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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
Off again for the West Visit to Vandalia The Sangamon Valley Good-bye to Missouri lllinois via Salt -River A Colony on the Snye Arrival at Springfield-Bringing Goods from St. Louis The, First store in Sangamon Some Early Settlers A Rude Court House The Whipping Post Settling the County Seat Question A Large County.
After a short visit in Kentucky with my relatives, I became restless, and returned to Missouri accompanied by my step-brother, Samuel Wheeler, who, upon my recommendation, obtained employment in a store.
In passing through Illinois I heard of a district called the Sangamon valley, north of St. Louis one hundred miles, then just settling, said to be very fertile. As I thought Missouri would remain a frontier state during my life time, I decided to visit and explore more of Illinois, and if I liked it and found it as represented, I would quit Missouri and fix my permanent abode in Illinois, as it would be more of a thoroughfare, more interior, and nearer a market. We were told commissioners had just staked out a road from a point forty miles west of Vincennes to Vandalia, thence to the Sangamon valley. This determined us to diverge from our course, follow the stakes, and visit that new country. The stakes were set far apart, but the trace was easily followed, as the ground was soft and the
wagon hauling the stakes made deep ruts. We favored our horses by walking and leading them much of the way. We reached the Kaskaskia river, opposite Vandalia, after dark, and after wading an overflowed bottom midside in water to our horses, we swam them cross the river, by the side of a canoe, to the town.
We found the capital to be an isolated place, fixed by the convention for twenty years beyond the settled parts, that it might be more central to the state. (It is now moved to Springfield, where it will doubtless remain forever.) We found the residents of the new capital mostly Germans, there being but few others in the town aside from state officers. The German colony brought their priest. It consisted of several families. One of them, by the name of Ernst, had erected and was keeping the only hotel in the town. many of the Germans died in a few years. When I got to the hotel I had an intense headache. The priest put a few drops of medicine on lumps of sugar, which after being dissolved in my mouth acted like a charm, and the ache was gone.
From Vandalia we followed the stakes and struck Gov. Edwards war trace, now dim, thirty miles south of the Sangamon river. From this point we could see the timber of Sugar and Horse creeks, on the headwaters of the Sangamon. The weather was balmy, but soon a norther struck up with a heavy rain, which froze as it fell, and we were soon enveloped in a sheet of ice. It was getting dark and the road difficult to trace, and we began to doubt if we could find a house, as there were but few settlers and all located off the road. We could see the outlines of the timber on either side, but
no house. We traveled some distance between the timber of Sugar and Brush creeks, and some time after dark we saw a bright light, more than a mile off the road, in Sugar creek timber. This caused our hearts to lump, and we made for the light. When we got to the cabin we found it occupied by a young married couple named Richie. They had just moved into it, and had not stopped the cracks; it afforded but little protection against the cold. Our horses were put in a rail pen and fed on the ground, and we were made as comfortable as we could be by keeping a rousing fire. They had but one bed, and could spare us no covering. We got our clothes well dried and lay on the floor, our feet to the fire and saddles for our pillows. In the morning we found the bed and floor covered with snow. It was bitter cold, and the air was filled with drifting snow. Mr. Richie told us we could find more comfortable quarters at a Mr. Funderburk's, some few miles off across the prairie, who had built a good cabin a year before, to reach which we had to face the drifting snow and bitter cold. On getting to the cabin we found it comfortable, and stopped one day and night; and as the ground was soft and the waters high, we gave up further prospecting. The next morning the storm had ceased and a bright sun melted the ice. This was in April. The grass was twelve inches high it had not been hurt by the sleet and as it waved in the breeze it was a grand sight to look at.
On our return to the main road to St. Louis we traveled forty miles without passing a house to Mr. Paddock's, then to Edwardsville, St. Louis, St. Charles, and thence to my home in Franklin, then a flourishing
town in Missouri, afterwards washed away and sunk, and the present city of Boonville was built on the opposite bank.
