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22 or 23 years of schooling are just about as able to live off the State or to
squander a fortune.



161

In 1823, presumably late iu the year, accompanied by his brother, Absalom,
Mr. Funk set out for Illinois. He arrived in Sangamon county in the month
of April, 1824. Iu a sketch of his, left published in 1874, it is asserted that
he was detained for a long time on the western journey by high water in the
Wabash river; 1 can not accept this for authentic history. Anyone who
knew Isaac Punk or who will study his character, can hardly believe that a
few feet of water, more or less, in the Wabash, would have made much effect
upon his movements. In May he came on to this part, and pitched his camp
on the east side, just in the edge of this grove, near the center of the south side
of what is now section 16, about a mile and a half east and a half mile south
of this church and cemetery. From Sangamon county Mr. William Brock
and wife came with the Funks, and all lived together for a part of a year in
the first cabin.

The next winter, Robert Stubblefield with his wife, who was a sister of the
Funk's, came out from Ohio and joined the brothers in their new homo.

Still holding his position here, in the year 1825 or 1826, or maybe in each of
these years, Mr. Funk went to Fort Clark, now Peoria, and raised a crop of
corn on river bottom land near that place. We can safely surmise that this
move was necessary in order to get a little ready money; there was a market
there and some ground open for tillae'e. While at Peoria he made the ac-
quaintance of Miss Casandra Sharp; in June, 1826, they were married; the
pair returned immediately to Funk's Grove, and there lived their lives, very
near the place where the first camp was made. From Mr. Funk's marriage
dates the beginning of his remarkable career.

His purpose in coming to Illinois was to get a place and room where he
could raise, feed and deal in cattle, hogs and other farm stock. He had ac-
quired some knowledge of the business in Ohio, and no doubt a taste for it
also. When he married and brought his bride back to Funk's Grove, we
may know the purpose was fixed to follow that kind of business and that
Funk's Grove would be the place where he would follow it.

There were then less than 20 families in the whole territory included now
in the bounds of McLean county; of course there was not much farm stock of
any kind.

The Funks began to farm a little with such implements as they could get
or make; and to buy what stock there was for sale within their reach. They
bought cattle, hogs, sheep, horses and mules, and drove to market wherever
a market could be found. The brothers, Isaac and Absalom, were equal
partners in all these transactions.

They went to Sangamon county and other older settlements, as they gained
a little headway in the business, and bought cattle and brought them to the
home place; these they would graze for a season or perhaps feed awhile, ac-
cording to their condition, and then find a market for them. Their first
markets were Peoria and Galena— later Chicago. Sometimes they took droves
of cattle into Ohio, finding markets for them there.

Their first transactions were small of necessity, but as settlement increased
and the stock of the country increased, they kept equal pace, widening the
field of their operations. They were alert, knew their business, dealt fairly with
everybody, worked very hard, and as nearly as I can find out, they gained a
pretty complete monopoly of the stock buying business in all this region;
and they made money, as they deserved to do.

As early as 1835, Chicago became their principal market. They were send-
ing so much stock there, that it was thought best for one of the brothers to
locate in Chicago, in order to take better care of the business at that end of
the line. Isaac had now five small children; Absalom was still a bachelor
and ten years the older. These circumstances suited Absalom better for
locating and taking the work in Chicago, which he did, and Isaac remained
on the farm.

— IIH



162

The difEerinor characteristics of the men also suited them to this division of
the work. If Isaac was the stronger man of the two, being possessed of
somewhat more energy and courage, Absalom was cast in a little smoother
mold, more diplomatic, more suave. For about five years longer, the
brothers remained in partnership, prosecuting their business with great tact
and energy.

If the necessary limits of this paper would permit, I would be glad to speak
at length of the character of Absalom Funk. He was a man of integrity and
marked abilitj'; from first to last of the partnership, the brothers worked in
perfect harmony, and there was always mutual good will. The memory of
"Uncle Absalom" is dear to the Funk family, and his name is always men-
tioned with profound respect.

