Latest book:


Memory and Community: The Life and Writings of W. H. Hainline. Edited with Kathy Nichols. (McDonough County Historical Society, 2018.)

Historians often realize that they don’t just provide new information, to make the past more well-understood and appealing for modern readers. They sometimes resurrect the dead—bringing individuals from earlier generations out of the dark realm of the lost and into the modern consciousness. That is the deepest accomplishment of the John Hallwas and Kathy Nichols in this book, Memory and Community: The Life and Writings of W.H. Hainline. Yes, the book is filled with accounts of McDonough County, Illinois, historical events, Civil War experiences, noted murder cases, tragic deaths, community activities, and other matters, but it also reflects the personal experience and the inner life of a remarkable figure, who was raised on the frontier, spent four long (and ultimately tragic) years in the Union Army, edited the Macomb Journal for more than half a century, and crusaded for the remembrance and appreciation of others throughout his life. Because Hainline was such a popular local resident, committed civic leader, and talented writer, readers of this volume will not just develop an understanding of the human experience in one corner of America, but will become deeply engaged with a complex, purpose-driven Illinois figure from generations ago. Ultimately, he led a rich and meaningful life because he related deeply to those around him, and appropriately, this collection of his writings prompts us to do the same.

Price for McDonough County Historical Society members is a special discount price of $5. Email: or if you prefer, write to the Historical Society, Box 83, Macomb IL 61455. For general public the price is $17.95 and is available at New Copperfield's Book Service in Macomb, Illinois (phone: 309-837-3052 or email:

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On Community:  A Crucial Issue, a Small Town, and a Writer's Experience 

(Illinois Heritage Press, 2015) As historian, literary scholar, newspaper columnist, and small-town proponent John Hallwas points out, " We live in an unprecedented era, when community is under siege from a variety of forces, and the negative ramifications of that are continually mounting."  On Community presents compelling short writings that both discuss this crucial issue and examine the relationship between people and meaningful place.  Convinced that our communities need to re-discover and appreciate their heritage, he provides some perceptive commentaries on "The Way It Once Was" and engaging biographical vignettes that allow modern readers to look into the lives of committted, and often struggling or tragic, people in Macomb's past.  He also reflects insights from many fine authors and conveys his own experiences with some fascinating figures in small-town Illinois.

ISBN 978-1-4951-7092-8

Price $17.95

Here to Stay: Reflections on the Dead in a Small-Town Cemetery

(Illinois Heritage Press, 2012) Here to Stay is a broad and compelling look into the lives of past residents in a downstate Illinois community—presenting the most varied array of small-town folks since Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology appeared a century ago. But it is much more. The introduction on “Living with the Dead” is an engaging account of both the impact of death in a nineteenth-century town and the social purposes of cemeteries like Macomb’s beautiful Oakwood. The biographical sketches of the buried “Permanent Residents” reflect every generation in that corner of America since the first settlers came, in 1830, emphasizing such universal themes as self-realization, social commitment, and the struggle to belong. The four insightful essays in the  “Theatre of Memory” section probe into and defend cemeteries as complex cultural sites, which deserve our reflective engagement, historical appreciation, and vigilant preservation. The many arresting photographs by Kathy Nichols demonstrate the aesthetic appeal—and suggest the hidden mysteries—of such an historic cemetery as well. But uniting all the components of Here to Stay are the spiritual insights of well-known Illinois author John Hallwas, who explicitly crusades “to allow the local dead to inhabit our conscious-ness”—and who readily convinces us that “to realize the temporal dimensions of our place is to let it shape, and connect, and deepen us.”

ISBN 978-1-4675-2755-2

Price:  $17.95


$16.46 (
(University of Illinois Press,1999) ISBN 0252068440 (0-252-06844-0)
Often regarded a a classic of Illinois nonfiction, this book tells the story of Kelly Wagle, a small-town bootlegger who had a big impact on his community in the Roaring Twenties and was murdered in 1929. (Hallwas also uncovers Wagle's murder of his estranged wife in Nebraska.) The book also provides an engaging account of the history of Colchester, a small coal-mining town in western Illinois.






Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois

with Roger D. Launius

$22.95 (

(Utah State University Press,1995.) ISBN-10: 0874212723

ISBN-13: 978-0874212723

Praised by many reviewers, this documentary history of the famous struggle between Mormons and non-Mormons in frontier Illinois won two "Best Book" awards from organizations devoted to Mormon studies.



