Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mysteries of Warren County, Indiana: Brigadier General George D. Wagner

At the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, on the 30th of November in 1864, Brigadier General George D. Wagner made one of the most controversial decisions of the Civil War. He commanded his outnumbered division to remain in a position forward of the Union line. He was under orders from Major General John M. Schofield to stand in the cotton field. Various eyewitnesses later wrote that the engagement, which began at dusk, resembled a rain of fire. The Confederates charged at bayonet point. The carnage was so dreadful as to make Franklin one of the most savage and horrific battles of the war. Two of Wagner’s battalions sustained such terrific losses that the soldiers broke and ran. Confederates were intermingled with them in hand-to-hand fighting. As Union guns could not fire upon friendly troops, the Confederates used the Union soldiers as human shields to overrun the Federal center. A belated blast from Union artillery probably killed several Union soldiers. It was a scene of bloody chaos. Ultimately, the stabilizing pressure brought by Federal reinforcements restored order.

Brigadier General George D. Wagner

General Wagner was from Wagner’s Grove, a cluster of farms in Medina Township just east of where I grew up in Pine Village, Indiana. 

Here, I quote at length from “Defense of Gen. Geo. D. Wagner’s Military Record,” a speech (available at given in the Warren County centennial year of 1927 by J. Wesley Whickcar, an attorney and historian from Attica, at Armstrong Chapel beside the cemetery where Wagner is buried; I have corrected a few typographical errors in the original printing: “When Wagner took his troops out into the open cotton field at three thirty in the afternoon, to face an army largely outnumbering his command, he had in his pocket, orders from Schofield, his commanding officer, to take his troops into the open cotton field, where the enemy could easily slaughter them. He was only obeying the orders of his superior commander. Thirteen years after the death of General George Day Wagner, General Jacob D. Cox, who had command of a division at Franklin, that had had a very advantageous position and was able to watch the slaughter of Wagner’s men, without danger to themselves and without making any effort to relieve Wagner, took it upon himself to write a history of the battle of Franklin, in which he said that General George D. Wagner should have been shot for the position he took and the men that he lost in the battle of Franklin. General Cox was not noted for brilliancy in command and was apparently jealous of the record of Wagner. Cox was afterwards Governor of the state of Ohio, elected from Cincinnati and a member of Congress and the President of the Wabash Railroad. Cox was one of that … brood that would wait until after the lips of Wagner had been stilled by death for thirteen years, when he could not defend himself, to make an attack upon Wagner’s military ability and personal character. Soldiers that had stood with Wagner at Franklin, from Ohio, Alabama, Iowa and Indiana, came to the defense of their dead commander and defended Wagner so well, that General Cox was forced to re-write the battle of Franklin, taking a much milder attitude toward Wagner, and his position at Franklin. … Soon after the battle of Nashville, the army was re-organized, General George D. Wagner retired from the service with an honorable discharge on the account of the serious illness of his wife, Frances E. Wagner. His wife died April 22nd, 1865, at the age of 34 years, 4 months, and 16 days. Soon after the death of his wife he moved to Williamsport and took up the study and practice of law, and was very successful in his law practice. Here he became an active and prominent worker in the Free Mason Lodge, and President of the Indiana State Agricultural Society. He was appointed Minister to Germany, and was in Indianapolis at the Bates House, arranging to go to Berlin and fill this appointment, when he suffered a severe attack of acute indigestion and after an illness of four or five days, died in the Old Bates House in Indianapolis, February 13th, 1869, at the age of 40 years, 5 months, and 21 days. The immediate cause of his death was an over-dose of a prescription left by his physician to alleviate his nervous suffering. Regardless of what General Jacob D. Cox of Ohio, said in 1882, no charge can be preferred and sustained against General George D. Wagner. We have admitted he was addicted to drink, but we deny all other charges.”