The result was that after exploring more of Missouri and a portion of Illinois as hereafter described, I pulled up stakes in Missouri and stuck them down in Illinois on government lands, at a place called Springfield, within twenty miles of the then most northern settlements, where now rests the grand capitol of the great state of Illinois. This place had been selected as the temporary county seat, to accomodate the squatters until the survey and sale of land and until a permanent site could be selected. One reason for selecting this place was that there were more settlers in this vicinity than in any other part of northern Illinois, with whom the judge and lawyers could find quarters.
On my return to Boone's Lick, after making the necessary arrangements I started on my explorations. Leaving the Missouri timber behind me, I crossed the prairie, over which there was no road, and headed for the upper cabins on Salt river. Reaching the Salt river timber, I failed to find a house, and could not see the first mark of civilization. Here I camped for the night, using my saddle for a pillow. About daylight I heard a chicken crow and soon after a cow-bell tinkle, and following the direction of these welcome sounds I soon arrived at a cabin occupied by a Mr. Bess, where I had a good breakfast of milk, corn bread, butter, and hog meat, which to this day I never go back on.
Following down Salt river, I found but few houses until I got to the vicinity of Louisiana. Here I crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, and six miles out, at the
foot of the bluff, found a colony of twelve families living in tents. They were erecting cabins, however, and had named the place Atlas. It was situated in the Snye bottom.
I stayed in camp with them one week. The colony was headed by three families by the name of Ross one a doctor, who did not work. We amused ourselves by trapping wolves. At night we would set the traps, and each morning would find from one to two wolves in them. From here I followed the Mississippi down to near the mouth of the Illinois, where I found another colony of about the same number. They had been there a year and had built comfortable cabins. I found one family at the mouth of the Illinois river. Here I swam my horse across by the side of a canoe, and continued my course east to the trail leading from St. Louis to the Sangamon country, thence north to the Diamond Grove (now the city of Jacksonville) in which resided three families, Abrams, Kline, and Wilson; thence east about ten miles and stopped with a Mr. Buchanan that night, and he pointed out to me the timber at Island Grove. I crossed the prairie without a trail, found no one in the grove, and kept on the west side until I struck a trail running east to where it was said a temporary county seat was located. Following this trail I found the place, on the east side of Spring creek timber. Charles R. Matheny had just moved to the place, and had erected a cabin of one room, in which he was residing with a large family of little children. He had been appointed clerk of the circuit and county court, judge of the probate, clerk of his own court, and county recorder, although there were no deeds yet to
be recorded. All these offices heaped upon him did not give him a bare support. John Kelley resided in the vicinity, and I stopped with him for the night.
I then explored the surrounding country, and found it sightly and such as could not be excelled in richness, and only equalled by the lands on the Missouri river. This settled the question, but how to occupy my time until the lands should be put up for sale, was another problem. I had gained some little experience in selling goods, which determined me to use what money I had in merchandising until the land sales should take place.
I hunted around and found the stake that had been stuck for the beginning of a town named Springfield, and then bargained for the erection of a store house, to be set near the stake, eighteen feet square, with sheds on the sides for shelter. The house was to be of hewn logs, covered with boards, with heavy poles laid on to keep the boards from blowing off. The plank for the shelves and counter had to be sawed with a pit-saw. Two men would saw about 150 feet in a day.
I bought my goods in St. Louis, mostly at auction at very low prices, as many goods were then being forced to sale, but to complete the assortment had to buy some at private sale. I then chartered a boat from a Mr. January, on which to ship my goods up the Illinois river to the mouth of the Sangamon, one hundred and fifty miles above St. Louis and within fifty miles of Springfield. The boat was towed up the river by five men walking on shore and pulling a tow line about three hundred feet long. One man on the boat
acting as steersman, with myself as supercargo, completed the crew.
