A story from the early days; or a saloon keeper's woe

Sandy Vasko

    The reputation of early Braidwood was well earned. If you have watched the old program “Gunsmoke” then you can relate.
    The following story was printed in the Morris newspaper, but also appeared in the Joliet papers as well. It was this kind of publicity, most of it true, which sold newspapers, but also cemented Braidwood's fame for violence.
    As printed in the Morris paper December 1869; “The Braidwood coal mines, some 14 miles south-east of Morris, was the scene of a terrible tragedy, on Wednesday last. Two men were killed and three wounded. The facts, as we glean them from Sheriff Galloway, are as follows:”
    “On Wednesday, five miners went into a grocery, kept by Johnny Tigh, formerly of this city. One of the parties ordered the drinks, and after they were disposed of told Tigh he would not pay for them.
    “Another of the party then asked for the drinks, and said he would pay for them, Tigh set them up, and the man did as agreed.
    “A third one of the party then demanded the drinks, but said he would not pay for them. Tigh told them he could not afford to do business in that way, and angry words ensued.
    “The party then told him they would hang him, and left the saloon, returning in a short time with a rope.
    “One went behind the counter at one end, and another entered at the other end, while a third party advanced in front of the bar, and dealt Tigh a blow with a spade, cutting open his head and felling him to the floor.”
    “Four of them then jumped upon him, and while he was down one of them shot him through the leg with a pistol.
    “The man who paid for the drinks then interfered, and told the others that Tigh had done nothing that they should kill him, and through his assistance Tigh regained his feet.
    “He at once drew his pistol and commenced shooting, killing one and wounding another of the party. The men then left, and Tigh ran to his boarding house, and locked himself in his room.
    “A mob of some twenty then congregated, but Mr. Whitten, the proprietor of one of the mines, then assembled his German miners, and placed them as guards around the house where Tigh was confined.”
    “Several of the assaulting party then went to Wilmington, where they got out a warrant for Tigh's arrest, and Deputy Sheriff Whitten and Marshal Burt went down to Braidwood to make the arrest.
    “The officers took Tigh from his room and placed him in the wagon, when the mob made a rush for him.
    “One of the men seized the horse by the head, but the driver whipped the horse and dragged the man along some distance when he held on with one hand and commenced shooting in the wagon with the other.
    “None of the shots took effect. Marshal Burt drew his revolver and shot at the man twice the last shot killing him dead. The officers then drove to Wilmington and placed Tigh on board of the train, and took him to Joliet where they place him in jail.
    “We did not learn the names of the parties engaged. We give the above narration as we got it.”
    And while this version is compelling, the Joliet paper told a slightly different story, “On Tuesday afternoon seven armed men entered the saloon of Mr. John Tigh, for the purpose of lynching him for some old grievance.
    “They first struck Mr. Tigh in the head with a spade, felling to the floor. They then put a rope around his neck, intending to hang him, but Tigh succeeded in shooting two of them - brothers, named Hamilton - when a friend opportunely arrived, and helped drive them off.
    “Mr. Tigh then ran to the boarding house for protection, closely followed by his assailants, who made another attack upon him, stripping him of his clothing.
    “But the women at the boarding house gave the alarm, and helped to protect him until assistance came from the mines.”
    The buggy part of the story is about the same, though it claimed that 150 men were after it. But the Joliet paper did name names. “Three of the leaders in the affair, named Hamilton, Cunningham and Smith, are now in jail. The other Hamilton; the one shot by Tigh, will die of his wounds.”
    “Officers Whitson and Burt are deserving of great credit for the manner in which they performed their duty on this trying occasion.”
    We will never know the real reason for the altercation or why those men wanted to lynch Mr. Tigh, but whatever version you chose to believe, it only enhances the violent reputation of early Braidwood.