The Shelton/Birger Gang War!

Young me, playing Sheltons & Birgers

(Originally posted on FB Sunday, January 24, 2010)

Dan Shelton was related to Mammaw (Lillie Bell Wilson Manion). I don’t know exactly HOW, perhaps he was a nephew. Anyway, we were cousins, I guess. He lived in Southern Illinois, don’t quite know where. (DANG! At times like this I sure wish that I had Photographic Memory, or at least a tape recorder) I guess we visited Dan a couple times in my childhood (late 1950’s-early 1960’s). At the time he was an adult, but since kids think EVERYONE is old, I won’t hazzard a guess. He was younger than Mammaw.

Dan Shelton said he was cousin to the Shelton Gang and he sure did tell some great stories of these famous Southern Illinois Bootlegger Gangsters. The main story I recall was the feud between the Sheltons and former partner Charlie Birger. For whatever reasons, they were on the outs, and every chance they got, one side was trying to kill the other. Usually with the “Tommy-gun” (The .45 caliber Thompson Submachine Gun, recommended by 30’s Gangsters of all ilk! Still my favorite “I wish I had” machine gun. These stories are probably the primary reason.)

Well, as all gang wars tend to do the longer they go on, the Shelton/Birger feud escalated. When one side would do a blazing machine-gunning drive-by, the other side re-couped by building up a couple of home made “Tanks!” They were more armored cars or trucks, but I guess they were pretty well armored.

When Birger couldn’t mow down all the defenseless Sheltons, he barricaded himself and his gang into his infamous roadhouse, The Shady Rest. With extra shielding on the walls, and good line of sight, his fortress was pretty impenetrable. From ground level.

As well as there being plenty of gangsters in the 1930s, there was also a profusion of barnstormers, WWI veterans with nothing better to do but fly their open cockpit airplanes around to county fairs and offer rides to folks willing to pay. And whatever other flying jobs people might want.

Well, the next thing you know, one of the Shelton gang and three homemade bombs is in the air, directing the pilot in the direction of the Shady Rest.

They probably should have gotten someone with a better aim, because all three bombs missed the target (AKA “The Broad Side of a Barn”), although one of the bombs did blow the hell out of a chicken coop out back. But all was not lost. A couple days later, members of the Sheltons snuck up on the Shady Rest in the darkness of the night with a “shitload” (technical term) of dynamite, piled it up, lit the fuse and ran. It was truly enough to “blow the crap” (more technical talk!) out of the Shady Rest. Unfortunately, the only people in the roadhouse at the time was a guard, a bartender and a couple of waitress, whose bodies were all found in the rubble.

Afterwards, the gang warfare more or less died down but never died out completely. These people surely hated each other. Over the next 20 years, the remaining members of the Shelton gang was slowly picked off, including one that was shot off his tractor while out plowing his field. Charlie Burger was finally caught, convicted and hung for the murder of a small town mayor, a Shelton sympathizer.

I imagine that after those visits with Dan Shelton, me and Ken probably had dozens of play machine-gun battles. But, knowing my older brother, I bet that I never got to play a Shelton.

If you ask REAL Nice, I’ll post a link to the actual barnstormers tale of the airplane attack, in his own words, of the HISTORICAL Event of The first Airplane Bombing run on American soil with intent to do real damage”

See these web links for more details:,9171,751586,00.html

Or just do an internet search!

Subsequent notes & remarks:
Coming up, a link to the transcript of the pilot. Note that I did NOT write it. I found it on the internet years ago, and then the link had went dead, but today I found it again. I’m so happy I found it!

I didn’t even get into the war that the Sheltons and Birgers (before they were feuding) got into with the Ku Klux Klan! The Klan wanted to clean out all the illegal alcohol, but, for some reason, the bootleggers protested! (So, who were the BAD guys here?)

One thing that my brother Ken and I agree is, the Shelton gangs escapades could make a real good movie. Maybe someday.

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  • Jerrod Shelton  On May 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I am a decendent of the Shelton’s of Webster Co, Ky. According to my father we are related to the Sheltons of Southern Illinois. I teach American History in Tennessee and have always been fascinated with the Shelton Gang.

    • macbuddha01  On May 30, 2012 at 7:40 am

      It is a fascinating story! Back when the American Gangster was at it’s height, the Sheltons managed to take it over the top!

  • Shebia Dombrowski  On October 26, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I was just talking to a gentleman about this he remembers this it was in St. Clair county near tilden il on the curve between marissa il

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