pub Chas. C. Chapman & Co..

History of Tazewell county, Illinois ; together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history; portraits of prominent persons and biographies of representative citizens. History of Illinois ... Digest of state laws online

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Online Librarypub Chas. C. Chapman & Co.History of Tazewell county, Illinois ; together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history; portraits of prominent persons and biographies of representative citizens. History of Illinois ... Digest of state laws → online text (page 18 of 79)
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the Mackinaw river at high water, and the weather turning suddenly
cold, he perished on the prairie not far from where he crossed.

In February, 1825, Ezekiel Turner was killed by lightning, being
the second death. Not a foot of sawed lumber being within reach,
the rites of sepulture were performed in true pioneer style. Wm.
Woodrow felled a straight walnut tree, cut a log the proper length,
split it, and hollowed one half and shaped it like a coflin. From
the other half of the log a slab was hewn for a lid, and in this rude
burial case the body was placed and consigned to mother earth ;
and no doubt that what was mortal of Ezekiel Turner mouldered
into its original element as peacefully as though it had been encased
in satin-lined rosewood or polished iron.


to ascend the Illinois river landed at Pekin, which at that time
was known, from its fine location, as " Town Site," late in the fall
of 1828. A steamboat was a novelty, or rather a mystery, to many


of the early settlers. Coming up the river the boat passed Kings-
ton in the night. Hugh Barr, who lived near that point, heard it
coming, and being on rather unfriendly terms with the Indians, then
quite numerous in the vicinity, concluded that it was some infernal
contrivance of theirs to frighten or harm him. Seizing his gun and
setting his equally bewildered dog at it, he pursued the offending
mystery. The pilot, not being familiar with the channel, ran into
Clifton's lake, and finding no outlet, he had to back the boat out.
Barr, witnessing this, drew off his dog, and though still hugely
puzzled to know what manner of craft it was, gave up pursuit.
William Haines then lived about where Behrens' brick block, cor-
ner of Front and Court streets, now stands. Hearing the puff of
the escaping steam he hastily left his bed, and half dressed, crossed
the street to Thomas Snell's, now the Bemis House, called neighbor
Snell out of bed, and inquired as to what manner of creature was
coming up the river. Snell replied : " I don't know. Bill ; but if I
was on the Ohio river I would think it was a steamboat." Old
Father Tharp, hearing the noise of the paddles and the steam whistle,
thought it was Gabriel blowing his horn ; that sure enough the end
of the world had come in the night ; and calling up his family, en-
gaged in prayer as a fitting preparation fi)r the advent of a higher
and better life.


As amusingly illustrating the peculiar characteristics of the pio-
neer hotel keepers, we incorporate the following account of two hotels
in Pekin. It is taken from the " Pekin City Directory," published
in 1870 by Sellers & Bates:

"first-class" HOTELS.

The year 1848 witnessed the establishment of two "first-class"
hotels. The Eagle, which stood on the site now occupied by the
Bemis House, was kept by Seth Kinnian, who afterwards acquired
considerable celebrity as a hunter and trapper in the far AVest, and
by presenting buck-horn and bear-claw chairs, of his own make, to
Presidents Lincoln and Johnson.

The other, now the Mansion House, but then known as the " Tay-
lor House," was presided over by William A. Tinney. "Uncle
Bill" still resides here, good-natured and hearty, notwithstanding
the arduous duties of his offices of Justice of the Peace, Police


Magistrate and Acting Coroner. He distinguished himself in his
old days by being the first white man in Pekin to lead a negro to
the polls to vote.