Just below the mouth of the Missouri river, where the current was very strong, a large cottonwood tree had fallen into the water, and the boat had to be steered out so as to clear it. As it struck the current, the bow was forced under the water. I calmly folded my arms with the thought that if it went down I would go too, as it held all that I had so far struggled for, together with four hundred dollars belonging to each of my brothers, William and Washington lies, which my father had given me to invest for them; but, as the hatches were closed, only a few barrels of water got into the boat, and the bow soon raised and we pursued our upward course rejoicing at least I did. The first house we came to above the mouth of the Missouri was the ferryman's, now the city of Alton. The next was at the mouth of the Illinois river. The next was a vacant cabin, with doors and windows cut out, but without shutters. This was at the mouth of the Sangamon river. The only other house on the Illinois at that day was an Indian-trading house at the foot of Lake Peoria, now the fine city of that name.
At the vacant cabin the boatmen landed my goods on the beach and started down the river on their return to St. Louis. I took my seat on the head of a whisky barrel, or salt barrel, I don't now know which, and watched the boat until it got out of sight, and I thought and thought. But as thinking would do no good, I went to the top of the bank and examined the cabin, and found a few household goods and farming utensils stowed in it. The articles had been brought there by
emigrants in what were called dug-outs. I believe the boat bringing my goods was the first boat that ever ascended the river, other than Indian-trading boats. The cabin was built by a Mr. Beard, and the place is now the city of Beardstown.
From the cabin I found a trail leading out towards Springfield, and I started on the trail afoot and alone. I had to wade a slough in the bottom knee-deep in water, and before I got to the first house on my road, fifteen miles out, occupied by Mr. Jobe, I met two teams going to the river; and as neither of them would have full loads, I turned back and made up their loads. As no one lived near, I had no fear of thieves. The whisky was in the most danger if found by the Indians, and was among the first articles hauled away. Besides, the wheat was about ready to cut, and at that day it was an uphill business and a drag to cut wheat without the aid of whisky. Upon my arrival at Springfield I employed teams to haul the goods. As there were about twenty-five tons of them, it took more than a month to do this, but it was finally accomplished without having the first thing disturbed or missing.
I now felt firmly rooted, and determined to seek no further, as I believed I was then in the center of the most extensive body of the richest land in the United States, or perhaps in the world; and don't yet think I was mistaken.
Upon my arrival I found my store house was not quite ready, for the want of nails, and you may believe it was a rough concern; but it answered my purpose. This was the first store house erected in Springfield or in the county, and I was the first one to sell goods in Springfield. For some time my sales were about as
much to Indians as to the whites. For the first two years I had no competition, and my customers were widely and thinly scattered over the territory now comprised in the counties of Sangamon, Morgan, Scott, Cass, Mason, Menard, Logan, Macon, Christian, Macoupin, Tazewell, McLean, DeWitt, and Champaign. The settlements in the last four were made after I opened my store. Many had to come more than eighty miles to trade. They were poor, and their purchases very light. There never was a more uniformly hospitable, honest, and industrious class of first settlers ever settled a new country.
The names of the settlers residing within the distance of two miles from the stake which had been set to mark a temporary county seat for Sangamon county, to be named Springfield, and who were instrumental in causing this site to be selected, were John Kelly, William Kelly, Andrew Elliot, Jacob Ellis, Levi Ellis, John Lindsay, Abram Lanterman, Mr. Dagget, and Samuel Little. These were the families with whom it was expected the judge and lawyers would find quarters until other accommodations could be provided. Some of the settlers who came later and settled over the larger district were of the more refined class, such as doctors, lawyers, school teachers, and preachers, and following in the train were some of the worse sort.
I first boarded with John Kelly, a North Carolinian and a widower. His household consisted of himself and two children, two younger brothers, George and Elisha, his aged father and mother, and myself. The board, to my notion, has never been excelled at any hotel I ever stopped at, either before or since. It
consisted in part of the best milk and butter ever set before a man, corn bread (baked on a hoe and called hoe-cake, instead of on a board or in the ashes as in Kentucky), honey, venison, turkey, prairie chicken, quail, squirrel, fish, and occasionally for variety we had pig, together with all the varieties of vegetables raised in this climate. Deer were very plenty. They trailed through the town, up the town branch, halting in a grove where now stands the governor's mansion; and if we wanted fresh venison for breakfast the Kelly boys would go to the grove early and kill a deer.
