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Full text of "Walter L. Mayo, a Pioneer of Edwards County, Illinois"

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83 



WALTER L. MAYO, A PIONEER OF EDWARDS 
COUNTY, ILLINOIS. 



By Walter Colyer. 

At a special term of the county commissioners' court of 
Edwards county, Illinois, held on the 21st day of April, 
1831, Walter L. Mayo, a young Virginia school teacher 
who had for a time resided in the neighborhood of Albion, 
and had shown considerable aptitude in figures, was ap- 
pointed clerk of the court to fill out the unexpired term of 
one Jesse B. Brown, resigned. The coming of young Mayo 
into this English settlement at this opportune time when 
the affairs of the county were in a badly tangled condition 
was a fortunate circumstance, since it was mainly through 
his wonderful executive ability, his untiring energy, his 
unimpeachable honesty and his unceasing devotion to the 
best interests of the people that the name Edwards county 
became everywhere known as a synonym of law, order and 
good government. 

Mr. Mayo was bom in Albemarle county, Virginia, 
March 7th, 1810. His father, Lewis Mayo, was a planter, 
slave-owner and teacher. A nephew of Lewis Mayo was 
mayor of the city of Richmond just prior to the civil war. 
The father of Lewis Mayo, also named Lewis, was one of 
three brothers who came from England to America; and 
their genealogical table seems to indicate that they were 
of the same family with Rev. John Mayo who in the year 
1639, settled at Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 
He was the first pastor of the second church built in the 
city of Boston. 

Walter L. Mayo was one of a family of five children — 
three sons and two daughters. One of these brothers, 
Samuel T. Mayo, settled at Carlinville, Illinois, where he 



84 

married the sister of John M. Palmer and became a widely- 
known citizen. Walter L. early in life, having acquired a 
fair education, displayed an ambition to cut loose from the 
ideas of his early schooling and seek his own fortune in 
the country beyond the AUeghenies. Stopping first to 
visit an uncle at Tateville, Kentucky, he soon resumed his 
journey westward to Edwards county, Illinois. This 
occurred in the year 1828. Upon his arrival in the English 
settlement he found himself among strangers and without 
any bank account. He was soon given employment as 
a country teacher, boarding in the family of County Com- 
missioner Hunt. The young teacher made himself useful 
outside of his school hours and through his adeptness in 
figures he was called upon to perform all the difficult 
calculations for the county. This finally led to his appoint- 
ment to the office of county clerk, a position he continued 
to hold during the almost unprecedented period of 39 
years. In the meantime he also held the offices of circuit 
clerk, probate judge and treasurer. Judge Mayo during 
all those years acted as the arbiter of the disputes that 
arose atmong the people, and it is notorious that he ad- 
justed more difficulties between neighbors than did the 
courts. No one hesitated to seek his advice which was 
freely given without fee. Naturally of a genial, jovial, 
sympathetic disposition it not unfrequently happened that 
men went to him with their quarrels, estranged, and went 
away the best of friends. The result of this was seen in 
the small amount of litigation in the county and the fact 
that during more than 40 years no lawyer could earn a liv- 
ing within the bounds of Edwards county. With two 
terms of circuit court a year, courts have adjourned without 
a jury trial and grand juries have been discharged without 
the return of a single indictment It was oftentimes 
within the province of Judge Mayo to issue a marriage 
license, and then to perform the marriage ceremony. 

Soon after accepting the appointment to the office of 
county clerk, young Mayo tendered his services to the 
Governor to assist in quelling the Black Hawk Indian 



85 

outbreak, and he was promptly accepted and commissioned 
quartermaster for the battalion from Edwards and adjoin- 
ing counties. His clerical qualifications especially fitted 
him for the work in that department. At the close of the 
Black Hawk war he returned and resumed his duties as 
county clerk. 

