Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick



A lack of law and order on the frontier is not just confined to the dusty deserts of the wild southwest or the Kansas plains. Van Buren County was known to be a rough region. People engaged in nightly brawls in the saloons that dotted the riverfront, and occasionally these altercations were deadly.

Although the village of Van Buren was a triangle of land that is now part of the city of Keosauqua, at least one old map spots its location at Ely’s Ford in Lacey-Keosauqua State Park. An incident at a cabin that existed there in 1837 may have led to the confusion.

A man named Turner, who occupied the cabin with his family at Ely’s Ford, won a beef shoot across the river at Van Buren. His brother-in-law who placed second in the contest, accused Turner of cheating and came to his cabin that night, demanding the prize meat.

Davis pointed his weapon at Turner and charged. In disarming his would-be assailant, Turner shot Davis dead, after which he disappeared with his family into Missouri.

The crime received media attention and wanted posters for Turner were distributed throughout the territory.

Such deadly spars were not uncommon. For example, Nathan Knapp speared his roommate, Isaac Hendershott over an argument about sleeping arrangements in a rooming house at Columbus. In 1839, a fight between Gillaspy and Robinson resulted in death when Gillaspy ended the argument with an axe. The streets of Pittsburg were lined with saloons and had a rough reputation as did Keosauqua, Bonaparte and Farmington. Even Winchester could be a bit rowdy on Saturday night.

Bentonsport was not safe after dark. Newcomers were warned of twenty or more intoxicated men who roamed the streets at night looking for a "bluster," a coined term for drunken brawl or fight. Officers usually steered clear of any complaints that involved street fighting or domestic violence unless someone was critically injured.

In an act of malicious mischief, three men once kidnapped a freed black man, and when the crime came to trial one of the men asked for a change of venue. The judge refused, so they drew their pistols. Under gunpoint pressure the presiding court official sent the trial to Columbus, where a judge (who was a close friend of one of the accused) winked as he set the men free.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick