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John Long

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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

John Long was hardly your average citizen. It took him two hours to murder Colonel George Davenport, two months and twenty-three days to be tracked down and captured, two days to be tried in Rock Island District Court, one hour to be convicted of murder by a jury, one minute to be hanged, and one-hundred and thirty-three years to be buried.

Long and several members of his gang had murdered Colonel Davenport on July 4th, 1845. He and two cohorts, John’s brother Aaron, and Granville Young, were tried and sentenced to be hanged on October 29th in Rock Island. After the three men were pronounced dead, their bodies were given to three local doctors for "scientific study."

Granville Young's body was traded to a doctor in St. Louis for a barrel of rum. Aaron Long was very likely buried at some point. But John Long's body was turned over to Dr. Patrick Gregg, Colonel Davenport's personal physician, and it ended up getting plenty of use.

For several decades, while the skeleton was in Dr. Gregg's possession, it hung in the office of the hospital steward at Rock Island Arsenal. After Gregg's death it disappeared.

Then, one day, a trunk from Dr. Charles Kahlke of Chicago arrived at the Rock Island County Historical Society. Inside was the lost Long skeleton, and a note from Dr. Kahlke explaining that Dr. Gregg's widow had given it to him years before.

The historical society placed the skeleton in a display case at the Rock Island County Court House, where it hung in the lobby—perhaps as some kind of warning—for some time. Then, it made its way to the Hauberg Museum at Black Hawk State Park where it became the come-on act for school children coming to see the Indian artifacts.

By 1978, skeleton displays were no longer in, and arrangements were made, finally, to bury John Long among his contemporaries at Dickson Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery on the state park grounds.

The Rock Island Argus probably summed up local sentiments the best: "John Long has been hanging around Rock Island too long.”

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.