OLD SETTLERS' DAY
The GREAT PICNIC of MACON COUNTY'S PIONEERS Originally published in the Decatur Review, on 4 Sep 1891
Originally published in the Decatur Review, on 4 Sep 1891
TALKED OF OLD TIMES
BEST REUNION THEY EVER HAD
Over a Thousand People at Riverside Park in the Afternoon John Davis Tells About Macon County in the Thirties What was Here J.H. Pickrell Tells Incidents of His Early Life Here and What Came After He Did New Officers
Macon countys old settlers had a great reunion yesterday at Riverside park. It was probably the greatest one they ever had. Certainly it was the greatest in recent years. In the morning 700 people gathered under the pavilion. In the afternoon so many came that there was not room for all under the pavilion and they had to stand around outside. All enjoyed themselves. The addresses seem to stir them up and put them in a good humor. It was genuine reunion.
When the formal exercises began in the morning the pavilion was almost filled with old settlers. There were some young ones in the assemblage, but the silvered heads and bent forms showed that most of them were old in years, if not in residence in Macon county. J.R. Gorin, president of the society called the meeting to order and called for the singing of the Doxology. Then John Wilson offered prayer, America was sung, and J.R. Gorin made a short address of welcome.
John Davis, of Junction City, Kan., now a member of congress, could not accept an invitation to come to the meeting, so he sent a letter to the association and it was read by President Gorin and described life in
MACON COUNTY IN 1830MR. J.H. GORIN, Decatur Ill.
My Dear Sir Your recent letter, kindly asking me to be present at the meeting of old settlers of Macon county has awakened in my mind a thousand recollection extending back into my earliest childhood. I was born in Sangamon county, within 50 miles of the present city of Decatur. My father and family moved to Macon county in August, 1830, when I was but four years old. It was at the beginning of the contest between Uncle Sam and the Sac and Fox Indians for the proprietorship for he country, known as the Black Hawk war. At that time the most prominent features of the region were the black, rich, untilled soil of boundless fertility, wide prairies of tall grass, green-headed flies, rattle snakes, prairie wolves and other concomitants of a new country, reeking with undeveloped richness and boundless natural resources. The forests of noble oaks were in their primeval vigor, and the paths through them were little trodden by white men. In the mid of the practical pioneer, able and willing to meet the privations and hardships of a new country, Central Illinois was surely an eldorado.
Our family settled about four miles east of Decatur, in the eastern margin of the Sangamon river woods, with a great ocean of prairie on the east, which to my childish mind was without limit. Our neighbors were few and far between. Two miles north of our cabin was the Widow Rea, with a family of bachelor sons, who, in after years, were prominent actors in making the history of the county. They were known then and later as John, Bill and Sam Rea. The latter for several years was an official of the county, known to every man who did business in the court house. Our first neighbor on the south was Davis Davis, a lame man who stuck to his own home for 50 years and raised a large family. I saw the notice of his death in the Decatur papers a few years ago. To the southeast and a little father away was the claim opened by Mike Myers, the oldest brother of my mother. It was afterwards occupied by old John Florey, a soldier of the American Revolution, and father of about 20 sons and daughters. The same place was, still later, occupied by Ambrose Greenfield, whose wife was the youngest child of the old soldier. While living in our first home in Macon county we were not always alone. We were often visited by hunters of game, hunters of lost animals and hunters of land, and, occasionally, by a troop of men looking after the safety of the settlers. These were usually about 50 in number and traveled on horseback, under command of Major Warnick, and known as rangers. Major Warnick was afterwards sheriff of the county, and at one time it became his duty, in these primitive days, to cowhide a couple of horse thieves by the respective names of Redman and Wyatt. He did his job nicely, and the story of the pursuit and capture of James Piatt, of Piatt county, and others, the public whipping by the sheriff, and connected incidents formed altogether a voluminous folk lore at the winter fireside, and, in the minds of the pioneers of Macon county, it was an important event of the century.