The partnership was dissolved in the year 1841. Isaac bought Absalom's
share in the lands they had together acquired, and continued buying and
feeding and marketing cattle and hogs and other stock as before. Instead of
curtailing the business, he still increased it. His land holdings were now
larger, more labor was available, and he was farming and feeding more ex-
tensively. He bought cattle far and near, sometimes going to other states
for them. He fed all his own crops to stock, as well as the grain share which
he received from his tenants, frequently buying the share of his tenants also.
He put cattle out with other farmers to have them fed, paying so much a
pound for the gain, and he bought the crops of still others and had them fed
-out on the farms where they were raised.

It was a common practice for him to sell his cattle or contract them a year
forward, to parties in Chicago, at a stipulated price per hundred weight,
dressed; then he would buy and graze and feed the cattle to fill these con-
tracts. He went to Chicago sometimes with as many as 1,500 cattle in his
drove; sometimes as many as 1,000 hogs. One winter, together with his
brother, Jesse, he drove more than 6,000 hogs to Chicago. To move these
large droves of stock safely and get them in market in good condition, was
no boy's play. It required a high degree of skill and a most accurate and
practical knowledge of the business, besides great physical strength and
courage and endurance. When one of the larger herds of cattle was to be
moved to market, a section of it, say 200 or 800, would be started with its
proper complement of men attending. Next day another section would be
mobilized and started on the road, and so on until all the herd was moving.
These sections or smaller droves were kept about a day's march apart. It
will be readily seen that in this manner the herd could be moved with greater
safety and expedition than in a single great drove. About 14 days were re-
quired for a bunch of steers to travel to Chicago, and about three weeks from
the time the first were started out, the last drove or section would get in.

Heavy rains, thunder storms, high waters, sleet storms and snows were
frequent incidents of these trips. Thunder storms by night terrified the cat-
tle in their new surroundings. It was often necessary for the herdsmen to
remain in their saddles all night during the prevalence of a severe storm, in
order to prevent a stampede of the cattle, or to round them up and get them
in hand again in case a stampede occurred. This kind of work called for the
greatest courage and the most daring equestrianship, as well as great physi-
cal endurance.

For the most part, corrals were found for the cattle, and shelter for the
men of nights, but frequently all were obliged to camp in the open prairie.
At such times the men had nothing but the ground for a bed, a saddle or a
bag of straw for a pillow, a great-coat or blanket for cover and the starry
sky or lowering clouds for a roof. Mr. Funk nearly always went with his
cattle, and took his share or more than his share of the hardest, the most
disagreeable and the most dangerous parts of the work.

Slaughtering facilities at Chicago were limited in those days, and these
separate droves or sections of the herd were sized as nearly as practicable to a
day's capacity of the slaughter-house to which the cattle were going. In this
way each drove could be immediately slaughtered on its arrival, thereby pre-
venting expensive delay and congestion of stock at Chicago. When



163

slaughtered, each beef wJts weighed separately in quarters on platform scales.
To Georgo, the oldest son, was allotted the business for several years, of
taking these weights. The work would begin about 4:00 o'clock in the morn-
ing and continue day after day until late at night. The whole time required
to move and slaughter one of these larger herds of cattle, straighten up all
the business and get home, was from four to five weeks.

Droves of hogs were moved in about the same manner, except that it was
necessary to have a sort of traveling slaughter camp along with the hog
drove. A separate gang of men was needed to take charge of such heavier
and fatter hogs as gave out on the way. Sometimes these would be loaded
in wagons and sent forward io Chicago, the wagons returning and loading
again, if necessary. Sometimes in colder weather, a good many would be
slaughtered enroute and sent forward dressed.

When his sons were old enough, they shared with their father the labors
and hardships as well as much of the responsibility of his great business; but
for many years it all rested on his shoulders alone. I have no doubt he often
saw all he was worth and a good deal more on foot moving between "Funk's
Grove" and Chicago. He nearly always had big money obligations maturing.

When we consider the exigencies of such a situation, together with the un-
certainties and risk of such a business as his, we may know that broad
shoulders and a stout heart were needed to bear up under it all; but he had
them, if ever a man had.