In 1821, after building my store house and as soon as the land was surveyed, I laid claim to the quarter on which my house was built, and told all who chose to settle in the place that if I got the land I would give each a lot. We traced out a street east and west, and by the time the sales took place we had a village of about 150 inhabitants, and children enough for a school. Our court house was of rough logs, daubed with black mud. A platform for the judge's seat, and the seats for the lawyers, jurors, and others, were of split logs, and the jurors had all out-doors in which to decide on their verdict.
Our school teacher was fond of his dram, and could make a good speech. One day, when the court had adjourned for dinner, some of his scholars drove into the court house a poor calf and twelve geese. The calf was tied on the platform, and the geese carefully driven into the corner usually occupied by the jury. They then got the teacher into the house, well primed, and in good condition to make a speech, and when the court returned from dinner they found the door closed, and
Mr. Mendal, the teacher, making an excited speech, addressing the calf as "the honorable judge" and the geese as gentlemen of the jury." The judge let him off without inflicting any fine for contempt.
This rough log court house for many years answered the purpose for which it was built, as a place for holding court. As yet we had no jail, and no taxable lands from which to raise funds. County orders were worthless. We erected a whipping-post, as we had laws to punish theft or other lawless acts. If convicted, the culprit had to be whipped upon his bare back. Our sheriff, Gen. J. D.Henry, was tender-hearted and merciful, and laid the lash on lightly. Some, after being whipped, left the district; some made good citizens, and those who did not reform altogether were careful not to commit any. act that might subject them to again hug the post and have their backs slashed. This mode of punishment seemed to have a better effect in checking crime than imprisonment in jail or in the penitentiary, and at much less cost.
Soon after opening my store, my father sent to me from Kentucky a youth, aged sixteen, a son of one of his valued neighbors, to act as store boy and clerk. This youth was John Williams, now better known as Col. Williams. He proved to be a valuable assistant, and lived with me as one of the family until 1831, when I sold my goods to him and established him in business. He was very successful, and soon improved and cultivated a large farm in connection with his store. In after years he established the first National Bank in Springfield, of which he was president and the principal stockholder. He also built and owned the Northwestern
Railroad, from Springfield to Havana, fifty miles. A short time since he sold his store, his bank stock, and his railroad, and has now partly retired from business, though he still cultivates his large farm and attends to the leasing and care of his valuable property in Springfield.
The land sales took place in 1823, and as I had, by close attention, industry, and economy, been successful, I was ready, and bought farm land, on which I built a cabin and hired a young man named Tom Smith to improve it. He soon afterwards married. As he was a man of good judgment, I allowed him to improve, cultivate, and raise stock much to his own notion. He lived on the place eight years, when 1 bought him a farm. He was a thrifty farmer, but died soon afterwards.
After selling my stock of goods to John Williams in 1831, I moved to my farm, and my time was occupied in farming, driving and selling hogs and cattle in St. Louis, and mules in Kentucky, and in buying and selling land and town lots, until 1839. During that year I lost quite a large amount of money (for me) in packing and shipping pork to New Orleans, which cured me of any more pork packing.
After moving to my farm, I soon found myself much in need of an additional plowman. A boy came to me and said he wanted to work. He had the chills every other day, and could only plow on his well days and do some light work on his chill days. His name was Robert North. He was about the most scrawny looking chap I ever saw, and could neither read nor write. But as I was much in need of a plow boy I took
him on trial, uncouth and sickly as he was. He was so slow in his movements that he kept me on nettles. But his first day's plowing convinced me he would do. He had plowed as much and had done as good work as any of the other hands. He soon got well of the chills, and made me a most valuable hand. I taught him to read and write. He lived with me ten years, got married and went to farming on his own hook, in which he was successful. He died two years ago, at the age of seventy, after accumulating in land and cash more than $150,000.