Judge Mayo was thus referred to by George Flower in his 
History of the English Settlement: 

**In the first years of the settlement, the public business 
of the county was rather loosely conducted, and the county 
deep in debt ; but for the last twenty years public business 
has been punctually and promptly performed, and the 
records of the county kept in order for ready reference. 
This is due to the good administration of county affairs 
by Walter L. Mayo, Esq., who is said to be one of the best, 
if not the best, county clerks to be found in the State. 
The gatherings of the people from the country are now 
marked by decorum, quietude and respectability." 

Never during his long official service did Mr. Mayo 
forget that he was a Virginian, and his conduct toward his 
fellow men was always that of a Virginia gentleman. He 
was warm and steadfast in his friendships, but he had 
small compassion for the man who would betray that 
friendship. 

March 3d, 1834, Walter L. Mayo and Elizabeth Hall were 
united in marriage. The union resulted in a family of six 
children — Lewis, Florence, Alfred, Rosamond, Nellie and 
Alice. The two sons are dead, but the four daughters still 
survive. Mrs. Mayo was the daughter of William Hall, 
one of the early English colonists in Edwards county. 
William Hall raised a family of nine children, and all were 
educated beyond the standard of their day and generation. 
One of Mrs. Mayors sisters became the wife of Rhymer 
Kohlsaat, an honest German butcher at Albion whose 
sons are now so conspicuous in the great city by the lake 
in law, and journalism. 

At the November election of 1870, Judge Mayo was 
elected on the Republican ticket to represent the 20th 



86 

district in the lower house of the twenty-seventh general 
assembly, in which body he made a creditable record as 
chairman of the committee on finance and as a member of 
the committees on legislative apportionment and revenue. 
In 1872, while the Judge was still a member of the Illinois 
legislature, his family removed to Leavenworth, Kansas, 
where resided the eldest daughter whose husband, Major 
Hopkins, was warden of the federal penitentiary. Al- 
though residing with his family at Leavenworth, Mr. Mayo 
continued to call Albion his home; and it was there that he 
exercised the rights of citizenship. During the years of 
his public service he had by careful saving and prudent 
investment, accumulated a competency which no one be- 
grudged him, for all admitted it was well and honestly 
earned. A goodly share of this wealth was in the keeping 
of the First National Bank of Olney, Illinois, an institution 
in which he was a director and with the business affairs 
of which he was quite generally understood to be thoroughly 
familiar. This brings us to the sad and closing chapter in 
the life of Walter L. Mayo. 

Judge Mayo died the victim of assassins. The story of 
his death, the names of the guilty fiends and the place of 
his burial are sealed mysteries, scarcely less mysterious 
to-day than they were the day the deed was committed 
more than 34 years ago. 

On Friday, January 17th, 1878, Judge Mayo departed 
from Leavenworth for Olney, whither he went to attend 
a meeting of the bank directors. His safe arrival at St. 
Louis the next morning was noted on the register of the 
Laclede hotel where he always sojourned when in that city. 
He left the hotel at about six o'clock the same evening for the 
Union Station where he entered a coach on the old O. & M. 
road en route to Olney. It is known beyond question 
that he got aboard the train and that he arrived on the 
Illinois side of the river about seven o'clock, but after that 
all is a blank. The bank meeting was held on the following 
Thursday, and not until then was Mrs. Mayo apprised of 
the fact of his disappearance. This information first came 



