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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
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Chapter II. Missouri and Kentucky.

A Horseback Ride to Missouri — The Boone's Lick Country — A Veritable Land of Goshen — Keeping Store — A Novel Safe — The First Temperance Pledge in Missouri — Still Seeking the frontier — At Death's Door — A Distressed family — A Frontier Fort — Return to Kentucky.

I will now proceed to relate some of the numerous incidents and events of my life, from the time I left Kentucky for the Boone's Lick in Missouri to the present year, 1883. What was then known as the Boone's Lick country lay on both sides of the Missouri river, in Howard county, and extended west to the Indian boundary. It embraced about one-third of the state.

Starting on my route, I took the road called the "iron-works road," leading in nearly a direct line from Owensville, in Bath county, through the rich lands of Montgomery, Bourbon, Clarke, Fayette,Woodford, and Franklin counties, to Frankfort, Ky.

The iron-works had been erected by Col. Thomas Dye Owens, of Baltimore, at a very early day, and in a very moderate manner, for the purpose of smelting the iron ore and casting it into ten-gallon sugar kettles, to be used in making sugar from the maple tree, on which we were wholly dependent for our sugar, having no communication with New Orleans. They also cast

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pots, skillets and ovens for cooking purposes, as we could get none without packing from Virginia, the Indians having placed an embargo on the Ohio river.

The above mentioned road passed between the towns of Mt. Sterling, Paris, Winchester, and by the town of Lexington, and was made and used to haul the material from the furnace. The legislature passed an act to allow the farmers to fence the road, but they were compelled to erect gates and let the public use the road as a thoroughfare.

Passing through the above counties I was charmed with the fertility of the soil, the sightly appearance of the country, its beauty, and the luxuriant growth of farm products, and I determined to find a section equal in beauty, fertility and extent; where I could have large, square cornfields, and not little zig-zag ones as we had where I was raised, and where we had numerous short rows to plow. All of which I found both in Missouri and Illinois.

I crossed the Ohio river at Louisville (not a very large town then) into the State of Indiana, and took the trail to Vincennes, over a hilly, rough, and poor country. Gov. Harrison, afterwards President, then resided at Vincennes. Leaving Vincennes, I went up on the east side of the Wabash river thirty miles to a Quaker settlement; then crossed the river into the territory of Illinois, and came down on the west side to the St. Louis trail. From thence to St. Louis the country was a level prairie, with but few inhabitants on the route. In fact, there were no settlements of any extent except at Louisville, near Vincennes, and at St. Louis.

At St. Louis I crossed the Mississippi into the then territory of Missouri. St. Louis at that day contained

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a little more than two thousand inhabitants, most of whom were French, and the French language was mostly spoken. At that time there was but one town on the Mississippi above St. Louis (Louisiana). There was a town at Alton, one mile and a halfback from the river. There were but two towns on the Missouri — St. Charles, twenty miles, and Franklin, one hundred and sixty miles west of St. Louis.

After leaving the vicinity of St. Charles, the trail led for about eighty miles through a district in which there was scarcely an inhabitant, other than a few settled on the road to accommodate travelers. Daniel Boone then lived in this district, on Luter creek, six miles off the road, with his son and son-in-law.

When we got within thirty miles of Franklin we found a timbered country, much like the lands about Lexington, Ky., pretty well filled with squatters, who had made small improvements and were awaiting the sale of the public land. These settlers were mostly from Kentucky and Tennessee. The town of Franklin was filled with speculators, also awaiting the public sale.

This district was called the Boone's Lick country, and was comprised in Howard county, which then extended from near St. Charles west for more than two hundred miles to the Kansas river, or the Indian boundary line. The county as now organized includes this first colony of settlers. Fayette is the county seat.

We reached Franklin on a Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we strolled about the town and bathed in the Missouri river. On Monday morning Mr. Wiley, my companion, told me that he had decided that Kentucky

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was a new enough and a good enough country for him, and that he would return there. I said I would not be satisfied until I had explored more of the country and had paid a visit to the most extreme western cabin in the United States, which was only about thirty miles above Franklin, and above the present site of Boonville. This cabin 1 found not far above the mouth of Chariton river.

