THE REDWOOD GANG
Warren County, Indiana
Submitted by Beth High Rasmussen
These were cousins to my Philip High. John High was a brother to Jacob High.
Both went to Warren County from Hampshire County, WV.
Prior to the invention of the car, the most easily marketable form of stolen property was the horse. Organized gangs stole horses and dealt in counterfeit money. Scattered from Ohio to Iowa were so called “stations” where thieves and stolen goods could be hidden. These stations consisted of individuals who, with knowledge of what was going on, were paid by the gangs to feed and rest the horses until taken to the next “station” and offer any assistance in helping the thieves to escape with their stolen goods. For years horses from eastern Iowa and western Ohio were stolen and disposed of in between. The thieves would take the lighter horses of one state and sell them in another and return with a heavier class of horse, which was in demand in the timber country of Iowa and Michigan. Horses stolen in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin were taken to the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River west of Danville IL, later to be sold in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Horses from Ohio, Kentucky and point east were taken to Bogus Island in the Gifford swamp located in Jasper County. These horses were taken to Chicago, Wisconsin or Michigan. For years these operations were conducted during the day due to the sparse population. Counterfeiting was closely connected to horse stealing. The stolen horse was frequently traded for a better one and the difference paid in counterfeit money. If owners refused to trade, the gang would steal the horse at night. This operation was so successful that the thieves began stealing horses between Ohio and Iowa. The station-keepers were helpful in locating local horses to steal. Horse theft was hard to prove because of the distances the horses were moved before being sold.
One such gang was the Redwood or High Gang, named after the creek the High family lived near. The gang operated from the White River Valley to the Illinois River country but they concentrated their efforts in Warren, Fountain and Vermilion County, Illinois. They were active from the 1830’s through the early 1860’s until the horse-thief detective companies stopped the gang. Horse thieving had become such a problem in the area that in 1841 John Sant Gray held a meeting at Waynetown to organize a horse thief detective agency. During the early 1850’s area residents especially suffered. Even so, the High gang had many supporters.
Isaac High and his brother Henry had moved to Warren County from Ohio with their father John Jr. High. They purchased land around what is known as Redwood Point in Steuben Twp. and in Pike Twp., at the top of the hill east of Shanklin Hill from 1831 through 1837. John High, from Pennsylvania and no relation, had previously purchased land on the south side of Redwood Point in 1828.
In April of 1837, Isaac was in court due to neglecting his duties as road supervisor at Redwood Point. Logs and brush had not been cleared from the roads. In Nov. 1849, Isaac was charged with aiding and assisting William Maden to escape justice. Maden had been charged with stealing a horse in Fulton County. Henry High and John Williams posted Isaac’s bail.
Isaac and Catherine Harness High had 8 children – George, Mary, James, Serepta, Henry, Ivy, Prudence and Isaac Jr. The gang was reportedly started by Isaac, but George, the oldest son was the leader. George was six foot, well built with black eyes and was an entertaining talker. The High family became acquainted with horse thieves and criminals who would stop at Redwood Point as they were escaping the law to the east and south. George and his siblings eventually went beyond just protecting the horse thieves and organized their own gang of horse thieves. Other known members of the gang included Mary, George’s sister, her husband Dan Claflin, and George’s sister Ivy. A James and Isaac High were also involved and were probably also of the same family. It was thought there were as many as 20 members of the gang. George High, the most daring and successful of the gang rode a black stallion named Truxon. It was said he delighted in riding just out of shooting range and deriding pursuers with taunting gestures.
For a long time there was a good fording place across the Wabash River known only to the thieves, not far from the mouth of Redwood Creek or Hanging Rock. A narrow tortuous path just wide enough for a horse led from the river up Redwood Creek. Quantities of jewelry, and merchandise, along with horses, stolen farther east and across the river were hidden in the ravines and heavy woods until they could be safely disposed of by the thieves. Counterfeiting tools were also found concealed in the ravine at Redwood Point.
George High’s first brush with the law occurred on Feb. 1, 1846 when he was indicted for carrying a concealed weapon, in this case a dirk or long knife, and not being a traveler. At the time, a traveler was expected to be heavily armed, but locals were not supposed to carry weapons. In March of 1847 George was acquitted by a jury. The wheels of justice were pretty slow.
George High and John Foresly were charged with grand larceny that occurred on Oct. 28, 1849. Stolen were 10 coats, 17 comforts, 24 pair of glasses, 124 spools of thread, 15 razors, 200 yds of ribbon, 2 bolts of calico, 23 pairs of gloves, 3 pairs of socks and 8 shirts. In Sept. 1850 it was noted that although William Short had been summoned to testify for the defense he had not yet appeared. George stated he discovered William had gone on an extended visit to Ohio and had not yet returned. William was the only one who could provide an alibi for George because they had spent the night in question together in bed. The 1850 census shows George High and John Foresly being incarcerated in the Warren County jail for horse theft.
