The Kankakee Marsh was justifiably reputed as a lawless land. Many an unsavory character plied his criminal trade along the Kankakee and justice was scarce. In response to this threat a group of men came together and formed a vigilante group named the Jasper Rangers.
In 1852, John McIntyre and his family were scouting for suitable farm land to purchase. They left their camp and on their return found that their wagon and all of their possessions were gone. Later McIntyre wrote a paper titled "The Jasper Rangers." Many felt that McIntyre knew too much about the Rangers and was most likely a Ranger himself. At that time juries could be bought or intimidated into releasing captured criminals and the public needed to solve this lawlessness. The Rangers were made up of citizens from Porter, Jasper, Starke and LaPorte counties. They were a secretive group and actually lived near the scoundrels in the marshlands.
Citizens from all walks of life made up the Rangers. McIntyre wrote: "They supplied their own side arms and rifles. They shot from ambush or out in the open, from duck blinds, trappers' shanties, or from any place necessary to get their man.
"Courts in those days were sometimes corrupt. The Jasper Rangers soon dispensed with those agencies. All they needed to know was that 'this was the man' and when sufficiently assured they coolly shot him, and buried him along the roadside."
One well-armed group of timber thieves from Momence mercilessly murdered anyone who interfered with their activities — including land owners.
The gang would cut the trees below the waterline, so no stump was visible, and then raft it down river, selling it to a sawmill. An unnamed old river man told: "One day one of our neighbors on Lone Oak Island discovered a cross-cut saw, some wedges, an ax, and two peavies hidden under some brush beside the river."
These were recognized as the tools of timber thieves. The Rangers set up a stake-out. Eventually the thieves returned. The Old Timer went on: "The watchers let them get going on a big oak tree — and three cracks from accurate rifles ended their career. ... Hyde's cemetery was on Lone Tree Island. So the vigilantes dragged the crooks over to the edge of Hyde's cemetery and dug a somewhat shallow grave and dumped all three in it. With them was buried that cache of lumbering tools."
Many of the criminals lived on secluded islands up and down the river. On one well chosen night, when most of the villains were grouped together, the Rangers made simultaneous raids on many of the island hideouts. It turned into a mass execution and an unknown number of criminals were buried on the spot.
McIntyre wrote: "There were a few arrests, but attorneys bewildered the witnesses so that some doubt existed as to his reliability and discharges were frequent."
I'm sure many of the jury members were supportive of the Rangers' actions. Eventually peace and justice came to the Kankakee River and the Jasper Rangers disbanded.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.