I do not believe that Mr. Funk had any scheme in mind when he came to
Illinois, even if he had any wish, to acquire a large amount of land. He did
not come to Illinois for that purpose; the stock business was the thing upper-
most in his mind. The fertility and value of these prairie lands were not gen-
erally known to the first comers; indeed, several years later than the first
settlement in McLean county, we find United States surveyors making such
notes on their plats as this: "Level or greatly undulating prairie; may be
useful some time for grazing." Such notes appear on plats or surveys made
of some of the richest lands in the worldj lying within two or three miles of
this grove. These surveyors evidently did not suspect the matchless fertility
of the lands they were surveying. All the good farm land they had ever seen
in use had been cleared of timber; therefore timber land is the only good
farm land; such I presume was their process of reasoning.

In the west side of the grove near the residence of Mr. Jacob Funk, may
still be seen a clearing made by an early settler, who thought if one wanted
a farm, one must of cgurse, go to the woods anu clear it up. Even if the
prairie land was rich, the first settlers believed it would be next to impossible
to live in the open bleak prairie away from the timber. But I suspect that
the Funks very soon discovered the fertility and productiveness of the prairie
land. They had farmed a little of it from the very first. They never cleared
any timber land to farm it; and just as soon as the lands came into market,
they began to buy, and to buy a good deal of it.

i think we may say that it is evident that they had been here but a very
short time until they foresaw that all these, lands, prairie as well as timber,
would become valuable; and a new purpose was formed which, plainly stated,
was to buy and hold all the land they possibly could, in and around this grove.
This purpose once formed, became the controlling motive in every business
transaction. For this purpose they worked and planned by day and by night;
they pursued it with tremendous energy and splendid daring; they bought
lan^ right and left, but not without method, as we shall see.

The stock business now, instead of being the end or ultimate object of their
ambition, became the means or instrument for accomplishing another object
— the purchase of land. The stock business was to become the machine with
which the money might be made to pay for land.

In 1829, they bought 1,040 acres; in 1830, 400 acres; in 1832, 400 acres; in
1834, 560 acres; in 1836, 760 acres; in 1837, 1,360 acres; in 1838, 720 acres; in
1839, 480 acres; in 1841, 40 acres.



164

In this year it will be remembered that the partnership with Absalom was
dissolved. For that year and the five succeeding: years, Mr. Funk's land
purchases were small; this no doubt for two reasons — he was paying out on
Absalom's half of the lands they had bought together, and these were the
years covered by the period of great financial depression, commencing with
the suspension of the bank of the United States in 1837 or 1838.

In 1848, He bought 320 acres; in 1849, 2,640; in 1850, 720 acres.

In this year 2,600,000 acres of land belonging to the United States and lying
adjacent to the proposed route of the Illinois Central railroad were ceded to
the State of Illinois, and in turn granted by the State to the Illinois Central
Railroad company, in aid to the construction of their road. The grant cov-
ered the alternate sections not already patented, for about 15 miles each way
from the right of way of the road. The Federal government closed its land
offices until the railroad company could select its lands, or at least withdraw
from sale all government lands lying within the belt of the railroad grant.
Sometime in 1852, the railroad lands came into market and the government
land offices were opened again. In the meantime, settlement had increased
and times were growing better. The Chicago & Alton railroad was pro-
jected and partly constructed by this time.

The prospect of railroads greatly enhanced the land values on or near their
lines. By this time, too, the fertility and productiveness of the prairie lands
were known to all. Mr. Funk clearly saw that a period of extraordinary ac-
tivity in land buying was at hand. If he would buy what he wanted and
where he wanted it, he saw he must buy now; the opportunity would be pass-
ing or passed. He had actual and practical knowledge of the value and fer-
tility of the land; he had faith in it, and faith in a great future for his state
and country, and he had faith in himself.

