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Col. Davenport murdered by bandits!

Col. Davenport murdered by bandits!

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Her books were supposed to have been delivered two weeks ago Wednesday, but by 7 p.m. on the appointed day, Regena Trant Schantz was beginning to wonder.

She was still peering with hope out her windows, though, when — yes! — she was rewarded with the sight of a UPS truck heading toward her Davenport home. Inside were 125 copies of a book about Col. George Davenport that she had been researching and writing, on and off, for 44 years.

Schantz hurried down the steps to greet the driver who unloaded five, 45-pound boxes.

Inside was "The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities," the first and only biography ever written about the man for whom the city of Davenport is named.

And if COVID-19 guidelines allowed for book signings, now would be an opportune time because July 4 was the 175th anniversary of Davenport's being shot, beaten and killed in his own home on Arsenal Island by bandits looking for gold.

But, no matter. The important work is finished.

Here in one place is everything Schantz could dig up about Davenport and, in so doing, dig up about what life was like in the early 1800s on the frontier that was the Mississippi River Valley and how European settlement changed everything. 

Davenport was an immigrant from England who came to what is now the Quad-City area in 1816 with the U.S. Army to build Fort Armstrong on Arsenal Island, then called Rock or Rocky Island. The fort was a sort of stake in the ground, signaling to the Native Americans who lived in the area — the Sauk, of which warrior Black Hawk was a member, and the Mesquakie —  that the pale-faced Americans meant to stay.

Davenport's story is so entwined with the founding of the Quad Cities that one can't talk about one without referencing the other, which is why Schantz subtitled her book "and the founding of the Quad Cities."

It is the Quad-Cities' history, documented.

In addition to 381 pages of text, Schantz provides two appendixes (one is a copy of Davenport's will), 54 pages of notes specifying the sources of her information and a 16-page bibliography.

The places she found information is simply mind-boggling: letters, books, christening and marriage records, interviews, newspaper articles and advertisements, U.S. Army records, trade ledgers, land records, Census documents, a diary of the weather at Fort Armstrong dated 1827, diaries, lawsuit depositions and dissertations written by college students.

Along the way she determined that Davenport's original name was John King and that, for reasons unknown, he changed it when he came to America. 

Although he joined the U.S. Army as a way of making a living, served during the War of 1812 and was known as "Col. Davenport" in later life, he was never a colonel, and Schantz never uses that title.

And he fathered his two sons with his wife's daughter from her first marriage. This was an unusual arrangement, but it seemed to work because by all accounts that Schantz could find, the Davenports were a happy family, living in a house on the island.

Schantz' research took her to the special collections department at Augustana College, the Putnam Museum, the Davenport library, the Iowa State Historical Society, the Rock Island County Courthouse and the Rock Island County Historical Society.  

She also traveled to the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, spent a week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and checked out papers in the history collection at the Newberry Library, Chicago.

In 2001, she flew to England to visit the town of Louth, in Lincolnshire, where Davenport grew up, gleaning family information from one of his indirect descendants.

With scholarly detail, the book doesn't unfold as a novel would, but there's plenty of incentive for students of history to keep turning the pages.

How it started

Schantz' interest in Davenport began in 1976 as a member of Questers, the name of a nonprofit national organization dedicated to the study, conservation and preservation of historical objects.

The group to which she belonged had just taken on the Col. Davenport House on the island as a preservation project and, in order to furnish it, and provide factual tours, the group needed information.

The house, still standing on the island's north shore, was built during 1832-33 out of hewn oak logs from the area around today's Port Byron, later covered in clapboard.

The Questers didn't know much about Davenport. No one did, really.

The only written documentation Schantz could find initially was in a book titled "Davenport Past and Present," by Franc B. Wilkie, published in 1858. It is the go-to book for anyone wanting to know about early Quad-City history.

The passages related to Davenport are memories of Susan Lewis, Mrs. Davenport's daughter, and George L. Davenport, the first of two sons Davenport fathered with Lewis. 

Going deeper into the past 

As she gathered information, Bill Roba, of Scott Community College, encouraged Schantz to do more with it.

She had an English degree from Western Illinois University and had started a master's degree in counseling when she met her husband-to-be, Dean. They married, and Schantz left college to raise what became a family of three — Kate, Kristofer Lars and Kerry. Dean graduated and worked as a counselor for 35 years at Davenport's Sudlow Intermediate School.

Roba's suggestion nudged Schantz  back to college and the University of Iowa, where she earned a master's degree in American Studies in 1991, writing her master's thesis on Davenport's house and family.

In defending her thesis, her primary instructor challenged her with the question, "What is it about George Davenport you don't know?"

She realized she didn't know how he became wealthy, so that launched a new avenue of research. And she found her answer in land documents — he bought land cheaply and resold it at a profit, thousands of acres, or developed it.

Two things she did not find: diary-type writings that would give insight into Davenport's thoughts and anything on his wife, Margaret.

Schantz' research filled 12 notebooks, two file cabinets and six plastic totes and, working from a computer in her sun room, she compiled it into a manuscript.

But for several years it just sat on a shelf, "crying out to be published," she said. "But I didn't know how to do that."

Nudge Nos. 2, 3

Meantime, she devoted considerable time to researching family histories, and figuring out how to get her dad's family history into print became a "kind of trial run" for the Davenport book. She also received help from her son-in-law, John Peragine, Davenport, married to daughter, Kate.

Her publisher is Heritage Documentaries, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the Quad-Cities.

Its mission is to produce documentaries, books, and public programs that tell the stories of diverse peoples, places and events of the past and present. Members hope to provide interesting and educational experiences for students of all ages and the general public.

Schantz hopes readers will agree that her book is just such an experience.


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