[Wed Jan 31 2001]
A copy of a letter to Illinois Gov. John M. Hamilton dated Oct. 27, 1884, was reprinted in the December 2000 issue of Springhouse magazine, edited and published by Gary and Judy DeNeal of Harrisburg.
Springhouse regularly publishes excerpts from old Southern Illinois newspapers, such as the Golconda Herald.
This is one of the more intriguing tidbits:
I take the liberty of addressing you in your official capacity to ask you to pardon Logan Belt, who has been in the prison at Joliet for more than five years, past time, for the killing of Elisha T. Oldham, a desperate character - who brutally assaulted him with metal knucks. I will state to you that I am a lifelong Republican. I was sheriff of this county for many years, was first elected in 1840 and have served 18 years. I am thoroughly conversant with men and things in Hardin County. The Belt family and especially Logan Belt has been the object of venomous envy, malice, and spite of a certain ring of men and local politicians for years past. They, for their personal gain, have slandered Hardin county, and they have imprisoned Logan Belt with purchased testimony, for if ever a man was justified in killing another, Logan Belt was. Logan Belt has a good Army record, and as a citizen was peaceable, quiet and gentlemanly, yet was high toned and high spirited. He knew when he was right and tried to do right. I write this in the interest of truth, justice and humanity.
I am respectfully,
Ex Sheriff Hardin Co.
P.S. Logan Belt was my deputy two years in 1847 and 1848.
That name, Logan Belt, sounded familiar. Sure enough, among my small collection of books about Southern Illinois, I found one titled "The Life of Logan Belt, The Noted Desperado of Southern Illinois; A Complete Life History of the Most Daring Desperado Ever Known to Civilization."
It was written by Shadrach L. "Shady" Jackson, editor of The Register, a weekly Hardin County newspaper published in Cave in Rock.
The book was originally published in 1888. It was republished in 1979 by John M. Belt, the great-grandson of a brother of Logan Belt.
Jackson's description of Logan Belt differs substantially from that of ex-sheriff Lavender.
Born on Oct. 20, 1840, in Hardin County, Logan Belt was "the blue fowl of the brood," getting into trouble starting at an early age, according to Jackson. Considering himself superior to everyone else, his philosophy was "Large I and small u."
There seems to be some discrepancy between Jackson's biography and ex-sheriff's letter to Gov. Hamilton. Belt would have been only 7 and 8 years old when he was Lavender's deputy! In any case, on July 16, 1863, Logan Belt enlisted in Company D, 48th Kentucky Volunteers, to fight with the union against the Confederacy.
He did no real fighting as a soldier, however. The company never saw action, but was engaged in guard and skirmish duty.
At the outset of his service, Belt managed to get himself selected as a second lieutenant, despite his illiteracy and lack of military skills. Even after he was mustered out of the army, he referred to himself as Lt. Belt the rest of his life.
What Lt. Belt was good at, according to Jackson, was stealing horses, and he managed to smuggle several fine animals across the Ohio River to Illinois, where his father-in-law, William Frailey, took care of them until he returned home.
He also managed to ship home large boxes of "ill-gotten plunder, such as dry-goods, clothing and soldiers' shoes."
Returning home after the war, Belt was elected constable in his home precinct and soon made a livelihood out of charging for counseling parties to lawsuits he himself had instigated.
On Dec. 27, 1875, after a dispute at a dance over a woman, Elisha T. "Doc" Oldham was shot. He died three days later. A grand jury indictment for murder was returned against Logan Belt in April 1876.
Jackson writes that Belt organized a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to get rid of any witnesses who might testify against him at a trial.
The trial did not take place until 1879. Belt was found guilty on July 22 and sentenced to 15 years at the Joiet Penitentiary.
This is the crime for which he was serving time when ex-sheriff Lavender petitioned Gov. Hamilton for a pardon.
Belt was eventually pardoned, six years after his conviction, by Gov. Oglesby, who succeeded Hamilton.
A month before Belt's conviction for killing "Doc" Oldham, while Belt was still out on bond, Luke Hambrink, a witness to the Oldham killing, was found shot to death in front of his home in Gallatin County.
A year after his release from prison, Logan Belt was indicted for the murder of Hambrink. However, after a lengthy, sensational trial, he was acquitted.
Belt stayed close to home after the trial, which had stirred up a great deal of animosity against him.
But on June 7, 1887, Logan Belt traveled to Cave in Rock from his farm to do some shopping.
On the way home from market, according to a June 10, 1887, article in The Register, Belt was ambushed and shot to death by persons unknown.
Apparently, it was the first time he had been away from his farm since the end of the trial.
So ends what the author described as "a true and vividly written narrative."
Was Logan Belt the victim of a gang of enemies, as ex-sheriff Lavender asserted, or was he himself the "desperado" that "Shady" Jackson describes so vividly in his book?
The true story may never be known.