Ed & Lon Maxwell (alias The Williams Bros.) – Outlaws

Two of the most notorious men this county ever produced, and who at one time attained a national reputation for their murderous and nefarious deeds, were Edward and Alonzo Maxwell, the outlaw brothers, raised in Forgottonia‘s  McDonough County, who rivaled Frank and Jesse James in their notoriety. Beginning with petty thievery in Blandinsville, IL and ending with the public lynching of one in Durand, WI, but not until after killing many law men and defying an entire company of militia.

Spending their formative years in, among other places Macomb and Colchester, and growing up hard as the sons of a struggling tenant farmer, the Maxwell brothers started their lawbreaking as robbers and horse thieves in the 1870s, embarking on a life of crime that quickly captured the public eye.

Already made famous locally by newspapers that wanted to dramatize crimes and danger for an eager reading audience, the Maxwell brothers achieved national prominence in 1881 when they shot and killed Charles and Milton Coleman, Wisconsin lawmen who were trying to apprehend them. In Illinois they were known by their real names, but in Wisconsin they used their alias, the Williams brothers. Public outrage sparked the largest manhunt for outlaws in American history, involving some twenty posses who pursued the desperadoes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Some of the pursuers were intent on a lynching, but the outlaws escaped against incredible odds. When a mob finally succeeded in killing Ed, in broad daylight on a courthouse lawn, that event generated widespread commentary on law and order. Nevertheless, the daring desperadoes were eventually portrayed as heroes in sensationalistic dime novels. The Maxwell Brothers became so famous that they received more coverage in the tabloid press than even the James-Younger Gang, even garnering front page coverages in the New York Times.

 

Sources: Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McDonough County by Alexander McLean (1907) and Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers  by John Hallwas (2008)