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[239]

Chapter 24: White vendetta.

In Illinois every man claims to be a law to himself, and every second man claims to be a law to other people. Wild justice, as among the Indian wigwams, is the favourite form of punishment; if pure revenge, the rule of eye for eye and tooth for tooth, may be called punishment. Under this Indian system, men of violent instincts assume a right to reject the public code, and even to resist the popular magistrate.

In many parts of Illinois, the public rule is faint and formal; for the officers of justices, whether judge or coroner, sheriff or policeman, are elected by the rank and file, and must obey the men who put them in their seats. Home rule is organised. The pig sticker and whisky dealer real the code in the light of their strong passions, and ;Lupport their view of its articles with buck shot and bowie knives. [240] When they agree, their will is law. Judge, sheriff, coroner-chosen by the people-chosen for a short time only — have no option but to serve the power which raised them up, and in a little while may pull them down. Such officers are seldom rich. Their services are meanly paid. Hardly one in five has either sense enough to see, or strength enough to execute, his trust according to the higher principles of public right. An ordinary sheriff is an ordinary man. He lives on the clearing, where he has to watch over his pigsty and his still. His plan is to receive his pay, and let the world go by. “Our sheriff,” laughs a philosopher in a leather jacket, “ is always square; when any cuss is up, Frank turns his back and lets things slide.”

Sheriff Frank is a typical man. When farmer, butcher, and distiller differ in their views, they fight it out. One party wins, and law becomes again a rude expression of the general will.

On Saturday evening, December 12, 1874, Colonel Sisney, Sheriff of Williamson county, was sitting in his own house, near Carterville, with his brother-in-law, George Hindman, playing a game of dominoes in the fading light. A lamp was lit, [241] a curtain drawn; the lamp so placed that shadows of the two men inside the room were thrown on the window blind. A shot was heard. Crash went the glass, and both the players sprang to their feet, stung with the pain of gunshot wounds. Two loaded guns were in the room. Each seized a weapon, and prepared to fire. A scurry of retiring feet was heard beyond the fence. Sisney, though bleeding fast, rushed to the door, lifted the latch, and stepped into the yard. Retreating steps could still be heard, though faintly, in the scrub; but in the darkness of night, and with his bleeding wounds, the sheriff was unable to give chase.

When help arrived, Sisney was found to be seriously hurt. One arm was blown to pieces; a mass of squirrel shot was lodged in his side and breast. Hindman was hurt still more, and no one thought he could survive the night. No less than thirteen slugs and other small shot had passed into his chest.

Next morning, Carterville was all astir. On close examination of the fields about the homestead, marks were found, which showed that the assassin had taken off his shoes, and crept through the [242] scrub in his stockings. By this precaution he had been able to reach the house without being heard, to note his enemies as they sat at play, to cover them with his shotted gun, and dash the charge into their sides. The man had evidently retired in the belief that they were killed.

Every man in Carterville knew the murderer, but no one cared to raise the hue and cry. They said it was an old feud; a family quarrel, like the strife of Guelph and Ghibelline, of Ute and Snake. Last time, the victim was a Bulliner; this time he is a Sisney. If the two families like to have a feud of blood, what right has any one to interfere? What day is this, the villagers ask? Twelfth day of December! Was not Bulliner shot this very day last year? Has any of the Sisney party suffered for that crime? It is but turn about. So reason all the tribe of Sheriff Frank. A murder was committed in the previous year. Who doubts that some of the Bulliner family had marked this day for Sisney's death?

On searching out the facts, I find a story of vendetta in the Prairie lands, which for vindictive passion equals the most brutal quarrels in Ajaccio and the Monte d'oro; almost rivals in [243] atrocity the blood feuds of the two Cherokee factions in Vinta between Stand Watie and Jack Ross.

Colonel Sisney and George Bulliner were neighbours, living on adjoining farms, near Carterville. Sisney had a farm of three hundred and sixty acres, Bulliner a farm, a saw mill, and a woollen mill. Sisney, a native of the country, had served in the war, and gained the rank of captain. How he obtained the grade of colonel, no one seems to know; he may have been commissioned in the way of Colonel Brown. Bulliner was a new comer, who had left Tennessee, his native state, during the civil war. Sisney had three sons, the eldest of whom, John, was married. Bulliner had sons named Jack and Dave, and a younger brother, David, who had a son called George. Sisney and Bulliner were more or less intimate with all the settlers living round them; Sisney with the Russells and Hendersons, Bulliner with the Hinchcliffes and Cranes.

Not far off lived a family named Stocks, in which were three young and pretty girls, sisters and firstcousins, who were objects of attention to the youngsters in all these parts. Illinois is one of those [244] States in which White women are in great demand, the White males being nearly a hundred thousand in excess of the White females. A house in which three or four pretty girls are growing up, is a centre of much resort, and the scene of many jealousies. Sallie and Nellie Stocks were sisters, and the elder sister, Sallie, was a great coquette. Sallie kept company with Jack Bulliner, while Nellie was adored by his brother Dave. So far, these strangers from Kentucky seemed to carry the field; but things were not so smooth as they appeared. Sallie, liking to have more than one string to her bow, began to flirt with Tom Russell. Tom was her cousin. People said he was her “ choice,” and though she smiled on Jack Bulliner, shrewd gossips held that she would end by marrying her cousin Tom.

