For more than a century, a ghost has haunted this lonely stretch of Route 146, formerly known as “Dug Hill Road,” in rustic Union County. Although sightings have become less frequent in recent years, the ghost of Provost Marshal Welch has earned an iconic place in the folklore of Southern Illinois.
Like many of its kind, this ghost story preserves the memory of a real event, an event that took place at a traumatic time in the history of our state and our country. But the details of this event have become murky and distorted. While Provost Marshal Welch was actually killed in 1863, every recent retelling of the tale places his murder in 1865.
At some point during the story’s reprinting, authors changed Route 146 to “Highway 126,” which has created a very confusing state of affairs for anyone wanting to visit the location. There is no Highway 126 anywhere in Union County. Complicating matters further, a quaint country lane off Route 146 is now the only feature in the area named “Dug Hill.”
To picture what this road must have once looked like at the time of the hauntings would take an active imagination, since the banality of its flowering fields, woods, and serine pond seem to evaporate any sense of foreboding.
According to Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s Haunted Heartland (1985), it is “the most notorious ghost in Southern Illinois.” As they described the incident, Union army deserters ambushed and killed a provost marshal named Welch in 1865.
There are two versions of the story, one involving three deserters, the other involving a dozen or so. In the second version, Welch’s own friend betrayed him and led him into the ambush.
Carl L. Stanton, in his collection of Illinois’ Civil War stories They Called it Treason (2002), recounted the story of Welch’s murder, which actually occurred on April 15, 1863 just outside of Anna, Illinois. Welch was killed while escorting a group of captured Union Army deserters.
Storytellers claim that Welch’s ghost has been seen on at least one occasion. In the late 1800s, a man driving a horse-drawn wagon found the ghost lying face down in the road. According to Beth Scott and Michael Norman, the man tried to pick up what he thought was the body of a flesh-and-blood person, then returned to his wagon and drove over it(!).
He never looked back, they wrote, but the authors of Field Guide to Illinois Hauntings claim that when the man looked back the body had disappeared. Also, a “half idiot” named Bill Smith reportedly witnessed a spectral wagon pass over his head along Dug Hill Road. The wagon was a typical ghoulish fare―pulled by a pair of black horses. That is the only reported encounter with this particular phantom.
A third story pertaining to the Dug Hill area concerns a creature known as “the boger.” The boger, or the boger-man, was something cooked up by parents who wanted to scare their children, according to Haunted Heartland. Two men have reportedly seen this boger along Dug Hill Road in the past. The creature appeared as a nine-to-eleven foot tall man who wears black pants, a white shirt, and a long scarf. No one has yet come forward to explain where this creature found someone to tailor his gigantic clothes.
Today, the Dug Hill area is used as a local drinking spot. Empty beer bottles litter the woods along Route 146 in the hinterland of the Shawnee National Forest. According to former Daily Egyptian reporter Kristina Dailing, many who live in the area are skeptical of the stories, and many more have never even heard the tale of Provost Marshal Welch.
Paul Morgan, a long time resident of Jonesboro, said he believed the stories had simply been invented. “I’ve heard that there was supposed to be a spook up there, but I haven’t ever seen anything,” he told Kristina. Perhaps this is a chapter in the history of Little Egypt destined to fade from memory.
- Carl L. Stanton, They Called it Treason: an Account of Renegades, Copperheads, Guerrillas, Bushwhackers and Outlaw Gangs that Terrorized Illinois During the Civil War (Bunker Hill: by the author, 2002).
- Troy Taylor, Haunted Illinois: The Travel Guide to the History & Hauntings of the Prairie State (Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2004).
- Beth Scott and Michael Norman, Haunted Heartland: True Ghost Stories from the American Midwest (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985, 1992).
- Jo-Anne Christensen, Ghost Stories of Illinois (Edmonton: Lone Pine, 2000).
- Charles Neely, ed., Tales and Songs of Southern Illinois (Menasha: George Banta Publishing, 1938; reprint, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998).
- Daily Egyptian (Carbondale) 22 October 2002.