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Tales of Coles County: The Charleston Riot

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, available on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $4.99. Tales of Coles County, Illinois was originally published in 2004. A 10th Anniversary edition was released in 2013, but has gone out of print.

The year was 1864, and the month of March was just coming to a close. The battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg had long passed, and it looked as though the tide of the Civil War was finally turning in the Union’s favor. The presidential election was still over seven months away, but many believed it would decide the course of war.

Illinois had always been divided on the issue of slavery, and there were many people living in the southern half of the state that still had strong ties to their neighbors in the South. They didn’t want Abraham Lincoln reelected, because they knew he would never make peace with the Confederacy. These supporters of the movement for “peace without victory” were called “butternuts” or “copperheads.” Each faction—Unionists and copperheads—equally despised each other, and these divisions were exacerbated along political party lines.

On that mild spring day of March 28, Oliver Thomas stepped outside of Huron’s Bookstore on the west side of Charleston’s town square, engrossed in that week’s issue of the Plaindealer. The newspaper headlines were still fresh with news of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest’s daring and profitable raid on Paducah, Kentucky the previous week. Oliver was afraid a Confederate attack that far north would inflame the passions of the copperheads, who had been raising a stink over the recent arrival of the 54th Illinois Infantry Regiment in Mattoon. Many of the soldiers were local boys from the county, however, so he couldn’t imagine anything coming of these idle threats.

The din of an unusually robust number of people chatting near the courthouse tore his attention away from his newspaper. He looked up to see several clusters of men gathered around the square. He recognized many familiar faces, but some, who sat on horses near a couple of hay-filled wagons, appeared to be from the countryside. Additionally, there were a little more than a dozen Union soldiers dressed in blue uniforms that ducked in and out of the storefronts or talked with each other on the street. Only a few were armed. Finally, Oliver recognized his friend Daniel, who was standing against a tree near the courthouse, and strode over to him.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Daniel shouted even before Oliver could reach him.

“Isn’t what exciting?” Oliver asked in reply. “What are all these people doing here?” He finally reached the tree, which was in earshot of a small group of four men who stood on the courthouse steps. The quartet included James O’Hair, who was the father of the county sheriff, and his friend Nelson Wells.

“Judge Eden is goin’ to give a speech to the soldiers,” Oliver’s friend replied with excitement.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” he whispered under his breath. Everyone in the county knew that Eden, along with Sheriff John O’Hair, were leaders of the local Peace Democrat faction—Northern Democrats who wanted to make peace with the Confederacy. Eden giving a speech to the soldiers was only asking for trouble. Oliver took note of a Union soldier who walked up to the elder O’Hair. He appeared slightly drunk.

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Civil War Ballads: The Fall of Charleston

Eugene T. Johnston wrote this song near the end of the American Civil War to celebrate the capture of Charleston, South Carolina by Union forces in February 1865. Since then, it has been covered many times, including by country and western artist Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) and Civil War folk singer Bobby Horton.

Oh have you heard the glorious news, is the cry from every mouth,
Charleston is taken, and the rebels put to rout;
And Beauregard the chivalrous, he ran to save his bacon—
When he saw Gen. Sherman’s “Yanks,” and “Charleston is taken!”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
A hunkey boy is General Sherman,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Invincible is he!

This South Carolina chivalry, they once did loudly boast;
That the footsteps of a Union man, should ne’er polute their coast.
They’d fight the Yankees two to one, who only fought for booty;—
But when the “udsills” came along it was “Legs do your duty.”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
Babylon is fallen,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
The end is drawing near!

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San Pedro Ghost Towns

The San Pedro River flows north from the Mexican border near Sierra Vista, Arizona, to the Gila River north of Tucson. As a source of water, it was invaluable to both native peoples and white settlers alike. Many settlements sprang up in the San Pedro Valley, especially after silver was discovered in the nearby foothills. Prospectors flocked to the area. Today, much of the area is protected in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, and ruins of once-prosperous settlements can be found in the surrounding desert.

brunckow01

In 1858-59, T.F. White and Fredrick Brunckow sought their fortunes in the hills near the San Pedro River. They struck a claim roughly eight miles southwest of Tombstone. Brunckow brought several men with him, including John Moss (Morse), David Brontrager, and James and William Williams. He built a small adobe cabin and supply shelter and hired Mexican laborers to dig the mine.

brunckow02

In July 1860, William Williams went to Fort Buchanan to purchase supplies. When he returned, he discovered most of his companions, including Brunckow, were brutally murdered. The Mexican laborers fled with whatever supplies and equipment they could get their hands on. According to Joshua Hawley, author of Tombstone’s Most Haunted, as many as 22 deaths have been reported in or near the cabin.

