Early Days of Greenbush


The Murder of Harvey J. Hewett

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The murder of Harvey J. Hewett, in 1850, caused great excitement all over the country. Everybody talked about it and everybody was anxious that the murderers should be brought to justice. Mr. Hewett was an honest, upright citizen, well known in Warren county and highly esteemed by all who knew him.

In 1850, one Mr. Hurd of Fondulac, Wis., bought some cattle of Harvey J. Hewett; he also bought some cattle of Franklin G. Snapp and some of John A. Butler. Mr. Hurd told these men they would have to go to Peoria for their money, as he had a deposit in a bank there. It was finally agreed that Hewett should go to Peoria and get the money. Snapp told Hewett he ought to be armed. Hewett took a toothpick from his pocket and jokingly replied, “This is all the arms I need.’’

Mr. Hewett arrived in Peoria late in the evening, driving a small bay mare to a buggy. He put up at a hotel. During the evening he inquired of the landlord about what time the bank would open in the morning. It is supposed that some of the robbers heard this talk and commenced to set up their job for procuring the money. The next morning Hewett went to the bank to draw his money. Three men were around the bank waiting and watching for him: Thomas Gitte, whose real name is not known, and who was the leader in the matter; Thomas Brown, and George Williams. They watched Hewett draw the money and then followed him. Hewett. left the bank, got in his buggy, and drove to the foot of Kickapoo bill. Here he got out of his buggy and started to walk up the hill, driving his mare. Brown and Williams were close to him and Gitte was a short distance behind. When Hewett had got about half-way up the hill, Brown and Williams attacked him. In the scuffle Hewett came very near being too much for them until one of them hit him on the head with a stone, fracturing the skull. They then took the money and fled.

It has been said that Brown and Williams helped Hewett into his buggy. At any rate Hewett was again in his buggy and the bay mare, being very gentle, proceeded on the journey. After going some six or seven miles on the road, the mare went up to a house and stopped. Here it was found that Hewett was badly injured. He was taken in and cared for. He lived about a week and died October 18, 1850, at the age of 54 years.

As soon as it was found out that Mr. Hewett was robbed, the alarm was given. The people turned out and finally tracked Brown and Williams to Springfield, Illinois, where they were found in bed at a hotel. They were brought back to Peoria, tried, convicted and sentenced to be hung. The day for their execution was set in December, 1850, but Governor Ford issued a stay for fifteen days in order to get Tom Gitte from New Orleans to Peoria so that Brown and Williams might identify him as being connected with the murder of Hewett. On the day set in December for the hanging, many people had assembled in Peoria to witness the sight; and when they found the hanging had been put off, there was much dissatisfaction. Finally a mob was raised who proceeded to set up the gallows which was then framed and near the jail. This they had ready about 3 o’clock in the ‘afternoon.

The mob then got long heavy timbers and battered in the front door of the jail; they then went into the jail hall. Brown and Williams were in opposite cells, one on the north, the other on the south. They worked hard until 4 o’clock. At that time they had only succeeded in getting Williams, but somehow failed to get Brown out of his cell. They finally put Williams back in his cell, gave up the job and disbanded.

Again the people assembled in large numbers in January, 1851, to witness the hanging of Brown and Williams. The stage had arrived that morning, bringing Tom Gitte, who was identified by Brown and Williams as their leader. The hanging occurred in the south part of Peoria. then an open prairie. Under the bluff the platform was suspended by a rope. Brown was very anxious that the rope used in hanging him should be so adjusted that the fall would be sure to break his neck. After the arrangements were all made, Brown from some cause turned his head around, the drop fell, and Brown struggled a long time, the rope having turned under his chin. Williams seemed to die easy.

Brown and Williams made a confession which was published in pamphlet form in Peoria and met with a ready sale. Gitte was convicted and sent to the penitentiary, where he died about a year afterwards.

After Mr. Hewett’s death, his body was brought to his home in Greenbush township, where his funeral was preached by Benjamin Applebee, a minister of the Methodist church. One of the hymns sung at the funeral was,‘‘Plant ye a tree That may bloom over me, When I am gone, I am gone.’’ His remains were laid to rest in the McMahill graveyard.

Mr. Hewett was born in Waldo county, Maine. He moved with his family in 1831 to Licking county, Ohio; came to Greenbush, Warren county, Illinois, in August, 1837, and located on section 29, where he resided up to the time of his death.

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