Lakey's Ghost

*Contributed by Sheila Cadwalader 

          “On the day following Lakey’s burial and just at nightfall, two men living west of McLeansboro were passing the Lakey cabin site as they returned from a trip to the Wabash.  A few rods east of Lakey’s Creek they were joined by a strange and fearful companion.  A headless horseman on a large black steed, on the left had or downstream side, moved along toward the creek with them… The same apparition appeared a few evenings later to other men approaching the stream from the east at nightfall…  For a generation or more an occasional traveler would report the strange horseman.”  John W. Allen; Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois


History and Legend of Lakey
By Ralph S Harrelson

          Lakey was slain but he refuses to die.  He still lives in history, geography, and the legend and lore of Hamilton County, Illinois.  A small creek near McLeansboro was named Lakeys Creek, a geographical memorial to him.

          The query is often made:  “Was there such a person as Lakey who lived in this county, or was he just fictitious character ?”  Perhaps the ghost of Lakeys Creek, a legend that has persisted through the years, has cast doubt upon his actual existence here.  However there was such a person – Lakey was here.

          The Goodspeed history of Hamilton County gives a list of names of people who first settled here.  One page 249, from the section on Settlement, we find information given in the following paragraph:

          “Mr. Lakey, who lived on the Jones Tract, after whom Lakeys Creek was named, and who was killed by his son-in-law.”

          We are not told who the son-in-law was, but the Jones Tract evidently was the tract later owned by Michael Jones of Shawneetown.  The tax record for 1826, this county, gives the names of previous owners of plots of land.  This record shows that Michael Jones of Gallatin County paid taxes on the northeast quarter of section 23, Township 5 south, Range 5 east.  The same record shows that Joel Leaky had previously owned this tract of land.

          Other records of Hamilton County also show that on May 24, 1824, Michael Jones became the “Assignee” of Joel Leaky for the same quarter section.  Comparing all the records extant, it appears that “Leaky” is a variation in the spelling for Lakey.

          The old Shawneetown-McLeansboro State road ran through the tract just described, a part of which land is now owned by T. M. English.  Lakeys Creek is crossed as one travels eastward on the highway just before reaching the English home site.  Lakeys Creek empties into Ten Mile Creek less than a mile northeast of the old town site of Hoodville.  Just how early Lakey’s name was given to the creek we do not know.  It was quite early however for we find it in county records of the 1830s.

          In the 1818 census of White County (our county was a part of White) Simon Leaky is listed and with seven other white inhabitants in his home.  In the 1820 census of White we find no Lakeys listed.  In 1818 it appears that the Lakeys were living in the southeast part of present Hamilton County, which was then the western part of White.  Associated in the census enumeration were families Watson, Stovall and Mayberry.

          A record of the settlement of the estate of Geo. McKinzie, E. T. Allen, executor, was found in an old book of Justice of the Peace court cases.  The record of receipts in the settlement shows that a part of the J. M. Lackey note was collected in the amount of $3.25.  The earliest date noticed relative to this estate settlement was Sept 1834.  This date is associated with an item for three days service to Salem for collecting debts.

          The above J. M. Lackey we believe is not Joel, but more likely John, the great-grandfather of Gilbert M and Kenneth Lakey with whom we have correspondence.  John Lakey might be the son, or a close relative of Joel who was associated with the Jones Tract.  Joel could be, and probably is, the person for whom the creek is named.

          John W. Allen, in his book, “Legends and Lore of Southern Illinois”, gives his version of the legend of Lakey’s Ghost.  Mr. Allen was a superb story teller and excellent writer.  His geographical description is somewhat confusing and ostensibly a bit contradictory in his story of Lakey’s Ghost.

          Neil Tracy gives his version of the legend in the form of a poem, entitled Legend of Lakey.  This poem was on the pages of Goshen Trails for October 1969.  The poem is an excellent example of creative writing in expressing both history and legend.

          The substance of the legend is this:  Lakey was mysteriously killed – beheaded with a broadax as the instrument of murder it was believed.  He was building a log cabin and had felled a tree from which he was in the preparatory process of making clapboards for a roof covering.  He was killed in the evening and his death discovered next morning.  He was buried near the cabin he was building and not far from the old trail.  After Lakey's death a headless apparition, riding a big black horse appeared to, and rode along with travelers coming from the east it is said.  This specter was said to be Lakey’s ghost.

          The ghost always rode on the down-stream side of travelers.  Upon arriving at the creek the ghost turned downstream and disappeared in a shadowy dark pool of what is now Lakeys Creek.  The ghost must turn downstream for a ghost could not cross running water according to ghostology.  How this ghost ever appeared in McLeansboro I know not – unless it was in the time of extreme drought.  However before the timber was eroded from the land, creeks like Lakey seldom ceased to flow.

          Whatever we might think, this legend has great appeal, and Joel Leaky (Leakey, Lackey, Lakey) did at one time own the “Jones Tract” east of McLeansboro.

From: Goshen Trails, October Issue 1973; p. 13
Reprinted with permission

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