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Title: The Redwood Bandits
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Among the first settlers of Warren county were certain brothers by the name of High, who came from Pennsylvania and were thrifty, industrious people. One of the brothers, Henry High, went the farthest out on the prairie of any settler of his time and made his home just across the road east from where the Soul Sleepers church in Jordan township was afterward built. Another brother settled on Redwood creek and Isaac lived Redwood Point in from of where stands the house now belonging to John Hunt on the south side of Redwood. Still another brother lived farther down the creek.

The Highs came into Warren county between 1826 and 1830, took up their claims from the government and became well acquainted with all the goverment lands on the prairies north of Redwood so their home soon became the centers for the home-seekers who came into Warren county from the east. They were very hospitable and accomodating and very valuable to the home-seekers in finding locations for them, and on account of the hospitality they soon drew about them a very extensive acquaintance. Apparently it was not their aim or object to become interested in any way in lawlessness.

Isaac High's oldest son was George High. He had black eyes, was fully six feet tall with a fine physique, and was an interesting individual and leader of men. Soon among the many settlers who had learned of the hospitality of the Highs there came many persons from the East and South, who were criminals running away fromt he law of the eastern and the southern states. George High became acquainted with many of those persons. Some of them as they came thru would steal horses in Ohio, Kentucky and other states and bring them into the Redwood neighborhood. Soon George High and his brothers and sisters became not only interested in protecting these horse thieves but George became the leader of an organized band of horse thieves and counterfeiters. They would bring their horses to near Portland, and cross the river in the neighborhood of Hanging Rock at the mouth of Redwood. Redwood was bordered by a dense thicket from where it empties into the Wabash river to the prairie, and if a horse once got across the river into the bruch of Redwood the High organization was able to so secrete him that he would never be found. This organization grew until it had ramifications in almost every state in the East and the South. Some of their members were on almost every boat that went down the Ohio or Mississippi rivers. They had a rendevous on the Salt Fork of the Vermillion river and one at Bogus Island in what is known as Gifford swamps in Jasper county. All the horses were first brought to Redwood Point. Some of them were taken fromt here to Salt Fork in Vermillion and some were taken to Bogus Island. If they were taken to Salt Fork of the Vermillion river they were then taken to Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska and sold; if taken to Bogus Island they were taken to Chicago, Wisconsin or Michigan and disposed of. All of the organization carried and dealt in counterfeit money.

Many farmers in Fountain county and Montgomery county began early to deal in fine stock, and among the very first stock to be improved in this locality was horses. My grandfather, Berry Whicker, and his wife's uncle, Henry Campbell, who lived on the John Kerr place in the Bethel neighborhood, went to Ohio in 1837 and purchased two Cleveland bay mares each and a stallion. This horse was a fine animal and after the death of Henry Campbell this property passed to his son Henry D. Campbell. My grandfather and his uncle, Henry Campbell, employed a relative of the Campbells by the name of Owen to take care of their horse. This horse was kept part of the time at Henry D. Campbell's, a part of the time at Williamsport, and a part of the time at Redwood Point. Mr. Owen came over one time and informed Mr. Campbell and my grandfather that the horse was stolen. Henry D. Campbell immediately called together about one hundred men, rode over to Redwood Point, taking Owen along, and demanded the return of this horse. The Highs saw that the followers of Henry Campbell were in earnest and told him that on a certain day in the following week the horse would be in the stable at Williamsport. Henry D. Campbell went over to the Williamsport stable on that day nad the horse was there. Owen soon after took charge of the Bogus Island rendezvous and he and George High became sworn enemies of Campbell.

It was several years before they had further trouble but after the death of his father and my grandfather Henry D. Campbell took over all the horses that both of them had owned; among them a fine matched gray team of which Henry became very proud. One night one of his nephews ran away from home and stopt at the Campbell home. He was induced to stay over night and about 11:00 o'clock, after everyone else was in bed, Mr. Campbell arose with the intention of going to the boy's home and informing his parents where he was so that they would not be worried about him. As he started to the barn he saw a light thru the cracks of the stall where the gray team was kept. At first he thought the building was on fire but when he saw the light move about he knew that the thieves were after the team. Hurrying back to the house he grabbed up a rifle which he had borrowed from a neighbor a few days before to kill a beef, and ran back to the barn. He had on a white hat but threw this off as he neared the barn, so that he could not be seen in the darkness. He demanded to know what the men were doing int eh barn and for answer one of them fired a revolver at him. The man who fired had on a white shirt and taking aim at this Mr. Campbell brought the rifle into play the fellow fell to the ground. Campbell then retreated to the house where he watched the other two men carry the man he had shot to a buggy waiting in the road and drive off. The next morning it was found that they had taken a shovel from the barn, the general supposition being that the man was killed and they took this along ot bury him in some secluded spot. The barn where the occurred still stands, on John Kerr's place, four miles east of Attica. This occurred about 1856.

