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Gangster guns, the weapons of Birger

EXCHANGE: Gangster guns, the weapons of Birger

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Adam Testa)
In this Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a Thompson Model 21 machine gun, also known as a Tommy Gun, sits propped against a white background at the Historic Jail Museum in Benton, Ill., where photographer Dave Cooper was going to capture the image for publication in the upcoming book "Outlaw Guns - Weapons of the American Bad Man" by Gerry and Janet Souter. (AP Photo/The Southern, Adam Testa)

BENTON – Notorious “tools of the trade” used by the bootlegging Birger Gang and the “Raider” S. Glenn Young will be featured in the upcoming book “Outlaw Guns –Weapons of the American Bad Man.”

The book by Gerry and Janet Souter of suburban Chicago will focus on firearms chosen by American outlaws from the Revolutionary period to 1940, as well as the lawmen who pursued them.

The choice of firearms “tell about the people, their historic period, and the technology they embraced,” Gerry Souter said. “A criminal’s tools tell us a lot about what makes them tick.”

The couple traveled the western United States during the summer checking out museums, collections and places where incidents involving “bad men” took place, but the discovery of the Birger and Shelton gangs in the couple’s own backyard took them by surprise.

“The extent of their turf war and how the community was swept up into the conflicts is both tragic and exciting. It’s a story of these boys and their machine guns, their rifles and pistols, their armored cars and their bombing aircraft,” Souter said.

“It proves that any conflict can be resolved with a couple of clips full of .45 caliber ammunition, a fast car, a shovel and a bag of lime.”

The Souters requested photographs of several weapons housed in the armory collection at the Historic Jail Museum in Benton for publication in the book.

Franklin County Historic Preservation Society President Robert S. Rea quickly arranged for professional photographer Dave Cooper to capture images of the weapons, including two Thompson machine guns used by the Birger Gang.

The Tommy guns, one with a 50-round drum, the other with a 100-round drum, are prominently displayed in the infamous photo of the gang at its Shady Rest hideout.

Cooper also photographed Young’s 30-06 model 1903 Springfield rifle, with five “kill” notches filed onto its trigger guard, as well as Young’s pearl-handled 1911 Colt 45.

The Colt was used in an “epic” gunfight that left four people dead, including Young and Williamson County deputy Ora Thomas, at the Canary Cigar store in the lobby of the European Hotel in Herrin, Rea said.

The 1925 gunfight ended the terror that accompanied the controversial Young, a “raider” associated with the Ku Klux Klan who was hired to rid the area of bootlegging and the violence associated with it.

The hardcover book, published by Zenith Press, an imprint of the Quayside Publishing Group in Minneapolis, will be released in November.

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