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Located off State Route 82 along the San Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona, Fairbank grew up around the nearest rail stop to Tombstone and was first settled in 1881.

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The Ruins of Millville and Charleston, Arizona

In their heyday, the dual towns of Millville and Charleston in southeastern Arizona had a lawless reputation. Located on opposite sides of the San Pedro River, about nine miles southwest of Tombstone, Millville and Charleston were home to some of the Wild West’s most notorious figures. Outlaw Frank Stilwell, for example, once owned a saloon in Charleston. Stilwell was a deputy sheriff in Tombstone, Arizona for Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan and was suspected of killing Morgan Earp on March 18, 1882. Two days later, Wyatt Earp gunned down Stilwell in a Tucson train yard. The Clanton Gang, infamous for their participation in the gunfight at the OK Corral, lived on a ranch five miles south of Charleston.

At its peak, Charleston was home to nearly 400 people. It had a post office, four restaurants, a school, a church, a drugstore, two blacksmiths, two livery stables, two butcher shops, two bakeries, a hotel, five general stores, a jewelry shop, a brickyard, a brewery, and at least four saloons. It was mainly home to men who worked across the river at the silver mills in Millville. The Tombstone Mill and Mining Company owned one of these mills and the Corbin Mill and Mining Company owned the other. The mills processed silver ore from the mines around Tombstone, and from 1881 to 1882 processed almost $1.4 million in silver.

When the mines dried up, the people moved on. During WW2, the 93rd Infantry Division, which was stationed at Fort Huachuca, used the ruins of Charleston as a training ground nick-named “Little Tunisia.” They used live ammunition during many of the exercises, which heavily damaged the adobe buildings. Erosion from the San Pedro River causes more damage, until very little remained of the once thriving community.

Today, most of Charleston is gone and only a few stone walls remain of Millville. The site is part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and accessible down a long and winding trail. In addition to a few scattered remains, visitors can expect to find beautiful scenery, including ancient petroglyphs and lush trees along the river.

The Legend of Pemberton Hall – Expanded, Revised, and Updated!

Pemberton Hall is the oldest all-female dormitory in the state of Illinois, and its ivy covered walls are home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois—the legend of Mary Hawkins. Her ghost is said to roam the hundred-year-old building, protecting the young women who reside within. This popular campus legend greets many a college bound girl as she finds herself away from home for the first time, and has become an enduring part of campus life at Eastern Illinois University.

Join author and folklorist Michael Kleen as he brings you an in-depth look at this legend, its history, and meaning, with rare photos of Mary Hawkins herself. Learn:

  • Who was Mary Hawkins?
  • What did she really look like?
  • How did she die?
  • How long has this story been told?

Now peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story are just a click away! Feel free to download, print, or email this .PDF to your friends. It is 100% secure. If you cannot view the file because you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader, or you do not have the latest version, download it here for free.

Click on this image to download and read "The Legend of Pemberton Hall" in .PDF

Click on this image to download and read “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” in .PDF

If you have trouble downloading the file by clicking on the photo above, right click on this link and select “save as”: The Legend of Pemberton Hall by Michael Kleen

Citations: if you wish to use any of this in a paper or presentation, cite it in the following way (Chicago style): Michael Kleen, The Legend of Pemberton Hall (Rockford: By the author, 2014), page#.

There’s Something About Mary

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

Creaking wooden floors, stone walls, a forbidden fourth floor–if Eastern Illinois University’s Pemberton Hall didn’t come with its own legend, the students that live there would probably invent one. Pemberton Hall is home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins. A lot has been written about this story over the years, but only one article has ever told the complete story from beginning to end: my own “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.” First published as a free PDF in 2008, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” has been downloaded over 2,200 times. This year, I am releasing a revised and updated version of that article with three more pages of additional information and rare pictures of Mary Hawkins herself.

In anticipation of the article’s release this Friday, October 10th, Mysterious Heartland and I will feature the story of how and why Charleston, Illinois and Coles County (where EIU is located) is such a  fascinating place everyday this week. Then, on Friday, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” will be posted for free to download. Who was Mary Hawkins? What did she really look like? How did she die? How long has this story been told? Peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story will be just a click away!

But first, enjoy this video of me telling the story of Pemberton Hall last year at Eastern Illinois University.