Just before the Confederate charge, Brigadier General Cox allegedly ordered Wagner to withdraw his troops. Cox was a line commander but otherwise equivalent to Wagner in rank; Wagner might well have ignored Cox’s orders because Wagner had contradictory orders from Schofield, who was at the head of the command. It was not immediately clear to the Federal generals that the Confederates were planning an attack. Wagner perceived that they were, and he sent messages to Schofield to alert him to the possibility. The element of uncertainty may help explain why Schofield did not immediately order Wagner to pull back to the Federal line. Questioning Wagner’s decision ensued immediately after the Battle of Franklin and has persisted to this day. Allegations that he was drunk are likely erroneous. Was his sudden retirement from service a tacit admission of guilt or the act of a devoted husband who realized that his wife was dying?

General Wagner was my great aunt Margaret’s great uncle. Margaret was married to my grandmother’s brother. Although my father often spoke to me about Civil War soldiers from Pine Village, he never mentioned General Wagner. As far as I recall, Aunt Margaret (as I have always referred to my great aunt) never talked about him. He had passed away long before she was born, and her own father may not have had more than youthful memories of him. 

Ann Miller Carr, co-author of the Rhode Family Website, conducted such excellent genealogical work to establish my great aunt’s relationship to General Wagner that I want to quote extensively from Ann’s message to me:

According to’s “Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800–1941,” George D. “Wagoner” married Frances Elizabeth Alexander on 04 Feb 1847 in Warren Co., Indiana. Frances died on 22 Apr 1865. She may have been born on 06 Jan 1861 (birthdate derived from tombstone info on age at death).

Son John Mason Wagner, b. 1857, d. 1908 ...

There is a John M. Wagner who married Lizzie Carter in Warren Co., IN, on 20 Dec 1883.

However, there is a John F. Wagner, b. abt. 1861, the son of, who married Lilly States in Warren Co. on 31 Jan 1883. He was the son of a William and Margaret (Turman) Wagner, who were living in Poolsville, Medina Twp., Warren Co., IN, in 1870.

Another John Wagner, perhaps John M., b. abt. 1858, was living with a Wesley and Margaret Wagner, also in Poolsville, in 1870. Ella Wagner (later Bowyer) and Lilla “Lilly” Wagner (later Bailey), the daughters of George D. Wagner, were also living with them. In 1880, John M. Wagner is living with his sister Ella Wagner Bowyer and her family. In 1900, it seems that this John Wagner, b. Apr 1857, and wife, Elizabeth, are living in Peoria, IL, with sons George and Claude—no daughters.

Wesley, William, and George D. were all sons of a John Michael Wagner and his wife, Margaret Day. John Michael Wagner’s will is online on, and they are all clearly named.

John Wagner and his wife, Lilly, had a daughter named Maggie [a nickname that Aunt Margaret despised], according to the 1900 census. Although his middle initial is not used, this is John F. Wagner.

According to the 1930 census, John F. Wagner (lists his middle initial this time) and wife, Lilly, were still alive and living in Pine Village.

I believe your Maggie was a grandniece of Brig. Gen. George D. Wagner.

Many of the Wagners, including John Michael and wife, Wesley and wife, William and wife, and George D. and wife, are buried in Armstrong Chapel Cemetery. John M. Wagner is also there, as are his sisters. John M.’s wife, Lizzie Carter Wagner, is not buried there (or does not have a tombstone). The fate of John M.’s brother, Marquis D. Lafayette Wagner, I did not trace.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mysteries of Warren County, Indiana: The Redwood Bandits

The Redwood Bandits are cloaked in the mysterious past of Warren County, Indiana.

