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Edward Bonney
Born August 26, 1807(1807-08-26)
Essex County, New York, United States
Died February 4, 1864 (aged 56)
Chicago, Illinois
Nationality American
Occupation Detective, author
Known for Private detective whose undercover investigation resulted in the break up of the Banditti of the Prairie; also solved the murder of George Davenport
Religion Mormon

Edward Bonney (August 26, 1807 – February 4, 1864) was a 19th century adventurer, private detective and later author. He is best known for his undercover work exposing the "Banditti of the Prairie" resulting from his investigation of the torture-murder of noted Illinois pioneer and frontiersman George Davenport.



Bonney was born in Essex County, New York and, after becoming married, he moved to Indiana in 1843. He eventually "fiddle-footed his way" to Nauvoo, a Mormon community on the Mississippi River, where he and his wife decided to settle. During this time, he witnessed early theological arguments over issues such as plural marriage as well as attacks against Mormon newspapers. After the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, he became involved in fighting against criminal elements both outside and within the Mormon community. He was also particularly antagonistic of the Mormon Danites.

In 1845, he moved to Lee County, Iowa where he operated a livery stable. During the next several years, Bonney worked with law enforcement agencies to hunt down various criminals in the area as a sort of freelance bounty hunter. Bonney gradually attained a reputation as a skilled detective, adept at "piecing together odd bits of information and rumor", although he was often subject to suspicion and persecution for his membership in the Mormons.

His investigations into the criminal activity occurring along the vast mid-river area of the Mississippi between 1843 and 1848, attributed to the organization known as the "Banditti of the Prairie", were claimed by Bonney to being carried out by fellow Mormons seeking refuge in Nauvoo and from which they based their criminal activities unhindered by law enforcement. [1] It was not until going undercover within the organization, posing as a counterfeiter, that he was able to connect the gang to the torture-murder of George Davenport. After a four month chase through Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio, he finally brought most of his murderers to justice. Of the eight men taken into custody, three of the four men involved in Davenport's murder, Granville Young and brothers John and Aaron Long, were convicted and hanged. The fourth man, Robert H. Birch, agreed to turned state's evidence and later escaped from jail. Birch later became one of the founders of the Pinos Altos gold mining camp in the New Mexico Territory.

Returning to Lee County the following year, he was indicted by the local district court for murder and later acquitted. He lived in Rock Island, Illinois for a time and in Prospect Park in DuPage County where he appointed as the second postmaster [2] before settling in Aurora, Illinois around 1852. Prior to this, Bonney published a sensational account of the Banditti of the Prairie. Originally published in 1850, Banditti of the Prairies, or the Murderer's Doom!! was an immediate success and ran though between six and eight [1] editions until 1858. Although it is thought Bonney may have been assisted by a ghost writer, most likely Henry A. Clark, [1] the book is considered remarkably accurate when compared with official court records and other evidence.

Although not specifically anti-Mormon, the book reflected Bonney's criticism towards organized religion. He continued working as a detective until his death in Chicago, Illinois on February 4, 1864. [3] [4]


  • Banditti of the Prairies, or the Murderer's Doom!!: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley (1850)


  1. ^ a b c Storm, Colton. A Catalogue of the Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1968. (pg. 55) ISBN 0226775798
  2. ^ Federal Writers' Project. Du Page County: A Descriptive and Historical Guide, 1831-1939. Elmhurst, Illinois: I.A. Ruby, 1948. (pg. 51-52)
  3. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: In Three Volumes, Volume I (A-F). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988. (pg. 136-137) ISBN 0-8032-9418-2
  4. ^ Roth, Mitchel P. Historical Dictionary of Law Enforcement. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. (pg. 34) ISBN 0-313-30560-9

Further reading

  • Glaser, Lynn. Counterfeiting in America: The History of an American Way to Wealth. New York: Crown Publishers, 1968.
  • Lott, Frank Luther. Literature of Pioneer Life in Iowa. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1923.
  • Morgan, Dale Lowell. The Humboldt: Highroad of the West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8032-8128-5
  • Richman, Irving Berdine. Ioway to Iowa: The Genesis of a Corn and Bible Commonwealth. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1931.
  • Russell, Charles Edward. A-rafting on the Mississip'. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8166-3942-6
  • Williams, Kenny J. Prairie Voices: A Literary History of Chicago from the Frontier to 1893. Nashville: Townsend Press, 1980. ISBN 0-935-99000-3


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