Counterfeiters, Thieves, and Outlaws

bandits

Nathaniel Proctor ran the general store in Dayton in the late 1830s. Jesse Green’s memoir has this story about his time in Dayton:

Proctor had a very nice and amiable family, and was apparently a high minded and honorable man, he had a great faculty for gaining friends and did a very successful business for a year or two. One cold winter day father went from the mill up to his store, and put his feet up against the stove to warm them, having his pocket-book containing between five and six hundred dollars wanted for buying wheat in his pants pocket. Returning home he soon discovered he had lost it, and thinking it might have dropped out of his pocket at the store, he returned immediately to look for it, but not finding it, he offered Mr. Proctor’s boys five dollars if they would find it for him, saying he must have lost it between the mill and store; seeing they made no effort to find it, he concluded they had found it, and that probably he would see no more of it.

Not long after this occurrence Mr. Proctor went to St. Louis for some goods, and on his return, and probably in St. Louis passed some counterfeit money, and learning by some means that he was liable to be arrested, he never returned to Dayton. Father being security for him to the amount of twelve or fifteen hundred dollars, and other creditors gobbling up his goods, it fell to fathers lot, to take his book accounts and notes, nearly covering the amount he was held for provided collections could be made. They were scattered over a great extent of country. It was afterwards learned that he had dealt quite heavily with members of his gang of outlaws, that infested the whole north western portion of the state.

His book accounts and notes were put in legal shape for me to collect and I was sent out with his books in a pair of saddle bags, and calling one night on one of his principal creditors, who was keeping a Hotel on the Pickamesoggin not far from Belvidere, I found a crowd of ruffians, all armed with pistols and bowie knives, and I could scarcely make up my mind, which would be best under the circumstances, to try and find another stopping place for the night, or boldly face the trying ordeal which I felt sure I was doomed to for the night. I finally concluded that if they might have any intention to rob, or molest me, they would do so in either event, and I determined to put on as bold a front as it was possible for a little boy of 18 and concluded to seek no farther. When I went in and threw down my saddlebags containing the books, there were a dozen fierce roguish eyes cast upon me, which almost made the hair on my head stand on end, and young and defenseless as I was, my situation can be better imagined than I can tell it.

I concluded to retire to bed soon after supper, as my company did not seem at all entertaining to me, and about twelve o’clock at night the landlord brought up a great burly fellow and put him in bed with me, he first laid a big pistol under his pillow, and then a large bowie knife. My sleep from then on until morning was somewhat disturbed, as they all knew my business, and I had a bill of $250.00 against the landlord, they would naturally suspect that I had collected some money, such thoughts as these kept crowding upon me before I could sleep, in fact I do not think I did sleep any that night, the more I would think of my situation as it occurred to me, among (as I thought) a den of thieves, the more would I think, that they probably would destroy my books and possibly me too. So my stay there was anything but pleasant, but fortunately no demonstrations were made or harm done and next morning as soon as I heard any movements below, I left my bedfellow pretty early sleeping soundly on his arms, and after breakfast had a settlement with the landlord. He gave me no money, but I took his note with which I was more than glad to leave him, but his note was never paid. I suspect that most of Proctor’s customers in that far away region were members of the gang of outlaws called the bandits of the prairies, and the Driscols who were summarily punished near Mount Morris in early times were of the same gang.

Whilst invoicing Proctor’s goods, his dies for making bogus coin were discovered, and secretly laid aside until going home at noon when it was the intention to secure them; but when they put their fingers upon them, like the Irishman’s flea, they were not there, removed by his clerk probably.  In digging out a cellar to the store, he [the new owner] found father’s old pocketbook minus the money lost with it. A little later the old store building was torn down, and inside the plastering was found a ten dollar copper plate on a Michigan bank for making counterfeit money. All sympathized deeply with the disgraced family, who remained in Dayton but a short time after this unfortunate circumstance. But where they went and their subsequent identity, we never learned as they probably were no longer known by the name of Proctor.

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