The Redwood Bandits, Notorious Horse Thieves
Of Warren County, Indiana

Illustration Modified from Little Pets
(Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co., Circa 1887)

In 1926, the Indiana Magazine of History published “Tri-County Historical Itinerary”—transcripts of talks that J. Wesley Whickcar (occasionally spelled Whicker) presented at intervals throughout a tour of historical sites in Warren County and neighboring counties in Indiana. At Kate’s Pond, Whickcar presented this information:

“The farmhouse that you see a few rods southeast of here [by Kate’s Pond] at the last turn in the road and off to the right is situated on a farm of one hundred and twenty acres including a portion of this lake. That house was the home of Dan Claflin who married one of the High girls, a sister to George High. Claflin and his wife were connected with the Redwood Bandits. They were married at Redwood Point in this county and they began housekeeping on the forty acres of land where the town of Pence now stands. This forty acres of land, out on the open prairie, and far removed from any other residence, became one of the most frequented places for both counterfeiters and horse thieves during the time that they flourished in Warren County. George High was finally captured at Redwood Point by Sant Grey [John Sanford Gray], the founder of the Horse Thief Detective Association, and the members of the Horse Thief Detective Association of both Warren and Fountain counties. Dan Claflin was shot through the hip, while George High made his escape. Dan Claflin and his wife and his sister-in-law, Iva High, who afterwards lived in Attica and owned an interest in this farm, and other members of the High family were convicted and sent to the penitentiary. At the expiration of their term, they bought this tract of one hundred and twenty acres of land, and both Dan Claflin and his wife died in that farmhouse.”

Ten years earlier, Whickcar had given a more detailed account of the Redwood Bandits in his book entitled Sketches of the Wabash Valley:

“Among the first settlers of Warren county were certain brothers by the name of High, who came from Pennsylvania and were thrifty, industrious people. … The Highs came into Warren county between 1826 and 1830, took up their claims from the government and became well acquainted with all the government lands on the prairies north of Redwood so their homes soon became the centers for the home-seekers who came into Warren county from the East. … Isaac High’s oldest son was George High. … Soon among the many settlers who had learned of the hospitality of the Highs there came many persons from the East and the South, who were criminals running away from the law of the eastern and southern states. George High became acquainted with many of those persons. Some of them as they came thru would steal horses in Ohio, Kentucky and other states and bring them into the Redwood neighborhood. Soon George High and his brothers and sisters became not only interested in protecting these horse thieves but George became the leader of an organized band of horse thieves and counterfeiters. They would bring their horses to near Portland, and cross the river in the neighborhood of Hanging Rock at the mouth of Redwood. Redwood was bordered by a dense thicket from where it empties into the Wabash river to the prairie, and if a horse once got across the river into the brush of Redwood the High organization was able to so secrete him that he would never be found. This organization grew until it had ramifications in almost every state in the East and South. Some of their members were on almost every boat that went down the Ohio or Mississippi rivers. They had a rendezvous on the Salt Fork of the Vermilion river and one at Bogus Island in what is known as the Gifford swamps in Jasper county. All the horses were first brought to Redwood Point. Some of them were taken from there to the Salt Fork of Vermilion and some were taken to Bogus Island. If they were taken to the Salt Fork of the Vermilion river they were then taken to Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska and sold; if taken to Bogus Island they were taken to Chicago, Wisconsin or Michigan and disposed of. All of the organization carried and dealt in counterfeit money. … Finally Sant Gray, of near Wesley, in Montgomery County, organized the Horse Thief Detective Association whose object and aim was to break up the horse thieves and counterfeiters of Redwood. He kept steadily at work until he had organizations all over Fountain, Warren and Montgomery counties. … They arrested George High, tied him on a horse and started to Williamsport with him. When they came to the steep bluff near the Sulphur Springs below Williamsport, George High, by some ruse, managed to get free from his bonds, leaped off his horse down the embankment where a confederate had his splendid stallion, Truxon, waiting for him, and mounting his horse he started west. The members of the association followed and the chase was a thrilling one. Out past his headquarters at Redwood High [he] went but did not stop there. Heading straight for the state line he soon crossed it. Undaunted his pursuers followed and clear across the state of Illinois the chase continued, with scarcely a stop for rest. When High reached the Mississippi river he was five hours ahead of his pursuers and Truxon was still so strong that his master did not hesitate to attempt to swim him across the great river. He was seen to enter the river near Nauvoo, Ill., but nobody knows whether he ever reacht [reached] the opposite shore. This was the last ever seen or heard of George High. … The detective who was pursuing [Dan Claflin] shot him thru the hips. Some of the High family were sent to state’s prison. Claflin and one of the High girls moved to Attica and afterwards Claflin moved on to a farm near Independence where he lived for many years. … [Claflin and his wife] made their home on the prairies where the town of Pence now stands [and later moved to the area of Kate’s Pond]. This organization of counterfeiters and horse thieves was a great menace in Fountain, Warren and Montgomery counties for many years. … Some of the best fortunes now enjoyed in Fountain and Warren counties had their foundation in this organization of outlaws.”

