By Thomas Best
Last week, I reviewed my interest in a western icon with local connections to western Illinois—Charles Alexander Reynolds. Best known as “Lonesome Charley,” he is known in western circles as one of the most skilled hunters and able scouts of the late 19th century. Tragically, he died on June 25, 1876 during the ill-fated expedition of George Custer concluding at the Little Bighorn. Aided now by new materials from Monmouth’s treasured local historian, Ralph Eckley, I wanted to share some of the fascinating resources in the collection offered by his granddaughter, retired teacher and my friend, Sue Nelson.
So, what is in this collection? One of the first documents Eckley had stored away years ago was a letter dated September 20, 1957 from John S. Gray, a doctor from Northwestern University with a strong interest in western history. Gray would eventually write a book on Charley, which I later used widely in my writings. Gray was seeking help from Eckley and in return would agree to send him a copy of Elizabeth Custer’s tribute to Charley. Elizabeth’s undoubtedly heart-felt praise was not here in the original, but her praise was captured in part in a newspaper article. Gray also sent to Eckley Reynolds’ family history sheets. In Gray’s perfect penmanship, I read of new information about Charley’s grandparents (Nathaniel and Elizabeth), Charley’s parents (Joseph and Phebe), and his many uncles. Gray declared that he had little doubt that Charley was born here in Warren County on March 20, 1842. Why? Charley’s older sister Malinda had likewise been born here roughly two years earlier and Charley’s father Joseph and the family had not moved back to his earlier home Kentucky until 1843. Gray also speculated that Charley was named after one of his grandfather’s children who had earlier moved from their original home in Bedford County, Virginia to the Midwest. Furthermore, Charley had relatives whom had moved to or were born in western Illinois in the era of the 1830s to the 1840s, principally the areas of Cameron and Abingdon. Gray also was aware that Charley’s father remarried after his mother Phebe had died (already having given birth to seven children). When Charley was 18 years old, his father married once again to Lydia Burton. Joseph and Lydia had nine more children. Gray further knew that some of Charley’s assortment of uncles and aunts also found their way to Illinois. Some of these relatives later joined the 1850s wagon trains that ventured from Warren County or to as far away as Oregon, where the community of Monmouth, Oregon was founded.
Let’s leave it here today. Next week I will further enlighten you with some of further interesting finds about Lonesome Charley.