Daniel Claflin was charged with aiding in George’s escape. Robert Claflin and Albert Wilcox posted Daniel’s bail.
Robert Claflin had one son, Dan a reckless fellow who was a leader of anything that was going on. Whenever anything went missing in the area, Dan was blamed. Even before attaining adulthood, Dan Claflin was known as sort of a local Jesse James.
Robert promised to give his son, Dan, 40 acres if he would promise to reform; which Dan agreed readily. The acreage was located where years later the Pence railroad station and elevator would be built. The deed to transfer the property was made out, but before it could be recorded, Dan got into trouble again. The father placed the unrecorded deed in the cupboard intending to still give the land to Dan. But when a few weeks later Dan was found guilty of being a member of the Redwood gang and sent to the Indiana State Penitentiary for 12 months, Robert changed his mind about giving the land to Dan, but did not destroy the deed.
After serving a year in prison, Dan returned home in 1850 and somehow found out about the deed. After searching the house for a couple of days, he moved the deed to a different hiding place until he could get to town and have it recorded. The father knew nothing of the theft until he went to pay his taxes and discovered the land was not in his name, but in Dan’s. Abner Goodwine stated that although Dan was a confirmed thief- or as they would now call it since he had quite a sum of money – a kleptomaniac, he was one of the best neighbors that a man ever had and did not take anything of any neighbors whom he liked, but used the gang to get revenge on those whom he disliked.
In 1851 Daniel was charged with an assault and battery charge against Elias Crane.
In 1846 John High was accused of stealing one hog from Thomas Goodwine worth $10. In Sept. 1849 John High Jr. and Joel Watts were charged with obstructing legal proceedings by assaulting an officer. John’s name appears in court records from Sept. 1851 thru June 1853 for having and passing counterfeit money.
J. Wesley Whicker, in his book, recalled Henry Campbell had a horse stolen. Mr. Campbell and about 100 men went to Redwood Point and demanded the Highs return the horse. Due to the large number of men present, Mr. Campbell was told by the Highs that on a certain day of the following week the horse would be in the stable at Williamsport and sure enough the horse was there on the allotted day. Mr. Campbell shot one of the thieves attempting to steal his horses during the night. Many times after this incident, shots were fired at the Campbell house. Finally a letter was pushed under his door informing him that he would be given six months to leave the state, during which time he would not be bothered, but after that if he was still in Indiana, he would be killed. Convinced the letter was from George High, Mr. Campbell moved to Rossville, IL in 1861.
George High was once captured near Redwood by two men named Haynes and Hedrick. High was tied to Hedrick on the same horse and they rode as fast as they could toward the river, but they were overtaken by Isaac, who rode up on the run, shot Hedrick, threw the body off of the horse, cut his son loose and forced Haynes to flee.
Members of the horse-thief detective agency visited sympathizers of the High gang and gave them the 3rd degree with long, tough pliable hickory switches baked in fire. One such session with a Denmark, IL High gang associate, resulted in him telling all he knew of past depredations of the High Gang and promising to inform on the gang in the future. This resulted in George High being captured by Thomas McKibben, George Luckey and a posse of 50 in 1852. George was in the Vermilion Co. jail when court commenced Oct. 28, 1853. Abraham Lincoln, George’s lawyer, petitioned the court to have the trial moved to Champaign County due to George’s notoriety in Vermilion County. His case was continued until the next term.
Threats from the High Gang had continued to escalate as the family tried to intimidate those who were responsible for George’s capture in an attempt to get him released from jail. Thomas McKibben, president of the Ross Township Horse Company, placed a warning to the outlaws in the Williamsport Wabash Commercial in Sept. 1854. The article stated if any person or property of those who helped to put George High in jail was in any way molested or damaged vengeance would be meted out tenfold upon them. If friends of George’s gave false testimony to clear him as had been done in the past and as Isaac High had boasted he could, the detective organization would arrest George again and deal out street justice to him and others of his associates. Anyone who bailed George out would be considered an accomplice. The detectives would withhold their influence and patronage from any lawyer who unfairly tried to acquit George.
George was not tried until two years later in October 1855. Abraham Lincoln lost the case that was heard in Champaign County and George High was sentenced to 36 months in the Alton, IL penitentiary. On November 7, 1857 Lincoln was in Danville circulating a petition he had drawn up to obtain a pardon for George High. Lincoln persuaded leading citizens of Vermilion County, IL to sign the petition. The majority of signers were Lincoln’s courtroom and political friends and acquaintances. The others were picked at random. Eight of the signers were attorneys or studying for the profession, one was a county judge, four were early settlers, Thomas Owen was from Warren County, and John Chenowith was a Hoosier.
The most surprising signer of the petition was Thomas McKibben, who had arrested High. It was said of McKibben that he would rather chase a horse thief than eat. He was a law and order man of the old school when justice was dispensed quickly by hanging. Donald Richter speculated that McKibben signed the petition as a favor to Lincoln, a friend and fellow Republican who had represented him in court. Lamon, who was Lincoln’s law partner, stated it was likely McKibben was waiting for George High to be released on bail or legal trickery just so he could catch High and hang him.