Beth High Rasmussen has added numerous details to Whickcar’s account, including Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to clear George High and the speculation that High was secretly hanged; her lengthy account can be viewed here:

Family Histories of Montgomery County, Indiana (Paducah: Turner, 1988) reports, “‘Captain’ Gray as he was known organized the Wabash Valley Detective Association in the [1840s]. This was a unit of the National Horse Thieves Detective Association, a vigilante group of men sworn to put a stop to horse thievery … . Capt. Gray was in charge … of the capture of the famous Redwood gang. In gratitude, the national Horse Thieves Detective Association erected a monument over his grave in Wesley Cemetery.”

In 1996, my father told me that John Edgerton had found a badge that had belonged to a member of Pine Village, Indiana’s Horse Thief Detective Assocation (HTDA). The governor commissioned these associations for towns throughout Indiana. Members were authorized to carry guns. My father remembered an HTDA contingent marching in Pine Village parades. By the 1920s, the HTDA’s reputation suffered when several chapters became associated with the KKK. According to, “By 1933, Indiana lawmakers had repealed all laws that gave the HTDA [law] enforcement powers. All such groups had dissolved by 1957, after horse thievery ‘had ceased to be a major problem.’” Not until the 1970s were the HTDA chapters officially abolished, when outdated laws were expunged from the books.

Badge of a Branch of the Horse Thief Detective Association

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mysteries of Warren County, Indiana: Kate's Pond

My Photograph of Kate's Pond, Taken in 1972

In 1926, the Indiana Magazine of History published under the title “Tri-County Historical Itinerary” the talks that J. Wesley Whickcar gave at stops along the way during a tour of historical sites, most of them in Warren County, Indiana. He spoke these sentences at Kate’s Pond:

“Originally this body of water was known as Lake Kickapoo. It then covered more than a hundred acres of land and was much deeper than it now is. It is the furthest south of any of the Indiana lakes, and in the native wild, is said to have been a beautiful lake, full of fish … . It was called Lake Kickapoo until 1812, and is only about two hundred feet northwest to Kickapoo Creek, which helped to make it a popular and much frequented camping ground for the Indians. … There is a legend connected with Lake Kickapoo, that in 1811 when Zachariah Cicott decided to cast his fortune with General William Henry Harrison and the Americans, he had a sweetheart among the Kickapoo, a very beautiful Indian maiden by the name of Kate, to whom he was very devoted, and she was equally fond of him. When Zachariah Cicott left Independence by special request from Harrison to serve as a scout for his army, he pledged himself and promised Kate that when the troublesome times were over and the white winged dove of peace hovered over the Wabash Valley, he would return and make her his wife. Before leaving to join Harrison he met Kate, who was the only person that knew of his departure and where he was going, and when they finally parted they both looked hopefully forward to the happy culmination of their love affair in their marriage. All the warriors in Kate’s tribe and in Kate’s family took part in the Battle of Tippecanoe and fought with the Indians there. Some of them were killed. On their return, having seen and recognized Cicott with Harrison and his army, they decided that Kate had betrayed their confidence, and divulged the secrets of the tribe to Cicott, her lover. Soon after their return from the Battle of Tippecanoe there was a council held which was attended by all of the Kickapoo tribes living near this lake. It was decided that Kate should be put to death by drowning, and in compliance with that decision, Kate was drowned in this lake by her tribe. Since that time it has been known as ‘Kate’s Pond’ or ‘Kate’s Lake.’” My online searches revealed relatively recent testimonials from those who have heard the shrieks of Kate’s ghost.