The winter of 1830 31 was known for many years as the winter of the deep snow. It was formed by two notable snow storms of about 18 inches each. After the snow had fallen to the depth of about three feet a sleet followed, which, when frozen, became a strong crust, especially on the prairies, enabling men, dogs and light animals to walk on top of the snow. Deer were very plentiful in those days and the snow was vastly on the side of the hunters in capturing them. On the prairie men, dogs and deer ran alike on top of the snow. But it was the habit of the deer to run for cover in the woods. There they plunged midsides into the snow and could make no progress. The hunter, with a good dog, had no trouble in capturing whole herds at a single hunt, frequently killing them with a butcher knife only, without the use of a gun. John Phoenix in this way killed a herd of seven in one day and dragged them home on the snow. That winter of the deep snow was very destructive to game of all sorts, and old hunters agreed that deer and turkeys were never so plentiful afterwards as they were before.
In the year 1832 my fathers family moved two miles south, to a claim that had been started by James Myers and which for many years, was known as the old Joe Davis place, and afterwards was the residence of H.W. Davis, now living in Shelbyville. A mile or so east of that spot was built about that time the first school house I ever saw. It was made of unhewn logs chinked with billets of wood and dobbed with clay mortar. At the west side was an open fireplace, about eight feet wide. Above the fireplace, outside of the house, was a chimney built of sticks and mortar. The fire was made of large logs, which in mild weather made the school room very comfortable. But in cold weather it was different. The entire building was of wood, there was not a nail, nor a bit of iron or glass or sawed lumber in the entire structure. The floor was constructed of split logs, flat side up; seats of the same, with legs to support them. For light there was a log cut out in one side of the wall and the opening closed with a web of home-made cotton goods. Our first teacher was Mr. R.P. Wren. The pupils studied their lessons aloud, with no limit to the voices. You may safely bet your bottom dollar that when we took it into our heads to be studious, there was a melodious medley of voices that waked the echoes of the woods, and could be heard some distance away. Mike C. Shaw and Henry Hodge were also teachers in this cabin school rooms, before the progress of the country rendered it antiquated.
Within the past year I have met in Topeka, Kansas, one of my schoolmates of the old unhewn log cabin days. His name is Jackson Sinclair, brother of Mrs. Willis Johnson, of Decatur. Mrs. Johnson, if living, will remember that old primeval school, taught by Mr. R.P. Wren, _ will be able to say with the historian: All of which I saw and a _ of which I was. Just as in good health. Of course we _ ever old (rest of sentence is unreadable).
In due time a new cabin was built. The logs were neatly hewn. The floor was of sawed lumber, the door was hung with iron hinges, the roof was of shingles, fastened on with nails; there were four glass windows, the seats had backs to them and the room was heated with a big box stove. The country was not putting on airs. The Stickels, John Tyler, the Spanglers, the Oxleys, the Emersons, the Scotts, Smiths, Wilsons, Davidsons, Jim Flinton, agent of Philo Hale, the Hankses, Nesbits, Wheelers, Turpins, Blacks, Atteburys, Travises, Wallaces, John Rucker, the _uerses, the Dickeys, Reas, Chambers, Jonses, Davises, Krones, McGinnesses, Isaac Veech, the Bakers, Zenos Prather, Milo C. Shaw, the Floreys, the Edwardses, the Sutarts, Jeremiah Terry, the Morrises, the Haveleys, the Doyles, and others were residents of the eastern parts of the county in the thirties, or very early in the forties. Some of them were from the wealthy and aristocratic states of the west and south, and railroads were talked of! Decatur was planned to become a great railroad center as early as 1838. Then came hard times for a few years. That railroad boom changed to a boomerang, and everything had to wait. In fact, we spent some fifteen years in waiting, like boys in a January thaw for skating. But early in the fifties the railroads came, and strange to say, they passed the town of Decatur on the same side and almost on the same lines that were marked out by the projectors of 1838. The stage coach came in the forties, and the old horse mills gave place to water and steam mills for grinding grain and sawing lumber. Thus passed away the old days in central Illinois. When we leave the forties and enter the fifties we enter modern times. I could fill many pages with reminiscences of all the thirties and forties, but I stop. I have emphasized that period because there are now left so few to speak of it. Jim Finton, now of Dickinson county, Kansas, came to Illinois as early as 1837. He and his son, son-in-law and grandson were among my warmest supporters in the last election. There are several of our old Illinois friends living in my congressional district.
I have spoken more of matters and things east of Decatur than in other parts of the county, or in the city itself, because I think one should speak most concerning things of which he knows most.