A question rose between these neighbours as to the ownership of a parcel of oats. Sisney had these oats in his barn ; Bulliner asserted that he had paid for them. A reference to the local courts supported Sisney's claim. Soon after the decision, Dave Bulliner dropped into a blacksmith's forge which stood on Sisney's farm, and finding Sisney there, he accused him of having won his cause by [245] swearing what was false. The Sheriff's blood fired up, and snatching a spade, he ran at Dave Bulliner, and cut him in the arm. Dave bolted home, and told his father, his brother Jack, and three other men, that a murderous attack had been made on him by Sisney. The Kentuckians seized their shotguns and revolvers, and set out in a body for Sisney's house. On seeing the five men coming up his lane, Sisney, taking his rifle with him, slipped through the back door, and made for a fence, behind which stood some trees. As he crossed the fence, his enemies fired, and he was badly hurt, yet running to the shelter of a tree, he raised his piece, and called on them to halt. The Bulliners drew up, for Sisney was a dead shot. A parley took place, when the Kentuckians agreed to leave the farm, if Sisney would promise not to fire as they filed off.

Actions were brought on both sides for assault with deadly weapons, but the local judge, accustomed to such scenes, induced the parties to withdraw the pleas, and pay a fine of one hundred dollars each into the county fund.

But blood is not appeased by words. Each party drew their friends and neighbours into the [246] quarrel; Sisney the Hendersons and Russells, Bulliner the Hinchcliffes and Cranes. One Sunday morning, Sisney and his son met some of the Cranes at church, in Carterville, and when the service ended, they came out of church and fought in the public street. Clubs, stones, and knives were used. No lives were lost; but Sisney and his son were banged and bruised. Appeal was made to the magistrate in Cartervile, and on the day of hearing, the parties mustered in the town. Dave Bulliner and Tom Russell met. Tom Russell swore that no Bulliner should have his cousin, Sallie Stocks. The youngsters fought; the elders joined them; and the riot act was read. Each party rode away from Carterville, swearing they would have the other's blood.

George Bulliner, father of the two swains, was the first to fall. He was riding to Carbondale, his horse plodding lazily along the road, when he was shot from a tree. Some neighbours found him in the mire, his body riddled with slugs. Tom Russell was suspected of the crime, and an indictment was served on the sheriff; but the sheriff took no steps for Tom's arrest, and two or three days after the [247] murder, Russell left the place. No one attempted to pursue him, and people soon had reason to think he was not far off.

Some twelve weeks later on, a farmer sitting on his bench in Carterville Church, on Sunday night, observed the face of Tom Russell peering through a glass window at the folks inside. A second farmer, sitting in another part of the church, observed the face of Gordon Clifford, a wild fellow who was better known as Texas Jack, peering through a glass window at the folks inside. Dave Bulliner and his brothers were in the church, with their aunt, who was staying on a visit at the farm. After service, as the Bulliners were returning with the lady to their farm, a volley crashed among them from the bush. Dave fell. Monroe, a younger brother, drew a pistol from his vest, and fired. The party in the bush replied, when the old lady screamed-a slug had passed into her side. Dave lived two days. On his death-bed he made oath that among the party who had fired on them from the bush, he recognised Tom Russell, his brother's rival in the love of Sallie Stocks.

Tom was arrested, and the evidence against him [248] looked extremely strong. He had a deadly quarrel with the murdered man; he had been seen prying through the church window, as if to mark his victim; and his face had been recognised in the bush by his rival in love, his enemy in a family feud. Worse remained behind. An officer, kicking about the bush, picked up a piece of wadding, and on smoothing out the paper, found it had been torn from a copy of the Globe, a newspaper published at St. Louis. Hinchcliffe, the post-master of Carterville, testified that no one except Russell received that journal. The officers arrested Russell, found a shotted gun in his room, and, on drawing the charge, they pulled out a piece of wadding, which was found to join and fit th'paper picked up, in the shape of wadding, in the bush. Yet Tom escaped conviction. This escape was due to another cousin, a girl named Mattie, who swore-first, that she was paying a visit to her uncle Russell on the day when Dave Bulliner was shot; and second, that her cousin Tom was at home the whole day and night; and third, most positively, that about eight o'clock in the evening, he bade them all good-night and went to bed. Squire Strover, who heard the case, was of [249] opinion that this evidence was enough. The prisoner was discharged.

Disgusted with such law as they found in the Prairie lands, the Bulliners snatched their guns and marked their victims. Sisney was reserved for the anniversary of George's death, but Henderson, his chief supporter, was taken off at once. Jack Bulliner, with two companions, lay behind a heap of logs in Henderson's field, and as the farmer turned his plough, they fired into him a whole round of buck-shot. Henderson lived a week. Before he died, he made a statement that, according to his true belief, Jack Bulliner was one of his assailants. In a neighbouring field, a man named Ditmore was at work, and heard the assailing party fire. Within a week, Ditmore was shot.

Hinchcliffe was the next to fall. Hinchcliffe, a physician, as well as a postmaster, was often out at night, attending on his patients. He was riding home one evening in the dark, when spits of fire came out of a copse, near the lane, and struck him dead. His horse was also killed.

Suspicion points to Cousin Tom and Texas Jack, as the assassins of Hinchcliffe, but Cousin Tom [250] and Texas Jack are ugly customers to tackle. No sheriff cares to undertake the job. Much feeling is excited by this bloody deed, for Hinchcliffe was a favourite in the place; yet, down to this moment, no one has been punished for the crime.

In truth, the deed was ceasing to be a theme for talk, until the anniversary of Bulliner's murder came, and the vendetta was renewed in the attempt on Sisney's life.

Colonel Sisney has removed his family to Carbondale.

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