Dug Out Bill and bandits

The following story, by the Rev. August Forster, Ramsey’s Catholic priest, was reprinted in the April 9, 1936, issue of the Ramsey News Journal.
At the time he reprinted it, the editor expressed reservations as to the reverend having his facts straight, even accusing him of using his imagination to come up with “an interesting portrayal of an episode that might have happened.”
As mentioned above, Rev. Forster was St. Joseph’s priest, serving the congregation from 1904-53. Although Ramsey was his main charge, he also had duties in Coffeen and Shumway.
Father Forster was in a good place to hear some of the old stories from his neighbors and parishioners.
Although he said he probably shouldn’t even print it, the editor overcame his reservations, and we have another Civil War tale to add to our county’s history. And, who knows – it may even be true!
“While the Battle of the Clouds” was raging on Lookout Mountain in 1863, two strapping fellows knocked at the door of a sequestered cave about 30 miles west of Ramsey town. This cave was made and occupied by a man from Tennessee, who was afterward called Dug Out Bill.
“This man escaped from his country to evade service in the war, and he sought refuge in Illinois, where he thought himself secure. But to make sure of his security, he avoided public notice taking refuge into the woods.
“…With a spade that he borrowed from a farmer boy whose father was in the war, he began to dig a cave on a hill that rose almost perpendicular from a small branch coursing through the dense timberland. Willie, the farmer boy, helped him as much as he could and supplied him with necessary tools.
“Dug Out Bill and Willie became intimate friends, and anything that was necessary from a store, Willie could get in a hurry and dispatch. Willie was told by the cave man that he had to leave his country because somebody was going to kill him and he wanted to live with peace and security in a hiding place where nobody could discover him.
“Dug Out Bill could not select a better spot for his purpose, because it was in the midst of a dense wood covering more than 600 acres, on top of a steep hill, all covered with towering trees, surrounded with deep ravines and a babbling brook coursing around its base.
“The cave was made right in the crest of the hill and it consisted of two little rooms that were lined on the inside with rows of props, and the ceiling was supported by a horizontal lining of timber, making the apartments very solid and secure. In the middle of the ceiling, an opening was left for the purpose of ventilation. There was no window and the door was covered with tree bark and moss.
“Bill used the front room for his waking hours and the other small room for his sleeping. Both rooms were as dark as the bottom of a cistern or well. The only furniture in the rooms was a small stove built of rocks, two blocks of wood for chair and table, and a couch of oak leaves in thick layers.”
One November evening, there came a knock at his crude door. Willie was with Bill in the cave and as Bill opened the small door, he heard two voices in greeting, “Hello, Bill.” Bill recognized the men as two who had given him meat, coffee and tobacco some time earlier when he was looking for a place to hide. He bade them enter and a shaggy shepherd dog accompanied them into the cave.
Willie took that time to leave for his home two miles away, where he lived in a log house with his mother and younger sister, Mollie.
The next morning, the visitors left the cave and returned to the horses they had left tied at the foot of the ravine. The story leaves Dug Out Bill and Willie here, and follows the two strangers as they make their way to Ramsey town.
Arriving about nightfall, “They stopped at Hogan’s tavern, dismounted, tied their horses and entered the dimly lighted room with a gun on shoulder.
“The half-dozen townspeople seated around the old-fashioned stove were not a little awed at the sudden appearance of the two who greeted the assembly with “Hello, boys,” and strutted up and down the room.
 “Jerking an empty bottle from under his jacket, one of the gangsters held it over the counter saying, ‘Fill this up, brother, with genuine stuff and hand it around the crowd.’ This relieved the uneasiness of the hour, and everyone helped himself generously to the treat. Lovely chats began and many a hearty laugh was called forth by the uncouth jokes of the gangsters.
“At ten o’clock, the crowd dispersed and the gangsters mounted their horses, faithful Shep watching and waiting outside the tavern. Traveling at a slow pace, they halted at a barn two miles north of the village.
“The dogs in the farm yard gave an exciting alarm. A man appeared at the open door of the house firing a random shot. This was promptly answered by two shots from the bandit’s guns.
“It was only a few minutes when the daring thugs in dashing haste carried off two yearling heifers and a couple of lusty horses. Retracing their course through the village they disappeared.
“The bandits were members of the notorious Klingman gang, whose headquarters were in Edwardsville and St. Louis, and who terrorized this and other communities by their frequent prowling escapades.”
What Father Forster didn’t know was that the Klingman gang had camps a lot closer than that. One of their camps was north of Liberty Cemetery in South Hurricane Township, seven miles from Ramsey. One of the main camps was in the white oak timber just east of the Whitten Cemetery (Old Hurricane) near VanBurensburg in Montgomery County. (This wild and woolly area could also have been the home of Dug Out Bill.)
Bond County was another haven for the Klingman Gang, said to have numbered in the hundreds. They are credited with murders, robbery and unrest in a four-county area during the years of the Civil War.
It’s a good thing the editor decided to publish Father Forster’s “portrayal of an interesting episode that might have happened,” for he probably saved an actual event. There was a Hogan’s Tavern in the village.  

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