The sad story of the Driscolls

Tom McDermott
Posted 2/22/22

In 1842, the United States Land Office opened the last portions of Ogle County for public sale.

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The sad story of the Driscolls


In 1842, the United States Land Office opened the last portions of Ogle County for public sale.

This meant that one could now purchase land from the government and have a legal deed to the property. Persons who had purchased land prior to this date had land titles, which were not considered legal documents.

The Blackhawk Wars had ended in 1832. As you can imagine, for every settler running toward a new exciting life in the wilderness, there were two who were running one step ahead of the law. Rochelle and Ogle County were the new frontier, and for a period of time, frontier justice was the law of the land.

Whether called Banditti, Prairie Bandits, or outlaws, the area around Rochelle was under constant threat from a thriving criminal element. John Driscoll and his sons David, Pierce and Taylor controlled the Driscoll Gang along with John Brodie, William Bridges and Norton Royce.

They were known from Wisconsin to Texas and Illinois to Ohio. In 1841, Ogle County was ready to open their courthouse. The first trials would be seven members of the Driscoll Gang. The day before the trial was to open, the courthouse mysteriously burned to the ground. The evidence was not in the courthouse and the trial was held on schedule.

Eleven members of the jury felt the evidence was overwhelming. One member of the jury refused to agree with the verdict. It was only after the 11 threatened to lynch the holdout that justice was served and three members of the Driscoll Gang were found guilty.

With crime running wild, the local citizenry decided to form their own protective society. The Regulators started as a group of 15 men willing to take law enforcement into their own hands.

The concept was simple, if the Regulators felt a person was involved with the Driscolls, or any other gang, they told that person they had 20 days to disappear from the area. If the person did not leave, they were threatened with a whipping or worse.

Soon the ranks of the Regulators swelled into the hundreds. As the strength of the Regulators grew, so did the impact that they had on the Driscoll Gang.

The Regulators elected John Long as their captain. The Driscoll Gang burned his saw mill to the ground, leading to Mr. Long stepping down. Mr. Chaney was the second captain elected by the Regulators. John Driscoll sent a letter threatening the health and welfare of Mr. Chaney. He too stepped down.

The third captain of the Regulators was John Campbell. Once again John Driscoll sent a letter challenging Campbell to come and take him in if he felt he could. This time, the Regulators did not back down. Campbell and 196 Regulators surrounded John Driscoll’s home. Driscoll accepted the offer to leave the area in 20 days.

Once the Regulators left, the Driscoll Gang met to decide their next move. On June 27, 1841, Campbell, captain of the Regulators, was walking from his house to the barn. Three men rose from the bushes and shot Campbell and he died almost immediately.

The Regulators followed the tracks left by the assassin’s horses. The county sheriff arrested John Driscoll. The Regulators brought in William and Pierce Driscoll. On June 29, 500 citizens gathered at Washington Grove near Grove Creek at Stephenson’s Mill for the trial of the Driscolls.

John Stephenson provided a barrel of whiskey to keep the process moving. 111 men were selected to be the jury. Each juror had a personal grievance against the Driscolls. The trial was short and William and John Driscoll were found guilty. Pierce Driscoll was released.

The Driscoll’s were given a choice of hanging or facing a firing squad. They chose the firing squad. The 111 jurors were divided into two groups. William stood first and John followed. The bodies were buried in a shallow grave and frontier justice was done.

A few days later, the bodies were recovered and moved to the family farms. In keeping with their strong sense of propriety, a trial was held for the 111 men of the firing squad. With a jury that included friends and family members, all were found innocent. To this day a large stone marks the spot where the Driscoll’s met their fate at 3410 S. Watertown Rd in Oregon. The stone is on private property, but there are markers by the road that tell the sad story of the Driscolls. 

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.