Dime Novel Desperados – Chapter 4: Law & Order and Prison Life


We continue our examination of the book “Dime Novel Desperados: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers” by Dr. John Hallwas. This episode provides an overview of Chapter 4 – “Law & Order and Prison Life.” If you recall our last chapter, Ed Maxwell has been arrested after committing his 1st crime robbing a clothing store of all places in an attempt to rise above his station…today’s episode recounts his 1st experience in the infamous Joliet state penitentiary in 1874-1875. Shout out to CHS students Audrey Cozart, Ava Dunham, and Andrew Christian for their help with this episode.

Be sure to also check out our MINI-POD for this episode where we once again profile a Hollywood Western & various Primary Sources Dr. Hallwas used to write the book.


  • The reputation of the Joliet state penitentiary at the time of Ed Maxwell’s stay (1874-75)
  • Why efforts to rehabilitate prisoners like Ed actually had the opposite effect
  • Examine the ways that prison life shaped Ed Maxwell (in particular, what alias does he choose and what does this say about him?)
  • Why Ed Maxwell was ultimately released from prison


Dime Novel Desperados is a TRUE-CRIME narrative that “recovers the long-forgotten story of Ed and Lon Maxwell, the outlaw brothers from Illinois who once rivaled Jesse and Frank James in national notoriety.” Ed & Lon grew up right here in Forgottonia (Fulton & McDonough Counties) and their story contains many lessons for us today. An essential argument Dr. Hallwas makes is that we should reimagine how we think about the Wild West, and include stories from communities like Forgottonia positioned just east of the Mississippi.

This series is done in partnership with CHS students and features comments from Dr. Hallwas as well as music from Forgottonia maestro Chris Vallillo. Each episode will review a chapter of the book, a primary source analysis, and a featurette of a famous Hollywood western. After their crime spree, the Maxwell mythology was advanced through Dime Novels which in turn influenced the iconic Hollywood western film industry. Studying various western films will offer further insight into the story of the Maxwells.

Visit the Amazon book page to discover more about the book and how to get your own copy.


Dr. John Hallwas is western IL’s most prolific author, known for writing over 30 books about IL & the Midwest, as well as dozens of journal & newspaper articles. Dr. Hallwas has won more than 30 awards and even has an annual event named for him at WIU where he attended and taught for 34 years. If you have any interest in the history & culture of these 16 counties in western IL, your search begins and ends with Dr. Hallwas!

Visit John Hallwas’s webpage to learn more about the man and all of his tremendous contributions to elevating forgotten voices throughout history.

Dr. Hallwas visited our class at Cuba High School to discuss his book Dime Novel Desperados

Book Overview

Here is an overview of each chapter (and podcast) that will be covered in this series.

Preface – Welcome to the World of the Maxwell Brothers: An Introduction to DND w/author Dr. John Halwas 
Chapter 1 – The Maxwell Family Moves West
Chapter 2 – The Maxwells in Troubled Fulton County
Chapter 3 – The Maxwells in McDonough County
Chapter 4 – Law & Order and Prison Life
#5 – The Maxwell Brothers Become Outlaws (Chapter 5)
#6 – The Great Escape & Recapture (Chapter 6)
#7 – Prison Time & Justice Issues (Chapter 7)
#8 – Lon’s Struggle to Go Straight (Chapter 8)
#9 – The Wisconsin Desperados (Chapter 9)
#10 – The Gunfight at Durand (Chapter 10)
#11 – The Great Manhunt (Chapter 11)
#12 – Another Gunfight–and the Renewed Manhunt (Chapter 12)
#13 – Ed’s Capture & Lon’s Escape (Chapter 13)
#14 – The Desperado & the Public (Chapter 14)
#15 – The Lynching at Durand (Chapter 15)
#16 – The Lynching Controversy & Durand’s Fate (Chapter 16)
#17 – The Mysterious Fate of Lon Maxwell (Chapter 17)
Epilogue – The Story Life of the Maxwell Brothers

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