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The Lone Ranger

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

A few years later and a bit further west, Edward Bonney might have become the Lone Ranger or the Cisco Kid. Fortunately for us Rock Islanders, he stayed home.

In 1845 Bonney left his clerk's job in the Mormon settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois and crossed the river to the small settlement of Montrose, Iowa. Here, for reasons that are unclear, he became a self-appointed agent of justice, a vigilante committee of one, determined to wipe out organized crime on the frontier.

He had plenty to work with. A plague of counterfeiters, horse thieves, stage robbers and murderers made life difficult for Iowa and Illinois settlers in the 1840s. Three large gangs looted and murdered at will. The Danite Band led by Dan "Captain Fearnot" Patton, was headquartered in Nauvoo, whose charter gave them protection from Illinois law. The Bandits of the Prairie operated out of LaSalle, Illinois, while upriver the William Brown Gang controlled the Bellevue, Iowa, area.

Edward Bonney soon got an opportunity to prove what a Lone Ranger could do in real life. After Colonel George Davenport was murdered in his home on Rock Island on July 4, 1845, his wife and children offered a $1,500 reward and asked Bonney to hunt the murderers down.

From the slim descriptions given by George Davenport before he died, Bonney suspected the Brown Gang of Bellevue. For four months, Bonney tracked the gang, by steamboat and horse, disguised as needed, as salesman, counterfeiter, thief. He was relentless. Operating inside and outside the law, he single-handedly tracked them across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, into to Ohio and back, until one by one, the eight perpetrators of the crime were captured and turned over to various sheriffs.

In October of 1845, Bonney moved the headquarters of his one-man posse to Rock Island in time to see three of the men he had captured, Granville Young, and John and Aaron Long, tried and hung for the Davenport murder.

Edward Bonney's astounding success in tracking down the Brown Gang put an end to organized crime in the Rock Island area for the rest of the 19th century. Whereas the Lone Ranger, you remember, had to return to the radio each week for years to keep a lid on things.

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.