The petition was endorsed by Lincoln November, 10, 1857 who hand delivered it to Governor William H. Bissell. At the bottom of the petition Lincoln wrote “I have been acquainted with the circumstances of George High’s case from the time of his arrest; and I cheerfully join in the request that he may be pardoned,” Lincoln was Bissell’s main political advisor, so it was not probably very difficult to get Bissell to grant a pardon. On Nov. 11th, George was set free. High went to Missouri where he returned to a life of crime.
In 1864 a store near Chicago was robbed. Investigators were able to follow the tracks in the snow to George High’s home at Redwood Point. The investigators called upon the Warren County Horse Thief Detective Association for assistance. The posse led by John Sant Grey of Montgomery County and consisting of men from Fountain County and the Cronkhites of Warren County discovered some of the stolen goods at High’s house and arrested George. The posse placed George on a horse with his hands tied behind his back and headed for the jail in Williamsport. High managed somehow to free himself and near a steep bluff at Sulpher Springs below Williamsport he jumped off his horse and rolled down the embankment. A friend or relative was waiting with George’s horse Truxon. High headed west, with the posse in pursuit. At Nauvoo, IL, High rode the horse into the Mississippi River and escaped, never to be heard of again in Warren County. It has been conjectured that the posse captured High and hung him, claiming he escaped. George High’s headstone inscription shows he died Feb. 2, 1864.
When the posse returned they went to Redwood Point and gave notice to Dan Claflin and some of the High brothers and sisters to stop harboring horse thieves and counterfeiters. Counterfeit money continued to circulate though.
Ivy High was indicted on March 10, 1864 for receiving stolen goods, which consisted of 55 pairs of pantaloons, 10 men’s coats, 400 yards of bleached muslin, 7 woolen shawls, 5 pair of woolen stockings, 100 yards of material, 150 yds. of calico and 5 men’s waistcoats taken from William Henderson and sentenced to prison. Isaac and James High, Ivy’s brothers, were named as those who committed the theft.
Some time later Dan was shot through the hip by a detective attempting to arrest him for passing counterfeit money.
After serving their prison sentence, Daniel and his wife Mary bought a 120 acre farm located at Kate’s Pond and lived there until their deaths. Ivy High, after serving her sentence, lived in Attica and owned an interest in the farm.
All are buried at Redwood Cemetery.
From the Fountain-Warren Democrat 1894
(There is a question regarding the validity of the underlined items as no proof has been found)
The gang was under the command of “Old Ike High”, a Kentuckian. His family consisted of his wife, his son George, and his daughters Lize, Liz and Suse. There were other men in the gang among whom were Phil Fox, Bill Fuller, Jack Hamilton and Dan Claflin, the husband of Suse High.
A path led back from Redwood Creek’s mouth a few hundred yards and then widened into a road. The road led to a rough log cabin where Isaac High lived. A path led from the cabin into a ravine and to an underground stable, which was a natural cave some hundred feet long. It had been formed by the washing out of the limestone cliff. The thieves had planted trees and vines to hide the entrance. At times there were as many as 50 horses stabled there.
Fifty men under Capt. Thomas McKibben, sheriff of Danville, IL, were led into Redwood by a traitorous horse thief at night. Warned by the howling dogs, all the gang members except George and his three sisters escaped. They barred the door and refused to surrender on any terms. The detectives surrounded the house and began firing. Finally, Suse swung the door open and stepped out. Since she was a woman, the detectives held their fire. Suse suddenly swung up a rifle from the folds of her dress and fired into a bush, hitting young Jeff McKibben, who later died. The detectives opened fire and Suse continued firing until she collapsed from exhaustion due to lack of blood. When the cabin was captured, George, Liz and Lize were found under the bed. Suse, after being shot nine times was left behind to die. After the raid law officials for miles around entered Redwood and discovered nearly 30 horses suffering from a week’s lack of attention.
George and his sisters were tried within a week and sent to the penitentiary at Alton , IL for ten years each. All three contracted consumption and died before half their terms were served.
Suse, who had been left behind to die, recovered and later unsuccessfully filed suit in Fountain County against those prominent citizens in Warren County involved in the raid for $25,000 in damages. The case was venued to Montgomery County. The defendants were all entertained by Capt. John S. Gray, who just happened to be foreman of the jury. John Gray, had helped to organized the Horse Thief Detective Agency. The defendants were quickly acquitted. “ I was never more surprised in my life,” said Capt. Gray, with a quaint smile, “ than when the sheriff told me to take a place on the jury.”
Many prosperous men thought to have been in league with the gang were forced to leave the area. They were taken from their homes at night and whipped with switches or convicted.
Dan Claflin turned state’s evidence against the captured gang members and was never sent to prison. When asked why he was a participant, he whined,”Oh, that woman of mine!”