenport to be Robert Burch,
William Fox, Theodore Brown and himself, and declared that if death be meted
out to any other person for that murder it would be done unjustly. Fox, he
said, shot Col. D. which, however, was done unintentionally. He himself
brought up the pitcher of water for the wounded man to drink, while Burch
plundered him of his watch. He accused E. Bonney of many crimes and as being
accessory to the murder of the Germans, for which the Hodges suffered death,
and cited those present to Mr. Loomis, proprietor of a tavern in Nauvoo and
Dr. Williams of the same city as evidence of his crimes. Shall he be allowed
to escape and a boy like Granville Young be punished?

About the year 1840, desiring to live above the station in life which his
parentage placed him and having a desire to cut a figure in the world, Long
connected himself with a gang of counterfeiters under Bridges, a man now
lying in irons in the Ohio penitentiary, and whom he visited about two
months since. In the year 1842 a general explosion of counterfeiting
establishments occurring throughout the Union, being too proud to work he
betook himself to robbing for a living. The one for which he was about to
suffer, he stated, being the first robbery that he ever committed which was
attended by cruelty of any kind; a victim, he continued, being as safe with
his pistol to his breast as if guarded by a regular officer of justice.
Although many times arrested for robberies yet- and it was a beautiful
comment upon the general loose manner of eliciting testimony- he always
escaped punishment. As part of his experience, and to illustrate which he
cited many authorities, he stated that the general tendency of what is
termed Lynch law was to make of honest men robbers and murderers, and that
it was owing to the frequency which western men took the law into their own
hands and administered punishment upon innocent men, that so many murders
abounded throughout the west. As one instance stated that Fox, the murderer
of Col. Davenport, was always an honest man until he was unjustly classed
and punished with a band of horse thieves at Belleview, Jackson county,
Iowa, in the year 1840. Will not those persons, who are advocates of this
summary method of administering justice, as it is termed, take seriously
into consideration the reflections of this malefactor?

As an important part of his confession he stated that he had desired of his
counsel the privilege of confessing in court his own guilt and freeing his
brother and Granville Young form all participation in the horrible deed.
This his counsel refused because it would incriminate himself. In makine his
statement Long appealed to one of his counsel then upon the stand who nodded
his head in token of assent. We suppose that they did their duty as lawyers
by thus acting, but did they act the part of conscientious  and upright men?
If it subsequently be proven that Aaron Long and Granville Young were
innocent of the charge for which they yesterday suffered upon the scaffold,
and which during his remarks John Long so vehemently and repeatedly
protested to be the fact, what must be the feelings of the prisoners counsel
when they reflect upon their instrumentality in hastening those young men to
an untimely grave?

In the whole of his remarks John Long betrayed the hardened and impenitent
wretch. Remorse and contrition appeared to be swallowed up in the desire to
be considered a hero in his last moments- to step off the stage of action
with a proud bearing, that it might be afterwards said that John Long was no
coward. His profession of robber had taught him to esteem cowardice as the
worst passion ever betrayed by man and he sought to impress this idea upon
the minds of those who listened to him. He appeared in his last moments to
glory in the deeds that he had committed and to lament that his profession
was about to lose one of its brightest constellations. As for eternity; his
ideas of futurity extended no further than the bounds of the gallows upon
which he stood. He feared not death and in the face of his offended God,
stood before that audience and made his boasts of the fact. If ever a man
deserved death, John Long, from his own statements, was that man.

But what shall we say of Aaron Long and Granville Young, they in whose
innocence John Long persisted and who in their own limited remarks with
tears declared the statement of John Long to be true?- They were tried in
company with one who has confessed himself a participant in the murder of
Col. Davenport, at a time of general excitement, and before a jury who from
the nature of circumstances and as honorable men, must have been prejudiced
more or less against the cirminals. The testimony against Granville Young
was chiefly given by Bonney and consisted mainly in the fact that he, Young,
had stated to Bonney whilst on a steamboat and a perfect stranger to him,
that he knew Fox, Burch and Long to be the murderers of Col. Davenport. Why
were they then not tried separately? Will not the same reasons which caused
those me to be tried together be apply equally well to the trial of Burch
and Baxter?

One statement of John Long deserves to be remembered, and by the youth to be
constantly borne in mind. He said that during his confinement in prison
under sentence of death, he had had time for reflection and that the had
reviewed his life from his infancy to the present time and hand then asked
himself, at what period of his life was he most happy? The answer was, only
during that period in which he led an honest life.

As a last request John Long desired that the bodies of himself and brother
be given to his friends, who were then present, and conveyed to his parents
that they might look upon the mortal remains of their only children. A
beautiful and impressive prayer then was offered up to the Throne of Grace
by Dr. Gatchell, after which, at the request of the prisoners, the 139th
Psalm was read. The convicts then passed around on the scaffold and shook by
the hand each person present. Their arms were then confined behind, the
ropes adjusted around their necks, caps drawn over their faces, and at a
stroke from the axe of the Sheriff, the drop fell. The rope attached to the
neck of Aaron Long broke and he fell heavily upon the boards beneath the
gallows. A sympathy was immediately created in favor of the criminal, who
was led upon the scaffold in a very weak state, pleading in heart-rending
tones that his life be spared. Some cried out, "Let him go!" others, "Let
the law be fulfilled!" "Murder!" "Make haste!" and finally a panic seized
the multitude- who were under the impression that a rescue had been
attempted and that they were in danger of being shot- and they fled in all
directions, men, women and children, while  to aggravate the evil teams
dashed pell-mell through the crowd, but, as it providentially happened, not
a person was hurt and no accident occurred save the breaking in pieces of
one wagon. Hats, shawls, chairs, and not a few shot guns belonging to the
brave rifle company, who guarded the prisoners, were afterwards picked up on
the field of bloodless confusion. The rope was quickly adjusted about the
neck of Aaron Long, the plank upon which he stood knocked from under him and
his cries were hushed in the spasmodic efforts of a dying man.

John Long fell motionless, nor moved not, as though determined previously
that nothing should cause him to display the least sympathy of cowardice.
The other two displayed signs of animation for some minutes afterwards.

We left the ground fully established in the conviction with which we have
long been impressed, that capital punishment is a relic of barbarism,
tending to the corruption of the community wherein practiced, and that
sooner it be abolished and imprisonment for life substituted, the more
speedy will be murder and crimes of magnitude cease to be common