Reason Trigg

Depending on your point of view, Reason Trigg was either a hero or a villain. I’ll let you decide.

The story starts out innocently enough. James Foster, Sr. (my ggg grandfather, had a grand-daughter named Nancy Park, daughter of Overton Park and Mary Ellen Foster. Nancy was born 0n 5 Oct 1846 in Benton County, MO and on 8 Nov 1865, she married a neighbor boy, Reason Trigg. Reason was born on 15 May 1840 in Ohio to John and Elizabeth Trigg and had moved to Missouri as a young man.

Reason and Nancy lived in Missouri for about 10 years and then moved to Piatt County, IL. They lived a farming life with eleven children. Nancy died in April 1913 and on January 14th, 1914, Reason Trigg made a startling confession.

On July 4th, 1886, a man named Henry Wildman murdered his wife in Monticello, Piatt County, Illinois because she would not turn over a $12,000 inheritance. He then tried to kill himself by cutting his own throat, but failed, leaving himself gravely ill. He was believed to be dying but somehow he pulled through. This was particularly troubling for the people of Monticello. A man named Lawrence Dewees had also killed his wife and was released because his trial was postponed too many times. When Henry Wildman hired a high powered attorney who got his trial delayed, he sealed his fate.

On the night of 13 Oct 1886, a gang of men showed up at the jail on horseback. A carefully coordinated plan was set into motion. Guards were set out, a battering ram was brought and the brick wall was broken down. Henry was dragged from the jail and hung from the tree outside the jail. Ten bullets were fired into his body, just to be sure. By the time anyone from the town showed up at the jail, the lynch mob had dispersed. All that was left was a wife-murderers lifeless body hanging fr4om the tree.

No arrests were ever made. The townsfolk seemed content to let the whole episode be forgotten about. But not Reason Trigg. He was the mastermind of the lynching and had personally thrown the rope over the tree branch. For 28 years the incident had weighed on his shoulders. He couldn’t confess as long as he had a family to support. He became a Christian and knew that he should confess his sin. After the death of Nancy he could bear it no more. He first confessed to Philo Wildman, Henry’s brother. He then went to the Piatt County jail and confessed to the County Sheriff.

No one knew quite what to do with him. the lynching in 1886 had made national news and was an embarrassment to the county. Now, this story was even bigger news. The whole sordid affair was brought back out. Where were between 100 and 300 people in the lynch mob and no one had ever broken the code of silence. Would they all be tried now?

On 6 Feb 1914 the Grand Jury convened. They did what a good citizen of Monticello would do, they simply chose to ignore it and refused to return an indictment. Reason Trigg left the courthouse and said, “I am content, and my conscience has been satisfied,”. he returned to his farm. Reason lived for 16 more years, dying at the age of 90 on 5 Sep 1930.

So ends the story of Reason Trigg, the husband of my first cousin, three times removed. So what do you think? Hero? Villain? Something in between?

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