Chad and I were pre-running a gravel road route for Saturday’s Rigs & Coffee meetup when we found the pavement we had been on for a mile or two give way to about a half of a mile of brick. In the middle of nowhere. In the middle of flat-as-a-pancake Illinois nowhere. I have seen remnants of brick roads in historic areas of town but we were surprised to see it so deep in the farm country of Ogle County. Doing my research after we got home I found this on HMDB.org- ” Built on the old Chicago and Iowa Trail, this road was the first state aid paved rural road in northern Illinois. Begun in 1914, it was dedicated August 24, 1915. One lane of fired bricks was put in the north lane, a dirt tract in the south lane; one and five-eighths mile long.”
I noticed links here to other historical places we passed that day- notably the Stinson House “The Chicago and Iowa trail, usually known as the C & I trail, passed through here. Travelers by stage coach, covered wagon, or on horseback between Chicago and Iowa frequently stayed overnight at Capt. Stinson’s inn. This center of community life in pioneer days was also a stop on the underground railroad.” The thought of traveling an early pioneer trail was pretty intriguing, but not compared to what I saw in the associated links of locations nearby- “Mob Trial and Execution.” Well that link was going to have to be investigated for sure!
I read on and learned that the northern part of Illinois was basically the wild west before the wild west was. Gangs of horse thieves, robbers and counter-fitters plagued the territory in the early 1800s and a group of local citizens fed up with the crime formed a group to patrol and called themselves The Regulators (saddle up.) One of them was murdered and this sparked a manhunt and extraordinary vigilante execution by the Regulators. You can read more here, it is a pretty fascinating story and I feel like I should have learned about this in history class. I might have paid more attention to sordid tales like this one.
But here is where it gets weird. You ever drive by a forlorn farmhouse or a run-down cabin in the woods and wonder what the walls could say if they could talk? You ever wonder what joys and sorrows were experienced inside? You ever wonder who lived there and what was their fate? I wondered these things and more as we drove past one particular farmhouse, with tall pines and thick growth taking over the lawn. I wondered at the broken windows and missing shingles. Who had lived here? Where had they gone? That night, as I read and followed links later than I should have, I realized we had driven right down the very road where the incident that led to the mob justice and execution happened. I had taken some photos of a sad, crumbling farmhouse near there, could it be the site of the murder that led to the mob execution? Comparing the photos I took to the info I found online… sure enough. It was the Campbell farm where the Driscoll gang shot Regulator leader John Campbell and sparked a manhunt, trial and execution of two men with 111 shots. I kept reading, so satisfied with finding out the answer to questions that rarely get answered when seeing old, abandoned structures drifting away to entropy and lost memories.
Travel destinations are typically chosen for their natural beauty or scenic qualities. I find more and more that while I love a beautiful view, I am drawn to the history of the people and communities I visit more and more. Add to that, the fact that traveling with friends or family adds to the enjoyment of the journey, and I have come to the conclusion that we are all really just tourists to the human condition. The trails or roads may lead to beautiful sites and vistas, but they always leave me looking inward, wondering, seeking out lessons, connections and the meaning of life while looking at how others have lived. And even when the views are not as spectacular, there are still things to learn.
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