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Very Modern Woodmen

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Over the years, businesses have been attracted to the Rock Island area for the usual reasons. Some sprang up, home grown. Others came because of the labor supply or a sharp real estate deal, or even bribed with tax incentives. But only one involved an attempted kidnapping.

On May 5th, 1884, the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal life insurance organization, obtained an Illinois charter and moved to Fulton, sixty miles or so up the Mississippi from Rock Island. Over the next decade, the Society flourished until it grew too large for Fulton. It needed a place with better rail and mail facilities.

With the support of William Jennings Bryan, the famous orator, Rock Island was selected as the new headquarters by a national convention of Woodmen.

The Society had not counted on the stubborn Dutch residents of Fulton. Fulton took the Woodmen to court and kept them from moving to Rock Island for five years.

Finally, Rock Island decided to kidnap the records. On February 15th, 1897, a group of sixty-five men, headed by Rock Island Mayor B. F Jackson and several aldermen boarded a Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy chartered train at 12:30 in the morning and headed for Fulton. They were armed with hatchets, hammers, and axes. A few had shooting irons, and several were content with sticks of cordwood.

Fulton was tipped off that they were coming, and sounded the fire whistle, the signal for supporters across the river in Clinton and Lyons to cross over and help the resistance. As the rag tag Rock Island army approached Woodmen headquarters, the Fulton volunteer fire department began spraying water over the front and rear entrances. The water quickly froze, ending the conflict, but not before Mayor Knox was arrested for chopping a fire hose in half with his hatchet.

Later that year, the Illinois militia was called in, and the Society moved to Rock Island.

Feelings have calmed down today. Even so, Rock Island does post guards around the Modern Woodmen building whenever there's a big celebration up at Fulton. A few beers, and who knows what those Dutchmen might do.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.