I wish I could be with you in your glorious reunion. I could then give you an hours talk that would fill our minds with the days and events that are gone, never to return. But they were days well spent in laying the foundations of the best state in the Union, except Kansas. I close with stating that the men of Illinois have also, largely made Kansas what she is. There are more people in Kansas from Illinois than from any other state or country; and, uniformly, they rank among our most intelligent, enterprising and valuable citizens.
With a thousand good wishes and kindly regards for the brave pioneers of central Illinois, I stop my half-told story and bid you good bye.
JOHN DAVIS, M.C.
Rev. Baker opened with prayer. Then there was singing by a choir of old settlers, among whom were A.C. Stevens, J.Q.A. Odor, Frank Scott, Ben Rose, Harvey Travis and John Stickle. They used a song book called The Missouri Harmony. It was printed about 1840 and was very popular when the oldest old settlers were young. Among the venerable songs brought out yesterday for the delight of ears, both old and young, were Morality, Jefferson and many others familiar in 1840 and 1850.
The address of the afternoon was made by Hon. J.H. Pickrell, of Chicago, an old Macon county man. It is too long for reproduction this morning. Part will be given today and the rest tomorrow. It was received with many smiles, some laughter and applause, and started all the old settlers tongues to wagging. The incidents related by Mr. Pickrell recalled others to the minds of his hearers, and the whole early life of Macon county was brought back vividly. Mr. Pickrell said:
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen
In this paper I propose to call you attention to things that are younger settlers than I am. I may not properly be styled an old settler, but I had the good sense to come here before many things that are now a grandfather, and that may entitle me to admission, and that may entitle me to admission into your ranks. When I say here, will say that I have looked many times for the line dividing the counties of Macon and Sangamon and have never been able to see it, though I well knew where it was said to be, besides I lived in this (Macon) county about 30 years. Nor could I see much difference in the country on either side of the imaginary line hence I mean the country round about the present boundary line between Macon and Sangamon was established long after I came here. It was thought to be good diplomacy on the part of the late Hon. Mr. Gouge, the representative of Macon county in the legislature, when Niantic township was added, running the line so as to leave Long Point Slough in Sangamon county on account of bridging it. Illiopolis township would not be so bad to have added to Macon county now, would it? It was about the same time that the Logan county line was being established between that county and Sangamon when a man who was in doubt which side of his house the line would be run, remarked when he found that he would be in Logan county that he was glad of it, as Sangamon county was a sickly county anyhow.
WHEN HE CAME
But just when I did come here is tradition with me as it is too long ago for me to remember. In one particular I resembled old settlers very much, most of them say they were very poor when they came. So was I. Gov. Oglesby has told you at other meetings that he came barefooted. So did I sockless. The McKinley bill would have rendered no income to the government had it been in force, because I came without a stitch of clothing - and I have about held my own nor do I expect to take any away with me when I leave the state, as I expect to die in it so you see I am in no hurry to leave it. Besides being poor, I was so little that my weight was four pounds after I had been here six weeks that is tradition, too, so I was a cute settler if nothing else. From my present size I might argue that it was a good country for one so small to come to, - I weigh over 200 pounds now. My growth has hardly kept pace with either Illinois or the country at large. At the census before I came Illinois had a population of 157,441 including 746 African slaves. At last census 826,_31. How many slaves there are now to appetite and vice is not enumerated. The United States had 12,866,020, and now, 62,622,250. Admitting that I settled at my birth, I will leave the question for you to figure out and speculate on, whether I am now older than 6_8,910 of the people living in Illinois in 1890 or older than 49,766,230 people living in the United States? If so, is there not a lot of young people considering that I only count myself a boy; an old one though perhaps some one will say.
In enumerating some of the things that are younger settlers than I am some may be mentioned that came before me, but if they are, will say candidly that I do not remember seeing them when I came. I am not an older settler than the hills, but I came into the Union before 20 of the states, those of Arkansas 1836, Michigan 1837, Florida 1845, Texas 1845, Iowa 1846, Wisconsin 1848, California 1850, Minnesota 1858, Oregon 1859, Kansas 1861, West Virginia 1863, Nevada 1864, Nebraska 1867, Colorado 1876, North Dakota 1889, South Dakota 1889, Washington 1889, Idaho 1890, Montana 1890 and Wyoming 1890. I also came into the state before 51 counties that are now in it. So you see I am an older settler than they. I was not here before the river that we call Sangamon, but I was here before the n that is at the end of the name. The Indians I understand, called it Sangamaux, and the early settlers called it Sangamo.