Dime Novel Desperadoes: The Notorious Maxwell Brothers

$25.00 (

(University of Illinois Press, 2011) ISBN-13: 978-252078040

A thrilling true-crime narrative, this book tells the story of long-forgotten  Midwestern outlaws who emerged in central Illinois and achieed national prominence in the early 1880s. Winner of the Midland Authors Award for "Best Biography" (2009).

Keokuk and the Great Dam

$18.19 (
(Arcadia Publishing, 2001)
ISBN 0738507350 (0-7385-0735-0)
This engaging pictorial history tells the story of an engineering marvel, the first dam built across the Mississippi River (1910-1913), which drew international attention, and he historic community that fostered the famous project.


McDonough County Historic Sites

$17.15 (
(Arcadia Publishing, 2002)
ISBN 0738520446 (0-7385-2044-6)
From the trials of settlement to the coming of railroads and the establishment of small-town culture, McDonough County's history reflects a range of human endeavors, maked y hisforic sites that have endured, or vanished--such cemeteries, businesses, churches, schools, and homes. Maps that accompany the chapters locate the county's many historic sites, including the hotel where Lincoln stayed twice during his 1858 campaign.


$19.99 (
(The History Press, 2009)
The author focuses on both the local tradition of popular historians and various beloved, legendary, and sometimes mysterious local places, such as Gin Ridge, Hills Grove, and Vishnu Springs.

Spoon River Anthology: An Annotated Edition
$14.95 (

(University of Illinois Press, 1992) ISBN-10: 0252063635

ISBN-13: 978-0252063633

The editor provides a wealth of information about the people that Masters' Spoon River Anthology poems were based on and the places and situations alluded to in that famous classic of American literature. As one reviewer proclaimed, in The New Republic, "The introduction is indispensable for an understanding of this seminal work of poetry."


Kingdom on the Mississippi Revisited : Nauvoo in Mormon History (Edited with Roger D. Launius)

 $27.00 (

(University of Illinois Press, 1996) ISBN-10: 0252064941

ISBN-13: 978-0252064944

A highly praised collection of scholarly articles on Mormon Nauvoo, which includes "Mormon Nauvoo from a Non-Mormon Perspective," by co-editor John Hallwas, which won the 1990 "Bes Article Award" from the John Whitmer Historical Association.


Available from New Copperfield's Book Service


Illinois Literature, The Nineteenth Century 

(Illinois Heritage Press, 1986)

Price:  $17.95 

The only anthology of nineteenth-century Illinois literature, this book includes writings by more than three dozen authors, as well as commentaries about them and photographs of them.




Out of Print



(Used copies are sometimes available through, New Copperfield Book Service in Macomb, Illinois,

and other suppliers.) 


The Vision of This Land: Studies of Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, and Carl Sandburg. Edited with Dennis J. Reader. (Western Illinois Univ., 1976).

This collection of scholarly articles, developed to bring attention to three central Illinois writers whose impact on the public was fading in the 1970s, includes such items as "Vachel Lindsay: A Reappraisal" by Dennis Q. McInerney, "Edgar Lee Masters: The Lawyer as Writer" by Charles E. Burgess, and "Sandburg and the Lincoln Biography" by Victor Hicken. 

Tales from Two Rivers I, edited with Jerrilee Cain and Victor Hicken. This initial collection of short memoirs (1981) related to western Illinois, written by older, non-professional writers, includes scores of items, which appear in sections about "Community Life," "Earning a Living," "Family Life," "School Days, School Days," "Tin Lizzies, Etc.," "Hard Times," and "Farm Life." The collection received some attention in states beyond Illinois and quickly sold out, and it was followed by half a dozen similar volumes during the next twenty-five years. (Submitted memoirs that were not published in this series were placed in a collection at Archives and Special Collections, Malpass Library, Western Illinois University.)

Tales from Two Rivers II, edited with Jerrilee Cain and Victor Hicken. This second collection of short memoirs (1982) by western Illinois residents includes sections on "Traveling in Days Gone By," "Country Stores," "Small Villages," "Those Country School Days," Pastimes," "Pure Nostalgia," "How It Was Done," "People of the Past," and "Very Special Places."

