by William Urban

When Isaac Giles said that he had hauled goods to Slabtown with Wyatt Earp in 1868,[1] it was not clear where Slabtown was. A book on place names in Illinois put it east of Peoria. This was plausible. Virgil was in Peoria at that time, and Wyatt was arrested there several times in 1872.

This changed on July 27, 2004, when I was phoned by Kent Willis, a local farmer. He was interested in an item in the latest issue of Prairie Pioneer, the publication of the Warren County Genealogical Society. Entitled Points of Interest in 1932 Review Atlas Contest, edited by Dean Sandstrom,[2] Willis’s question was about a reported Indian battle site at Devil’s Points, about three miles northeast of Monmouth. I knew nothing about that, but as we talked, he said that another locality was mentioned in the article--Slabtown Mill. He said that Slabtown Road ran between sections 15 and 16, his family’s land, and he believed that the Slabtown Mill was on Markham Creek. It was on the 1860 Plat map, he said.

The next day I was in the library, checking again for mentions of Slabtown. It was not named on the 1860 plat, but there was an unnamed mill on Cedar Creek just past the junction with Markham Creek. This was Carter’s Mill, a well-known steam lumber mill that burned only in the 1960s, but it led me in the right direction. I turned to the Warren County Scrapbook, a compilation of articles on local history written by Hugh Moffet over many years. On page sixty-nine of volume 2 I found a index reference to Markham Creek “running north through Monmouth Park.” More important, he said that this was the north end of the old Slabtown Road![3]

Looking up the 1932 contest winners on microfilm was no pleasant task, but it paid off: “George B. Earp, who was born in Monmouth more than 82 years ago and has lived here continuous ever since, has been awarded the weekly prize.”[4] Earp wrote, “I have been to all these old places when the mills were running. The Monmouth mills were all run by steam and to one of them I hauled water in a dry time to make steam for it.” He gave the names of several prominent mills, then came to Slabtown: “a few rods from the back entrance to Monmouth Park was the old Marcum Mill site. From here northwest to the small hamlet of Slabtown.”

This places Wyatt Earp in Monmouth in 1868. What he was hauling, or exactly when, or how he was hired, or by whom is not known. But the lumber mill and grist mill were just north of the present golf course, Gibson’s Woods. The name Slabtown probably came from the outer scrap cut of the lumber called slabs; these were used for the outer walls of the cabins there.

There were 150 entries in the contest; there were weekly winners and honorable mentions, each with short summaries, and there was a monthly winner and the grand winner (the sandstone formation west of Biggsville). None seem to have mentioned Wyatt Earp or Wyatt’s birthplace.

I also revisited Hugh Moffet’s impressive research on early cemeteries. He placed Wyatt’s grandparents in the Pioneer Cemetery, but among those whose markers had disappeared.

Still, Moffet’s knowledge of Wyatt was limited. His 1939 summation of Wyatt’s connections to Monmouth have Nicholas selling his farm and moving into town in 1846 and leaving Monmouth permanently in 1850. He credited Wyatt with having earned a solid reputation defending the 1864 wagon train to California against Indians and remarked that “his blazing six-shooter, notched a dozen times” made him a feared gunfighter.[5]

July 28, 2004

[1] Daily Review Atlas (July 24, 1956).

[2] Prairie Pioneer (Monmouth, IL, 2004), 24/2, p. 3: “Slabtown, on timber road running north from Monmouth Park through Section 16.”

[3] Daily Review Atlas (Dec. 19, 1938).

[4] Daily Review Atlas (Jan. 11, 1932), p. 3.

[5] Warren County Scrapbook, vol. 3, p. 80; Review Atlas (Aug. 22, 1939).