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Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves

Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves

A Plain-Spoken History of Mid-Illinois

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James Krohe Jr.


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
360 pages, 6 x 9, 57 illustrations


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About the Book

Winner, ISHS Annual Award for a Scholarly Publication, 2018

In Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves, James Krohe Jr. presents an engaging history of an often overlooked region, filled with fascinating stories and surprising facts about Illinois’s midsection.
Krohe describes in lively prose the history of mid-Illinois from the Woodland period of prehistory until roughly 1960, covering the settlement of the region by peoples of disparate races and religions; the exploitation by Euro-Americans of forest, fish, and waterfowl; the transformation of farming into a high-tech industry; and the founding and deaths of towns. The economic, cultural, and racial factors that led to antagonism and accommodation between various people of different backgrounds are explored, as are the roles of education and religion in this part of the state. The book examines remarkable utopian experiments, social and moral reform movements, and innovations in transportation and food processing. It also offers fresh accounts of labor union warfare and social violence directed against Native Americans, immigrants, and African Americans and profiles three generations of political and government leaders, sometimes extraordinary and sometimes corrupt (the “one-horse thieves” of the title). A concluding chapter examines history’s roles as product, recreation, and civic bond in today’s mid-Illinois.
Accessible and entertaining yet well-researched and informative, Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves draws on a wide range of sources to explore a surprisingly diverse section of Illinois whose history is America in microcosm.


In more than forty years as an award-winning magazine journalist, essayist, and critic, James Krohe Jr. has explored the history, politics, and culture of his native Illinois. His work has been published in more than fifty magazines and newspapers, including Illinois Issues and the Chicago Reader, and he is a longtime contributor to Springfield’s Illinois Times. He has written two popular monographs published by the Sangamon County Historical Society and edited the society’s anthology, A Springfield Reader, which in 1977 received the Illinois State Historical Society’s Award of Merit. He lives and works in the Chicago area.


" Krohe does an excellent job explaining the urban development of the region economically but also socially and politically. Nevertheless, he does not neglect rural life either, for Corn-Kings & One-Horse Thieves presents a rich history of life, community, and work on the mid-Illinois farm. Krohe's study, at the end of the day, is a fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship."Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"After years of perceptive and sometimes sardonic journalism, Krohe's Corn Kings is a book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians as well as local historians generally. Teachers on any level can mine it for nuggets of information. Scholars can check it for new perspectives on old topics. And historiographers can marvel at the distance the field has come since the Centennial History of Illinois. The book is indeed a useful, if wholly unintended, contribution to the state's bicentennial."— John Hoffmann, The Journal of Illinois History 

“As promised in the title, Krohe has written a plainspoken story about a certain place in mid-America. The author speaks with the warmth of familiarity, while at the same time maintaining a critical eye on the old chestnuts of history. There should be more books about the past like this one.”—Robert Mazrim, author, The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln
“For four decades, Jim Krohe has been the premier writer about things Illinois. Here he brings to vibrant life an unassuming yet fertile swath of flat land—and its surprisingly variegated people—in a historical travelogue that draws, for readers’ delight, on the author’s sparkling use of metaphor and simile. Krohe is especially strong on the period between the Civil War and World War II, when mid-Illinois played a large hand in jump-starting the nation to its economic preeminence, creating a sweeping, colorful canvas of who we were, and are.”—Jim Nowlan, lead coauthor, Illinois Politics and Fixing Illinois
“Krohe is a delightful curmudgeon who goes to bat for underdogs while bringing the high and mighty to heel with witty and insightful prose. His unique take on life makes Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves an incredibly entertaining read.”—Taylor Pensoneau, author, Governor Richard Ogilvie: In the Interest of the State

"Written with wry detachment, streaked with affection, Krohe’s book is no exercise in regional cheerleading. The result of the “wrenching transformations,” he concludes, “was a mid-Illinois that by many measures was dull, complacent, cautious, and bland.” Even by Illinois standards, it “can seem like a backwater,” for “the economic, social, and political centers of Illinois have shifted well to the northeast.” It was not always thus: the region enjoyed a heyday between the Civil War and the Great Depression."--Michael Burlingame, Illinois Times 

"Krohe is both entertaining and enlightening on a wide variety of issues, events, and personalities. His literary voice is knowledgeable and bemused, with a dry wit that makes for an enthralling narrative." --James A. Edstrom, The Annals of Iowa