The manner of welcoming guests to these hotels was somewhat
peculiar, as the following instance will illustrate : A traveler came
off a boat one day, and went to the Eagle Hotel. There had been
a little western " scrimmage " at the " Eagle " the night before, and
though things had not yet been put in order, the proprietor, Seth
Kinman, was sitting in front of the door, playing his favorite tune,
the "Arkansas Traveler," with the greatest self-satisfaction. The
stranger stopped and asked Seth, "Are you the proprietor here ? "
Seth, without resting his bow, replied, "Wall, I reckon I be,
stranger." "Do you keep tavern?" "Of course I do; keep
tavern like h — 1," said Seth, fiddling away with all his might.
" Just pile in ; hang your freight up on the floor and make yourself
at home. The boys," continued Seth, " have been having a little
fun, but if there's a whole table or plate in the house I'll get you
some cold hash towards night." The stranger didn't like the place,
and took his departure, leaving the " proprietor " still enjoying his
violin. Late in the afternoon the traveler presented himself at the
" Taylor House." 'Squire Tinney met him outside with his nwst
austere expression and "Good morning — good morning, sir; walk
in, sir ; take a seat, sir ; shave you as soon as the water gets warm."
The stranger, not requiring the services of a barber, walked off in
haste and amazement, and the 'Squire swore audibly " that he was
some infernal Yankee come out West to steal honest people'smoney."
The next steamboat that came along found our discomfited traveler
on the beach, awaiting passage for anywhere out of Pekin.


The big snow of 1830 will be vividly remembered by all the old
settlers. The snow began falling on the night of the 29th of De-
cember, and continued to fall fi^r three days and nights, until it
reached an average depth of about four feet, but drifting in places
as high as from eighteen to twenty feet. Great suffering was expe-
rienced in consequence. The settlers relied for their daily food up-
on the Indian corn which they were enabled to raise, together with
wild game, which was abundant at that time. Plenty of the former
was raised to supply the wants of all until the next season's crop ;
but when the snow fell very little had been gathered. Game could


not be had. The great depth of snow was a barrier to all travel,
and it may well be imagined the snfferings of the people were very
great indeed.

This was the heaviest snow that ever fell in Illinois within the
memory of the oldest settler of this part of the State. According
to the traditions of the Indians as related to the pioneers, a snow fell
from fifty to seventy-five years before the settlement by the white
people, which swept away the numerous herds of buffalo and elk
that roamed over the vast prairies at that time. This tradition was
verified by the large number of bones of these animals found in
different localities on the prairies when first visited by the whites.
The deep snow is one of the landmarks of the pioneer. He reck-
' ons, in giving dates of early occurrences, so many years before or so
many after the deep snow. He calculates the date of his coming,
his marriage and the birth of his children from it, and well might it
make a lasting impression upon their minds. Could we picture the
suffering of that winter; the dark forebodings that crept into every
cabin, starvation staring the inmates in the face ; the meagre meal
that for months was their only portion, we, too, would never forget
it. But human tongue or pen can never adequately picture the
trials endured by the pioneers who were here during that long and
eventful winter. For weeks the sun was not visible, and so intense
was the cold that not a particle of snow would melt uj)on the south
sides of the cabins. People were for weeks absolutely blockaded or
housed up, and remained so until starvation compelled them to go
forth in search of food.

Israel Shreves, who came to Tazewell county from Decatur county,
Indiana, located first in Elm Grove township, where he remained
two years, and then moved to section 28, Morton townshij), where
he passed the remainder of his days, dying there Aug. 26, 1861.
Here he reared a large family of children, eight of whom are still
living. His son Julius resides upon the old homestead. During
the deep snow Israel Shreves and Major R. N. CuUom (father of the
present Governor of Illinois), went to the mill at Pleasant Grove,
Elm Grove townshi}). This mill was some eight miles from Shreves'
farm, and still farther from Cullom's ; but necessity compelled them
to make an effort to obtain some meal. Each of them took a horse
to carry their sack of corn. The men traveled upon snow shoes and
led their horses. The snow was so deep that it was only with the
greatest difficulty that they could get along at all. On the elevated


places where the wind could strike, the snow would bear their horses
up ; but in the " swags " it was so soft that they would sink, and but
for their snow shoes the men would also have gone down. In places
the snow was so deep that it would strike the sacks on the horses
and brush them off. At such places the men were obliged to take
the sacks upon their shoulders and carry them on to a spot that
would bear their horses. They would then return to their horses
and lead them on. Ofttimes it was quite difficult, owing to the great
depth of the snow, to get the horses upon the hard snow. The cold
was so intense, and the wind so high, that persons were in great
danger of freezing to death ; but the two determined, sturdy pioneers
pushed ahead and at last arrived at the mill.