HOW THEY LIVED
The people that were here before me lived mostly in log cabins with puncheon floors, there were a few frame houses, but there was not a brick house between Springfield and Decatur, nor am I sure that there was one in either of those places. The first I knew of was built by Sowell Cox, just west of Mechanicsburg, it was well known to Decatur people. Mr. J.J. Peddecord and other boys of his age, made it a point to stop and see the nice girls who belonged to Mr. Thompsons family. It was a one-story building with sleeping rooms in the attic. The windows in the end were small, a lean to that was used as a dining room and kitchen, with a pretty flat roof came up to the lower part of one of the windows. A young gentleman who had traveled too far to go home, after sparking till bedtime, was shown to bed the summer sun on the west end of the house had warmed the room to such a point that he concluded to get out on the roof of the shed rooms in his night clothes to cool. It was rather late and he soon fell asleep and rolled off. Some watchful dogs were disturbed and he took to a tree. The dogs, ever faithful, kept up the watch till day was approaching, and he had to call for help to get into the house before the young ladies arose. Another visitor, unwelcome at least to the boys, calling to stay all night, the old gentleman ordered one of them to put the horse in the stable and give him all the hay, corn and oats he could eat. The instructions were obeyed in letter, if not in spirit. The boy tied the horse with his tail to the trough, where he was found next morning when the young gentleman went for him, - he took the hint.
WHAT WAS HERE
I was here before matches lucifer matches; so called from the fact that there was thought to be some connection with the brimstone that was on them and his Satanic Majestys regions. Also called Lucifer, I suppose, to distinguish them from the matches that were made by our parents and younger lovers. They were invented a little before I arrived, but they had not come so far west as Illinois. Imagine the railroad men lighting their lamps on a train with flints, or one of our modern cooks kindling fires without matches, pine kindlings, coal oil, or gasoline to help them. We had neither. When we went to bed we covered up the fire with ashes, if it went out we used a flint and struck sparks, igniting some low or other inflammatory substance, or went to the neighbors, and borrowed it. A few coals between a couple of clapboards were very unhandy when we had to carry them a mile or two, the wind always blew the wrong way, driving the smoke in our faces. That was not all the use we had for flints though, as the old pistols, muskets and rifles will testify. No percussion caps then. Besides, we used to try the metal of our knives on them; if our old Barlow would not strike fire on a flint we traded it off the first chance.
I was here before there were any pumps to draw water out of our wells, used a sweep a forded pole set in the ground, a long pole put in the fork, weighted down on one end, with rope and bucket, - The old oaken bucker the iron bound bucket The moss covered bucket which hung in the well at the other end. They served their purposes in more ways than to draw water, for it was with one of them that the old lady made a cold water man out of her husband. He got in the habit of coming home late of nights tipsy. She tried to get him to quit and join the church, but he would not do it. She then tried to get him to join the temperance society, but with no better success. But he finally made the proposition to her that he would do so on one condition, that if she could find any place in the Bible where it said a man must join a temperance society, that he would do so. She felt very much disappointed when she failed. One night he came home a little fuller than usual, went to the well to get a drink of water and in reaching for the old sweep fell in. The water not being over his head he set up a terrible yell. The old lady finally traced up the sound and found him. He begged of her to help him out. Well, she said, if I can find any place in the Bible where it says I must help a man out of a well Ill do it. She went in, got a light and went diligently to work. She finally came back and said that she could not find it. The nearest she could come to it was that if a mans ox or ass fell into a pit that he must help him out. He acknowledged that he had been the latter, and was willing to take the pledge, and of course she helped him out. (As it was dark I will not become personally responsible for this story.)
AFTER A WHILE WE GOT PUMPS
But they were bored out of big logs by hand and were so hard to get in and out of the well that they did a good deal of wheezing before they were repaired and it took hard work to get a bucket of water.