After North married and left me, I hired a young man by the name of Charles Fairchild, about twentyone years old. He was all go-ahead, a brisk worker, and was my leader. The only fault I found in him was that he would tire out too quick and would breakdown my other hands. He resided with me several years; is still living and a thrifty farmer.
These were faithful men, who worked for and looked after my interest as though it had been their own; and when it was necessary for anything to be done, day or night, rain or shine, nothing would stop them. I think I did a good part by them, and was proud to see them successful.
Philo Beers and Miss Stillman were the first couple married in Sangamon county.
In 1824 the United States sold the land on which the temporary county seat was located. I bought one quarter; P. P. Enos, Thomas Cox, and John Taylor each bought a quarter. There was not much speculation at that day; we bid off the land at $1.25 per acre.
In March, 1825, commissioners were appointed to select and fix permanently a site for the county seat of Sangamon county. After coming to Springfield they explored much of the surrounding country, for the purpose of viewing and making the selection. On their return to Springfield, one place had been entered by speculators on which to induce the commissioners to fix the site. It was four miles from town. The ground had thawed out and was soft and miry. The commissioners, worn and tired, went to look at the place. To go to it from town several sloughs and some marshy ground had to be Crossed. Andrew Elliott, one of our citizens, who had been much over the ground hunting, agreed to pilot them. He told them that as the ravines were full and the "marshy ground covered with water, they would find it a tedious trip, but he would do the best he could. He had his cue. They found the route almost impassable; but after they got to the place, which was on the river, they found it sightly, though difficult to get to, and asked him to try to find a better way to return. They found the route back not much better, having to cross water that nearly swam the horses. They had now viewed all the places spoken of as good sites for a town, and returned to Springfield to make up their minds.
The next day my wife gave them a good dinner. I said to them that if on consideration they selected Springfield as the permanent site, P. P. Enos and myself would give the county forty acres of land, and as they had had a tedious time and little pay, I would cash their warrants for them, although they were almost worthless, there being no money in the treasury. The result was, that Springfield was selected as the
permanent county seat, and some thought that the good dinner my wife provided for the commissioners played its part.
My wife, whose maiden name was Malinda Benjamin, was a native of Lima, New York. She came to Missouri in 1818 with a young married couple by the name of Shaw, accompanied by her uncle and some emigrants who built a flat-boat above Pittsburg and floated down the Ohio river. They stopped at the lead mines below St. Louis. Her uncle returned to New York to move out his own and her mother's family; but instead of moving out, married her mother and remained in New York. She was a thousand miles from her mother; and the difficulty of getting her back was such at that day, that she was left to hoe her own row. She was employed as a teacher, young as she was. She taught school at Cape Girardeau and at the lead mines below St. Louis. Her scholars were mostly French, who knew but little of the English language. Mr. Shaw, after stopping some time in Missouri, moved to Illinois and settled on the St. Louis road, fifty miles south of Springfield. My wife remained in Missouri teaching school, but after a time came over to Illinois to visit the family of Mr. Shaw. It was at his house I first saw her, on one of my trips to St. Louis. We had to travel at night and lay by in the day time, on account of the green-head flies, which were a torment to men and animals. When I stopped in the morning for the day, as I was going to the stable to see to the care of my horse, I passed by where my wife was at the wash tub. I spoke to her and she turned her face to me. Her color was heightened by exercise, her cheeks rosy, and her eyes bright, and I said to myself,
you are pretty, and you have such bright eyes you must be smart. I lay by that day, and noticed she was sprightly and cheerful, and thought she would make some man a good wife; but did not think of her for myself, as I was not ready to change the bachelor for the married life.