On the following day after their arrival at the mill Mr. Shreves
started for home, and after a long and painful journey reached his
destination in safety ; but so great was the physical exertion he
made that nothwithstanding the intense cold he wiped the streaming
perspiration from his brow.

Mr. Cullom remained another night at the mill before attempting
to leave for home, which he reached in safety after a tedious, dan-
gerous journey.

Mr. Shreves had seven large, fat hogs running in a ten-acre field.
Their bed was quite a distance from the house, and they could not
be reached very soon. When found they were all frozen to death.

Major R, X. Cullom, during this winter, carried corn on his back
from Mackinaw to his cabin, a distance of ten miles, to feed his
horses. He traveled on snow-shoes.

Rev. "Wm. Brown and his brother-in-law, Alfred Phillips, who
lived two and a half miles from Mr. Brown's, cut browse for their
cattle till they could shovel a path to Holland's Grove, now \yash-
ington, to drive them there. This was a hard task.

So much extra work was to be done in the building of homes that
in the fall the pioneers did not gather in and crib their corn. They
let it remain in the field until winter came before gathering. The
big snow therefore found many of the settlers without any prepara-
tion for a long siege. They would go out into the field, and where
they could see the top of a corn stalk sticking up through the snow
they would dig down until they came to the ear. To get wood they
would cut trees at the top of the snow, and when spring came and
the snow had disappeared, they often found the stump long enough
to cut into fence rails. The snow lay on the ground until about the


first of April ; and we have little doubt that many a weary one
durino: that long: winter sighed for the comforts of the " old home ;"
still, notwithstanding its great dreariness and the greater suiferings
of the people, none became disheartened, for we find them in the
spring of 1831 as determined as ever to carve out for themselves a
home in this truly beautiful country.

During this winter, from Dec. 29, 1830, till Feb. 13, 1831, it
snowed nineteen times. After the snow had melted we are told that
the bones of deer were so numerous in some })]aces that for one-
quarter of an acre one could step from bone to bone over the whole
surface, so many deer had perished there.

The season following the winter of the deep snow was a very late
one, and frost came every month in the year. The crops were poor,
as may well be supposed, and the corn did not ripen.

The longest winter ever experienced since this country was settled
by the whites was that of 1842-43. The cold weather set in No-
vember 4, and lasted until the following April.


The most extraordinary atmospheric phenomenon occurring within
the knowledge of the oldest settler took place in January, 1836.
The intensest suffering was caused to man and beast by this sudden
change, (^uite a snow had fallen the day previous to the change,
and upon that day a slow, drizzling rain fell, making of the snow a
" slush." The storm came from the northwest, and the clouds, upon
its approach, assumed a threatening and extraordinary aspect, those
higher being dark, and those ])el()W of a white frosty appearance.
As fast as the storm advanced it instantaneously changed the tem-
perate atmosphere to that of frigid coldness. Incidents arc related
in connection with this sudden change which are indeed marvelous.
William Hodgson, who had just moved upon the farm he now occu-
pies, section 32, Groveland township, says he went into the timber
for a load of wood just before the change. While he was loading
his wagon the storm came upon him, and so sudden and terrible that
he could scarcely manage his team. Before he could get to his
house, which was only forty rods distant, the slush had frozen hard.
The next day the surface of the country was one vast sea of ice.
Two miles south of Hodgson's farm a drove of hogs out from
protection froze to death. Cattle that were in the fields were held
fast by the slush freezing about their feet, and it became necessary


to cut away the ice to liberate them. J. Roberts, of Morton town-
ship, speaks of this change in the following language : " In the
winter of 1836, when there was some four inches of snow upon the
ground, a warm rain fell which transformed the snow into slush. I
was some thirty rods from my house when it began to freeze. I
immediately started for it, and before I reached there it was frozen
sufficiently hard to bear me up."


