It was dark, and Rusty had been hauling cargo from Missouri to Illinois all day. He decided to take a shortcut up Route 146 from Cape Girardeau to Interstate 57, passing through Jonesboro and Anna along the way. The terrain became rough and hilly as he turned east and began to pass through a narrow strip of the Shawnee National Forest near Hamburg Hill. As his blurry eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of the nearing town, he almost missed the black shape laying on the asphalt. He slammed on his brakes.
Someone must be playing a prank, Rusty thought as he got out of his truck. He noticed through the glare of his headlights that the shape in the road was the body of a man, who wore an outfit that looked like it had come out of a spaghetti western. It was no joke, however. As he got closer, he saw blood oozing from several wounds in the crumpled body. Just then, a motorcycle screeched to a stop in the oncoming lane.
“Is everything all right?” the biker shouted.
By the time Rusty looked up at the newcomer and back at the road, the body was gone.
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. Also, at some point during the reprinting of the story, 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.”
The truth is that Marshal Welch was killed in the early spring of 1863 along what we now know as Illinois Route 146, a few miles west of Jonesboro past the tiny village of Berryville. The legend, however, is a different matter entirely. Storytellers generally agree that Welch died in an ambush during the waning days of the Civil War, but the details vary depending on who is doing the telling.
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