87 

in the form of a telegram from the bank officials to the 
Mayo family asking an explanation for his non-appearance. 
The answer was returned that he had left home for Olney 
on the Friday previous. To this the bank officials replied 
that they knew absolutely nothing of his whereabouts; and 
then the first serious alarm of foul play was aroused. The 
valise and cane of the missing man were carried on to 
Cincinnati and returned to St. Louis. The son, Lewis 
Mayo, now deceased, but then and for years succeeding 
one of the best know citizens of Leavenworth, went im- 
mediately to St. Louis where every possible effort was made 
to discover some clew that would give light, but all without 
results. Beyond the fact that a great crime had been 
committed nothing was positively known. That he was 
either murdered outright or else carried away into cap- 
tivity no one doubted, for he was not the man to desert his 
family and go into hiding from his friends. And that he 
took no wealth with him was positively known. There 
were theories advanced without number. It appeared 
reasonably certain that a crime had been committed while 
crossing the bridge. Some investigators surmised that 
the body had been thrown into the river. Others that it 
was dumped into Cahokia creek, while a respectable 
ntmiber believed and still believe the body was cremated in 
the furnace of the boiler. Yet others held that the victim 
was thrown from the eastern approach to the bridge and 
carried aw^y by accomplices into captivity, possibly to be 
held for a ransom. Cahokia creek back of the old Relay 
house in East St. Louis was dragged in the hope that the 
body might be found ; experienced detectives were employed 
and telegrams flew over the country The theory of rob- 
bery, so often advanced, was scouted by his family and 
friends who knew that he never carried arms and would 
be the last man to offer resistance if he fell into the hands of 
highwaymen. Suicide, which some suggested, had no 
basis of probability, since he was not of that morose or 
melancholy nature which begets self destruction. More- 
over, his financial affairs were in a prosperous condition 



88 

and his family relations the most congenial, and nothing 
could be presented that would suggest the idea of self 
destruction. Unquestionably the most plausible theory 
was that of abduction, but now after the lapse of years 
nothing has developed to substantiate such a theory. 
For years afterward his family would not have been 
surprised to receive propositions purporting to come from 
Mr. Mayo that money was required for his release, or that 
upon payment of a certain sum his family might hope to 
receive information of great importance to them. In 
fact, they rather expected that letters of this nature would 
come to them in after years. However, in this last hope 
they were doomed to suffer disappointment. In the course 
of a letter written by Lewis Mayo and addressed to the 
author of this sketch February 5th, 1889, he said : 

**As a matter of fact, I have felt for years that father's 
disappearance was due to the fact that certain parties 
desired him out of the way, and that to make sure of it 
took means to accomplish that end which resulted in his 
death. I am not clear that it was the desire or intent of 
such parties to murder him, but believe in order to be sure 
that he did not trouble them at Olney they employed part- 
ies at St. Louis or rather led certain ones to think there was 
a chance to make a raise in an easy manner, not caring 
what they did so fie was made away with, and that the 
active patties had not knowledge of the actual facts, but 
took chances for gain, with possibly a fee if he was heard 
of no more. That they performed well their work long 
years attest. I Tiave often dreamed of seeing him, but 
never yet have I been near enough in my dreams to talk 
to him. Over and over again have I seen him coming 
down the street as in years before, but always to wake up 
when he was just within speaking distance. The thought 
that possibly he was still in some out of the way place I 
cannot entertain, because what leads men to such deeds 
is money or promise of gain, and any one mean enough to 
do such a thing would I imagine endeavor to make more 
out of it, particularly so since some of the principal parties 



89 

engaged in it, as I think, are not now in shape to take care 
of themselves — too busy attending to f timaces way below. 
Our experience with detectives leads me to think that we 
might as well have dispensed with them entirely, except 
for the fact that one cannot feel that he has done his duty 
without having the experience. I am now well satisfied 
that we had in our employ men who reported our every act 
to the guilty parties, thereby making it possible to antici- 
pate each move and checkmate us. We did everything 
we could think of to at least find out what the truth was, 
if no more, and always something would happen. Con- 
victs in penitentiaries would escape when we were getting 
what promised to be the revelation of the true story; or 
detectives would say it was no use to go further in a certain 
way and just qtiit, so what happened, we never knew and 
can only surmise. I feel quite sure he never left the bridge 
alive, or at least was thrown off the east approach near the 
river and there cared for by parties paid for it. Now who 
could have had any interest in the disappearance but those 
folks who feared he had knowledge of their own guilt?*' 

That a great crime was committed was conclusively 
proven, as when efforts were being made to ferret out the 
mystery upon more than one occasion the investigators 
were warned to desist.^ For instance, when some months 
afterward two prominent citizens of Southern Illinois 
were in Spiirfgfield doing detective work and were passing 
after dark en route from the Leland hotel to the state 
house they were held up by unknown men under the 
over-head railway crossing and warned that if they pro- 
ceeded ftirther with their investigation they, too, would go 
the way of Mayo. As to who the instigators of the crime 
were, there is slender reason to doubt, but it is not the part 
of wisdom to mention names in this sketch. That the 
guilty ones are now all dead is reasonably certain. 