We have spoken of the deep snow and the sudden atmospheric
change ; we now wish to record the seasons that the greatest amount
of water fell. It is claimed that the greatest rain-fall that has ever
occurred in this country was in 1835. There was no record kept of
the amount of water that fell by any of the methods in use at the
present time, and all we have to judge by is the high water in the
streams. The Illinois and tributaries are said to have been higher
than at the breaking up of the big snow in the spring of 1831, or
at any time since. The rains commenced falling in the early spring
and continued throughout the early summer. There have been,
perhaps, other seasons just as wet, but the streams were never so
high at any other time. During this period there were many hard
rains. In the early part of July a storm of rain, thunder and light-
ning occurred, which for severity has scarcely ever been equaled. It
spread throughout the West. The great prairies, then uncultivated
and undrained, were a vast lake, and fish were plenty in almost
every locality. The large ponds found here and there over the
prairies in an early day contained fish large enough for domestic
purposes. Tliese ponds would dry up in the summer but in spring-
time were well filled with water, and how the finny tribe managed
to get there is a query the "old settler" cannot answer in a more
satisfactory way than " they rained down when small." During this
season but little in the way of crops was attempted to be raised.
Hogs were fattened in the fall upon the mast, and those that were
not killed for food had to subsist during the winter upon acorns ;
with them it was literally " root hog or die."

The years 1842, 1844, and 1858, are also notable as years of great
rain-fall. During the early history of the county, when there were
no bridges, great difficulty was experienced in getting from place to
place in the spring-time on account of the high waters. At such
times ferrymen were allowed to charge double fare for carrying


people or goods across th'e streams. It is remarkable that so few
lives were lost during these seasons of high water, but the pioneers
were all expert swimmers, and it was very seldom one was drowned


In regard to the first land sales of government land in this part
of the State, we cojiy from John W. Dougherty's " History of
Washington : "

" The first land sales for this district were held in Springfield in
1830 or 1831. Prior to that date no title could be acquired to any
land in this district. The settlers, however, recognized the justice
of securing to each of their number the benefit of their labor, and
gave effect to this idea by appointing one of their number. Col. Ben-
jamin Mitchell, agent or registrar of claims. By this arrangement,'
and the paying of twenty-five cents to the registrar, each applicant
secured the registration of his claim, and the right to buy the land
he had improved when it came into market. This gave the lands a
commercial value in the hands of the holder, and also enabled the
person making the claim to sell and transfer it if he so desired.
These claims soon became an impoi-ttint item in the limited com-
merce of these early times, — the other items of wliich were grain,
beef, and pork. The principal purchasers were immigrants, most of
whom had little if any money, but labor and good promises passed
current at par, the latter being secured by the' honor of the prom-
isor. They were usually religiously observed. Indeed, men usually
make much of their honor when it is their only stock in trade.
Still, we are inclined to think thepro rata of honesty was greater in
those days than now, and for the following reasons : These men
were not speculators or fortune hunters, but earnest men, seeking
homes in the virgin soil of the Great West, and actuated by these
generous impulses, honesty was the natural consequence."


Money was an article little known and seldom seen among the
earlier settlers. Indeed, they had but little use fi)r it, as all business
was transacted by bartering one article for another. Great ingenuity
was developed in the barter of their commodities, and when this
failed long credits contributed to their convenience. But for taxes
and postage neither the barter nor credit system would answer, and


often letters were suffered to remain a considerable time in the post-
office for want of twenty-five cents, which was then the postage on
all letters fVom any great distance ; nor Avere they carried on the
fast express or mail trains. It was only every week or so that a
lone horseman, with mail bag thrown astride, would ride into a set-
tlement or village. If, however, the village was on the line of a
stage route, the old stage-coach would make its appearance as often.
It was not common, then, for persons to get many letters ; indeed,
one or two a month was considered a large mail. Nor did three
cents pay the postage upon a letter at that day. It seldom took less
than twenty-five cents, or two " bits," as Kentuckians would say.