Mr. Shaw soon moved to Springfield, and my wife came with the family, and there she soon got acquainted with the family of Judge Phelps, who had moved from New York to the vicinity of Springfield. He said he knew her relatives in New York, and that they were of good stock. His family liked my wife much and had her visit them often. When she was making one of these visits I took her out in a buggy, and on the way told her I had decided to change my bachelor life for a married one, and that, as we had been acquainted with each other more than two years long enough to form an opinion of each other I could say for my part that I had never known any one I would choose for a wife in preference to her. Now it was for her to say whether she was willing to accept me for a husband. Her answer was that she had formed the same opinion of me, and that there was no one she had ever known whom she would choose for a husband in preference. So the bargain was sealed, and we agreed to get married as soon as arrangements could be made for housekeeping, so that we could have the comforts of our own home at the beginning.
To enable her to do her part, I furnished her bedticking, feathers, and sheeting, to be made up for a bed which was to be placed in a room over my little store. She was a brisk worker, and soon had them ready. For
my part, I built a shed and brick chimney, with open fire-place (this was before the days of cook stoves), attached to the rear of the store, for a cooking and dining place, until I had time to build a better. I soon had cooking utensils and table ware, and was prepared. After supper we called in a preacher, who married us, and our bridal trip was across the street to our bedroom. The next morning my wife got my breakfast, which I relished. Our shed soon gave place to a more comfortable cook and bed-room, and we now felt firmly rooted in our own domicile. We were married in 1824, and soon after sent for my wife's sister, Clarissa, who was sent to us in the care of a Mr. Dryer, who moved in a wagon more than a thousand miles with his wife and three small children, and camped out every night. This sister was then twelve years old, and lived with us until she married Peter Van Bergen. We then sent for her half-sister, Lydia Porter, who lived with us and Mrs. Van Bergen until she married John Williams, my old clerk, who was then established in business.
We had two children the oldest a daughter, named Louisa, who was born in 1825 and died in 1857; the other a son, Thomas, born in 1830 and died in 1877. My wife died in 1865. She was my superior in intellect, and I never realized her worth until she was gone, gone, gone from me forever.
The house I built in 1823 for a store house, and in which I commenced my married life in 1824, is the oldest house in Springfield. It is situated on the northwest corner of the block next west of the Chicago &Alton depot; it was built of hewed logs, weather-boarded, and has still a respectable appearance.
In 1836, the state legislature passed an act remove the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. A. Lincoln, a young member, was given much credit for his exertions in securing the passage of the act. This was before he had studied law. The first legislature that met in Springfield was held in 1838, and made use of the churches in which to hold their sessions; these were far less commodious than the grand state house of the great state of Illinois which now adorns the city of Springfield.
In the early days of Illinois it was hard to find good material for law makers. I was elected a state senator in 1826, and again for a second term. The senate then comprised thirteen members and the house twenty-five. Our large county, more than two hundred miles long, extended north to the territorial lines of Wisconsin and Michigan, including Chicago, which was then called Fort Dearborn and was occupied solely by United States troops.
During my last term as senator, the population had increased so fast that the legislature passed an act for the election of two senators and seven representatives in this county. All of those elected were tall men, and had good minds and considerable information, which made them good and valuable members. They were dubbed the "long nine." Lincoln, afterwards president, was among the number. At that day we had but three judges (Lockwood, Wilson, and Brown), who performed both circuit and supreme court duties. And now, all the judges, all the legislators, and all the men of prominence, or who had a prospect of prominence, prior to the year 1830, are dead, with the exception of
Ninian W. Edwards and John T. Stuart, of Springfield, and Wm. Thomas, of Jacksonville.
In looking back over the past sixty years, and recalling the condition of the state at that date, when the entire population was but little more than 100,000, and contrasting it with the Illinois of to-day, we are astounded at the wonderful progress made. When we see resting upon the margin of its fertile prairies, and overlooking the great lake whose bosom is whitened with the sails of its commerce, a city like Chicago, with a population of more than half a million, besides numerous other cities scattered over the state of from ten. to forty thousand, and reflect upon the vast growth of the farming interest, we can but marvel.
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: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=iles.html