Owen was never seen or heard of after this incident but many times after the shots were fired thru the house of Campbell. Finally a letter that pushed under his door informing him that he would be given six months to leave that state of Indiana; that during that six months he would not be bothered, but that if he was still at that place where he then lived he would be killed. They did not care how far he went or how near, he must leave the state. Having had all the trouble he cared to have, Campbell sold his farm to a Mr. Pyle, father of Marion Pyle, and moved in 1861 to Rossville, Illinois, where one of his daughters still lives. He was sure that the letter received had come from George High.

George High owned a very fine black stallion which he called Truxon, which was probably the finest horse ever owned by any one in Warren county. He was very fond of this horse and like the horses of Arabia this splendid animal returned his affection. He would ride Truxon across the prairie to Bogus Island and over to the rendezvous on the Salt Fork at Vermillion.

Many of thousands of dollars of counterfeit money was circulated from Redwood Point, the Salt Fork and Bogus Island; it has even been suspicioned that some members of this organized band lived in Attica, and that much of "the queer" was disposed of here. Many of the horses too were secreted in Attica before being taken ot Redwood Point.

Finally Sant Gray, of near Wesley, in Montgomery county, organized the Horse Thief Detective Association whose object and aim was to break up the horse thieves and counterfeiters of Redwood. He kept steadily at work until he had organizations all over Fountain, Warren and Montgomery conties. A store was broken into not far from Chicago in the spring of the year, a light snow felland the trail of thieves could be easily followed. They were trailed to the home of George High at Redwood Point, and some of the goods were found. The Horse Thief Association was immediately notified, Mr. Gray took charge, assisted by Nevel Stephenson, (a brother of Harry Stephenson) who lived on the Barnhart place on the Bethel road just east of Attica, Mr. Helms and some of the Cronkhites of Warren county. They arrested George High, tied him on a horse and started to Williamsport iwth him. Whey they came to the steep bluff near the Sulphur Springs below Williamsport, George High, by some ruse, managed to get free from his bonds, leaped off the horse down the embankment where a confederate had his splended stallion, Truxon, waiting for him, and mounting his horse he started west. The members of the association followed and the chase was a thrilling one. Out past his headquarters at Redwood High went but did not stop there. Heading straight for the state line he soon crossed it. Undaunted his pursuers followed and clear across the state of Illinois the chase continued, with scarcely a stop for rest. When High reached the Mississippi river he was five hours ahead of his pursuers and Truxon was still so strong that his master did not hesitate to attempt to swim him across the great river. He was seen to enter the river near Nauvoo, Ill., but knows whether he ever reacht the opposite shore. The was the last ever seen of George High.

Upon their return the members of the Detective Association went to Redwood, called together Dan Claflin, the brother-in-law of George High, and some of his brothers and sisters, and gave them notice to no longer harbor the horse thieves or counterfeiters. After this however counterfeit money continued to be passed and finally minor depredations were traced to Calflin. The detective who was pursuing him shot him thru the hips. Some of the High family were sent to state's prison. Claflin and one of the High girls moved to Attica and afterwards Claflin moved on to a farm near Independence where he lived for many years. Claflin's wife was a beautiful girl, with black eyes and fine feature and soon after they were married they made their home on the prairies where the town of Pence now stands.

This organization of counterfeiters and horse thieves was a great menace in Fountain, Warren and Montgomery counties for many years. It was perhaps not the intent of the Highs at first to become a part of the organization of the outlaws but as thr profits from the proceeds of the horses stolen and the counterfeit money came into their hands they by degrees became more and more involved until at last they had built up an organization of outlaws that had its ramifications in many of the Eastern and Southern state, and its operations were almost colossal. Some of the best fortunes now enjoyed in Fountain and Warren counties had their foundation in this organization of outlaws. It was even been suspicioned that it had never entirely been broken up but after the capture and escape of George High and the penal sentence of his brothers and sisters there was never the continued operation of an organization. The breaking up of the organization is due entirely to the Horse Thief Detective Association and was its first and perhaps greatest accomplishment. It has since that time become a national organization of great value and had become so active that lawlessness as known to our fathers is practically a thing of the past.

Date: 1/1/1916
Origin: Historical Sketches of the Wabash Valley
Author: J. Wesley Whicker
Record ID: 00001107
Type: Book
Source Archive: Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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