After breakfast, we saddled our horses and rode half a mile to where the road forked. Here we gave each other a good hand-shaking, wishing each other all the health, prosperity and enjoyment this world could afford us, and then separated — he turning his face to the east and I mine to the west. After we separated I felt lonely enough. I was in a section of country where all were entire strangers to me; not one of them had I ever seen before. This set me to thinking, and I thought — and I thought — and I thought — but did not halt until I got to that outside cabin. From there I retraced my steps, and crossed the Missouri river below the mouth of the Chariton. Here I found a colony of about a dozen Tennesseeans, who had enclosed in one common field more than a thousand acres of prairie bottom — government land, designated by turning rows for each one to till. This was a grand sight. I had never seen such an immense field and such large ears of corn. Where I was raised the corn was small, the soil being thin. Here you could have a corn row to plow more than a mile long, without stones, roots or stumps to interfere. I again crossed the river at Arrow Rock, ten miles above Franklin, which I soon reached.

The morning after my return to Franklin, I was seated at the breakfast table by the side of a merchant

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who was also clerk for the Receiver of the land office, and in course of conversation he invited me to call at his store, saying he would give me all the information he could as to the best place to buy for farming or for investment. He seemed solicitous to know where I was born and raised and how my time had been employed from infancy up; whether I had any acquaintance in the Boone's Lick country, and what was my education. My answer was that my education was very limited, and, in short, I gave him a full history of myself as I have already written out for this sketch and therefore need not repeat, and concluded by informing him that I had not a single acquaintance in the Boone's Lick country; that I had come to buy me a home, for the sole purpose of farming and to set up and do for myself.

The result was, that as the clerk he then had was about to leave him, he proposed (green as I was) to employ me in his store for one month, or, if we suited each other, until the land sales. I got along in the store better than I had expected, and at the close of the month, in lieu of thirty dollars a month as agreed upon, he paid me fifty. I must have given him good satisfaction, for he then employed meat fifty dollars a month. He also agreed that before the land sales took place he would allow me time to select lands for myself; and as his time was to be much employed in the land office, he engaged another young man (as green as I was), from Tennessee, to aid me in the store. This young man's name was James M. White. We soon became much attached to each other; and as we each had our own row to hoe and wished the confidence of business men, we pledged ourselves never to go into a billiard, drinking,

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or gambling saloon, unless on business. This young man afterwards went to the lead mines below St. Louis and carried on the smelting of lead ore. He was very successful, and soon bought a steamboat in which to ship his lead to market, and named it the James M. White — a name which became famous and familiar to all western river men. He died about thirty years ago, but I believe the name of James M. White is still on a Mississippi steamboat.

1 did not buy at the sales any of the land I had selected, as I was overbid. After the first land sales, money was sent to my employer to invest in land, and he got me to explore the country and make selections. This gave me a good opportunity to make selections for myself, and I bought and sold several tracts, on one of which I realized a profit of one thousand dollars.

The Receiver's office was in a room over the store, and as he had no safe, and nothing but a trunk to keep the money in, it was done up in packages and handed to me for safe keeping. I did not like to take the responsibility; but he said he knew what he was about, and wished me to take the care of it. My "safe" was a barrel filled with scraps of paper and set under the counter, in the bottom of which the packages were placed. Not even my companion White knew I had the money. In my "safe" I would have more than $100,000 at a time. Lands at that day were sold at two dollars per acre — one-fourth cash, and one-fourth in two, three and four years. Hard times stopped us from making money, and unless the payments were promptly made the land was forfeited to the general government. But when we thought we were all

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swamped, congress passed an act allowing us to relinquish. For instance, if a man had bought a section, he was allowed to give up three-fourths and apply the payment made to save the one-fourth.

I liked that part of Missouri where I had settled. It seemed no better lands could be found, and I liked the settlers; they were mostly from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, and a more hospitable, honest, and industrious class never settled in any new country. The three years I remained there I had no one to care for but myself, and I had uninterrupted enjoyment, with nothing to mar it up to the time I was married. Married life brought also its enjoyments and comforts, but yet it brought its cares.

After remaining in Missouri three years I resolved to visit my native home in Kentucky; but before doing so wished to explore more of Missouri, so that on my return I would be better prepared to select the place for my permanent home. A young man named Evans, from Kentucky, joined me in this exploring trip. We prepared ourselves for camping, with some bread in our wallets, cornmeal for making corn bread, and salt. For meat, we depended on game, such as deer, turkey, and prairie chicken, and as we both were good marksmen, there was no danger of suffering.

About one hundred miles above the settled portion of Missouri a colony had just been started, mostly yet living in camps. The men had gone up in the spring and had raised small patches of corn without fencing, and had just moved their families and were helping each other to erect their cabins, some of which were already built. This colony was on the north side of

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the Missouri river, opposite and below the mouth of the Kansas. The settlement was in a string nearly twenty miles long. The land was well watered, sightly, and none better.

