The handbills James M. Rees posted left no doubt he wanted his property back and his wife jailed. It noted he would pay a “A Liberal Reward” to anyone who would arrest the pair or let him know where they were.

Rees described his wife in detail; “about 5 feet 6 inches high, grey eyes, dark complexion, light hair, broad forehead, slender, downcast look, freckled, rather sickly looking.”

His description of Ladley was not as detailed, “5 feet 8 inches in height, black hair, slightly curled at the ends, black moustache; quick spoken and under thirty years of age.”

The bill also gave a detailed list of what the pair took with them, headed by the banner announcement, “They took a team of Black Mares. The near one has a large hind leg and is 7 year old; a new sett of Harness, high hames; oldish Wagon, with blue bed; single trees not painted. They took one large sized Trunk and two satchels. The off Mare was two years old.”

The poster probably created quite a stir in the neighborhood of Higginsville in that long ago summer of the 1860s.

Higginsville was a small village established in Blount Township with high hopes of becoming something more. Those hopes were never realized because it was bypassed by the railroads when they came. The village and its post office eventually winked out.

The poster Rees composed outlasted the village and carried his plea into the 21st century. Unfortunately, no other information accompanied the poster. Did anyone claim the liberal reward? Was Ellen a consort of Ladley or was she being rescued? Were the horses and property returned?

At that time in Illinois history, obtaining a divorce was a contentious undertaking because divorce challenged the institution of marriage. When people married they were expected to honor that contract come what may. Laws and society norms came down on the side of protecting marriage. Divorce was rare and frowned upon.

Perhaps there was a reason Ellen Rees looked downcast and rather sickly. The demeaning handbill portrayal of her would lead one to believe she was an unhappy individual.

The posted notices assured her of having her reputation ruined and possibly being jailed.

Ellen did have one thing going for her. Illinois had passed the Married Women’s Property Act in 1861, allowing women to own and manage their earnings and property.

Perhaps she had an interest in the team of black mares, the wagon and the other items listed in the handbill. Maybe she wasn’t a thief.

Life in the Higginsville neighborhood, circa 1866.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

Recommended for you