Edward Bonney

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Edward Bonney
Edward Bonney.jpg
A woodcut of Edward Bonney, at 38 years old, sitting, wearing a top hat and holding a walking cane, from his self-written 1850 book, The Banditti of the Prairies: or, The murderer's doom, a tale of Mississippi Valley and the Far West. Bonney was a bounty hunter and amateur detective, who, in 1845, An 1850 woodcut of Edward Bonney, the bounty hunter and amateur detective, who posed as a counterfeiter, ironically had been arrested, for counterfeiting, himself, a few years earlier, to infiltrate, a faction, of the "Banditti of the Prairie" and track down the infamous murderers of Colonel George Davenport
Born (1807-08-26)August 26, 1807
Hittsboro, Essex County, New York, United States
Died February 4, 1864(1864-02-04) (aged 56)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois
Cause of death war disability
Resting place Bonneyville Cemetery, Bristol, Elkhart County, Indiana
Nationality American
Occupation miller, hotel keeper, city planner, counterfeiter, livery stable keeper, bounty hunter, private detective, postmaster, merchant, soldier, author
Known for Being a bounty hunter and private detective, whose undercover investigation resulted in the breakup of the Banditti of the Prairie; also solved the murder of George Davenport
Spouse(s) 1 wife

Edward Bonney (August 26, 1807 – February 4, 1864) was a 19th-century adventurer, miller, hotel keeper, city planner, counterfeiter, livery stable keeper, bounty hunter, private detective, postmaster, merchant, soldier, and author. He is best known for his undercover work in exposing the "Banditti of the Prairie", resulting from his investigation of the torture-murder of noted Illinois pioneer and frontiersman, George Davenport.

Early life[edit]

Edward Bonney was born and raised in Hittsboro, Essex County, New York.

Founding of Bonneyville, Indiana and alleged counterfeiting[edit]

Edward Bonney would later, get married and moved to the frontier, in Elkhart County, Indiana in 1837, with the intent of creating the city of Bonneyville, named after himself. In 1839, he was charged and fined for assault. Bonney built the Bonneyville Mill, for grinding grain into flour and also, built a saw mill, as well. When Bonneyville failed to grow rapidly, from a sleepy farm town into a bustling city, Bonney sold his most of the 80 acres, he had purchased for his planned city in 1841. He later, bought the Goshen Hotel, in Bonneyville and not long after, sold the hotel and both, his mills. After being arrested, in 1842, for allegedly being a counterfeiter, Bonney escaped from custody, while being transported, under armed guard, for trial in Indianapolis. Bonney immediately left Indiana and traveled to Illinois.

Bonneyville Mill, now a part of present-day Bonneyville Mill County Park, was in the former town, of Bonneyville, Elkhart County, Indiana, presently the community of Bonneyville Mills, founded by Edward Bonney in 1837.

Mormon membership in Nauvoo, Illinois[edit]

Edward Bonney eventually, "fiddle-footed his way" to Nauvoo, in 1844, a Latter Day Saint community on the Mississippi River, where he and his wife decided to settle. During this time, he witnessed early theological arguments over issues such as plural marriage as well as attacks against Mormon newspapers. On March 11, 1844, Bonney became a member of Council of Fifty, one of only three members of the Council of Fifty who were not members of Joseph Smith's church.[1] After the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, he became involved in fighting against criminal elements both outside and within the Mormon community. He was also particularly antagonistic of the Mormon Danites.

Bounty hunter and amateur detective in Montrose, Iowa Territory[edit]

In 1845, Edward Bonney moved to Montrose, Lee County, Iowa Territory, now present-day Montrose, Lee County, Iowa, where he operated a livery stable. During the next several years, he worked with law enforcement agencies, in Montrose and Lee County, to hunt down various criminals, in the area, as a sort of freelance bounty hunter. Bonney gradually attained a reputation as a skilled detective, adept at "piecing together odd bits of information and rumor", although he was often subject to suspicion and persecution for his Mormonism.

The Spanish silver peso was the, most common, currency found on the American frontier. Edward Bonney was arrested, in 1842, for counterfeiting, in northern Indiana and ironically posed as a counterfeiter to infiltrate, a faction, of the Midwestern, outlaws, known as the, "Banditti of the Prairie" and track down the infamous murderers of Colonel George Davenport. The "Spanish milled dollar" was minted in México and considered legal tender, in the United States, until the Coinage Act of 1857.

Investigations of the Banditti of the Prairie and the murderers of Colonel Davenport[edit]

The criminal investigations, of Edward Bonney, into the criminal activity, occurring along, the vast mid-river area of, the Mississippi between 1843 and 1848, attributed to the organization known as the "Banditti of the Prairie", were claimed by Bonney to being carried out by fellow Mormons seeking refuge in Nauvoo and from which they based their criminal activities unhindered by law enforcement.[2] It was not until going undercover within the organization, posing as a counterfeiter, that he was able to connect the gang to the torture-murder of Colonel George Davenport. After a four month chase through Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio, he finally brought most of his murderers to justice. Of the eight men taken into custody, three of the four men involved in Davenport's murder, Granville Young and brothers John and Aaron Long, were convicted and hanged. The fourth man, Robert H. Birch, agreed to turned state's evidence and later escaped from jail. Birch later, became one of the founders of the Pinos Altos gold mining camp in the New Mexico Territory.

Life in Illinois and the publication of the Banditti of the Prairies[edit]

Returning to Lee County the following year, he was indicted by the local district court for murder and later acquitted. He lived in Rock Island, Illinois for a time and in Prospect Park in DuPage County where he appointed as the second postmaster [3] before settling in Aurora, Illinois around 1852. Prior to this, Bonney published a sensational account of the Banditti of the Prairie. Originally published in 1850, Banditti of the Prairies, or the Murderer's Doom!! was an immediate success and ran though between six and eight [2] editions until 1858. Although it is thought Bonney may have been assisted by a ghost writer, most likely Henry A. Clark,[2] the book, though poorly written, by an amateur writer, is considered remarkably accurate, when compared with official court records and other official evidence. The Bonney book was not specifically anti-Mormon, but reflected his criticism of organized religion.


Civil War service[edit]

In 1863, Edward Bonney was living in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and continued working, as a bounty hunter and detective. In the same year, in the height of the American Civil War, Bonney, at age 56, enlisted in the 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company C, of the Union Army and participated in General Grant's Mississippi River Campaign, which included the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he received a paralyzing leg wound. He was sent to the U.S. Marine Hospital, in St. Louis, Missouri, to recover from his severe wound.


Edward Bonney was later discharged, from the army and went back to Chicago, dying not long after, as the result of his crippling leg wound, on February 4, 1864.[4][5] Edward Bonney was buried in Bonneyville Cemetery, Bristol, Elkhart County, Indiana, near the mill and town that he once owned.


  1. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (1980), "The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945", BYU Studies, 20 (2): 15 
  2. ^ a b c Storm, Colton. A Catalogue of the Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1968. (pg. 55) ISBN 0-226-77579-8
  3. ^ Federal Writers' Project. Du Page County: A Descriptive and Historical Guide, 1831-1939. Elmhurst, Illinois: I.A. Ruby, 1948. (pg. 51-52)
  4. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: In Three Volumes, Volume I (A-F). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988. (pg. 136-137) ISBN 0-8032-9418-2
  5. ^ Roth, Mitchel P. Historical Dictionary of Law Enforcement. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. (pg. 34) ISBN 0-313-30560-9

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