Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

The Legend of Bogus Island

(from the March 31, 1993, Lowell Tribune, page 11)

Every settlement within the boundaries of the Kankakee Valley has its own proud version of the exciting events that make up its history. The early river settlements were the usual lawless, brutal areas of a wild frontier where cut-throats, horse thieves and highwaymen roamed as they wished. Most of them left strange (and probably true) tales behind them.

One piece of high ground in the old marsh was called "Deserters' Island" during the Civil War in the 1860's, because of the many soldiers who left the ranks of the army to hide out in the swamp until the war was over. There were also a large number of "mysterious characters" who roamed the river banks, feared by the regular residents. They seemed to have plenty of money, wore well-made clothing, lived in the better cabins, and generally viewed every new arrival with suspicion.

Stories about the old river have been told and retold for many decades and have become the legends of the Kankakee Valley. Among those legends is the story of "Bogus Island," an area south of Lake Village that for many years was the home of assorted criminals.

Before the swamps and marshes were drained, this locale became the rendezvous spot for counterfeiters, horse thieves, deserters and criminals of all types, who remained unchecked until the drainage was completed.

In the 1920's the "Old Timer" toured the area of Bogus Island with his father, riding in a 1925 Dodge automobile, and was shown the large sand dune with a stable and living quarters under the sand, protected by huge log beams. That sand dune was mined many years ago, but in those early days it was the hiding place of a gang led by a man named Murrell. The gang knew the swamplands and could evade a posse by riding through the shallows.

The organized band printed their fake money there in the swamp and would then leave for the Chicago area one by one, their bogus bills hidden in their baggage of "wearing apparel." The fake money generally was made up in the form of private bank notes.

Three or four of the gang would cover the area with this counterfeit money, always buying some item of miniscule value so they would get a large amount of change. They would purchase guns, ammunition, traps, clothing, food, and smoking supplies or anything that they could use in the swamp. They would then return to their sand hill in the marsh, where they lived a leisurely life, enjoying the best of the merchandise available at the general stores. The gang also involved some of the so called honest business men, including some bankers, who passed the fake money on to their customers.

Sheriff's posses roamed the swamps looking for the evasivie criminals, with very little success until helped to find some evidence. Karl Seymour was setting a trap at an old muskrat house in the bayou when he struck something hard, sounding hollow. He removed the top of the rat house and found a small iron box containing a counterfeiting outfit, which included tools, dies, plates and lead sheets. The find was turned over to authorities and could still be sitting on a shelf in a Kankakee museum.

The gang was scattered, and the leader, Murrell, was sent to prison with others, while some escaped by leaving the country. Of the band that the local trappers and storekeepers could remember, there were two missing and unaccounted for.

A few suspects who had started to work at an honest living were not arrested, due to lack of evidence, but were watched closely. One thing was very sure: none of those in custody was skilled enough to have engraved the plates, so authorities assumed that the two missing men had been the actual engravers.

One day a hunter by the name of Beeler had some dogs that ran a fox into a hole on Bogus Island. While digging it out, the hunter dug up the remains of two men. Even in their almost unrecognizable condition, the duo answered the description of the missing pair, and the case was marked closed. Some time later, a counterfeiter of silver coins was also arrested in the swamp.

Marion Isaacs, author of the book The Kankakee River History, had this to say: "The Kankakee River has an ancient Indian portage on one end and an atomic power plant at the other. Between these two points, it has a thousand strange tales."

Last updated on April 19, 2041.

For more information, go to Bogus Island.

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