We stopped at the outermost house of this settlement, near the Indian border line. Here a young man joined us, and we extended our trip into the then Indian Territory, traveling several days beyond the border line, where we found still a sightly country and fertile land. On our return, before we got back to the cabin, I was taken sick with a most violent fever. As it was more than a hundred miles to a doctor, and my suffering excruciating, it was supposed I must die. Whilst I lay in great agony at the cabin, where I was cared for by the woman, the young men, who were waiting until I should die, amused themselves in killing beaver, otter, and deer. After I had been sick four or five days I remembered a spring of ice-cold water that I had passed on an Indian trail, a half a mile off, and as I had not lost much strength, I put out to the spring, where I lay down with my face over the water and drank until I could not swallow another drop. As soon as the water warmed in my stomach, I cast it up. This I did a number of times, until my thirst was allayed and the perspiration began to flow. About this time a clap of thunder, accompanied by lightning, warned me that I had better not have it rain on me while in a perspiration; and although I did not crave for more water, I drank as much as I could possibly swallow, and started for the cabin. The perspiration ran in streams from my body and limbs, every finger dripping with it, and my shoes were almost filled with perspiration. You

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could have tracked me on the trail. When I reached the cabin the fever had left me, and I had no more. Next morning I was able to travel.

Our aim now was to cross the Missouri river and go down on the south side. There were no settlers on the south side for more than one hundred miles below, to the vicinity where Boonville is now located. We knew there was a fort on the south side, below the Kansas river, called Fort Osage, commanded by Col. Sibley, where we could cross. We intended to Strike the Missouri below the Kansas and meander down until we found the fort, but before reaching the river we found a family living in a tent; they had not yet erected their cabin. We stopped with them for the night. The father, mother, and three children were all sick with the chills, and the next morning the young man with me had a crick in his back. He seemed to suffer intensely — most as badly as I did with the fever. Of course we had to stay for a time, and I had my companion and the family to care and provide for. There was nothing to begin with except some milk and honey, but I soon killed some squirrels and prairie chickens. Quail had not yet emigrated that far. The corn in his corn patch was just ripe enough to pound into meal, for which I had a mortar, with a pestle and sweep. The first batch I pounded I blistered my hands, and was then in a bad fix to pound more; but the woman made me some pads to go on my hands, which answered a good purpose. I had to stop here a week until my companion was able to travel. The day before we left I went twenty miles to a trader's, who had some flour, cornmeal, and a few groceries and

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patent medicines. Here I bought some flour, tea, and medicine, and also saw a friend who promised to go up and wait on the family. I had an Indian trail to travel, and when within a half mile of the camp, on my return, a deer jumped across my path, which I shot from my horse. It was only crippled. Leaping from my horse, I laid the gun down and ran to it, cut its throat, cut out the entrails, and packed it to the camp. There I dressed it, and next morning left the family well provided with eatables.

From here we followed down the windings of the Missouri and found the fort, about twenty miles below the mouth of the Kansas river. The officers sent soldiers with a barge to ferry us and our horses over. We were made welcome, and our horses as well as ourselves were well cared for. The wives of the officers seemed overjoyed to see some one, besides their husbands and the soldiers, that they could make inquiries of as to what was going on in the settled and civilized parts of the United States. Whilst they were located on the frontier and in forts, they saw no one aside from their husbands and soldiers, with occasionally a few trappers and fur traders passing up and down the Missouri river. My companion was a fluent talker, and kept them well entertained in answering their questions and relating matters that had or were transpiring in the (to them) outside world. They did everything they could to entertain and make it pleasant for us. Our clothes were washed and well done up, the buttons sewed on and the rips mended, and our socks darned. We stopped with them a week, and enjoyed our visit to the fort very much. On our way down the river we

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camped one night, before we got to the settled part, in the vicinity where Boonville is now situated.

The stores in Franklin were mostly branches of Lexington (Ky.) houses. Being now out of business, I was preparing to visit my kin in Kentucky. At that day the merchants went east in December and rode to Philadelphia on horseback to buy their goods. These were hauled over the mountains and sent by water to St. Louis, and again carried by wagons one hundred and eighty miles to Franklin. There were no banks in that part of the State, and the merchants carried their money in belts around their bodies or in saddlebags. I was employed by the merchants to remain until January and bring to Lexington what money might be taken in the stores.

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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
Persistent link to this document:
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