J. Wesley Whickcar, Occasionally Spelled Whicker
Attorney and Historian from Attica, Indiana

In a wide array of publications, many of them online, J. Wesley Whickcar left a legacy of historical writings about Fountain County, Warren County, and neighboring counties. In the foreword to Whickcar’s 1916 book entitled Historical Sketches of the Wabash Valley, Harry F. Ross, editor of The Attica Ledger, introduced readers to Whickcar:

“The author, Mr. Whicker (sometimes spelled Whickcar), is a well known lawyer of Attica, Indiana. He was born and reared a few miles east of this city, not far from the old town of Maysville, the first town of consequence in Fountain county, but now only a memory. He is a typical Hoosier, born in a log cabin during the great Civil war (1863). After more than the average vicissitudes of the youth of his day he educated himself for the law, located in Attica and has built up a wide and successful practice. An omnivorous reader from his youth and possessed of a phenominal [sic] memory he accumulated a remarkable store of facts concerning the things in which he was especially interested. He took keen delight in tracing the developement [sic] of the Wabash Valley and thus has been collecting all his life the material which is here preserved to posterity. Mr. Whicker has traveled extensively, having visited every state of the union, and is a keen observer so that his comments and comparisons are of real value. Many of the stories told in these pages are of things in which he or his friends were participants while much of the other material was gathered from the lips of men who themselves had a hand in shaping the course of events. As a youth he spent much time in the company of these graybeards, plying them with questions and delving into veins of rich material of which the present generation is almost wholly ignorant.”

While I was growing up in Warren County, my parents often drove past Kate’s Pond and shared the heart-wrenching tragedy of Kate and her doomed love for Cicott. I was suspicious of the authenticity of the story back then, and I remain suspicious today. I will classify the story of Kate’s Pond as a “tale” asking us to believe that a Kickapoo woman in the time of the Battle of Tippecanoe accepted the name “Kate,” an English name derived from “Katherine.” Further, we are called upon to assume that the Kickapoo people felt obliged to drown a young woman because they felt betrayed by her when such behaviors are not characteristic of Kickapoo people. Anthropology has made vast strides in the past half century; we now recognize that demonizing the enemy often includes stereotypes designed to thwart interracial love. The fact that Cicott was born to a French father and a Kickapoo mother may have given settlers a subtext to Cicott’s ill-fated betrothal to Kate in the moral tale of Kate’s Pond, possibly intended to underscore the assumption that Indians were savages.

A key word in Whickcar’s account is legend, by which he probably meant an unhistorical story falsely perceived as historical: “There is a legend connected with Lake Kickapoo … .” Whickcar most likely doubted the romantic tale of unrequited love.

My Photograph of College Rock
Warren County, Indiana
Taken About 1967

Near Kate’s Pond was College Rock, one of Indiana’s largest boulders, over half of which is buried underground. Various stories account for its name. None of them are satisfactory to me, and I wonder if college could have been a corruption of collage, which an early geologist might have used to describe gneiss. When I was growing up in Pine Village, the remains of a one-room schoolhouse, nicknamedRock College, stood in a gloomy tangle of weeds across the road from College Rock. By then, the boards of the building were gray with age. My grandfather Seymour Alfred Rhode had taught in that school. I still have the bell he rang to call the students to their benches and slates.

My Grandfather Seymour Alfred Rhode’s Bell
Used Long Ago in the Schoolhouse
Across from College Rock

In the 1960s, I perceived Kates Pond as wild, incapable of being tamed by tile and plow. Glancing across its steely surface from the window of my parents’ passing car, I shuddered, wondering what might lie in the muck at the bottom of the lake. I imagined vicious animals with glowing eyes prowling along the banks in the dead of night, and I struggled to shake off the impression that ghosts might well drift above the water in the moonlight.