I went with my father to St. Louis, got my first pair of boots with red tops, no early settler ever forgets them. When asked on my return about what I saw that I liked best, replied that they had the best pumps there I ever saw. I thought the hydrant was a pump and all one had to do to get water was to turn the handle.
I was here ahead of the school teacher. They called them masters then. They boarded around among the scholars, staying most of the time where the pretty girls lived. There were no steel pens here in those days. The master made and mended all the pens out of goose quills. That was one of their principal qualifications and was considered one of the fine arts.
I was also here before the switches disappeared. The master knew where to find them, too.
I was here before envelopes were used. It was considered quite an accomplishment to know how to fold and seal a letter nicely, wafers being used to seal it. Blotting pads came later. It was thought to be a fine invention when little wooden barrels with holes punched in the end, through which to shake the blotting sand were invented. When a page was written the sand was shaken out on it, then it was turned back and that which did not stick to the paper was saved for another page. Of course then there were not scandals about pretty typewriters.
Came here long since I did. They were not used in England till 1846, and sometime after that in the United States. One fellow, not knowing how to stick them on, pinned one to his letter and wrote, Paid, if the durned thing sticks. A postmaster out west wrote to the postmaster general that they wanted to pay the postage with little tickets (stamps), but he made them pay the cash every time. Letter postage was counted by the distance that the letter was carried, from a picaune to two bits being the usual range of rates, payable at either end of the route.
I was here before lager beer. It was first produced in Europe in 1842 and not for some time after that in this country. As an old settler I objected to the new comer as an innovation and did not neighbor with it.
THE CHEWING GUM
That the boys and girls used was gathered from broken rosin weeds, or, as some called them, the polar weeks, because of the edges of the leaves pointing north and south, the old settlers claiming that they were as good as a compass from which they could get the direction. They could tell their direction in the woods from the moss on the north side of the trees.
The sewing machines all wore brogans, (generally homemade ones) or went bare footed.
TREES AND PLANTS
There were no evergreen trees in door yards when I came, and the people were green enough to think that they would not grow on the prairie soil. The first I ever saw were sent down Kanawha river in Virginia to the Ohio, down to Cairo, up the Mississippi to St. Louis by boat and from there to Sangamon county by stage. As they were poorly packed most of them died and that usually was the reason why the soil was blamed.
The first grafted apple trees in central Illinois were brought by my grandfather, Arthur Watson, in 1825 and planted near where Springfield now stands, and strange to say, some of them are still alive and bearing. I remember how the green apples gave me the cholera morbus, if they were grafted.
I was here before there were any pears, though I guess if there had not been a pair I would not have come.
I was here long before improved grapes were introduced. We though we had to go to Cincinnati to find hills to grow them on. Yet the woods and river bottoms were full of wild grapes. We forgot what the Bible says about grafting the wild and tame olive trees.
I was here before most all vegetables now in common use, except potatoes, pumpkins, cabbages and turnips. Tomatoes were not in common use and were called love apples. I heard a man say he gave a boy 10 cents to eat one and it vomited him. Another one said he could tell Kentuckians because they ate tomatoes.
Our fruit consisted principally of crab apples, - whew, but werent they sour wild plums, watermillions and mushmillions. One old fellow with a big patch stuck up a clapboard on the corner of his fence with an advertisement reading, Millions for sale, both water and mush.
I was here before many of the cultivated flowers of this day, a few bug roses in the door yards and hollyhocks, morning glories and touch me-nots in the gardens but the quantity of wild flowers that were in the prairies, hundreds of acres of phlox, wild lilies, etc., running roses and lady slippers in the woods, but they were not fragrant and it was distance that lent enchantment to the view.
Followed. They were started by one by Mr. Gorin about a couple who set out to get married by paying the expenses with coon skins and beeswax. Others got up and told of early day incidents. Among these story tellers were N.M. Baker, Thomas Moffet and Dr. E.W. Moore. He is the oldest old settler in Macon county, because he was born here in 1826.
THE MORTUARY COMMITTEE
Reported that these old settlers had died in the last year; Thomas Wingate, Mrs. Lydia Morris, Mrs. Elvira E. Pugh, Mrs. Ann Stamper, Mrs. Ann _aw.
It was decided to have the next meeting the third Tuesday in August. These officers were elected.
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