Tales from  Two Rivers III, edited with Jerrilee Cain-Tyson and Victor Hicken. This third collection of short memoirs (1984) by older western Illinois residents includes sections devoted to "We Can't Forget," "People of the Roads," "Tales from the Prohibition Era," "Receipts [i.e., Recipes] by Folks," "Rivers and Creeks of Our Past," "War Comes to Illinois," "The Amen Corner," and "Hunters and Hounds."

Tales from Two Rivers IV, edited with David R. Pichaske. This fourth collection of short memoirs (1987) by older western Illinois residents includes sections devoted to "Small-Town Stuff," "Encounters with Death," " Good Times and Bad Times on the Farm," "Old-Time Politics," "Immigrants," "Around Home," "Old-Time Arts and Culture,"  "School Days," "Transportation and Communication," and "Special Memories."

Tales from Two Rivers V, edited with Alfred J. Lindsey. This fifth collection of short memoirs (1991) by older western Illinois residents includes sections devoted to "Community Life," "The Roaring Twenties," "Books and Reading," "Unforgettable People," "Wild Things," "Farm Life Years Ago," "My First Job," "The One-Room School," "Letters of Long Ago," and "The Unforgettable Past."

Tales from Two Rivers VI, edited with Alfred J. Lindsey. This sixth collection of short memoirs (1995) by older western Illinois residents includes sections devoted to "People with a Lasting Influence," "Childhood Fun," "Starting Out in the Thirties," "Going to the Movies," "Working Decades Ago," "The Values of Father and Mother," "My Experience in High School," "Poetry," "Neighbors," and "Memories of  Childhood and Youth."

Tales from Two Rivers VII, edited with Jeffrey W. Hancks and Kathy Nichols. This seventh collection of short memoirs (2009) by older western Illinois residents includes sections devoted to "Places in the Heart," "A Celebrity Among Us," "Hard Times and Good Times in the 1930s," "School Days," "Memories of the Second World War," "Farm Life in Days Gone By," "Life Along Rivers," "Families and Stories," "Getting from Here to There," "Holiday Memories," "Childhood Pets," "The Polio Epidemic," and "Memories That Never Fade."

The Poems of H.: The Lost Poet of Lincoln's Springfield, The Ellis Press, 1982.

An edition of poems by a prairie poet of uncommon talent, who was an immigrant from England and emerged in frontier Springfield during the1830s, but who was forgotten until John Hallwas rediscovered him. The poet signed his works with an "H," and since this edition appeared, Hallwas was able to determine his identity, John Hancock, and has written more about him. Hallwas also later wrote a play focused on him, titled The Mysterious Bard of Sangamo, which was videotaped in 2021 for Springfield's 200th anniversary.


Western Illinois Heritage,

Illinois Heritage Press, 1983.T

This is a collection of articles by Hallwas on many aspects of western Illinois history, from the frontier period to the later twentieth century.





Thomas Gregg: Early Illinois Journalist and Author, Western Illinois University, 1983.

A biography of the most talented historian in nineteenth-century Hancock County, who produced a wide range of writings on pioneer life, community origins, and the Mormon Conflict. He was also a leader in early Hancock County and a pioneer journalist. 


McDonough County Heritage,

Illinois Heritage Press, 1984.

A collection of historical articles about McDonough County, from the pioneer period to the later twentieth century.




Studies in Illinois Poetry,

Stormline Press, 1989.

This volume includes articles by several noted Illinois literature scholars, including Robert Bray, Daniel L. Guillory, Maria K. Mootry, Marc Zimmerman, and Hallwas himself. The latter's article is titled "Illinois Poetry before the Chicago Renaissance." Hallwas also provides an introduction about Illinois poetry in general.



Macomb: A Pictorial History, G. Bradley Publishing Co., 1990.

The only extensive history of Macomb, this book reflects community development from the founding in 1831 to the later twentieth century. A very readable account, it deals with a vast variety of people and is illustrated with a few hundred photographs.




The Legacy of the Mines, Memoirs of Coal Mining in Fulton County, Spoon River College, 1993.

A collection of personal accounts by people who participated in, or were directly affected by, coal mining in Fulton County. It includes an overview of the subject by the editor, regional historian John Hallwas.


First Century: A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University, Western Illinois University, 1999. 

An extensive overview of the university's history from the creation of the institution in 1899 through the twentieth century. Hallwas refers to a few thousand administrators,  faculty members, and others as well as all of the departments, colleges, and significant programs. It includes a thorough index.