The large prairies of the county presented a most beautiful sight
before they were settled. The following very descriptive lines on
" The Prairies of Illinois," by Captain Basil Hall, graphically por-
trays their beauty in their wild and native state :

" The charm of prairie consists in its extension, its green, flowery
carpet, its undulating surface, and the skirt of forest whereby it is
surrounded ; the latter feature being of all others the most signifi-
cant and expressive, since it characterizes the landscape, and defines
the form and boundary of the plain. If the prairie is little, its great-
est beauty consists in the vicinity of the encompassing edge of
forests, which may be compared to the shores of a lake, being inter-
sected with many deep, inward bends, as so many inlets, and at
intervals projecting very far, not unlike a promontory or protruding
arm of land. These projections sometimes so closely approach each
other that the traveler passing through between them, may be said
to walk in the midst of an alley overshadowed by the forest, before
he enters again upon another broad prairie. Where the plain is ex-
tensive, the delineations of the forest in the distant background
appear as would a misty ocean beach afar off. The eye sometimes
surveys the green prairie without discovering on the illimitable plain
a tree or bush, or any other object save the wilderness of flowers
and grass, while on other occasions the view is enlivened by the
groves dispersed like islands over the plain, or by a solitary tree ris-
ing above the wilderness. The resemblance to the sea which some
of these prairies exhibit is really most striking. In the spring,
when the young grass has just clothed the soil with a soddy carpet of
the most delicate green, but especially when the sun, rising behind a



distant elevation of the ground, its rays are reflected by myriads of
dew-drops, a more pleasing and more eye-benefiting view cannot be

" The delightful aspect of the prairie, its amenities, and the ab-
sence of that sombre awe inspired by forests, contributes to forcing
away that sentiment of loneliness which usually steals upon the
mind of the solitary wanderer in the wilderness ; for, although he
espies no habitation, and sees no human being, and knows himself to
be far off from every settlement of man, he can scarcely defend him-
self from believing th?^ he is traveling through a landscape embel-
lished by human art. Tne flowers are so delicate and elegant as
apparently to be distributed for mere ornament over the plain ; the
groves and groups of trees seem to be dispersed over the prairie to
enliven the landscape, and we can scarcely get rid of the impression
invading our imagination, of the whole scene being flung out and
created for the satisfaction of the sentiment of beauty in refined

"In the summer the prairie is covered with tall grass, which is
coarse in appearance, and soon assumes a yellow color, waving in the
wina'like a ripe crop of corn. In the early stages of its growth it
resembles young wheat, and in this state furnishes such rich and
succulent food for cattle that the latter choose it often in preference
to wheat, it being no doubt a very congenial fodder to them, since
it is impossible to conceive of better butter than is made while the
grass is in this stage.

" In the early stages of its growth the grass is interspersed with
little flowers, — the violet, the strawberry-blossom, and others of the
most delicate structure. When the grass grows higher these disap-
pear, and taller flowers, displaying more lively colors, take their
place ; and still later a series of still higher but less delicately formed
flowers appears on the surface. While the grass is green these beau-
tiful plains are adorned with every imaginable variety of color. It
is impossible to conceive of a greater diversity, or discover a pre-
dominating color, save the green, which forms a beautiful dead color,
relieving the splendor of the others. In the summer the plants
grow taller, and the colors more lively ; in the autumn another gen-
eration of flowers arises which possesses less clearness and variety of
color and less fragrancy. In the winter the prairie presents a mel-
ancholy aspect. Often the fire, which the hunters annually send
over the prairies in order to dislodge the game, will destroy the


entire vegetation, giving to the soil a uniform black appearance, like
that of a vast plain of charcoal ; then the wind sweeping over the
prairie will find nothing which it might put in motion, no leaves
which it might disperse, no haulms which it might shake. No
sooner does the snow commence to fall than the animals, unless
already before frightened away by the fire, retire into the forests,
when the most dreary, oppressive solitude will reign on the burnt
prairies, which often occupy many square miles of territory."


Fires would visit the grassy plains every autumn. The settlers
who had pushed out from the timber took great precaution to
prevent their crops, houses and barns from being destroyed, yet
not always did they succeed. Many incidents are related of prairie
fires. Kezer Hancock, after assisting in cutting about twenty tons
of hay in 1838, most of which he mowed himself by hand, saw, to
his great sorrow, one of those devastating prairie fires in its onward
course toward it. On it came with great rapidity, and before any-

Online Librarypub Chas. C. Chapman & Co.History of Tazewell county, Illinois ; together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history; portraits of prominent persons and biographies of representative citizens. History of Illinois ... Digest of state laws → online text (page 18 of 79)