I shared with you the story of my 3x great-grandfather, Royal Riley Wright this past May. And, as I was browsing through my Ancestry.com family tree while researching for my WIP I stumbled upon an addition to Royal’s obituary that bring to light an unsavory bit of history and possibly, a reason for Royal’s suicide.
According to the handwritten addition to the obituary for Royal found on Ancestry by family who lived at that same time, said that Royal was haunted by guilt of an event that occurred earlier. That he had been part of a vigilante/posse who chased a suspected horse thief. When the thief was caught, and having no rope, nor tree available, the group chopped a whole in the ice on the lake and put the suspected horse thief into the hole to drown.
I tried researching this tale, but was unable to find any mention of a horse thief, nor any mention vigilantes seeking justice by drowning a man. I did however, discover a story regarding claims to land, and the ugly result of a posse who refused to let an old man win.
…In many cases, however, this regulation was violated, and in some instances mobs were raised who forced the offender to deed back the land to the claimant. These mobs, as is the case with mobs everywhere, even when moved by generous intentions, often failed to understand the merits of a case, and unwittingly did great injustice.
In 1843, an old man named McLenathan, a resident of Sycamore, entered a farm which was claimed by Mr. John Mason of Burlington. The claim organization had then become inoperative ; but there was still this strong feeling in favor of protecting settlers in their claims, so that there was no great difficulty in raising a crowd to lynch the old man if he refused to deed back the land. He was living with Mr. David Finley near Ohio Grove, when on one cold morning in March a company of fifty young men mounted on horseback, surrounded Finley’s house, and calling him out demanded that he deed over the land to Mason or he should be tarred and feathered. McLenathan said that Mason owed him money, that he did not want his land but merely to get security for his debt, and that if Mason would pay him his money he would deed him the land. This did not suit Mason, nor the crowd of excited followers, so without more ado they seized him, placed him on horseback and started oif for the woods. Here they dismounted, stripped the gray haired old man, poured on the tar and rubbed on a coating of feathers.
“Now, old fellow, sign that deed, or Ave will drown you in yonder pond !”
McLenathan still sturdily refused, whereupon they dragged him to the pond of water near by, and threw him in, some of them jumping on him and crowding him below the icy waters. Finally, nearly dead from the cold and more than half drowned, he consented to give up the land, and the deed was executed. The party did not then disperse, but adjourned to a school house near by, and there drew up and signed an agreement to protect at the risk of their lives, the right of all settlers in their claims. A week after, the company were summoned together to put their resolve in force.
A Mr. Mann, of Burlington, had entered some land claimed by one of this party, and they were summoned to compel him to deed it back. An hundred of them were o-athered at this time, and armed with shot guns and rifles, they moved upon the enemies’ works. But this was a different undertaking from that of lynching the poor and friendless old McLenathan. The Manns were a numerous family, and had many friends. They had summoned them to their assistance, and when the party approached their residence they found it defended by a large number of determined-looking men well armed with 77 murderous-looking rifles. Not caring to risk their lives in an attack upon a fortress so well defended, they abandoned tins attempt and dispersed to their homes.
Indictments were found in the Court of Kane County against a number of the party who assaulted McLenathan, but the matter had become so public there that a fair trial could not be had, and it was removed to Kendall County. The leading participants in this attack were convicted and heavily fined.
If the above attack was what was referred to in the handwritten note, no doubt Royal felt residual guilt all his life.