Without wavering and without hesitation, but with magnificent courage,
he made his last great plunge; and in the short space of three or four years,
he bought more than 12,000 acres of land, and sent himself $80,000 in debt.
I do not mean to convey the impression, nor is it to be inferred, that there
was any element of recklessness in this great venture. There was none. He
carefully measured the risks of the undertaking, and deliberately weighed its
enormous obligations, but having reckoned well his resources, he believed he
conld pay out, and he did. He met all his obligations at maturity and paid
for every acre of land that he bought.

Mr. Funk's land holdings were in round numbers, 25,000 acres, all in
McLean county; 20,000 being in and around this grove, in one tract or body.
Nearly all of this 20,000 acres is in Funk's Grove township, but it extends
somewhat into Mt. Hope and Dale also.

We do not know that any other man in the United States, has, by his own
unaided efforts acquired as much land in one body, equally valuable and
fertile, as there is in this " Funk's Grove " tract; in this Mr. Funk's achieve-
ment stands unique and unparalleled.

He saw all his lands enclosed and conveniently sub-divided by good fences,
and otherwise sufficiently improved to be at least usable. He had on his
farm at the time of his death probably $70,000 worth of live stock and other
farming equipment.

Mr. Funk never engaged in any business enterprise outside of his farming
and stock business, either by himself or with others, except that he was one
of the organizers of the First National Bank of Bloomington, and owner of
four-fifteenths of its stock. He left no debts.

He did not make a will; he had indicated to his children the lands which
he desired each to have, and a division was made, strictly following his
known wishes. The process of partition was very simple. Quit claim deeds
were executed to each one for his portion, all the others joining. These
deeds were written on blank paper by the Hon. 0. T. Reeves and M. Swann,
Esq.; Mr. Swann taking the acknowledgments as a justice of the peace.
Thus the estate was settled without the intervention of courts, or even the
aid of attorneys, except to the extent just mentioned.



165

It is not to gratify unseemly pride that I have thus outlined the extent and
value of Mr. Funk's estate. What a man does— what he achieves— is the just
measure of his character and abilities. If it is proper and laudable for me to
write of his life and character, it is equally proper that I should set forth
what he accomplished. I could say much more of the magnificent estate he
acquired; for instance this grove has been one of the best and most valuable
bodies of timber in the whole land. I have roughly estimated that there have
been carried out of it, of building material, fencing, railroad ties, fuel, etc.,
more than $1,000,000 worth. An eastern lumber company set its plant here
in the seventies, and sawed out 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 feet of the finest quality
of black walnut lumber. Th^ company paid more than $60,000 for this lumber
in the tree.

I claim for Mr. Funk that he had the sagacity to forsee and measure the
great value of this grove of timber. It may be justly claimed also that he
saw that in all this great central Illinois belt of fine rich land, there was
none richer or better or more certain to become valuable than this around
Funk's Grove.

In the pursuit of his cattle business, he made frequent and extended jour-
neys in all directions; he was familiar with other groves and other prairie
lands, but he stayed with this grove and these prairies, He saw then what
anyone can see now, that he could not anywhere have made a better choice.

A notable fact in connection with Mr. Funk's land purchases is that they
were all made within the short period of 24 years — from 1829 to 1853. He was
some years longer paying for his last purchase.

He was in no sense a speculator in lands. He bought no lands with the
money made by the rise in the price of land, because he sold no land. He
paid for all the lands he bought with the moderate and legitimate profits of
his farming and live stock business.

A very cursory examination of the history of his land purchases reveals
some remarkable and original methods. His preference at first was for the
timber land; he saw that for a long time the timber would be more valuable
than the prairie land, and so it was. His next preference was for those lands
lying nearest the water courses, or where water could be procured most
abundantly and at least expense.

He bought a great deal of land in small tracts of 40 or 80 acres. He so dis-
posed these purchases that, with a given amount of land, he would sur-
round sometimes a much larger amount than his purchases; for instance, he
would go into a section and buy a 40 in one or two of its corners, an 80 in one
side, then say an 80 in the section joining, opposite the first 80 bought. He
would therefore invade several adjoining sections at a time, and by buying
sometimes not more than a quarter of each, he would manage to enclose or
nearly enclose with his purchases all of the balance of those sections. If we
should take any given date between the years 1832 or 1833 and 1850. and plat
his holdings at that time, we would find them arranged as a cojoplete net-
work, enclosing other large amounts of land. This was no doubt a strictly
original method, and a most effective one; without which it would have been
impossible for him to acquire the amount of land that he did.

