The dramatic story of outlaws and vigilantes on the American frontier invariably calls to mind the Wild West of the latter nineteenth century. Yet, there was an earlier frontier, Illinois, that was every bit as wild and lawless as Dodge City or Tombstone.
Between 1835 and 1850 several hundred outlaws and desperadoes descended on the prairie state, holding up stagecoaches, robbing homes and individuals, rustling cattle and horses, counterfeiting, murdering, and terrorizing residents with virtual impunity. In a state that was mostly wilderness, outlaws went undetected for years, often masquerading as law-abiding farmers and merchants while preying on isolated settlers and passing emigrants.
If it was hard to detect the pirates, it was harder still to capture them and bring them to justice. With law enforcement incapable of checking outlaws, frustrated citizens eventually took matters into their own hands, administering frontier justicevigilantism. Posses were formed; outlaws were swept from their lairs and whipped, shot, or hanged. Sometimes the miscreants got their just desserts; other times, the use of public tribunals to enact personal vendettas led to abuses, even chaos. Pirates of the Prairie brings the story of these wild times to life.