So general and so genuine was the grief over the dis- 
appearance of Judge Mayo throughout Edwards and ad- 
joining counties that it was deemed proper all should join 
in some public expression of their feeling of abhorrence of 



90 

the great crime. Accordingly on March 9th, 1878, a great 
mass meeting was held for the purpose of taking some suit- 
able action expressive of the general sorrow. Addresses 
were delivered commemorative of the virtues of the missing 
man and a committee of prominent citizens was appointed 
to draft suitable resolutions. This committee reported at 
the second meeting held the following Tuesday when a 
long series of resolutions were presented and adopted 
which for their pathos and heart-felt expressions of grief 
have been rarely equaled. The preamble recited. That, 
* 'Whereas, in the dispensations of Divine Providence, 
our community has been called upon to suffer so severely 
by the mysterious removal of Walter L. Mayo, who was so 
intimately connected with us for more than forty-five 
years; and as it becomes us to express our estimation of 
him and to oflfer our sympathies to his afflicted family in 
their sore distress, therefore, be it resolved,*' etc. It was 
finally Resolved, that **we will spare no efforts on our parts 
to trace out what has become of him; and that as one means 
we will invoke Him without whom no sparrow can fall to 
the ground; to make the truth and the facts known to his 
relatives to comfort withal through His providence and 
grace all who mourn this privation of husband, father, 
brother and friend. '^' 

It might be mentioned in passing that the last will and 
testamtptit of Walter L. Mayo was probated in the probate 
court of Edwards county, Jime 25th, 1878. It was written 
July 16th, 1849, and bequeathed the entire estate of the 
testator to his wife. 

Mrs. Walter L. Mayo passed over and beyond the veil 
of mysteries at her home in Leavenworth, January 9th, 
1899, in her 88th year. She was a cultured christian 
woman, widely read in literature and a writer of both 
prose and poetry of no mean ability. She was deeply 
interested in all moves that had for their object the better- 
ment and the up-building of humanity. Words are in- 
capable of expressing the grief and bitter anguish of her 
latter years, hoping against hope that something would 



91 

yet transpire to lift at least in part the dark cloud and 
heavy burden. I can not do better in closing than to 
quote from a letter written by the eldest daughter, Mrs. 
Florence Mayo Hopkins, of Leavenworth, so recently as 
February 28th,* 1912:. 

**The awful tragedy is still shrouded in mystery. The 
dark cloud hanging over us for so many years has never 
been lifted. As our dear mother so pathetically expressed 
the attitude of the remaining years of her life, it is still^ 

** *To wait, to watch, to listen, 
To turn to the opening door. 
To welcome a well-known footstep 
Returning — never more. 
To wait, to watch, to listen. 
To sit in dumb despair. 
Like a ghost in the evening twilight. 
Still waits the empty chair. 
To wait, to watch, to listen. 
For a voice that calleth me. 
As a dream when one awaketh — 
So shall the meeting be.' ** 
Albion, 111. Walter Colyer. 



A Letter From the Daughter of Walter L. Mayo 



219 N. Broadway, Leavenworth, Kan. 
March 19, 1912. 
Walter Colyer, Esq. 
Albion, Illinois. 
Dear Friend: — Yours of March 13th is received. I cer- 
tainly appreciate the interest you have shown in Father's 
career, and I would be pleased to render you whatever 
assistance possible. I know that he was warmly attached 
to the people of Edwards county, — ^he never forgot their 
friendship and kindness when he came, a mere stripling, 
to live among them. We have always lived in the North,