Was it fair? Was it legitimate? Certainly. Any other man had a right to
do the same thing, and the opportunities in this wide, wide western domain
were practically unlimited.

I have been impressed for years with the thought that Isaac Funk was a
most extraordinary character; I doubt if he was fully appreciated by his con-
temporaries. As for the present generation, I feel quite sure it has never
taken the just and full measure of his powers and characteristics. To accom-
plish what he accomplished, in the time, in the manner, and under the con-
ditions, required ability of the highest order. It was only 40 years— less than
41 — from the time he came to Illinois to the time of his death. Lots of men
have spent longer time getting ready to do something. Just picture him, if
you will, in 1824 a young man standing before his rude cabin of poles and



166

clapboards, no other human habitation within miles of his. On this side of
him the primeval forest, on that, the boundless, trackless prairie, over which
swept the fierce winter blast and the fiercer autumn fires; without money, in
debt. Without friends who had money; without schooling:; the owner of two
or three horses, a cow or two, an ax and a meagrre equipment of the rudest
agricultural implements. Then picture the princely estate he had acquired
and the honors he had brought to his name in 1865. No ordinary powers ever
carried a man over such a breach as lies between those two pictures.

Without models or leaders, he organized his great live stock business; in-
deed, he created it in most of its factors. He made business where there was
none before. While building his own business and fortune, his efforts were
of incalculable benefit to the whole community.

It would have been quite impracticable in the earlier times for the smaller
farmers to get their stock and surplus grain to the then distant markets, but
they found in Isaac Funk, always a ready and honorable buyer. He made a
home market for much of the surplus live stock and other products of this
region, and by his enterprise and his bold and extensive operations, he
moved the stock of the country to the markets, at very much less expense
than the generality of farmers or smaller operators could have moved it. He
got surplus cattle and hogs out, and brought the money back in their place.

His enterprise stimulated stock raising and farming all about, and in a
marked degree. There is no doubt that the enterprise and ability of this one
man was a dominant factor in the rapid development not only in McLean
county, but also of a much larger region round about it. His business, be-
sides furnishing a market and outlet for the surplus stock of the country,
furnished also paying employment to many people. There are numbers of
men in McLean and other counties now owning farm homes, good ones too,
who got their start and their money with which to buy land by working for
Mr. Funk, feeding or driving cattle and hogs.

Everything must have its sufficient cause; nothing happens. If Isaac Funk
achieved such great success in his business, we will find in his character, if
we examine closely, the reasons or causes, putting it so, from which came
his success. The causes were there; they had to be. We will have to con-
tent ourselves with noting a few of the more prominent characteristics of
the man — those which in our judgment distinguished him from other men,
and which aided him most in his career.

First, he was a powerful man physically; he was five feet ten and a half
inches in height, normal weight 200 pounds, stout but never obese; finely
proportioned, compactly built, black hair, inclined to curl. Roman nose,
long, strong upper lip, mouth wide, closing firmly and closely in handsome
lines. Complexion ruddy to dark, eyes dark brown, clear penetrating and
steady, but flashing with fire and power when excited or aroused; eyes once
seen not to be forgotten. Head roundish, shapely and large, but propor-
tioned to the strong, rather short, neck.

His eyes and the whole contour of his face and every line of it, denoted
native power, but these did not obliterate nor obscure the unmistakable ex-
pression of a kindly and even tender nature, which was there also. He
shaved clean always, and dressed plainly; never used tobacco in any way.
He was not a total abstainer from strong drink, but he very rarely made use
of it. He had a keen sense of justice. He demanded and gave fair play.



Online LibraryIllinois State Historical Society. 1nPapers in Illinois history and transactions (Volume yr. 1902) → online text (page 26 of 40)